Monday, August 22, 2011

Go Ahead, Kill ME

The natural gas wild-cats have descended on Susquehanna County (and the rest of the northern tier of PA) and are in the process of turning this ancient, astoundingly beautiful topography into a pin cushion of parking lot size drilling pads and 7,000 ft deep gas wells. My way of life here is over. I see that as clearly as if I were looking at the CAT-scan of an inoperable tumor. It is simply a matter of time.

This week I learned that a well will be drilled next to a toxic waste dump about 12 miles from me. The waste site was used by IBM and super-fund money encased the perimeter in concrete to keep the carcinogens from leaching into the neighboring town's ground water. Now a 7000 ft deep well with lateral branches is going in next to it. The "fracking" process, which pumps pond size volumes of chemical laced water into the drilled shaft under 9000 lbs of pressure per square inch, cracks the deep shale (and whatever else might be down there) releasing the trapped gas. Fracking has already contaminated local water wells. Litigation in the first two years of drilling has yielded multi-million dollar liability settlements with landowners. EVERYONE in the county has been cautioned to hire water testing companies at $650.00 a pop to create "baseline"
analysis reports in preparation for the court battles that will follow as our drinking water is destroyed.

World hunger for new petroleum sources knows no limit. It brings to mind Oliver Stone's film "Platoon." After Sgt. Barnes (evil) kills Ely (good), he mocks the frustration of the compassionate soldiers in the unit, challenging those who would seek revenge: "All you dope heads are tying to escape reality. Reality? I am reality! Go ahead, kill me!"

Petroleum is reality. It is every plastic product we use, every car, airplane, motor cycle, lawn mower, power boat you see. Look out the window.  Where can you look and not see petroleum products?  The roof shingles, the siding, the blue re-cycling bin on the curb.

It started in Titusville PA in the late 1860's.  The refining and distribution was gradually perfected by John D. Rockefeller, first in the form of kerosene for home lighting then as fuel for the combustion engine. There would be no "green revolution" or agri-business without it.  Petroleum is the foundation of it all; the fertilizer, the tractors, the combines, the trucks, even those little disposable syringes used to inject anti-biotics into the utters of mastitis stricken cows.  Amazing that it has all come to be in the 150 years since the Civil War; since the Yankees over ran the agrarian based south and freed the slaves. Now there are voices warning that we are owned by a hand-full of corporate masters, Saudi Princes and Ex-Presidents.

I spent the last 35 years trying to restore the aesthetics and species diversification of what had been an exploited swath of subsistence farm land in the isolated hill country of Pennsylvania. I've been winning the battle up until now. But then came gas.  All my neighbors signed gas exploration leases and I signed too. They gave us big checks. We got to keep our land; keep it to pay the taxes and watch it transformed by "the mice" (the name given to the hourly workers that swarm over the land with drilling rigs and excavation equipment.) If they drill for gas on my property within the next 2.5 years they will own the right to operate here forever. Word is, below the gas-rich Marcelus Shale layer there is oil and below that more gas. All that needs to be done is to lengthen the pipe.

"Who needs water?" goes the joke "when you can drink champagne!"

I now understand what an ugly creature I am. I WAS an environmentalist... a "tree-hugger"... but I sold out. We all sold out. Like Sergeant Barnes in Platoon, I could say: "Petroleum? I am petroleum. Go ahead, kill me."

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