Tuesday, January 24, 2012

If We Care Nothing for Wonder, What Do We Care About? Fracking in Pennsylvania State Forests


To the Editor:

Our state forests are not only beautiful, not only resource and recreation: they epitomize the responsibility to cultivate wonder. Whatever our military might, our democratic system, it’s the wonder of places like Rickett’s Glen, Hickory Run, The Endless Mountains, and countless other irreplaceable ecosystems that define us as a state whose people value not merely use, but quality of life. It’s the experience of these places and the creatures and plants for whom they’re home that we stand to forfeit should Governor Corbett rescind the Rendell moratorium on leasing new DCNR lands to drilling for natural gas—fracking.

Yet this is precisely what he is now poised to do. This loss exceeds the loss of private property owners, communities, and towns. Why? Because it is all our loss; because it concedes wonder to the cynical calculation of profits.

2.11: Corbett “repealed a 4-month-old policy designed to minimize the environmental impact of…natural gas well drilling in Pennsylvania's parks” citing the policy as “unnecessary and redundant.” John Quigley, Governor Rendell’s DCNR secretary insists, however, that the policy “contained important safeguards for ecologically valuable parklands” and that drilling could endanger not only these systems, but the economic value of the parks: “Ohiopyle [Park] gets a million visitors a year and the recreation opportunities it provides are very important to the economy of the region.”

Compounding these dangers are court rulings that “mineral estate" rights are superior to surface rights in Pennsylvania, and that the owners of underground mineral rights must be given reasonable access to develop those holdings, even when they lie under parks or other publicly owned land.” 1.4.12: “[t]he 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a ruling last year that ended a ban on drilling in the Allegheny National Forest. “The appeals court ruled in September that the U.S. Forest Service only controls surface rights, not the mineral rights below the forests lands. The court says the mineral rights are privately owned, and those owners should enjoy reasonable access to the sur­face to drill for oil and gas.”

There simply is no such thing as safe fracking:

“A mechanical failure during hydraulic fracturing operations on a natural gas well in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County caused a blow out of the well and a spill of about 21,000 gallons of fracking fluid…Fracking fluid that returns to the surface after the hydraulic fracturing process, called produced water, also contains heavy metals, sulfates, chlorides and other toxins from exposure to rock deep in the earth. The incident occurred at the Talisman Energy USA well pad DCNR #8 - Well #5, in the Tioga State Forest in Ward Township…a valve on the well failed during the fracking process. The drilling crew lost control of the well as pressurized fracking fluid and sand spewed into the air and spilled onto the drilling pad.” DEP’s Nels Tabor: “This was a serious incident that could have caused significant environmental harm had it not been brought under control.” This is but one incident of many more to come if the governor has his way.

When most of the talk of how much gas is extractible, how many jobs, how safe, how profitable, how transitional an energy source, and how minimal a contributor to climate change has proven to be either exaggerated or patently false, why on earth would we continue to pursue this reckless course?

Do we want more cancer?

Community division?

Economic blight?

Ugliness? We must stop being willfully ignorant about fracking. Write and demand Governor Corbett put health, community integrity, clean water—and the experience of wonder—ahead of the wallets of his friends and himself.

600 words

Wendy Lynne Lee