A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Categories:  Environment    Community    Opinion
Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 at 8:00 AM
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Melissa A. Troutman
Dorene Dougherty holds a ceramic mask to help her breathe during respiratory attacks triggered by her rare medical condition, encephalopathy. Her doctor says that if fracking is constructed near her home it could be fatal. Photo courtesy Public Herald.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will speak at Edinboro University on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m. after the Communication Studies Annual Spring Banquet. Just a guess, Wolf probably won’t be communicating about the health threats of fracking. According to the news, he’ll cover “key policy initiatives and the state budget” in his Edinboro address, which is expected to last 15 - 20 minutes. After that, he’s taking questions from the audience, and that’s when I hope to finally get a chance to ask Gov. Wolf about fracking in person. 

It will be 493 days since I started an online petition to get an interview with Gov. Wolf about fracking by the time he speaks Thursday in Edinboro. I’ve sent emails, made phone calls, mailed certified letters, and even re-sent a letter to Governor Wolf written by Dorene Dougherty, a very ill woman who had to evacuate her home to save her own life as fracking encroached. Neither Dorene nor I ever heard back. 

For six years, I’ve investigated and published about the rights abuses, water contamination, and health problems caused by fracking – problems that were actually studied in New York state, where fracking was banned in order to protect people and the environment.  

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, still has not conducted a health or environmental impact study, even though high-volume slickwater fracking began here over a decade ago, around the same time the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill of 2005 created the “Halliburton Loophole,” which makes it legal for oil and gas companies to use chemicals in ways that is illegal for you, me, or another industry to use them. The result – people get sick and groundwater used for drinking, cooking, growing food, feeding families, and raising farm animals is contaminated – many times “off the books.” 

The last time I called to see what the status of my interview request with the governor was, I told the governor’s press office that I was recording our conversation for publication. The guy who answered replied, “We’re not subjecting ourselves to this,” and hung up the phone, sans salutations.

I assumed that once he became governor, Mr. Wolf would keep his promise to make “fracking safe” in Pennsylvania (there’s no such thing as safe fracking, but I thought his heart was in the right place). But Wolf hasn’t even tried. He won’t talk publicly about specific health impacts, cases of water contamination, or any other identifiable problems.  

When’s the last time you heard the governor use “fracking” and “health” in the same sentence? 

In 2011, I co-founded the investigative news nonprofit Public Herald, which has reported the impacts from fracking and produced the documentary Triple Divide, which uncovered the first of many ways the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) keeps water contamination related to fracking "covered up," creating pockets of undocumented pollution and leaving citizens suffering without help. 

In 2015, Public Herald published a 30-month investigation that outlines nine ways the state government "cooks the books" on total cases of water contamination. My partner at Public Herald, Josh Pribanic, wrote an exclusive for Erie Reader detailing his whistleblower experience at PA DEP, who revealed the agency’s been shredding some complaint records related to oil and gas contamination after retaining them only five years. 

In January 2016, I asked for a meeting with PA DEP Secretary John Quigley to talk about "cooked" cases where investigations have been mishandled. Quigley declined to meet with myself and oil and gas engineering expert Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, who’s been referencing our research. The denial was a huge disappointment, but at least Quigley bothered to reply. 

This Thursday at Edinboro University, I hope Gov. Wolf will agree to a future, in-depth interview about the impacts still occurring from fracking, which of late includes the seizure of private property through force (eminent domain) with the help of “heavily armed” U.S. Marshals.  

Why is the governor so silent about the very real, well documented abuses and harms from fracking? Gov. Wolf may be named after a wild, untamed animal at the top of the food chain; but politically, especially when it comes to the dangers of fracking, he seems more like the timid sheep a wolf might eat. 

In addition to the questions I have for Gov. Wolf about fracking, justice for those who’ve already been harmed, constitutional rights, and whether he supports the study of health impacts in the state, I now have additional questions about democracy and freedom. If you have a question you’d like me to add to my list for Wolf, email me at Melissa@PublicHerald.org or hit me up on Twitter @melissat22.

If you want to urge Gov. Wolf to accept my interview, you can sign the petition here and reach out to him yourself on his website. His website states that “the Governor’s Office reserves the right to deny requests at its discretion.” But while Gov. Wolf can deny interview requests, his denial about the dangers from fracking here in Pennsylvania is evidenced by his resounding silence. If the governor is in denial, what’s that mean for the rest of us?

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