Sunday, June 30, 2019

Column: Desire For Riches Often Comes At The Cost Of Natural Resources

By George Block, Sunday Outdoors Columnist, Observer-Reporter

[Editor’s Note: Hunters and anglers were Pennsylvania’s first conservationists.  This is one of the reasons why.]

I find it interesting that man never learns.
Have you seen any of those old photos of places like Oil City and the ghost town of Pit Hole? You can see what happens to an area when persons wanting to make a fortune without regard for the environment or other persons.
In that region, it was oil that spoiled the land. With the discovery of some material that is in demand, the rich try at all costs to become richer. 
While I have seen far fewer paintings or photos of other places in the United States, one can easily imagine what happened at Sutter’s Mill or the Black Hills with the discovery of gold. 
Lives were lost in both places, particularly in South Dakota, where the Native Americans signed a treaty to keep the white invaders from stealing their land. 
This culminated at a juncture of the Little Big Horn and the Big Horn itself. It was the white man who broke the treaty and a good example of greed.
All that a person has to do is approach the Black Hills from the East to understand the feelings of the person who lived there for centuries. 
The hills were a beautiful gem set in the middle of a god forsaken region. Of course, anyone who even glances at history knows the death of many persons by man’s greed here. 
As long as the Black Hills were a piece of wasteland with little to offer the invaders, they stayed away and held to the treaty they had signed. Gold discovered here changed all of that. 
While unlike the oil producing areas in northwest Pennsylvania, the land wasn’t desecrated but many deaths occurred over a metal that has little use except for in jewelry. 
This same picture can be seen to a lesser degree in the mining industry.
I worked for a time in my younger years for a major steel company. Here I saw first hand illegal dumping. It saved a lot of money to just empty arsenic and such pollutants into the river. 
I was not proud then or now of what I witnessed but it was a job and money had to be made. 
Money takes precedence over a clean environment.
Later generations became more aware of pollutants and strives were taken to clean the air and waters with quite a bit of success. 
This cleaning of the waters didn’t come cheap for it takes money to clean what our father’s generation destroyed. 
But did we learn anything from our wanton polluting? 
Looking at streams such as Chartiers Creek and tributaries of the Monongahela, you would think so but there are still so many problems that need to be solved.
I mentioned those small coal mines near a relatively clean stream where monies were spent to return that stream back to clean. 
Now they are being once again threatened by these small non-operating mines in Pennsylvania. 
Many of them along the Ohio watershed are filling with acidic water and soon will be overflowing. 
Ignoring this threat is not an answer; something must be done soon. 
Most of these small mines were mined out years ago and the owners have walked away with pockets full of money, water quality be damned. 
Have we learned anything from the polluters of long ago? 
If I have learned anything, it is that people generally say give me the money today and I don’t care what our children’s future is. Let them clean up our mess.
This brings me to another question of money speaking louder than any environmental issues and the quest of the local drillers for gas. 
Those who went from poor to having a large amount of money flowing their way probably have a favorable opinion of the deep drilling and I can understand their feelings. 
It is those sitting on the fringes that one finds questioning the safety of the drilling and fracking. 
Again, in the rush to utilize the gas under the earth, we have gone about the drilling in a hurried manner as men desire to get rich. 
Money talks. 
Done right we can and should accept the usage of a new energy source, but there is no doubt it should be studied and done right. There is the problem. 
All too often, we rush to get rich and things are done with far too many shortcuts.
Another proof of my sentiment lies in nearby West Virginia, where mountain top mining takes place. Have we learned anything from this? 
Have we learned from Pit Hole and Oil City? 
I doubt it, but I hope.

George Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter which serves Washington and Greene counties and the Mon Valley.  This column appeared in the June 30 Observer-Reporter.
(Photo: George Block, Pit Hole in its heyday.)

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