Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gardens in Winter

My nephew, who lives in Brooklyn, was going to visit San Antonio tomorrow but is stuck at JFK. Due to the blizzard, all flights have been canceled, the streets are closed, and trains are not running. There are even people stuck on trains.

Here in central Texas, it's a sunny, spring-like day. The recent foggy nights followed by rain have made the winter grass grow. I have not written about my gardens lately, because I have been too sad. A promoter from Houston got several hundred thousand dollars from European investors and drilled an oil well on the land next to mine, into the shale that lies just beneath the sandstone. They used hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to break up the shale, which frees the oil so it can be pumped up. The methane that comes up with the oil in this area is what's called "sour gas" -- that is to say, it has a high sulfur content. So now, every north wind brings the smell of hydrogen sulfide. I have not had the water tested yet. The well operator assured me that they were casing the well with concrete down to 700 feet, which is below the level of the water. The theory is that this will keep oil, gas, and fracking fluid from entering the aquifer.

When I bought this land, I knew that it was in an oil field. Also, I benefit from oil and natural gas on a regular basis, to run my vehicle, to heat my house, to ship my food to the store, to operate the machinery to grow and harvest the food, to produce fertilizers and pesticides (to the extent I do not use "organic" food and fabrics), to create plastics and synthetic fibers. As I look around the room where I now sit, few of the objects in the room would be here without oil. So it would be wrong for me to feel angry. Instead, I am sad about the choices we humans have made, to trade our land and water for oil. According to the information I can find online, most of the oil used in the U.S. (the largest oil consumer of any nation in the world) is used for transportation and shipping. In fact, it looks as though more than half the oil purchased in the U.S. is used to make gasoline to run cars. Only a small fraction is used for shipping goods. I have not found a carefully researched table about where people go when they're burning all that gasoline, but based on observation, I'd expect to find that most of the gasoline used in cars is to go to and from work and to shop.  So we could make a huge dent in the amount of oil used simply by living close to where we work and shop. Changing zoning laws to allow businesses and homes to coexist should significantly reduce oil consumption. In addition, I imagine it would make life far more pleasant for most people. I've always arranged to live close enough to my work place to walk or ride a bicycle, because I hate driving cars through rush-hour traffic, or riding in buses or trains. I especially enjoy walking, just going out the door and walking to work. I'm definitely no saint, though. I walk to work because I enjoy doing it, not specifically to reduce oil consumption. If the weather is rainy, I drive. If I need to take home a lot of paperwork, I drive. Not to mention driving between San Antonio and the country place once each week and driving 30 miles to buy milk.

Anyway, I have been so sad about the oil well next door that I have not felt like writing. But I'm not one for feeling sad without thinking of things to do to remedy the situation. Sometimes, that means actively doing something, such as moving. It would certainly be easy enough for me to move. I still own the land at Altamira, just a couple of miles from here as the crows fly.  But in the present case, I've decided to change my point of view, rather than moving. It will be an interesting challenge to make beautiful gardens in the midst of ugliness. I will put plant living windbreaks that will absorb at least some of the hydrogen sulfide. If the ground water has been contaminated, I will install a rainwater collection system.

I will get guineas to eat the grasshoppers and use Nolo bait in the spring.

With respect to excessive driving ... most people will probably stop doing it when the price of gasoline goes up to $6 or $7 per gallon, or they will shift to engines or motors that do not burn oil. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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