Living Dangerously

There was a time when I didn’t write about certain subjects because I was concerned that I would lose my blog readership.

Now that that’s water under the bridge, if I write to Fragments at all, I put up whatever is on my mind–as a way of recording what was on my mind.

And lately, once again, looming oh so much larger on my personal radar than snakes in the chicken coup, than fuzzy caterpillars or insect oddities or a wildflower’s symmetry or the sound of wind in the fall leaves–is the fate of the planet I will perhaps another decade or maybe two observe with much care and concern–a few more years of living dangerously.

The week’s emphasis for me has shifted from the immediate symptom–the Mountain Valley proposed but not by any means certain pipeline–to fracking. Fracking is just one of the ways we sustain our bigger-hammer business-as-usual  damn-the-torpedoes relationship with the planet and our children’s future.

Fracking is a direction taken initially, perhaps, giving the benefit of the doubt, because it seemed like a better alternative to mountaintop removal coal. It seemed to offer a temporary stop-gap while we funded the work of our best minds (of people with hearts as well) to show us how to live without killing ourselves meteorologically, by degrees.

Then the money started rolling in. And as James Hansen famously warned, “the game is over.” Well, maybe not quite.

We are starting to kick the tires, and fracking has some serious failures to deliver; failures to live up to the hype; failures to be clean, cheap or nearly as abundant as shareholders were told to expect on this latest gravy-train after tobacco and mountaintop removal  (and brought to you by the same spin-meisters as the former hoodwinking.)

Looking under the veil of this form of energy extraction (now going by a name that seems to make a word-joke out of it and thereby trivialize the true gravity of its threat) are many lesser-known facts that don’t make the 6:00 news soundbites–which has become most people’s full extent of comprehension of this very very large and far-reaching issue.

Just two examples of fracking factoids:

Ever hear of barite? It’s a barium-related mineral that is one of the 500-plus chemicals in fracking fluid. [Oh BTW not to worry because they assure us that fracking fluid is 99% water. But wait: if an average well fracking uses 5 million gallons of fluid, is that 50 thousand gallons of toxic additives times the 18 times a single well can be fractured?]

But I digress: barite is a rare mineral that is not easily obtained. Unless you can find some powerless Mayan folks in some out-of-the-way backwater where you can just go in and take it. This story [highly recommended] is indicative of the mind-and-value-set of the people up top of this food chain. Folks in strip-minedAppalachia: starting to feel a familiar queaziness?

► The Other Side of Fracking: Connecting the Dots Along the Supply Lines | Tobias Roberts

Then there is frac sand. Yes, millions of tons of the stuff that also goes down the tube with those 5 million gallons of water and trade-secret stuff we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about.

And in the process of mining and cleaning these millions of tons of this stuff (sorry, Wisconsin) there are many more hundreds of millions of gallons of water-plus-toxic-impurities involved, some of which, darn it that’s too bad, end up in the groundwater.

► EARTHWORKS | Frac Sand Health and Environmental Impacts

► Project: Wisconsin’s sand rush |

And lastly, though 99 out of 100 theoretical readers stopped doing so many paragraphs ago and even though I know that very very few follow any links in these blog posts anyway, I’ll just toss in one to top this off this ramble before I go eat my granola.

The ultimate consequence of the choice to frack and to pipe and to burn and do it all again and again to the very last drop (a.k.a drilll baby drill) is that we now are knocking at the door that crosses the threshold to the point of no return. Our past inaction perpetuates even more inaction now that the matter has gotten way out of hand. Maybe ALMOST way out of hand.

The game may be over or not. What we do with our personal consumption of electricity ultimately decides how profitable it will be to continue business as usual to meet that demand. Supply and demand are, sadly, the only factors in our mindless economic model that make a difference.

But I dare you, both of you, to take a look at the measures of how far we’ve pushed our life support system supplying demands.

From “The Years of Living Dangerously”–the Science is in.

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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. Thanks so much for finding and presenting this information, including the links. It’s quite a comprehensive resource on the topic of fracking and provided several facts of which I was unaware.

  2. I had no idea Wisconsin, the state my family comes from, was producing all this sand for fracking. I read several of the links you provided. I couldn’t agree more that supply and demand rules, and our part is to reduce our demand. I am so grateful that we can’t add airconditioning to our condo because of how it is constructed, so I won’t be tempted to use all that extra electricity. We will just have to ride out global warming (what a hot summer we had!) with other approaches to cooling our place.