Oil and Gas Industry vs. American Citizens

On February 22, I attended the University of Delaware’s “Lights, Camera, Earth!” Film Series. The goal of these films is to highlight communities and the ways they deal with environmental threats in their backyards. In the Bullfrog Film, Split Estate, I learned more about the natural gas fields in the Rocky Mountains, and the communities fighting the oil and gas industry for mineral rights. A split estate occurs when property rights to the surface and underground are split between two parties. Essentially, these families own land, but they do not own the resources beneath it. 85% of landowners in Colorado do not own the rights and resources below their property. This gives oil and gas companies, motivated by short term profit, the ability to set up wells in people’s backyards without their consent. The wells are for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” a process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rocks to open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. For many reasons, the drilling is causing problems for the communities nearby.

A big concern is that of health and safety. Industrial accidents and spills are common, creating gallons of fluid pooled on people’s lawns. These accidents are not merely spills of water, but an overflow of harmful chemicals. One family noticed a stream on their property that was bubbling in an unnatural way. When placing a match to the liquid, flames ignited. It was later confirmed that there were traces of the cancer causing chemical, Benzene, 48 times the government standard. To this day, the oil and gas industry is exempt from legislation that keeps civilians safe including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and more. The exposure to these chemicals takes a toll on the health of those who live nearby and access the water in their homes. Some health effects include blood disorders, lung infections, burning and itchy skin, asthma, and even the development of adrenal gland tumors. One story follows Chris and Steve, a married couple that moved from California to Colorado in 1995. Shortly after moving into their home, the drilling began on their property. At just 49 years old, Chris appears to be elderly as she struggles to walk and talk. Her health has deteriorated resulting in a neurological speech impairment, problems with her respiratory system, and pains in her feet. The federal government fails to regulate the gas and oil industry leaving residents to fight a battle that is beyond their control. The locals grow exhausted from their efforts to regain control of their neighborhoods, and eventually abandon their homes and move away. For the protection of our environment and the well-being of American civilians, it is imperative for our country to seek alternate sources of energy, and at the very least, regulate the oil and gas industry to the same standard as everyone else.

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