Environmentalists: Stay the ‘Frack’ Out of Massachusetts

Health advocates are continuing their fight to ban fracking in the Bay State.

Environmentalists want energy companies to mind their fracking business when it comes to Massachusetts.

On Thursday, in an effort to push legislation that would place a decade-long moratorium on allowing fracking in the state’s soil, elected officials and members of Environment Massachusetts released letters signed by over 100 local health professionals, outlining the negative effects of the drilling practice.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is when companies use large drills that inject millions of gallons of water—often containing chemicals—deep into the soil to break up rock formations to release natural gas.

On the flip-side, businesses have touted the process as a great way to reduce carbon emissions by tapping into the earth for resources, and providing heat and electricity for homes while eliminating dependence on foreign oils.

However, residents and anti-fracking advocates fear if it happens in Massachusetts, it could lead to contaminated drinking water, air pollution, and a slew of other problems. “We think [the state] should be proactive and shut the door on fracking before it comes to Massachusetts,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts, the member-funded group that released the letters signed by health professionals on Thursday. “We are not aware of any active attempts to let it happen here, but that being said, we have seen in other states that they will come in very quickly. Given the fact fracking has caused such tremendous devastation to public health all across the country, we shouldn’t take any chances.”

Environmental groups are afraid that as fracking practices spread in some parts of the country, businesses will be interested in tapping into the shale of the Hartford Basin that runs from Connecticut through Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley.

To keep that from happening, last year they teamed up with officials on Beacon Hill, including State Representative Denise Provost, D-Somerville, to craft a bill that would lock out fracking for at least 10 years. Doing this would give environmentalists, doctors, and people in elected office time to further study the reported side effects of the business practice.

“It’s shocking to me that fracking proceeds virtually unregulated, in the face of evidence that it has caused damage to the environment and to public health in communities across the country,” said Provost on Thursday, standing in front of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s up to us to make sure that Massachusetts is protected from fracking. That’s why I introduced a bill to keep fracking, as well as its toxic waste, out of Massachusetts, and why I urge my colleagues to act soon to approve [it].”

Since the bill is currently waiting to be voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee, and still needs to go to the Senate for consideration—and, eventually, land on Governor Deval Patrick’s desk—Provost and Environment Massachusetts decided to continue blasting their message out to the community through the letters signed by health experts.

The letters, which were addressed to both President Barack Obama and state elected officials, said that they were concerned about fracking and its growing threat to public health and the environment.

It reads, in part:

Fracking operations often use toxic chemicals, generate millions of gallons of wastewater that can be laced with cancer-causing and even radioactive material, and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other harmful pollutants into the air we breathe. Each of these fracking threats is increasingly taking its toll.

Provost’s proposed legislation, if passed, would keep fracking from happening in Massachusetts from January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2024. It would also prevent any out-of-state companies from collecting, storing, and treating wastewater hydraulic fracturing fluid, wastewater solids, drill cuttings, or other byproducts from hydraulic fracturing in the state.

The letter campaign comes just days after a natural gas well in Pennsylvania exploded, killing a worker and sparking a fire that lasted four days. Chevron, whose well is behind the explosion, offered free pizza and soda as compensation to the towns impacted by the explosion.

Hellerstein claims that more and more studies have come out that expose the negative impacts the drilling practice can have on communities. He said his group was interested in a full-on ban, but settling for a 10-year moratorium was good enough—for now.

“We feel it’s a big step in the right direction, and it would make it one of the strongest anti-fracking laws in the country, if it passed into law,” he said. “It’s about protecting people in Massachusetts, and our environment and our health. Because it’s such a strong piece of legislation, I think there’s a sense that if we are successful here, it could set a precedent for other states.”

Similar protests to the one in Boston have been taking place all around the country. Vermont is currently the only state that has a full-on fracking ban in place. In New York, pro-fracking landowners are taking the state to court to expedite the drilling practice after work was stalled over health and safety concerns.