Should we frack our way to prosperity? We have all these attractive, perfectly sane and nice middle class women with intelligent voices appearing in pastel-colored ads telling us that the gas and oil industry will solve our economic woes. They seem to like to buy ads on news channels hoping, I guess, that this will lend their ads credibility.
But I was watching when the Exxon Valdez spilled its oily cargo in the fairly pristine Alaskan waters. I watched bird after bird, covered with gloppy oil being washed by volunteers and I bet we never saw the many, many critters that died.
I was watching along with the rest of the world when the BP offshore oil well blew up killing workers and filling the Gulf of Mexico, a gulf of beautiful tropical waters and healthy fishing grounds and life-giving wetlands, with a surge of crude oil that went on and on and which they had no idea how to stop. BP oil needed help from almost everyone. We also suspect that that oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico may still come back to haunt us someday in the future.
We want prosperity, but our water resources are at stake. We can’t afford to trust you. We are at least 70% water and we cannot live much longer than three days without water.
We cannot afford to frack our way to prosperity until we can truly trust the oil and gas industries. Humans are flawed and I cannot imagine an endeavor that does not involve accidents that have harmful effects. I think that trust might be having the industry show us a catalogue of accidents that have occurred or could occur and then show us the fixes the industry has developed to deal with each case and tell us what the final impact on people or on the earth, including its water and wildlife, has been or could be. Even given a process that tries to foresee all possible mistakes and negative outcomes, I don’t know if the oil industry will ever be able to regain our trust or if it is even possible to foresee all of the things that could go wrong. Investing in research to find us a new energy source that doen’t rely on fossil fuels might be the best plan of all. Your energy ads are not working, at least not with me. I don’t see how sweet spin can trump the images that are stuck in our brains.
Last week, February 2nd to be exact, I read an article in The New York Times by Timothy Williams entitled, “Brutal Crimes Grip an Indian Reservation”. The article was talking about the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. He says “despite its bucolic name, the reservation, nestled among snowcapped peaks and rivers filled with trout, is a place where brutal acts have become banal.” He goes on to say that “Wind River has a crime rate five to seven times the national average and a long history of ghastly homicides.” Even after Obama ordered a “surge” (similar to the war strategy used in Iraq) of law enforcement officers violent crime increased by 7% in Wind River (although the strategy lowered rates on other reservations).
What struck me is how like hell this place sounds. There is more. The author goes on to say,
“Crime may be Wind River’s most pressing problem, but it has plenty of company. Life, even by the grim standards of the typical American Indian reservation, is as bleak and punishing as that of any developing country. On average, residents can expect to live 49 years, 20 years fewer than in Iraq. Unemployment, estimated to be higher than 80%, is on a par with Zimbabwe’s. . .The reservation’s high school dropout rate of 40% is more than twice the state average. Teenagers and young adults are twice as likely to kill themselves as their peers elsewhere in Wyoming. Child abuse, teenage pregnancy, sexual assault and domestic violence are endemic, and alcoholism and drug use are so common that residents say positive urinalysis results on drug tests are what bar many from working at the state’s booming oil fields.”
If this was a Tony Hillerman mystery the Wind River people would hold some kind of cleansing ritual to try to rid this site of evil ghosts who are probably haunting it. In fact “many believe that the reservation, shared by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes, is haunted – the ghosts of the innocent killed in an 1864 massacre”. Whatever is going on in this community sounds so grim that some kind of positive interventions seem to be called for. How can this be fixed? It is so American to want to fix things (and people) that are broken I know, but I don’t think I have ever read about any American community that required some kind of social assistance as badly as this one.
The second piece of interesting information that I retrieved from this article was mentioned in one small paragraph, but has big implications for places where hydrofracking is on the agenda and likely to be forced down our throats. This is what Mr. Williams say, “On one section of the reservation, people must boil drinking water because chemicals, possibly the result of the oil and natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, have contaminated the water supply. And fearing that the chemicals might explode in a home, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered residents to run fans and otherwise ensure ventilation while bathing or washing clothes.” Besides thinking OMG, haven’t these people got enough to worry about, are my very real concerns, that regulations do not prevent all accidents and that fines for industries who have environmental accidents often do nothing to undo the damage to the environment. Perhaps we are just going to be turning our own little corner of the universe into a living hell. So two lessons in one article, that’s a pretty good outcome. Say no to hydrofracking and ask Congress to find some way to help the people at the Wind River Reservation.
How could hydrofracking not be an environmental nightmare? Just read about the process. That can’t be good for our poor little Earth. In the few places where the shale has already been “fracked” the results have been negative – not only in terms of the environment, but in terms of the actual benefits to be derived from the business. Apparently, the usual wily ways of the energy business are much in evidence here. There are tricky leases which end up not being as good for the landowners as they sounded initially. The jobs that are touted do not always go to local people; the industry imports their personnel. The gas that is retrieved does not always stay in the local area; it is shipped elsewhere, sometimes to foreign locations. Landowners have lawyers but still have not been able to foresee all of the tricky nuances of these “oily” businessmen.
A fairly large number of us, even some of the once starry-eyed landowners keep saying NO to this, but the energy industry is steamrolling ahead. It is a little like a rape – in this case a rape of the land- and as always, in the case of rape, NO still means NO.
They are offering us a response period during which the DEC will collect our feedback about this issue. They have not said that our feedback will change anything in any way. We need something definitive. We need a referendum on this. If the majority of NYS residents feel that the gas is more important than our water (even though the gas may not stay in NYS) then I will accept (with sadness) that to hydrofrack is the will of the voters.
(OK- hydrofrack may not be a verb.)
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I keep thinking our elected officials are not stupid and they disappoint me again and again. Hydrofracking? Really? Haven’t you been listening? No, because you have problems to solve (the economy) and dollar signs in your eyes. Hydrofracking is like squeezing the land to try to get the last desparate drops of energy out. It doesn’t take into account what the land will look like after these squeezers are done with it. It sounds like we are not even ruining our beautiful state for gas resources that will benefit us. Everyone thinks these resources will be exported and that even the jobs will not be held by New Yorkers. What are you thinking? Are you thinking? Do you know how helpless we all feel?
We live in a state with plentiful resources but fairly harsh weather. We stay here because we know our state’s beauty and bounty. New York State has clean, fresh, plentiful water and a lot of it. We are blessed. There are many states that are hungry for water. At some point in the future there may be actual water wars. Yet you want to expend our water currency in this very risky and marginally productive enterprise. No amount of money, no number of jobs is worth putting our essential water resources at risk. Our planet is losing on every level and you could manage to increase the level of damage once again. The DEC only cares about energy. Someone has to take what the DEC says and plug it into a more global view of the situation as it affects everything and everyone statewide. That is the job of our state government. Do your job. Although this may be a good energy decision (which I doubt) it is not a decision that is good overall for our state. We can still say no to hydrofracking and mean it. Please listen to the people of New York State instead of the people with the dollars in their fists.