Op-ed column: Fracking casts an ominous shadow on Earth Day

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision on permits for hydraulic fracturing in
Donna Grethen/Tribune Media
Donna Grethen/Tribune Media

Earth Day is next Sunday, and if you need a way to observe it, you could do worse than to say a silent “thank you” to what (or who) our neighbors in South American call Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, our source of life and plenty.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision on permits for hydraulic fracturing in New York comes sometime this year. More than 100 towns have enacted moratoria or outright bans against it. Heated discussions in public and private have pitted neighbors against neighbors, and somehow those who oppose fracking have become the villains.

Anti-frackers are “against jobs, prosperity and fighting terrorism by making us energy independent.” If I didn’t know how much money the oil and gas companies are spending on television and print ads and lobbying, this would be a mystery. But it’s not. It still comes down to money.

Even actor Mark Ruffalo got angry (but not enough to become The Hulk) and called the gas industry a “vampire squid sucking the life out of us.” Ruffalo owns a farm in Callicoon, in Sullivan County, and has joined with upstate neighbors Debra Winger and Ethan Hawke to speak out against fracking, along with Josh Fox, who is making “Gasland 2.”

Power of protest

Ruffalo appeared on “The Colbert Report” (OK, Comedy Central, but a current events show nonetheless) and got more national exposure in eight minutes than the anti-frackers have gotten in almost a year. And that, boys and girls, is why you enlist famous people to your cause.

Ruffalo believes in the power of popular protest, and launched the nonprofit Farmhearts (farmhearts.org) to help farmers who otherwise might sign gas leases to survive, by “lending a hand to the hands that feed us.” Another of his nonprofits, Water Defense (waterdefense.org) supports finding energy sources other than carbon-based, which are running out, dangerous, polluting, and major causes of climate change.

Enter the Chinese. They own most of our debt. They have also bought into Chesapeake Energy’s leased acreage at about $16,000 an acre. Other deals have gone for $10,000 to $20,000 an acre. Keep in mind these are acreages that the landsmen got from struggling farmers for $4 to maybe $2,000 per acre.

Does this sound like the bundling of toxic mortgages by our friendly banks on Wall Street (the ones we bailed out because they were too big to fail)? “Fracking is about cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about realizing the dreams of new homeowners,” said Jeff Goodell in his March 15 Rolling Stone article “The Fracking Bubble.” In other words, not.

China is also buying farmland worldwide, high-quality livestock in the United States and South America, and as this paper reported, is the major owner of the Canadian tar sands and pipelines that get that oil to the refineries and ship it to — China!

They’re just taking care of their citizens, which any good government ought to do. If that means turning us into their colony, well, it brings jobs, taxes and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Right.

More insanity

And the lunacy doesn’t end there.

• The governor of Pennsylvania slashed his state education budget by $2 billion and wants the state university system to open its campuses to fracking to make up the difference.

• A California company that markets Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water wants to build a bottling plant in Johnstown, to sell water from there and Canajoharie. Do they know about the fracking threat to the aquifers? Would it matter?

• Chippewa Falls, Wis., is in the midst of a boom, selling their sand for use in the fracking process. They expect as many as 40 or 50 full-time mining jobs, around 70 trucking jobs and a boom for medical workers to treat silicosis, cancer and other autoimmune diseases.

• In Sao Paulo, Brazil, government prosecutors have filed criminal charges against 17 oil company executives for an oil leak, and a judge has ruled that none of the executives can leave the country. Their “crimes against the environment” could result in sentences of 31 years in prison.

• And residents of the Falkland Islands worry that their huge off-shore oil strikes will change their lives. Oil means they can have security, that is, buy an army to protect themselves from Argentina, which claims the territory.

“Where there is oil, there is more money to invest in environmental conservation,” said Falkands biologist Dan Fowler in an Associated Press article. Is that like saying we have to have parking meters to pay for the Meter Maids? One resident asks, in the same AP article, “Can this place survive it [the oil boom]? Everything we’re here for — not locking doors, freedom, tranquility — can it survive so much money?” Don’t worry. It won’t last that long.

Out of control

So what does this have to do with Earth Day?

If you keep track of the never-ending assault on Pacha Mama, it becomes evident that the rapacious lust for profit from exploiting the resources of our planet are out of control, won’t end until nothing is left but a steaming wasteland and cannot be changed except for a revolution in thinking. Do we know anyone who can be charged with “crimes against the environment?” Do we have the courage to do it?

Forgive us, Mother. Have a nice day.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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