Power Under our Feet – Jewish Summer Camps and The Future of Energy

Being an environmentally-conscious Jew often requires accepting a certain amount of ambiguity.  If I eat less meat, then a farmer somewhere in Iowa, perhaps, will use a bit less energy growing corn to send to Texas to be fed to beef cows.  If I don’t use electricity on Shabbat, the demand for coal will fall ever so slightly, and a mountain in Pennsylvania may be spared for a few years.  While the direct impact of my actions is ambiguous, it’s ok, because every little bit matters, and others will be inspired, and no matter what, at least I’m following my principles.

Recently, though, this has changed.  While the age-old joke about Moses finding the only place in the Middle East without oil continues to be told at Passover Seders around the globe, the fact is that the Jewish people did find oil –  just not where expected.  As it turns out, many Jewish summer camps in the northeastern United States are sitting on an abundance of natural gas.

The gas is trapped within the pores of a 350 million-year-old rock formation called the Marcellus Shale, and can only be tapped through a process called Hydraulic Fracturing, or “hydrofracking”.  Incredible amounts of water, sand, and a slew of chemicals, are pumped into the ground, where they fracture the shale and release the trapped gas.  This process is dangerous for our environment, water quality, and health.  It also presents us with a rare opportunity.  The issue of hydraulic fracturing is not abstract or ambiguous.  It is one of few environmental issues that really impact us, here, in our homes and backyards and favorite hiking spots.  It affects our bodies and the bodies of our children.  And we have the power to affect it.  Seize this opportunity.  Act!  Find out what’s happening in your local communities, your towns, and your states.  Go to your community leaders, make sure they don’t drill at your camp, or at least drill as safely as possible.  Talk to your local leaders, and make it clear that you will support them if they stand up against natural gas companies.  Attend the Shale Gas Outrage Rally on September 7th in Philadelphia.  Learn more about the issues from Keep Tap Water Safe or Food and Water Watch, and keep your friends and neighbors informed.

Concerns over the hydraulic fracturing procedure are numerous, and include the effects that building drill platforms, creating a high volume of large truck traffic, and simply increasing the amount of fossil fuels being taken out of the ground and put into the atmosphere, will have on our environment, health, and economy. 
But by far the greatest issue surrounding hydraulic fracturing is the impact it has on drinking water.  Released gas can seep into groundwater and contaminate it with high levels of Methane.  The hydrofracking fluid is pumped back to the surface after fracturing is completed, and this wastewater contains not only the chemicals originally added, but also compounds and radioactivity picked up from the rocks it penetrated.  This toxic mix is stored in waste containers that have been known to leak or spill over, or is dumped  in sewage treatment facilities that are not designed to handle the kind of radioactivity and chemicals present.  In both cases, the toxic fluid ends up affecting our watersheds.

The hydraulic fracturing boom of the Marcellus Shale presents our community with an issue around which we can take a concrete stand, and a situation in which we actually wield some power.  If you live in a state that contains Marcellus Shale, find out what your government is doing about this issue.  Show them they have your support to battle against the will to drill.  This summer, participants in Eden Village Camp’s Anafim Teen Environmental Leadership Program visited Albany to meet with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Secretary.  There they encouraged waiting to issue drilling permits until proper studies on the effects of “fracking” are completed. At the end of the meeting, they unrolled a large scroll with over 1000 names of Jewish kids and teens who have pledged to take action to protect our environment.  Created over the course of Teva’s most recent Topsy Turvy Teva Bus Tour, this megillah gave a physical form to an important message – people care, and are not going to sit idly by.

Again, though, what is unique about this situation is that you don’t have to go to a politician to make change – you can go to your local community.  Talk to your land-based Jewish organization.  Does your summer camp own Marcellus-Shale Land?  Or your JCC?   Have they been approached by a gas company?  What will they do when they are approached?  Four Jewish camps have already signed deals with gas companies, and more are in talks. Surprise Lake Camp in New York, of which Teva is a program, has pledged not to sell their land rights, as has Camp Eden Village.  Those that have signed contracts have included language requiring the companies to avoid and mitigate, to some extent, environmental damage caused by drilling.  Economic pressure may put a Jewish organization in a situation where they feel they have no choice but to make a deal with a drilling company, but this does not mean that they, and you, can’t have a say in how this drilling is done.

4 responses to “Power Under our Feet – Jewish Summer Camps and The Future of Energy

  1. Regardless of economic constraints, there is always a choice about these kind of decisions. I personally can’t defend the environmental destruction that is inherent in this drilling. We can’t compromise on what the teachings profess.
    If we don’t tend and care for the Earth, “there will be none to come after.”

  2. Thank you so much for writing about this important issue. One other thing your readers should know is that fracking has been exempted from many environmental laws as a result of the Halliburton Amendment to the Energy Bill of 2005. Yes, our old friend Dick Cheney’s company was instrumental in getting the US Congress to facilitate dangerous, polluting drilling for gas. We need a ban on hydrofracking!

  3. Shawn Bennett recently provided some very factual information dealing with oil and gas drilling and fracturing. I would like to add to Shawn’s points with some additional information. While I expect the opponents to drilling and fracturing will question many of my statements as well as Shawn’s, they all can be easily checked and found to be accurate.

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