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America the Fracked




We drove north out of Santa Fe, through Espanola and past Abiquiu, the village where the artist Georgia O’Keefe lived, until we reached a narrow road in the high country. Then we drove until we came to a dirt and gravel road that led another 10 miles to a small cluster of houses and buildings named Ganado, the Spanish word for “cattle.”  My wife, Susan, would live for a week at an encampment with a hundred other women, creating rituals and raising consciousness — while I headed back to Santa Fe with a stack of books.

But when I picked her up, she was not happy. The conference had been great, and the women amazing, but the noise had kept her mostly awake day and night. Just over the hillock someone was digging for natural gas, and by day the trucks rolled through and the drilling machines whined, and by night the pumps roared and the pipes rattled. No silence for sleep, let alone reflection.

About the same time, I read a piece in a regional paper out of the Rockies about the gas boom in Wyoming and eastern Colorado, and the drug problem that came with it. Seems like methamphetamines keep the roustabouts and riggers going amid the bitter cold, until they are hooked. Then they lose their jobs and after that, their families.

It’s not just the environment that gets lost in the rush to fuel America from the outback. Families, children and small towns suffer too. In the Adirondacks, local old-timers worry about what will happen to the fabric of life in that relatively isolated corner of America if gas companies “frack” their fabled strip of mountains straddling New York and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Shell received approval for a plan to drill oil 70 miles off the coast of northwest Alaska, where the sea surges in 20-foot swells, while the XL pipeline plans to shoot across the Midwest’s massive Ogallala aquifer, the source and container of the area’s water that nurtures not only crops, but families and towns just to transport oil from Canada to Houston — where it will be refined and exported to Latin America. Closer to home, in that vast desert expanse between Baker and Las Vegas, a huge electric generating plant is uprooting the kit fox and the desert tortoise and planting a company town and acres of technology to harness the sun’s energy to keep L.A. growing and a couple of corporations afloat.

This time leading up to the spring festivals of Western tradition – Passover, Easter –  reminds us to clean out the cupboards, shed stuff at the back of our closets, cut out some of the wastefulness, eliminate a few luxuries.  What if we cut back our consumption of fuel? We could drive less or eat food that uses less oil to produce or get to market.  We could lobby for policies that decrease use or create sustainable sources.  The season also calls us to feel loss, to attend to our damaged relations, and to heal the broken human spirit.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell sang decades ago in an urban lamentation. Perhaps hers is the best response: Mourning. Grief. Sorrow.

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