Trump’s EPA is attacking national clean air standards and guidelines that would protect our children’s health from oil and gas pollution, specifically emissions of harmful methane and other pollutants that are being pumped into the air at will by the oil and gas industry. This pollution and its negative impacts are intensely felt in the hills and valleys that are part of the Pittsburgh region and across our nation. Because the Trump administration is not interested in protecting children’s health from harmful air pollution and climate change, it is up to states to protect the air our children breathe. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf needs to show leadership by enacting sensible protections that the oil and gas industry will be obliged to follow.
This was written by Christina Krost, a member of the United Methodist Women. Christina shares her experience of touring the build-out of the Pittsburgh region’s oil and gas industry.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
It’s foggy in Pittsburgh. The fog is probably because of Pittsburgh’s hilly topography, or the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, or the unseasonably warm weather in the first weekend of December.
I went to Pittsburgh for a meeting of the United Methodist Women Be Just Be Green Jurisdiction Guides. While there, we visited local communities in Pennsylvania impacted by the natural gas industry and listened to their stories.
Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, is in the top 2% for cancer risk from air pollution. Up to 14% of Pittsburghers suffer from asthma as compared to the national average of 8%-10%. Asthma acutely impacts children, and is a leading cause of chronic school absenteeism. Air pollution exacerbates cardiovascular disease and is a significant cause of premature death among those with preexisting cardiovascular conditions. Air pollution has been connected to autism, diabetes, and dementia. The Greater Pittsburgh region already has a history of poor air quality and the planned build out of the petrochemical industry would add to the existing pollution problem.
We toured Beaver County, PA, where Shell is planning to build an ethane cracker plant, the largest petrochemical facility in North America. This plant will increase demand for fracked natural gas which will be turned into plastic a process that creates toxic air pollution. It will also trigger the construction of an ethane pipeline system that will cross the Ohio River.
I was struck by a stone marker I read at one of our tour stops. The land where the cracker plant is being built was gained by treaty with the Delaware, Wyandot, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes. It’s devastating to think of how we’ve abused the land, air, and water that was cherished and nurtured for centuries by so many tribes.
We continued to Washington County, the most heavily fracked county in Pennsylvania. We saw fracking pads and waste water retention ponds within 900 feet of an elementary school. We heard about the mystery surrounding chemicals in fracking fluid and methane emissions, which the fracking industry fights not to disclose. We watched as several large trucks full of fracking waste merged onto a highway and wondered aloud what would happen if one of the trucks spilled its contents.
We met a man and his son who live with a fracking well in their backyard. The man has suffered a brain tumor which robbed him of his sight in one eye. He has kidney disease and endocrine problems. His son is incontinent and suffers from learning and attention problems. He was burned by an unseen chemical in his bathtub water as a small child. We met a mother whose child has leukemia. We met a mother who can’t drink the water at her house and is concerned about the animals on her farm. No one can move because they can’t sell their homes.
As our tour progressed, the fog lifted. The sun began to shine. And the shadows around the fracking industry lifted. I saw with clarity the lies, corruption, manipulation, and greed. The evil of putting profits over people was exposed. But I felt a small sense of relief that fracking wasn’t going on in my backyard–my children in Illinois were safe. And then three days after I returned home from Pennsylvania there was a natural gas pipeline explosion in Illinois that killed 2 people, a father and son working on their farm. If you don’t think natural gas affects your community, think again.
My faith stirs me to act. My children inspire my activism. We are a ministry family, and we take seriously our mandate to love God and neighbor. The way we live that out is by treading as lightly as we can on our planet and using our voice to advocate for those harmed by environmental degradation.
Don’t be afraid to educate yourself about fracking, speak to your representatives, and write letters to the editor. Speak truth to power. The only way to make change is to do the hard work. We cannot turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters suffering in Pennsylvania, or Texas, or Oklahoma. But if we work with one another, we can lift the fog together.
Christina Krost is a United Methodist pastor’s wife, mother, and Earth care advocate working for Faith in Place, the Illinois Affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light. She is also a United Methodist Women Be Just Be Green Jurisdiction Guide. She lives with her husband and three daughters in rural Illinois and blogs at 5matches.com