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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rain and water

Weather is not climate. Climate is not weather. You know that. I know that.

For as much as climate change will dictate changes in the structure of human civilization (as it always has - and if you don't believe that it is, why not make some inquiries about the new shipping routes that are being planned through what used to be the North Polar Ice Cap?), weather still dictates numerous daily events, big and little. Whether you can paint your porch or mow your lawn. Whether airplanes are grounded or forests burn. Whether crops rot on the vine or whither in the field.

The schedule I currently work is designed to give four different groups of people forty hours of work in a Sunday-through-Saturday schedule with minimal downtime for systems and no built-in requirements of overtime. It is maddeningly complex and does not display any repeatable patterns that I can discern. The upshot is that some rotations we work three twelve-hour days and a partial, some rotations we work four twelve-hour days and a partial (when the workweek stretches across a weekend), and some rotations we work a partial, three twelve-hour days, and a partial.

But the kicker is that when we are working only four-day rotations, we (usually) get four full days off. But when we are working five-day rotations, we only get three days off. It's just the way the math works out.

I'm on one of those three-days-off periods in between two five-day rotations. For two of those three days, it has been raining. And I still need to mow two lawns.

Last year my grape crops were a total loss due to Black Rot, as opposed to the merely near-total losses of previous years. Perhaps I had not pruned enough, or had not cleared the fallen infected "mummies" completely, or perhaps I had had not properly applied the spray that should have provided some protection. But I think the main culprit was the warm, wet weather which persisted for most of last Summer, which provides ideal conditions for the spread of Black Rot.

My porch and steps are a mess. The paint that I applied so carefully four years ago is cracked and peeling in some places, and in others has fallen off completely. Old, weathered wood, soot from a neighbor's chimney down the street, and the ravages of the intervening four years have all taken tolls. I planned to repaint the porch and steps last year, but the weather combined with insane amounts of overtime meant that I never had a long enough stretch of dry, non-working days when I could get the job done.

It's been quite a few years since we last had a regional drought, and I almost find myself wishing for one. But such a thing would raise an issue which didn't exist all those years ago.

A year ago - even a few months ago - the people speaking out about the impending Marcellus Shale drilling and its effects on Northeastern Pennsylvania were just voices crying out in the wilderness, speaking out about something most people had never heard of and didn't care about. Now those voices are crying out in the face of a tidal wave that has already come ashore: the things that they have warned about have happened, are happening, and will continue to be happening, so long as groups like EnCana and Chesapeake Energy continue to flash wads of cash wrapped in American flags in the faces of people who could really use a little extra money right now. People are signing leases, permits are being granted, and money is flowing to citizens, politicians, and the state government.

The method used to extract natural gas from shale deposits is called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" for short - vast quantities of water and top-secret proprietary chemical mixes are pumped down holes drilled in previously "impermeable" layers of rock (which, in the process, become permeable, at least by way of the drill-hole) to liberate the natural gas trapped below. The now-contaminated water is pumped below ground, into the previously "impermeable" layer, where EnCana and Chesapeake and their ilk assure us it will remain, safely sealed off, incapable of presenting a hazard to groundwater or surface water or nearby reservoirs. At least as safe as, say, a deep-sea oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, what with its multiple safety systems and its blowout preventers and the like.

OK. Let's take them at their word. Let's say that these tens of millions of gallons of water that will be removed from nearby creeks and streams and are then turned into toxic waste and pumped underground - let's accept that that toxic chemical mixture is locked away forever, or at least until some future species evolves to the point that it finds a use for this toxic chemical mess.

The question is, will EnCana and Chesapeake and all the other gas-drilling companies continue to be allowed to remove tens of millions of gallons of water from the local creeks and streams for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing in the event of a drought? When people are not allowed to water their lawns or gardens or wash their cars, when even more serious water use restrictions are placed on local residents, will the gas-drilling concerns continue to be allowed to permanently remove tens of millions of gallons of water from the system, to be locked up underground for (according to them) all eternity?

I guess the state of Pennsylvania had better take a good look at the rights it just granted to these companies. You never know what sort of language can find its way into the fine print.


Don Williams said...

DB: Nice post...and definitely food for thought should we have an extended dry spell. The drilling companies will keep sucking away, and the SRBC will not stop them. Present company excluded, I am convinced people just aren't getting "it" yet. Love Canal will be an ancient, miniscule footnote compared to what's about to happen. Keeping typing away.

Anonymous said...

You're doing good work on this marcellus shale thing, DB. Keep it up. I didn't know the process involved contaminating the ground water. I'm not sure, but I think Jen back in the day told me about a town that had its wells destroyed about 10 years by this process. It's off Route 100 on the way to Reading.

I like the idea of getting natural fossil fuels in the U.S. But contaminating the ground water could do exactly what you said -- make NEPA a superfund site. There are too many unknowns.