Alien invaders

We’ve certainly spilled a lot of ink on the natural gas drilling issue in the last few months, but it wasn’t until last week that the situation became tangible to me.

It’s fairly easy to sit back and read all the stories and letters we’ve printed on the issue as they come past my desk, but sometimes I really need to descend from the Ivory Tower for reality to sink in.

That’s just what happened last week when an intrepid colleague and I took a little field trip into the hinterlands of Chenango County to take an up close (or as close as we could get) look at the gas drilling issue – the apparatus itself.

I’d been wanting to send a reporter out to get me some good pictures of a real, live Chenango County gas rig for quite some time. We had one set that we’ve used to exhaustion over the past couple years, and there’s only so many stock photos you can pull from the Internet (like the time I mistakenly used an oil well as an illustration) before entering cheesy territory.

So there I was, on a bucolic August day standing on Beaver Meadow Road out in East Jesus when, suddenly, the natural gas saga became less ink on paper and more metal on earth. If you’ve never seen one of these big rigs (and I’m using layman’s terms here, I know – even though I’ve become surprisingly well-versed in hydro-fracking recently) in person, I’d highly recommend doing so.

The monitoring equipment on the “inactive” well heads is strange enough to see popping up out of the wilderness, but to see a full-scale drilling rig in operation is positively jarring. In a landscape largely made up of trees, rolling hills, barns, cows and the occasional double-wide, a natural gas rig is a startling juxtaposition. A score of men crawl over its multitudinous parts, barking out orders and laboring diligently in the hot summer sun. Gargantuan in scale, these things rise up like metallic behemoths, burrowing into their pastoral surroundings with a cacophony of deafening machinery plunging tirelessly toward its prey, buried deep in the earth. If I hadn’t known, or at least expected, their true purpose, I’d have sworn we were living out Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”

Alien. That’s the best singular word I can use to describe how these machines look against our Chenango scenery. And while I’ve just now seen my first one up close, they’ve become a familiar sight in many areas of the county, landing like flying saucers in the night, netting their bounty, and often disappearing just as quickly as they came.

Funny, really, how we’ve spent considerable time and energy fighting the NYRI power line based largely on its aesthetic damage, yet we turn around and open our arms to something much more obtrusive, and perhaps destructive.

Why? Simple. No one here will get rich off NYRI. When all is said and done in Chenango County and the Marcellus Shale – that black gold, Texas tea of natural gas – is exhausted, there will be a lot of very rich people in the Land of the Bullthistle.

I think we’re all still struggling with what this new-found wealth will mean, and what it might cost us to achieve it. Much like those alien invaders, the gas companies and land-leasers have come upon us quickly and without warning. With relatively little time to arm ourselves with knowledge, I fear we may have too quickly surrendered ourselves to the promise of a quick buck.

That said, and in the spirit of full disclosure and self-awareness, I readily admit that my perception of the natural gas issue is colored by the fact that no one is interested in drilling on Fair Street in downtown Norwich. Surrounded by future Jed Clampetts, it’s easy for me to feign Mr. Drysdale.

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