This is an issue that hits so close to home. From Parachute and the Roan Plateau during the past decade, to the Thompson Divide and the Roaring Fork Valley’s western geographic boundary.
The illuminating work of the Wilderness Workshop, along with many active, united voices, continues to present clear and reasonable fears about the negative impacts of the hydraulic fracking processes used by the energy resource-extraction industry. In addition to Colorado’s western slope, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota have all seen an explosion in fracking and its apparent ills, as oil companies blast through layers of oil shale with chemically treated water. The risks are toxic spills, depletion and/or contamination of groundwater and markedly increased heavy truck traffic.
Great news! These concerns may soon be gripping a wine glass near you.
An Associated Press article last October entitled “What Kind Of Wine Goes With Fracking?” reported on rising concerns in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, known for exquisite riesling production. The area, some 200 miles north of New York City, sits on the edge of the large Marcellus shale formation. Riesling, as we know from the famous vineyard sites in the motherland — Mosel, Germany — takes an ethereal affinity to shale soils, for their rich minerality and porous, drainage characteristics. The Marcellus formation stretches well south across the Pennsylvania state line where environmentalists have noted that some areas became industrial waste sites almost overnight.
The primary concern for wine growers/makers in the bucolic, postcard Finger Lakes region is the possible disruption to tourism due to increased heavy truck traffic. This region is made up of small wineries that rely mainly on vino-tourism for their business. The nature of the oil-extraction industry may not sit peacefully alongside quaint estate wineries, whose idyllic reputation as a tourist destination is as carefully tended as are it’s vines. Beyond the industrialized trucking and hauling, environmentalists fear toxic spills that could instantly ruin the area’s crystal-clear lakes, rivers and streams. At this time, Governor Andrew Cuomo is reviewing a four-year study on the environmental and health affects of fracking before initiating any guiding policies.
Following a recent article in Wine Spectator (yes, more than just point-ratings) we head to the west coast, where a prestigious winegrowing area not yet affected by fracking anxiously awaits the fallout from a sale of 17,000 acres of federal lands via leases, which were gobbled up by the oil-and/gas industry. Sound familiar? Southern Monterey County also sits atop a very large shale deposit, coveted by winegrowers and wine makers for the same geologic and agricultural reasons as New York and Germany. More than just a battle of terroir, the loudest dissenting voices here may appear a bit self-centered, as the wine industry — for whom water is everything — fears losing its number one resource. Furthermore, in addition to resource depletion/contamination and truck traffic, some geologists believe that fracking in this fault-striated region could lead to an increased likelihood of geologic disturbances, e.g. earthquakes.
Before the ground begins to rumble, the Western States Petroleum Association asserts that fracking uses minimal amounts of water next to the water-intensive wine and wider agricultural industries.
While the oil and gas industry seems to be in a wait-and-see-before-fracking pattern with respect to the fiscal results of operations in other states, the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association is looking for assurances from the lease-laden oil companies that the groundwater will remain safe. Discouragingly, the environmentalists point to the sudden destruction and degradation in those states where fracking is already being employed.
Like New York, California is working on draft changes in policies, as disparate groups like the Bureau of Land Management, the state’s Department of Conservation, its Division of Oil/Gas/Geothermal Resources and all affected county governments work — and hope — for a healthful co-existence between the opposing industries.
I’m going to come right out and say it: Don’t frack with my wine. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org .