Category Archives: oil shale

Natural gas drilling front lines move to highway billboards

This is my latest newspaper conservation column.

The ongoing battle between the pro-natural gas drilling people and conservationists who see and realize more value in a natural landscape not punctured by drill rigs and drill pads and heavy-equipment roads hacked out of former wildlife habitat have taken their respective campaigns to roadside billboards.

This is, coincidentally, something that would never happen in the Green Mountain State (where I sit) because nearly a half-century ago the people of Vermont wisely voted to permanently outlaw billboards and impose stringent limits on the size and height of business ID signs and such.

One recent billboard – the space bought and paid for by anti-drilling folks – makes its point with a collage of photos. One shows a drill rig and concrete drill pad, labeling the scene as a roadside “attraction.” And that spurs memories of a PennDOT placard on the southbound side of I-81 telling motorists of an attraction we know as “Humboldt Industrial Park.”

But back to the drilling biz. Punching holes into Earth across the Marcellus shale region is akin to bulldozing and paving more roads across Penn’s Woods. Sure, a handful of native wildlife continue doing alright population wise afer their habitat has been fragmented by roads, sprawl, cul de sacs, drill pads, and even airport runways. These include critters like the white-tailed deer and eastern cottontail. And skunks, raccoons and European starlings, too. Most of our native wildlife, though, suffers and their population numbers decline until, someday, the federal Endangered Species Act comes into play and a given species is approved for listing as a threatened or endangered one.

Naturalists don’t need a science degree in order to put the principles of “citizen science” to work and help gather the data showing such downward population trends. I have countless hours and days myself walking along the shoulders of rural roads – in Pennsylvania, Virginia and elsewhere – and counting the roadkill specimens found along the way.

A five-mile hike one year along the southern Delmarva Peninsula reach of Highway 13 sticks in mind for the horrendous slaughter I found; a toll most motorists are oblivious to as they race on to their next appointment, gas station, or motel room. On that day, my field notes remind, I found 15 dead turtles, many of them the species we know as the eastern painted turtle, their carapaces crushed by car or truck tires. Terrestrial wildlife like amphibians and reptiles seem, more often than not, to be the roadkill targets. But that’s only because they can only crawl, walk or slither so fast.

Here in Vermont, there is no shale formation underground, its rocks harboring natural gas. There is no danger lurking of a drilling rig suddenly showing up one day to start punching a hole into terra firma outside the front door. But through much of the mid-Atlantic region just the opposite is the case. And like much else these days, many people whose lives are disconnected from wild nature see only money when a drilling company rep knocks on the door.

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Destoying precious land for natural gas

Wild Nature, buckaroos, is not making any “new” land. So, once humans and their machines have taken over a scrap of formerly wild nature, that scrap is gone. Sure, restoration is possible, but not if the land becomes a parking lot and part of an industrial “park” or business “park.” Read more.

Crude, dirty and dangerous

That’s the best way to describe the so-called oil that comes from tar sands – the same crud that a bunch of people, including some politicians, want to ship via pipeline to refineries on America’s Gulf Coast. You can read about this crud right here.

BLM = Bureau of Lumber and Mining

That moniker was used many moons ago to describe the real mission of the Bureau of Land Management and then fell into disuse when the agency finally got is spine for not just managing but protecting the public’s natural heritage, a k a public land. Now, though, that moniker appears to be returning, as this article about the industry friendliness exhibited by a BLM field office in Utah sorrowfully illustrates.

A brief critique of the NY Times’ choice of adjectives: There is almost zero percent natural land now in the United States that could legitimately be described as “pristine.” I can think of only a few spots in central Idaho that would qualify as “pristine.” And that, buckaroos, is the real sorrowful aspect of our public land heritage today.

Republicans: Drill-now-drill-everywhere legislation

The Republican members of Congress are clearly answerable only to Big Oil and Big Oil’s campaign contributions when it comes to what federal public lands and waters ought to be opened to rapacious oil drilling. Republicans have unveiled a drill-now-drill-everywhere bill to replace Obama’s sensible plan that would allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Never mind the health of fish and wildlife populations and all that other “stuff.” Oil, let’s drill for it now, they say.

Alarm sounded: Possible tar sands pipeline would cross New England

The friends/allies of Big Oil just won’t take no for an answer. Having been told no in Nebraska and the upper Midwest, now they’ve got their boardroom targets set on  running a pipeline across northern New England. That includes Vermont where I now sit. Read about the looming debacle in this.

Big Oil wins more taxpayer dollars, thanks to House

Republicans in the House apparently enjoy the hell out of kissing the ass of Big Oil. How else to explain the action described in this article?