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Fracking the Suburbs: An Explosive Combination?

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Fracking the suburbsAs rural deposits of fossil fuel grow fewer and farther between, extractive industries are increasingly siting their operations over the next best location: suburban neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the Marcellus shale formation beneath parts of the Midwest and Appalachia contains literally trillions of cubic feet of natural gas—the most accessible of which often lies beneath residential neighborhoods.

Broadview Heights, population 19,400, is just south of Cleveland. The small town seems to typify Midwestern suburbia: tree-lined streets, vaguely familiar housing developments of recent vintage, and a median household income of over $70,000—significantly more than the state average of $45,000. Residents include former Clevelanders seeking a more peaceful place to live, where raccoons, deer, and wild turkey can be seen in their backyards.

But Broadview Heights is in the midst of a transformation. In 2004, the Ohio legislature passed a law effectively stripping local municipalities of their right to regulate the permitting, spacing, and location of oil and gas wells. This led to a spate of small fracking operations cropping up inside neighborhoods, which in turn has led to the flight of some residents. More than 70 gas wells have been drilled here since 2005—in some instances without the notification of residents living just 600 feet away, according to Truthout.


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