“O Kings and rulers of the earth, listen while there is time.” Psalms 2:10
It seems ironic that I should pull this passage out of the Bible this morning as I was researching biblical passages pertaining to the election–or appointment–of a king, or ruler. Would that every candidate this election year take heed in regard to our environment and the very real threat of global warming.
For me, it is all about the environment. And my vote will be won or lost depending on where each candidate stands on environmental concerns. Yes, I know there are other issues. And they are all important. But how productive can one be in an improved job market if we are all dying of cancers and other diseases due to the increased carbon emissions produced by oil shale mining and the pollution of our precious drinking water? And what good is higher education if we continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the destruction of our dear planet, and the life contained therein? Yes, I want to bring our soldiers home. I want to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. But we can do that with the production and implementation of greener energies–energies that respect all life forms and will leave a cleaner, healthier world for future generations to enjoy.
So, a little background on oil shales. Yes, the largest reserves of this fine-grained sedimentary rock are found right here on domestic soil, in places such as Utah, Wyoming and Colorado (McDermott). And that makes it attractive because it will certainly decrease our dependence on that foreign oil. However, while there is a vast store of oil contained in these oil shales, the cost for extracting it far outweighs the benefits. Compared to conventional crude oil, the greenhouse gasses created by oil shale are nearly two times greater, most of them being created during production (Herra). And the Bureau of Land Management states that it would require anywhere from 2.1 to 5.2 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced. This is water that will no longer be safe for drinking, or even bathing, and such a process will seriously deplete the annual flow of the Colorado White River. This river has been voted one of the most endangered rivers in America (American Rivers). The loss of it would threaten many species of wildlife, as well as the many citizens of Colorado, who depend on it for their drinking water.
There are two potential processes for extracting keragen (the petroleum-like substance found in oil shales). The first involves either open-pit, underground or strip mining to extract the shale. It would then have to be crushed and the oil distilled at temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit or more (Herra). The second is called an “in-situ” process that involves heating the shale underground to liquify it but this is a very untried and untrue method. The former method–mining–has proven time and again to be a hazardous occupation. We use open-pit mines to extract various metal ores, coal and other minerals from the earth. One of the largest of these is in Utah, the Bingham Canyon copper mine. There, enormous “lakes” have formed within the pits from groundwater seepage. These “lakes” are filled with the waste from mining, waste that often includes toxins such as mercury and uranium. Sadly, birds and water fowl are attracted by these “lakes” and lose their lives stopping for a drink, unaware of what’s contained within these waters. And, as groundwater travels underground, these toxins may also seep into nearby farmland, contaminating the soil. Underground mining, like the mining done for coal, has a history of dangerous explosions; cave-ins; with coal, the creation of black lung in the miners who work to extract it; and the emission of carbon dioxide from the many fires and explosions that result from this type of mining. Strip mining involves the removal of mountaintops, with all of the topsoil and earth being pushed down into the valleys below–along with the mercury, cadmium and other toxins. These valleys, along with their homes, farms, cemeteries, forests and streams, are often buried (Cunningham and Cunningham 309, 429). Valley filling has actually been banned in the United States but many of these mines are grandfathered in and continue to operate as usual. Below is a photograph of what land looks like after a strip mining operation moves in.
While beautiful forests and lush greenery surround this scar on the landscape, this strip mine plateau is devoid of life and beauty. The Appalachians are filled with these scars and the ratio of cancer victims in these areas far exceeds the national average (Cunningham & Cunningham).
The picture above was scanned from a textbook I have entitled: Environmental Science: A Global Concern, 13th Edition by William P. and Mary Ann Cunningham. It shows what happened in 2013 when the Pegasus pipeline ruptured across yards in Mayflower, Arkansas. This is from tar sands, rather than oil shale, but both resources present a greater hazard to our environment than conventional oil drilling (Herro; McDermott). Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning to find your yard flooded with this smelly, viscous lake of poison. These homes are forever lost, homes where people lived and loved and laughed. People who lost everything that they’ve worked for in life due to our greed and selfishness. Only a fool would trust that this ground, and the water within it, could one day be safe enough to live on/near, the water safe enough to drink again. And what of the beloved pets who also made their homes in this area? Or the wildlife? This is not just birds and squirrels and chipmunks, though they love life, too. Our soil and water are both teaming with life–microscopic life that plays a huge role in cleaning, rejuvenating and aerating our natural resources. What are the chances any of these organisms survived this spill? And, sadly, as water and soil both move, this spill is not contained to this one area in Arkansas. Neighboring towns got to share the wealth. So will mining oil sands and/or shale really be a way to cheaper fuel prices?
And, as I type this, I am reminded of the opening song to the old sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies: “Come listen to my story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed, and then one day he was shooting at some food, and up through the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.” (Flatt & Scruggs) For many of our political leaders, this is the real motivation behind wanting to mine these oil sands and shales–they see the money and power behind it. But they, too, if we allow our vote to allow the progression of this mining campaign, will also feel the effects of these “accidents” in time. I can only hope that whoever is elected to office tomorrow will realize this while there is still time.
May God bless you & keep you!
American Rivers. “Colorado’s White River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014”. 9 April 2014. Web. Retrieved from: http://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/colorados-white-river-aong-americas-endangered-rivers-2014.
Cunningham, William P. and Mary Ann Cunningham. Environmental Science: A Global Concern, 13th Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York: 2015.
Flatt, Lester and Earl Scruggs. “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” 26 November 1962. Web. Lyrics retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-lyrics-for-the-Beverly-Hillbilly-theme-song
Herro, Alana. “Plenty of Shale, Plenty of Problems”. Eye on Earth, Worldwatch Institute. Web. Retrieved from: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5167
McDermott, Mat. “Fossil Fools Gold: Tar Sands & Oil Shale Eco-Impact Explained”. Treehugger. Web. 12 October 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology-fossil-fools-gold-tar-sands-oil-shale-eco-impact-explained.html
Strip Mining. Photo. Earthjustice. Retrieved from: earthjustice.org/slideshow/images-of-mountaintop-removal-mining.
The Living Bible, Self-Help Edition. Tyndale House Publishers, Illinois: 1971.