PITTSFIELD

A major reason that Karen and I moved to the Berkshires form our home state of Pennsylvania is an innocuous word and a fairly new addition to the lexicon: "fracking." This is a process where almost two million gallons of water along with some chemicals are injected under high pressure by wells almost 8,000 feet in depth so as to break up the natural gas and petroleum products locked in shale, which is then pumped up and the gas and petroleum extracted.

To put this technology in perspective, let me give you this analogy: Would you drive a car that is 40 years old, its exhaust spews harmful chemicals in the environment and also in the cabin of your car and has the potential of its engine exploding at any time? The car has no air bags, anti-lock brakes or turn signals! Oh and by the way, you can never trade the car in for a new one! Once you buy it (the dealer will actually give you money to drive it around) you are stuck with it.

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For two years, Karen and I tried everything in our power to make Harrisburg place a moratorium on this technology until it was studied further. We are not technophobes. All we were saying is that the industry needs to prove this is a safe process for people and this beautiful planet we live on before they implemented this on a large scale.

I even lobbied the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Practice with a resolution to express our concern as physicians about the largely unknown health impact of the chemicals used and released in the process. Some of the physicians who practiced in areas where fracking was ongoing were already seeing health effects. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Several of my patients actually lived in communities which were ripped apart by the obscene sums of money offered to some individuals by natural gas companies for lease and drilling rights. Neighbors who enjoyed a harmonious relationship with each other were now sworn enemies!

After careful consideration, we had to admit defeat. There was no way, at least in Pennsylvania, a grass roots movement going to stop the juggernaut of the natural gas industry. Recently, there has been approval to allow fracking under the state and county parks! Western Massachusetts was felt to be a natural choice for such a movement. We believed the progressive governor would surely look long and hard at allowing this process, and besides the western end of the state had large granite formations (ledge as the locals call it) which would make drilling a difficult and costly proposition. Much to our dismay, shale has been discovered in the Pioneer Valley, and already there is talk of exploiting this resource. We hope to raise awareness before it is too late not only by educating but also by actual scenarios of this very unsafe and potentially toxic technology.

Here is one of a hundred. It was posted by Tara Lohen, a senior editor of AlterNet, an award-winning news magazine advocating environmental protection. Although the setting is West Virginia, this scenario is being repeated in different states where fracking is ongoing.

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"An explosion at a nearby gas drilling well pad jostled John Pitcock awake around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. Pitcock and his wife Diane moved with their sons from the Baltimore area to rural New Milton, West Virginia in Doddridge County nearly a decade ago to enjoy a quiet country life. But when drilling companies began tapping the underlying Marcellus Shale in the area for natural gas reserves using high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), their peaceful country life disappeared.

"The Pitcocks have been plagued by noise, lights, dust, emissions and truck traffic after a neighbor leased his land to a drilling company, which has erected several well pads on the land adjacent to their property. Over the last year trees have been clear-cut, miles of roads built through their rural neighborhood, and drilling begun. On Friday, July 5 I visited their home and witnessed gas being flared from a well through the night -- the light illuminated their front yard from a ridge top about 2,000 feet away."

Dr. Mehernosh Khan is a board-certified physician with a specialty in complementary medicine. He and his wife Karen, along with the cats, came to the Berkshires last November.