R.W. Nye: Address to the Ravenna Township Board, June 13, 2013

 

 

In the contacts we have had with officials in this area, we have been hearing repeatedly that the drilling of oil

and gas wells is a matter out of your hands.  The drilling of a couple of wells may seem like a small matter to you, but if those exploratory wells yield significant amounts of hydrocarbons you may find yourselves

surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of wells, each making massive demands on your local water 

resources and each posing a significant pollution threat to your drinking water sources and other

groundwater.

 

 

Our answer is that this township board may not legally be able to prevent the drilling of oil and gas wells

and the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques--also known as “fracking,” but you have the right and duty 

to protect the interests of your citizens. And to that end there are many things that you can do.

 

 

Have you advised your citizens to have baseline testing of their soil and water done before hydraulic 

fracturing begins? Have you encouraged them to check with their insurance companies as to whether they 

have any coverage against damage caused by fracking?

 

 

Have you planned what to do if a drop in groundwater levels endangers the water supply of the

Village of Ravenna?

 

 

Have you communicated with the county’s Office of Emergency Preparedness to work out a plan of

action in the event of some more serious emergency occurring?

 

 

Have you done anything to equip your fire department with HAZMAT capability?

 

 

Have you considered how to deal with the possibility of a wellhead accident that would emit dangerous

amounts of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas?

 

 

Do you have any early warning system that would alert citizens to shelter indoors and require schools 

to get their children off the playgrounds when toxic substances are released?

 

 

Have you considered regulations to restrict the hours during which noisy drilling rigs can operate?

 

 

Given that drilling rigs generate large amounts of truck traffic, have you considered what measures will

be necessary to prevent heavy vehicles from tearing up your roads?

 

 

Have you considered whether a drilling moratorium might be needed so that you will have time to deal

with these issues?

 

 

This coming July 1st will mark the 150th anniversary of the day when General George G. Meade decided

to make a stand against a superior Confederate force by digging in on a low ridge just outside the small town

of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General Meade did not ask permission of the Gettysburg town government

or of the town’s leading citizens to confront Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  What happened

next is history.

 

 

Just as the Civil War had basically nothing to do with the affairs of the town of Gettysburg, so too the issue 

of fracking in Ravenna is not a local one: it goes far beyond this township, the state of Michigan, and even the United States of America. It is a global issue--from Ireland to New Zealand, oil companies are seeking to use this extraction practice to keep alive a little longer an obsolescent technology that is putting huge volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and making dangerous changes to the climate of the entire world. 

 

 

You can consider this as a sort of ultimatum, then. We and others have tried to educate you on these subjects,

so you can’t plead ignorance, and if you won’t stand up to the oil and gas companies, you can be sure that

those companies will walk all over you and your people. If your citizens suffer as a result, they should hold

you fully accountable for what you have done and what you have failed to do. Our consciences are clear--we

have warned you.

 

 

At this point we are still open to dialogue and to arranging a genuinely informative meeting with citizens,

without a repeat of the MDEQ’s 3x5 cards and dog and pony show; however, given that drilling could begin

any day, I think that the time for talking has just about run out and the time for action has begun. As the oil

companies converge on this township, we will be rallying against them together with others. People in places far and wide are becoming aware of your township’s role as Ground Zero for fracking in Muskegon

County.  We will be monitoring the oil companies’ moves and considering what means of nonviolent political action we can effectively employ against them. Expect an interesting summer--we’ll be around, and we are

ready to make some history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed Under: Fracking · Ravenna

Crisis in Ravenna: The Tragedy of the Commons Comes to "Swansonville"

The good of all versus the enrichment of a few:  this is the essence of the troubling question facing the village and township of Ravenna, MI today. 

In his 1968 article, "The Tragedy of the Commons" in the journal Science , Garrett Hardin famously discussed the issue. Using the example of a plot of shared public grazing land, he stated the dilemma: that predictably each farmer will put as many head of cattle out to graze as he can, the objective being to maximize personal wealth without regard to the common good.  After all, it will cost him no more to graze 50 than to graze 25.  The inevitable result will be the overexploitation of the shared meadow, to the detriment of all the farmers.(1)

The water underneath the ground in Ravenna and throughout the state of Michigan is also a commons, like that shared grassy meadow.  As long as the people in rural areas used groundwater for drinking and the irrigation of their fields, there was no problem.  Each landowner took what was needed, and there was plenty left.  Even a business like Ravenna's Swanson Pickle Company, using large amounts for its brine vats, did not, as far as we have learned, unduly stress the supply.

All that has changed: in some parts of the state large corporations have sought to draw huge quantities of water from the ground in order to bottle it and ship it to all parts of the world.  They have encountered local opposition and some legal obstacles, given the threat they are seen to pose to the water supplies of the Great Lakes basin and the provisions of the interstate Great Lakes Compact.(2)

But a newer group of players has emerged in the form of oil and gas well drilling companies, which are exempt many of the limitations of other groundwater users.  Having long lobbied for legislation designed to make them a privileged class, the oil companies have laid plans to use massive amounts of groundwater for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process designed to extract oil and gas trapped in layers of shale rock.  Unlike earlier processes designed to stimulate production from conventional wells, this new version of fracking may use up to tens of millions of gallons of water per well.  This being said, the two exploratory wells that have been permitted on Donald Swanson's property in the township are probably in themselves unlikely to dry up the village, which draws its drinking water from underground souces.  If one of these wells should yield a significant amount of oil or gas, however, all bets are off. In that case there will probably be many, many more wells. 

The agency that is supposed to protect the people's groundwater is the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. This is not at all reassuring, given the attitudes that its representatives have displayed when discussing fracking with members of the public.  At a May 1, 2013 meeting at Muskegon Community College, they brought along a small platoon of armed law enforcement officers.  They required all questions to be written on 3x5 index cards, then cherrypicked the ones they would deign to answer.  A second public meeting, on June 4 in Ravenna, dispensed with the armed officers but also utilized the selective 3x5 card process.  MDEQ officials have publicly admitted that while they will be using computer models and monitoring groundwater levels, they would not be likely to put a halt to drilling unless it was drying up some natural body of water. Individual landowners whose wells are affected will presumably have to sue the oil companies (good luck!) or eat crow. 

Neither is the MDEQ very reassuring on the pollution issues related to toxic fracking fluid and its ultimate disposition. (Thanks to the infamous "Halliburton Loophole," the companies do not even have to divulge all the ingredients) They talk of disposing it in deep injection wells where it will remain out of the hydrological cycle "during our lifetime," but don't say anything about the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren.  Water and other fluids can, it seems, migrate upward under the force of millions of tons of overlying rock and sediment and the pressure of natural gas.  Methane and hydrogen sulfide gas can also migrate upward into the remaining groundwater supply to produce something rather resembling lighter fluid. We are not supposed to worry about this, even though MDEQ officials concede that "there are no guarantees."(3) (4)

With a few notable exceptions, the citizens of Ravenna (sometimes nicknamed "Swansonville") do not seem unduly concerned about the possible threats to their health, businesses, or way of life.  Many perhaps believe that they will profit personally if oil and gas are found in the area. We suppose that the Swansons, who have not been forthcoming with any public statements, have already profited from whatever they were paid for their mineral rights, and may also be in a position to garner royalties from any oil or gas found beneath their property.  A few townspeople may be able to get jobs as truck drivers or pipe layers.  It seems that not many are aware of the possible negative aspects of the changes looming over their idyllic village and township.

(1)  Science #13, December 1968:  Vol. 162 no. 3859 pp. 1243-1248 DOI: 10,1126/science.162.3859.1243

(2)  See website stopnestlewaters.org/2009/08/09/what-really-happened-in-mecosta-county-mi-nestle-would-rather-you-didnt-know/813

(3)  MDEQ official Rick Henderson, statement at Ravenna, MI public meeting, June 4, 2013.

(4)  MDEQ official Adam Wygant, statement at Muskegon Community College public meeting, May 1, 2013.

Copyright 2013 by R.W. Nye Group, LLC, all rights reserved.

 

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Filed Under: Fracking

Emotional Impulse or Logical Option?

I have developed a reputation for confronting politicians, bureaucrats, and "news reporters" in public. My friends remind me that angry words actually convey weakness, and that whatever underlying message I have is lost due to the perception of me as immature and unstable.

 

I’m actually embarrassed to show myself, for instance, recently mouthing off at M-Lie 'reporter' Steven Kloosterman*. It’s odd for an adult in our culture to be so obviously consumed with emotion. My mother raised me better. Instant appraisals surely have me identified as unsteady, and Steven to be pitied for his misfortune.

 

 But the issues we face are so important, and the facts are so clear, and the public is so ignorant, and the obligation is so urgent that our news media fulfill its purpose, that individuals like Steven Kloosterman - passively compliant links in the system’s chain of obedience, be made to feel pressure to do what’s right. If they continue, as Steven has, to mislead the voting public: those people who have come to trust, as well as to depend on a ‘free press’, (which is the only shield that democracy has ever known) then we must do whatever we can to bring the weight of that injury, that abuse of public trust, right home to its source, right back to the individual, to that person.

 

I don’t know any other way to do it. I don’t have power over his employment prospects in what has become of the journalistic world. I’m not his mother or father.

 

I see this situation as similar to those that foster vigilantism. This happens when laws are not enforced fairly. Chaos and disorder can be averted if a government addresses the needs of its offended citizens. More commonly, however, governments resort to lethal force in order to preserve order at all costs. “Vigilante justice” does not appeal to me. I much prefer sanity, democratic law, and order. But the world is full of situations that make vigilantism heroic. 

 

As with my general aversion to vigilantism, I would prefer that we each protect our personal dignity by showing respect for all people at all times. This would make sense if we weren’t discussing the end of democracy, of civilization as we know it. Public outbursts are legitimate, I believe, in our increasingly dire circumstances.

 

To make the point clear, consider the extreme example of Nazi Germany. Imagine any of the people responsible for killing Anne Frank for instance, and ask yourself if you can accept the argument that they were just doing their jobs and are thus not culpable. Would it not have been preferable for German citizens to vocally, publically, and harshly criticize the greedy bullies who built German Fascism before it grew and blossomed?

 

I do not accept the apology for individuals within an evil system by the claim that they are only doing their jobs; just following orders. As unseemly as it would have been for my mom fifty years ago, I think the time has come for us to make public life difficult for those who, wittingly or not, support the system that is selling us out.

 

Where you draw the line does not seem problematic. You would likely not blame a German for following orders if he had a gun at his head, but if he were profiting happily at the destruction of other people’s lives and culture, you likely would. If he could safely choose to support Fascism or Democracy, you would likely blame him for siding with Fascism. I would. In fact, I would make life as difficult as I could for him, within reason. It is probable that most of those responsible for the Nazi destruction were unaware at the time of what it was that they were contributing to. This highlights the logic behind personal public pressure on individuals who comply with mounting evil, before the possibility of public resistance is effectively lost.

 

I think the time has come for all of us to speak harshly, in public, to those who are actively or passively responsible for our culture’s looming demise.

 

* see: Steve Gets Spanked

 

 

 

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Filed Under: Opinion

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