Fracking Friday: Hindsight is 20/20

As I’ve read about fracking, a number of people suggest that the enthusiasm by those engaged in hydraulic fracturing is much outweighing the caution about the possible hazards of a new technology. People are acting first and asking permission–or forgiveness–afterwards.

This approach rarely ends up working out well.

This Sunday, I am going to be reading from Ithaca at a book event at TheMUSEUM in Kitchener. I will be reading with two other local writers. One of them is Bob Burtt, whose book I reviewed earlier this fall. While his book is not about fracking, it is most definitely about the environment and the dangers that occur when we figure what happens underground really can’t cause real damage. Burtt was the environment reporter at the K-W Record for a number of years, and closely followed the Uniroyal plant and the massive damage caused to the water table–damage which still exists today, 25 years later.

You’re welcome to join Bob and I on Sunday afternoon (1:30 pm) but I thought I would share with you my review of his book, a cautionary tale we can apply today to concerns about fracking:

No Guardians at the Gate: The Elmira Water Crisis by Bob Burtt 137 pages 2014

For years, residents of Elmira were fairly sure that the local chemical plant—sometimes called Naugutuck, Uniroyal, Crompton and Knowles, Crompton or Chemtura—was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it provided a significant number of jobs to the community, but on the other hand, there were signs of trouble, from dying, deformed and disappearing animals in and near the creek that went through the plant’s property to foul odours in the town’s air.

In 1989, however, the trouble became very clear when the dangerous chemical NDMA was detected in Elmira’s drinking water and several wells were shut down. This was only the beginning of the nightmare for Elmira residents. The ongoing saga of the investigation into what was polluting Elmira’s once pristine water supply, and the agonizing work to determine how best to un-pollute the water and land were undertaken by the company and the Ministry of the Environment, but mostly by and thanks to diligent work by local activists. Their stories are told in No Guardians at the Gate, written by Bob Burtt, who covered environmental issues (including the Elmira water crisis) during his tenure as a reporter and editor at The Waterloo Region Record. Burtt follows the various players in this drama as it unfolds over more than two decades.

Even today, 25 years later, it will be a long time before the groundwater in Elmira is safe enough to drink. This is an important cautionary tale which should not be forgotten and should never be repeated.

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