The Sands of Time


Shawnee News Star Sunday February 18th 2018

Becky Emerson Carlberg

It is a challenging time in the writing world for those of us Olympic junkies.   I start a sentence and yells come from the TV set on Channel 4, my Olympic station.   Minutes later I sit back down toand yet again another historic moment occurs.   Away I go to watch dare devils perform in blowing snow, their frosty breath a testimony to how cold it is in the South Korean mountains.

The XXIII Winter Olympics are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea, from the 8th to the 25th of February. The American athletes wear white parkas, skates or skis and many are accompanied by their own personal cheering squadstheir families.   The Olympics are a young adult's sport, for the most part, and family support is clearly visible.

About 70% of South Korea is mountainous and now covered in natural snow in contrast to the Olympic alpine ski runs with 98% of their snow produced by the Michigan company Snow Makers Inc.   In some areas an inch of snow was on the ground when the competitors arrived.   In preparation, a lake had been constructed and filled with water from a local river.   The Snow Maker company has a fiber optic system that links portable radio snowguns to hard-wired networks that deliver real-time instructions.and man-made snow.   This is the seventh Olympics for the snow makers, so they must make some good stuff.

My article links to the previous 'Tools of the Trade' story the week before. At 10 am, between the Mesonet and Ethnobotany talks, Jona Tucker of The Nature Conservancy set off alarm bells about sand quarries. As I listened, I was reminded of what was happening behind my parent's home on the next hill.   Southeast Oklahoma has become the source for landscape rocks and little quarries have popped up all over the place.   They do not just dig holes, they level hills as the rock is removed.   Landmarks disappear and tree covered ridges are no more.   When they play out the area, all that is left is a changed topography and patches of barren land.   Mines and quarries are quite popular in poorer areas such as southern and southeast Oklahoma because they provide jobs.   This is also why Farrell-Cooper Mining Company, strip miners, tore through the hills just miles to the west of my folk's home.   The days when rocky soils and mountains prevented human plundering are no more.   It appears that almost any place on earth can be mined, farmed, colonized or transformed into human landscapes.  The only limiting factor is water.

Jona is the director of Pontotoc Ridge, Oka'Yanahli, Boehler Seeps and Sandhill Preserves in southern Oklahoma.   The Cross Timbers ecosystem is home to a diverse population of wildlife supported by hardwood forests, wetlands, prairies and limestone outcrops and includes several rare species. Jona's parents were real estate agents 'Selling southeast Oklahoma to the world.'   Some of their clients translated that to mean 'Run naked and shoot their guns in peace.'

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The water of the Arbuckle Plains is provided by the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquafer.   The prairie recharges the streams. Byrds Mill Spring, largest spring in Oklahoma, supplies Ada with water.   Durant depends on the Blue River.

Below the Arbuckle Plains lies folded and vaulted limestone and granites.   Above ground have evolved plant communities adapted to droughts and floods. Millions of years ago high-grade silica sands were deposited in southern Oklahoma in swaths that varied from 5 to 20mile widths up to 200 feet deep stretching to the Oklahoma Arkansas border.   The Simpson Formation lies below Pontotoc, Johnston, Murray and Carter counties.   In 2017 Pontotoc Sands Company LLC opened next to Pontotoc Ridge Preserve.   The operation runs 24/7 with floodlights constantly in use (the lights can be seen from Shawnee), the air fills with dust and 18 to 20 blasts are set off per day.  An ecological disaster awaits if the aquifer is punctured.   The quarry supplies Tier 1 sand used in fracking (tied to earthquakes) as well as high end industries.   Jona has learned permits have been issued as far east as Mena, Arkansas for 2018.   Untilled landscapes of the prairie are being turned into industrial landscapes with absentee owners who live out of state. The local residents live in houses with cracked walls, unpredictable ear-splitting sounds, dust that covers everything, increase in respiratory illnesses and dried up or contaminated water wells.

How toxic does it have to be?   It's only sand, right?   These sand quarries are setting up shop next to places of beauty, valuable ecosystems, and in communities across Oklahoma.   The quality of your life and your water is at stake.

Sand is the basis for concrete and asphalt, fiber optics, glassware, computer processors and even filtration devices.   The skyrocketing demand is global with China the major consumer.   In Indonesia, sand miners have obliterated two dozen islands in twelve years and the sand goes to Singapore.   Sand mining can cause catastrophic damage through dredging, erosion, alteration of river paths, collapse of buildings and bridges, impacts on aquafers, wells and wildlife.

What can you do?  Jona presented good ideas:   Contact your local, state and national representatives.   Seek legal advice.   Persevere and pester everyone every week.   Do not let them forget you are in the fight for your life and your earth.   Work to protect and preserve the natural places.  Reconciliation Ecology preserves habitats in human-dominated ecosystems.   Mining companies and nature preservationists can work together in an effort to save what still exists and reduce the impact of mining as well as assuring clean water.

On March 5th, 2012, Daniel Arbess wrote in the New Yorker: 'Root cause of everything we are experiencing is a failure of holistic thinking in a world of increasingly complex, fragmented and ubiquitous information.'

It's time for us to focus and come together to keep our earth vibrant and alive.  Earthling, do you value your water?   Water's future looks precarious.