The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 3, 2010

Hydraulic fracturing poses grave dangers

By Katharine Dawson

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I moved into my 130-year-old house 32 years ago. Due to cash-flow issues only two of its 6½ rooms have been renovated since I made the house my home. However, the remaining rooms were already in need of care when I moved in -- most exterior walls had only plaster and lathe against the winter cold, some ceilings bore signs of old leaks, and all windows bore the magic tracery of hoarfrost in the coldest months.

Recently I have been preparing to have the living room gutted, insulated, sheetrocked, painted and new lighting fixtures installed. This means I am now engaged in dismantling the room of its 40 or so houseplants, magazine piles and the detritus that have built up during the 12 years I worked in a New York City public high school. New York City rewarded my labor with a pension and a drug prescription plan, and enabled me to sock away sufficient funds to transform my house. Now newcomers to my home will not have to either bite their tongues or exclaim: "Oh, your wallpaper's coming off the ceiling!"

Today, as I took books one by one off my floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, I came across piles of sunflower seeds stashed away by mice storing up for winter. I even found 20 or so seeds lodged between a book cover and its paper jacket. Besides the seeds on the shelves though, I found several turquoise-colored, tiny rocklike things -- similar to the small stones one finds at the bottom of a fish tank or bulb planter. But I knew that they were D-CON, mouse and rat poison, that the mice had found underneath my kitchen sink where every fall I put out opened boxes of D-CON to keep rodents away. Like the seeds, the mice had carried these pretty bits of poison to the bookshelf to tide them over in the cold months. Obviously, they did not know the danger of eating them -- the slow and painful death that would follow their ingestion.

Seeing the turquoise bits today made me think of people who lease their land to the natural gas companies. Many must be seeking immediate release from financial worry, and even delights that come from a greater cash flow in the household. They, and others, are looking also to secure a comfortable old age and perhaps to provide for their children's future. Like the mice, these people put great trust in their decision of what to store up for the future.

But like the mice, people who decide to lease their land do not know what they are getting into. Landowners expect, at the very least, to receive a bonus based on acreage for signing a lease. And should the leaseholder make a good strike in a year when natural gas reserves are low, royalties based on sales will further swell landowners' bank accounts. These financial rewards may come to pass. Other rewards to landowners for looking toward the future may not be rewards at all, but more like land mines left after a war.

Like the bits of D-CON, natural gas drilling may poison water, land and air, which, in turn, will poison the landowners, their families, their pets, the birds in the air and the peepers and crickets on the ground, as well as their neighbors. Death may not arrive as quickly or from such obvious sources as with D-CON, but fracking fluids and air pollution will certainly take their toll.

I've heard that, when warned about the hazards of fracking fluids, some landowners say they will just leave the area, move away. In that case, everyone should recall the words of the 17th-century Englishman, John Donne:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Katharine Dawson is a retired teacher living in Guilford who spends a great deal of time educating others about the dangers of high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing.