LAKEVIEW — If you’ve got a problem with the government, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the top. That was the thinking behind Lakeview High School eighth-grade student Mitchell Englund’s recent letter to President Obama.
In that letter, Mitchell urged the president to do whatever he could to put a halt to “fracking,” the process by which chemicals are pumped under pressure into the earth with the intent of breaking up shale to gain access to natural gas reserves. That controversial process has been carried out extensively in states like Pennsylvania, sometimes with disastrous results, according to many environmentalists.
Supporters of fracking would like to see it implemented in Michigan. Mitchell, along with many other students in LHS teacher Cari Scholtens’ class, feel otherwise and have been vocal in their opposition.
A recent film detailing the fracking process was shown in Scholtens’ class. Even Scholtens was surprised by the students’ reactions.
“My students, of their own volition, started a firestorm of letters and e-mails,” Scholtens said. “For a while, it was like a newsroom, with letters and papers flying everywhere.”
It wasn’t long before letters from representatives began coming back in. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder, all returned letters of acknowledgement.
It was Mitchell, however, who had the idea to contact Obama directly.
“I decided to write the president because I figured that would be the quickest way to get (the issue) before Congress,” Mitchell said. “I don’t really like fracking. Right now they’re using very harmful chemicals in a lot of what they’re shooting into the ground to crack open the shale to get to the natural gas.
“People’s tap water can be set on fire. That has actually happened in Pennsylvania.”
According to Scholtens, mailing Mitchell’s letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue felt “surreal.”
“(It was) a bit like sending a letter to Santa,” Scholtens said. “I never though we would receive a reply.”
Since the letter was sent in October, Mitchell also mailed a copy to then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “just in case.”
Months passed before a return letter from the White House showed up at the school, one addressed to Mitchell, one to Scholtens. Signed personally by the president, the letters accompanied a signed photo of the president for Mitchell, something he says he will “treasure.”
In the letters, Obama expressed his own concerns regarding the ecological impact of fracking, but did note some of the positive aspects of uncovering gas reserves on American soil; most notably the possibility that fracking could create and support as many as 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
“I am committed to safeguarding our country’s air, water and land by reducing pollution and building solutions for today’s pressing environmental challenges,” reads Obama’s letter. “My administration has set aside over 1,000 miles of rivers and millions of acres of wilderness, and we are working with our international partners to make our earth a cleaner, safer place for your generation.”
Scholtens said she was impressed with the enthusiasm and tenacity of her students, adding that she was also happy to see the positive response the letters brought from representatives on the state and federal level.
“What a wonderful lesson for students to learn; that they have a voice and that that voice can be heard by those who matter,” Scholtens said. “This is a lesson that they have all learned exceedingly well and I, as a teacher, couldn’t be prouder.”