Early in the legendary history of humankind — so the Bible tells us — there was an incredibly great concession that God made to our species: We were given “dominion ... over all the earth.”
Genesis put it this way: "And God said, Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth (v. 26)."
Dominion is a complex gift. And it’s loaded with weighty consequences. Even those who dismiss biblical dictates altogether will still probably agree that with any right comes the responsibility not to abuse it.
Over the course of centuries, and probably with a view to keeping us wise and humble, various poignant cautionary tales have come down to us — myths (in the deep, archetypal sense of the term used by Joseph Campbell) attempting to teach us how to live responsibly by showing us what not to do. Greek mythology is full of these stories. But we don’t need to go back that far.
Walt Disney, in fact, has provided a media version of this myth for today’s generation, many of whom don’t really read books anyway. It’s in the popular film Fantasia (1940). Disney conjured up an epic visualization of Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem L’Apprenti sorcier, or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. An early Romantic ballad by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling (“the magic pupil”) of 1797, was apparently the source that inspired Dukas’ music a century later, in 1897. As far as legends go, then, Disney’s version of the story is about as contemporary as they get.
We all know what happens when the apprentice (played by Mickey Mouse) is given the task of hauling water. He tries to take the easy way out by invoking a magic spell to make the master’s broomstick do the work instead. Soon enough we learn how shortcuts like this for personal convenience can have devastating consequences. Things get out of hand.
Why does fracking come to mind?
There are many similar cautionary tales in our collective consciousness, running the gamut from the Midas legend to Faust, from Icarus to The Man Who Could Work Miracles by H.G. Wells. They carry a similar message: Think before you act! Expediency is not all it’s “cracked” up to be!
True Then ... True Now
Why bring up these ageless wisdom stories? Because the industries that, for the sake of convenience or productivity, force the hand of nature by fracking petroleum strata underground, appear to be run by a cadre of executives who are unaware of — or simply choose to ignore — these lovely little stories.
Are they tone deaf? Why are they missing the mark? They seem “doomed to repeat” the mistakes of the past that they never quite learned. And they do so at our peril. Meanwhile, we innocent bystanders may be the ones most adversely affected by their lack of prudence.
They need to be made aware of what appropriate dominion of the Earth looks like — what good stewardship really means. Red flags are popping up everywhere: Fracking may be efficient and economical, but may also hasten the onset of geo-disasters. At stake is not just swarms of earthquakes, but also the long-term pollution of drinking water — the very staff of life.
We consumers, too, need to heed the wake-up calls brought to us in our cautionary stories and myths. Our unbridled demand for the cheapest and easiest gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels must be curbed. Incentives to buy fuel-efficient cars may be a good way to reduce the national lust for gasoline, but we need more: Legislation to regulate or ban fracking should certainly be part of an overall response to the fracking threat.
Many of us who live in California, seismically the most unstable of the lower 48, are already aware of the need not to force into the ground any unnatural “lubricants” that might encourage fault lines, mapped or yet to be discovered, to release damaging earthquakes.
Santa Cruz County has already banned fracking. And a statewide movement, Californians Against Fracking, is up and running. But we still have nearly unbridled fracking going on in many parts of California, Kern County in particular. A new nonprofit organization with an informative website, Food & Water Watch, is seeking to raise the alarm at the national level. (I just sent them a donation; I hope that the concerned reader will consider doing the same.)
The fracking news from Oklahoma is not good. A recent article by Hailey Branson-Potts in the Los Angeles Times, “Oklahoma coming to terms with unprecedented surge in earthquakes” (June 17) reports that “the state had 109 temblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013, more than 5,000 percent above normal.” But what truly raises red flags is that more than 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater have already struck Oklahoma in the first half of 2014. An article in Scientific American puts that number at over 230.
Branson-Potts’ article goes on to provide details of the temblors that Oklahomans are feeling throughout their state, with commentary and quotes from researchers in Arkansas, Texas and Colorado that only amplify the bad news.
Postlude — A Parody of “Oklahoma,” the Song
Given the enormity of the risks that Oklahoma faces, especially as fracking begins to pollute ground water and fracking-related earthquakes start to threaten real estate values, the gentle reader will excuse the perhaps surreal tone of the verses that follow. Humor has been used on many occasions in the past to relieve pain, as anyone familiar with the songs of Mark Russell or Tom Lehrer will recall.
Perhaps it is time once again, in all seriousness, to pitch a parody at this problem:
Ooo – klahoma,
Where the earthquakes rumble ‘neath the plain,
The injection wells’ unpleasant smells
Let us know what’s backing up the drain.
Ooo – klahoma,
Every night the shaking ‘neath our feet,
Makes the windows rattle, and scares the cattle,
While cracks are breakin’ up the street.
Tornadoes may strike here and there,
But the earthquakes are felt everywhere.
And when the ground . . . sinks, and buckles
‘neath our feet . . ., we’re only sayin’
“Fracks” undermine Oklahoma,
And the state’s NOT OK.
— Thomas Heck is a member of and music minister for the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are those of the author.