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East Pond, at Gateway National Refuge Area. Photo courtesy of NPS.

U.S. athletes triumphed during the recent Olympiad—loved watching it! I wish I could say the same about our triumphant leadership in other fields, especially when it comes to breaking away from dependence on fossil fuels. Where I live, this issue has acquired new urgency—New York hovers on the brink of allowing shale gas drilling in parts of the state. (A refresher—shale gas drilling/hydrofracking is the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals in order to extract natural gas from underground shale formations.)

As in neighboring Pennsylvania, the fracking fields will mainly be in the rural countryside; so far, it looks like an area in central NY (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties) will host the first permitted wells. The issues are many, and include possible watershed contamination, the problem of wastewater and its treatment, radically increased road use, and how the practice will change the look of the rural countryside. A recent letter to the Buffalo News from a former resident of a “fracking” area of PA described the mise en scene of fracking this way:

Fracking wells are not small; they are huge and can take up an acre or more (look up “Fracking Hollenbeck Gas Site” on youtube).
They are very loud, lit all night, stink and run 24/7. They are everywhere. The ground shakes. Traffic has increased. Water transport trucks are on the roads at all hours. Small-town county roads weren’t made for these constant heavy loads and have quickly worn down, resulting in continuous construction and increased traffic problems.

Judging from the images of fracking fields I’ve seen, this description is not out of bounds. Hard to imagine this being the scene in any part of the Finger Lakes I’ve visited. And this is not even to discuss the deeper environmental impacts.

Does any of this have to do with gardening? Sure. My gardening takes place in a larger context of the parks, reserves, and other natural areas that exist in my area of the world. By creating a garden in my little urban corner, I’m basically trying to emulate, in some small way, the natural beauty I seek in such unspoiled countryside that remains.

Although Western New York does not, as of yet, stand in much risk of being a shale gas source, we all potentially stand to be affected by some sort of fuel development. Recently, I received an email from a community gardener in New York City who is fighting a natural gas pipeline  and accompanying facilities scheduled to be installed under the Gateway National Recreation Area and Jacob Riis Beach. It’s not fracking but it is opening up a national park to industrial use. Like me, Karen Orlando—the gardener who, among many others, opposes this project—is an urbanite who cherishes such wild sites that can exist in densely populated areas. The precedent of allowing pipelines and industrial facilities in New York’s Gateway opens the door to the same in a refuge like Tifft Nature Preserve in Buffalo.

It’s all connected. And as much as I rejoice in our superiority in water polo, I could wish that we showed a similar determination to excel in finding energy alternatives. For the sake of gardens everywhere—in all the different forms a garden can take.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on August 13, 2012 at 9:03 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Ministry of Controversy.