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. 


Bill Samuel said...

Was the fracking contract approved by a Monthly Meeting at Stillwater?

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I don’t know how much your “stable country” will remain stable once the groundwater is poisoned with toxics from fracking. I imagine a lot of people who cannot afford to truck in the drinking water for themselves and their livestock will have to leave. That is sad.

It seems odd to read about a yearly meeting preparing to sign a contract approving a known evil, just because everyone around it is doing so and, besides, it could use the money. When the meeting’s kids say they’re going to enlist in the military for the same pair of reasons, how will the meeting speak to them?

Anonymous said...

Ironically, if you sign a contract you can put in some limits. If your neighbors have signed, you don't have a contract, and something happens, you have very few resources (at least here in PA with the current laws). So signing a contract may put more control than refusing to sign. [Only in the situation of being already surrounded by land where the mineral rights have been signed away.]

Valerie Imsen said...

My son lived in Kansas. In his small town they couldn't drink the water because all of the chemicals from farming...what's the DIFFERENCE!!!! We need to get oil independent and that's it!!! And we are in DEBT, our country is definitely NOT STABLE!!!

Mackenzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane said...


Stillwater hasn't signed a contract yet, but the committee assigned to this project has the meeting's approval to do so. I know this may seem shocking to people who don't live here, and at first, I was adamantly against this, but the point is that the resources are going to be extracted whether we approve or not--it's as if there's a vast ocean below us (though of course it must be rendered an "ocean" using toxic chemicals) and most of the rest of the neighbors have agreed for the "water" to be pumped out. How do we know which "water" is "theirs" and "ours?" It will be taken, whether we get money for it or not. We will receive royalties whether we sign a contract or not. If we sign a contract we get a substantial signing bonus--I believe more than 160K--and as someone pointed out, some (a little) control. If we don't sign, that money is essentially a windfall for the gas companies, who I imagine are already going to make billions. Given the situation, signing seems to make sense, as does using the money to switch the meetinghouse, at least, to reliance on sustainable energy for heat and electricity and perhaps for other investments in a sustainable future. This juggernaut is going forward in this poor area--stopping it is a dead issue. The issue is how to deal with it. I frankly am worried about what is going to happen and what the clean up costs will be, but fracking is here, somewhat like the Red Army on the outskirts of Berlin.

Diane said...


When I mentioned a "stable country," I meant the US. This isn't a country whose resources can be bought for a tiny percent of a penny by handing a few bribes to a corrupt regime and leaving a mess behind. Actually, we may be getting closer to that, but at this point the resources can be extracted with some rules of law in place. I would dread for this to be happening in a state of chaos or crisis, such as the point where the oil really has almost run out, with people could just going in willy nilly. The lack of regulation in this industry, however, is a big concern.

Mackenzie said...

Maybe your son should be making a push for organic farming then. Poisonous groundwater is one of the major arguments against dumping poisons all over the food supply.

The US already produces a major portion of the world's oil. Fracking doesn't produce oil at all (natural gas is different), and just for kicks let's toss in the fact that Keystone XL won't do squat for the US, because all the money goes to Canada and all the oil gets sold on the global market. It makes a few short term contract jobs to build it, which then disappear in a few months. Big deal. We don't need oil independence; we need energy independence. Well, unless you mean independence from oil. Cloudy ol' Germany produces half the world's solar power. The US has multiple deserts and far more land area. Surely we can produce more than Germany can!

Just about every major country has debt. The one single study that said that countries with high debt have high instability and no economic growth? It was wrong. It was based on a spreadsheet calculation that left out several countries' data: namely, every other country where English is the first language! Turns out it doesn't result in slightly negative economic growth like that original calculation said.

Mackenzie said...

Diane, I think it's shocking to people because for so many of us, stewardship is such an important part of Quakerism. Profiting off of misdeeds has never been a Quaker testimony. Years from now, Stillwater may be remembered more than EQAT--even the Quakers would poison ground water for profit!

It's nice that you want to add renewable energy to the meetinghouse, but that does, in the end, benefit the Meeting (lower electric bills), not all the people who are harmed by having their water poisoned when they may not have the financial means to purchase safe water from afar.

Diane said...


What is EQAT?
I keep thinking of a novel I just read by Daniel Defoe, Captain Singleton, written in 1720, in which Singleton, a pirate captain, captures William, a Quaker. William does have an ameliorating effect on the pirates, such as preventing them from slaughtering the occupants of a slave vessel who rose against their white masters (ie kidnappers), but William also compromises his values in ways a bit hair-raising to modern sensibilities in order to survive with the pirates. When is compromise sensible pragmatism and when a mere sell-out? I keep thinking that all the money in the world to restore the historic meetinghouse will make no difference if nobody can live in the environs of the meeting house. But then again, the fracking is coming regardless, because we, as a society, are addicted to oil. Water will be poisoned, wildlife will be destroyed ... the heart breaks, but in a poor area, like this, money speaks too. So much of this is about underlying issues, such as why this region has been cash-starved for so long? Why not invest this money in renewable resources and provide sustainable jobs instead of extracting more fossil fuels? When these issues erupt, it does provoke soul searching.

Ellen said...

Do you mean your group could do nothing to stop fracking because so many neighbors had sold out individually? I suppose they have not seen the film, Gaslands, which would teach them they are about to poison their environment and brings cancers to all. You speak of a gain of 160K: is that to the group of Quakers as a whole?

Diane said...


The money would go to the Quaker group as a whole.

Unfortunately, the whole fracking situation is in motion and the environment here will be poisoned short of some deus ex machina descending from the skies. Of course, all of this goes back to decisions made 30 years ago to move away from developing alternative energy sources, to concentrate wealth in a few hands and geographic areas whilst starving others, to try to hang on as long as possible to an unsustainable way of life, ect, etc. Since we're at peak oil now, the best alternative is to work towards the future. Berlin--or in this case, Belmont County (where Barnesville is)-- will be bombed and bulldozed, but it can be rebuilt. We can have an energy sustainable future, even though it will in many ways change how we live. From what I understand, much of the US could be fracked: We are all Berliners or Belmont Countiers ...

Diane said...

As a Quaker, I am uneasy with the way unearned windfalls run counter to Quaker testimonies of integrity and simplicity. We are not working for this money--we are being handed a check. On the other hand, if we don't take the check, the oil and gas companies get to keep the money. This is not an easy situation.

Anonymous said...

Is this an example of turning a sword into a plowshare? OFS lost the support of significant a Quaker contributor for refusing to even acknowledge information sent about pros and cons of fracking after so glibly announcing OFS would have no part of fracking. As bad as fracking can be, it does not justify condemning people or declining to treat them with respect and courtesy. The fact is that the gas will be extracted from under OFS property whether or not the school benefits from it.

JohnMMorgan said...

Ohio law does provide for "mandatory pooling" which can allow a gas company to access the gas of a reluctant land owner. It isn't automatic and apparently there have been only four cases decided in the shale gas play so far. What will become the norm is apparently still in flux.

The company has to make an application, submit documentation to prove the necessity, followed by a hearing, at which the company and land owner can make their cases, and an appeal process whereby either party may appeal the decision. Here is an outline of the procedure:

Here is an article dated April 24, 2013 in Akron Beacon Journal Online which details two “unitization” (or forced pooling) orders, " . . . bringing the total number of unitizations to four that they’ve issued in the Utica Shale."

It goes on to give some details of the circumstances, including these interesting points:

"Interestingly, DOGRM also required BP to pay the unleased mineral owners a one-time payment (similar to a signing bonus for a lease) of $2,000 per acre. This marks the first time the DOGRM has found circumstances that warranted payment of a “bonus payment” in conjunction with a unitization order. Time will tell whether this will become customary or if it will be reserved for unusual circumstances. . . .

"These recent orders differ from prior orders in two notable ways. First, the risk penalty is increased to 300%. In previous orders, DOGRM established a risk penalty for nonparticipating unleased mineral owners of 200% for the first well and 150% of subsequent wells. Second, the royalty awarded to unleased mineral owners is increased to 15%. Prior orders awarded the unleased mineral owners 12.5% royalty interest.*"

JohnMMorgan said...

There is a huge difference between conventional gas wells of the past and the process required to exploit shale gas.

One of several major differences is the amount of water and chemicals required to fracture a horizontal shale well (by up to 100-fold) over vertical wells of the past. Vertical wells typically use 20,000 – 80,000 gallons of water. Horizontal wells, however, require between 2 and 9 million gallons of water; 4.3 million gallons of water is the average in a Marcellus well in the Susquehanna River Basin of Pennsylvania.

Here is a good primer on the technology for those who would really like to understand it and not just repeat rumors: