University of New Hampshire journalism professor Tom Haines has begun a trans-USA journey to research America's energy frontier, and his journey began this week in Carbon County.
The 2003 and 2005 Society of American Travel Writers Foundation's Travel Journalist of the Year is visiting the energy epicenters of the US to gather information about energy in America, and plans to write a series of magazine articles and ultimately a book about his journey to America's energy frontier.
The Pittsburgh native and former Boston Globe travel writer has written, what he calls numerous "mini National Geographic-type stories" that took him to South America, Africa, Asia and the Bering Straits. After a year and a half of teaching journalism, he felt the bug to get back out and do it and he said her energy as a transcendent topic.
"I am a journalist and I am curious," Haines explained. "This is a time of great change as the U.S. is trying to produce more of its own energy."
"I think it is an important subject," he continued. "I think we as a society reached a standard of living that takes so much to sustain. Something's got to give at some point – how are we going to keep it all going?"
Haines chose to begin his journey in the heart of the anthracite region where the race for fuel, energy and its inherent power, began. He came to Carbon County because not only did a major anthracite industry start there, as well as many ancillary industries built upon America's Industrial Revolution such as railroads, iron and cement, but the anthracite industry continues today and Haines had a family history in the Panther Valley that he wanted to research.
"I also have roots in the area. I have family from Nesquehoning and Lansford. My great uncle was, for a time, the editor of the Lansford Record."
Haines plans to travel to areas of the country that are iconic for their contributions to America's energy portfolio: oil, gas, coal, nuclear, hydro and wind. He plans to visit the San Juan basin in New Mexico where they are fracking for oil and gas, and the Powder River Valley in Wyoming which is a major area of bituminous coal production.
He began with a visit to Carbon County and its largest anthracite coal producer, Lehigh Anthracite, the current operator of the 8,000-acre former Lehigh Coal & Navigation coal fields between Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua.
He spent his first day touring Lehigh Anthracite's strip mine operation, and the Greenwood breaker, and learning that the same Mammoth, Primrose and Orchard coal veins that were deep mined over a century ago are still vastly productive only now, instead of hundreds of miners using hand tools deep beneath the earth, multimillion dollar excavators and drag buckets use far fewer people to produce nearly a million tons a year of low ash, low sulfur anthracite coal.
Next, Haines begins, and as you read this, is probably on a sojourn to follow the water route that was used to bring Carbon County's anthracite to the Philadelphia market. He will be rafting the Lehigh Gorge with Pocono Whitewater, and then continuing down the Lehigh River by kayak with Jerry McAward of Jim Thorpe River Adventures, and on subsequent days will paddle with Chris Kocher and Tom Gettings of the Wildlands Conservancy.
Haines is feeling his way, taking an On The Road approach, letting each discovery lead to another, meeting people along the way, and telling their stories. For instance, as he toured Lehigh Anthracite, he found interesting people, people who grew up in coal mining, and planned to visit with them at their home on their time off, in order to gain a sense of community.
His next regional stop, he expects, will be his boyhood home of Pittsburgh the center of the historic steel industry and its bituminous coal energy source. "Six generations of my family on my dad's side, lived in Pittsburgh," he said. "I grew up there and have been roaming ever since."