Putting Frack-Free Food On The Table

A Pennsylvania Gas Worker’s Conscious Dilemma

 “What is to be said for a father of two who lives in southwestern Pennsylvania that needs a job to support his family and the only jobs in this area are in the pipeline/ fracking industry for a person with no other education than a high school diploma? I haven’t done it yet because clearly I am against fracking since I am a member of this group but I also need to keep shoes on my kids feet, a roof over their heads and food in their mouths….moral dilemma”

This comment was posted on the wall of an anti-fracking Facebook page. I’ll leave off his name in case the author does decide to seek a job in the gas industry or related services.

Of course, I almost always have something to say: “Be safe. No one should judge your choices. meanwhile, let’s all keep working for clean energy so the kids have better options.

“Your kids must come first now and always. You have to do what you have to do,” wrote Debbie Zeigler Lambert, a Pennsylvania anti-fracking activist.

Ed Vicheck wrote: “WE are not against those trying to make a living. In fact I personally am trying to get the industry to make it safer all around. I want it safe so, down the road in 10 to 20 years the workers are not stricken with cancer, and other industrial illnesses. You have to do what you have to do to make a living, but if they link you to any of these groups you don’t have a great chance. Just say’en.”

Help Wanted

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

Ben Franklin was the ultimate populist who would, no doubt, have joined the sweeping majority (58%) of Pennsylvanians who now support of a statewide moratorium to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

Paul Otruba took the time to reply to the gas worker’s comment at length:  “There is no real place to run and hide because there is just too large a human population. Stay and stand up for what you believe. This is best for not only your children but your children’s children. But if you have to take a job to survive in the gas industry, do it but get skill training on the side to get away from the gas industry. If you have started a family without first developing skills or education, it is a good investment to get training. Many of the gas industry skills are transferable into other industries. I know Security Guards doing online training or degrees during their 12 hour shifts.”

I have worked in SW Pa. It is a depressingly poor, extremely polluted, coal industry area and now it is also gas. It will now get worse. I live in north central Pa in a very conservative, coal area. I have worked with young people for 43 years as a non profit volunteer trying to get them to improve their futures. Now we are all about gas and with that, most of the other work disappeared. Most of the young families have moved out but find the only option open is the military whither they have moved or stayed……

And in response to a fbf who admires his hat, Otruba wrote: “The hat was made for me by a young man in prison who I had met while working at Boy Scout Camp back in the ’60s. I was helping to get him trained as a mechanic. We had a pirate theme at Odyssey of the Mind competition when this picture was taken.

She then asked: “Mr. Paul, maybe you have connections where he lives? Skills training options? People he could contact to open work options? __ You make a fine pirate.

Otruba replied: “No pay job connections, only a volunteer environmental advocacy connection there in the SW part of Pa. We are attempting to start a service for the gas industry and/or the land owners with leases. When there is need, it costs the gas industry a lot of money to pay for support and services. One local business start up was chain link fence builders out of Canton, Pa. Every compressor site is fenced. Not a lot of start up capital needed, a truck, bonding and a credit line for the first couple orders of fencing…. Our non-profit goal is to develop a environmental forensic lab for rapid on site analysis using cutting edge technology and methodology. This will provide not only employment but a means of self sustaining our programs like sponsoring another Riverkeeper program or two. This is a very expensive goal but, in phases, a doable start up….. Port-a-potties are really in great demand. Truck drivers are getting $20 an hour with a lot of over time and there is always a shortage of drivers in this part of Pennsylvania. Lift operators and heavy equipment operators are in demand. The Amish here are even operating equipment.

Help Needed

While the number of jobs the Oil & Gas industry creates is widely debated, the fact that gas production is the most dangerous industry on earth is not. This is no exaggeration.

In his landmark book, Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster  professor, respected intellectual,  and  author Walter Brasch considers the many aspects of the drilling boom on life in Pennsylvania. Brasch is also vice-president of the Central Susquehanna chapter of the ACLU, and he is a longtime advocate for workers rights. In Life And Death In The Frack Zone, Counterpunch, February 21, 2013, he wrote:

Drivers routinely work long weeks, have little time for rest, and hope they’ll make enough to get that house they want for their families. But fatigue causes accidents. And contrary to industry claims, workers don’t always wear protective gear when around toxic chemicals they put into the earth, and the toxic chemicals they extract from the earth. Or the toxic chemicals they drive on public roads…

No matter how much propaganda the industry spills out about its safety record and how it cares about its workers, the reality is that working for a company that fracks the earth is about as risky as it gets for worker health and safety.”

On February 21, 2013, Gayathri Valdyanathan reported on OSHA’s remarkable effieciency when it come to moving past worker tragedies. In Death On The Gas Field Illustrates High Risks of the Rush to Drill in Energy & Environment Daily, Valdyanathan wrote

“When a roughneck dies, the local newspaper runs a short obituary. The company pays for a funeral service. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducts an investigation and fines the company. Under the state’s workers’ compensation program, family members get a percentage of the victim’s monthly salary… The process is designed for an efficient cleanup. The company pays its share, and it moves on to drilling the next well.

Moving on is a lot harder for families left behind. No one tells them exactly why their brother, father or husband died. They get a letter from OSHA briefly laying out its findings, but they don’t get a copy of the investigation report without filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. To prove willful negligence in court, a high legal bar in most states, survivors assemble cases based on patchy eyewitness accounts in a notoriously opaque industry. Claims against leaseholders or site operators often drag on, before leading to undisclosed settlements that shed little light on what went wrong and how to prevent other tragedies.” 

Iris Marie Bloom and Dr. Poune Saberi of Protecting Our Waters have also drawn the spotlight to gasfield worker safety. In August 2012, the Philadelphia anti-fracking action group issued a press release, Shale Gas Industry Puts Workers at Risk in Rush to Fracksummarizing the top Five Critical risks, many more risks exist:

  1. Silicosis caused by exposure to crystalline silica sand, a”proppant” used in fracking, which is inhaled by workers during mining, transportation and transfer
  2. Hydrogen sulfide, a potentially deadly gas which occurs in fracked gas processing operations. Deadly levels have been measured but covered up, and an exemption bars federal oversight.
  3. Chemical exposures on the job producing skin lesions, severe headaches, gastrointestinal pain, respiratory distress and other symptoms, with inadequate treatment and reporting
  4. A culture of fear discourages workers from asking for protective gear; workers are also actively directed to participate in environmental cover-ups. Because most shale gas jobs are transient, non-union jobs, workers don’t feel safe speaking up.
  5. Dangerously explosive methane puts utility workers, residents and rescue responders at risk on the distribution end. Pipeline explosions kill.   

Read More:

Disposable Workers of the Oil and Gas FieldsIf you don’t have a college degree, it’s the best job in the West. Unless you die, unnoticed, Ray Ring, High Country News, 2007

At Work: Clean, Green Can Mean All Sorts of Jobs by Andrea Kay, USA TODAY, July 13, 2013.

Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix America’s Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones, Harper Collins, 2008


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2 Responses to “Putting Frack-Free Food On The Table”

  1. americanbadass607 Says:

    Liz, great piece. As far as the jobs. even though “slick Water Fracking highly dangerous, (Which people need to know has only been around for less than 10 years, not the 60 or 100 years the industry keeps lying about even after a court order telling to stop.) While we are fighting this we would like to see some of the locals get the jobs. Here in South Western Pennsylvania, we were promised thousands of jobs, but would be hard pressed to to see hundreds for the true locals. I have personally seen company personal buy houses here. This does not mean those are local hires.
    Ed Vicheck
    Avella Pa.

  2. Debbie Ziegler Lambert Says:

    Great article Liz. Thanks for keeping up with this nightmare called fracking.

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