- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2015

A key figure behind New York’s statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing says that losing out on oil and gas jobs is no big deal because the industry only creates work for women as prostitutes and hotel maids.

In an April 6 lecture at the University of Pittsburgh, biologist Sandra Steingraber of New Yorkers Against Fracking described the fight over oil and natural gas development as a feminist issue.

“Fracking as an industry serves men. Ninety-five percent of the people employed in the gas fields are men. When we talk about jobs, we’re talking about jobs for men, and we need to say that,” Ms. Steingraber says in a video posted on YouTube by the industry-backed group Energy in Depth.

“The jobs for women are ‘hotel maid’ and ‘prostitute,’” she says. “So when fracking comes into a community, what we see is that women take a big hit, especially single women who have children who depend on rental housing.”

Supporters of the industry swung back by citing a 2014 report from the American Petroleum Institute, which found that women filled 226,000 oil, gas and petrochemical industry jobs, or 19 percent of those jobs.

The report predicts job opportunities will grow for female and male petroleum engineers, managers and others by 70,000 from 2010 to 2013.

“[W]omen are employed across all job categories, including professional and managerial, office and support, and blue-collar,” the report says.

Ms. Steingraber’s comments come amid a push by environmental groups to cast hydraulic fracturing as part of the “war on women,” which industry critics dismiss as the latest anti-fracking tactic. Foes also have blamed fracking for an increase in bar fights and drug abuse.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts natural gas from underground rock formations by pumping high-pressure water into the layers of stone to break them up.

In North Dakota, the industry has built so-called “man camps” for workers unable to find housing in the state’s sparsely populated western half, which may have contributed to the perception of the industry as a men-only field.

Ms. Steingraber’s speech, titled “Fracking is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Emergency,” comes after Texas anti-drilling activist Sharon Wilson was criticized for comparing fracking to rape in a March 30 post on Twitter and her blog.

“Fracking victims I have worked with describe it as a rape. It is a violation of justice and it is despoiling the land,” Ms. Wilson said in her blog, TXSharon’s BlueDaze. “Victims usually suffer PTSD.”

An spokesman for the environmental group Earthworks later backtracked on the organization’s retweet of her Twitter comment, telling the Washington Free Beacon that, “Having your home fracked against your will is not the same thing as rape.”

Ms. Steingraber, a distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College in New York, previously has come under fire by the industry for her role as a peer reviewer of a research paper used to support New York’s fracking ban, even as she advocated for prohibiting the extraction process.

Acting New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker cited the paper during a Dec. 17 cabinet meeting at which he recommended a statewide ban on fracking as part of his review, despite calls for the state to lift its moratorium by those in economically strapped upstate New York. The region sits atop the rich Marcellus shale formation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to the statewide ban, which was hailed by Ms. Steingraber in a Jan. 22 article for EcoWatch, “How We Banned Fracking in New York.”

Ms. Steingraber later told Fox News that she had been “absolutely objective” in her review of the paper, whose authors included several scientists affiliated with anti-fracking groups such as Global Community Monitor and the Center for Environmental Health, according to Energy in Depth.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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