Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere . . .

These pictures are of the Butternut which borders my property. Hera's brewery is also on this beautiful stream.
Hera has become increasingly alarmed by the gulf oil spill and the parallels between off-shore drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a drilling approach to obtaining natural gas. I thought I’d let her speak about her concerns as one of the residents of her valley who understands the dilemma of the people sitting on this underground wealth of gas. Getting caught in the middle of this controversy is part of Hera’s next challenge as I write the second in the Hera Knightsbridge, Master Brewer, Mystery Series.

In Hera’s words:

Seeing the globs of red crude floating in the ocean and washing ashore onto once pristine white beaches, killing wildlife and destroying wetlands got me thinking and worrying about this valley. In some ways, we could be confronting the same issues here because of energy needs. The Marcellus Shale region runs through half of New York State, western Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio. The valley where I brew beer is located here. Within the shale layers lies trapped natural gas which can only be extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, accomplished by horizontal drilling into the shale layer, then forcing water, sand, and other chemicals (the exact mixture is an industry secret) under pressure to release the gas. The run-off water contains these chemicals. Not only will this toxic cocktail poison wells should it get into ground water, but also wildlife. Gas seeping into wells can sometimes explode, as recently witnessed in West Virginia, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

My valley is poor and has been hit hard by the recent recession. Farmers are paying more money to produce milk than they get selling it. Companies have moved their operations to other places, other countries. It is understandable that people here see the gas companies’ sign-on bonuses and the promise of a monthly check as the solution to their economic woes. In addition, many see gas drilling as a way to end independence on foreign oil. Does this sound familiar, too?

What if something goes wrong as it did in Dimock, Pennsylvania where one woman’s well blew up on New Years’ day? In this community, the State Environmental Protection Agency has shut down drilling in some areas, finding over 14 wells with well water contaminated by the process. For those who signed contracts with the gas companies, the idle wells mean no monthly checks. Individuals dependent upon money from drilling now find themselves without an income. Folks in the gulf who worked in industries related to oil can surely see the parallels here.

Why would a microbrewer be concerned about fracking? We buy all our yeast and malt from outside sources. Our hops come from as far away as New Zealand or the Pacific Northwest. But our water, the most plentiful ingredient in craft beers? It comes from our wells. Contaminated wells mean we must either buy water from somewhere else or go broke, another dent in the economic health of this community. I don’t have to sign a contract with a gas company, have something go wrong, and it ruin my water supply. My neighbor can sign on while I hold out. Ground water in a large region could be affected by my neighbor’s drilling.

This is the perfect storm—the desperate need for energy and an economic recession making jobs scarce. People without jobs, small farmers whose costs may outweigh their incomes, both are sitting atop one of the richest natural gas sources in the world. We must weigh the alternatives carefully because we may be seeing our future in the frightened eyes of gulf coast residents, in the oil-covered birds and turtles, and in the dying vegetation of the wetlands.

I just want tightened oversight in the gas and oil industries, not complicity between governmental agencies and private enterprise. People’s lives and our earth are at stake, not just my brewery.

1 comment:

  1. What beautiful land you live next to! Of course, your land would be just as beautiful. :) I enjoyed your profile, reading about your life in both New York and Florida. What a contrast and what fun!

    I am so saddened by what has happened in the Gulf and I was alarmed to read Hera's comments. No wonder she is very concerned. Harvesting our natural resources for the survival of us humans is bringing up consequences that are dire. Better oversight is definitely needed and I hope Hera's efforts can lead to that. Thanks for the post.

    Carolyn CJ Jones