Readers Write: Illuminations

Readers Write: Illuminations

I’m going into the lonely hours
with the waning moon
and polite stars,
into the distances that separate towns
one from another.

Stephen Cipot

Garden City Park


Author’s note: There is often a story behind a story.  Here are a few.  When I was a geologist for big and little oil companies, I traveled to distant work locations, often at night by car.  The poem is a Tanka reflecting on that time.

I once went from Ft. Worth to Port Arthur by corporate jet, then drove into the boonies of the Louisiana bayou, where we drilled two deep gas wells next to each other.  The second well crossed what’s called a “growth fault” that had the same producing zone some 1500 feet deeper than the first well.

The sedimentary section was thicker across the fault because over time the continual loading of sediment carried by the Mississippi River created the fault which continued to “grow” with the loading of ever more sediment on one side vs the other, and thicker, deeper layers.  Sand, mud, and silt entrained by the river enters the Gulf of Mexico and settles out.  The delta was built up this way, we only see its limited expression at sea level.  The delta is over 30,000 feet thick.  The river averages a sediment load of 436,000 tons/day that varies locally due to mid-continent erosion events, rainfall, runoff, snowfall, etc.

To control seasonal flooding and promote steady river traffic to and from the Gulf, much of the river’s flow was normalized to one main channel instead of allowed to naturally flood and traverse multiple snaking routes across the delta.  According to Wikipedia, the Mississippi River accounts for 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports, 60% of the feed grains (78% of the world’s feed grains), 20% of the coal, and 22% of the nation’s oil and gas shipments (50% of U.S. oil is shipped overseas).


A benefit of channeling flow and making canals and levees is that major developed areas like New Orleans are spared flooding, but the downside is that the broader delta is starved of new sediment and continues to sink and subside from the compaction and dewatering of deep sediments.  The delta naturally sinks; areas that no longer receive seasonal floods and sediment sink faster measured in inches per year.  This is additional to the threat of global sea level rise.  Much of New Orleans is below sea level, its levies are a temporary fix.

Moving along, when I lived in Oklahoma City, sometimes I traversed the same roads Karen Silkwood travelled and passed her place of work, including the lonely stretch of the tragic accident.  I joined the company after Silkwood’s death, when her family was involved in a ten-year lawsuit with my company.  Before I was transferred to Pittsburgh.

One day out of the blue while performing wellsite work in PA, I was called back to the Oklahoma City board room.  Little did I know the company had leased the mineral rights to undeveloped parts of Jersey City and Hoboken/Meadowlands and had cored and mapped shallow economic deposits of titanium dioxide.

But management was puzzled why they were unable to obtain a strip-mining permit. The sales and chemical folks already arranged tentative contracts to supply paint and battery manufacturers with titanium.

I was told they “never experienced such outright denial anywhere in the world, did I know someone in the state they could go through to help move things along?”

I did not, subtly adding I doubted New Jersey would allow strip mining there because, quote, they do things differently in the northeast.  I was summarily excused.  I like to think I had something to do with the deposits remaining undeveloped.

At the same time the USEPA/DOJ Dallas sued the company for not implementing the cleanup of a large drum dump in Oklahoma—a big case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The company actually won “No Action with Monitoring” primarily because during the trial the state of Oklahoma pulled its support to side with the company.

Later, when I was working for the USEPA wearing a “white hat,” the USEPA/DOJ sued my former company in N.J. District Court and won a $5+ billion case for fraudulent conveyance (EPA wanted $14+ billion to cover cleanups of 2,700 sites in 47 states but the court reduced it).

No one went to jail.  People I used to work with became very wealthy.  The successor company also had a stake in the Deep Water Horizon disaster.  Business as usual.  I also put together an investment group to buy my old division when it was up for sale.  Alas, stories for another time.

What does this have to do with a short poem?  Putting things on the line, the poem has its germination from that period.  I hope readers enjoy it.

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