How much risk to take? Let the people decide.

Courtesy of David Schemel

It is the middle of the night as I write this. Many things keep me up at night. Sometimes I worry about my small business. Sometimes I worry that my children will be scarred for life by my poor parenting skills. Tonight I am awake because I’m worried about fracking. Working these past months to keep fracking and oil and gas development a safe distance from my family isn’t something I enjoy.

However, whenever I think “what is all this for?” I think of my friends, neighbors and family. I talk to my best friend in Ohio about my concerns about the chemicals in the air near oil and gas wells; about whether we could sell our home in the current market if a multi-well pad is drilled, as originally planned, near our home. She has a 5-year-old child with autism. He doesn’t speak. I tell her I know my concerns are nothing compared to her realities. But she tells me not to give up. She tells me about the many hours of sleep she loses because she wonders what caused several women on her street to give birth to children with autism. She wonders what was in the air, the water, the food she ate out of her garden. She wishes she had known and she could have done something to change her son’s lot in life.

I think about my neighbor who was an athletic, seemingly healthy, non-smoking 50-year-old who recently died of lung cancer. Another neighbor told me he had wondered in his last days if he should have gotten radon mitigation done on his home. I think of his wife, who will be haunted by all the “what ifs” about the environment he lived in that might have caused his death.

I don’t wish the “what-ifs” on anyone. And I don’t wish the “it’s too late now” on my family and neighbors. I am not the type of person who enjoys a good fight. I just want to be able to sleep at night.

I don’t think every person living next to every well will get sick and die. I don’t think the sky is falling. But I do think as time passes, we will likely find — like asbestos, lead paint, cigarettes — that living close to oil and gas wells has made some people sick. We will find that the regulations in place and the government’s ability to enforce them have been inadequate to prevent this from happening.

I understand people depend on oil and gas for their livelihood and that we all depend on oil and gas in a multitude of ways. This is a complex issue for all of us. However, I don’t think that not drilling everywhere we possibly can is the end to jobs and the economy or will guarantee we will never be free from foreign sources of energy (talk about “the sky is falling”). I believe American ingenuity and common sense can find a solution without destroying our economy or our communities in the process — and without compromising our constitutional rights to health and safety.

Our children, our families and our homes are worth, well, everything. Just talk to someone who has lost a mother, brother, child to a disease, or has watched them struggle with a health issue, like severe asthma. These are not risks we should take lightly.

So this weekend, I will ask my neighbors to sign a petition for a ballot initiative to ban oil and gas wells using hydraulic fracturing from city limits. I think it’s time we put the choice into the hands of the residents on whether they want a future of “what ifs” or whether they want one less thing to keep them up at night.

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