Robin Blakeman: What does Clay Center teach with exhibit sponsored by driller?

By By Robin Blakeman

A question every good parent asks themselves at some point: How can I best educate my child for the future they will inhabit?

Many parents supplement their children’s education by taking them to quality museum exhibits, both locally and nationally. This is considered “enriching” to a child’s educational curriculum. A new collusion between the gas industry and the Clay Center, however, has some very large question marks around that time honored educational practice.

The new million dollar traveling exhibit, titled “Power your Future” — built with funds from EQT, one of the most extensive unconventional gas drilling (fracking) corporations operating in the state — is nothing more than a propaganda machine. EQT is one of our major out-of-state landlords, owning approximately 3.4 million acres — including about 630,000 acres in the Marcellus Shale play, more than 13,000 productive wells, and 10.7 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas and crude oil reserves, according to their website. While they claim to be a good neighbor in the Doddridge County area, individual reports from residents near their operations often tell a different story.

EQT claims to be playing an important part in providing a somewhat cleaner burning “transition fuel” to meet the nation’s energy needs. This is debatable, as was recently observed in an article in Scientific American:

“Natural gas will not be a bridge fuel to a post-carbon future in the absence of an overarching climate change policy, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Nature.”

That’s because the fuel is likely to displace low-carbon renewable energy sources as well as coal from the energy mix, the study finds. So the net impact on global warming of using abundant supplies of natural gas would be rather small, said Haewon McJeon, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and lead author of the paper.

The issue of natural gas providing “cleaner” energy is also highly questionable due to methane emissions and other pollution issues at the fracking drill sites, compressor stations and waste disposal facilities. Some of the tailings from these wells contain radioactive materials, and these are currently being dumped into our state landfills. The “produced” or “flow-back” water from these wells (millions of gallons per well) is laced with toxic chemicals, many of which are not reported to local first responders, medical professionals or nearby residents. If EQT wanted to provide a true educational resource for our communities, they could fully disclose the waste products and chemical compounds used and processed in their fracking operations.

While parents and students in the Charleston and Huntington area may not be as familiar with the problems of fracking for gas and oil, the problems of these practices may soon be upon us. The Rogersville Field is a deep shale field underlying Wayne, Cabell, Putnam, Kanawha and parts of other counties, which is currently being tested for commercial fracking potential.

If and when this field is drilled, it is very likely that the future of our area’s drinking water will be at peril. This is because the oil and gas industry has not solved its waste disposal dilemmas in any kind of effective way.

Also, the Rogersville Shale test wells are up to 10,000 feet deeper than the current depth of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. We could find our region essentially becoming the site for experiments in super deep fracking. There may well be a steep decline in property values, which will eventually undermine the tax base for our school systems, and our children’s economic futures. Surface owners in the north-central part of West Virginia, and surrounding Marcellus and Utica shale regions often report problems obtaining home or property owners insurance when an unconventional gas drilling operation moves in next door.

The EQT / Clay Center exhibit is a very high-tech way to indoctrinate kids into being submissive objects in the oil and gas industry fracking game plan for this state and region. Is this really the kind of “educational programming” we want for our future West Virginia scholars and leaders? It could be just as regressive as the recent decision by the state Board of Education to deny our children accurate science on climate change — the most critical issue to be faced by their (or our) generation. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles: we need to wake up and ask, “What are we really doing to our kids?!”

Robin Blakeman is an eighth-generation southern West Virginia resident, a mother, a faith community leader and an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

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