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.

Another Dangerous Side to Fracking

Frac-2

Fracking drill site

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but I wanted to share this series of articles from the Beaver County Times. Saturday’s story explores “brine” or wastewater disposal. Sunday’s piece (not yet posted online) profiles a driver of one of the trucks hauling away the wastewater. The disposal of what comes out of the ground is another layer in the controversy over fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a study recently linking fracking wastewater disposal in deep wells to recent earthquakes in the United States near these wells. Another website EcoWatch also presents information on this subject.

To be fair, I checked the Marcellus Shale Coalition website and put in “fracking wastewater.” Here’s what came up: http://marcelluscoalition.org/2012/11/what-theyre-saying-natural-gas-creating-significant-environmental-benefits-sparking-a-manufacturing-renaissance/.

My searches haven’t turned up anything else in response to this. Please let me know if there’s another side to this issue. I’m a journalist, and I want to be fair. I also live atop the Marcellus Shale and want solid unbiased answers.

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.

 

 

Fracking Power

Sierra magazine published an article in its July/August 2012 issue called the “Fracking Nightmare.” I read the article with interest since I live atop the Marcellus shale region of western Pennsylvania. Washington County considered the “honeypot” for the “wet gas” resources underground. Those resources include propane, butane, ethane and other profitable chemicals.

Interestingly, until 2010, the Sierra Club supported natural gas as a “clean” alternative to coal and its coal-burning power plants. But this practice of pulling the gas up out of the ground was rushed into production with coal’s nasty image tarnished and rising oil prices without much consideration of what it takes to get the natural gas out of the ground.

It’s a brutal practice outlined in the article. The farmers, who thought allowing the drilling on their lands and who thought it would be a way to safe their farms, are finding out differently. While the gas companies pile on the profits from drilling on the farms sitting on top of the Marcellus shale, the farmers are paying the price. Local communities are now powerless in Pennsylvania to do much of anything since Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law a prohibition on allowing municipalities to have any say at all in permitting and enforcing the gas companies’ practices.

The article, while attempting to look at all sides (albeit with a definite bend toward the environmental side) and attempting to explain their past support and now withdrawal of support for natural gas drilling, left out one important footnote.

An earthquake in Ohio earlier this year shook more than the foundations of homes. It left folks puzzled until a report was released that linked the earthquake to the fracturing taking place there.

In researching for my next novel, I’m discovering that there are no easy answers. I’m also accepting that we are all to blame for this rush to find more and more sources of power. We can all be a part of the solution, too. Please share the links in this blog. Being an informed citizen is the first step.

(NOTE: I usually don’t use Wikipedia as a link source, but when I put in “Marcellus shale,” I either found a link decidedly pro or con. This was the only one that provided the “facts” I was seeking.)