Eastern Ohio, not far from here, and western Pennsylvania are bracing themselves for the coming boom. Gas companies have been buying drilling rights, preparing for the deep horizontal drilling -fracking- that will extract the natural gas and oil that is embedded in shale, deep underground.
The process is controversial; there have been tales of ruined wells, and the EPA has confirmed that fracking leads to water contamination. It has been established that the earthquakes around Youngstown last year were caused by the even deeper drilling for the wells used to store the (poisoned) waste water that fracking produces. And water advocates are trying to get people to understand that huge amounts of the water that is used in the process are forever removed from the water cycle, ruined and sealed away deep in the earth.
But all in all, those with dollar signs in their eyes are having none of it: there is money to be made, jobs to be had. This, in a depressed area of the country, cast off after the last boom (strip mined coal). The first fruits of this promised prosperity have come in the form of the payments the gas companies have made to landowners for fracking rights. One friend owns thirty acres or so, and the payment came to $6,000 an acre. He said it would have been pointless to refuse, as all his neighbors had sold their rights; hence the gas under his land would have been taken, and his well perhaps destroyed, all without recompense. Someone else, when I told this story, said that it was not accurate, that if one person refused the drilling could not proceed. If that is true, though, think what life would be like if you were the only thing keeping all your neighbors from such a windfall.
This countryside has seen this sort of blindness in the face of a coming boom before, and my friend Will Hoyt, who lives in Harrison County, in the heart of the looming boomland, of that past, in an excerpt from his book The Seven Ranges :
Six miles south of Cadiz there is a building called Dickerson Church (Methodist) on the south side of impounded slurry (“black water”). It’s a remarkable sight. The building itself is modest: it features a small wooden steeple with bird nests, a set of stained glass windows, a lawn with a picnic bench, and a cypress windbreak. The prospect commanded by the building, though, is stunning, for this edifice stands all by itself on a hill that offers a 360-degree view. No doubt the view was impressive when the church was first built in 1888, but it is especially impressive now owing to the complete absence of trees on surrounding land. Though the land directly under this particular church never got stripped, land belonging to neighboring properties most certainly did, and therefore when you look out from Dickerson Church windows today you see wasteland, in every direction, for about as far as the eye can see. Six miles to the north you see the county courthouse, of course, for that building stands on its own prominent hill, but at all other points of the compass you see only rock, poverty grass, black water, and—this being winter—snow. The building functions now as a tombstone.
Read more here.
It is good to recall that every boom has its bust. When the shale oil and gas are depleted, the upper Ohio Valley will be discarded as she had been discarded before, a cast off after a gang rape.