fracking

Beyond the Boom

Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America
Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories
on Fracking in America

“WE ABUSE LAND because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” So wrote Aldo Leopold in his ecological classic A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949. That same year, Erle Halliburton experimented with pumping a slurry of oil and sand into a wellhole in Oklahoma, patenting a new process he dubbed “Hydrafrac.” Within the next five years, Halliburton was treating more than 3,000 wells a month that way.

Short for “hydraulic fracturing,” fracking—a word now included in Merriam-Webster—is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to release oil or natural gas inside. Today, thanks to recent technological developments, more than a million fracking sites dot the U.S. landscape.

The environmental vision of Leopold and the actions of Halliburton that fateful March both haunt the recent literary collection Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America. With literary genres that range from verse to essay and fable to investigative journalism, Fracture chronicles the ecological and cultural ruptures resulting from this highly controversial phenomenon. Co-editors Taylor Brorby and Stefanie Brook Trout have put together a devastating, disturbing collection that should be read in small bits, lest you be overwhelmed.

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Coal Country Goes Bust

Christina Richards / Shutterstock
Christina Richards / Shutterstock

WEST VIRGINIA’S coal-addicted economy is busted. Dozens of bankrupt coal companies are busted. A coal company CEO is busted for flagrant safety violations that contributed to an explosion killing 29 miners.

Boom-and-bust cycles have a jagged history in the central Appalachian coal basin of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwest Virginia. America’s industrial revolution prospered on Appalachia’s steam and coking coal. Hard-gained union struggles brought miners and their communities an improved living standard. Yet as time marched on, machinery replaced miners, the coal industry busted unions, Appalachian coal seams played out, and cheaper Western coal and fracked shale gas outcompeted.

Coal-dependent economies are now tanking. Miner layoffs have skyrocketed. Policymakers have long ignored forecasts of coal’s impending decline. The West Virginia legislature, facing a major state revenue shortfall, is considering drastic budgetary cuts—such as closing state parks, college branch campuses, and state police detachments—while, incredibly, introducing bills to attempt to bring back the coal industry by reducing its severance and worker-compensation taxes.

Coal will not bounce back. From coal’s perspective, the national debate on coal and climate change has largely been lost.

The Clean Power Plan announced by the EPA in June 2014 seeks to reduce climate-warming CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2030. Projected air quality improvement will also deliver significant financial and life-protecting health benefits. However, since West Virginia politicians dance to the strings of their coal-industry puppet masters, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading a coalition of 25 states asking a federal court to strike down the Clean Power Plan, calling it a “war on coal.”

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Weekly Wrap 12.19.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons 
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.

2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.

3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."

4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.

VIDEO: "Prairie Roots"

Our nation has a dangerous dependency on the extraction of fossil fuels, writes Katherine M. Preston in “A Burning Truth” (Sojourners, September-October 2014). When greed for oil leads to hydraulic fracking and pipeline construction, we “forget basic moral issues of justice and caring for our neighbors and the earth.”

Watch actress Pippa White perform her poem, “Prairie Roots,” a tribute to the resiliency of the land despite the harm of humans. However, as Pippa reminds us, without the care of good stewards, deep roots are hardly deep at all.

Credit: Bold Nebraska

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A Burning Truth

BETWEEN 6:30 AND 7 nearly every morning, a dark rumble drifts up through the chilled air from the railroad tracks at the bottom of our hayfield in the Adirondack foothills of New York. A line of more than 100 black tanker cars, mostly full of fracked Bakken oil from North Dakota, rolls southward. They will pass the field where our neighbor’s kids play, then close alongside beautiful Lake Champlain, which defines this region, and on to Albany, where the oil will be put on barges and floated down the Hudson River to New Jersey, to be stored or refined.

Tanker cars like these have been blowing up recently. An accident north of us, over the Canadian border, flattened a downtown and killed 47 people. These cars carry a mix of crude oil and volatile compounds arising from the fracking process, making them dangerously flammable. I worry about my small town’s volunteer fire fighters, all of whom I know personally and admire greatly, who do not have the expertise or the equipment to deal with an accident like that.

Watching the tanker cars, I am also haunted by a scene seared into my memory five months ago. We are driving east along U.S. Route 2 in North Dakota, our small camper in tow, trying to pass through Williston, smack in the middle of the Bakken oil fields.

As the sun sets, we see hundreds of oil and gas rigs flaring excess volatile gases in huge plumes of orange flame. Processing plants spew fumes of God-knows-what. There are row upon row of metal trailers, boxes really, actually used as housing for people. Unrelenting traffic beats a path on the undivided highway under furious construction, with no breakdown lanes or turn-offs for miles. Huge water tankers and oil trucks force us to move onward at 60 mph; there will be no rest for us here, as all campgrounds, gas stations, and parking lots are filled with the rigs of the temporary workers.

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Pipeline, Meet the Nuns

Praying hands support a tree. Illustration via america365/shutterstock.com
Praying hands support a tree. Illustration via america365/shutterstock.com

Pipeline projects are moving forward across the country, but a group of tuneful nuns is working to make sure they don’t succeed.  

The Sisters of Loretto in Marion County, Kentucky have lived on their rural acreage since the 1800s, serving the poor and enjoying the wide open spaces and forest trails of their home.

With a fracking company proposing a pipeline for pressurized natural gas chemicals through their land, the sisters have sprung into action to protect what they see as their “holy land.” They have refused to allow the fracking company to survey their land for pipeline construction, citing past pipeline explosions and the risk of contamination.   

The sisters appeared at a public hearing over the proposed pipelines, singing “Amazing Grace” until they were asked to be quiet.  Their unexpected activism has gained them attention locally and across the internet (you can meet the sisters by watching this video.)   

Hydrofracking Could Strain Water Resources in West

The expansion of hydrofracking could strain water resources from Forth Worth to western Colorado. The New York Times reports:

“Given projected sharp increases” in the production of oil and gas by the technique commonly known as fracking, the report from the group Ceres said, “and the intense nature of local water demands, competition and conflicts over water should be a growing concern for companies, policy makers and investors.”

One option is to recycle the water used in hyrdofracking. However the water may contain chemicals, natural pollutants, or ever radioactivity and it is expensive to clean the water. Some companies are expanding their use of brackish, undrinkable water unstead of fresh water to lessen their environmental impact. 

Read more here.

 

 

Murky Waters

THE FINGER LAKES region of western New York is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The 11 lakes dangle like a necklace below Lake Ontario, surrounded by hills that are a breathtaking green in summer, red and orange for a flash in the autumn, then snowy white until the cycle repeats. It’s an area where the main tension has been of the resident-vs.-renter sort.

This summer, the tension, visibly staked out with lawn signs, was different. The topic: hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” for short. In this process, fluid—primarily water, with some sand and other chemicals—is injected deep underground to break apart shale rock, releasing natural gas and oil. Back at the surface, gas and oil are cleaned and sold; the water mixture is dumped into deep wells.

The procedure has only been made cost-effective in the last decade or so; awareness of retrievable shale oil and gas deposits isn’t a whole lot older. Combine the two, and you have an energy boom—one that led natural gas to nearly overtake coal for electricity production at one point last year.

A key question that has not been definitively answered: Does fracking, compared to the fuel it displaces, increase or decrease greenhouse gas production? Since natural gas, compared to coal, produces significantly less carbon dioxide when burned, cheaper natural gas is one reason why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have gone down significantly of late. But natural gas is primarily methane—a gas that is more than 20 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. During the fracking process, some of that methane escapes into the atmosphere; there is debate over how much.

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New Study Finds Fracking Can Pollute

Salon reports on a new study which suggests that "fracking" can pollute water sources:

"A new study, published in the formidable Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, upends that common-sense argument. It shows that fluids may have traveled from deep within Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, one of the formations at the center of the gas boom, into shallow aquifers hundreds of feet above. These fluids aren’t products of fracking, but if they can travel up through layers of rocks, close to the surface, it means that fracking fluids could, too."

Read more about the study here

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