Ohio anti-fracking activist joins Greta Thunberg to decry fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Day Congressional Hearing
A self-described “fracking refugee” from Belmont County, Ohio on Thursday joined Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Earth Day to urge a congressional subcommittee to abandon subsidies to the fossil fuel industry when Congress passes its next infrastructure bill.
Jill Antares Hunkler told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s environment subcommittee she was forced from her home at the headwaters of the historically pristine Captina Creek Watershed. Her leaving her home was due to oil and gas infrastructure and pollution from a compressor station, It consisted of 78 fracking wells, a transfer station, and an interstate pipeline with numerous gathering pipelines. All of which were within a five-mile radius of her home.
Jill Hunker added a 2018 fracking well blowout in Belmont County caused one of the largest methane leaks in U.S. history, forcing area residents to evacuate from their homes. A brine truck accident contaminated Barnesville’s reservoir with radioactive materials. She added:
“The negative health impacts we experienced were too much to bear. First, we noticed the odors and had nose, eye, and throat irritation, as well as headaches. The symptoms worsened over time with nausea, vertigo, rashes, mental confusion, disorientation, numbness, and body aches and pains.
True wealth is good health, and our health and happiness suffered as long as we stayed in the hollow.”
Since the fracking boom began, she said Belmont and other eastern Ohio counties that produce natural gas have lost more than 6,500 jobs instead of gaining them, and the region’s population has declined. Hunkler:
“That’s why there’s little reason to believe the cutting of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will result in lost jobs. The local oil and gas workers are often the least valued assets of the industry. They are exploited, given the worst, most dangerous, and often are the least-paid contract jobs without health care and retirement benefits.”
On Tuesday, when the Memphis City Council votes on an ordinance to protect the city’s pristine water supply. It will be choosing between the future health and well-being of Memphis and the future profits of two Texas oil companies trying to seize the property of Black citizens in Southwest Memphis to transport $9 billion of crude oil per year from the fracking fields in Texas to tankers in Louisiana for export.
There are three reasons why the Council should vote to protect Memphis’s people and drinking water, despite the objections of the pipeline companies:
(1) it is reckless,
(2) it is racist, and
(3) it is a rip-off.
First, it is reckless to bury a huge high-pressure oil pipeline directly over the crown jewel of the city: the Memphis Sand Aquifer. It is one of the purest aquifers in the world and the sole source of drinking water for all of Memphis. Incredibly, they also want to tunnel directly through a vulnerable “wellfield zone” – one of several places where the protective clay layer above the aquifer is breached and the aquifer especially vulnerable to contamination.
A spill there would be utterly catastrophic.
Moreover, the region stretching from Memphis to New Madrid, Missouri, is the most dangerous earthquake zone east of the Rocky Mountains. Three of the largest earthquakes in U.S. history hit here early in the 19th Century – ringing church bells in Boston.
As a Senator representing Memphis 30 years ago, I held hearings on the risk of another big quake here. The seismologists said it’s a matter of when, not if.
Meanwhile, Valero’s large refinery is already the worst source of toxic air pollution in Shelby County, with most of the pollution carried into Southwest Memphis. Last year, Valero spilled 800 gallons of crude oil near the planned route of the Byhalia pipeline.
These companies’ assurances of safety would be laughable if their records were not so dangerous. Second, it is racist because the proposed route intentionally snakes through the 97% Black communities of Southwest Memphis, where residents are already suffering a horribly disproportionate and dangerous level of pollution and a cancer rate four times the national average.
It is a textbook example of environmental injustice. When the companies were asked why they chose this route, they said Southwest Memphis was
“the point of least resistance.”
The two oil companies pushing this reckless project – Valero and Plains All-American – have both been charged for their reckless negligence. In 2015, a Plains pipeline ruptured in California, spreading oil over nine miles of the Santa Barbara coast. Plains has also been prosecuted for 10 other pipeline spills in four states and in Canada for one of the largest ground-based oil spills in the history of North America.