an idyllic pasture nearby Wyalusing, Pennsylvania.
Once planned as Marie Antoinette’s home-in-exile,
loyalists promised shelter, security, clean water.
Come turn of 21st Century, devolved progress,
W. Bush and Cheney’s Energy Task Force
persuaded E.P.A. to exempt hydraulic fracturing
from stiff drinking water regulations,
and natural gas drilling companies got
“green light,”and began to slam
Marcellus Shale rock with Ottawa Sand
and dubious fracking chemicals
(a.k.a. “The Halliburton loophole”),1
and proceeded to liberate natural gas trapped
between ancient shale’s vertebrae disks.
From atop majestic Wyalusing Rocks, behold –
Active natural gas wells, pipelines,
water tank-trucks staged beside Susquehanna River,
¼ mile from historic Marie Antoinette Azilum.
One Sunday morning, Summer 2008,
as millions of gallons of fracking chemicals
were daily injected into subsurface shale,
I supervised cleanup of a gas drilling company’s
accidental release of muddy bentonite clay into
SURFACE land surrounding a farmer’s pond.
Worried his cows would inevitably drink
polluted water, an old farmer
approached, asked “how toxic is this stuff?”
Fairly benign, I replied, but keep cows away
from pond all day,
your land should be safe by sundown.
I watched cows roam pond perimeter,
and the farmer sat on porch,
wore Confederate cap, smoked corn cob pipe,
read his bible, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
By Noon, our work crew took break,
and the farmer approached the scene,
wife Anna dead twenty years, he needed to talk.
Removed hard-hat, sweat poured from brow,
I listened to the farmer’s story, coughs and wheezes:
“You know sonny, I been around since F.D.R…,
was a poor man until highfalutin’ gas drillers
came around town,
offered oodles of money for what’s beneath my land.
Bank account grew, but every night, bones still ached,
and I can’t help but worry about the condition
Earth’s spine is in…, after all those punishing years.”
Nodded head, I let him continue, uninterrupted.
“Yup, you know sonny, when one thinks ’bout it,
the Earth’s shale’s akin to an old man’s bones.
Earth’s old curvy spine has natural gas
build-up between rock formations…,
it’s just like what I got, gel-fluid shock absorber sacs
in between what Doc Marmo long time ago
called my ‘shot-to-hell’ lower back disks.”
The farmer kicked empty Quaker State
motor oil can, a chicken flapped wings, he continued:
“You know gosh-darn well, something has to give.
My property, after decades of pounding
and supporting tractors and heavy cows and all,
I’m figuring underground shale’s ‘gonna
and Earth’s ‘gonna suffer severe ruptured shale,
like the lower back earthquake I had, Winter 1996.”
Considered farmer’s unorthodox prophecy,
the “Halliburton Loophole,”
and Third Estate assault on Bastille.
I wobbled for a while in mud, checked sand bag dam
which stopped bentonite flow into creek water.
Marie Antoinette never saw a farmer
run away from a natural gas well blow-out.
The Wyalusing dairy farmer never saw the Queen’s
escape from revolutionaries,
her futile flight toward Austrian border.
Seated upon exquisite horse drawn carriage,
Marie’s back started to hurt,
herniated disks dangerously bulged,
severe nerve pain shot down legs,
and 20 more miles to travel on dirt roads.
ground fracked under carriage wheel weight,
Marie held beloved gold watch to heart, turned,
watched French posse approach from south.
Driver Pierre fretted about excessive baggage
stored within royal carriage compartment.
In time distance, BEHOLD –
An EU farmer worked Royal family coffers,
fracked natural gas from Weald Shale Basin,
profited, cried, “God Save the Beheaded Queen!”
- In recent article, Paul Craig Roberts emphasized inevitability of US government regulatory agencies becoming beholden to industries, in some particular cases, large corporations, for one good example, Halliburton. Under guise of spurring the economy, “creation of good jobs,” natural gas hydraulic fracturing enterprises have formed a solid bond with influential politicians and regulators. In meantime, citizens concerned about life and the environment must assume the farmer’s quake-theory (in this poem) and I are utterly full of gas. [↩]