Water = Life: A Local’s Perspective on Fracking

M. Renee Bowers Features

On June 30, just one day after New Jersey legislature passed a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, news leaked that New York governor Andrew Cuomo sought to end the moratorium on fracking. Below, Renee Bowers, a participant in the Province’s 2011 JPIC Local Contacts Retreat, discusses her introduction to the “controversial and environmentally risky drilling technology” nearly three years ago.

OBERNBURG, N.Y. — One day, while sitting on my couch after work, reading the local newspaper, I received a phone call. At first, I thought, “Oh, this is just another telemarketer.” But the speaker was excited; he said he was in the area and he was calling for the Chesapeake Energy Company.

I gasped, as I was in the middle of reading one of the first local articles looking at natural gas potential in our area (this was before the word “fracking” had even come to common conversation), and the article I had just started to read mentioned the Chesapeake Energy Company.

For those who might not be familiar with the term, “fracking” refers to the process of freeing natural gas locked deep inside rock formations using a controversial and environmentally risky drilling technology known as hydraulic fracturing.

So, I became more attentive to what the man had to say. The caller said he would like to come speak with me and my husband, and he was interested in leasing our mineral and gas rights. When I told him that my husband and I only had five acres and that we were not interested in having a gas rig in our backyard, he continued. Every time I would try to end the conversation, the man would say eagerly, “But it involves a lot of money.” Every time I’d say, “The land and water are not for sale,” he would persist even more.

After three tries he gave up. When I finally hung up the phone and went back to the paper, the article I was reading noted that Chesapeake Energy was a subsidiary of Halliburton; all I could think was that Dick Cheney had infiltrated my home and I felt sick.

fracking-rWell, that was almost three years ago and still the battle to access more natural gas goes on. This issue pits neighbor against neighbor. The area where I live is economically depressed, with many family farms struggling to hold on. Many farmers view this option as the golden calf of their salvation. Some locals play the patriotic card saying it’s our duty to help our country become energy independent, not even considering the potentially detrimental issues surrounding the fracking process. Thankfully, New York state is not rushing into this venture — as our Pennsylvania neighbor has — despite the constant push and sense of urgency from energy lobbyists.

We have a lot to lose. We still have many family farms in the areas designated for drilling — in Sullivan, Delaware, and other surrounding counties. We have beautiful streams teaming with trout and other species of fish and invertebrate, and we enjoy some of the purest water in the country. Our region includes the watershed for the New York state’s reservoirs, and the Upper Delaware is the watershed for Trenton, N.J., Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

The Upper Delaware River Corridor is listed by the National Parks Service as a scenic and recreational river. People come from all over the world to journey down the river and its many tributaries of pure, living water. Visitors and those from the local community fish and view the wildlife. They catch sight of everything from deer, bear, mink, fox and otter to birds of prey like the bald eagle and the red tail hawk. And they see the majestic blue heron on our shores.

In my heart of hearts, I have to trust that my neighbors really believe that fracking is safe and are not being blindsided by the offers of large sums of money. I wish they all could remember one of the most compelling reasons our forefathers and mothers came and settled in this region — for the pure, clean land, air and water, and the abundance of wildlife.

— Renee Bowers, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Church in Obernburg, N.Y., is passionate about issues relating to justice, peace and integrity of creation.