By Jessica Fujan and Matt Ohloff, Food & Water Watch staff
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has,” and she couldn’t be more right!
Recent state-level wins in New York and Maryland have captured headlines as the movement to ban fracking continues to gain momentum. While those victories were tremendously important for those states, and our movement nationally, progress being made at the local level across the United States is equally significant. Organizing is critical to making progress in local communities, and on the state and national level.
Communities across the country have banded together to resist the fracking industry, and their game-changing efforts provide an inspiring roadmap for resistance, no matter how small your town, how nasty your opponents or how fracking affects you. We are all impacted by fracking—either directly, or by pipelines, by earthquakes caused by fracking wastewater disposal, from the impacts of mining the sand used in fracking, to the effects of climate change caused by the release of greenhouse gases from fracked oil and gas and much more.
A major part of the fracking process, and a clear example of how wide-ranging the effects of fracking are is frac sand, or silica sand, mining. This type of mining occurs in many Midwestern states like Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. Both the mining and processing of frac sand generate particulate matter. When crystalline silica is inhaled, it can cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular damage such as cancer and silicosis.
“No one is immune from the impacts of fracking,” said Iowan frac sand activist Robert Nehman. Robert and his friends at Allamakee County Protectors were able to stymie frac sand mining in northeast Iowa by highlighting the natural beauty of their surroundings and demanding that preservation efforts exclude sand mining sites. Seemingly small victories like this are actually hugely impactful towards efforts to halt the extremely harmful effects of fracking.
The large corporations behind fracking and its related activities have a playbook of tactics to intimidate their opposition. Don’t let them fool you, local uprisings have and will continue to stop the industry in its tracks. In Prairie Farm Wisconsin, Becky Glass, a farmer and Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, lead her community to create a county board ordinance regulating frac sand mining in Barron County. Their effort created such resounding local opposition that the frac sand mining company Procore was sent packing.
Anyone can help their community. When 155 acres of wooded bluff was leased for mining outside of Red Wing, Minnesota, Amy Nelson knew that mining could undermine both her health and her property value. With no prior experience in organizing for environmental causes, Amy set to work in her community, recruiting neighbors and friends to join “Save the Bluffs.” As awareness about the dangers of silicosis and water pollution began to emerge, so did outrage over open-car shipments of sand by rail and destruction along the banks of the Mississippi River. By 2011, their grassroots effort claimed victory when Goodhue County passed a mining moratorium.
These types of victories can cause a ripple effect. At the height of their battle Amy’s husband, Keith Fossen, campaigned to join the Hay Creek Township Board of Supervisors. Through his participation on the Board, he ultimately wrote the local ordinance on sand mining. The board created ordinances to limit hours of operation, the number of trucks per-day, and extraction limits of fossil fuel extraction companies. Their demands drove frac sand mining out of their community.
These victories are elements of a real and winning battle to save our health and our future from exploitative extraction industries. Local communities are organizing and fighting back, making real gains to protect their health and environment.
These significant local wins are an important part of the national fight to stop fracking. Every time a company is stalled, relocated and restricted, is a victory towards banning fracking nationally. If companies can’t prop open fissures, transport explosive gas, construct export terminals, mine the sand that makes fracking possible or comply with permitting standards, then it is also true that they can’t despoil our fragile environment or endanger our lives. And these local efforts are important steps towards banning fracking everywhere and making the necessary transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future.