Standing Up to Oil and Gas Bullies

I had a ringside seat to the beginning of the fracking boom and it wasn’t pretty.

I never wanted to be an activist. After working in the oil and gas industry for 12 years and finding that their ethical standards don’t match mine, I moved to 42 beautiful acres in Wise County, Texas where my sons, horses, and other animals could run wild and free. The dense post oak woods behind the house were home to all kinds of wildlife; the pasture in front had knee-high grass. A deep gully cut through the land adding to the romance and making a good hideout for deer, boys, and horses. The gully led to a pond surrounded by cottonwood trees with leaves that make a soft, comforting melody in the wind.

I loved the darkness and quiet at night. On nights when money worries displaced sleep, I could walk outside in my nightgown and see the Milky Way. It made my worries seem insignificant. We didn’t have money for entertainment, but we had the stars. During the day, we learned constellations by putting pinholes in construction paper taped to a window. At night, we parked the truck in the pasture under a canopy of vividly bright stars and enjoyed the show accompanied by a coyote serenade. The horses, goats, dogs, and cats would join us. It was our paradise, but it would not last.

At first, the towers with bright lights were far away in the distance. I was only mildly curious. But they multiplied and crept closer until the Milky Way was gone. “They murdered our stars,” my son mourned.

I started filling a blog with photos and videos and what I learned about fracking.

I learned the Father of Fracking, billionaire Texas oilman George Mitchell, was experimenting with fracking oil and gas from the Barnett Shale in my area around 2004. The crystal clear air and blue skies disappeared, leaving a brownish haze. My water also disappeared, then returned black and slimy.

I had a ringside seat to the beginning of the fracking boom and the lie: an “endless supply of clean-burning natural gas,” a bridge to a clean-energy future.

As I drove to work at the University of North Texas and back, to T-ball practice, the grocery store, I photographed unlined pits filled with oily sludge, impoundments holding precious freshwater, drilling rigs belching diesel plumes, and trucks everywhere, spilling and dumping.

I started filling a blog with photos and videos and what I learned about fracking. People — a lot of them — found me and asked for help. I found Earthworks, the extractive-industry watchdog that was the only source for fracking information at that time, and the folks there helped me help others. Eventually Earthworks hired me to organize in Texas. And I moved away from my land to Dallas, where there’s no drilling.

In 2014, I became a certified optical gas imaging thermographer. Initially, I wanted to help families like mine prove oil and gas pollution was causing them harm, but now fracking is a global issue. Since then, I have traveled throughout the US and the United Kingdom, and have been interviewed for hundreds of articles detailing the harms of pollution from this industry.

Twice, the oil and gas industry tried to silence me by suing me in court. Twice, I won the right to continue exposing the dirty secrets they don’t want you to know: Natural gas is not clean or safe and is a bridge to climate catastrophe. In fact, it is 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming, though it stays around in the atmosphere for only about ten years.

The truth is, we are approaching a point of no return. Victory will require aggressive action by the Biden administration, Congress, and anyone and everyone in power to do something. Here’s where we can start:

  • Use the power already granted by the Clean Air Act to reduce oil and gas methane pollution by 65 percent by 2025;
  • Declare a national climate emergency and use those expanded powers to reinstate the crude oil export ban;
  • Deny all new permits for any further expansion of oil and gas infrastructure, and
  • Push Congress to rapidly and justly transition to a renewable energy future.

Methane knocked on my door in Wise County and since then I have worked tirelessly to expose the gravity of its impact. And I’ll continue working tirelessly to stop methane emissions in order to buy us time to deal with our carbon addiction as well. Because that may be our only hope.

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