Why are parents in the Mars School District opposed to shale gas development near children? Because this heavy industrial process has unmeasured health and safety risks and does not belong near children.
On March 4, Rex Energy made a proposal to the school board for a lease to drill under school property. The proposal revealed that the related industrial six-well site at the Geyer farm would be about half a mile from the school campus property. Uniquely, all five school district buildings are in proximity; therefore, all 3,200 children in the district would collectively be exposed to this industrial operation.
A recent fatal explosion at a Greene County well site, regular press coverage about drinking water contamination, and reports of air pollution and environmental harms brought on by shale gas development raised many questions that need to be answered before allowing drilling to take place under or near our schools.
We joined together to find answers. The research on shale gas development, which includes the common term fracking, compelled us to petition the school board to reject the proposal from Rex Energy. Nine hundred signatures against drilling under the school were gathered and submitted to the school board. The board subsequently voted to reject the proposal on March 11, but despite the rejection, Rex Energy continued to pursue permits for the Geyer site.
In the following months, our group, the Mars Parent Group, spent countless hours attending medical lectures and researching the scientific literature. We addressed our public officials and spoke to professionals in the industry and at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. We contacted communities across the country exposed to shale gas development. We learned that the impacts of this heavy industry on health, safety and the environment are varied, far-reaching, and detrimental.
Our conviction to keep shale gas development at least two miles from children is supported by:
• The American Heart Association: Children are more susceptible to environmental hazards than adults. www.stateoftheair.org/2013/health-risks/health-risks-children.html
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Shale development creates hazardous air pollutants like the BTEX group, N-Hexane, and VOCs. www.epa.gov/oaqps001/community/details/oil-gas_addl_info.html#activity1; Hazardous air pollutants adversely affect health. toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/; www.epa.gov/iris/; www.atsdr.cdc.gov/
• Current air monitoring techniques do not account for cumulative air pollutants. cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/2316
• The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Respirable silica dust is present at drilling sites. www.osha.gov/dts/hazardalerts/hydraulic_frac_hazard_alert.html
• The American Cancer Society: Diesel exhaust is classified as a human carcinogen. Diesel emissions increase during shale development. www.cancer.org/cancer/news/world-health-organization-says-diesel-exhaust-causes-cancer
• National Center for Biotechnology Information: Current air monitoring techniques do not use real-time data. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083662/
Along with the scientific research, investigations of incidents and accidents pertaining to well sites reveal that evacuation zones can extend up to two miles. Concluding that if drilling is to happen, there should at least be a two-mile buffer zone as a primary way to reduce health and safety risks to our children and community.
We shared our information with local and state officials. Our unified voice imploring caution was an annoyance to our public officials. State lawmakers scoffed at the idea of protecting children from shale gas extraction. Township officials pointed to the state Department of Environmental Protection and state lawmakers to regulate and determine safety for drilling and fracking in communities. The DEP and state lawmakers countered that it was the responsibility of local officials. Biased public officials saw our message of caution as extremism, despite the research and reports of incidents and accidents.
Contrary to the claims of extremism, we can listen to all sides of the discussion. But we do recognize that our community’s right to a safe and clean environment supersedes any community member’s right to monetary gain.
Shale gas extraction does not equate patriotism. This industry, a profit-driven business, has created a completely unpatriotic divide in communities. They influence some with money and belittle others; even parents who want to protect children in school. Reasonable requests have been made to move shale gas extraction drilling operations further away from schools and densely populated areas, but the resounding industry response has one common theme: It would cost money to move a well site.
We continue on with resolve. Support is growing. Citizens are speaking out. Protecting children in schools is just the beginning.
We ask that everyone remember Sept. 12, 2014, the date the Geyer site drilling permits were issued, as the day that Rex Energy, the Geyers, the DEP, the Middlesex Township officials, the Adams Township officials, and the Pennsylvania Assembly placed the Mars School District in a known unhealthy environment and a known evacuation zone.