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Bucket Brigade Helps Arkansas Residents Test Air Near Fracking Sites

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Local Air Bucket Brigade Organizer
Arkansas Mother April Lane

The strange, not-quite-sweet smell was in the air as my guides took me on a tour of public roads winding  through rural Arkansas.  At every stop, every time I stepped out of the car along the right-of-way, there it was.  With roads marked with signs like Civil War Trail, Rabbit Ridge and Bee Branch, and with acres upon acres of rolling hills, I’d expected to smell little more than the freshness of overripe cow pastures or perhaps a poultry house.  This was different.

There were a few cattle remaining, but many had left to make way for drilling rigs, holding tanks and open pits of toxic liquid in places where they used to graze.  Just a few miles north of Little Rock, a five-county rural area has become the target of exploration for the last stubborn pockets of natural gas that were previously unreachable with yesterday’s technology. Those bucolic  cow pastures sit atop the Fayetteville Shale, also home to more than 200,000 people.

“What am I smelling?” I asked my guides.  “You don’t know what it is,” one of them answered matter-of-factly.  Thus, I began to understand the reality these Arkansas residents live with everyday.  The complexities of modern fracking, far more powerful than natural gas exploration in previous decades, involve multiple steps that affect land, water and air. Citizens often feel powerless to understand what is happening around them, not even having a say in whether industry should be operating just feet from their homes and farms.
Open Air Holding Pond for Used Fracking Fluid
Near Arkansas Homes and Farms

Global Community Monitor has been cautioning about both short- and long-term health effects of substances used in the natural gas hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In its 2011 report called Gassed!, GCM recommended quarter-mile buffer zones for the processes associated with hydraulic fracturing to keep it a minimal distance from homes, schools and businesses.  Instead, the energy industry has made itself at home in the fields and yards of Arkansas residents, sometimes even uninvited because of the way mineral rights work.

Arkansas Resident Dirk Deturk shows
Mapping of Earthquakes in Fayetteville Shale area
including his own backyard

“They just put an industrial park in everybody’s backyard,” exclaimed Van Buren County resident Dirk Deturk!  He and his wife overlook a large forest area that now contains two natural gas fracking pads in the valley below.  Deturk said, “I’ve been out back working in the garden and my tongue would bleed. The smell is horrendous that comes off these wells at times.”  He showed me a photo of a rash that he said he and a neighbor both came down with at the same time, immediately after they noticed flaring operations in the valley below.  A couple of years ago, Deturck and others experienced earthquakes that led to a moratorium on other deep Arkansas wells where fracking byproducts were being injected into the ground.

Van Buren County resident Beverly Langford is also concerned about her family’s health since fracking has replaced cattle ranching in her field. “It’s absolutely air concerns, one of my major platforms has been the air concerns.  I don’t think they’ve figured out a way to address the fact that property in  Texas where it’s completely flat and they’re doing a lot of drilling is different than here in the  valley.  Look out here how hazy it is today.   Haze hangs in these hills…Everybody that you talk to now has breathing problems, has severe allergy problems, has a lot of sinus issues, things like that, but nothing can be linked back to them.”

Natural Gas Fracking Production in Langford Family’s Former Cattle Field,
where they’re still required to pay property taxes, with their home on the far right
Arkansas Resident Beverly Langford
Has view and odor of
Natural Gas Production
from her front porch.

GCM has equipped a group of Arkansas residents to monitor their own air quality and send it to an independent lab for testing, to help answer some of the lingering questions about fracking in their communities.  University of Central Arkansas student, wife and mother April Lane is demanding answers and leading a modern day bucket brigade so residents can protect themselves. Lane said. “There’s just a lack of disclosure of what we’re being exposed to. Companies don’t tell you when you they come onto your property and they’re starting to do one stage of production, they don’t let you know anything, any safety information, letting you know what they’re pumping into the air on certain days.  As a landowner and a mother you need to know what you and your children and your family are being exposed to.”

Lane helped organize ArkansasFracking.org  because of health and safety concerns. State agencies apparently do little to no air quality testing, while industry finds loopholes in protective federal measures like the Clean Air Act. There’s also a difference in how industry or government tests to meet occupational standards and how independent testing might be done to protect vulnerable populations.

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