Documentary, scientist address perils of fracking

“Unfractured” chronicles the struggle to ban fracking in New York.

  • Wednesday, August 28, 2019 12:16pm
  • Opinion
Maia Syfers

Maia Syfers

This past May, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a state ban on fracking for oil or natural gas exploration in Washington State, becoming the fourth state in the U.S. to ban fracking and joining New York, Vermont and Maryland. On Sept. 10, the Vashon Theatre will screen the documentary “Unfractured,” which chronicles the successful struggle to ban fracking in New York.

The screening will be hosted by The Vashon Climate Action Group (an affiliate of, and 350 Tacoma. “Unfractured” stars Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a well-known scientist, author and activist, and explores the deeply personal story of this campaign and the dedication, resilience and personal hardship it entailed. She is coming from New York to attend and speak at the screening. The film explores the worldwide health and environmental costs of fracking and includes a trip she made to Romania to meet with local activists resisting Chevron’s fracking operations.

Steingraber founded “New Yorkers Against Fracking” and is a member of “We Are Seneca Lake,” a group focused on stopping natural gas storage in old salt caverns below Seneca Lake, where she lives. The film tells the intimate story of their campaign, including direct action and civil disobedience resulting in hundreds of arrests. It is an uplifting account of the power of people to create meaningful change and one woman’s struggle against great personal odds.

Washington state’s ban on fracking does not prevent the use of fracked gas imported from outside the state. Fracking is now responsible for at least two-thirds of the natural gas in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and 50% of crude oil. More than 90% of the gas wells in the United States are fracked. At least half of Northwest natural gas supplies are fracked, according to a conservative estimate by the Sightline Institute.

Fracking involves forcing water and dangerous chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to fracture material surrounding oil and gas, allowing their extraction. Fracking uses and contaminates vast quantities of an area’s water supply, despoils the land, increases earthquake risk and exposes local populations to water and air pollution with potential carcinogens. Fracking is a direct contributor to climate disruption, as methane is the main component of natural gas. Methane is over 80 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and conservative estimates of leakage along the supply chain make fracked gas a worse contributor to global warming than coal.

Recently, the Vashon Climate Action Group hosted the documentary Ancestral Waters at the Vashon Theater. This documentary covers three years of the Puyallup tribe’s resistance to our own local fracked gas threat, the 8 million gallon liquefied natural (LNG) gas plant that Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is building unpermitted in the tide flats of Tacoma. The gas will largely come from fracked wells in British Columbia and Alberta. Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is building this plant on land protected by the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty guaranteeing the tribe’s fishing rights. PSE ratepayers will pay millions of the cost in rate increases while receiving only about 2% of the energy. The LNG from this plant is mostly intended to serve the local shipping industry, mainly TOTE Maritime, and is being promoted by PSE as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner climate.

This is a false narrative unsupported by science, justifying a huge profit-driven project and being presented at a time when we need to globally focus on true renewable and sustainable energy grids to protect our planet.

Recently, Inslee stated he cannot “in good conscience” support the continued construction of the PSE LNG plant. There will be further information available on this issue at the screening, including the recent lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, and ways to join the efforts.

Steingraber was a beloved friend of my mother, Judith Brady, a well-known activist in the West Coast Women’s Liberation Movement, and later in the movement connecting environmental pollution and cancer. My mother was a trusted editor for Steingraber, and I remember my mother lying in bed once with pen in hand, reading through pages of manuscript and spontaneously blurting out praise. Steingraber spoke at my mother’s memorial in 2017; I will never forget the power and passion when this reserved and dignified woman stepped up to speak.

In those moments, I understood my mother’s enduring respect and admiration for this kindred spirit and leader. She embodies the vision, intelligence, conviction and love which are the backbone of successful social movements, as well as the passion that can bring us closer to the better world we hope for our children. Please join us for this special event on our island.

— Maia Syfers is a nurse practitioner working in Tacoma and a member of the Vashon Climate Action Group.

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