Note: podcast & final nonfiction paper will be posted soon
Embedded Tire Treads in Dried Mud
Jenson knelt on the thick black tarp at the edge of the holding pond with his sampling instruments. He took up two ounces of the murky water in his syringe and filled four test tubes with it. Drying his fingertips on his jeans, he peeled four labels from his clipboard and smoothed them onto the tubes. The labels read “Dimrock 2, Cabot Oil and Gas, Susquehanna County, PA, Surface Water Samples 013.”
The drill pad was quiet now that operations had ceased. The hill on which it stood had been clear-cut for drilling so not even the crinkle of dried winter leafs bothered the silence. Jenson looked up at the drill rig on top of the hill, a 200-ft-tall metal tower shaped like the scaffolding to an empty bell tower. He pulled his hard hat down to shelter his eyes from the sun. The faded Cabot Oil and Gas sticker on his hardhat was coming unpeeled and flickered in the wind.
The equipment surrounding the rig – pumps, pipes, dumpsters of mud and tanks of water and diesel – would remain until the crew packed it up on Monday. The drill rig cast a long shadow across the still pond. Jenson could hear a faint creak from the trees in the deciduous stand down slope in the heavy wind.
Jenson rose from the tarp to return the samples to his truck when he heard the gnawing sound of tires coming down the gravel access road. All the engineers, geologists and even the Company Man got transferred to wells down in Washington County when the EPA shut down Dimrock 2, pending chemical investigation. Jenson was the only one left with site access. A silver Toyota Camry with New York plates and a bike rack approached.
The car pulled up to the chain link fence surrounding the site. Jenson panicked briefly but remembered locking the gate when he had entered. A tall scruffy man with white hair got out of the car holding a rusty padlock. He was lithe and the breeze cut around him like the winter wind through leafless trees.
“Dimrock 2 is closed. No need for your protests here,” Jenson shouted to him across the dried mud parking area. Tire treads deeply imbedded in the dried ground manifested the truck traffic that used to pass through.
The lithe man proceeded with his padlock to the gate and stood fiddling with the rusty lock and key, as if he hadn’t heard.
Jenson swore to himself. He tossed down the water samples and they spilled across his flatbed as he ran to the gate.
“I said, this well’s already been shut down. You don’t need to chain yourself here anymore.” He took several thick inhales.
The white haired man looked up. “This isn’t Dimrock 2?”
“It is. But it’s closed now. Looks like news is a little slow to get north, huh?” Jenson said in a slow frank twang that revealed his Texan roots.
The man looked down at his lock. He eyed the syringe still in Jenson’s hand. “Finding much methane?” he asked.
Jenson pricked at the word. Methane, in his opinion, had been such a misunderstood science. He hated that, when people misunderstood science.
“Sure. It’s all around us. It’s a damn atmospheric component and has been since we had an atmosphere. It ain’t toxic, it’s natural.”
“Not when you pry it out of the ground like you do,” said the man.
“There’s no ‘you’ here. I’m just the chemist,” Jenson responded, “not the driller. I just– ”
“Where does your paycheck come from?” the man interrupted.
Jenson met the man’s eyes. He grimaced full of wrinkles like tire tracks in dried mud.
“What does your car run on?” Jenson asked.
The man didn’t respond.
Jenson turned and walked across the uneven dried mud to his truck. As he wiped the spilled test tubes on his jeans, he heard the car start and return down the gravel road.