ANNE BROWN’S E-MAILS ABOUT WINTER NIGHTS, 2017
Every year religious organizations in Contra Costa County band together to provide shelter and warm meals to homeless families and senior citizens. They are our guests. This year St. Anselm’s is partnering with the 7th Day Adventist Church, Antioch; the Christian Science Church, Pleasant Hill; the Neighborhood Church, Walnut Creek; and the Walnut Creek United Methodist Church. Our guests live at St. Anselm’s for two weeks in October. St. Anselm’s provides meals the first week and our partners provide meals the second week.
Eva Woo set up St. Anselm’s portion of this year’s program, just as she has in past years. She coordinated with Winter Nights central staff, recruited and instructed St. Anselm’s volunteers, and set the schedule of activities. She also cooked some of the meals.
Anne Brown monitored day-to-day activities to ensure things ran smoothly as possible and figured out what to do when they didn’t. Anne also wrote e-mails to St Anselm’s participants, telling them about the events that took place. The e-mails tell the human story of this remarkable endeavor with grace, warmth, and hope. In fact, I’ve been so taken with them that I’ve saved them so you can see them below, unedited. They make me proud of the parishioners who served our Winter Nights guests this year and the many years that have gone before.
Day 1 – Winter Nights Launch
You already know from Eva that we’ve started with two families, single moms with 1 son each. This afternoon we’re expecting 4 more families, bringing the count to 15! Both moms are very nice. The older boy is 4 and already has his favorite toy – a fire engine with a siren. Luckily the siren has an on/off switch! He was loving it, but we adults weren’t. The younger one is just a year old, very bright and friendly, good at blowing kisses, and already knows some words.
One of the moms is 2nd generation Winter Nights. Her mom and 4 siblings were with us 2 years ago. She wasn’t with us, because she was out on her own, working. Since then, she has fallen on hard times and was glad when her mom suggested Winter Nights.
Our teams yesterday were very efficient. Mike Hollinger, Greg Rodolari, Doug Merrill, Al Swimmer (who came to do something else and got roped in to help), Eva, Fr.John, and I helped to unload the truck, which brought all the supplies in the morning.
Then in the afternoon, our set-up team arrived – the two Rinkenberger-Zhang boys, Dale and Allen, along with members of their Scout troop, their Scout master, and their dad, J.P.. They washed off the high chairs that had been in storage all summer, set up 6 tents, in what seemed no time flat, put pillow cases on pillows, set out bedding, moved tables and chairs around, and did all that needed to be done. In the midst of all that, they had time to connect with the two little guests. The 1-year old blew kisses as they left.
On top of all that, they weren’t even able to stay for dinner. Eva had gotten pizzas, mouth-watering chicken pot pies, and a huge salad. One of the Zhang boys had an important homework project, so they went home, their only reward being the blown kisses and the knowledge that they had taken a chunk of their day to help fellow human beings in need. The rest of us feasted, after Fr. John gave thanks to God for all of us, for WN, and for the food. I think we all felt blessed.
John McGraw was scheduled to spend the night, but wasn’t able to be there. His heartbeat is still not completely steadied, and he had doctor’s appointments in the next couple of days. He is hoping to be here by Weds. Please keep holding him in your prayers.
At 6 am, our breakfast team went into action – Mike Hollinger and Sally Roberts, Barb Thornton, and I. I say “6 am”, because that’s when we’re scheduled to be there. However, Mike and Sally always manage to get there first, no matter how hard I try to beat them. They’ve already got bagels and muffins and cereal and milk and orange juice, and waffles all set out – the incredible cornucopia of breakfast treats that Eva buys every year. Besides breakfast goodies, Eva buys snacks to welcome the guests back in the afternoon, and a variety of lunch meats for making their bag lunches.
Thank you so much, all who volunteered on this first day, who did set-up and gave a warm welcome. The guests arrive, not knowing what to expect and, I imagine, often feeling some trepidation. I’m so glad to be part of such a welcoming, open community. I can see our guests relax and soon feel at ease.
Day 2 – From Chaos to Community
Wow! We went from 2 families, 4 people, on Monday to 6 families, 16 beings, in our Jackson Hall yesterday. Sally Fischer came early to greet, along with me. Then, suddenly, it seemed like everyone else arrived all at once – the new families, our dinner crew, WN staff. One family was too large to fit into any of the tents, so Bill Shaw, the WN manager, started taking one of the tents down to put up a bigger one. That meant taking down and moving another tent. Bill, along with the two guys who came to tutor and to help with job applications, pitched in, and also 3 of the mothers (Wonder Women all!). Sally and I moved around trying to meet the new families and to greet Monday’s two.
Then, all the pitching and moving and set-up ended and calm prevailed. The kids found games and toys and each other. Sally was great, helping with games, holding babies while the moms were busy, greeting folk.
Dinner was provided by Tamra Brown, a friend of Eva’s, who works at a women’s law firm that specializes in family law. Two of the attorneys were there, Cristelle Conanan and Alice Cheng, along with another executive, Gina Mickas. Three of their children came also. The dinner was delicious – Chinese-style pulled pork on buns, roast chicken, mac and cheese, salad and cole slaw, with snickerdoodles and cupcakes to top it off. I can tell you right now, if ever I need a family law attorney, I’ll be heading right over to their firm! They clearly have competence in many areas.
The three daughters, one a sophomore in high school, one in 8th grade, and the other in 5th, were reluctant at first to leave the kitchen and go to meet the guests. By the end of dinner, Kara, the sophomore, was playing with the middle and grade school boys. She had to leave before the others, in order to do her homework. We could hear the boys saying, “Will you be here tomorrow?”
The other two girls, Natalie and Rachael, took over from there and were let go with reluctance when it was their turn to leave. I am so impressed with all these young people, including the Zhang boys yesterday. Stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging with “the other” takes courage. Postponing homework involves sacrifice of time, possibly sleep, possibly tv or texting or phone time with friends. Thank you all of you. I’m sure you made this difficult time of transition from homelessness to shelter easier for those WN children.
While Bill was holding an information meeting to acquaint our guests with the rules and expectations and benefits, Doug Merrill arrived to check the air conditioning and to ask them all if they liked the temperature. I didn’t. It felt cold. However, our guests were happy with it. I was grateful to Doug for showing up to check it out with people – more of the “you matter” message.
By the end of the evening various parents and kids were interacting with each other and a sense of community prevailed.
This am – our breakfast team went into action once again. I got there at 6, which is our scheduled time. As usual, already there were Michael Hollinger, Sally Roberts, and Barb Thornton. Luckily so. All the families were up and ready to eat. My early teammates had already put a lot of the food out. We decided, with such a big group, we’d better all be there by 5:45. Are you impressed? Don’t we early risers all deserve a bit of applause and gratitude? Someone who definitely deserves applause is Barb, who brought homemade banana bread. One of the guests said, “This is my favorite! Please make it again!!” I echo that. It was delicious.
John McGraw, who has been our faithful overnighter for the past several years, has been having health problems. He was hoping still to come, but was postponing until after his doctor’s appointments, scheduled for today. Last night he phoned to say that all the residents from the Yountville Veteran’s Home, where he lives, were being evacuated because of the fires. He still hopes to come, but will have to wait until it’s safe to drive, of course.
A big thanks to all of yesterday’s volunteers and also our ongoing team,
Another red-letter food team day! Peggy Matson was there with her Girl Scout troop, a bevy of future beauties, CEO’s, professionals, and smart/loving moms. The girls had decorated the tables with sunflowers and pumpkins. They drew on some of the pumpkins, inspiring some of our kids to do so also. They put a sign on every table, saying “What is your favorite animal?”, along with a couple of other comments and questions. On the wall they hung a sign, saying “Happy Halloween”. I loved that they had those creative ideas about connecting with the kids there and messaging, “You are important enough for us to decorate for you!”
Dinner was awesome – barbecued ribs, baked potatoes, Caesar salad, and ice cream sundaes. The mom who had begged Barb Thornton to bring her homemade banana bread again, jumped for joy when I said we were having ice cream sundaes. Easy for her to rejoice – she’s beautiful, young, and skinny! When Peggy heard that I wouldn’t be there for dinner, because I had a meeting to go to, she offered to save me some. She must have detected the longing and gloom in my voice, so I got to feast on the ribs later.
Unfortunately, I created some stress for Peggy and the team, because I hadn’t been clear about the dinner time. They had planned for 5:30, with the girls leaving to go home at 6:30. Until Tuesday, I had thought dinner was at 6, but was told 6:30, so the kids have time to do homework and meet with tutors. Anyway, I failed to pass the word along, so they had to delay on the ribs and potatoes. We did manage to change the time till 6 for last night, but it meant the girls had to leave right after dinner, which was too bad. So – future dinner teams, the meal is to be served at 6:30.
Marian Mulkey was the greeter last night. Watching her, as well as Sally on Tuesday, I felt great admiration. Being a greeter isn’t as easy as it sounds. The families come back, most of them all at once in the van. They come in, want to go to their tents or the bathroom. They are talking to each other. The kids run over to the snacks and the toys. It’s not easy to connect. It requires a period of standing around with nothing to do. Marian, like Sally, managed to reach out, to hold babies, to connect with the kids, and to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome.
John McGraw arrived last night from Yountville, escaping the fire area. We, on the breakfast team, were very glad to see him, glad he is safe, glad he is well enough to be here, and to be part of our team. Welcome to you, John!
With love and gratitude,
As the week progresses, so do the comfort levels of the families. They are talking and connecting across family lines, especially the moms of the two toddlers in high chairs having meals together and connecting. A couple of them have also have gotten comfortable enough to tease me about forgetting or mispronouncing names. They’ll see me and say, “What’s my name?”
The largest family,, the one with a mom and 4 kids is back after being absent a couple of nights. The mom has a job in Tracy, which is a long commute. Her kids are the oldest, boys 12, 9, and 6, as well as a girl 3. The mom said she is really looking forward just to relaxing for the weekend.
Marian was our greeter again last night, keeping her antenna up, helping, connecting, greeting when and where needed.
Last night’s dinner was scrumptious. It was sort of jazzed-up comfort food. Joni Pearce brought a casserole of cut-up chicken, potatoes, onions, baked in a delicious sauce with cheese on top. Abby Pearce brought a cauliflower casserole. I don’t ordinarily think of cauliflower as comfort food, but this was delicious – sour cream, white cheese, bacon bits. Dharmini brought a salad, that at first glance was ordinary – lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. Dig a little deeper, though, and there were small tomatoes and dried cranberries. Vula brought a huge tray of cookies – chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin. I helped myself to the white chocolate chip, which looked to be the biggest. After eating it, I headed back to get another, and almost all the cookies were gone! Remembering who was the guest here, I restrained myself.
Both Joni and Abby had had unexpected things come up, so they couldn’t stay for dinner. Dharmini and Vula did. I was at the same table with them and one of the moms. Vula drew her out about her job which starts on Tuesday, and her family, Vula sharing that she is the youngest of 8, when the mom said she was the youngest. Dharmini and I chimed in. This is what I love so much about St. Anselm’s, how friendly and caring we are.
Our breakfast crew was at it again at 5:45 this morning. For the first time in living memory I got there first – pulling into the parking lot 30 sec. before Michael and Sally – not that we’re all competitive or anything! Barbara arrived with another banana bread she’d baked. There was joy and delight from many of our guests. I unlocked the door to Classroom 2, put John’s gift quilt where he couldn’t miss it, and we sent him in to get it. He was a bit overwhelmed, as it began to dawn on him what it is.
I’ll be gone tomorrow and a lot of Sunday, so you won’t be getting updates until probably Monday.
Much love and gratitude,
The Remaining Days
First of all, let me apologize to those of you who were on the Saturday dinner and Sunday teams a week ago. I am so sorry that it’s taken me more than a week to thank and acknowledge you!! Usually the second week that our guests are with us means a lighter load for St. Anselm’s, because another church takes over. However, St. Matthew’s Lutheran, who has done it for several years, decided to house the families in their parish hall in March. We had 4 different churches, who hadn’t done it before, doing dinner, but not breakfast. We were still doing breakfast and also needing to be available at dinner time in case they had questions.
Our guests moved out today, so I can pick up with you where I left off. Where I left off was with the Sat. night dinner, Chinese food prepared by Eva and her family. It’s always one of the highlights of the week, yummy for the guests and fun for parish folk who are given the opportunity to learn to make wontons. Sad to say, I had something else on and couldn’t be there, but heard from the families that it was delicious. Besides Eva’s family, her mom, sister and sister’s family, and a couple of friends, John McGraw, Michael Hollinger, and Sally Roberts showed up to help with dinner. Apparently, Eva’s mother took John under her wing and gave him a private wonton-making lesson. By the end, he was quite skilled and was dubbed John Wonton McGraw – or Wonton John.
On Sunday Ina Merrill brought sandwiches for the families at lunchtime, a generous act, given that she had to juggle that and church. A couple of the moms mentioned to me that they had really appreciated having those sandwiches prepared for them.
Sara and Al Swimmer, Sara and Al’s niece, and Sara Nelson provided dinner. Sara and Al’s niece brought the main course, 2 huge pans filled with meat loaf. She also made the dessert, pumpkin cheesecake. She came with her husband and their 23 month-old, who then got to play with the WN children. The Swimmers had talked to their niece about Winter Nights, and she wanted to contribute. She was so impressed with the families and the program that she wants to bring it to Marin. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a church, so it won’t be so easy.
I had another dinner engagement, so arrived to say “hi” after dinner. I got to take some meat loaf and cheesecake home and can vouch for both being delicious. However, I missed a lot of the fun and other food. Sara N. brought a baguette and two kinds of salad, one fruit and the other mixed greens, which, according to Sara S., were flavor-enhanced with all kinds of goodies. Sara and Al brought mashed potatoes and peas, perfect with meatloaf.
Sara S. had the moms help her redo the table flower arrangements that were starting to look droopy. They added water and some greenery from the garden. According Sara, they seemed to enjoy themselves, saying at the end, “Wow, that was easy!” I’m so sorry to have missed that !! By the time I got there, all that was left to do was clean-up.
Monday morning would ordinarily have been the last morning for the breakfast team, Michael Hollinger and Sally Roberts, Barbara Thornton, John McGraw and me. However, as I said, the second week churches didn’t take over breakfast duties, so we soldiered on. Michael forbade Sally to continue, because she had to go to work every day and was tired. Barb needed to be caring for her husband, so it was John, Michael, and me.
We were due there at 5:45 every weekday morning to make the coffee, set out the cereal, milk, orange juice, frozen waffles, bagels, etc, unload the dishwasher, and greet the families. No matter how much on time or a few minutes early John and I were, Michael (and Sally the first week) was already there, with most of the work done. I’m very competitive, so it pissed me off. (I’m an Aries, so I can’t help myself.) Finally, on Friday, I asked Michael when exactly he was getting there. How was he able to beat me there every morning? It turns out that he was purposely getting there at 5:30, not 5:45!
Wait – there’s more. Michael and Sally left for a well-deserved vacation in Oregon on Sunday. John McGraw had to leave early to go back to Yountville, so Eva offered to arise early and help. On purpose, I told her to get there 15 min. later than I. I arrived, all smug, at Michael’s usual time, 5:30, only to find Eva already there. Not only already there, but also busily and cheerfully (you know Eva) cooking breakfast sandwiches of eggs and cheese and heating up some home-made quiche in the oven. Grrr! The families were delighted, of course. Me too, once I had helped myself to a yummy piece of quiche. I am wondering if God is trying to teach me something. I can’t imagine what, though.
Silliness aside, I want to give a special acknowledgement and thanks to our 2nd week breakfast team – Michael Hollinger, John McGraw, and me. We not only showed up for the first week, but continued on in the second week, all of us feeling quite tired by the end of it. Some of you may be saying, “What’s the big deal? People get up early for work 52 weeks a year, not 2!” True – however, Michael is retired, and as I think I may have mentioned, was arriving at 5:30 am, and therefore, doing most of the work. John had heart surgery only about 10 days ago, was tiring very easily, and was also showing up every night for the dinner shift. I am a quite elderly Aries, needing my sleep, and also doing double shifts. During all this, Michael and John were very kind and supportive, so thank you and – – Yay, Team!!
Yay, indeed, to all our teams!
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WINTER NIGHTS 2016
Every day of my life, I feel proud of my church community and grateful to be a member of St. Anselm’s. I feel blessed by God to have been “led” here, quite by chance. October has produced a lot for us to be proud of. At the Harvest Festival we raised a record amount of money for the homeless program at Trinity Center. Then came Winter Nights, our annual housing of homeless families in Jackson Hall for two weeks. Both are also opportunities to feel gratitude that we have the means to help.
We started with three families, adding another one by the end of the first week, then two more the second week. By then we were full. We had eight adults and nine kids, ranging in age from 15 years down to 15 months. Most of them fell in the age range of nine to four. Happily, they got along most of the time. They played games together. They had fun with the toddler, who was very outgoing and energetic. They loved pushing her around in the baby cart, lent to us by the preschool. Every evening, when the tutors came, they did their homework, read books. The adults also got along. It wasn’t Nirvana. There were bumps to be worked out, which happened with the help of the skilled Winter Nights staff.
I hope you got to see the thank-you card that they all signed and left for us in Jackson Hall. In it they expressed the gratitude that I was hearing every day – and the vulnerability. When they talked, it was often of the fear they had felt for their children as the housing options gradually disappeared. A couple of the families, who didn’t have cars, were sleeping in the park.
They spoke of how welcome we all made them feel. Our volunteers (as well as those from St. Matthews, those from other organizations, like the Scouts, the Boys’ Team Charity, and Eva’s friends and family) treated them as equals, as important guests, not just with the quality of the meals we served, but with joining them at those meals.
This year, as every year, I am struck by how “normal” these families are. They aren’t the “other”. I am reminded of our common humanity and vulnerability. I may not be in danger of being homeless, but I am vulnerable – to disease, to the results of aging, to the death of those I love. My grandson, currently unemployed, his girlfriend, and their toddler are living with me while he looks for work in his field of expertise – high-end tuning. He is fortunate to have family able to help in his time of need.
This campaign season has been full of rhetoric about “the other”, whether immigrants, Muslims, or “deplorables”. (In Christ’s day they were tax collectors and prostitutes.) Our first night, a Muslim woman, none of us knew, showed up with a salad. She had seen an e-mail that Eva had written, asking for meal volunteers. One morning Michael Hollinger arrived for breakfast team, wearing an “I Am A Deplorable” button. Winter Nights is a reminder to us all, every year, of our humanity, vulnerability, and vast good fortune. We are, none of us, the “other”. I feel so blessed and grateful to be part of a community that sees the common humanity in us all.
Every once in a while someone in our church makes a dish that’s so scrumptious that we want to know how to make it ourselves. Here are recipes that for dishes that grabbed our attention.
SHROVE TUESDAY PANCAKE SUPPER
The youth of St. Anselm’s will be serving pancakes, sausage and orange juice on Tuesday, February 13th in Jackson Hall. The supper will begin at 5:00 p.m. Cost is $5 and all proceeds will go to the Food Bank.
$3,208 RAISED FOR FOOD BANK!
Thanks to all who contributed to the Souper Bowl collection last Sunday. With your help we raised $3,208 for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County.
LENTEN SERIES 2018
What Bridges Summon Us?
We live in a world and a time where division seems rife. We often take shortcuts in describing ourselves and making assumptions about our neighbors, with the unfortunate result that we over-simplify the rich ways in which we are both unique and have much in common. Circumstances cause many people to feel disconnected from their communities. Many historic and recent examples illustrate how tendencies to categorize, isolate, and withdraw from those perceived to be different bring great harm. At this moment, how can we rise above these tendencies and embrace a more inclusive, welcoming, bridge-building way of being?
On four Tuesday evenings in Lent (February 20 and 27, March 6 and 13) we will meet to explore and discuss these issues. Through brief Biblical and historical illustrations, facilitated conversations, and film screenings we will consider sources of division, the benefits of bridging divides, and the ways in which — as individuals and a faith community – we may be called to stretch beyond our walls. Each night we will begin at 6 p.m. with a simple soup and salad supper. Program will begin promptly at 7 p.m. and end by 8:30 p.m. Please sign up in Jackson Hall so we can estimate attendance.
For more information, please contact:
· Anne Brown (email@example.com)
or any member of the Christian Formation Commission.
THE CRAB FEED IS ON!
Our annual Crab Feed will be held on Saturday, March 3rd. Festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. A sign-up sheet is in Jackson Hall. Cost: $40/adult; $15/children (12 and under). Mark your calendar and save the date!
WANT TO PRAY FOR SOMEONE?
As you enter the church, there is now a table with a basket on it with names of folks for whom prayers have been requested. These names are on the St. Anselm’s Prayer Chain which many people in our church get regularly by email. There are copies of the entire Prayer Chain on the table as well. You may add names into the basket of folks you would like someone to pray for. You are also welcome to take a name, or names of folks and pray for them too.
If you want to add someone to the Prayer Chain, please let Vicki Pappas or Father John know. If you would like to receive the Prayer Chain by email, please notify Vicki Pappas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
CANCER SUPPORT GROUP
The St. Anselm’s Cancer Support Group welcomes new members to join us for our next meeting, on February 11th. We are a caring, supportive group of cancer survivors that meet monthly, usually on the first Sunday of the month at 11:30 am. If you or a loved one are affected by cancer, you are welcome to join us. We also invite people affected by cancer from outside of St. Anselm’s to join us for the meeting. If you or someone you know might be interested in joining us, please contact Julie Rinkenberger at email@example.com for more information.
The February/March/April issue of “Forward Day-By-Day” is now available. Please feel free to take one home.
The 2018 Altar Flower donation chart is now available. Each week the Altar Guild provides beautiful flowers for our church. By making a donation you can have these flowers dedicated to the memory of a loved one, in honor of a family member or simply to the glory of God. The signup chart and donation cards are located near the side door of the church (toward the garden).
Did you know that weekly Yoga classes are held in Jackson Hall every Wednesday morning starting at 9:30 a.m. Classes last an hour and cost $10/session. Please feel free to contact Anne Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
Join in the fun and get a great start to your day!
HELP WANTED FOR MINISTRY FOR SENIORS
St. Anselm’s Ministry for Seniors provides assistance for those in our congregation who need rides, particularly to church on Sundays. We also try to be available for those who have to get to medical or other appointments. Our original volunteer sign-up list has become depleted, so we are asking for your help with rides as well as visits to those who may be housebound for whatever reason. If you can help at all please contact Kelvin Booty — email@example.com or 934-0114.
St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church has an active Stephen Ministry group. The Stephen Ministers at St. Anselm’s are: Gene Bozorth, Naomi Chamberlain-Harris, Ina Merrill, Judy Peak, Gerry Starr, and Sara Swimmer. Vicki Pappas is the Stephen Ministry Leader. Stephen Ministers have received 50 hours of specialized training so that they can provide one-to-one Christian care to people who are experiencing grief, loneliness, divorce, hospitalization, job loss, and many other life difficulties. All care-giving relationships are absolutely confidential. We listen, care, encourage and pray for our Care Receivers. We walk alongside those who are going through a difficult time. We hope that you will consider asking for a Stephen Minister when you or someone you know has a need. It is not necessary for the person to be a member of St. Anselm’s. We also have a relationship with a consortium of churches so we have people from other churches who can act as Stephen Minsters for our church members. We are a small church, so some of you may be more comfortable with someone you don’t know. We also hope that you will consider becoming a Stephen Minister. For more information please speak with Father John or Vicki Pappas.
ALTAR GUILD OPPORTUNITIES
The Altar Guild would like you to know:
- Opportunities to donate altar flowers in 2017 are still available! Each week the Altar Guild provides beautiful flowers for our church. By making a donation you can have these flowers dedicated to the memory of a loved one, in honor of a family member or simply to the glory of God. Sign up chart and donation cards are located near the side door of the church (toward the garden.)
- There is an opportunity for you to be more involved in the worship service without having to stand up in front of the whole congregation! Try the Altar Guild! Once per month you and your teammates meet on Saturday morning to prepare the Sanctuary for Sundays’ services. On Sunday, you clean up after the service. There is always an experienced member on hand to help out. All are welcome; parents who want their children to know more about the Episcopal service can create a family team. Altar Guild meets monthly, on the first Sunday of the month (except July and August) between services. Contact Sally Morrison: 925-482-0267 or click here for more information.
CONTRA COSTA CHILD CARE COUNCIL
Established in 1976, the Contra Costa Child Care Council is a nonprofit organization that is the only child care resource and referral agency serving all of Contra Costa. Our mission is to provide leadership to promote and advance quality care and early education. Innovative programs, free or low cost services and child development expertise help parents work and children grow, learn and fulfill their potential. Contact us for assistance and/or support our work for children and families (925)676-5442; www.Cocokids.org
Celebrate your Harvest October 8th
After last year’s blockbuster fundraiser with close to $30,000 raised for Trinity Center, it’s time to get going for 2016. The Annual Harvest Festival will be held on October 8th starting at 5 PM. Marty Fischer and his team are putting together an amazing list of silent and live auction items combined with games and activities to raise as much money as possible and to have a fun evening for all.
All proceeds go to Trinity Center to provide support for those in our community that have no roof over their heads. Every dollar spent at the Harvest Festival goes to help the homeless in Contra Costa. This year we will have an expanded outreach to add even more dollars to help Trinity Center and its mission. Here’s how you can help in addition to attending the dinner:
Live & Silent Auction: You can offer up wines, antiques, collectibles, condos and timeshares, meals, gift baskets, services and other items for our congregation silent and live auctions. If you have such an offering, please contact John Powers.
Sponsorships: We are helping Trinity Center build a loyal base of “Friends” and Sponsors. You or your organization can become a sponsor when you make a tax-deductible contribution of $500 or more. If you wish to explore this please see or call Marty Fischer.
Matching Money: Make a pledge or cash donation now to be matched by others the evening of the event. This will help us to double your contribution and it’s all tax deductible! If you are interested see either Father John, Marty Fischer or John Powers!
Volunteer: Trinity Center is always in need of help with services at the center, seeking gifts and supporters and enlisting the support of the local community. If you are interested, please see John Powers or Marty Fischer.
Last year we raised close to $30,000….let’s beat that by a bunch in 2016! More on how you can help will follow in the weeks and months ahead.
FRACKING – FRIEND OR FOE?
About 10 years ago my brother, who lives in Marcellus Shale country in Pennsylvania, asked me what I thought about hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), a relatively new process to increase oil and gas production economically. At that time fracking was in its infancy and I had no opinion. But even then it was controversial. Recently I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself. What follows is my assessment of the fracking phenomenon.
WHAT IS FRACKING?
Fracking is a well-stimulation method enabling previously inaccessible oil and/or gas residing in shale deposits or “tight” rocks to flow easily to the earth’s surface. A well is drilled first vertically to the depth of the oil or gas deposit, just as with a conventional well. (Click on the figure below to bring it into sharper focus). The drill is then turned 90 degrees, running laterally for distances as long as a mile. The lateral stretch provides access to much more of the gas or oil field than would a conventional vertical well. Next a steel pipe is fitted into the well bore. Then cement is poured into the annulus between the pipe and the rock, forming a liner that prevents gas and fluid from leaking through the annulus to the surrounding environment. Next the steel and cement lining are perforated.
Then a “fracking fluid” (primarily water, containing sand or other particulate materials suspended with the aid of thickening agents) is injected under high pressure into the pipe and through the perforations to create cracks in the surrounding rock formations. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, the particulate materials hold the fractures open. This allows gas, oil and brines to flow freely from the rock pores, through the perforations, into the pipe and then to the surface, where the gas and/or oil are captured and treated so they are suitable for ultimate use. This return stream is called “flowback’.
Strictly speaking the term “fracking” applies only to the high-pressure injection operation. However, I have lumped all these operations into that term for economy of wording.
The scope of fracking in the U.S. is enormous. Over 50,000 fracked wells have been developed per year for the last 15 years. During that period, natural gas and oil production have surged with resulting lower oil and gas prices and their attendant economic benefits. But an awareness of fracking’s real and imagined problems has risen concomitantly.
WHAT PROPONENTS SAY
Fracking is well on the way to making the U.S. energy self-sufficient. Green (2016) cites U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) data showing the U.S. is well on its way to energy self-sufficiency. In 2005 domestic production accounted for 69% of the U.S. energy demand. In 2014 it accounted for 89%. Green says, “There’s not a lot of mystery about the components of America’s energy renaissance: vast reserves of oil and natural gas, safely produced from shale and other tight-rock formations with advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Shale energy has rewritten the U.S. energy narrative while boosting the economy.” He notes that fossil fuels accounted for 55% of the U.S. energy demand in 2005 but had grown to 70% in 2014. Energy independence means energy security because we’re less dependent on others for our energy supply.
Comment: Green lumps all forms of energy into one number to make his point. However the U.S. is still far from energy independence in one energy component (oil). The U.S. still imports 43% of its oil, but this number has fallen from 59% since the advent of fracking.
Natural gas is a bridge fuel. Figure 2 from Green’s report shows primary energy production over the years 1949-2014. (Click on Figure 2 to bring it into sharper focus). (Comment: Footnotes, denoted by , , etc. are shown at the end of this article). The surge in crude oil and natural gas production began with the onset of fracking about 2005 and is continuing. Equally noteworthy is the concomitant decline of coal production. Coal, still a major fuel for electric power plants, is being displaced by natural gas, which generally costs less per unit of electricity produced, emits about half of coal’s carbon dioxide per unit of heat released, and produces far fewer toxic pollutants (PM2.5, NOx, SO2, and mercury, for example) when burned. Proponents of fracking recommend continued and accelerated exploitation of natural gas resources, calling natural gas a bridge fuel to sustain our electricity needs until the day that renewables (primarily wind and solar) overtake coal. USEIA predicts renewables will have that capacity by 2029; in some areas with good sun and/or wind, the displacement is already happening.
Figure 2. Primary Energy Production (Quadrillion BTU) by Source, 1949-2014
Fracking invigorates the economy and saves consumers money. The cost of natural gas has fallen from $6 to $13 per million British Thermal Units (BTU) in 2005 to $2 to $3 per million BTU in 2015. (Comment: Oil costs have fallen as well, not entirely as the result of fracking, but also because of the glut of foreign oil). According to Green, lower prices at the pump allowed each licensed driver to save an average of $550 in 2015. USEIA estimates the average American household has saved almost $750 per year in annual energy costs since 2008 (EIA, 2016).
Fracking has helped to decouple the economy and greenhouse gas emissions. This statement contradicts the long- held notion that emissions of greenhouse gasses (particularly CO2) must rise in tandem with a rising economy. Green says growth in U.S. energy output has been accompanied by lower carbon emissions, thanks primarily to increased use of clean-burning natural gas in power production. He cites USEIA data that show CO2 emissions have declined 12% since 2005, despite the fact that our economy increased 15%.
WHAT OPPONENTS SAY
Opponents say fracking should be eliminated or at least paused. Here’s why.
Natural gas is a bigger climate threat than had been previously believed. Natural gas, a product of natural gas wells and a byproduct of oil wells, is about 95% methane (CH4). The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now estimate that, over a 20-year time frame, methane can, pound for pound, trap 86 times more heat than can CO2. This estimate is sharply higher than a previously used value (28) which was diluted by using a more extended time frame (100 years).
Furthermore, data from Howarth (2014) suggested real-world methane leakage rates greatly exceed earlier estimates and that leakage from unconventional (fracked) systems are higher than leakage from conventional systems. His leakage estimates, expressed as percentages of system production, range from 1.7 to 6.0% for conventional systems and 3.6 to 7.9 % for fracked systems. He attributed the larger emissions from fracked systems to methane venting when the wells were completed and during the flow-back period after high volume fracturing. Howarth’s data was roundly attacked by fracking proponents who said much of the data were piece meal and cherry picked to make a case. They cited other studies (often conducted with industry supplied data) which showed lower leakage rates.
However, a recent Harvard University study (Turner et al, 2016) provided new information backing up claims by fracking opponents. The study (using satellite data from across the country over the period 2002-2012) estimated that U.S. methane leakage had not held steady or decreased (as the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA’s] calculations had suggested) but had actually increased 30% over that time. In March, 2016, EPA head Gina McCarthy admitted “methane emissions are substantially higher than we’ve indicated” (McKibben, 2016).
Bill McKibben combined Howarth’s high numbers for methane leakage and the 20-year values of methane’s higher global warming capacity (86) to estimate methane contributions to the greenhouse gas inventory. His calculations suggest methane leaks had more than wiped out gains from CO2 reductions over the last decade. A calculation using a more moderate 50-year value for methane’s heat trapping capability indicated methane release had wiped out more than three fifths of the CO2 gains the US has been claiming. McKibben said “We’ve closed coal mines and opened methane leaks and the result is things have gotten worse.”
The solution to the leakage problem is obvious — reduce the leakage. Doing so will convert fugitive methane emissions to a valuable product, helping gas producers’ bottom lines and reducing the climate effect. It’s easier said than done, however. McKibben reported that a Canadian government team examined the whole process a couple of years ago and came up with despairing conclusions. “Consider the cement seals around drill pipes,” says Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, who was a member of the team: “It sounds like it ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is “an unresolved engineering challenge.” The technical problem is that when you pour cement into a well and it solidifies, it shrinks. You can get gaps in the cement. All wells leak.”
Fracking uses a lot of water, a problem when water is in short supply. Fracking often requires several million gallons of water per well. This water is lost to the general fresh water supply, because after being used for fracking, it’s usually too contaminated to return to the water cycle. The problem is aggravated where there are many wells and water is in short supply. In California fracking operations compete with the water needs of 38 million people and agriculture.
However, some fracking proponents (Muller and Muller, 2013) have suggested that fresh water use could be minimized by instead fracking with water from deep saline wells, treating the flowback, then recycling the treated flowback. They note this technique has been used in Canada and Texas by the Apache Company.
Fracking can and has led to groundwater contamination. Fracking uses harsh and often toxic chemicals to open up shale and tight sand. These as well as contaminants picked up from the rock formations (naturally occurring arsenic, boron, radioactivity, and volatile organic compounds, for example) are components of flowback. Flowback is nasty stuff. It can’t be dumped in a sewer (if there is a sewer) because conventional municipal treatment plants can’t remove many of the contaminants. Indeed, these contaminants may wipe out the treatment plant. Flowback requires specialized treatment. But too often it is spilled accidentally, dumped on the ground, discharged into rivers or streams, or stored in leaky ponds, all leading to groundwater contamination. Desmog (2016) cited a Duke University study that discovered there had been 3,900 spills in the Bakken shale region since 2007. In California, state regulators admitted they had mistakenly allowed oil companies to inject drilling wastewater into aquifers containing clean, potable water (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2015). Also in California, the combination of drought and lack of disposal options has resulted in diversion of fracking wastewater to farms for crop irrigation, raising concerns about its effects on food crops and groundwater.
Researchers in Texas found 19 different fracking-related contaminants – including cancer-causing benzene – in hundreds of drinking water samples collected from the aquifer above the heavily drilled Barnett Shale (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2016). In Pennsylvania, a solvent used in fracking fluid was found in drinking water wells near drilling and fracking operations known to have well casing problems.
Groundwater contamination is a problem that cannot be easily remedied because pollutants are not readily accessible as they would be in lakes and rivers. In-situ techniques have been used to inject bacteria, oxidants, or treatment chemicals into the aquifer with varying levels of success. Alternatively, the water can be brought to the surface, treated, and then reinjected into the aquifer. However, prevention is a much better option than treatment.
Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to air pollution at levels known to have adverse health impacts. Such emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog (ground level ozone) at levels known to have health impacts. Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2016) states that two independent reports from California determined that fracking occurs disproportionately in areas already suffering from air pollution and can drive ozone and other federally regulated air pollutants to levels that violate air quality standards. With an average of 203 high-ozone days a year, intensely fracked Kern County is the fifth most ozone-polluted county in the nation.
Air near gas wells in rural Ohio had levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that surpassed those in downtown Chicago. They were also 10 times higher than levels found in rural areas without fracking operations, raising the lifetime risk of cancer living near the well pads by 45%.
Problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational health and safety problems, are increasingly well documented. Problems among residents living near drilling and fracking operations include increased rates of self-hospitalization, self-reported respiratory problems and rashes, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, and low birth weight among infants (Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2016)).
The Aliso Canyon episode in Southern California, while not connected to fracking, is a particularly egregious example of what can go wrong with natural gas systems. “It was a mega-leak, one of the biggest ever recorded,” says Tim O’Connor, California Oil & Gas Director for the Environmental Defense Fund (Rich, 2016). Over the course of four months, 97,100 metric tons of natural gas were released from a storage reservoir near the Porter Ranch housing development. Porter Ranch residents said that gas fumes were causing headaches, respiratory problems, nosebleeds, and vomiting. Nearly 6,000 households, about half of Porter Ranch’s population moved to hotels, apartments and houses in surrounding neighborhoods until the leak was fixed.
Studies have confirmed a causal link between earthquakes and the injection of fracking wastewater in deep disposal wells. Earthquakes are a consequence of drilling and fracking-related activities in many locations. The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher has increased in Oklahoma since the advent of the fracking boom, with fewer than two per year before 2009 to more than 1,000 predicted to occur in 2015 (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, (2016)).
Regulations are not capable of preventing harm. EPA has promulgated federal regulations for new wells drilled on public lands and is in the process of acquiring information that could lead to development of regulations for existing wells. However, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over drilling on private and state-owned lands, where the vast majority of fracking is done. The administration hopes the federal legislation will serve as a models for the states with no or limited regulation.
However, growing evidence suggests that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm. Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2016 states, “some of fracking’s many component parts – which include the subterranean geological landscape itself – are just not controllable. Compounding the problem, the number of wells and their attendant infrastructure continue to proliferate, creating burgeoning cumulative impacts.” It notes “the injection of extreme volumes of fluids – now typically three to five million gallons per well, create significant deformations in the shale that are translated upward, a mile or more, to the surface. Along the way, these “pressure bulbs” can impact in unpredictable ways faults and fissures in the overlying rock strata, including strata that intersect fresh water aquifers. Such pressure waves may mobilize contaminants left over from previous drilling and mining activities. No set of regulations can obviate these potential impacts to groundwater,.
The glut of low-priced natural gas and oil has undercut the market for renewables. Low gasoline prices have dampened enthusiasm for electric cars. Low natural gas prices have made wind and solar less cost competitive. Cheap, abundant fossil fuels are a drag on the world’s sustainable future. But in the end, that’s where we need to be. Energy conservation, low-carbon heating and power generation, and a vast electrification of society are hallmarks of this new world.
There are already glimmers of hope. In California, rapid reductions in wind and solar energy costs are making them cost-competitive with natural gas and their use is surging. The surge is forcing closure of independent natural gas plants built to reduce electricity shortfalls during the 2002 energy crisis. California is way ahead of the curve on renewable energy. I hope the rest of the country can catch up.
Comment: Natural gas is going to be around for a while. It will be needed in electric power production as backup for intermittent renewables like wind and solar. These sources don’t generate power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. However, as techniques to deal with the intermittency problem are developed, the power industry’s dependency on natural gas should fade. Natural gas will be needed for home heating until that task can be taken over by alternative methods, such as electric heating or heat pumps. It will continue to be used for industrial purposes (heating and chemical feedstocks), hopefully not in the quantities used today. With dwindling demand, conventional methods of gas production should suffice.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The scope of fracking in the US is enormous. Since fracking began, gas and oil production have surged with resulting lower oil and gas prices and their attendant economic benefits. But an awareness of fracking’s real and imagined problems has risen concomitantly.
Fracking proponents say:
- Fracking is well on its way to making the U.S. energy self-sufficient, thus less dependent on others for our energy needs.
- Natural gas is a low-cost, climate friendly, minimally polluting fuel that can sustain our energy needs until renewable resources can displace coal in the production of electric power.
- Fracking increases the supply of natural gas and oil, reducing their costs, saving consumers money.
- Fracking has helped refute the notion that greenhouse gas emissions must rise in an expanding economy.
Fracking opponents say fracking should be eliminated or at least paused:
- Natural gas’ primary component (methane) is a bigger climate threat than previously believed. Some calculations suggest that methane leaks over the last 15 years have wiped out CO2 reductions made over the same period.
- Fracking uses a lot of water, a problem when water is in short supply.
- Fracking can lead to poisoning of groundwater, a problem which cannot be easily remedied.
- Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to air pollution at levels known to have adverse health impacts in areas near these operations.
- Problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational and safety problems, are increasingly well documented.
- Studies have confirmed a causal link between small earthquakes and injection of fracking wastewater into deep disposal wells.
- Growing evidence suggests that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm because some of fracking’s many component parts, which include the subterranean landscape itself, are simply not controllable.
- The glut of low-priced natural gas and oil has undercut the market for renewables.
I don’t dispute the proponents’ numbers. They’re credible. In the end, though, I cast my lot with those opposing fracking. While the energy industry provides a vital service, the environment is not its first concern. It is one of mine, however. Global warming is happening and its projected consequences are so stark they overwhelm economic arguments. I believe that fracking will exacerbate global warming.
Fracking can and has contaminated groundwater, an essential resource for much of our country. Strong regulations are insufficient to prevent it. We should not provide it more opportunities. The state of New York has banned fracking. We in California should do so too.
At this time we should be putting our money and effort in developing and expanding renewables, not fossil fuels. The day when renewables can supply all our energy needs is coming. Gas and oil must serve as bridge fuels until that time. Let’s make that bridge as short as possible.
Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2015), Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms Of Fracking (Unconventional Gas And Oil Extraction), http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/
Desmog, (2016), Duke Study Finds a “Legacy of Radioactivity”, Contamination from Thousands of Fracking Wastwater Spills, http://desmogblog.com/2016/05/08/duke-university-study-finds-legacy-radioactivity-water-and-soil-contaminated-thousands-fracking-wastewater-spills
Green, Mark (2016), Growing U. S. Energy Self-Sufficiency, http://www.energytomorrow.org/blog/2015/04/06/growing-us-energy-self-sufficiency.
Howarth, R. W. (2014), A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas, http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/publications/Howarth_2014_ESE_methane_emissions.pdf
McKibben, Bill (2016), Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry, https://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/
Muller, R. A. and E. A. Muller, (2013), Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking,
Rich, Nathaniel, (2016), The Invisible Catastrophe, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/magazine/the-invisible-catastrophe.html
Turner, A. J., et al (2016), A Large Increase in U.S. Methane Emissions Over the Past Decade Inferred from Satellite Data and Surface Observations, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL067987/abstract
U.S. Energy Information Administration (2016), Today in Energy, http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=26072
 Primary energy is energy found in nature that has not been subjected to any conversion or transformation process. For example, coal and natural gas are forms of primary energy but electricity (which has been generated by burning coal or natural gas) is not.
 PM2.5 refers to a category of particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and where they are adsorbed into the blood stream and lead to cardiorespiratory disease. Muller and Muller (2013) say they are responsible for about 75,000 deaths per year in the US and were responsible for about 3.2 million deaths worldwide in 2010. They also contribute significantly to global warming.