Returned Peace Corps Cycling Duo Planning Tour to Call Attention to Fracking Problems
By Guest Contributor on Friday, July 13th, 2012
Over the past four years, Western Pennsylvania has experienced a wave of unconventional gas drilling. While some see it as a boom for local economies, the controversial technique known as high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has plenty of critics. Jill Perry (Paraguay ’03-’05) and Jason Bell (Ecuador ’03-’05) are planning a 400-mile bicycle tour to call attention to what they and others are experiencing in their rural corner of the state. The Tour de Frack (Freedom Ride for Awareness and Community Knowledge) will take place during the last two weeks of July. Jill writes about the purpose and planning of the event below.
The Tour de FRACK is an action in motion intended to call attention to and change the focus of the conversation regarding shale gas drilling. My fellow organizers and I have chosen bicycles because traveling by bike connects a person to a place in a way that no other mode of transportation does. It allows you to see people, land, and even time from a new perspective.
A Need for a Balanced Discussion: Impacts on Rural Communities
We first noticed changes in our area during the spring of 2010—noting an increase in truck traffic, construction equipment and other industrial activities not traditionally seen in agricultural areas. We didn’t know anything about what was happening and didn’t think much of all the wires strung along the road and hillsides labeled “seismic testing.” Jason thought that maybe they were there to monitor earthquakes for a study. When the wells started flaring on the hills surrounding our little town we begin to look into it.
What we found alarmed us. Currently, a single company is planning to build six processing plants within four miles of our community; each one will release 95% of the carbon monoxide allowed by law. We have two young children and will be living a mile and half downwind from on the plants. We worry for their health.
Our neighbors close to the rigs and plants complain of invasive stadium lights, powerful diesel engines running day and night, the ground shaking, walls rattling, and traffic careening down once quiet country lanes. Jason has spent a lot of time the community of Connoquessesing, about four miles from our home. He is working with families who claim to have been affected by groundwater contamination during the fracking and drilling process. He’s also witnessed drilling muds from pipeline constructions seeping out of a hillside and into a pristine stream. The more we learn about fracking and its related activities, the more we are convinced that the gain is not worth the cost. This unhappy scene is happening over and over again throughout the shale fields of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.
Tour de Frack
To create awareness, we are organizing this traveling road show with concerts, presentations, community organizing, coalition building, and information sharing. We are collecting stories and petitions to bring the voice and concern of regular people to Washington, D.C. In the end we hope to have one big community with a large voice that spans from Pennsylvania to D.C. The ride, scheduled from July 14 to 28, will have a core group of riders but there are events scheduled for larger groups, including three group rides in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Frostburg, Md.; and Washington D.C. The route will follow the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath. The Tour de Frack will culminate with a rally and concert on the Mall in front of the Capitol.
Peace Corps Service Parallels
We see many parallels between our service in the Peace Corps and what we are doing now. Jason and I both served in Latin America. Paraguay and Ecuador both have a history of their communities being abused by powerful multinational companies and the government for the exploitation of natural resources. We are seeing the same pattern here. We are in the way of the industrial growth and little regard is given to our, health, safety, or lifestyle.
The more we talked about it, the more we became unwilling to just sit by and let our own communities be taken advantage of. So, we decided to reach out to others throughout the region to see if we could make a difference and just like in Peace Corps we are helping to empower the voices of those most affected in the community and to improve their live. The only difference is that now those voices and the community are our own. Jason was a rural health volunteer and I was a municipal development volunteer. Between us, we gained a lot of experience bringing people, resources, and organizations together around grassroots efforts to improve communities — doing this in our own community is a natural extension of our Peace Corps service, one that we both view as our civic duty.
In many ways, we feel like Peace Corps volunteers in our hometown (though with technology readily available it is a bit easier here then where we served!). We both brought back a sense of duty and service that we learned while serving and feel that is our obligation to do the same at home as we did for our communities abroad. In this process, we have met so many people whom we might not have had the chance to meet. It is reminiscent of the community mapping that we did in the first weeks in our sites. Knocking on doors, introducing ourselves, learning about the local culture.
We have learned that people are very similar all over. They want a healthy and safe life for their families. They are willing to help and get involved when asked; they just need to be asked. And they do care; they just don’t know what to do. Though we both went into the Peace Corps at mid-career points in our lives, we both recognize the skills, confidence, and just plain ‘guts’ that we developed while serving. I frequently tell friends that standing up in front of a crowd of protesters is nothing compared to trying to convince a group of elder Paraguayan women (who only speak Guarani when she only speak Spanish) to organize a neighborhood commission to bring water to their rural village.
We know that we made a difference in the Peace Corps and that the experience has taught that we can do it here as well.
To learn more about the Tour de Frack, visit www.tourdefrack.com. Thanks to Jill Perry (Paraguay 2003-2005) for this submission.