Last week, The Observer ventured out to Conway for the UCA Shale Summit. What we thought would be a fairly dull conference on the impact of the Fayetteville shale actually turned out to be something more akin to a religious revival. We've heard about the Holy Ghost appearing as a column of fire before, we just didn't realize it was ignited by the clear stuff creeping up from the craggy formations of north Arkansas.
Arkansas Sen. Gilbert Baker started off the summit by calling the Fayetteville Shale a blessing from God. He was just the first of many speakers to claim that our natural gas boom was manna from heaven.
Gene Cauley of the Home Banc Shares board picked up Gilbert's God-ball and ran with it. “The Bible doesn't say money is evil,” said Cauley. “The Bible says the love of money is evil.” To which a fervent supporter in the crowd blurted out: “Amen!” Cauley added that he did not think it was a coincidence that the center of the Fayetteville Shale play was in Jerusalem, Arkansas.
The Observer was a little taken aback (is “appalled” too strong a word?) — again, since not five minutes before, Cauley made the claim that people who invest and work in the shale were as patriotic as our troops. Onward, you gassy Christian Soldiers.
After the presentations and a short discussion, panelists took questions from the audience. Most queries were of the “so, how great is this, really?” variety, but some audience members did manage to bring up the environmental impact of the drilling. Their concerns were quickly dismissed. While we don't know what Jesus would do, it's clear that the hot water heater in heaven burns natural gas, and He doesn't want to hear a damn thing about where it came from.
There are many issues related to gas exploration, some of which have been detailed in the Times, and there's a huge learning curve to the nature of the business and its potential impact. A public forum addressing these issues and educating the public on the pros and cons of gas exploration would be of great service to our local communities. However, this particular discussion was nothing more than a public relations opportunity for oil industry insiders and a chance for local officials to pat each other on the back. Not one opposing voice was included in the panel. Organizers said they didn't want to have an over-arching discussion on gas drilling, just chit-chat about the economic impact (read benefits).
The crowd seemed to enjoy the event, however, most of them pleased with the bounty God had bestowed under their feet. The Observer just sat quietly in the back corner, head in hand, wanting desperately to be a believer like the rest.
Ah, fall. Though the first day of autumn was officially back in September, the real, real first day was very obviously Oct. 2.
The morning was crisp and misty, without a hint of breeze. Driving east from Capitol View to downtown, at the foot of the long slope just past the Blind School, we hit a bank of fog as thick and solid as a cotton ball — the exhaled breath of the unseen river, crept up the train tracks to find us. Inside the fog, the world had been transformed into a blank page that now waited for some godlike child to create the universe. In the sky, the sun shone as no more than a white button. On the road, approaching cars swam out of the whiteness and then, just as quickly, back into it, all of us caught in what the treacherous limbo between heaven and earth must be like.
Off to the right, for the first time The Observer can remember, the dome of the State Capitol had been completely erased. Not even the tall smokestack by the street could be seen. Somewhere, not 50 feet from the road, the bronze figures of the Little Rock Nine marched forever onward toward justice. As we emerged from the fog and the buildings of the city rose before us, we imagined that in the cloak of mist that had been afforded them by heaven that morning, the statues put down their books, stretched their tired arms, then revolved in a silent dance, glad that the fever of summer had finally broken.