Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Protagonist Speaks about Beer and Fracking

Today I asked my protagonist, Hera Knightsbridge, to talk about her stance on hydraulic fracturing, the controversial gas drilling technique that forces water and chemicals into the ground under pressure to shatter shale and release trapped gas.  In my murder mystery Poisoned Pairings, the microbrewers in the Butternut Valley are concerned about what this horizontal drilling technique will do to the valley.  I thought I’d give Hera the opportunity to speak for herself and her colleagues and tell you how she sees the issue.

This is Hera's Valley

I brew beer, so why should I worry about fracking?  I have my business.  I don’t own enough land to lease any of it to the gas industry.  Why should gas drilling be of concern to me or to any of my microbrewing friends?  Here’s what I think.

When you think of microbrews you probably think of hops and malt, but microbreweries use enormous amounts of water to produce their product and to clean their vats after brewing.  Some people forget it is the main ingredient in beer.  Hops, malt, other flavor enhancers such as orange, coriander and the like and yeast are the necessary additions to the water to produce lagers and ales. 

Fracking uses even more water than we do, and it comes from the same sources, the water supplies in the local region.  One of the larger brewers, my friend Teddy, is successful enough to buy water if his wells go dry, but, for smaller operations such as my brewery, that’s not an option even though I have two wells on my property.  The supply of water in any area is not endless. 

The issue of fracking aside, we all need to be concerned with conserving water.  I’d hate to see us fighting over water like ranchers and settlements did in the west.  And still do.  Water may be the battleground for the next great war, but I don’t want it to begin in my backyard if we can prevent it.

The water we use in beer needs to be clean, free from most chemicals, certainly free from those proprietary chemicals used in fracking.  I worry, despite assurances to the contrary, that our water could become contaminated. 

And what of the fracking ponds?  Where does that water go?  It cannot be cleaned, so it must be disposed of in some way, trucked out.  And that brings me to an additional concern, the heavy equipment on our country roads, hauling equipment into the area, hauling contaminated water out.  Many microbreweries like mine offer brewery tours or tastings, events to drawn in people to see how me make our product and to taste it.  We want our roads to be safe for visitors, in good repair.

It’s not just a matter of getting our customers in here to our microbreweries.  We know they come for other reasons also, reasons that have to do with the beauty of the area.  They don’t spend the day sipping ale in our tasting rooms.  They travel the area to local restaurants, fairs, shops, camp grounds and parks.  The natural beauty here draws them to us.  They certainly don’t come here to see drilling rigs settled into valleys denuded of trees and other flora.

Microbreweries are part of the communities in which they are located.  They support it by offering jobs and pair with tourism concerns and colleges to further the economic health of the area.  The sell a product made locally, and some of the ingredients are also local now that hops growing is making a comeback in this area.

So, yes, I am concerned about fracking.  It appears it would be here only long enough to extract gas until the supplies diminish or extraction is not cost effective.  I am aware there are individuals, many my neighbors, who would profit from a lease.  But I don’t believe we can frack ourselves into a healthy economy.  That will take the cooperation of numerous people, many of them small business owners like me, adding their individual input to the overall economic growth of this region.  If I grow, I add jobs, but I need the right environment, one filled with the beauty of our stream and lakes, forest and meadows, one people want to visit and live in.  I think we can make that possible by working together and not fighting each other.

Lesley's note: Hera and I welcome your comments on this issue.  And I'd like to know if you like hearing from Hera on my blog.


  1. In North Texas, fracking is pretty much the assumed cause of several minor earthquakes. Our area is noted for the rich Barnett Shale, and gas companies leased every bit of land possible, even my small city lot. I held out for a long time, but I realized my neighbors would all sign and it wouldn't make a flipping difference if I held out on moral principles. So I took the lease money--an amazing amount for the size of my property. But now I'm regretting it. I think fracking is one more serious insult to the earth we must all strive to maintain. I'm sorry for its effects on microbreweries and for earthquakes, but I think it's a larger issue that goes beyond local problems. If we're to survive, we have to look at how we treat the earth. We haven't done a good job so far, and some say it's already destroyed. I hope not.

  2. Yes, I agree with you. We have been very bad stewards of this planet, and we have failed and still fail to look to the future to see what our bad behavior will give our children and their children.
    And it is understandable that you signed that lease. Here in New York State, even if you don't sign, horizontal drilling can occur on your land, but if your name is not on a lease, you simply don't get any money for having the gas extracted from shale under your property.

  3. That used to be illegal - to drill horizontally and extract any hydrocarbon from any property the drilling company did not have a lease on. Probably still is in most places, but it's tough to fight big oil companies.

    But to the more imporant question. Did I enjoy hearing from your protagonist? I certainly did. I'm sure I'd enjoy hearing from the antogonist as well. You know, equal time.
    Thanks for a good interview.
    James (Jim) Callan

  4. Lesley I love when the protagonist or the antagonist jumps right off of the pages into the world of folks, plus I learned something new about 'fracking' from you as well as from Judy and John.

  5. Can do. One of the bigger brewers is for fracking. I can give him a shot at this next week.


  6. Fifty years ago, we used to sit around (and drink beer) and argue about limits to population growth. What would be the limiting element for human society? Tin, maybe? Cobalt? We never thought about water...

    My friends in South Texas say they can sell the effluent from their septic systems to the oil companies, for use in fracking. Don't know what happens to the leftover, contaminated water. I'll ask.

  7. Well put Hera (and Lesley). Argued the subject the other day with a hardcore supporter of drill, baby, drill. His point--the oil industry has been doing it for years. I countered, what about the problems it creates? His reply--a shrug and he said, oh, there's always problems.
    I'm not sure how to deal with that mentality.

  8. Good luck, Hera. It sounds like your job is anything but simple. Keep the faith!

  9. Hera, I never knew what fracking was until now, and I appreciate the explanation. And I would LOVE to read about your next adventure in Poisoned Pairings!

  10. I loved hearing from Hera, but I'm sad about the news she brings. Sounds like we're all in for more of a mell of a hess, as if the earth weren't being abused enough each day in other ways.

    Humanity is nothing if not short-sighted and selfish, yet so creative in pursuing its greedy desires. I'm one particle of humanity, so I'm no better. Sad. Just sad.

  11. It is true that the gas companies have been drilling for years. Here in New York state since the late 1800s, but that kind of drilling was vertical drilling of a well not horizontal fracking, a different process. To satisfy our hunger for energy we need to do a number of things, none of them easy and most of them not immediate. Jimmy Carter asked us to turn down our thermostats long ago-conservation. And we should explore alternative forms of energy. I hate to speak of windpower because of the flap over windmills in upstate New York several years ago, but they seem benign now with fracking hanging over our heads. Make it more lucrative to sell solar and wind than gas or oil and the gas and oil companies would be lining up for solar panels and windmill blades.

  12. I only recently heard about fracking, so when it was presented in a television show I was able to tell my husband what it is. He'd never heard of it. And Hera's comments added to the little I already knew. I appreciate that, and I definitely enjoyed hearing from her.

  13. I couldn't hear her, but I did read what she had to say. Fracking has moved into NE Ohio in a big way. It scares me, too, but I'll admit I did sign a consortium lease with a thousand others. Even if I held out (I only have 12 acres) it wouldn't have stopped them from their pipes running under my property, and as a retired person on a limited income, even for that small amount it was sizeable. Our consortium put together some of the stiffest rules yet to protect us and our property of any contract written so far. Right now the company we signed with has a process to clean the water it uses enough to use it over and over again in other wells rather than dispose of it in holding ponds or injection wells. I wish the whole thing had never started, but I don't see any way of stopping it.

  14. I grew up in Southern Indiana where much of the rural land was ruined through strip mining in which the top layers of dirt were removed to reach the ore. Driving down the interstate one can see acres of the ripped-up land which probably can't be restored without much money, effort and interest. Sounds like fracking will have the same effect, but nobody will figure that out until it's too late to save the land.
    Sally Carpenter

  15. I don't want to sound like the voice of doom, but I suspect fracking is really a done deal. Too much money and power involved for it not to be. I think the real issue is what Gloria pointed out--we need to control what's being done and how We need to write the rules of fracking not merely allow the gas companies to dictate the terms to us. I guess I'm suggesting we fight battles we can win and control over the process and where it occurs could be several of them.

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