Waters Below. And Beyond.

From start to finish, horizontal fracturing (fracking) is a last-gasp means of making money at the cost of water.

Every deep-well extraction requires up to 7 million gallons of water (combined with a cocktail of some 500 chemicals). A single well can be fracked up to 18 times. 18 x 7,000,000 x the number of existing wells plus the new ones that have to go in every day to take the place of the wells that have already stopped producing.

That’s water that once was useful for human and animal drinking, for crop irrigation, for making the family meal. Not any longer, not any time soon. Forever, for all practical purposes.

But fracking’s abuses of water are done at some distance from Floyd County. It is our water (and that of the other 13 counties along the course of this proposed pipeline) that are at risk in our own yards and in our coming months and years.

How much risk? We can’t say for sure, because there are not many other 42″ pipes among the 2.5 million miles of fossil fuel pipelines already afflicting thousands of US counties and tens of thousands of American families. Two and one half million. Miles.

While we are concerned over fracking’s distant water footprint, what will we say about our own wells when those of our neighbors just a short piece away have been fouled or the flow shut off entirely by the blasting, excavation, road-building, right-of-way herbicide spraying, accidental spills, intentional disregard, and negligence of strangers who could not care less what they leave behind?

It is becoming a much better-known fact that if one well’s groundwater source is fouled, that fouling can spread an unknown distance in every direction because of the communicating rock fractures that stores water in Floyd County and other Blue Ridge and NC Piedmont counties or the underground limestone caverns and rivers of the Ridge and Valley counties .

And so every impacted county resident needs to understand “My water is your water” regardless of where they live. This right to adequate volume and quality of water should not be among the takings of eminent domain, but our water’s integrity for the long term will not be assured by the takers. It will not be their problem once they’re gone.

This is true, all the way back to the land in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other human landscapes where this corporate dysfunction takes root, ostensibly for the greater good.

Our pipeline issue is just a symptom. Floydians are swarming against it like white blood cells against a pathogen. The immune response is becoming system-wide.  Fracking must end. The other end of the “natural gas bridge” needs our full support and attention. Currently, there’s no other end of the bridge under construction.

We’ve almost waited too late because of this “cheap and clean” injection that is only a sedative against the pain of moving ahead.

So while we work against this pipeline, we work against all pipelines and for the return of a collective politic that takes the long view,  that puts the health of the planet and true well-being of the planet ahead of the corporate bottom line.

GRAPHIC: a doodle on iPad using Adobe Ideas app. There’s Buffalo Mountain, the confluence of our creeks with the rivers of others, and the rock fractures we cannot see but upon which we depend for a liquid that not a one of us can live without.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I love your “doodle”! And I wonder when people in the eastern part of this country, where abundant, clean water has historically been readily available, will start to realize how vital a good water supply is. I grew up in southern California, and do NOT take water for granted. And this was long before the current severe drought conditions that are now happening there.
    If human beings are willing to fight wars for dwindling oil supplies, what will we do when the water runs out?