Monday, August 29, 2011

FRACK YOU: The tyranny of energy

As an engineer, you are trained to think about the flow of energy. Efficiency, a key concept in engineering and design, is basically an accounting of energy. But energy isn't only something that is confined to engineering. Rather, it is a basic feature of all of nature. We live because of the energy of the sun. Food provides our bodies with energy to keep us alive, breathing and warm. Weather is Earth's response to the flow of solar energy. The fossil fuels we burn is stored energy from eons ago. To live, energy must flow through us. But for the past few hundred years, we've wanted more and more of it, and our living has been conflated with how much energy we can use.

This world is using more energy than ever before, and we're looking for newer and newer ways to extract it from this Earth. The less abundant it is, the more we have to search for it, and the more we are compelled to do whatever it takes to find it. As you can imagine, none of this is benign. For all the hullabaloo, natural gas, which "clean" burning, is in no way cleanly obtained. Fracking has been the latest type of energy extraction to tyrannize this Earth and its people. Here are some responses to Sandra Steingraber's recent piece in Orion, When Cowboys Cry.

"While reading Sandra Steingraber's column, I thought of a recent visit to my father's ranch in Montana, where I confronted the aftermath of hydrofracturing. The land had an alkali sheen to it; little pipe installations were everywhere, and the ranch and road had obviously been flooded many times. I had seen this place once before - when it was a retreat for the coal company that owned it - and it was beautiful. Now, my father would cry to see it." ~Iris Blaisdell, Gardnerville, Nevada

"Sandra Steingraber is right to point out the threat hydrofractuing poses to groundwater. The implications are especially worrying in the Upper Peninsula of my state, Michigan, which is crisscrossed by spring-fed waterways from west to east. All through the state - along roadsides and deep in the woods, where people stop to collect water in containers - an amazing number of these clear, drinkable fountains erupt from hillsides. Others babble forth from smaller openings in the earth and join together to make drinkable creeks and tannin-colored rivers - all of which end up in the Great Lakes, which hold almost one quarter of all the fresh water on the planet. In the midst of this network are hundreds of old farms whose owners and families straddle poverty, and whose acreage is targeted by energy companies for fracking. What dispossessed farmer could resist the cash?

I was out recently at my favorite hillside water fountain, lively with frogs and trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit. The beech trees, too, are still there, along with their store of nuts that feeds nearly everything in that forest. I approached the water, and I drank. I still can - but for how long?" ~Bob Vance, Petoskey, Michigan

"The tyranny of energy corporations described the Sandra Steingraber has also visited my community in rural Ohio. The township where I live has more signed leases for hydrofracturing than any other in the state, and local politicians and lease signers are happy to believe the claim that fracking has been going on harmlessly for decades. Nothing seems to matter except quick cash. My neighbors have signed leases, and as a result, the spring-fed pond and well from which I drink are in peril. When my well and all those surrounding me are fouled, none of us will have the "opportunity" to sell our homes and farms and move elsewhere - no one, after all, wants to live in a toxic dump." ~Karen Kirsch, Marlboro Township, Ohio

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