An Ecofeminist Perspective on Fracking
By The Rev. Leah D. Schade, PhD Candidate, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA; Founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition
Image designed by Michelle Sayles for Berks Gas Truth
Ecofeminism is the intersection of feminism and ecology and is concerned with the intertwined domination of women and Earth (Earth is capitalized by ecofeminists because of the conviction that the planet is a “being” in its own right). Ecofeminists believe that environmental issues cannot be properly addressed without simultaneous confrontation of the ways females are oppressed, especially in connection with ecological issues. At the same time, they believe that feminist concerns must incorporate the ecological crisis affecting our world, especially as it relates to women. Ecofeminists seek to uncover hidden patterns of subjugation, commodification, and violence toward women and Earth so that we can bring to light the way our language, metaphors, symbols, culture, religion, and societal practices continue to inscribe harmful worldviews of patriarchy, dualism, hierarchy and domination. The hope is that by bringing awareness to these issues we will be able to reconceive new paradigms for relating to women, Earth, and all marginalized entities (human and other-than-human) that honor the intrinsic value, integrity and sacredness of all beings.
The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking, for short) is particularly problematic from an ecofeminist perspective. Fracking is the process of drilling deep into Earth and injecting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the shale formations below in order to release the methane and other natural gas for extraction. Fracking involves the removal of all trees and vegetation from the area around the drill site, the use of hundreds of trucks and pieces of heavy machinery for establishing the site, the release of atmosphere-poisoning gases, and the problem of how to deal with the waste water from the process that contains carcinogenic chemicals and radioactive substances. Many of those who have leased their land to fracking companies have found that their water is not only unfit for consumption, but, in fact, lights on fire and explodes because of the gases entering their wells from the underground fractures. Another problem is the occurrence of earthquakes resulting from the injection of the toxic waste water from fracking into wells deep beneath Earth’s surface. Thus, despite the oil and gas industry’s insistence that fracking is safe, environmentally friendly, and a way to “buy time” until cleaner forms of energy can be developed, the reality is that there are serious problems with fracking leading many to demand that at least a moratorium be imposed until the practice can be fully studied and safeguards put in place. Some even call for an outright ban on the practice of fracking.
Ecofeminists would point out the obvious association of the process of fracking with the crime of rape. Rape involves unwanted sexual penetration of the body in an act of violence that subjects the victim to humiliation, stripping of power, violation of self-integrity, and pain at all levels of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual existence. This pain haunts the victim long after the rapist has left her or him in a state of utter depletion, sometimes just barely surviving the attack. Women, children and men who are subjected to ongoing sexual molestation and violence must repeatedly endure the violation that is like a toxic poison constantly surging through their minds, bodies and souls.
If we were to imagine Earth as a human body, perhaps that of a woman, we can see how fracking is akin to “gang rape.” She is beset by men who care nothing for her except to extract her inner essence and prostitute her body, stripping her of her “clothing” (trees and vegetation), mounting her, drilling into her depths, and exploding into her with their toxic fluid. Her pain is experienced by all who had previously enjoyed the bounty of her clean water and pure air. And long after the well dries up and the rapists leave the depleted body, her waters continue to burn with humiliating rage, her body shudders with quaking spasms, and her breath is befouled with toxic pollution.
In the human community, especially in the United States, when a woman is raped, if the perpetrator is caught, he is brought to trial and convicted of his crimes. Ideally, assistance is offered to the woman to help her regain her sense of autonomy, power, health, and, over time, healing from the trauma. From an ecofeminist perspective, fracking is a crime that needs to be stopped, the perpetrators brought to trial and convicted of their crimes. Assistance must be offered to those who suffer Earth’s victimization, and Earth herself must be allowed to heal from the trauma.
Some will argue, of course, that such a connection between women and Earth is romanticized personification of nothing more than a collection of rocks, dirt and gases. And ecofeminists will point out that it is exactly this attitude of disrespect, “othering,” and devaluation of both women and Earth that has led to the slew of ecological crises we now face across the planet. As the saying goes, “You can’t keep a good woman down.” There will be consequences for disrespecting and violating Earth and women. Humanity would be wise to learn the lessons now before the consequences lead to irreparable harm for our species and the planet we are leading to destruction.