Speech at EPIC event in Ithaca, NY – June 25, 2011 – Fracking the Farmland

[Note: thanks to ShaleShock Media, this speech was recorded and is available online as a video at: http://vimeo.com/26566364  Some portions of it appeared in an article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/10283/1093640-109.stm  And this personal note: on the very day I delivered this speech my wife Lucinda was on a train to Boston to begin treatment for lung cancer, a battle she would lose just five months later. In her honor, after she died, I completed a PowerPoint presentation on “The Case for a Moratorium on Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling in PA” which is now available online at http://go.to/marcellusstop  To date it has been viewed almost 2,000 times.]

My name is Stephen Cleghorn.  My wife Lucinda and I operate a certified organic farm and licensed goat dairy in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania into which we have poured the last six years of our lives and our entire lives’ savings.

We live in a small unincorporated area that has been called Paradise for more than a century, for good reason. It is beautiful to behold. 

On our farm there is a high point to which we take our two dogs. There we stand quietly before the beauty we see all around us. Rolling fields of crops, alternating green and brown. Our neighbor’s cows, gorgeous Jerseys with their big soulful eyes, framed against their emerald pasture. Our own dairy goats lazing away a summer’s afternoon on the pasture down below us.

Sometimes we go up that hill at night to admire God’s creation as it envelops us, where we find it easy to recall the words of the poet-farmer Wendell Berry:

I am wholly willing to be here/ between the bright silent thousands of stars/ and the life of the grass pouring out of the ground./The hill has grown to me like a foot./ Until I lift the earth I cannot move.

Six years ago we had a dream that we could take these 50 acres and make them our small gift to our neighbors and our world by producing healthy organic vegetables and fresh goat milk products. We wanted to do so in a manner that in a small way helps to heal our environment, our atmospheric and aquatic commons that has become stressed by an over-reliance on fossil fuel energy. We joined a growing movement in agriculture to be small and local on purpose, for our health, for that of our neighbors and even for our planet.

I love farming.  I love our goats.  I love the smell of mint and garlic in the garden. I like feeding people good healthy food.  I want to spend every minute of every day learning more about how to take care of our soil and our goats and chickens.  If you have not assisted a straining goat doe as she pushes a wet and steaming kid into the bitter cold February air, you have really missed something. There comes with that an understanding of the unfathomable balance of external and internal factors that led to this goat having a healthy kid. We are in that balance with our goats as we assure them a clean barn, clean water and fresh air to breathe.

When I am sometimes overwhelmed by the twice-daily milking routine, I am comforted by knowing that what I do in the milk parlor finds its way to the very center of other peoples’ lives.  Our milk and cheeses and yogurts find their way to the center of a family’s table.  They go to the coffee table spread of goodies at a party thrown for friends.  My work finds its way to center of other people’s laughter and joy and communion with one another.  They experience just a little more the joy of being alive because of what we do.  That’s a good feeling.

So, yes, I love farming. That’s really all what I want to be doing.

Instead, here I am with you at a conference about drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale.  Instead, for much too many hours of much too many days over the past year I have been trying to understand the threat posed to my farm by unconventional gas drilling for the methane gas that has been locked up in the shale more than a mile below us for more than 350 million years.  A Marcellus Shale well is planned just 3,500 feet away from our house.  Another one could well be put on the highest part of our land.  We don’t own the mineral rights to our property, and our property is leased to an unknown gas company.  We could find a notice to permit a well on our place any day now. 

Given that reality, it has been difficult to fight off depression and a sense of powerlessness. I will speak later of how the gas companies count on overwhelming us in precisely this way, making us believe that we can do nothing to stop them.  But while it is difficult, I will speak also of a hope that can sustain us.  But let me for now say a little more about what we face and how it feels.

The prospect of a Marcellus well devouring 10 acres of our 50-acre farm threatens to negate our past and steal our future.   Six years of difficult labor may be rendered worthless.  Dreams for our future on this farm now seem delusional. The renovation of our house makes no sense anymore.  Where the shale gas boom has hit, property values have plummeted.   How can we plan a future with such uncertainty hanging over us?  Much as I work to create a safe environment for our goats in the barn, to create safe pastures for them, the world around them could soon be rendered toxic and unsafe for their lives and ours. 

Yet no amount of cautionary warnings from eminent experts like Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University, here today with us, and no amount of troubling evidence of serious contamination of water and air, of crops and livestock, whether from within Pennsylvania or from other gas fields all across the country, seems to deter the Marcellus gas rush.

So for the past year I have been researching and studying.  The more I looked into unconventional drilling into tight shale formations for methane gas, the worse it got.  I actually prayed often that I was wrong about what I was finding in my research.  But all the pointers kept coming back to this bottom-line assessment:

The gas industry has undertaken a huge wager, a gamble; they call it a “play,” as in the Marcellus “play” or “risking the play” of drilling for shale gas.  For them it is about putting in big money to get back even more big money.  But for us, their wager puts our lives in play.  It puts my farm in play.  Our farm lies in the middle of what Dr. Terry Engelder of Penn State – the same Dr. Engelder who has the gas companies slobbering over the potential billions of profits they might make – calls the “Marcellus fairway.”  We find ourselves living in the middle of a hideous game controlled by others. 

There are so many issues about unconventional gas drilling being explored in this gathering today. It is hard to know where to start in talking about them. Shall I start with reports of cattle dead or quarantined from exposure to fracking fluids?  Shall I speak of chickens dead from breathing volatile organic compounds drifting in the wind from the gas wells in Colorado?  Shall I tell of reduced fertility in livestock?  Or kid goats stillborn and deformed from exposure to gas field toxins instead of coming into this world healthy and whole for their mommas to enjoy?

There are so many issues.  This evening in my second presentation I will have a PowerPoint that marshals as best I can both the science we have and the preponderance of evidence coming from people living in the gas fields that says we must stop this drilling and stop it now.  We don’t really understand it.  Even an oil and gas services giant like Schlumberger calls this kind of drilling a combination of “brute force and ignorance.”  There is a grand experiment being run on the people of Pennsylvania.  

As John Quigley, former Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has put it:

“The cumulative impacts of Marcellus development will dwarf all of the impacts on Pennsylvania of timbering and oil and coal combined.  This (gas drilling) is going to be like a spider web spun across the state. I am afraid for the future of this state. It is hanging in the balance.”

I will speak more on that at my evening presentation, but for now I want to talk about how we summon up the hope to fight back against the reality John Quigley is describing.  It starts with recognizing a simple truth about how dangerous this enterprise really is, and recognizing that it is an evil being perpetrated upon us. 

Yes, I said “evil.”

You see, after a year of study, the simple, unavoidable truth for me is that they have no study, not nearly enough scientific evidence, and most certainly no scientific consensus, that the practice of what Dr. Ingraffea calls “High Volume Slickwater Fracking of Long Laterals” in tight shale formations below us is environmentally safe over the long term. Certainly even the vertical drilling they have been doing has been far from safe, and all the dumping of toxic waste water into our streams has not been safe, and the drivers they hire to steer their trucks are not safe, but even if they cleaned up all that we’d still have the problem that they are literally sowing the earth beneath us with toxic chemicals that may or may not rise someday into the aquifers by which our lives on the surface of the earth are sustained. They are creating hundreds of thousands of well bores made of steel and concrete, flimsy things compared to natural subterranean forces that will likely crack and degrade them in just a few decades, maybe less.  These will become pathways for the dangerous chemicals they leave in the shale, about 15 million tons over the next 50 years, as well as the toxic elements of the shale itself, to come to the surface.  The gas companies will be long gone by then, their profit curves having plummeted within a few short years, and their pockets stuffed with money. Future residents of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia will see the creation of a Marcellus Shale Superfund at their expense to clean up – if it can be cleaned up – what the gas companies will have abandoned.  And the gas companies cannot say and scientists cannot agree as to whether this future I have just described will not come to pass. 

That is irresponsible.  That is reckless.  That is morally corrupt.  We should be morally outraged by the gas industry’s arrogant act of corporate will as though they were some kind of Nietzschean Supermen.  Look at the maps of what they plan to do and you see a relentless grid over more than 23,800 square miles of Pennsylvania.  You see an industry ready to carpet bomb from underneath 50% of our state’s land mass with a massive series of underground explosions that may well leave the surface a wasteland to future generations of Pennsylvanians where water is not fit to drink.

They don’t really know.  Maybe it will lay waste to Pennsylvania.  Maybe it won’t.  They do not dare consider that it might do so.  Oh, what the hell, let’s go forward anyway, they tell us. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Trust us, they say. We would not do anything to harm the environment, they say.  Besides, look at all these jobs we have for you, they say.  Calm down, they say.  Let the authorities handle it, they say. 

And when we do raise our objections, they characterize us as the unreasonable ones.  They call us hysterical.  Eco-freaks.  Tree huggers.  NIMBY types.  In it for the money when we go after them for contaminating us. 

And above all they insist that all our objections be polite ones that recognize the two sides of the issues.  Well on that we have some more words from the modern sage Wendell Berry to guide us. We say, as he has said about mountaintop removal for coal, “The idea here that two sides can legitimately disagree is simply wrong.  (There can be no) legitimate disagreement about the destruction of ecosystems and watersheds.”

We are engaged here, my friends, in a life and death struggle.  It specific conditions are new to us but the struggle is as old as human history.  At its heart are choices we make.  Some of those choices bring life.  Some bring death. 

About 200 B.C. there was a sage in Israel named Jesus of Sirach who wrote of such choices.  On this day, at this gathering, these words from the Book of Sirach resonate deeply with the struggle we face against the gas companies:

The Lord has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.

No one does God command to act unjustly,

to none does he give license to sin. (Sirach 15)

God may not command it, but you can be sure that the Governor and Legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where I live have given the gas companies a license to act unjustly toward the people of our state.  The Governor and Legislature have done nothing but enable and support these gas companies as they choose their fire over the water that sustains our lives.  

Worst of all, they have tried to destroy any hope for ending their reckless play on our lives.  They know that the destruction of hope is the key. Aided by our political leaders, they are weaving a tangled and deadly web to entrap us in their reality, to demoralize and co-opt us in the deadly play they are making against us.. 

I have tried to talk to my adversaries in the gas industry. I have tried for many hours to reason with them and help them see the damage they do to others.  I have asked specific questions that they refused to answer.  I have approached them, may I say it, with Love in my heart for them as my brothers and sisters, as people who know not what they do. I have found that they have neither ears to hear nor eyes to see what I bring before them. 

I have communicated at length with my State Senator Joseph Scarnati, our state’s chief cheerleader for methane gas extraction.  I have reminded him of his Catholic upbringing, which I share with him, and how this drilling is at odds with the social teaching of our church.  I have quoted the Book of Job to him, where it is written:

“What (the wicked man) trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider’s web.  He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.”  

I have begged him to not to put his trust in this tangled web that he and the gas companies are casting over our state.  I have asked him to stop trusting in the gas companies and learn to hear and trust in what the people are telling him instead.  They are getting sick.  Does he hear?  Does he look into it?  No response.  And no integrity even to admit authorship of a soc-called “model zoning law” he would pass to strip localities of their rights and allow and industrial field to be built up over half of the state. 

So I have come to the conclusion that Love will not accomplish what is needed by itself, and I have turned instead to Hope.  It is the kind of Hope that great social movements for justice have relied upon.  It is the kind of Hope that St Augustine believed to be the greatest of spiritual gifts. 

And, says Augustine, “(This) Hope has two lovely daughters: anger and courage. Anger so that what must not be may not be; courage so that what should be can be.”

Anger and Courage.  We will need both in this struggle.

With that anger and courage as the bedrock of my hope, I have come here to Ithaca to tell the gas companies and their political allies this: 

They better keep their hell away from my family and my goats and chickens.  If they come to hurt my wife or the animals entrusted to us, they’re going to have to go through me.  I will stand in their way as a drilling ban on one person if I must.  I will declare a moratorium on my farm that they dare not ignore and no payoffs in Harrisburg can stop. 

If they want to come ruin my farm, they better be prepared to grab me up bodily, slick me up with their toxic gels, push me through their hydration unit with their 80 tons of chemicals per wellbore and blast me down into that rock at 15,000 psi until whatever remains of my bones mix with their proppant to hold that shale open.  That’s the only way they’re going to get the gas out from underneath my farm.

May I end with a brief excerpt from a song called Anthem by the poet-singer Leonard Cohen?  It seems appropriate for the moment.

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

So hear this, Governor Tom Corbett, and Senator Joe Scarnati, and Representative Sam Smith, and Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella, and Heather Lampeter at EXCO Resources who is drilling around us, and all you CEOs of Chesapeake Energy and Cabot Oil and Consol Energy and Talisman and all the rest – here is what we want you to know.

We’re not running with you no more.  We are done being polite. You have engaged in a pattern of deception about what you do for so long that you are no longer entitled to our being polite with you.  We’re not going to stand by while you, cloaked in all your fine laws, strip us of our rights and ruin our farms and homes and communities.  You can go to church all you want on Sunday, but you better start wondering whether the Lord God Almighty hears you no matter how loud you pray. 

With informed anger and with courage born of knowing the truth about your drilling, we are here today to advance a movement of Hope against the despair by which you would shackle us.  The lovely daughters of Hope are on the march.  To put it like Dr. Terry Engelder of Penn State put it when speaking of environmental activists, we fully intend to “degrade the quality of your play.”  We are here to make the big money boys and girls on Wall Street fear any investment in the Marcellus Shale, and to ignite a nationwide disinvestment in this morally corrupt activity. 

We will continue to love you as brothers and sisters, and we will continue to hope for your change.  You will experience our hope for you as anger over what you do and courage to stop you from doing it.  We are not here to demonize you, but have come to name and describe the demon you serve and are unleashing upon us.

And we are here to tell you:

You’ve summoned up a thundercloud.  And you’re going to hear from us.

About jstephencleghorn

My name is Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn. I am now a resident of Baltimore, MD. I continue to own a 50-acre certified organic farm in Jefferson County, PA that I operated with my late wife Lucinda between 2005 and 2011 when she passed away from cancer. The farm is now under lease to organic farmers and protected by "The Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez Conservation Easement” which protects it for organic agriculture and against the threats of industrial development that would violate the Rights of Nature. The blog’s name is taken from the writings of Saint Augustine who believed “Hope” to be the greatest of spiritual gifts. And, says Saint Augustine, Hope has two lovely daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger so that what must not be may not be; courage so that what should be can be. Anger and Courage. Now in late 2016, after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, these are the spiritual gifts that must come to the fore if we are to have “Hope” for a loving culture and a sustainable world for future generations. When I first created this blog it was focused on the extreme form of fossil fuel extraction known as “fracking” that was threatening much of the state of Pennsylvania and many other parts of the United States. At the root of that struggle was and is a struggle to halt and reverse climate change. Now the struggle has turned to resisting an incoming Trump Administration that is an existential threat to the climate with its plans to ramp up extraction and use of fossil fuels. This blog will be about having the courage to stand up to the massive global corporations that would ruin our planet and its climate, take their profits and leave the mess to future generations of to clean up. We need to rise up, my friends, and be not afraid.
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1 Response to Speech at EPIC event in Ithaca, NY – June 25, 2011 – Fracking the Farmland

  1. Ruth Heil says:

    Thank you for taking me on the roller coaster ride that has been your experience. Through stories like this, everyday people — ones involved and ones disconnected — can relate and better understand. Anger and Courage is a wonderful name, and I appreciate the Hope you give. Aside from all the difficult work you are doing to communicate on behalf of anyone who cares about the ecosystem, if nothing else, this blog will set in eternity the record straight: Good people are fighting this for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.

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