Are we doomed to repeat history with the Marcellus shale deposits in northeastern Pennsylvania?

On my morning commute today, I passed many of the same local attractions as always. A decrepit railway bridge that crosses a stretch of the river near its convergence with a smaller waterway where powdery red and orange sludge from underground mines coats the banks and waterbed. A junk-filled train yard, now showing signs of life. Piles of coal and black desert also line the route.

Everyone in this valley experiences, every day, many reminders of the unbridled exploitation of natural resources. These are so blatantly obvious that they have become bland.

As always, I passed the Twin Shaft disaster site, 58 miners entombed for eternity under hundreds of feet of rock. Their families are long dead, there is no one to remember.

We now have daily reports of trillions (with a capital “T”) of dollars of natural gas to be extracted from the mountains just north of our comfortable little post-industrial wasteland. We have news of the creation of 200,000 jobs, and of a massive investment by them that are filling the Gulf of Mexico with crude oil. These are the same types of people, by the way, who lorded it over our coal mining ancestors 100 years ago.

After so many decades below the poverty line, the people of our region welcome the opportunity to earn some money. Their concerns about the water supply are put aside so they can receive checks for what appear to be huge sums of money. Who could blame them?

Perhaps the spirits of the hundreds and thousands of miners injured and killed in the mines. They came from the old distant countries to find better lives for their descendants. They wanted their children to be educated and free from oppression and hunger. In general, they achieved that goal.

I suspect that miners would like their descendants to be smarter, to look around and know, based on lessons of the past and present, that our country’s endless need for fuel puts the environment second to the Profits. I think the miners would like their great-grandchildren to get paid to sell this fuel.

I also think the miners would know who they are dealing with. Miners made progress by forming unions at the price of blacklisting mine owners and excommunication from the church. These energy executives, like the coal and railroad barons 100 years ago, are brazenly cashing in on the world’s energy needs. We should capitalize on their need for our energy.

These companies are buying gas rights for five cents and selling them for ten cents six months from now.

Let’s organize, unite and hold on. This time, let’s pay before they take what they’re going to get anyway. With enough money, we can move around or drink bottled water. If they want our land, make them buy it at a premium.

The historical odds are that the extraction of this fuel will ruin the environment and the water supply. When the fuel runs out, the region will fall back into that stagnation typical of a decimated mining country. When that happens, the Endless Mountains will only contain endless abandoned drilling rigs, rusting equipment, towns with empty storefronts, polluted streams and rivers. The locals will look at them every day, and everything will seem normal to their grandchildren.

Whoever forgets history is doomed to repeat it.

What about those who remember?

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