Blowing at Windmills

Girl and WindmillBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Even when I think I’m being reasonable and moderate, I still walk a fine line with some folks.

“What do you want us to do, blow on windmills until we have enough power to fuel all our energy needs?” my brother asked me recently.

The question came after I tried to present a reasonable answer to the question posed to me: What is fracking?

“We shouldn’t jump into any new forms of bringing fossil fuels up out of the ground without investigating first,” I said. “They moved into fracking too quickly as a result of the bad connotations given offshore oil drilling and coal mining.”

That’s when my brother posed his question as if I’d said stop drilling, blasting, pounding, breathing.

Then this morning I received an equally “off the center” email from the other side. It seems there’s a group now demanding corporation and individual divestment from fossil fuels to stop global warming.

Is there no longer a middle ground on which to stand safely without fear of being knocked off?

I hope so, but just in case, I’m going to climb on my little mound in the center of the field safe here in my small office behind an anonymous computer screen to give my spiel in the hopes someone will listen. Neither of the sides quoted here will allow me to do so.

The subject of our energy and its sources are not new to me, but I became quite embroiled in the issue while researching Trails in the Sand. One of my sources, Power Hungry – The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels of the future” by Robert Bryce, addresses what I’ve surmised all along. He writes, “But the reality is that the modern world runs on oil, coal, and natural gas. And while those fuels take a toll on the environment, they are indispensable.”

And as I would explain to either side, except they’re too ready to wield an ax on my head, we must ensure we are wise stewards and bring those forms of energy to us in a safe manner that does the least harm.

We’ve no choice but to rely on regulations and laws that mandate safety for the environment and human life. It’s a sad state of affairs when the government must tell corporations to engage in certain practices so workers aren’t killed.

I’m trying to make this post as uplifting as possible, but today an article I read about natural gas mining in Wyoming discourages me. “Too deep to drink, huh? Too shallow an excuse,”  by Suzie Gilbert with shalereporter.com, writes about a situation between Wyoming’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Encana, a fracking company. The government and Encana are tossing around the concept of allowing the company to dump 750,000 gallons of fracking wastewater per day into an aquifer for fifty years. Some agencies say “no,” others say “yes,” the scientists say, “hell no,” and the argument continues.

I’m all for tossing around ideas and discussing them, but for goodness sake, this one does not take a geologist to understand that wastewater has no place in an aquifer. Period. End of discussion. If our drinking water becomes contaminated with wastewater from unsafe practices, then it really will be the end of the discussion – all discussions.

#trailsbanner3webTrails in the SandA Family Saga Filled with Love Triangles, Sea Turtles, and an Oil Spill

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

Fracking Dilemma – It’s Not the Promised Land

cover for the movie "promised land"

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I recently went to see the new movie Promised Land starring Matt Damon, as rising star salesman Steve Butler. What does Steve sell? The promised glory to landowners if only they’ll sell off the rights to their land so the power companies can drill for natural gas on their property. Steve makes up figures and tosses out promises so some desperate landowners in western Pennsylvania are convinced they’ll become millionaires, if only they’ll allow the drilling. He doesn’t go into detail about the process, which is called fracking. Fracking allows drillers to go deep into the earth to extract natural gas. Recently, in states sitting on the rich resource, some homeowners have water so contaminated with chemicals they ignite.

The Associated Press published an article this past week that suggests the Environmental Protection Agency may be shying away from bringing charges against the companies using the method of “hydraulic fracturing.”

The article leads with this paragraph: WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — When a man in a Fort Worth suburb reported his family’s drinking water had begun “bubbling” like champagne, the federal government sounded an alarm: An oil company may have tainted their wells while drilling for natural gas.

But then the EPA changed its mind and decided to leave the company alone.

The movie Promised Land has been vilified by the natural gas industry for painting an unfair portrait of fracking. The Marcellus Shale Coalition  even purchased ads to run before the movie. When we saw the movie, the ad played about ten minutes before the show so when the movie started, the ad was forgotten and not seen by the twenty or so folks who came in afterwards.

The industry says the process of fracking is safe. Scientists, environmentalists, and some who live close to the drilling sites say differently. It’s a dilemma, and one faced by Steve Butler in the movie once he begins to see his victims as real human beings he’s lying to. The fact is he doesn’t really know anything about the science behind the drilling. He’s just in their homes to sell a pipe dream.

It’s a complicated issue, and it needs much more study before we go any further. Even the Sierra Club first endorsed the process because they felt natural gas was the solution to ridding the world of “dirty coal.” But not anymore. Now they put fracking in the same category as coal mining.

The Promised Land is a work of fiction with a particular viewpoint that explores the dilemma of bringing natural gas up out of the ground fast and cheap. I’ve heard criticisms of the ending, but I’m not sure I understand why. I won’t give it away here because I’d like you to go see the movie and make up your own mind. It’s important to remember the movie is a fictional account of one man’s struggle between his job and his moral integrity.  It’s up to him to decide if the two are mutually exclusive. And guess what? It ends the way the writer decided to end it. Period.

 

 

Ohio River Watershed Celebration – Eleven Years of Good Stuff

The Ohio River is a Working River

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Rivers are vital to our lives. For decades, as we grew into an industrialized nation, we gave little regard to what we put into those rivers. Now, we understand we cannot destroy what gives us life. As a result, many of our rivers are slowly improving as we balance the needs of industry with the need for clean water.

I was heartened recently to attend the eleventh annual Ohio River Watershed Celebration  (ORWC) in Pittsburgh. ORWC is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Stream Restoration, Inc.Funding for the ORWC is provided by generous donations from private businesses, industries, foundations, and citizens.

Consol Energy was one of the major sponsors for the event.

The event’s goals are

  • To promote watershed stewardship, energy conservation, environmental education, and outreach.
  • To provide networking opportunities that form lasting partnerships among diverse community interests.
  • To celebrate and encourage environmental initiatives that support the continual recovery of the Ohio River Watershed in Western Pennsylvania and neighboring states through an enjoyable experience on the rivers.

This year’s event in late September brought out hundreds of students, parents, teachers, environmentalists, government officials, and business partners on a rainy Thursday afternoon. They gathered at the docks in downtown Pittsburgh, and without complaint about the soggy weather, boarded two cruise ships bound for the three rivers of the Steel City.

A rainy day in Pittsburgh

Ron Schwartz with Pennsylvania DEP told the crowd, “This rain is nature’s way of purifying the waterways.”

Nowhere is it clearer why a city exists where it does than in Pittsburgh. The Monongahela River flows from south to north to meet up with the south flowing Allegheny River. The two rivers meet at the Point in downtown, and the Ohio River forms and flows almost 1,000 miles westward to the Mississippi River. This year’s theme “Our Rivers – let’s get to the point” focused on how those three rivers shaped the course of the region.

The Point where three rivers converge

When coal was discovered in the hills above the convergence of the three rivers, the city was poised to become a giant during the Industrial Revolution. However, giants leave large footprints and within a few years of steel mills spewing out poisons into the air and water, Pittsburgh was a coughing and sputtering mess. The once bucolic journey of the rivers changed to an industrial highway.

Pittsburgh is home to the most bridges of any city in the world.

Thankfully, with deliberate consideration, the city has been reborn, and the rivers are testament to the rebirth. Fish and wildlife have returned.

Two cruise ships set sail from the docks. The Imagination Cruise overflowed with students waving from the upper decks of the Gateway Clipper fleet ship despite the pouring rain.

Imagination Cruise

Adults boarded the other ship for the Networking Cruise.

Networking Cruise Ship

Booths and presentations for both cruises provided information on how to protect watersheds. Other booths celebrated the joys of paddling the rivers and enjoying their recreational value. Yet others passed out literature on how to best maintain gardens and lawns while not harming the watershed. Before walking down the ramp to the docks, several vehicles in the parking lot showed visitors how gas guzzlers can become fuel efficient vehicles.

school bus

taxi

Mr. Rogers’ statute watched over the ships from the banks of the Allegheny River on the north shore. The man who made Pittsburgh his home taught us all to love our communities. It’s a great day in the neighborhood, rain or shine.