Any Coloradan who’s spent a significant amount of time living or working back east knows how difficult it is to duplicate the true wilderness experiences one finds in the wide-open spaces of the Rocky Mountain West.
There are places, like along the Appalachian Trail, where a few precious hours of natural solace can be snatched from the swirling insanity along the Eastern Seaboard, but even then the crush of humanity is never far at bay.
So it’s disheartening even for Westerners to hear about the industrial intrusion that will result from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, described in a New York Times editorial observer piece Monday as a “subterranean layer of rock that runs from the Lower Adirondacks down through the Catskills and to western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.” That’s a big swath of some of the last good woods in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The author, Verlyn Klinkenborg, brings that same sense of dismay westerners are feeling in the wake of a decade-long natural gas boom in Wyoming and Colorado — in places once thought so remote industrialization wouldn’t matter:
“I’ve seen all of this before in the explosion of coal bed methane development in Wyoming over the past decade. The same arguments have been advanced — energy independence — and the same alternative, a sober national approach to energy conservation, has been ignored.
“It takes a reasonably practiced eye to see the damage coal bed methane development has done. But when the infrastructure for pumping natural gas out of the Catskills has finally been put in place, there will be no mistaking its impact — no missing the gaping holes in the forest canopy, the artificial ponds full of “fracking” fluid, the industrial damage done.
“The estimates of the energy trapped below ground in the Marcellus Shale are indeed staggering. But to get that energy, we will have to give up a good share of the biological integrity of the land that lies above it. To stand in a glade in the Catskills is to realize what a deeply troubling trade-off that is.”