“…the right to seek, receive and impart information is not merely a corollary of freedom of opinion and expression; it is a right in and of itself. As such, it is one of the rights upon which free and democratic societies depend. It is also a right that gives meaning to the right to participate which has been acknowledged as fundamental to, for example, the realization of the right to development.”
Over the past eight years I have had the privilege of sitting at kitchen tables and in local restaurants with rural people listening to their hopes and fears. These listening sessions began in 2009 in Pennsylvania’s north-central Endless Mountains as gas companies and their contractors arrived in Bradford County to begin developing deep, Devonian-era Marcellus shale gas (with a process known as fracking).
Against a noisy backdrop of a shale gas boom dominated by liquids tankers, fracking trucks, and white pick-ups rolling continuously down the road, people share with me their fears about the future of their land, soil, water, grandchildren, and livelihoods; their expectations about getting wealthy or losing it all; and the life-altering decisions they are struggling to make. Decisions can be a struggle not because of what is known, but because of what is unknown. In order to make well-informed decisions, one has to have access to information about trade-offs. Sure, people know about the benefits of the shale gas developments. The benefits are plastered on billboards across the County: more jobs and a better economy, not to mention fewer foreign wars over oil. However, people still know little to nothing about the costs of these developments, costs that will be paid by their families, communities, and local environment.