Environment

Thousands Will March in Philly to Demand Fracking Ban on Eve of Democratic National Convention (VIDEO)

The march comes on the heels of yet another study revealing the negative public health impacts of fracking.

On Sunday, one day before the Democratic National Convention commences its four-day event at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, thousands of activists will march across the city to demand a ban on fracking, an unconventional drilling method to access natural gas trapped in underground shale deposits. Fracking has been under fire by environmentalists and public health advocates for causing a host of serious problems, from increased infant mortality and low-birth-weight babies to the release of cancer-causing radioactive gas, contamination of drinking water and earthquakes.

Organized by the groups Americans Against Fracking and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking and backed by over 900 organizations across all 50 states, the March for a Clean Energy Revolution is set to start at 1pm on July 24 at Philadelphia's City Hall. The activists will carry hand-painted banners and march down Market Street and will end a mile away at Independence Hall, where large art installations meant to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking will be unveiled to the public. Before the march begins, local and national advocacy leaders will join people whose lives have been affected by fracking for a press conference at City Hall at 11:30am. 

According to their website, the activists are marching for “action to prevent climate catastrophe,” and will present five demands to current and future policy makers:

  • Ban fracking now
  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground
  • Stop dirty energy
  • Environmental justice for all
  • Quickly and justly transition to 100% renewable energy

The march organizers are also demanding immediate and significant investment in clean energy, as well as a just occupational transition for fossil fuel industry workers. In addition to dozens of environmental groups, the mobilization includes womens' health advocates, anti-war groups, faith groups, farmworkers' advocates and indigenous groups. The march marks the conclusion of the Protect Our Public Lands Tour, a cross-country caravan of indigenous elders and storytellers who have been educating the public about the dangers of fracking and fossil fuel extraction. 

The march comes on the heels of a new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, which found that asthma patients who live closer to fracking operations are 1.5 to four times more likely to suffer asthma attacks than those who live farther away. “We are concerned with the growing number of studies that have observed health effects associated with this industry,” said Brian S. Schwartz, the study’s senior author and a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “We believe it is time to take a more cautious approach to well development with an eye on environmental and public health impacts.”

Schwartz and his colleagues analyzed electronic health records from more than 35,000 asthma patients in Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2012. The state, which sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale rock formation, has been a fracking hotspot.

“As the national spotlight shines in Pennsylvania, it's really important to recognize that this state is one of the most heavily fracked in the country and has experienced devastating health and environmental impacts,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, at a press call on Tuesday. Pennsylvania activists will be calling on Governor Tom Wolf, a DNC Host Committee Honorary Chair, to stop exposing the state's residents to health risks through fracking. Larysa Dyrszka, a medical doctor and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said during the call that Wolf "must take a hard look at the data, acknowledge the harm of drilling and fracking and stop it before even more people become ill."

According to the Fractracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies the risks of oil and gas development, nearly 10,000 unconventional wells have already been drilled in the Keystone State, with almost 8,000 additional permits issued. Since January alone, 185 wells have been drilled in the state. The group says that there are at least 1.7 million fracked wells across the United States.

“We're facing a climate emergency of unprecedented scale and we must act now and swiftly if we're going to avoid a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe,” said Hauter. “Our elected leaders must ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop polluting and dirty energy projects, pursue environmental justice for all, and act swiftly and justly to transition to 100 percent renewable energy future.”

The activists have their work cut out for them. Hillary Clinton, who will be named the Democratic presidential nominee at the DNC, has been a longtime supporter of fracking, even trying to export American-style fracking to foreign countries during her tenure as Secretary of State. During the primary process, Clinton has distanced herself from the fossil fuel industry, fending off attacks from her erstwhile opponent Bernie Sanders, whose campaign argued that she "has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry." If she wins the presidency, those lobbyists will in all likelihood be calling in their favors. For now, Clinton has given fracking her tentative support, as long as there are some added regulations on the industry.

During the March 6 Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, a college student asked Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton if they supported fracking. Sanders offered a simple answer: "No, I do not support fracking." Clinton had a more nuanced reply:

You know, I don’t support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one. I don’t support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don’t support it— number three—unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using. So by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. And I think that’s the best approach, because right now, there places where fracking is going on that are not sufficiently regulated. So first, we’ve got to regulate everything that is currently underway, and we have to have a system in place that prevents further fracking unless conditions like the ones that I just mentioned are met.

The activists also have to fight the economics of fracking, as proponents argue it has contributed to the nation's economic health. A 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the drilling boom fueled by fracking technology added around 725,000 jobs between 2005 and 2012. Fracking has been credited with the huge boost in U.S. crude oil production, from a low output in 2008 of 5 million barrels per day output to 7 million bpd in 2013, noted Forbes contributor Christopher Helman, a staunch supporter of fracking. "Thanks to fracking, lower natural gas prices already save consumers $100 billion a year—far more than any crumbs the federal government might want to dole out," Helman argues. Plus, the demand for natural gas continues to rise: In June, natural gas prices rose to a new five-month high

But clearly the issue isn’t only about the economy. The recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg study is just the latest addition to a growing body of scientific evidence that underscores fracking’s heavy toll on the environment and public health. "I've grown increasingly concerned about the health effects of drilling and fracking, as more and more residents report the same symptoms, which includes trouble breathing, headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, and more," said Dyrszka. "Since 2009 more than 680 peer-reviewed studies have been published, with the overwhelming majority of them demonstrating [fracking’s] risks and harm.”

Also on the call was Karuna Jaggar, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based education and advocacy organization. Underscoring the fact that "dangerous drilling and fracking are urgent social justice and public health issues," she highlighted the impact of the many toxic chemicals used in the fracking process. "Unlimited and poorly regulated fracking will threaten the basic necessities of life: our food, our water, and our air," she said. "Twenty-five percent of chemicals used in fracking and other forms of dangerous drilling cause cancer. More than 30 percent affect the hormonal system, which could also increase risk of cancer as well as other diseases and disorders. Nearly half of these chemicals affect the immune system, nervous system, heart health, and 75 percent of these chemicals affect skin, eyes, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems." She also pointed out that, of the "millions of families that live in communities directly affected by fracking, the majority ... are people of color."

For its part, the Democratic Party has signaled its desire for environmental justice, noting that "low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately home to environmental justice 'hot spots,' as well as its intention to move the nation toward a low carbon economy. In the draft of the Democratic Party Platform, the section called "Clean Energy Economy" states: "We are committed to getting 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade, with half a billion solar panels installed within four years and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country." Another section, “Environmental and Climate Justice,” notes that “Democrats believe clean air and clean water are basic rights of all Americans.”

However, the draft document makes no mention of fracking.

"The Democratic Party Platform Committee's failure to call for a ban on fracking has motivated many activists to put more pressure on party leadership," notes a recent Food & Water Watch press release. "To drive home that point, on July 12 Food & Water Watch activists placed fake feces under 19 donkey statues on display around Philadelphia to promote the convention, along with messages saying that the fracking ban failure was 'crap.'”

While fracking is happening all over the country, the activists are taking full advantage of the fact that the DNC is in Philadelphia, the largest city in one of the most fracked states in the nation. During the press call, Karen Feridun of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking stressed the importance of Pennsylvania to the anti-fracking movement:

We wanted to tell the story of Pennsylvania in our instance because the story as it stands right now in the minds of many is that Pennsylvania is the negative role model on fracking. We've had visitors from more than sixty countries, and many, many states come here. What they've seen firsthand has informed decisions to put in place bans and moratoriums. ... That's how we're being cast, and all too often we're being cast as just a place that has been impacted, but there's a lot more to our story than that. We need to acknowledge the important story of the impact and all that we have lost, and that's how we're opening our contingent. We have stories from people who have been impacted, who have lost their lives, who have lost their properties, who have lost their health. ... We've lost a lot of other things as well. We've lost our sense of safety, we've lost our sense of quality of life, and we've lost democracy. We want to take all those things back ... There are so many people in this state who never imagined that they would be activists, and they've become activists, they've taken on the industry, and they've won.

According to their platform draft, Democrats “believe that the federal government should lead by example, which is why we will take steps to power the government with 100 percent clean electricity” If Hillary Clinton and the rest of her party want to witness an example of clean energy leadership, they can look to the thousands of activists marching across the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday.

But will there ever be true climate leadership in Washington?

At 6:30pm on Sunday night, at Philadelphia's Vernon Park, anti-fracking activist and filmmaker Josh Fox, actress Shailene Woodley and political activist YahNe Ndgo will host a climate rally featuring Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon, followed by screening of Fox's new film How to Let Go of the World and Love All The Things Climate Can't Change, then a concert by Nahko Bear from Medicine for the People. The poster promoting the event offers an answer to the question of climate leadership: "The Climate Revolution Is Up to Us."

Watch Sandra Steingraber, biologist, author, activist and science advisor to the Americans Against Fracking coalition, explain why she’ll be at the March for a Clean Energy Revolution at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 24:

Reynard Loki is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch, Truthdig, National Memo, Green America, Regeneration International, Revelist, Resilience and BlackBook, among others. Reynard is also the co-founder of MomenTech, an experimental production studio based in New York and Prague that has presented dozens of projects around the world exploring intersections of culture, history, politics, science and sports. Follow him on Twitter: @reynardloki or email him at [email protected]ind.media.