RETROSPECTIVE (2008 to mid 2011)
Ponderings from Pandora's Box
Chloe Kelly's Journal of Living with Unconventional Gas Drilling
Methane level in our water begins to subside
The methane level in our water which I monitored throughout the winter of 2010 to 2011, reached a peak when, one day while washing dishes, we noticed a distinct smoke-like mist emanating from the tap, and then clearly dissipating off the dishes as I stacked them to dry. It looked as though the dishes were burning! This was extremely disturbing, and gratefully it never happened after that. In fact, the methane concentration did very gradually lessen until one happy day I could not light our water! I was so happy, and also so fearful that this was my imagination, that I kept filling a bottle with our water and attempting to light it throughout the day, with the same pleasing results: no fire!
Spring reveals a major fish kill in our pond
However, I barely had time to celebrate because when I took a walk by our pond around the same time, one warm spring day in April, I saw that the edges were filled with dead fish. I called the DEP which once again made the trip to my house. The man who came did not take a water sample but instead determined that the cause of the “fish kill” had been ice and snow cover. He stated in his report that “when ice and snow cover a small shallow eutrophic pond such as this one for an extended period of time, a fish kill can occur.”
But I have my own thoughts about that. For one thing, while the DEP representative did not mention it in his report, he told me that the fish were heavily decomposed, which suggested to me that they had been dead for a while, probably since the onset of winter. But then they could not have been killed by an extended period of snow and ice cover. Apparently this incongruity did not occur to the DEP personnel but it sure has to me.
Here’s what I feel happened. I don’t think the pond filled up with methane or anything else toxic for that matter, even though most of the controversy is about how drilling affects water quality. I think the gas company’s drilling into the ground which resonated so deeply that I could feel it through the walls of my house 2000 feet away is what killed them. I think that the continual, non-stop reverberations from which there was no escape, killed them. But there’s no proving that at this point – however, one more thought. I’ve lived here 20 years. Sullivan County is famous for its ultra tough winters of heavy snow and low temperatures. In all those years, even the winter when the temperature remained at 10 below zero for a week straight, or the winter when we battled one storm after another until there was no where left to push the snow, our fish survived. The winter of 2010 was not an especially bad or a long winter in relationship to other ones. The drilling began in the middle of October 2010 and lasted until mid-December. in April 2011, my fish were dead and decomposing. I say, connect the dots.
More spring surprises
I had more surprises this spring too. I’m a gardener, and for 20 years here, I’ve watched, breathless while my yard plants take on the green transformations of life, but this spring I noticed first that there were no gorgeous johnny jump ups popping up whimsically throughout last year’s cleared garden space. If you know this plant, it seeds itself everywhere and is one of the first brilliant flowers of the season. It’s tough and can deal with the early frosts. I’ve been spoiled for years with it’s beauty, but this year – one year after the advent of gas drilling – I did not see even one in my yard – not one. I also did not see another plentiful self-seeding plant: catnip. Then, as the spring progressed, my small garden of perennial strawberry plants all withered and died.
So what happened? One day this past spring, I noticed that my car was covered with some nasty dark, goolike substance. I hadn’t driven it anywhere for several days, and the substance covered the top of the car as well as the sides. When I washed it off, the cloths I used were black. I had noticed that the mists that form over the fields seemed different this year but didn’t say anything until a few other local residents mentioned the same thing. The mists had begun to take on a heavy and solid look instead of the fine, light look that we were used to. Since then, the mists seem to have returned to normal, and I haven’t noticed any more strange, dark substances on my car, but I have to wonder if the substance I washed off isn’t related to the loss of the plants. Was there some air borne compound that descended into the soil during that crucial point of spring? There had been an incredible number of helicopters and low flying commuter planes flying overhead the summer and fall prior to this on gas drilling-related errands. They had become a common sight and sound as well.
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