How To Become a Fracking InsurgentBy Matthew Wheeland - June 7, 2013
“Fighting fracking is unbelievable.” That understatement comes from Sharon Wilson, or TXSharon as she’s become known among the anti-fracking brigade. We got to know her when she decided to go solar through PURE, and we’ve been learning from her ever since.
Sharon’s commitment to anti-fracking started slowly after fracking began to happen around her in early 2000. Like everyone else in her Texas town, she thought fracking would be a great economic boon. “I thought I’d get rich,” she says. “I just wanted to hear about the money; didn’t want to hear about the environmental impact. But what was happening around me was so horrific that I couldn’t ignore it.”
One of the things she couldn’t ignore is among the most confounding problems with fracking: the toxic waste, which causes severely high risk of contamination – air, groundwater, soil, you name it. Beyond the immediate problem of the waste itself is the problem of what exactly to do with it. How do you transport millions of gallons of hazardous liquid? It takes 200 trips for trucks to get rid of a million gallons of water, and the average well produces anywhere from two to ten million gallons. And then you have to find a place that can process it, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In April, for example, a Pennsylvania hazardous waste plant rejected waste from the Marcellus Shale because it was ten times too radioactive for their landfill. That’s saying a lot.
And that’s just the stuff they get out of the ground. An estimated 20-85% of fracking fluids can remain in the ground – a fairly wide margin that reflects just how little we understand about this burgeoning Gold Rush-like trend. In some cases, like the Marcellus Shale, all that nastiness eventually surfaces and pollutes the land irreversibly. It can also be spread over farmland, which is what Sharon observed.
The pollution from fracking isn’t just a trite concern for a few environmentalists, either. Germany recently banned fracking in order to avoid polluted ground water that would impact the growing of hops and wheat used in their beer, and France is following a similar path to protect their vineyards (and, you know, quality of life).
But back to our heroine, Sharon. A turning point for her, and what brought solar into her frame, was a huge solar convention in Dallas in 2011. She managed to corral a busload of executives from the convention for a tour of the shale extraction zone that she was living in. Solar wasn’t a viable option for her area at that time, but the executives promised to contact her as soon as incentives became available.
Cut to April 2013 when Sharon flipped the switch on her own panels and saw her bills go down almost immediately. It’s still new though so she’s examining the short- and long-term costs and benefits, and solar is just one thing that she’s doing to wean herself off of dirty energy. She uses a wood-burning stove in the winter, and now her hot Texas summers will be cooled by AC at least partially covered by solar. “I wanted to show people that there is a pathway to dramatically reduce fossil fuel usage so you don’t have to create what they call a ‘sacrifice zone,’” she says.
A sacrifice zone, in case you were wondering, is an area that is exploited so that we can pollute. Chris Hedges covers this in depth, but it’s an important “other” factor when it comes to fracking. We have the immediacy of toxic waste and resulting disasters, but there is a passivism implied in the idea behind sacrifice zones – which include the people living in the area being sacrificed – that is hard to swallow. That’s why Sharon does what she does. She has seen firsthand what fracking can do, and she’s educated herself to the point of testifying about oil and gas bills – and even a solar bill. She’s been invited from groups as far as South Africa to show them how to organize and fight fracking.
“People are just deceived,” she says. “There are accidents and horrible impacts that result from fracking every day. If people knew what it was really about – or even how little we actually know about the long-term impact of fracking – they would be up in arms, too.”
If you’d like to learn more about Sharon’s efforts to fight fracking, visit her blog at www.texassharon.com.
For more information on pollution from fracking, a good place to start is Hydraulic Fracking 101 at Earthworks.
You can also check out our infographic, “The Many Dangers of Natural Gas.”