By Liza Field
If it seems you aren’t part of the fracking debate, look under the surface. You’re connected to this trouble, and that connectivity is good news.
Hydraulic fracturing has generated divisiveness everywhere, and no one wants more divisions to deal with on the planet today. But the debate could excavate the one fossilized fuel humans most need at this time — that ancient, big-picture-seeing resource of wisdom. Accessing it would just require a dig deeper than the old fault lines these energy debates expose.
For one thing, America’s natural gas boom demonstrates that local and global aren’t separate units divided by such lines.
I live in the Appalachians of southwest Virginia, far from the Chesapeake Bay. We have no gas boom. Our version of “fracking” is the mountaintop-removal coal mining that requires dynamiting ancient ridgelines, then burying mountain creeks in the rubble.
The resulting watershed damage, along with divisive “war on coal” jargon, has already fractured our mountain communities. But fractures along the Maryland shore have tugged my attention to a similarly “local” controversy there.
In the tidal community of Calvert County, Dominion Resources is petitioning to convert its Cove Point import terminal into a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility. To encourage a cognitive link between its private interest and everybody’s public interest, Dominion stresses that jobs and revenue will result.
Opponents argue that the operation will threaten the community’s air quality, human safety and water security vital to numerous private interests beyond Dominion’s. Energy consultant Al Maiorino, president of Public Strategy Group, Inc., describes these opponents as “NIMBY types.”
The NIMBY label itself is helpfully fractious. This divide-and-conquer strategy, long used to pit community residents against one another rather than against a polluting industry, depicts opponents as backward, local oddities out-of-touch with global progress.
But as Maiorino complains, these uncooperative locals are springing up everywhere, opposing LNG export facilities around the continent.
“The Jordan Cove Energy Project can bring over 150 well-paying new jobs to a small town in Oregon,” he marvels, yet “the town still does not want the new export centre. In Jones Beach, N.Y., the opposition is the same as they line up to fight Liberty Natural Gas.”
The everywhere-NIMBYs questioning so many export proposals include fracking opponents from across the backyard of the continent, U.S. manufacturers — even a bipartisan group of 22 U.S. senators, who recently warned President Barack Obama that soaring fuel costs to U.S. homes and businesses would result.
Those rising costs will likewise ramp up pressure for domestic drilling, just when numerous other fracking impacts have surfaced across the nation.
In April, the Seismological Society of America reported that fracking and its left-behind buried tons of wastewater significantly increase earthquakes by stressing pre-existing fault lines.
Because those deeper connections aren’t well understood up here on shallower levels of human mineral rights and fence lines, the quakes can occur unpredictable miles and years away from the fracking operations that induce them.
That ripple effect itself shakes up our old cognitive fault lines. The Industrial Age notion of Earth as a hodgepodge of disconnected resources — water, land, minerals, air — is quickly eroding. The water crises surfaced by fracking hasten that erosion.
Hydraulic fracturing requires significant water withdrawals. In drought-stricken California, farmers complain that these drill operations deplete vital irrigation water, mixing it with toxic chemicals, then burying it underground as useless wastewater.
Liquefying natural gas takes even more water. That’s one reason Calvert County resident Tammy Vitale told me she opposes Dominion’s LNG plans. Local aquifer levels are dropping; as the county’s comprehensive plan warns, “the seemingly inexhaustible supply is running out.”
To downplay such public interests, LNG companies like Dominion have presented their private export goals as more-critical public interests: “Economic growth,” “energy independence” and “decreased trade deficit.”
Not that a decreased trade deficit which increases U.S. water deficits is logical. Nor an “energy independence” itself dependent on rapidly squandered supplies. Such cognitive leaps require a mental disconnect.
But we consumers have long provided that disconnect — split within our own minds by the desire for cheap energy while ignoring its larger costs.
That split has also allowed us mentally to divide our present comforts from the hardship of future Americans. It also divides us from our own “by the people” government, increasingly controlled by energy giants whose background presence we can’t stir ourselves to examine.
Such deeper cracks are the real source of our fractured environment. That’s why each outward crisis offers a doorway for us to look within — where a deeper, whole-minded wisdom still waits to heal the world.
Liza Field (LField@wcc.vccs.edu) is a teacher, hiker and tree-planter who writes from Southwest Virginia. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.