The other night I went to a meeting hosted by Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now, or ACCDAN. They were opposing the drilling of a new natural gas well in the area, a so called super well, which would be a large facility. Fracking contributes a great deal to climate change through the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. There are also potentially health risks to people from drinking potentially contaminated drinking water and breathing contaminated air around the facility, but mostly my concern is the climate. I was excited to be able to do some activism in my own community, but I expected the turnout to be small. I live in a middle class community that is largely conservative, and conservatives tend to uphold the Drill Baby Drill mantra.
Given this, I was surprised to see how many people had showed up. Probably a good hundred people, and a few news crews, crowded into the cafeteria of the middle school my kids will eventually attend. Perhaps I was underestimating my community.
The proposed fracking sight we would be discussing was about a block away from the school, nestled amongst a neighborhood of mansions with multiple acre horse properties. It’s the rich end of our community. But rich people care about the environment too, I told myself. Clearly a lot of them. I knew there was probably some NIMBYism going on here (for those who don’t know, NIMBY means Not In My Back Yard), but whatever, they were on board now. Sometimes it takes people being intimately affected to get involved in a cause.
But I was wrong. As the presenters got up and spoke, they made it very clear that they weren’t opposed to drilling in general, they just didn’t want it near them. They repeated that they weren’t anti drilling nearly every other sentence, and at times seemed to be outright praising the oil and gas industry. They listed the reasons why they didn’t think these big drilling operations belonged in their neighborhoods. Reasons like (I shit you not) their kids wouldn’t be as safe while riding their horses with all the trucks driving in and out, and the noise of the drilling would disrupt their sleep, something that could lead to depression. Oh, woe.
But they were very clear that they were thrilled with the idea of drilling elsewhere. The technology, they repeatedly said, was really amazing and cool. The products they produced were great and we all use them (of course, those of us with larger homes use disproportionately more than everyone else, but whatevs). They in no uncertain terms wanted drilling to happen. Just not where they have to see it.
Twenty minutes into the presentation I crossed my arms over my chest and started a mental stream of snarky retorts to the people speaking. Are you fucking kidding me right now? I screamed in my brain when one speaker said that zoning was supposed to keep industrial operations in industrial areas, and homes in resedential areas, and never the two shall meet. Yeah, unless you’re poor. I huffed. Poor people live in industrial places all the time. But who gives a shit about them, am I right?
During the question and answer portion a woman stood up and began yelling at the ACCDAN presenters. Why weren’t the drilling companies required to notify people and put up signs like any of them would be required to do if they were building something on their properties? Why were they allowed to arrange this so secretly? Where were the regulations? She shifted her weight and waved her arms furiously as she blasted these questions at the ACCDAN a organizers as if it was their fault. I leaned over in my chair to see her better, half glaring, half slack jawed in shock. “Because they don’t have to follow the same rules as we do!” I spat, loud enough for the people sitting around me to hear, but not to reach the angry woman’s ears. “Where have you been, lady? Welcome to the rest of our’s world!”
Basically, the overarching theme of the meeting was how great oil and natural gas were, but they should drill it somewhere else, somewhere where it wouldn’t lower their property values or disturb their sense of tranquility. They really didn’t care about the long term effects of fracking as a whole, or where else it was likely to end up, they just cared about their property value. Typical rich people. It was foolish of me to expect otherwise.
I got back to my car feeling angry and defeated. It’s not easy to get on board with an environmental movement that focuses mainly on rich white people NIMBYism. But then, it wasn’t about the environment at all for ACCDAN. It was about property values and rich people’s comforts. In fact, as I was leaving the meeting, I was straight up told by another attendee that because I didn’t live in the neighborhood where the well was being drilled, it didn’t really impact me. Maybe they didn’t realize that the children from several neighborhoods (including mine) attend the school we were walking out of, only one block from the drilling sight. No, that well doesn’t impact us at all.
But I personally would oppose this fracking operation even if I home schooled my kids, because a) I care about anyone being subjected to that (it’s called empathy, look it up), and b) when it comes to the climate, everywhere is my back yard. As such, I don’t know if I can stand with people who wish to just push this operation off on other people. Sure, they talked about putting it somewhere else where it won’t bother anyone, but that’s a false promise. There is nowhere to put this thing that it won’t bother people. Even if you are one of those willfully ignorant morons who doesn’t believe in climate change, or thinks we’ll figure out a way to fix it that doesn’t involve quitting burning fossil fuels in time to circumvent any major catastrophes, any reasonable person can see that pushing this project out of this location means pushing it into another neighborhood in the area, most likely a poorer one. They suggested a region near I25 that is currently empty, but that area is to my knowledge zoned commercial, and has already been developed quite a bit by upscale retail establishments. Those businesses won’t want to see that area become industrialized any more than the residents of the current neighborhood location. And those businesses have a lot more money to fight it. No, pushing this project out of this neighborhood, while simultaneously encouraging them to drill elsewhere, will mean putting this rig into someone else’s neighborhood. They’ve tapped the rural areas, it’s time to start moving into the suburbs.
I don’t want to see this thing drilled at all. We need to leave all remaining fossil fuels in the ground. But if it must be drilled, I think those who use the products the most should be the ones who deal with the consequences of it. The fact is that those with bigger houses, bigger cars, more/bigger appliances, bigger properties, who travel more and buy more stuff, consume more fossil fuels and contribute more to global warming than those of us who live smaller in denser environments. And at the same time it is those of us who contribute the least (and to be clear, there are many who contribute far less than I do, I know) who are impacted the most by the environmental consequences. Maybe it’s time the rich start pulling their weight. If having a few fracking rigs in their neighborhood is the worst they have to endure, it’s not really so bad. It’s not like they are fleeing from wars caused by drought and food shortages, or drowning and dying of heat after a hurricane flooded their city and their government left them behind, or they are watching as the ocean slowly swallows their entire nation whole.
Simultaneously, those who use these products the most have the most power to change our current system. It would be nice to see the people of this movement use their class power to do good for everyone, but given the rhetoric I heard at the last meeting I’m not holding my breath.
I understand that to get victories sometimes you have to play politics. Saying “We’re pro drilling, we just don’t think it should be in neighborhoods” makes a certain political sense in that light. But ultimately it just results in NIMBYism, which ultimately is something that only the most privileged have access to. On top of that, it ignores the biggest issue with these fracking operations, and that’s its contribution to global warming, which is everyone’s problem, but again impacts the poorest the most. Playing these political games is just sticking the poor with the bill for the rich’s irresponsible consumption. So I personally don’t care if my being anti drilling, period, hurts ACCDAN’s mission. I dont want their success. Their victory is not a small victory for me, it is a double failure, in an environmental and classist sense.
I’m going to another ACCDAN meeting tomorrow night, and we’ll see if the rhetoric sounds any different then. Right now, I’m not impressed. It’s disappointing to run into this, it’s part of what gives environmentalism the reputation for being a privileged, elitist cause. But the truth is that what ACCDAN is doing has nothing to do with environmentalism. Its about rich people trying to avoid seeing the true cost of their consumption.