By Bill "Wild Bill" Tracy, Evesham NJ
What would Abbey Say?
“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such
places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of
the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown,
actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic
Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the
end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the
shores of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near
the Hoboken waterfront….”
Yes, Collingswood, New Jersey is a beautiful place on earth. So are the surrounding lands from the precious Delaware to the vast Atlantic. This land and water nurture our lives, both physically and spiritually.
The generations who came before us in this land inherited the spirit of the Lenape and their sacred respect for lif that depended on this land and water. Our forebears protected the area and so bequeathed to us water we can drink and land where we can grow healthy food to feed our families.
What would south Jersey be without the legendary “Jersey tomato” or asparagus or blueberries or corn? Yes, this part of the Garden State is a beautiful place, and our children deserve to inherit at least as much as we have been given. Will this happen? Are we working to make sure this happens?
There are folks among us who want to harvest what they see as a “natural resource.” In certain geologic formations deep underground these folks have found pockets of natural gas. Since this gas is trapped inside rock and other underground substances, simple drilling doesn’t work.
They use a process called hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.” As close by as northeastern Pennsylvania, yes the Poconos, they are now mining this resource without regard for the substantial risks to water and land.
This mining is done by drilling down into these deep underground formations and then pumping millions of gallons of chemically treated water into them at pressures as high as 15,000 psi until they break apart, allowing the natural gas to escape—most of it into containers and then to tank trucks and pipelines for sale. Unfortunately, the only thing we know for sure about this process is that it moves usable natural gas out of the ground.
Far more worrisome are the things we don’t know:
- How does this chemically treated water affect the ground water we drink? While the mining companies refuse to say exactly what they add to the water they inject, we know carcinogenic chemicals are part of the mix. The United States House of Representatives said last year that over 600 of the chemicals known to be used in fracking are believed or known human-cancer-causing agents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has documented cases of groundwater contamination from fracking operations. (1,2)
- How is widespread fracking affecting our drinking water supplies? The typical well requires an initial injection of three to eight million gallons of water. That’s the amount of water that flows in the Delaware past Trenton, NJ in three to five minutes. Seems like a lot of potable water to be traded for a few hot showers.
- What’s in the wastewater? Some of the water injected into the earth for fracking stays there, potentially contaminating groundwater, but most is ejected with the gas products. This wastewater contains unknown chemical contaminants; also it may be radioactive. Even if safely processed the radioactivity cannot be eliminated. Where does this radioactive water end up? Can they really treat millions, probably billions of gallons of water and safely put it back into streams and rivers?
- What’s the earthquake potential? Links are now being made to fracking and earthquakes – in places as unlikely as Dallas, Texas. We do not know for certain what geologic effects this pressurizing may have on underground formations. Earlier this year, Ohio enacted new regulations after fracking caused a round of earthquakes in northeastern Ohio. (4, 5) If fracking comes to New Jersey, will Collingswood have to add California-style earthquake resistance to building codes?
Our Collingswood and southern New Jersey are the beautiful places on earth that Edward Abbey wrote about. We know that for sure. What we don’t know about fracking seems like a huge potential threat to such beauty. Maybe it would be safer simply not to do it around here. As Abbey was known to say, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
[Edward Abbey (1927-1989), originally from Home, Pennsylvania, was a
writer and activist supporting environmental responsibility and the
primacy of humanity over “development.” At the time of his death, he
had come to be known as the “Thoreau of the American West.”]