The Frackin’ Poor

Poverty at core of fracking debate

Written by Marty Hiller

I attended the state Department of Environmental Conservation public hearing on hydraulic fracturing last month in Binghamton, and what I heard was an eye-opener for me.

I’ve been opposed to fracking from the start, and “my side” dominated the hearing. A wide variety of concerns were expressed, ranging across many topics and pointing to shortcomings in nearly every section of the revised draft SGEIS. It appeared that we were “winning.”

By contrast, what I heard from the pro-fracking contingent was simple, direct and heartfelt. This is what they had to say: We are desperate. We’ve lived here for generations, and we love our land. But we can’t even afford to pay back taxes on the money we make from farming. Our homes are about to be foreclosed. The last big employer in our county just closed its doors. Our kids have to move out of state to find jobs. Our communities are impoverished, and we have no other way to make ends meet. We need the money, and we need the work.

I’ve heard the anti-fracking coalition say, “It’s all about money.” But what I heard is not about greed. It’s about poverty.


It’s obvious, even to a casual observer, that our rural areas are impoverished. As soon as you stray outside the city limits, you’re surrounded by falling-down buildings. Our farms have been in decline for generations, and every year more of them go under.

The statement that summed it up best for me, educated anti-fracker that I am, came from a public health official. He had traveled to states that had fracking, he said, to study how it affected public health. And he had concluded that the health benefits of alleviating poverty outweigh the health consequences of fracking. People in those towns are healthier now, and they’re living longer, even with drilling rigs in their backyards.

My father worked in public health. He spent much of his career documenting the health consequences of rural poverty, and reforming policy to alleviate them. So this statement resonates for me.

If we truly want to defeat fracking, instead of just putting it off a few months at a time, we need to fix our failed farm policy. Our farmers need immediate tax relief and debt relief. We need a food system that allows the people who grow our food to make a living at it. We need wages that allow us to buy real food at prices that reflect the cost of production, instead of supermarkets that are flooded with cheap tax-subsidized pseudofoods that make us sick and enrich huge corporations at the expense of our nation’s farmers.

We need to pay attention to what’s happening to our farms, and we need to do something about it. Because I don’t for an instant believe that these people would be inviting drilling rigs into their backyards if they could make a living growing food.

Hiller resides in Ithaca.