Caught in the Drill Zone

A growing natural-gas industry poses toxic challenges for organic farmers and anyone else living near a fracking operation.

By Sue Smith-Heavenrich

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Fracking and organic farmersDrilling also contaminates air. Emissions from machinery used in fracking create more ground-level ozone in some areas of rural Wyoming and Texas than is found in Los Angeles. Ozone at ground level is a pollutant that affects plant growth, flowering, and fruiting; reduces yield; and, in the case of spotting on spinach leaves, can make crops unmarketable.

Compressor stations—used to pressurize natural gas going from wells into pipelines or to inject gas into storage wells—are another source of harm. Four years ago, a compressor located 1⁄2 mile from Angel Smith’s Clearville, Pennsylvania, farm exploded. Tiny oil droplets rained down on her gardens and fields, destroying produce and hay valued at more than $25,000 and putting her 550-bush pick-your-own blueberry patch out of business. “Every day, families would bring children to pick,” Smith says, “but since the compressor blew, not one person has come by.”

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) have petitioned their states for a moratorium on fracking until studies can show it won’t harm farms and the foods they produce. “[Fracking] can’t become a burden on the farmer,” Knapp says.

Photo: David Brown

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