To Whom It May Concern
A Student’s Letter on Fracking
The following was sent to the SAVE ABITA blog this evening by a Lakeshore High School Junior. With all of the ranting and raving going on, we thought it would be interesting to share this student’s surprisingly level-headed thoughts.
Drilling in Louisiana usually proceeds unopposed, but when St. Tammany’s precious aquifer is challenged, none are excluded from the protest. Just in case you haven’t been watching, the St. Tammany Parish council has arisen at the the proposal of fracking directly through the aquifer and has yet to stand down, despite the permanently seated nature of its governor. The Parish council has lifted its sword to the dark, dripping oil dragon and incited a battle of mythic proportions: in one corner of the ring, Helis Oil, and in the other, St. Tammany Parish council with indignant citizens in tow. The bell rings, the battle rages, the judge begins to sweat, and almost completely unnoticed sidles in the most unlikely of allies: a little frog.
When used to describe a nearly nonexistent three-inch frog, the phrase “last hope” might sounds a little extreme to you, but in this situation it isn’t far from the truth. The newest proposed fracking site is 1,500 acres of land right across the way from Lakeshore High School, owned by the singular Poitevent family. This land is the only known land in Louisiana that can support the extremely endangered Mississippi Gopher Frog, or Dusky Gopher Frog. These frogs only breed in highly specialized, ephemeral ponds, five of which exist on the contested land. U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Gulf Restoration Network all rushed to the creature’s aid in the lawsuit to uphold that this fraction of the Poitevents’ land is critical to gracing the South with the frog’s dusky presence. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is willing to work with the landowning family and allow them to develop their land in cooperation with frog territory. This is the first time that the department has attempted to conserve land on the basis of its potential benefits, and winning this lawsuit could gain new respect for the department and the endangered species itself. This is also the second natural piece of Louisiana’s identity that could conceivably be destroyed by hydraulic fracking. Both the frog and St. Tammany’s aquifer artery are growing more endangered by the second.
However, the other side of the story cannot be ignored. The value of the land, with proposed developments, that Poitevent is so valiantly defending is about $36 million dollars. Even though the U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries has agreed to cooperate with Poitevent and allow him to continue developing around the designation, he fears that his applications will be rejected. Another compelling point of indignance is the fact that the Dusky Gopher Frog does not currently reside on the designated land, and the task of establishing them there would definitely cost. Above all, Poitevent is under no obligation to allow the frogs to be introduced into his land, and has states already that he definitely will not allow them, for fear of the frogs spreading to other property and infecting it with the same critical status.
Whether the frog will be introduced or not, the designation of critical land could be the saving grace for St. Tammany’s untouched aquifer. If Poitevent’s land is christened critical, that’s one more roadblock for one more shale-breaking operation, but also one fresh new standard set for federal involvement on private property. Is this land really so relevant as to be allocated by the the wildlife agency? Is it worth it for the frog? And a weightier question: is it worth it for the water? Since the time of the Native Americans this aquifer has attracted the masses due to its unrefined, yet restorative nature. When so much as a notion of contamination reaches the ears of the public, panic ensues. So why risk two centers of St. Tammany celebration: the water and the wildlife? Is the risk too miniscule to matter, or are the pleas of the public too insubstantial? Will the parish hold off the blackest dragon, or will its shimmering temptation prove too plentiful? The battle is not yet won, but soon all will know where exactly St. Tammany Parish’s allegiance ultimately rests.
(Driving to school on a half filled tank of gas, a Lakeshore High School student might look out at the misty, peaceful sunrise and expansive pine forest wonder what it would look like disrupted and bare, ornamented only with the towering silhouette of an oil rig. I invite you to also look at the strangely extraordinary sunrise that I see and wonder the same thing. Next I ask you to look at your gas meter and think about the next time you need to visit the gas station, and maybe you can take a sip from your clean tap water in your plastic water bottle afterwards. Please ponder just a little while what those towering silhouettes would be worth to you and your life, and if the convenience would be worth the consequences.)
Lakeshore High School Junior