Sunday, June 16, 2013

Barnesville and Fracking

I got home today from Quaker business meeting and did a quick clean up as everything seemed to need tidying. So I washed dishes, swept the floor, put a new tablecloth on the kitchen table, moved piles of items to bedrooms, wiped counter tops and moved laundry around. Order restored. If only it were always so easy.

It’s windy again. The peaty hanging basket with the begonias blew off the hook yet another time, scattering dirt and limp little begonias all over the porch. I decided, finally, to give up on the lightweight hanging baskets—Anything without heft is sure to go helter-skelter on this hilltop.

Since I live on one, I like the idea someone put forth that hilltops are sacred places.

Place, however, is colliding with petroleum, as fracking comes ever closer.  “Comes” is the wrong word. Fracking is here. The pipelines are going in as we speak. People have signed their contracts for cash upfront with royalties, every half-acre lot getting its seemingly huge payout. Given the way the money is moving, there must be the proverbial gold mine underground. Looking back—but who could have known? (we own no land and so are unaffected by the dizzying offers)—it might have been better for the townspeople and other locals to bind together and negotiate as a group with one just one gas company—it would probably have made for a better deal upfront and an easier class action lawsuit if needed on the other end. But we are a country sold on individualism.

Stillwater Meeting is preparing to sign a contract—fracking and all its by-products will be all around us whether we sign or not--and the Meeting could use the money. The refrain that fracking will surround us no matter what we do sounds over and over as does the argument we are all already complicit as part of an oil-addicted society. I understand the logic of getting the money for what is essentially a done deal. The social pressure in this area to sign is intense. But I  think fracking money is a lottery "win" (of sorts), not the answer for the Meeting’s financial needs. It’s no more sustainable than powering a world by pumping all the oil out of the ground. 

I’m trying to envision the world that is coming when the last shard of coal and teaspoon of gas is pumped out of the earth. Already we’re at peak oil, though we keep finding ways to extract more and more. But eventually it will be gone, like that last tree chopped down on Easter Island. I like to picture the end of oil ushering in a harmonious, sustainable way of life—goods floating to market down rivers and canals, pushed by wind and water, people traveling by trolley and train—these fueled by renewable energy—or biking from place to place. I see more ocean liners in this vision and fewer airplanes. A slower pace of life. Time literally to cultivate one’s garden.

One of the best uses of the fracking money coming to Stillwater will be to invest in alternative, sustainable energy—in the future we can have if we want it and plan for it. The more we do now to prepare, the less the shock will be when the oil ends.

When we moved here five years ago, we certainly didn’t dream we’d be living in the midst of what essentially is becoming a huge oil field. This is a lovely, lovely place, with hills and orchards, ponds and hay fields, Amish farms and wild turkeys, woods and streams and wildflowers, two lane roads and breathtaking views.  It will be damaged; the question is how much and how hard it will be to repair. Except for the temporary boom that resource extraction brings, I don’t see much upside to this—except too, that we still live in a stable country. Arguably, it’s better to pump the gas out now than in more desperate times. Further, being at ground zero of the oil and gas industry  has already sensitized our Meeting to the need for more and better regulation of this wild West type of industry—how such a mindset will go over in a Republican-dominated state will be hard to say.

Since we’re caught up in events we can’t control, but perhaps can influence, it will be interesting to see what happens. Where is God in all this? I don't know, but a sense a peace seems to pervade the Meeting that is difficult to understand outside of the spiritual realm.