NPR had a fantastic story on Friday about the relationship between fracking and the cluster of earthquakes earlier this year in Arkansas. Many local residents blamed the gas companies for the earthquakes, saying that the process of blasting millions of gallons of water into the Earth is destablizing the fault line. When the companies temporarily agreed to stop, the earthquakes almost ceased.
Of course, it’s unclear whether the earthquakes starting and stopping with fracking is a coincidence. We need testing and research to determine that. But the oil companies have no intention of allowing that independent research to happen and are preparing to restart fracking in the area.
Meanwhile, fracking continues to expand across the nation. Much of New York is divided right now after quasi-Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to open parts of the state to fracking. Driving from Poughkeepsie to Ithaca this weekend, I saw dozens of billboards and bumper stickers opposing Cuomo’s actions, and a few signs, mostly it seemed from the landholders who would likely host the drill sites, in support.
This divide gets at the complexities of resource development. As the NPR story states, local people want fracking to continue so long as its not going to lead to a giant earthquake because for the first time ever, they are making real money off their land. They are paying off debts, building houses with foundations, putting in swimming pools, buying cars–essentially they are joining the American middle class.
At the same time, there is absolutely positively no reason to ever trust the petroleum industry. When have they ever lied to us? People know this. Certainly the opponents of fracking know it, but so do many supporters and it makes them nervous, even as they want to capitalize on their land.
In a side note about the NPR story, its producers got Bonnie Prince Billy to record a song for it. I thought this was an odd choice and leads to a point I will elaborate on in greater length at a later date. I have been a fan of Will Oldham’s various projects for a long time, but it’s not like he tells a real straightforward story in his songs. And he doesn’t here either, even though the song is titled “Mother Nature Kneels.” I was listening to the story and thinking that it really needed the voice of Hazel Dickens. Her straight-forward lyrics and powerful singing gave voice to the poor of West Virginia. Today’s musicians don’t place as much value on lyrics, preferring to either let the lyrics play a very secondary role to musical exploration (and certainly today’s bands are much more sonically exploratory than earlier generations) or to set a kind of vague mood. I think this is why so many of us find much to value in the Drive-by Truckers. Not only are they awesome, but they also have a throwback style to story telling in song. But again, more on this point later.