I recently open water swam the entire length of my first Finger Lake – Honeoye Lake – right here in beautiful upstate, New York. The Finger Lakes Region is a world-class destination. The swim was beautiful. Awe-inspiring. And saddening. Nestled down in the Honeoye Valley, 4.5 mile long Honeoye Lake is gorgeous, but is also fragile and struggling. The water I swam through was clearer than it had been in years previous, but still contained a startling amount of algae (even out in the middle of the lake) and only several weeks after my swim the lake was cited for toxic blue-green algae formations. While this sort of water isn’t the norm in the Finger Lakes, it is cause for concern.
My next Finger Lakes Swim (8 mile long Conesus Lake) was scheduled for this coming Saturday, September 8th. What is it they say about the best laid plans? Sigh… Unfortunately I was not able to secure my boating logistics in time and so my efforts are tabled until 2013 when I plan to knock out as many of the remaining 10 lakes as I possibly can. This gives me the fall/winter/spring to solidify the staggering amount of logistics involved. Until then? Lots of training. Lots and lots of trail running (two 50k’s coming up this fall – one of them unsupported/solo). And, assuming we get enough snow this winter, I’m excited to tackle my first 50k on snowshoes in January. So, what does all this have to do with “fracking”?
Well, right now, those of us who care about our way of life have a serious fight on our hands here in New York State. The specter of Hydraulic Fracturing (a.k.a. – “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) looms on the very near horizon here in NY. An issue which – depending how quickly it affects water quality if the industry moves forward (and I hope to God that it does not) – may or may not derail my Finger Lakes Swim plans. This fight has been troubling to me and has been on my mind quite a bit as I have grown to care deeply about our beautiful waterways and cannot imagine them being destroyed by the short-sighted practice of fracking. I’m a relatively bright individual (even if I do say so myself), but I simply fail to understand the logic of repeatedly blowing up hundreds of carcinogens underground and claiming that it will not affect our environment, water quality, and – inevitably – our entire way of life. It is an absolutely preposterous claim at best. More likely it is an outright lie. Not dissimilar to the government-approved tobacco industry assuring everyone for decades that cigarettes were perfectly harmless… we all know how that played out.
I can tell you that I briefly suffered some minor but noticeable health issues following my Honeoye Lake Swim that I can only chalk up to the blue-green algae I undoubtedly immersed myself in during that swim. If “fracking” becomes a reality around here than I have deep concerns about subjecting myself to the effects of swimming polluted waters like that again. As a “canary in the coal mine” on my Honeoye swim, I can now tell you from personal experience how fragile our water systems already are – we don’t need fracking to send us over the proverbial cliff.
Having grown up in central Pennsylvania where Natural Gas production is huge – I saw the effects. I grew up in a house with a UV filter on the well because the previous occupants had suffered a variety of unremitting sicknesses for years. Only now am I able to look back and make the connection. Pennsylvania is a prime example of hard-working citizen’s best interests being out-bid by elected officials who care more about the funding of their next campaign than about the long-term well-being of their state. I hate to say that I don’t trust our elected officials to make the right decision on fracking in NY, but… quite frankly I don’t.
The more that fracking grows in the Marcellus Shale Region, the more we all run an exponentially higher chance of contaminated water sources and increasing sicknesses. Locally, organizations like the Citizens’ Alliance for a Pristine Perinton should be commended along with groups like the Coalition to Protect New York for working with townships like Perinton, NY to take a stand and acknowledge that the practice of fracking is incompatible with a vibrant future. Unfortunately, water knows no boundaries or lines on a map. And, for us here in Upstate, our water tables and bodies of water all flow north toward the Great Lakes. While I can appreciate that municipalities hours south of where I live want to make their own decisions about energy production for their immediate region, I don’t appreciate that their poor judgement could mean significant health risks for me and my family down the road.
We who enjoy the Finger Lakes Region of NY have to understand that we are currently at the epicenter of this escalating fight over the future of fracking in the United States. I can’t argue with the fact that this technology can extract needed natural gas energies for our consumption while creating needed jobs. However, it does so only temporarily, and at such an astonishingly high price and with such irreversible ecological devastation that we must halt this industry if we are to maintain an environment fit for human life over multiple generations. The alternative (as other areas of our Country and the World are finding) is permanently polluted water tables and soil stock, loss of agriculture, pollution of air supply, and devastation of communities making them unfit for human habitation. Forget about ‘economic stimulus.’ It’s awfully hard to sustain jobs in a region unfit to inhabit. Fracking is a short-sighted gain in exchange for a permanent loss.
Which leads me to my last thought for this post… I am struck more and more about the fact that we as outdoor athletes and adventurers are often on the front lines of the fight to protect not only our planet, but the daily lives we so often take for granted. We are the “canaries in the coal mine” of conservation. And conservation – whether we like it or not – is of critical importance to the sustainability of our way of life. Since we as outdoor athletes are out in woods, in the water, in the mountains, we see and experience the precursors to what is going on with our planet well ahead of mainstream society. For instance, I can tell you that we’re likely getting a very early fall here in the Northeast because as I’m out trail running lately I’m seeing changes now that don’t usually occur until late October. Something is amiss. How cold will our winter be? I’ve been pondering this idea for awhile now and wondering what obligation that places on athletes as ambassadors for protecting not only our wild places – but of speaking up about the changes we’re seeing in the ecosystems that affect everyone’s quality of life. Food for thought…
I recognize that everyone will form their own opinion on fracking and I can respect that. What I would ask is that you educate yourself on the facts before you buy into any of the crud that’s wrapped up in the advertising campaigns that will undoubtedly be bombarding us. Read up and learn. And, if you’re so inclined to join the fight against fracking, please let your voice be heard.