Last month, Terry Greenwood, a Pennsylvania farmer whose water had been contaminated by fracking waste, died of cancer. He was 66 and the cause of death was a rare form of brain cancer.
His death drew attention from around the globe in part because Mr. Greenwood was among the first farmers from his state to speak out against the gas industry during the early years of the state's shale gas rush.
Mr. Greenwood went up against a company called Dominion Energy, which had drilled and fracked a shallow well on his small cattle ranch property under a lease signed by a prior owner in 1921.
In January, 2008, Mr. Greenwood had reported to state officials that his water supplies had turned brown and the water tasted salty. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection subsequently found that the company, whose gas well was drilled 400 feet from the Greenwoods' water well in 2007, had impacted the Greenwoods' water. State officials ordered Dominion to temporarily supply the family with drinking water.
Mr. Greenwood's death was mourned by environmentalists around the world. In London, for example, attendees at a fracking education event recorded video messages for the Greenwood family and raised over $500 for Terry's survivors.
“Terry Greenwood was one of the most compelling people you could ever listen to,” wrote filmmaker Josh Fox. “There was just something about the way he spoke, there was a decency and a positivity that shone through every word no matter how distressing or disturbing the subject matter was.”
But the story of Mr. Greenwood's fight against the drilling industry and lax oversight by state regulators does not stop there.
In the weeks since his death, there has been a steady stream of further revelations about ineptitude by state environmental and health officials in protecting the public from the type of threats that may have killed Mr. Greenwood. These revelations are both a reminder of the importance of Mr. Greenwood's fight and a reiteration of how little has changed.
Last week, Dr. Eli Avila, formerly Pennsylvania's health secretary, made headlines when he told the Associated Press that the state had neglected health impact studies.
“The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Dr. Avila, now Orange County, New York's public health commissioner, told the AP. His perspective was shared by other health experts. “Pennsylvania is 'simply not doing' serious studies into possible health impacts of drilling, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, who has five decades of public health experience at hospitals and universities in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania” said, the AP reported.
The lack of oversight and transparency has been endemic to Pennsylvania and its handling of fracking.