Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marcellus Shale: Two Takes, Plus....

Marcellus shale, plus the new kind of gas-bearing shale that has been discovered beneath it in places--is this new fact0r in the life of Pennsylvania (and in 30 other states as well) a godsend or a curse? I have been spending a little time trying to find an answer, and will be sharing any insights I gain with readers. Starting now.
Let me begin, then, by talking about Josh Fox's acclaimed (and vilified) documentary film "Gasland". Fox, who owns a house in at Milantown, PA along the upper Delaware River, first became aware of Marcellus shale and the natural gas "rush" when he was offered somewhat above $100,000 to permit the leasing of his 19- plus acres for natural gas exploration. Surprised, he began to investigate the origin of this offer. He was naturally concerned because he had been born in the house he still lives in and has a deep attachment to it, and to his plot of land.
His research was carried out in the newspapers, in courthouses, and in the homes of fellow Pennsylvanians who had signed leases with gas companies earlier. Eventually his exploration led him far afield--to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Texas. He made a film of the things he encountered: sick and despondent people, sick and dying animals, ravaged landscapes, homes so damaged they could never be either lived in or resold, flammable water. He also, in the process, interviewed at least two or three very experienced scientists, whose views ought to count for a good deal. Especially since there is no obvious material benefit for them to hold these unpopular views. There is a hypnotized rush for the perceived benefits of the gas in the shale, and it seems that standing in its way might even be dangerous.
Fox returned home to the Delaware Valley, wondering whether everything he had loved was already lost. He concluded that that was up to the film's viewers. And perhaps it is; we surely should make our best effort to save our heritage. The question is whether we are already too deeply caught in a snare to do so.
This film, then, is the take of the victims--at least, the victims to date. I recommend you see "Gasland" and try to relate to its message. Or at least to understand it. The film is available online for sale, and that is how I got it. It can most likely also be rented on or offline, or borrowed through a library or another organization. Corporations don't like it, and have attacked it. It would be strange if they admired it and promoted it.
Now, here is the take of some people on the other side. Many of them have actually obtained jobs through gas exploration and production in the Marcellus shale. I recommend that you watch this, too. These people were featured on "State of Pennsylvania", a public affairs program on public television station WVIA-TV; the segment is called "Marcellus Shale: Where are the Jobs?" Go to, click on "television," and you should be able to find it online. The program participants, for the most part, have their own stories of stress and loss, from which they now seem to have been rescued--at least temporarily and, I hope, for a good long time. Having known nothing myself but economic stress, I don't ever wish against anyone who seems to have gotten a break.
These, then, are the two takes I promised on Marcellus shale and what goes with it. Now for the "Plus", which is my own take. I am a lifelong student of history, which I find challenging and of endless interest. As such, though, I can hardly remember a time when, at a crossroads like this, humans have chosen wisely. We need jobs, and we need power. Developing this power source can give us both--at least for the time being.
But at what cost? How healthy can it be to lace millions of gallons of water with no fewer than 596 chemicals and then inject the chemicalized water into the soil? Can this result in anything other than the poisoning of the soil and the water? Not to mention the sheer loss of water that will never resurface, a loss to a planet where water is an ever-diminishing commodity.
Who will pay for this loss and destruction? Josh Fox's people, first of all. They are poor, they have no way of defending themselves; and to the"average" American--whoever that is--they may come across as "aging hippies", or some other contemptuous and dismissive name.
(We are so full of such things... )
At any rate, having given them dismissive names, we will no longer have to care about what happens to them.
Union workers we can also dismiss; unions are not popular. Bill Kelly of WVIA did not even try to answer the query of the man who called in asking why union workers could not seem to get jobs. It was a sane question, but Kelly could no more answer it in the context of that particular program than the unhappy Gabrielle Giffords could answer Jared Laughner's crazy question to her.
Let us not forget city dwellers in their millions, the New Yorkers and Philadelphians and Baltimoreans, who certainly will not mind having no water and atrociously expensive food. Or will they?
These are some of the certain losers. Who, then, will profit by this natural gas rush? In the long run, I fear, nobody. In the short run, perhaps corporations and their stockholders. But in the last analysis even executives and stockholders must eat and drink. The triumph of fracking may place such activities beyond the reach of most of us. Even, perhaps, executives and stockholders.
What do I think SHOULD be done, in this crisis of jobs and the environment? We should be investing in new technologies and alternate energy, and putting workers to work in these areas. Only to the extent that these efforts do not generate enough energy or jobs should we delve into the Marcellus shale for what we need. And this should be done only with careful planning and control.

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