Donna Young, a fifty-something, heart-faced woman with a story-time lilt of a voice, cuts a curious figure for a pariah. She's the mother of six, a grandmother of 14 and an object of reverence among the women she's helped, many of whom she's guided through three and four home births with blissfully short labors and zero pain meds.
And the sin for which she's been punished with death threats and attacks on her reputation? Two years ago, she stumbled onto the truth that an alarming number of babies were dying in Vernal -- at least 10 in 2013 alone, what seemed to her a shockingly high infant mortality rate for such a small town. That summer, she raised her hand and put the obvious question to Joe Shaffer, director of the TriCounty Health Department: Why are so many of our babies dying?
In most places, detecting a grave risk to children would inspire people to name a street for you. But in Vernal, a town literally built by oil, raising questions about the safety of fracking will brand you a traitor and a target...................................
In January 2001, days after taking office as the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush convened a closed-door task force to confront the country's addiction to foreign oil. Since the early 1970s, American motorists (and administrations) had ridden the loop-de-loop of peak demand: shortages, price spikes and the market manipulations of OPEC's billionaire princes. Two-thirds of the crude being refined here for gas arrived on overseas freighters, and the industry's bids for new offshore formations were blocked by an executive order from Bush's father. A bold plan was called for, including "environmentally sound production of energy for the future." Or so went the rhetoric in the announcement that heralded the group's formation. But Bush named Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, to lead the effort — "Can't think of a better man to run it," he said — and any hope for a rational, climate-sparing program went up in a flare of hydrocarbons.
The vice president sat down with supplicants from the fossil-fuel sector and gold-star donors to his campaign. For months, he or his small staff met in secret with the likes of James Rouse, the then-vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp.; Enron's Kenneth Lay; Red Cavaney, the then-president of the American Petroleum Institute; and dozens of lobbyists and sen-ior executives from the coal, mining, electric and nuclear sectors. What Cheney sent the president, four months later, was a policy essentially written by the barons themselves: a massive expansion of domestic drilling on federally owned lands; tens of billions of dollars in annual subsidies to Big Oil; and wholesale exemptions to oil-and-gas firms from environmental laws and oversight. In essence, Cheney's program turned the Department of the Interior into a boiler-room broker for Big Oil, and undercut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Cheney's plan was such a transparent coup for Big Oil that it took four years, two elections and the Republican capture of both houses of Congress to make it to Bush's desk as legislation. Along the way, the bill gained a crucial addendum, known today as the "Halliburton loophole": a carte-blanche exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act for an emergent technique called fracking. A form of extraction dating back to the Civil War, when miners used nitroglycerin to blow holes in oil-soaked caves (a subsequent version, in the 1960s, used subterranean nukes to fracture rock), fracking has since evolved into a brute but nimble method for blasting oil and gas deposits that couldn't be recovered by conventional derricks, at least not at a rate that made them profitable.
The process, perfected and marketed by Halliburton, shoots huge amounts of fluid at very high pressure down a mile or more of pipe to break the rock. That fluid, a trademarked secret called "slickwater" that has toxic solvents, is mixed with a million gallons of water, roughly a fifth of which come barreling back as wastewater. It's a desperately dirty job, marked by horrors of all kinds: blowouts of oil wells near houses and farms; badly managed gas wells flaring uncapped methane, one of the planet's most climate-wrecking pollutants.
Then there's pollution of the eight-wheeled sort: untold truck trips to service each fracking site. Per a recent report from Colorado, it takes 1,400 truck trips just to frack a well — and many hundreds more to haul the wastewater away and dump it into evaporation ponds. That's a lot of diesel soot per cubic foot of gas, all in the name of a "cleaner-burning" fuel, which is how the industry is labeling natural gas.
"Fracking moved the oil patch to people's backyards, significantly increasing the pollution they breathed in small towns," says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Basically, it industrialized rural regions, and brought them many of the related health problems we were used to seeing in cities."
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/fracking-whats-killing-the-babies-of-vernal-utah-20150622#ixzz3eELtVOQT
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook