By Keith LePan
I leave it to historians to name this new era we live in. It began long before the election of a new President. We waged a war of choice in Iraq; economic stability at home faltered and we saw the first signs of deep faults in the bedrock of our financial system. The world called for American leadership on climate change; we gave them unilateralism disguised as foreign policy. The world looked to us again as drought and political instability abroad worsened an already tenuous global food supply, resulting in shortages in developing countries; our agri-troleum producers sold their subsidized harvest to make ethanol, using more energy in its manufacture than it actually produces for use as fuel. Now, we respond to the call for sustainable, carbon-neutral forms of energy with an old-era non-solution: natural gas production. It’s not news that America has gone to war to secure oil supplies. The news is, this time the war zone might be in our own backyards.
Big Gas proclaims domestic production of its “clean burning” fuel will help free us from dependence on foreign oil, even as they sell the gas mined in our region on the world market. What will free us from the devastation caused by an extremely dirty extraction process? Who will protect from air contamination those families living within 200 yards of gas wells, as the law allows in Pennsylvania, or prevent the degradation of rural New York landscapes as they become industrial zones dotted with houses amid the well pads, webbed by roads bearing constant traffic by heavy equipment, diesels and tanker trucks spewing exhaust while they service the well sites? And what will become of our most precious resource, water, as billions of gallons laced with toxic chemicals are injected under high pressure into the ground, potentially infecting the aquifers with poisons?
I’ll take a crack at a name for this new era of ours. The Age of Lessons Not Learned.
Like many, I come to the Upper Delaware region from the city as a part-time homeowner, looking for fresh air, clean water and wide skies. On the return trip from the mountains to the city, water’s descent to the sea is apparent to anyone who notices the change in altitude as you leave the Delaware behind, cross New Jersey’s High Point and traverse the gradual slope that leads to New York Harbor and the Atlantic beyond. One of the first things kids learn about the natural world is that water seeks the lowest level. Water carries what we put in it. When asked where it comes from, city dwellers might reply, “the faucet.” Tens of millions whose water comes from the Catskill and Pocono Mountains should know that whatever goes in upstate comes out downstate.
The Energy Act of 2005 removed all effective oversight. If you think the Environmental Protection Agency is protecting us, take a look at how cozy it is with Big Gas, which benefits as much as Big Banks from the institutionalized deregulation of recent decades. Where we thought there was security, we now see cracks forming in the bedrock of our water safety. We must insure that our future does not include a meltdown of the water system. There is no way to bail out the toxic fracking fluid once it leaches into the water.
Join NY H2O, a group of New Yorkers informing citizens and advising government that the threat posed by gas drilling in any watershed in the state is a public health issue for which we allow zero tolerance. NY H2O echoes the work being done by Damascus Citizens for Sustainability in Pennsylvania and many other grassroots groups forming across the nation. Is it too much to hope history will dub this the beginning of an Age of Responsibility?
[Keith LaPan lives in New York City and Shohola, PA and is one of the founders of NY H2O.]