Jackie Dill, 64, a renowned Oklahoman wildcrafter of Cherokee descent and environmental activist who spoke out against the government’s failure to hold the fracking industry responsible for Oklahoma’s earthquakes, died on June 28, a few days after suffering a heart attack.
I met Dill in January 2016 while reporting on Oklahoma’s earthquake swarms. She told me that she feared she would be killed by her house falling in and crushing her and her husband. Dill’s home in Coyle, Oklahoma, is on one of the state’s active fault lines and was so badly damaged by the constant earthquakes that she moved out a couple months before her death.
As a wildcrafter, Dill drew from the traditions that had been handed down to her about how to forage, or harvest plants from the wild for food and medicinal purposes. Dill explained that you can forage everything you need to survive if you know how to do it and taught others to do so. A cookbook she wrote, Eat Your Weeds, passes on foraging tips.
“Dill left us too soon as did her husband,” said Angela Spotts, founder of Stop Fracking Payne County and a former Stillwater, Oklahoma, homeowner. Spotts and her husband Jeff sold their house last year and moved to New Mexico.
“I have no doubt the stress of the quakes, losing her husband, and having to move out of her home robbed her of years of life,” Spotts told me “She and her husband, who died last year, both died too soon.”
When Spotts lived in Oklahoma, she spent most of her waking hours trying to get regulators to take action to stop the earthquakes that have been shaking Oklahoma with increased frequency and intensity since the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in the state. She didn’t want to leave Dill and others affected by the earthquakes to fend for themselves, but the quakes were taking too big of a toll on her and her husband to stay. Besides the tension and fear from their home's constant rocking and rolling, they couldn’t afford the rising rates of home insurance; it went up a couple of thousand dollars just after they put their house on the market.
In 2016 Spotts and I had met with Dill at St. Francis of the Woods, an ecumenical spiritual retreat center in Coyle, Oklahoma. Dill spent a lot of her time at the center and even lived there the last couple months of her life. During our visit, Dill and priest Brad Wilson, who is the director of the center, gave us a tour, pointing out the earthquake damage to the center’s structure.
Jackie Dill with Brad Wilson, a priest at St. Francis of the Woods, and Angela Spotts, checking out the cracks in the retreat’s library.
Jackie Dill with Brad Wilson examining cracks that developed following the latest earthquake that rattled the area.
At Dill’s house, a few miles from the retreat center, Dill showed me how her home’s porch was separating from the building’s foundation. After the first quake damaged her home, she found she couldn’t get insurance since the house was already damaged.
Although she knew she wasn’t going to recover any money from the fracking industry, she was committed to fighting to stopping the earthquakes. Dill, who described herself as being “old as dirt,” said, ” I’m not fighting for me, I am fighting for the children.”
At a public hearing at the state capitol in Oklahoma City in January 2016, Dill introduced herself as “one of the rural people that don’t matter,” before addressing her concerns about the earthquakes. But Wilson whole-heartedly disagrees with that statement. “Jackie was one of the most important people in Oklahoma,” he told me. “She taught thousands of people how to care for the land and how to be connected to the earth. I think she was one of the most important people in the state.”
Dill plays a part in a video The Sierra Club released nationwide about the Oklahoma earthquakes. In it, she expresses support for alternative energy sources and calls for an end to the fracking industry in Oklahoma.
The day before Dill’s death, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission released a report celebrating a decrease in one type of seismic activity associated with the drilling industry. It states that work done in collaboration with the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) and industry has shown positive results.
However, OGS State Seismologist Dr. Jacob Walter thinks Oklahomans should remain vigilant. “People need to realize Oklahoma is earthquake country,” he told the Stillwater News Press. “The quakes I’m worried about, the quakes we ought to be concerned about, are the wastewater injection quakes.”
The Stillwater News Press article further noted: “The state, particularly the north central area, continues to have an elevated risk of quakes like the ones that struck near Prague in 2011 and Pawnee and Cushing in 2016 and set records for magnitude or damage.”
Walter estimated it will cost $3.5 million to build 72 monitoring stations needed to expand the OGS seismic monitoring system and that finding funding won’t be easy because there is “not a lot of research money for induced seismicity.”
A wastewater injection well in Coyle, Oklahoma, near Jackie Dill’s home. The disposal of fracking waste in injection wells has been identified as the cause of most of the earthquakes rattling the state.
One of many wastewater injection wells in Payne County that are near Jackie Dill’s home.
Even with the new regulatory measures, there are still too many quakes, Spotts said. When she listens to or reads stories from those she left behind, her chest gets tight and she gets anxious. She imagines what she is feeling must be similar to the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that soldiers deal with after war.
“I felt like we were safe once we left Oklahoma.” she said. But with Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's former attorney general now running the Environmental Protection Agency, her fear has returned. During Pruitt’s tenure as state attorney general, Oklahoma became the most seismically active state in the lower 48. “It was bad enough that Pruitt was okay with sacrificing Oklahoma to the oil and gas industry, but now the whole country is at stake,”
Jackie Dill waiting to speak at a public hearing on the earthquakes in Oklahoma at the state capitol.
Spotts, who can barely contain her anger at the direction the country is taking these days, said she admired Jackie for her “quiet, peaceful way. She was an incredible spokesperson for the movement.”
The hospital in which Jackie Dill spent her last days arranged for her to be wheeled outside where Wilson and friends gathered to say goodbye. Dill died under the open sky.
Dill stands near a large crack in her house between its porch and the main structure.
Main image: Jackie Dill at her home in Coyle, Oklahoma, which was severely damaged by numerous earthquakes. Credit: All photos by Julie Dermanksy for DeSmog.