by Stephanie Brown,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” Margaret Mead is famously quoted as saying. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Michael Badges-Canning, Jason Bell, Peter Buckland, and Jill Perry took this message to heart. Dismayed by the toxic presence of the oil and gas industry taking over their towns, and alarmed by the increasing number of health problems reported in the area, they decided to take action. Thus was born Tour de F.R.A.C.K. (Freedom Ride for Awareness and Community Knowledge): a two-week bike tour from Butler, PA to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about the harmful effects of fracking on the community and the environment.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a technique used to collect oil and natural gas from deep underground. The process involves injecting a large volume of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break open cracks or “fractures” in the rock and release oil and gas into wells built for the purpose. Gas companies contend that fracking is well-regulated and therefore poses no risk. The reality, though, is that small quantities of gas and oil can escape into cracks that lead to the surface, or seep into groundwater. In addition, wells have been known to leak, break, or spill. The end result is that toxic substances are released into the air we breathe and the water we drink.
In Butler County, the damaging effects of fracking are already making themselves known. Multiple reports of odd-colored and foul-smelling water in an area called the Woodlands have prompted local churches, with the aid of Marcellus Outreach Butler and Protecting Our Waters, to begin delivering over 200 gallons of clean drinking water to Woodlands residents every week. Meanwhile, six new processing plants expected to emit up to 95 tons of carbon monoxide every year are scheduled to be built near the area’s primary and secondary schools.
The creators of Tour de F.R.A.C.K. want to prevent that from happening. They hope that the bike tour and its accompanying events will “pull the national focus towards human tales of fracking while uniting the voices of those who have lived it and seen its true dangers,” Badges-Canning explains. “We believe that once people see the human cost of this industry, they will wake up and deal with it in a meaningful way.” The Tour plans to take their cause to Congress, raising public support and awareness as they go.
Bikers on the Tour will travel along most of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath. Along the way, they will explore the countryside, note the damage done by coal mining in the past, and discuss renewable resources. The bikers will also make several stops at rallies, concerts, and other events hosted by local anti-fracking organizations to raise awareness for the cause, collect personal stories about how people have been affected by fracking, and pass around a petition to ban fracking.
The Tour wants to show that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can indeed change the world. As Badges-Canning says, “This is grassroots at its finest.”
Although protests and oppositional speeches can be useful tools, and are incorporated into some aspects of the Tour, the real strength of the Tour as a means of social change lies in its focus on positive action. The Tour is meant to bring local organizations together, to foster discussion of alternative energy sources, to celebrate the natural beauty that exists along the trails, and to build relationships with community members and politicians alike. In addition, the bikers have expressed their eagerness to get in shape and to enjoy good music.
It is this kind of positive human energy that really transforms a local event into a powerful and compelling push for change. Tour de F.R.A.C.K. was created to promote community health and environmental justice, but it also serves as an inspiration for every grassroots organization working towards social justice. The Tour is a great demonstration of how negative activity can be overcome by sincere, positive activism.
The Tour departs on July 14 from Diamond Square in Butler County. 400 miles and two weeks later, the bikers will arrive in Washington D.C. There they will join the Stop the Frack Attack rally on the National Mall, which is expected to draw over 10,000 people.
This Thursday, June 28, Tour de F.R.A.C.K. is holding a concert here in Pittsburgh to officially begin the one-month countdown to the rally. The concert, featuring Akron activist/guitarist Zach Freidhof and Pittsburgh singers/songwriters Heather Kropf and Keith Hershberger, will be held at the Shadow Lounge on Balm Boulevard from 6–8:30pm. View the poster here.
For more information on the negative impact that fracking can have on a community, watch Food & Water Watch‘s video Is Your Water at Risk from Fracking? and check out Marcellus Shale Protest’s list of Resources.