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CHRISTENSEN: Moratorium insufficient protection from fracking

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Experience helps letter writer win Golden Pen Award
David E. Christensen of Carbondale is The Southern's Golden Pen winner for August. (STEVE JAHNKE / THE SOUTHERN)

The following is an open letter to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which has been holding public hearings about fracking.

My name is David E. Christensen. I am a retired geography professor. I received my Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago. I taught geography at several universities and for a year at universities in the United Kingdom and China and for summers in Canada and Malaysia.

For your information professional geographers are concerned with the human use — and misuse — of the surface of the Earth, and that concern includes thousands of feet below the surface and the atmosphere. That concern obviously includes activities that relate to the well-being and survival of humans and other living things with which we share this planet and on which we depend. Thank you for providing this opportunity to speak to you about an issue that concerns me — and all of us — deeply.

For two centuries the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has steadily increased to the point of endangering living things, including humans. Climate change is real and near an unknown tipping point. That knowledge is based in part on the chemistry of the air going back 800,000 years (Antarctic Ice cores).

As persuasive as are “jobs and profits” arguments for “frack now and worry about it later,” my concern with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is long term. After our two centuries of “creaming off” the “easy to mine and drill” fossil fuels (coal and oil) we have entered into more and more expensive and controversial modes, the latest being horizontal fracking. Yes, there has been fracking at the bottom of bore holes for decades, but the major change came about only a dozen years ago when horizontal fracturing (out to about 2 miles from the bore hole!) and the rising cost of prospecting and production (and renewed prospects for generous profits) opened the huge reservoir of impregnated oil and gas in shales thousands of feet below Earth’s surface.

I need not review with you details about the many controversial aspects of fracking. You know them well:

þ The use and contamination of vast amounts of limited fresh water resources,

þ The problem of disposal of the toxic contaminated water that rises with released oil and gas through the bore hole,

þ The contamination of ground water resources as remaining toxic fluids, oil and gas rise randomly to the surface for miles around the bore hole,

þ The record of increasing low and mid-level earthquakes causing damage to infrastructure and structures on or near the surface, jeopardizing and disrupting the health and lives of humans at the surface.

The use of natural gas from fracking over the next decades or century would only exacerbate our already precarious situation in regard to CO2 in the atmosphere and climate change.

Just because the fracking technology has been invented and can increase the production of oil and gas that provides jobs and prof-its for a while does NOT justify its use if it puts the health, well-being and survival of the human species and our accumulated civilization at risk. (Humans also invented nuclear bombs but must not use them for similar reasons!)

We should not be playing games with fracking rules. More stringent rules and nickel and dime fines for environmental damages are part of that game. We should not even be considering a moratorium. Fracking technology very simply should not be used.

We should be intensively researching and developing alternative energy sources and dealing realistically with the Earth’s over-population.

DAVID E. CHRISTENSEN of Carbondale is an emeritus professor of geography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is the author of “Earth is Overpopulated Now” and “Healing the World.”


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