Fracking and Poseidon
In this week's opinion piece, Joanne Lock looks at the controversial issue of 'fracking' and compares it to ancient times
In the contest for dominion over ancient Athens, Poseidon struck solid rock at the Acropolis with his great trident. A spring of water poured forth from the crack it created.
Unfortunately, it was salty water, which the Athenians deemed less than useful on the plains of Attica. Athena's offering of the olive tree secured for the goddess patronage of the golden city state. I've been thinking about Poseidon, mighty Olympian sea-god, brother of Zeus and Hades. When the cosmos was divided, the three brothers divvied up the world between them.
Zeus became King of the Gods, ruling over the heavens and Hades got the underworld. Poseidon assumed dominion over the sea and its contents, all its tributary rivers and also over earthquakes, drought, and flood. With his trident, he could make the ground tremble, create huge tsunamis with his surging ocean chariot and cause havoc for sailors, fishermen and anyone who lived near tidal rivers or the ocean. For ancient Greece, that just about covered everyone. You didn't muck around with Poseidon. The great Earthshaker comes to mind when I read about the methods used in coal seam gas exploration - the cracking open of the earth to release bubbles of natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing (also known as 'fracking') is a deeply controversial issue in Australia and across the globe at the moment. Without going into all the technicalities, the process essentially involves drilling a hole into the shale rock where pockets of gas have collected, then forcing liquid into the space until the rock ruptures and the gas is released to the surface, where it can be captured.
The noxious mixture of liquid chemicals used in some fracking processes has had a devastating effect on the surrounding environment and the water supply in huge tracts of the USA. All life has perished -- plant, animal, fish, insect -- in some places. The water is making people sick and in reported instances, tap water has been set alight by striking a match. (If you would like to know more about the impact currently being experienced in the USA, watch the documentary Gasland. It is a frightening and mind-boggling film.)
Here in Australia, the coal seam gas industry has argued that they don't use the toxic brew of chemicals used elsewhere in the fracking process, but are simply using salt water to blow the shale rock apart. We only have to think about Rome's 'salting' of abundant Carthage to recall what salt does to agricultural land, but that's another story. Regardless of the ingredients used, many Australians are very concerned about the impact of thousands of fracking operations on our artesian water, our unique ecosystems, on the food chain and agriculture.
In an independent report tabled this week in the UK, shale fracking was directly linked to earth tremors. An Oklahoma study has also linked local fracking to earthquakes. Seismic activity is the domain of Poseidon, who already seems pretty displeased with us, if droughts, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes ravaging cities worldwide are any indication. In the mythological context, it would seem Poseidon isn't too thrilled that someone else is wielding the trident. If they had experienced a year of catastrophes as we have in 2011, the ancient Greeks would no doubt have been flocking to Sounion and other sites sacred to Poseidon, to offer appeasements to the angry sea-god.
They would have been more aware of his warning rumbles and of the consequences of his fury on their safety and livelihoods. Like the French did earlier this year, the ancients might have banned the fracking process outright as a concession to his divine power over when and where the earth might be cracked open by force. This is the 21st Century, however. We don't pay attention to the mythology of Poseidon or consider the consequences of incurring his wrath. Even when we are up to our rooftops in it.
* Joanne Lock is an independent writer and media consultant based in Brisbane. To contact Joanne or to read more of her work, please visit www.joannelock.com or message @tweetmags on Twitter.
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