Out of Mind

In his NY Times OpEd, Destroying Precious Land for Gas, Sean Lennon paints a wonderful picture of the rural land his father and mother picked out in New York State, and warns against big companies that want to frack there:

A few months ago I was asked by a neighbor near our farm to attend a town meeting at the local high school. Some gas companies at the meeting were trying very hard to sell us on a plan to tear through our wilderness and make room for a new pipeline: infrastructure for hydraulic fracturing. Most of the residents at the meeting, many of them organic farmers, were openly defiant. The gas companies didn’t seem to care. They gave us the feeling that whether we liked it or not, they were going to fracture our little town.  …

Natural gas has been sold as clean energy. But when the gas comes from fracturing bedrock with about five million gallons of toxic water per well, the word “clean” takes on a disturbingly Orwellian tone. Don’t be fooled. Fracking for shale gas is in truth dirty energy. It inevitably leaks toxic chemicals into the air and water. Industry studies show that 5 percent of wells can leak immediately, and 60 percent over 30 years. There is no such thing as pipes and concrete that won’t eventually break down. It releases a cocktail of chemicals from a menu of more than 600 toxic substances, climate-changing methane, radium and, of course, uranium.

I frequently come home to find my wife watching some romance on Lifetime or Hallmark or a similar channel. The plots have gotten so predictable that I could almost write one myself.

The main character is a stressed-out city dweller, but for some reason has to stop in, then spend an unexpectedly longer amount of time in a small town. Maybe his or her BMW has broken down, maybe he or she has inherited a farm, but there they are, cell phone in one ear, in a hurry, wearing city duds in the local diner – where they meet an incredibly attractive and single person, of the opposite sex, of course, who is wearing country casual, and looks damn good in it. After some requisite bickering, they do some chores or solve a crime together, ride a horse or paddle a canoe, go to the local dance or fair, then fall madly in love. After a few fits and starts, the city mouse figures out that just about everything is waaay better in the country. The city person either quits her or his job, or decides she or he can do it just as well from the small town or opens a new small business doing what they were always afraid to try.

I tell my wife that such films are essentially the television version of country music. They are about a longing for the supposed simplicity of life in the country. I’ve actually moved to the country, though. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t bliss, either.

When my family left Long Island for a rural MD suburb of Washington DC, we settled in an old farm, which had less than ten acres of land but was nestled between hundred acre pastures. I was ten. We couldn’t even see the nearest house, and it seemed like we were alone. We kids started exploring the land nearby and found two dumps. Both were in creeks. The closer one was “in the woods” and contained old washing machines and furniture dumped by our neighbors. Even then, it seemed like a bad idea to leave large hunks of metal to rust in the creek, but it was on their own property. Our neighbor’s kids didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Along the gravel road was a more general dump used by anyone that didn’t feel like driving to the county landfill. My Dad bought a trailer and we diligently brought our waste to the smelly landfill. Trash attracts more trash, though, and as more and more people moved in to the area, we would see more and more station wagons and pickups full of trash headed down that road. We thought it would be better if they didn’t.

Nowadays, we drop bagged trash at a giant compactor run by the apartment complex. People drop off all the same sort of stuff, and it goes somewhere. Unlike the Zero Waste Project or Cradle to Cradle, the products we use always come with disposable packaging.

Likewise, the energy we use always comes from extracting, refining and delivering fossil fuels. Usually that happens out of sight, in blighted areas near the Gulf or in Cushing or in Athabasca. Oil pipelines run unnoticed and leak without much publicity. Coal moves on rail cars. Fracking is just the latest, most invasive, hardest to ignore manifestation of our dependence on fossil fuels.

In the country romances, the city dweller probably won’t have to smell the town dump or drink the fracked water. In real life, though, it will be harder and harder to escape to places not affected by our consumption of resources. We may be drinking fracked water for generations.

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2 responses to “Out of Mind”

  1. cmaukonen says :

    Where I grew up in NE Ohio we had 3 acres of forested land that was part of a much larger partial. Not far from our part was a place that someone dumped some very old appliances. The kind with white ceramic. it was an old air shaft from a coal mine that was there.

    Further up and behind some neighbors house was an entry shaft to the same mine and they and those before were using it to dump their garbage.

    The creeks and streams and run off gullies were all polluted then but we played in them anyway.

    Not so much now, since they all empty into the Cuyahoga river at some point, you cannot have pollution in them.


  2. trkingmomoe says :

    When I attended Akron U in the late 1970’s, the coarses I took in the hard sciences had nothing good to say about fracking. It was just begining it’s journey into our politics. I was really shocked this past decade to hear that they were allowing fracking to go on. Greed trumps good science this last 30 years of the Regan revolution. I think history is going to look back on this with sharp criticism.


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