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Rolling Over in our Graves Over Fracking

Would fracking under cemeteries raise the dead (or lawsuits from family members), or would it simply make the grounds easier to maintain in a down economy?

By CARRIE ELLIS, Editor, Chem.Info

Carrie EllisIt’s been confirmed. Nothing is sacred anymore. First, residential homes and churches, then parks and playgrounds, now this? Graveyards? I’m afraid it’s true. Hydraulic fracturing (or the abbreviation thereof, known as fracking) companies are now targeting the final resting places of your loved ones for plundering the earth in the name of natural gas.

Why not? After all, the U.S. has been struggling to lower our reliance on energy imports for seemingly forever, and domestically produced natural gas is one of the great resources we possess that can be tapped right here, right now. This, as opposed to other alternative forms of energy, such as solar, wind and biofuel production, which are still on their way to being scaled to a commercially viable price when competing with oil and gas in a capitalistic society. That’s just how it works.

Essentially, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the activity of fracking when it’s controlled and as environmentally non-invasive as possible. The caveat is that it is invasive, and the industry’s record isn’t quite squeaky clean when it comes to certain environmental concerns surrounding the fracturing of shale. The earthquakes in Ohio, for example, contaminated drinking water for another. While natural gas companies continue to rebuke and deny these reports, there is no doubt that something murky is going on with respect to environmental issues when it comes to shale gas extraction.

Apparently, plenty of energy is stored directly underneath old bones, and horizontal drilling can supposedly extract it without disturbing the dead’s plotted corpses. Great, but what about the bereaved who frequent graveyards in homage to the past or those who have passed?

Even if drillers aren’t working the soil directly under visitors’ feet, the sound, stink and aesthetic of the cemetery would be enough to drive away the dead. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun — blame it on my inherited sense of humor — thanks, Dad.)

However, proponents of the cemetery-dwelling shale drilling say that the revenue collected from these fracking companies would be enough to maintain graveyard grounds and roads for a valid amount of time when compared to how long the drilling crews would occupy these areas.

According to the Associated Press, “[John Stephenson, president of the Texas Cemeteries Association] leased mineral rights under two of his cemeteries within the past three years … Each is about a century old and populated with 75,000 graves. Revenue from the leases — he wouldn't say how much — has allowed him to pave roads, repair fences and make other improvements during economic hard times.”

When the rights of the buried and their families came up, the article outlined this: “Plot owners have no legal claim to the mineral rights at a cemetery … Their agreements are for an indefinite rental of sorts at the surface level — and a promise the site will be maintained.”

While I can’t blame the fracking industry from trying to get its greasy paws into the mineral-rich ground of our nation’s cemeteries, it is tantamount to sacrilege and disrespect for the dead. What I can do, however, is blame those who let it happen.

On the other hand, as there always is another hand, albeit from the grave, is, in an economy in which many industries are struggling, shall we hold back only in memoriam? Is it an issue of morality at all? Of responsibility to those buried to maintain the site, even when funds are tight? In what instances could proponents of hydraulic fracturing justify the drilling of cemetery land?

What’s your take? Please let me know your thoughts by emailing [email protected] or commenting below.

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