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writing for godot

Fracking America

Written by Madeleine Kando   
Sunday, 26 December 2010 00:57
If you are as naive as I am about where the heat in your house comes from, then the expression 'ignorance is bliss' applies to you. I, too, was blissfully ignorant until I spoke to my friend Jan. She has a little thirty acre farm right on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, where she tries to make ends meet with her new husband Michael. I visit her sometimes and the ride from Boston is long enough to remind me, once again, how BIG this country is. Big and beautiful.

There is this feeling of generousness about America. The land itself is so enormous that you can drown in it. When I fly to Hawaii, while everyone else is sleeping or trying to kill time any way they can, I look out the window and I am mesmerized by the vastness of it all. There is no end to the deserts, canyons, valleys and mountain ranges that pass us by.

But after my most recent conversation with Jan, huge cracks have started to appear in my vision of America as an invincible giant. Let me tell you why.

The area where Jan lives, the Finger Lakes area, sits on top of the Marcellus shale, a geologic formation with huge natural gas deposits. The problem is that the gas is trapped inside rock (shale) and the only way to get at it is to crack the rock. The gas industry has come up with an ingenious method called 'hydraulic fracturing' or 'fracking' for short, whereby they pump water mixed with sand and chemicals under very high pressure into the rock, eventually creating fissures. The millions of gallons of water they need, they take (often without permission) from the local lakes and rivers. The elaborate cocktail of chemicals which gets mixed in is a very well guarded 'secret of the trade'.

They have to drill very deep, under the water table. At the depth of the gas deposit, they continue drilling sideways (it's called horizontal fracking) to get at as much gas as possible. They inject the water mixed with chemicals and frack a large sub-terranean area reaching for miles around the original well pad.

I won't go into too many details for want to space, other than to say that, in the fracking process, the ground water often gets contaminated. It makes the cattle sick, water can be set on fire and children develop mysterious diseases.

Forget terrorists. That's child's play compared to what big Oil and Gas can do to us. The Marcellus shale sits under the Upper Delaware River Watershed which supplies water to about 40 million Americans, including New York City and Philadelphia. Intensive drilling for natural gas has already started there. Numerous cases of contamination have been reported so far.

It's not just New York State and the Marcellus Shale where the nightmare is playing out. Here is a movie about the Upper Green River Valley in Wyoming. It is one of the great migration routes for much of the wildlife in that area. Unfortunately for the wildlife, it also sits on top of large gas deposits. The Bureau of Land Management is allowing gas companies to destroy this beautiful bastion of the Wild West. Rather than manage the land so that it benefits wildlife and the ranchers, BLM bids off the extracted gas to the highest (international bidder). Granted, drilling for gas does help the local economy. But at what cost?

This is what America looks like when it's fracked. Who knows, maybe in the not too distant future, we will only be able to view the 'Wild West' in John Wayne movies. The real thing will have disappeared without us noticing it, because we are blissfully ignorant.

'You are a hypocrite', the voice in my head is saying. 'Where do you suppose the gas comes from that you use for cooking and heating your house?' Yes, I know. But there must be a less destructive way for us to satisfy our energy needs. Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, in an interview on 60 minutes says that there are two Saudi Arabia's of gas in our soil. That makes you think that we have a huge amount of 'oil' in our soil. But natural gas is not oil and cars can not run on natural gas. These misleading statements only prevents us from exploring and developing truly renewable sources of energy like solar energy, wind farms, hydro power, geothermal energy and energy from biomass.

I have tried to get a sense of what European countries are doing about their energy needs. It is a complicated picture. All I know is that, whenever I visit Holland, I see huge white wind turbines scattered all over the landscape. If I am not mistaken Europe as a whole gets four times as much energy from wind as America. Since shale gas is mostly used for electric energy why not invest in this type of renewable energy instead of ravaging the most beautiful parts of America? Once the Wild West is gone it is gone for good. your social media marketing partner
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