The first Bonus Book of the Week is “The Real Cost of Fracking, How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, published in 2014.
Through the decades, monster-sized American corporations have mastered the game of political machinations, public relations and propaganda in doing tremendous harm to Americans (and getting away with it!), and in defending themselves against environmental-damage lawsuits, and premises-liability, personal-injury and wrongful death lawsuits. These corporations tend to be energy companies. See the following posts in this blog for several other examples (in no particular order):
- The World According to Monsanto
- Superpower: One Man’s Quest…
- Killers of the Flower Moon, and
- Let the People In (see boldfaced paragraphs)
American companies that do fracking is the same story. The authors loosely define fracking as “unconventional drilling” for gas and oil, and hydraulic fracturing. The fracking industry has successfully convinced landowners (through omissions, half-truths and outright lies in their pitches) that they (the owners of small farms) could make big bucks from leasing their land for the purpose of fracking (when it turned out to be the other way around, most every time).
There are three major reasons it takes so long for the public to catch on to companies that damage the earth and people and can destroy communities and/or a way of life:
- The companies put political pressure on the EPA and state-politicians to shut up;
- The companies have the damaged parties sign non-disclosure agreements; and
- The companies pay hush money to, or threaten any other parties who might give them bad publicity.
“Proving proximate cause for illness is complex because the water, soil and air have multiple chemicals of varying toxicities, and [have] hardly any pre- and post-drilling testing of air, and water, soil, people and animals.”
The consequences of fracking have far-reaching potential to contaminate the nation’s food supply, when cows, chickens and other food-animals are exposed to fracking toxins.
Sadly, Pennsylvania is only one of several states that has sold out to the pro-fracking interests. The authors had hours of discussions with those very adversely affected by the litany of unpronounceable toxins very likely produced by fracking. Beginning in September of 2009, those owners of small farms developed the following health problems: rashes, burning eyes, sore throats, headaches, nosebleeds and unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
The victims’ farm animals and pets had trouble reproducing, or they died. Air pollution resulted from dust, dirt and noise from heavy earth-moving vehicles and tanker trucks. In spring 2010, one family’s only water supply was terminated by the fracking company.
In addition, the family lost their livelihood breeding horses and dogs. They couldn’t afford to buy bottled water for the horses. The fracking company graciously offered to incinerate the horse’s corpse. One of their dogs also died even though it was drinking bottled water and was barely two years old. The suspected reason was that it drank wastewater that was poured on the family’s property.
Further, tests sufficiently specific to provide evidence of proximate cause between:
the family’s health problems, their animals’ deaths, and the drop in their property’s value due to contamination; and
the fracking company’s toxic practices
were prohibitively expensive.
Also, apparently, the company wasn’t legally required to disclose which toxins were produced by its operations, because it didn’t– when the leasing documents were signed with the landowners.
In central Arkansas, fracking wastewater was recycled when it was injected into deep wells, causing small earthquakes. Other states that allowed fracking at the book’s writing included: Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, North Dakota and New York.
Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on fracking, its adverse effects, of the complicated laws governing (or not governing) land in Pennsylvania and New York State at the book’s writing, and the authors’ suggestions for how to regulate the oil and gas industry to strike a balance between extracting needed fossil fuels and public health and safety; and sensible energy policy.
The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Buffalo Creek Disaster, The Story of the Survivors’ Unprecedented Lawsuit” by Gerald M. Stern, published in 1976.
“If the government ever did knock on my door, I’d probably expect harm and harassment instead of help.”
-The [Caucasian] author’s attitude when he was a federal civil-rights attorney, personally visiting unannounced, helpless black families in Southern States, to inquire whether they required assistance with registering to vote, or with being protected, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.
In West Virginia coal country in the 1950’s, one dam overflowed. Then two more dams were built. The construction of the third dam– built cheaply– was subpar pursuant to civil engineering standards. The dam-builder was the Buffalo Creek Mining Company. Its holding company Pittston Company knowingly allowed a burning pile of coal waste-products to obstruct the stream, so that sooner or later, a tidal wave would flood the area.
In February 1972, it happened. More than 125 people drowned and hundreds were left homeless in a valley when the third dam broke, causing a stream to overflow in Middle Fork Hollow.
The possible causes of action in the ensuing class action suit included involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence, but “psychic impairment” was a relatively new concept that had yet to be commonly litigated. It was known as “shell shock” in WWI. The new label for it after the Vietnam War was “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD).
In April 1972, the author and his public-interest law firm, Arnold & Porter began to represent people harmed by the flood. They had to take the case on contingency, a rarity, only because those survivors couldn’t afford to pay the lawyers with any other fee structure. There occurred the usual frustrations, uncertainties and wrenches in the works that complicated the case, making it more expensive and time-consuming. Just a few included:
- the fact that the wife of and daughter of, and the rival himself of the recently elected United Mine Workers Union’s president were murdered;
- Once the lawyers decided whom to sue and in which court, it was hard to guess which of three judges would be assigned to the case (bringing up the cliche, “good to know the law, better to know the judge”);
- At that time, there was a limit of $110,000 that could be awarded to each personal injury / wrongful death victim in the state of West Virginia; and
- The disaster occurred less than two months prior to the West Virginia gubernatorial election.
Read the book to learn of the slew of additional details on the case and the fate of the stakeholders.
Yet one more largely similar disaster case was documented in the third Bonus Book of the Week, “A Trust Betrayed, The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families” by Mike Magner, published in 2014.
Like the fracking and coal-country stories, this story involved contaminated water, too. However, it was not a monster-sized corporation’s, but the United States government’s, negligence and secrecy that harmed people.
This story also differed in that the residents of the community were fluid– living there only months or a few years, compared to the fracking and coal-country victims. So they didn’t immediately connect the harm done to them with their drinking water, and communication among them was more scattered.
At the dawn of the 1980’s, an under-resourced water-testing lab at Camp Lejeune (where U.S. Marines were stationed) in North Carolina began to get an inkling that wells that provided drinking-water contained toxins such as THM’s, TCE, PCE, pesticides, PCB’s, VOC’s and benzene.
New federal clean-water laws were going into effect, so the Navy had to comply. The water was supposed to be tested regularly for grease, oil and suspended solids. If results showed contamination above a certain level, the lab was supposed to tell the EPA, but it didn’t handle cleanup.
The lab’s five (alarming) test-results between October 1980 and February 1981, were sent to Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic Division, where they disappeared into a black hole; not necessarily because there was a cover-up at that time, but merely due to bureaucracy– the lab workers thought the Navy knew what they were doing and would do the testing and regulating.
Camp Lejeune’s base commanders didn’t want to know whether individual wells were polluted. They hoped the base had sufficient clean wells to dilute the water from the contaminated ones. Shutting down any of the wells would produce a water shortage for the whole base during the summer, when demand for water was highest. Besides, water-testing was expensive.
Starting in the 1960’s and for decades thereafter, the military families and employees who lived in a certain geographic area on the base saw a disproportionate number of miscarriages, birth defects, and in later years, cancer. The suspected sources of pollution (or legal-defense scapegoats) included a dry cleaners, fuel tanks and a pumping station that exuded gallons and gallons of fuels and chemicals (through spills, leaks and inadequate safety practices) all the time.
In spring 1985, the crisis started to hit the fan, when the Navy was compelled to notify the residents that their drinking water might be unsafe (when in reality, for decades, it definitely had been).
Read the book to learn lots of additional details of what happened then (hint: the usual federal and state inter-agency (and military-branch) fighting, finger-pointing, report-writing, excuses for delays in the form of follow-up-research, and all manner of bureaucratic secrecy and shenanigans; after which the victims and taxpayers were the ones who paid the price).