The Garden of EdenÂ
Accompanying essay for Brian Spies' solo art showÂ
By Jon F. Allen, March 2012
Carl Sagan, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and televisionÂ
personality, more than once requested of NASA that beforeÂ
leaving our solar system Voyager 1 turn its camera aroundÂ
to take shots of the vast expanse of space that earth isÂ
situated in. He wanted to make us all aware that Earth isÂ
merely a small speck of minutia within an immense, eternal,Â
and vast cosmos. The series of shots made up one panoramicÂ
piece entitled â€œThe Pale Blue Dot.â€?Â
In 1960, Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger donned a pressureÂ
suit, stepped into the gondola of a hot air balloon and ascendedÂ
102,800 feet before jumping out. He had gone as far out of theÂ
atmosphere as humanly possible and was for all intents andÂ
purposes in space. He could not tell that he was even falling.Â
The gondola and balloon seemed to rapidly shoot away fromÂ
him which caused some confusion until he realized it wasnâ€™tÂ
moving. He was. The vacuum rendered the ruffling of his suitÂ
to a silence. A maximum speed of 614 miles per hour was reached
Â before he opened his chute at 18,000 feet. Needless to say,Â
Kittinger was ecstatic to have survived the fall. He has describedÂ hisÂ return to earth from the black vacuum of space akin to emergingÂ
in the Garden of Eden. He recounted how the mission gave him intense feelings of appreciation for how beautiful and precious our planet earth really is.Â
Fast forward from 1960 to a few months ago. I was culled from my everyday stresses and anxieties - those things related only to oneâ€™s immediate needs, entertainment, and survival - by a change in theme for an art show Iâ€™m co-curating (Brian Spiesâ€™ - pronounced Speez - solo artistâ€™s showÂ Canâ€™t find my way homeÂ at The Hex Factory in Philadelphia, PA). Fracking is the topic in question. I knew very little about it beforehand. People would say things like, â€œYeah man. You donâ€™t know? Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s causing earthquakes!â€? Was such a statement real or the bumper sticker slogan of delusional alarmists? As I looked further into the matter, an environmental horror story unfolded; our precious planet earth, this lone garden of Eden, this pale blue dot is once again being trampled over by unscrupulous industrial monoliths. Before the clichÃ© overwhelms you, please read further.
Quoting New York Timesâ€™ Eliza Griswold, fracking â€œis a process of natural gas drilling that involves pumping quantities of water, sand, and chemicals thousands of feet into the earth to crack deep shale deposits and free bubbles of gas from the ancient, porous rock.â€?Â http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/magazine/fracking-amwell-township.html?pagewanted=allÂ Concerning earthquakes occurring in Ohio in recent months, it has been discovered (and reported widely in mainstream news sources) to be due to complications from re-injecting waste water back into deep earth as a disposal method (re-injection is not possible in Pennsylvania, and other unpleasant, abhorrent methods, such as chemical water being left to evaporate in tarp covered pits, are utilized).Â Waste water is what troubles many residents where drilling operations tend to leave an indelible mark. Josh Foxâ€™s documentary film GaslandÂ www.gaslandthemovie.comÂ begins in his hometown of Dimock, Pennsylvania (part of the Marcellus Shale, a sedimentary rock formation that extends from Marcellus, New York, through Pennsylvania, along the Delaware River into extreme western New Jersey, West Virginia, eastern Ohio, Western Maryland, and a small portion of Kentucky and Tennessee) and tours the country to see people of other states more than beleaguered by toxicities associated with drilling. It seems that where ever fracking occurs sickness has followed. The purpose of the film is to raise awareness that what is a nascent and booming business in PA mirrors what is happening in 34 states (many states have thousands of wells). Early on in the film Josh reminds us that The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by the Nixon administration in 1974. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) websiteÂ http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/sdwa.html, â€œSDWA was originally passed by Congress in 1974 to protect public health by regulating the nationâ€™s public drinking water supply. The law was amended in 1986 and 1996 and requires many actions to protect drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and ground water wells. (SDWA does not protect private wells which serve fewer than 25 individuals.)â€? A debate ensues concerning whether or not state laws can be as effective as a federally mandated EPA law. For instance, states such as Pennsylvania have laws that restrict drilling operationsÂ http://cce.cornell.edu/EnergyClimateChange/NaturalGasDev/Documents/PDFs/marcellus_regulations_fact_sheet.pdf. The problem is that rampant drilling can affect shared waterways with other states. Note that New Jersey and Pennsylvania share the Delaware water basin, and that drilling corporations also threaten the health of New Jerseyans. The Delaware river is a major source of drinking water, and recreation for New Jerseyans. The drilling companies and their allies would like the public to think their operations have a tightly controlled clean bill of health. NJ.com reported: â€œWater quality has been affected elsewhere, according to some experts. Conrad Volz, the former director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh, said he has documented the fallout from fracking. Volz said his team conducted studies in Western Pennsylvania and found elevated levels of barium, benzene, strontium, petroleum byproducts and bromides were all being released from a wastewater treatment facility into a creek.â€?Â http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/05/concerns_for_njs_water_as_del.html. In January of this year, President Barack Obama declared with positive enthusiasm that our United States is â€œthe Saudi Arabia of natural gas.â€? That grand statement has added support from the fact that the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. In bold print on the senate websiteÂ http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=1&vote=00213, it clearly shows that then Senator Obama voted â€œYeaâ€? on the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which contains what is sardonically referred to as â€œThe Halliburton Loophole.â€?Â http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/epa.htmlÂ But this push for natural gas drilling is soaked in sugary sentiments of patriotism. â€œAmericaâ€™s natural gas reserves are the key to independence from foreign oilâ€? go the sound-bites. Obama even made a mind-bending statement (one that could be placed up there with predecessor George Bushâ€™s Orwellian oratory mash-ups) that we have enough reserves to keep America running for another 100 years. In the summer of 2011 Marian Wang of Pro Publica reported â€œa contention thatâ€™s being challenged by a series of New York Times articles over the past few days that show some U.S. Energy Department officials and energy market analysts questioning whether the much-ballyhooed â€˜natural gas boomâ€™ is overhyped, or even a â€˜giant Ponzi scheme.â€™ Emails from officials and industry analysts show them raising concerns about exaggerated estimates of gas reserves making the natural gas business appear more profitable than it really is. According to the Times, the industryâ€™s estimates for how well it will produce gas are based on â€œlimited data and a certain amount of guesswork.â€?Â http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/sec-loosening-of-rule-let-natural-gas-firms-recalculate-reserves-profitsÂ I looked a bit further into the possible fallacy of Obamaâ€™s â€œ100 yearsâ€? statement and discovered The Oil Drum, a concerned website staffed by a group of scientists and other academics. The Oil Drum refers to â€œThe Potential Gas Committee (PGC)â€? as the Presidentâ€™s reference point for â€œ100 years.â€? According to The Oil Drum, PGC â€œis the standard for resource assessments because of the objectivity and credentials of its members, and its long and reliable history. In its biennial report released in April 2011, three categories of technically recoverable resources are identified: probable, possible and speculative.â€? (The PGC report seems to be for a limited audience as the bound report is $495 to purchase and $950 for added .pdf on DVD.) The Oil Drum: â€œThe President and many others have taken the PGC total of all three categories (2,170 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas) and divided by 2010 annual consumption of 24 Tcf. This results in 90 and not 100 years of gas. Much of this total resource is in accumulations too small to be produced at any price, is inaccessible to drilling, or is too deep to recover economically. More relevant is the Committeeâ€™s probable mean resources value of 550 (Tcf) of gas. If half of this supply becomes a reserve (225 Tcf), the U.S. has approximately 11.5 years of potential future gas supply at present consumption rates. When proved reserves of 273 Tcf are included, there is an additional 11.5 years of supply for a total of almost 23 years. It is worth noting that proved reserves include proved undeveloped reserves which may or may not be produced depending on economics, so even 23 years of supply is tenuous. If consumption increases, this supply will be exhausted in less than 23 years. Revisions to this estimate will be made and there probably is more than 23 years but based on current information, 100 years of gas is not justified.â€?Â http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8914 To add to this theater of the absurd, notorious gas driller cum land flipper Chesapeake Oil â€“ among the first on the scene in PA having bought about 2 million acres of land in the first few months of 2007Â http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301Â â€“ has no qualms about selling gas to Communist China. Rolling Stoneâ€™s Jeff Goodell reports In his article â€œThe Big Fracking Bubble: The Scam Behind the Gas Boom,â€? Jeff Goodell reports â€œIn 2010 it (Chesapeake Energy) pocketed $2.2 billion by selling land it bought in Texas for $2,000 an acre to one of China's largest oil companies for $11,000 an acre. â€˜That's a five-to-one return on investment,â€™ says Jeff Mobley, Chesapeake's senior vice president for investor relations.â€? Forbes revealed that to be a long-term collaboration in a 2010 report: â€œ(China based) CNNOOC has agreed to fund 75% of Chesapeake's share of drilling and completion costs, until it has invested another $1.08 billion. Chesapeake will operate the project, and conduct all leasing, drilling, completion, operations and marketing activities. The companies plan to develop net unrisked, unproved resource potential up to 4 billion barrels of oil equivalent over the next several decades.â€? Chesapeake is also a funder of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a conservative cabal of industry giants who rewrite the law for state legislators. Authorship is kept secret from the public sector. Some of the changes sound good, such as allowing for lethal force to protect oneâ€™s home, but more often than not laws are rewired to protect the corporate bottom line with great disregard for environmental protections.Â http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2011/04/04/04climatewire-conservative-group-drafts-promotes-anti-epa-29249.html?pagewanted=all Residents along the Marcellus shale sign drilling lease agreements with the hope of making a good profit. They get more than they bargained for with negligent waste water disposal methods, such as â€œchemical ponds.â€? Chemical ponds are pits dug into the ground where waste water is left to evaporate. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (founded by renowned environmental analyst Theo Colburn,Â www.endocrinedisruption.com) compiled 632 chemicals used in New Mexico fracking operations. The site states, â€œMore than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations. These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed. In addition, an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) lists of hazardous substances.â€? John Fenton of Pavillion, Wyoming (an independent farmer prominently featured in Gasland ) found himself the neighbor of a drilling operation one day. He has issued a public statement describing his water as having turned black, bubbling and smelling of petroleumÂ http://www.powderriverbasin.org/assets/Uploads/files/Pavillion/Fentonpress-statement-January-31-2012.pdf. He also stated, â€œThe water has been contaminated and the air fouled. Our health has also been attacked, my wife is losing her sense of smell and her sense of taste, my youngest son has developed seizures and I suffer chronic headaches and fatigue.â€?Â
In Eliza Griswoldâ€™s New York Times article â€œThe Fracturing of Pennsylvania,â€? she describes the plight of Stacey Haney who along with her children tested positive for certain amounts of arsenic, benzene, and toluene in her blood. Griswold writes, â€œSoon Haney and her kids began to notice that even outdoors it smelled a lot like the shower â€” a combination of sweet metal, rotten eggs and raw sewage. Talking to neighbors, Haney learned that atop a hill, about 1,500 feet from her home and less than 800 feet from that of her neighbor, Beth Voyles, there was an open, five-acre chemical impoundment filled with chemically treated water.â€? The family suffered nose bleeds, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and bad tastes in the mouth on a daily basis. The livestock became ill, as well, having had deformed, aborted births. In this case, the contamination was due in large part to tears in the chemical pondâ€™s plastic lining, cracks in pipelines, truck spills, and other leaks.Â
OnÂ citizensforahealthycommunity.org, one can find a video of Ohioan Jamie Frederick speaking to a crowd of anti-fracking protesters. She describes intense vomiting and abdominal pains that led to visits to the doctor. Her gall bladder had stopped working and was taken out. Even afterwards, however, she describes a â€œnever ending intestinal flu.â€? She explained, â€œI developed an infection in my intestine as large as a grapefruit that ate through to the outside of my skin.â€? Had she not gone to the doctor she would have been dead in a few days. She said doctors had noted that her condition typically happens only in third world countries. It was discovered that the next-door neighbors had their land fracked without her knowledge.Â In 2009 in West Virginia near the Pennsylvania border, a 38 mile ecosystem known as Dunkard Creek was, as reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, damaged to the tune of â€œ161 species of fish, mussels, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insects killed by mysterious pollutants coming from sources state and federal agencies have yet to pinpoint despite aggressive field work.â€? More recently, while the EPA is narrowing the blame upon Blacksville No. 2 coal mine owned by Consol Energy Inc., investigators wonder whether water from Marcellus drilling was not also a culprit.Â http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/09263/999458-113.stmÂ Even Josh Fox speculated that since the coal company has been draining into the creek for decades, â€œWhat has changed?â€? These stories abound the country wherever hydraulic fracturing and subsequent processing takes place. Coincidence? Leaking chemical beds, leaking pipes, corroded well casings, improper disposal of materials, frack water dumped onto roadways, and very sick people and animals. What frustrates most is the burden of proof, especially when dealing with a corruptible EPA, who filed a report in 2004 (the year before the infamous Halliburton loophole) â€œthat claimed that hydro-fracking â€˜poses little or no threat to drinking water.â€™â€? Former EPA employee and whistleblower Wenton Wilson stated that industry and political pressure had much to do with that conclusion.Â http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/04gas.html?pagewanted=all When interviewed in Gasland, he claimed there was a Halliburton plant working with EPA staff. Doctors donâ€™t always know how to treat victims because many of the fracking chemicals are corporate secrets. On March 23, 2012, many news sources reported a new Pennsylvania law that allows medical doctors to access information about fracking chemicals but not to disclose said information to patients.
Only in recent months have scientists been getting the investigation train slowly rolling.Â
A 2011 joint peer reviewed scientific report by Duke Universityâ€™s School of Environment and Earth Sciences and School for Environmental Policy SolutionsÂ http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/cgc/HydraulicFracturingWhitepaper2011.pdfÂ study of pollution and drilling at 60 sites throughout New York and Pennsylvania uncovered the major problem to be methane. In high concentrations methane is an easily asphyxiating and ignitable gas. The Duke study states that â€œshale gas is comprised of over 90% methane.â€? (For more detailed insight on migration of methane, please refer to The Pittsburgh Geological Societyâ€™s analysis of the issue in Western Pennsylvania here:Â http://www.pittsburghgeologicalsociety.org/naturalgas.pdf. Methane is the most common form of drinking well-water contamination and has caused several house explosions, resulting in fines and lawsuits against companies such as Encana Oil, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Chesapeake Energy. (According to investigative journalism site Pro Publica and other news sources, Pennsylvania officials fined Chesapeake energy $1 million for contaminating the water of 16 families. The fine also cited a fire that killed three employees but did not mention the Bradford blowout.) Methane is a volatile greenhouse gas. Companies disregard this danger for the sake of expediency, resulting in emissions that savage air quality. However, the Duke study seems to be fixated only on methane while skeptics believe benzene, xylene, and other death dealing chemicals may be present in drilling site emissions. (They have been detected in other states, such as Colorado, detailed in this study:Â http://www.erierising.com/human-health-risk-assessment-of-air-emissions-from-development-of-unconventional-natural-gas-resources/
Sadly, there are not enough objective, scientific investigations being done.
Admittedly, I am one who wishes for far less government intervention in our lives. The giants of corporate rule claim to desire the same thing while blurring the distinction between industry and government. Their short-sighted focus only on the bottom line and widespread dominance has left little room for real competition and innovation. This problem is not the same as South Western Airlineâ€™s fight against regulatory constraints over air space liberty and the chance to compete with the dominant big four of aviation in the early 70s. This is about poisoning water. Like the clichÃ© of a bull in a china shop, industry rushed in without consideration of any exhaustive preliminary environmental testing by non-biased scientific researchers, the EPA, or any other local or federal official. One certainly cannot rely on the industry to do its own testing. The adoration of the speeding power of infinite growth has led too many to take a blind eye to the immovable reality of an unlivable planet (or at least an unlivable America in contrast to other countries that outrank us in environmental progress). Industry has been criminally negligent in their behavior toward other human beings and the environment. Frighteningly, the legal and scientific investigation process may be too slow to undo the damage wrought so far. One can only, and naively, hope that the madmen could see the world in a similar fashion to Carl Sagan and Joseph Kittinger; that we are on a lone, precious, â€œpale blue dotâ€? in a vast cosmos, a type of Garden of Eden. Any place similar to Earth is too far off to apprehend and taking it for granted will cost us everything.