Readers Write: Red Deer

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Readers Write: Red Deer

I woke early in winter’s bare mountains and left my tent.

The deer were hidden in the remote woods

but I knew they were there watching me.

I had almost entered a large clearing as the fog rolled in,

when they slowly came out into the open

to paw through a thin layer of snow

and feed on sweet grass—silently, peaceful.

A cautious few at a time, entering and exiting in groups

through their own folding curtains of lulling mist,

smooth as silk.

I saw about 80 in a few hours, something to behold

as I watched hidden behind a wall of trees at forest edge.

I clearly remember their scent.

Morning filled with cold lazy rain

dripping from the leafless trees, twig by twig,

flashing tiny bell-notes of refreshing pleasure.

By afternoon the clouds cleared.

Blue sky. Bright sun!

I, too, vanished, and was renewed.

Desire ran away with them without misgiving.

Until they return again, hidden behind summer’s

wall of green, to grow old there, no longer a stranger.

Stephen Cipot

Garden City Park

Author’s note: ‘80s, Grant County, West Virginia. The first overthrust folds of the Appalachian Mountains held naturally fractured deep Devonian dry gas reservoirs.

As geologist for the Kerr McGee Corporation, I was responsible for the pre-exploration geology, well logging, drilling and flow testing, approving well completions or sealing “dry holes.” KM and partners also hoped to duplicate Texaco’s northern Pennsylvania deep wildcat that hit a 16 billion cubic foot reservoir in Ordovician sands—so heavily fractured one well could drain it all.

Geophysicists said the seismic showed a “bright spot” that looked like the prolific reservoirs of the deep Gulf of Mexico.

KM had also drilled a deep dry wildcat on Brown’s Mountain anticline (WVA) that encountered the same section three times, one was completely overturned. I remembered this because college texts often said the Appalachians didn’t have major overthrusts like that—how wrong could they be? In truth, oil, gas & mining companies didn’t like to share data unless it was purely transactional.

I really wish I had kept that well log. The company had also partnered with Amoco to drill two very prolific Mississippian age asteroid impacts located at depth in the northern mid-continent that were not at the time in college texts.

Anyway, Brown’s Mtn had multiple gas traces, but it was before the advent of uber fracing that might have produced the gas.

I countenanced drill sites made a mess of the environment, clearing trees, the toxic fluid pits that remained, production fluids dumped on the ground, massive gas flares, miles of gas pipelines from well to well extending to transmission lines to utilities and to us. We were glad to be doing America’s pride of place business. (There are millions of miles of old gas pipelines in the US alone.)

Still, I considered myself something of a Henry David Thoreau, my early mentor. Geology got me outside a lot, working, hiking and camping in some of the most beautiful parts of our great country. I briefly considered the forestry service, but at the time it was mostly about harvesting and culling trees.

This story of the remote clearing with the deer was half-way up a mountain that had a new drill site near the top—an abandoned field cleared during the depression, there was an old farmhouse near the edge.

Families had moved up into the mountains to escape the drought-stricken valleys to take advantage of cooler temps and water-laden mists to sustain meager crops.

The farms are long gone but a few fields remain, relished and mowed by deer. I also ran across hunter’s blinds; that West Virginia and Pennsylvania could field a few divisions of hunters we tended to avoid drilling in deer season.

Interestingly, Google Earth presently shows that some of the same West Virginia mountain tops have large wind turbines because they can be very windy.

Drilling one well I faced a hurricane-force blizzard with a windchill of minus 60F and got stuck a while. Google Earth also reveals that a nearby large coal-fired power plant closed, local sources say it was old, inefficient, and burning coal was no longer economical. I recall its massive piles of coal and humongous coal ash waste pits.  Even for WVA, there’s progress, at last.

I soon made a switch to the USEPA’s Region 2 office where I became a Superfund project manager. Satisfaction and pride of place were to investigate and “remediate” the refuse left by modern industry that’s based on consumption. Which is a story for another time.

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