Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raping the environment (again)

I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is where I grew up. For most of my life I have lived amongst the ruins of the great industry that fueled much of this nation's expansion and provided for its energy needs in the 19th and 20th centuries: anthracite coal mining. Culm banks - piles of shale, slate, low-grade coal, and other mine tailings - once dotted the landscape everywhere, and while some of these are being removed to have their coal extracted, many still remain.

Culm banks between Nanticoke and Honey Pot, Pennsylvania
Water that flows through abandoned mines becomes acidic and leaches out traces of iron, sulfur, and other contaminants, developing a cheerful orange-brown color and a stench like an open sewer.

Contaminants scar the land along the Nanticoke Creek, deposited when the creek overflows its banks after heavy rains. This is less than a quarter mile from the Nanticoke Little League field. Note the cheerfully green water in the "stripping pit" in the lower right.

Solomon's Creek, also known as "The Shit Crick" for its color and odor. Fun fact: my friends and I almost landed in that creek upside-down one icy Sunday afternoon back in 1992 or 1993.

A large complex of culm banks, about half a mile wide, just off Route 29 in Hanover Township. Note the contaminated water at the bottom center and the group of houses to the left of center. Part of the Hanover Mall is visible at the top.

I've lived with this stuff for as long as I've lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Everyone here has, at least everyone in coal mining territory. We know a little bit about the damage unrestrained greed can do to the environment. We know what happens when you let an industry do its thing without restriction or meaningful oversight.

So when we tell you that the systems and methods being used to extract natural gas deposits from the Marcellus Shale are a bad idea, you damned well better listen. Because we know what we're talking about. And we know what the consequences will be.

Mark Cour at Wilkes-Barre Online (and later Circumlocution for Dummies) has been talking about this for a very long time, since well before most residents of these parts had even heard of the process. See what he wrote about two-thirds of the way down on "Frickin' fracking?" from July of 2008, and his interview with clean-water enthusiast Kayak Dude about halfway down on this entry from January of 2009. Mark also links to a helpful post that explains what fracking is.

Kayak Dude - also known as Don Williams - was all over this back when the rest of us, if questioned, might have identified Marcellus Shale as the heavy in Pulp Fiction. Now that the rest of us have heard a little more about it, and possibly read or heard news reports of problems with gas extraction. Don's still on it. Check out his blog, The Susquehanna River Sentinel. (Unfortunately, his blog is not structured for direct links to specific posts, so you will have to step through using the "Next" button at the bottom to find relevant entries. However, as long as natural gas extraction continues to be an environmental threat, and continues to damage freshwater resources, you won't have to look very long.  UPDATE 3/29/2012: A while back Don switched to a different platform that allows easier access to individual posts. His new site is at

Today Gort from Gort42 posted a link-heavy blog entry that included an open letter from Don on the issues associated with natural gas extraction. You should read the whole entry, the letter, and the linked articles as well.

Here in coal country, we've been through this sort of thing before. We know what can come of it. And we know that problems will linger long after the corporate entities that caused them have moved on.

Coal mining in this area ended with the Knox Mine Disaster on January 22, 1959. That was more than fifty years ago. We still haven't healed the scars or repaired the damage. How long will it take to overcome the damage caused by irresponsible and environmentally destructive natural gas extraction processes?

1 comment:

Don Williams said...

Excellent post. Very excellent.