Although hydraulic fracturing, a way of drilling for natural gas from rock layers that can now be done horizontally, has been around for years, fracking, as it is commonly known, has recently become a media buzz word used to conjure up images of genetic mutations and flammable water. I miss the days when “frack” was just a curse word on “Battlestar Galactica.”
Yes, mention fracking nowadays and one is supposed to envision mutants living in caves in the desert like the Wes Craven film, “The Hills Have Eyes.” It’s a divisive word that brings out every faux environmentalist and pseudo-scientist within a thousand mile radius and gets many fervent liberals foaming at the mouth. In a nutshell, fracking is bad and shame on you for bringing it into our community and if you don’t believe this, you, by association, are a bad person.
Or, so it goes.
The verdict is actually still out on fracking and the long and short term effects it may have on the environment and its inhabitants. It all depends on which side is putting up the funding for the study — a quasi-environmental group with special interest ties or the big oil companies with special interest ties. However, there have been approximately 100 fracking operations in Lowndes and Monroe counties since the 1970s with very few, if any, reported problems.
Yes, the Oscar-nominated “Gasland” is a compelling look at the damage fracking can cause, especially as part of the fracking procedure is to pump chemicals into the Earth close to the water table. There has even been a “Gasland 2” in recent months.
On the other hand, there’s “Fracknation,” which debunks the “fracking is dangerous” myth.
The thing to remember about documentaries, while they can be informative, is that they are at their core entertainment and they are biased, usually one-sided stories. They exist as a way for filmmakers to share agendas with an audience. This doesn’t mean documentaries are bad, for they are not. But much like this editorial piece, they represent the opinions of their creators.
When there was talk of hydraulic fracturing in Caledonia it seemed like the sky was falling and the end was near. Fracking in Caledonia was going to be a noisy, polluted process that was going to lead to water contamination and the eventual demise of the small town. Eulogies were being prepared to mourn the loss of another piece of small town America that had died at the hands of capitalism, for surely Caledonia should pay the ultimate price for its sins against man and the environment.
Imaging the gnashing of the teeth and the foaming of the mouths – all side effects of fracking – when it was made known that fracking in Caledonia was actually successful and profitable. And the water has yet to turn to fire.
“This horizontal drilling in Caledonia has not only been profitable for the landowners with the mineral rights, but there’s going to be a lot of discretionary income for the county and the state,” said District 1 Supervisor and Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders.
Sanders said in severance taxes alone there has been an increase from $2,000 to $38,000 in the month of May. The state gets two-thirds of the tax and the county gets one-third.
“The county should get a little windfall from this,” Sanders said. “It’s also creating a tremendous amount of jobs and sales tax revenues. This is a big industry. Looks what’s happened from just one well.”
As far as the process being done safely, we’re talking about Caledonia, folks. Caledonia is its own place, an insular community that is united and would probably secede from Lowndes County if it had the option. This is the town that took almost a year to decide on a $100 raise for a city employee. It’s the place where Aberdeen businessman Jeff Doty was not allowed to sell beer because of a grandfather clause — the whole town of Caledonia is grandfathered in something or another. Do you think Sanders and the city leaders would allow something to operate that could be potentially hazardous to its residents?
Caledonia is where we city folk go to pick blackberries in the summer; it’s where we go with our families to select pumpkins at one of the region’s largest agri-tourist destinations. Are we to assume that because a well has been fracked that our pumpkins are going to possess radioactive powers and kill us in our sleep? Absolutely not.
You can rest assured fracking was discussed and researched in Caledonia. It’s not Columbus, where it could be added as a last minute agenda item while no one is looking.
“There has been fracking on my land since 1977,” Sanders said. “I don’t see what the big deal is. The Holliman well was dug so deep that it is nowhere near the water table. And most of the water anywhere near the well is on the Caledonia water system. Horizontal drilling is a better process than vertical drilling. This gas is a natural resource. It is already there. We are just extracting it. It’s also helping us to be energy self-sufficient. People have short memories. They seem to forget when OPEC cut us off in the 70s and we had to ration oil.”
Sanders said the industry is expected to grow in Caledonia, with drilling proposed on some 16th Section land that could be very beneficial for the Lowndes County School District.
“The school board tabled the vote on this,” Sanders said. “But if they allow the drilling, it could generate millions of dollars yearly for the school district.”
The debate surrounding horizontal fracking will continue. Both sides will receive money from lobbying firms to generate the data required to prove its case — fracking bad; fracking good. It will either go the way of the once-popular acid rain discussion or linger until another discussion replaces it. Either way, fracking will continue in Caledonia.
As Sanders said in his closing remarks, “The only people complaining about fracking in Caledonia are the media and the people who don’t own any mineral rights.”
Economic development and job creation are important to the stability and longevity of Lowndes County. Caledonia has every right to exploit its natural resources for profit. It’s a profit that could be beneficial for the county and state and even Columbus. To paraphrase Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, “The workers have to buy their whiskey and cigarettes somewhere.” And for a city that has seen a consistent slump in sales tax revenues, Columbus should be glad to take some fracking money.
It is up to the federal government and then the state to regulate fracking and make sure that it is being done in the safest manner possible with the least amount of potential side effects. You can’t blame municipalities, especially small municipalities for wanting to get into the lucrative energy production business.
Jeff Clark is the Managing Editor of The Packet. He can be reached at email@example.com/packet.0