I was reading an article today about fracking, in particular about the experiences of landowners adjacent to properties where fracking has taken place. Often these landowners receive no financial benefit from the sale of the gas produced there, either because of some sneaky dealing with the previous owners, strong-arm tactics by the gas companies, or simply their reluctance to sell the drilling rights. As an acquaintance used to say, "All of the onus, none of the bonus..."
One story mentioned a man who had working in one of the incidental positions related to fracking--he washed the mats that surrounded the drill sites once they were done drilling and were taken up, in preparation for trucking them to the next site.
The man developed a debilitating skin condition from having his feet in the chemical-laden wastewater, and after seeing forty doctors, was no closer to a cure or palliation. He is unable to work.
This is not even a remotely remarkable story in this day and age. But what literally made me gasp out loud was the byline of the story--Clearville, Pennsylvania.
For a brief time, a million years ago, Clearville was my mailing address. It is a beautiful area in south-central Pennsylvania, maybe fifteen miles above the Mason-Dixon line as the crow flies, not near anything in particular. It lies among the many long north-south ridges of the Appalachians as they begin the sinuous turn eastward that defines the topology of central Pennsylvania. Much of the land hosts state forests that came into being during the depression, when farm after farm failed and reverted to neowilderness. It makes for good hunting and fishing land, and as I recall, is flush with wild blueberries in the summer. It also lies atop the infamous Marcellus shale, the home of our benighted culture's mad 21st century gold rush.
Gobsmacked, I looked a little deeper into what's going on with fracking and that little slice of Pennsylvania with which I have a passing familiarity.
Turns out that fracking is all over the map there, and people getting sick from it is just the beginning. While Clearville was my postal address, the actual location was a tiny little crossroads even closer to the Mason-Dixon and farther from anything of consequence. And it turns out that little hamlet was the scene of a natural gas compression station fire in 2010 that required the evacuation of over 40 homes in the middle of the night.
My first thought was "There are actually over 40 homes in Artemas? Really?" My second thought was how heartbreaking is was that Artemas now hosted a natural gas compression station.
Even back in the day, natural gas was a thing there. There was an old capped well atop the property; locals talked about how in exchange for allowing (old-school) drilling on their property, they received free gas stoves, heat and refrigerators (yes, you can make cold by burning gas) and from time to time you could hear the sound of a drill rig off in the distance on a cool summer night.
But a compression station running 24/7, right there...that's another matter.
It was a really, really quiet place; the kind of place where airplanes were generally absent from the sky, where you heard the wind and the rain coming for minutes before they arrived, where birdsong was common and plain to hear, where a car coming along the long gravel road was never a surprise.
The two streams and spring nearby ran cold and clear. I guess that's all changed now, and that change can't ever be undone by us or our children or our children's children. I'll just try and keep it in my memory, how it was. And as much as I abhor folks who randomly quote scripture, it seems very Genesis 25:25-34 to me.
Edit: Apparently I conflated two parts of the story. The man who got sick was elsewhere in Pennsylvania; the Clearville incident involved a number of horses and other livestock who sickened and had to be put down. But the basic gist remains the same. A beautiful state is being destroyed to obtain a commodity whose price just keeps falling, just so we can ship it elsewhere in the world.