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Fleeing from fracking

People come to The Berkshires for a lot of reasons.

Dr. Mehernosh Khan and his wife, Karen, had been living in an upper-middle class housing plan in Monroeville, Penn., a small community about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Karen had grown up in Pittsburgh, and her husband had been practicing family medicine in the area for 30 years. They were well-established and had friends and family close by.

But last year, they decided it was time to move away from the area they called home. Their reason for leaving? To get away from the fracking that was poisoning the air, water and land in their home state.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process of extracting natural gas from shale rock buried deep underground by drilling a well and injecting a high volume of water laced with chemicals into the well to fracture the underlying rock.

The chemicals, many of them highly toxic and known to cause cancer, then contaminate the groundwater and get into nearby drinking supplies. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, may leak out from the wells and get into the air, and air contamination also comes from operating equipment such as rigs, compressors and trucks.

Pennsylvania overlies the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest natural gas deposits in the country. Fracking wells are spread out over a large area in western Pennsylvania, including in Murrysville, the next town over from where the Khans were living.

“We lived a few houses away from Murrysville, so a well would have been just a street or two behind our house,” Mrs. Khan said.

She said she wasn’t always concerned about fracking. She had heard about it but didn’t pay much attention.

“Finally, I don’t know what thing clicked in my head, but I said, ‘Well, I’m going to find out what this is,’ and then I couldn’t believe it,” she explained.

She started doing research and reading more about it: “The more research I would do, the bigger problem I found this was.”

She began looking into areas that did not have shale, including Asheville, N.C., Minnesota, Wisconsin and The Berkshires.

Mrs. Khan and her husband finally settled upon moving to The Berkshires since it was easy for Dr. Khan to find work here. They moved up here last September, and Dr. Khan now practices family and holistic medicine at Hillcrest.

The Khans had been living here a few months when Karen was alerted to the fact that shale had been discovered in western Massachusetts over in the Pioneer Valley. She was shocked and alarmed by the news.

“Then my concern is how to wake people in Massachusetts up!” she exclaimed. “You guys have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

In Pennsylvania, residents have had to deal with Act 13. This law, as Dr. Khan explained, states that municipalities could not use their zoning regulations to control where drilling could and could not take place.

The law also places a gag order on physicians, threatening to sue them if they were to share information regarding contamination from shale byproducts with their patients.

Dr. Khan, along with seven municipalities and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, filed a lawsuit against Act 13 in March 2012. The legal challenge was upheld when the Commonwealth Court, on July 26, ruled that statewide zoning provisions in Act 13 were unconstitutional.

Mrs. Khan said she has seen people whose lives have been torn apart by fracking.

“We’ve been to the Sierra Club meetings, we’ve seen people bringing their sick children,” she said. “I’ve seen people crying, I’ve seen mothers that really had a different life, that totally made shale their life. This is happening to so many people.”

The Khans explained how the fracking companies are illegally dumping wastewater into streams and rivers.

“It’s illegal to do, but they still do it,” said Dr. Khan.

“When they do the dumping in the streams and rivers, if somebody complains enough, maybe after the second or third time, they may get fined a little,” Mrs. Khan explained.

“The fines are so nominal,” her husband continued. “If they mess up your land, the amount that they’re responsible for is $2,500, that’s it. The whole thing is, it’s not geared towards protecting the environment or the people, it’s more geared toward protecting the bottom line of the gas companies.”

If it wasn’t for the fracking, Mrs. Khan said she wouldn’t have left Pennsylvania: “It would have been so much easier to stay – you know, friends, family, ease of knowing where everything is.”

“We saw the writing on the wall, there was no question about that,” said Dr. Khan. “The opportunity was there to move, and so we took that opportunity.”

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Posted by on April 25, 2013. Filed under National News,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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