40 Gallons a Pint: Fracking’s threat to beer in Illinois

It takes almost 40 gallons of water to produce a single pint of beer. In 1516 the Germans adopted the beer purity law, called the Reinsheitgebot. That law prescribed that only three ingredients could be used: barely hops and water(They didn’t understand the microbiology of yeast yet). Brewers have been flirting with that basic equation for centuries, but the common denominator to all beer is water. In fact, more than 90% of beer is water. But there’s more to that seemingly simple equation. Accessibility, cleanliness and mineral content are all critical components to producing quality beer, and now that balance may be in jeopardy.

Why should the average consumer care? What if it meant that favorite brew would cost three, four or five times what it cost now. With the average 6 pack costing on the order of around $9 or $10 dollars, that means a 6-pack could cost anywhere from thirty to sixty dollars, as a number of brewers and industry analysts have predicted. Sound far-fetched? Guess again. That reality could be hear sooner than you think. And if anything should get Americans to sit up and take notice of corruption and mismanagement by their government, it has to be threats to beer. Having to pony up 40 bucks for a six pack might finally bring Joe six pack out into the street.

Brewers such as Big Muddy Brewing in Southern Illinois could be forced out of business as  access to clean water is imperiled

Brewers such as Big Muddy Brewing in Southern Illinois could be forced out of business as access to clean water is imperiled

Legislation in Illinois could put regional brewers, bars, distributors and restaurants out of business overnight, affecting thousands of jobs and costing the state, already hard hit by unemployment, millions of dollars. This on top of the damage to the environment, devastated water supplies, ruined farmland and more. Here a bit of science offers glimpses of a looming environmental and economic catastrophe. At the core of that issue is water, its availability and the protection of a resource far more important to life on this planet that gas.

The new Madrid and Wabash valley earthquake zones could be affected by fracking.

The new Madrid and Wabash valley earthquake zones could be affected by fracking.

Much has been made about mounting evidence that fracking causes earthquakes. There are fears that fracking in eastern portions of southern Illinois could stress what many scientists fear is the unstable Wabash Valley Fault zone. That was the conclusion of the British government after a series of small quakes was linked to nearby fracking wells. Much of the European Union has already, or is in the process of strictly limiting fracking because of a broad spectrum of threats from water safety, environmental damage to quake hazards and economic worries. The United States has instead turned a blind eye to those concerns, instead pandering to fracking interests.

Fracking will negatively impact southern and western portions of the state, areas already burdened with limited fresh water availability

Fracking will negatively impact southern and western portions of the state, areas already burdened with limited fresh water availability

For Illinois, it comes down to this-where is the water? Geologic and hydrologic surveys are nakedly clear, as are historical maps of habitually drought affected regions of the state. Simply stated, water is more abundant adjacent to the Mississippi River, northern Illinois and nearer to lake Michigan. Thousands of fracking rigs are slated to sprout like some rusting forest across regions of the state pushing carcinogenic chemicals to pulverize thousands of feet of rock, pushed by millions of gallons of water for each rig. That water, filled with chemicals, and impossible to clean must be segregated forever in EPA approved pools. But underground, no one knows what the damage to the environment or to aquifers supplying water to communities.

The areas, alarmingly, most affected by fracking, and where the majority of fracking rigs will be built are portions of the state in which that precious resource are barely maintaining their delicate balance between sustaining the land, farms and communities. More frequent droughts attributed to Global Warming will pose a mounting threat apart from fracking. Farms in that rich and expansive region have already faced significant hardships and losses. The exponentially huge burden by frackers on the water supply will exacerbate that already acute situation.

Drought patterns for 2012. 2013 will prove to be even more acute

Drought patterns for 2012. 2013 will prove to be even more acute

All of this begs a deeper question regarding the cost effectiveness when viewed strictly in economic terms. Too often, and fracking is but the latest episode of this sort of short-sighted thinking. The fracking controversy illustrates how industry bullies through legislation with little regard to the long term ramifications. The failure to innovate towards clean and renewable sources of energy in favor of short term windfalls and periodic “gold” rushes has left terrible destruction and messes yet to be dealt with in their wake.

Fukushima Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island are cases in point. Despite those terrible nuclear catastrophes we must now deal with millions of tons of nuclear waste which will remain deadly for thousands of years. The gold rush of the 18th century cost the lives of as many as 100,000 Native Americans butchered in the orgy of greed in which only a very few profited. The environment was devastated and untold towns that sprang up overnight were eventually abandoned altogether.

So what does this have to do with beer? A number of down state, Missouri and Kentucky brewers, wine makers and the infrastructures supporting them would be devastated by damage to the availability of clean and secure water. Remember, state lines mean nothing to mother earth. An accident that corrupts an aquifer could destroy whole communities and spread beyond Illinois borders.

Brewers are already becoming alarmed by the threats to water supplies posed by fracking. In Germany the Brauer-Bund beer association has aggressively and successful challenged fracking initiatives. In New York last year Brewers, warning that fracking would drive them out of business won a moratorium on fracking. But in Illinois, the allure of fast return and the promise of thousands of jobs, and certainly political “favors” are driving a short term policy that will leave long term destruction in its wake. Sadly, the reality is that those jobs will be short term, and that only a fraction will remain only to be lost ultimately once the wells dry up.

So enjoy that beer now while you can afford it, because if unrestricted fracking is allowed in Illinois it’s going to cost you plenty, over the counter, when the bill comes for the cleanup and for all of those displaced from homes, jobs and communities. A remember, it’s great to run a tab and be the life of the party, but every party comes to an end. Then, it is time to pay the tab. The problem is, the politicians and frackers are running up the tab but sticking the rest of us with not only the bill, but the clean up as well.

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