Breaking the Mountains

Breaking the Mountains

As another summer field season has come to a close, I felt it would be most appropriate to end the way we began the summer.  Thanks for following our blog this summer.  We will be posting monthly from now until April.  When we begin to gear up for the next field season in April, we will begin posting weekly again.

Over the past five years, I have spoken with quite a diverse group of people including landowners, hunting/fishing club members, outdoor enthusiasts, directional drillers, well pad supervisors, private security personnel, policemen, state and federal game land managers, scientists, and legislators.  These conversations have varied from cordial to confrontational and have been as informative as the results of much of our scientific research.


Many of my pre-conceived notions or first impressions about how a particular group of people would respond were wrong.  One example is about a conversation that I had with several members of a private hunting camp we ran into in the backwoods of Moshannon State Forest.  Largely because of the media’s depiction of fracking being aligned with political parties, I assumed that these two friendly sportsmen from the Wilds of Pennsylvania would be of the “drill baby drill” mentality.  Through my conversation I quickly came to realize that while these two fellow sportsmen were indeed conservative (and likely republican), they were not pro-Marcellus.  In fact, quite the opposite was true.  They began to explain how the spring that used to provide fresh drinking water to their camp had all but dried up since the recent development of a well pad located just a short distance uphill from their camp.  They expressed to me their concern for the feasibility of being able to continue to use the camp with the shortage of water, as the shift to a “dry” cabin would mean a considerable change.  Further, these elder sportsmen voiced concerns over this having cascading effects, causing their sons to lose interest in visiting the camp and carrying on the sportsman tradition for future generations.  I feel like the students and I learned as much from these sportsmen as they did from us on that day.

Out of all the conversations that I have had, there is one that stands out as the most straightforward and poignant.  So, it only makes sense that this conversation was with a 4 year old.  We crossed paths with a young boy and his father while we were on a sampling trip in the PA Wilds and he asked what we were doing.  I tried to wrap my head around how to explain our research to someone who did not yet grasp the basic principles of science, let alone energy demands, politics, money, and the all-encompassing topic that is Marcellus Shale.  So I tried to explain in simple terms the process of fracking, why it is important, and why it is also important to protect the last remaining wild streams and forests in Pennsylvania.  I said nothing more than necessary, and was careful to not bias his interpretation by suggesting or imposing any of my personal beliefs on the subject.  To my surprise, after a few moments of silence the boy posed a question to me that was both simple and profound. He said “Why are they breaking the mountains?”

I leave you with that thought as we wrap up another field season in the Wilds of Pennsylvania.

Christopher Grant