Trains . . . Pipes . . . Turbines

Moab Train-and-Crane CRS
Moab Train-and-Crane

My curiosity about all things energy-related started a number of years ago when we were exploring Arches National Park in Utah and my son Jordan noticed a train in the same location just outside the park, every evening, for a few days running. He loved trains, I’m a writer, so of course, we investigated. Turns out we were close to the UMTRA Project, a uranium mill tailings reclamation action project, which is a Department of Energy Superfund site–a site in need of cleanup and in need of government funding and oversight. The tailings pile is being taken by train to a better location, further away from the Colorado River and concerns of potential water contamination. This project may just be a success story, if you think that being a country of cleanups is a good way to exist.

Near Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail New Franklin, OH my photo
Near Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail
New Franklin, OH

Cleanup sites make me wonder: what are we currently developing that may need to be cleaned up when my children are adults? What will be a Superfund site forty years from now?  Closer to our home in Ohio, and western Pennsylvania, hydraulic fracturing is on my mind. Last year, my husband Gary called me at work to announce that on his favorite running path near Salem, Ohio, a crew was clearing forest to lay pipes for a natural gas pipeline. I investigated later that week, talking with the foreman and some workers on a very rainy, cold March morning. Before long, I was following pipe trucks and tracking new pipe locations. Now, my family says I can sniff out a pipe construction zone.  Will the pipes hold? Will the soil and the water be contaminated? We’ve heard plenty on the news about the wells going in, but what about these pipes?

Greg Courtney, owner
Greg Courtney, owner

And while I’m curious and concerned about pipes and wells and cleanup sites, I’m also just as curious about new energy developments that are renewables–wind and solar in particular.  Just a few months ago, I saw an ad in The Alliance Review inviting the community to an open house celebration with Greg Courtney, owner of Wind Turbines of Ohio, LLC, who would be featured on Vanilla Ice’s show, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish–I was skeptical about the authenticity of the show, having grown up near a wonderful Amish community in western PA, but I was quite curious about this wind company in my own town. Apparently, Courtney, who’s best known for his real estate ventures in our area, had supplied Vanilla Ice with a turbine for one of the show’s episodes and it was providing good publicity for his wind business. With a science writing student in tow, I spent an hour with Courtney, learning about his turbine business. Turns out he deals in solar, too, and his home is almost entirely off the grid.

These are just three examples of how my curiosity turns into research for writing projects.  While most of my time is typically spent teaching college students how to observe, research, do fieldwork, investigate, and write nonfiction, I’m now on sabbatical and have six months to research and write about some of the energy developments in the US and Canada that are in close proximity to national parks and forests, which is a concern for many who value the preservation of natural lands. Follow along to learn as I learn about the science of energy development as well as the people and places affected by it.