This is the second installment in a special series looking at the personal side of organizers in the field.
In Wyoming, fracking is taking place all over the state. Oil and gas development is one of main sources of revenue for state and local governments, and one of the biggest sources of employment for communities. Although many are unwilling to speak up against the industry, others are doing what is right, and fighting to protect their health, their communities, and their environment.
During our trip to the area, we had a chance to meet with Deb Thomas, a current activist living in Clark County, Wyoming. In 1994, Deb and her husband, Dick, purchased land in this little piece of heaven. Surrounded by snowy peaks, Deb and her family made this area their home. A few years later, Windsor energy began development, and placed several well pads within view of Deb’s home. A blowout at a well near her home in 2006 forced the evacuation of several homes, and Deb and her family were not allowed to return to her home for several days. In order to protect her family, Deb began organizing, and managed to get several concessions from Windsor and the state to protect water sources.
Deb stood up for her family and her community, and fought back to defend her home – her little piece of heaven. Today, Deb continues to work to bring greater accountability to the industry in Wyoming, helping those that cannot help themselves. She constantly travels throughout the state, meeting affected communities and individuals, and providing them with the assistance they need to stand up and fight for they believe is right. She was recently profiled in Oprah Magazine, and serves as an inspiration to many in her community.
In Pavillion, names that have become familiar to many of us who have watched Gasland and Gasland II, have been trying for years to clean up contamination in their communities. People like John Fenton, who welcomed us into his home, and toured heavily contaminated areas of Pavillion with us. From his house, we could see an incineration plant used to vaporize VOCs from contaminated soils. From his land, we could see dozens of actively fracked natural gas wells, all owned by Encana. We visited several of his neighbors, all who suffer from health problems, and cannot drink water from their wells. For years, John has fought to raise awareness on what his happening in his community, and to defend his home, and his family.
John and Pavillion residents next to an EPA water quality monitoring well
John used to work for the industry, but enough was enough. He has become an outspoken advocate for reform, and will gladly speak to others to raise awareness about what is happening to his home. He travels through Wyoming, and the country, talking to audiences, calling for better oversight of the industry, and for the EPA to re open its investigation of groundwater contamination in Pavillion due to fracking.
So why take on one of the most powerful industries on the planet? What inspires people like Deb and John to speak up? They are very humble and honest, and will tell it’s because it’s the right thing to do. I personally see them as heroes – people who will not let themselves, their families, their environment, and everything they have worked so hard to protect, be destroyed in the name of profit. It is people like John and Deb that inspire so many others to stand up all over the country, and show that they will not be bullied. My colleagues and I were very fortunate to meet them in person, and see firsthand what is happening in their communities. They are truly an inspiration, and motivate me to do what I do everyday. I hope we get to continue working with them to protect communities and the environment.