Meet the Frackers

April 30th, 2012

In Michigan, we have new neighbors moving in. We won’t see their faces, but their equipment will soon start popping up over the fence line and their waste seeping under the fence line. You’ll know when they arrive because you will literally feel the earth move under your feet, to quote the 1980′s Carole King hit. Please allow me to introduce you to your new neighbors. Meet the frackers. The question is, are we going to greet the frackers with a basket of muffins or a picket line?

Michigan is the latest in a long list of places around the world dealing with this issue. Whole countries, such as France and Bulgaria have banned fracking. States, such as New York, have banned it. And cities, such as Christchurch in New Zealand have banned the practice.

In May, the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is auctioning state land in 23 counties, 23,000 acres in one county alone (Barry) and almost a whole township (Yankee Springs). They will likely be sold to gas companies who will frack the life out of wetlands, streams, lakes and park land.

Fracking is multidirectional drilling, injecting chemicals a mile or more beneath the surface to fracture the rock and remove its resources.

Carolyn Knapp is a dairy farmer in north eastern Pennsylvania near the New York state line. In 2006 she signed a lease to a gas company to drill on her land. She thought it would create an economic boom for herself, her community and indeed the whole country because it would ease American dependence on foreign oil. She quickly discovered some negative effects. She says that her tap water turned a jello-like substance once the drilling started. Her cattle were damaged, water was contaminated and her daughter ended up in hospital with an enlarged spleen and liver. The added jobs were short lived, the land damaged, property values decreased and the whole face of the community changed. Carolyn has become a vocal opponent of fracking.

What do you think about your new neighbors, the frackers? Will they be the life of the neighborhood, bringing prosperity and opportunity or are they the neighbors from hell who will make lots of noise, poison your drinking water and create an earthquake of damage?

There are clearly pros and cons to fracking. The pros include short term economic growth, new jobs, cheaper gas, and less reliance on foreign oil.

The cons include a long list of uncertain affects- the affect on water, possible cause of earthquakes in areas never before prone to earthquakes, and long term damage to species including humans.

My own opinion is that we need to know more before we allow the frackers to move in. There’s too much at stake. I like this quote from Naomi Klein,

How else to describe this, but as a form of mass insanity. Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves; We are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest emitting stuff imaginable.

Fracking is another example of the immature relationship between humans, our technology and the earth. We know how to create technology that we don’t yet have the maturity to know how to use well. When we raise kids, we spend time discerning when they are old enough for various things; facebook, their first cell phone, driving and voting to name a few. We want to make sure they have the maturity to know how to handle their opportunities and technology. It’s the same for adults. We just don’t have anyone regulating our maturity. Technology such as fracking is an incredible opportunity, and evidence of amazing human ingenuity. The question is whether we have the emotional and ethical intelligence to handle it.

Until we display the ability to live in harmony with, rather than dominate nature, we will only use technology in a destructive way. Take for example Motorola’s 2010 slogan for a new cell phone. Mike Rowe, from the TV show Dirty Jobs, is seen biting the phone and it says the phone can withstand extreme temperatures, dust, shock, pressure and humidity. Then the caption says, “Slap Mother Nature in the face.”

It seems to go against any cultural etiquette to slap your mother in the face. In any case, it’s a delusion. If we misuse the earth, we will be slapping ourselves in the face. AT&T came out with their own nature based cell phone slogan the same year. It was a beautiful video of a cell phone emerging out of the buds of a plant and a bunch of phones shooting like seeds from a dandelion. This is much closer to reality.

There is a story about the tension between nature and technology.

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humanity had come a long way and no longer needed Mother Nature.  So they announced that they were done with her.  They said, “Mother, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things of our own, so thank you for all you’ve done but we can take it from here.” Mother Nature listened very patiently and then said, “Very well, how about this? Let’s have an invention contest.”  To which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!”  “But,” Mother Nature added, “We’re going to do this the old fashioned way.” The scientists said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed a handful of dirt. Mother Nature looked at them and said, “No, no, no. Get your own dirt.”

The point is that everything we create today requires the earth in some form. None of our progress or technology could happen without the earth’s resources. Carl Sagan said in Cosmos”, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” Nothing we create is from scratch. Everything we create depends on everything else that is already created, and everything we do now impacts all that is to come. It’s all connected from smallest to largest substance. Look at an atom and you are participating in a rabbit’s hole of infinite smallness. Look at the stars and you are participating in a telescope of infinite largeness. Look within and you are participating in the creation of all consciousness. Above, beneath, within- all is related.

Everything we create now affects the whole, including future generations. There is a beautiful story from the Jewish tradition about a carob tree.

Honi, also known as the Circle Maker, was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”

The man replied, “Seventy years.”

Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?”

The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”

Thinking long term, and taking into account the needs of future generations, is a spiritual principle. It gets you beyond yourself to your connection to the whole. Planting trees is an awesome practice in perspective and long term thinking. Arbor Day, celebrated last week, is one of the rare celebrations that looks forward rather than backwards at some past event.

Earth care takes precedence over religious duties. In fact you could say earth care IS a spiritual duty. There is even a Jewish saying that if the Messiah returns while you are planting a tree, finish planting first and then go with the Messiah. Fracking is one of the latest challenges/ opportunities to live in a way that honors the connectedness of all of life. It is an opportunity to make ethical and far reaching choices beyond immediate economic gain.

It’s ultimately about drilling deep into our own consciousness, and seeing what resources of character we can extract and use for the good of all.

There is a fun scene at the beginning of the movie, Meet the Fockers. Robert De Niro plays the father in law (Jack Byrnes) who is super critical of EVERYTHING about his son in law, Greg, played by Ben Stiller. When Greg arrives in a green rental car, they have this conversation.

Jack: Interesting color. You pick it?
Greg: Oh, no, the guy at the counter. Why?
Jack: Well, they say geniuses pick green. But you didn’t pick it did you Greg?

We need to intentionally pick green now because we know it’s best for all concerned. Whatever your opinion about fracking, clean energy sources, or any other environmental issue, base your opinions on the best thing for all concerned, which is all species, now and in the future.

We need to make mindful green choices NOW or else we’re all going to be fracked.

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  1. Chuck Tawney says:

    I like this post, Ian. Most of all I like the linkage to the spirituality of thinking long term, about future generations. That concept, the spirituality of thinking about the future, is a foundation upon which much can be built, without being counter to anything-it can all be positive.
    Liberal thinking persons tend to experience and express outrage, but not act. You have provided, I think, a basis for action. thank you.

  2. Mike Ritsema says:

    I say that we embrace the innovators.  I say that we embrace the protectors and givers of life around the planet.  I say that we embrace those that give and extend life for millions around the world.  I say that unless we’re willing to give up our own cars, furnaces, computers, stoves and hot water heaters that we should thank our neighbors, the frackers.  And I thank them for lowering the price of energy for the foreseeable future and for our children.    ” Be open to everything and attached to nothing.”  I want to watch and learn.  I am open to the frackers.

  3. Eric Johnson says:

    And blessed be the innovators, and all who have a creative and recreative spirit.  But what, pray tell, is innovative, creative, or recreative about fracking?  BTW, I have given up my car, and choose to use solar for my showers.  That surely does not make me holy, but it is a tad innovative.  (greetings from Ecuador)

  4. Vine says:

    It is good to be open to the spiritual message of fracking. If we look at nature as not being separate from ourselves, but we and nature are one, then we should ask whether as custodians of the land are we honoring our connection in a pure sense?
    The Universe provides alternatives to destroying our natural resources and to leave a beautiful legacy for future generations. Maybe our spiritual lesson as innovators is to identify are we able to holistically see the bigger picture?
    Love and Light

  5. Mike Ritsema says:

    Consider the alternative spiritual message of mother earth.  Perhaps nature, mother earth, wants to be our nourishment and provider.  Perhaps she relishes another opportunity for her humanity to suckle at the breast of her rich resources.   Perhaps the universe provides these resources for all of nature’s benefit.  And who are we to banish millions if not billions of third world inhabitants from clean cooking resources, clean heat, clean energy and clean water extending their lives decades – like we enjoy?  I believe the universe and mother earth would rejoice at the opportunity to embrace this bigger picture.   Is it possible to open to an alternative spiritual message?

  6. Ellen Stuart says:

    Where and when do we protest, any suggestions?

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