Two decades ago, the regional fight against a proposed nuclear waste dump for Allegany County and New York State was more intense than this struggle. That was passionate arm-in-arm civil disobedience against the state, along with a protractive legal war, that ultimately prevailed. Today’s battle– against the reality and future prospects of hydro-fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale– is hardly less contentious (at least in some quarters) and extends far beyond this region’s borders.
Like a chess game with its pieces scattered far and wide across the board, the fight may seem less focussed than the anti-nuke battles were. There are no black versus white pieces lined up face to face. The hydro-fracking forces, pro and con, are duking it out on squares of ground all over the country: on the high plains of our Western states, in northern Pennsylvania and the southern half of New York State, in West Virginia and Ohio. The verbal push and shove is happening right here in the towns where I live. Those in favor of horizontal drilling and the fracturing of shale for the gas therein have the money (or will get it) plus the backing of state governments. The anti-frackers seem to have the passion of the Long View with regard to the health of the environment and the well-being of future generations.
Hydro-fracking for natural gas has been industrializing northern Pennsylvania for several years now. In New York there’s been a moratorium on the issuance of fracking permits but that is soon to end. The time for signing petitions, for speaking at public hearings, and for arguments at various meeting halls (as productive as it’s been) may soon grind to a halt. It’s time for me to shut my mouth for an hour or two and take it to the woods.
Out there, at First Brook in New York’s headwaters of the Genesee, I found a leaking oil well on the stream’s south bank. That was in April 2011. Five months later the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency followed up on my discovery and pulled the rusted tank while sponging up the mess. Today, on a cold January afternoon, I visited the stream again, bushwhacking up the hollow as far as the snow and ice allowed. I paused now and then and listened to what the trout brook said:
My glass is half empty and covered with ice. They’d suck it for five million gallons per well, inject it down deep with sand and with secrets, plus benzene, tuolene, xylene, heavy metals and salt. And what goes in, comes out. What oversight? Your local conservation district’s taboo, and the regionals need more than 20-20 vision. Who but the streamwalker will watch for those spills? And will you watch for “free-gas” to seep from your taps? No, I don’t want the new roads, the traffic from trucks. I don’t want to flow shackled through fragmented woods. I want what you see here, winter’s wild freedom and peace. People want jobs, but who’s this work for? What jobs could they make to embrace the whole earth? It’s all for the gas, the big bucks, from life when the sea covered all. I cannot live one day with a toxic heart. I’ve seen the years of lawless mining– coal and oil and gas– we’re cleaning up still. There’s no frackin’ way I want to see more! I’ll not flow gentle into that good night… I’ll not flow gentle into that good night.