03/07/2012 03:09 pm ET Updated May 07, 2012

My Fracking Nightmare and a Jewish Ritual of Dream Interpretation

I had a dream about hydrofracking. The dream did not come totally out of the blue. I had stayed up too late talking about how Jewish summer camps in the Poconos and the Catskills are threatened by this destructive form of drilling for natural gas. But I was not aware of the depth of my own feelings.

In my dream I was at a banquet. Off to the side, a group of respectable, well-dressed men and women were standing and talking. Suddenly, as I watched, one man reached up and began groping the breasts of the woman standing in front of him. I was shocked and I didn't know what to do, but quietly I began to "tsk, tsk" in disapproval. After a moment, the people around me joined in. After a few moments of hesitation, I called out: "You shouldn't be doing that -- we can all see you!"

I bolted awake with the terrible feelings that accompany a nightmare. My heart was pounding and I felt frightened. I knew right away that the dream was about hydrofracking. The woman was the violated earth, and I was the powerless bystander, unable to protect her. I was devastated.

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is only one of many ways that human beings violate the earth, but as with any one of these travesties, the closer you get and the more you know about it, the more awful it is. Hydrofracking is a kind of "unconventional" drilling for natural gas. In "conventional" drilling, a well is drilled through layers of impermeable rock into the reservoirs of gas below. In the past 10 years, as relatively accessible deposits of gas have been depleted, the energy industry has turned to gas trapped in small fissures of rock and in clay and sand. The Marcellus Shale, which underlies parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, is the largest gas-bearing shale formation in the United States. Hydrofracking, which must be used to access the gas in the Marcellus Shale, is more complex and more dangerous than conventional drilling. The gas is extracted by drilling a well one to two miles down, then the drill is turned to cut horizontal branches for up to a mile through the rock. Water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, is injected into the shale under pressure, causing an explosion that fractures the rock to release the gas.

Hydrofracking pollutes land, air and water. Multiple drill pads replace trees and farmland. Methane (the main component of natural gas) is released into the air during drilling and transport. The immediate effect of methane in the air is smog, and beyond the local effect, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. About half of the millions of gallons of water used to frack the wells remains underground, untreated. Pipes and casings are supposed to contain it, but over time cement shrinks and metal corrodes. The other half of the water is stored in tanks or open pits that are vulnerable to leaks. This water is supposed to be treated, but few facilities are prepared to handle it.

During the day I was able to calmly discuss hydrofracking as one of many energy policy issues. But at night, in my dreams, feelings took over. I tried to deny the import of my dream. I joked about my eco-feminist dream. I was proud that my unconscious mind expressed itself in such enlightened metaphor. But it really wasn't funny. The dream was sending me a message.

Weeks passed, but I couldn't shake the feelings of dread provoked by the dream. Searching for some way to understand my dream I made a foray into Jewish ideas about dreaming. In "The History of Last Night's Dream," I learned from Rodger Kamenetz that the Talmud prescribes a ritual for a person troubled by a bad dream. It is hatavat chalom. The ritual is to share the dream with three friends. After the dreamer describes the dream, the friends say "you have seen a good dream."

On one level, this ritual is about reassuring the dreamer. Don't worry, it says, this nightmare will not come true. But on another level, this ritual hearkens back to a much earlier view of dreams as sources of revelation. Hatavat chalom transforms a private message into a public one. If the dream contains a revelation, a message from God, the community of the dreamer can hear it.

What was the revelation contained in my dream? In my dream I felt the pain of the earth. I also felt the shame of the perpetrator. After all, I use natural gas to cook my food. I use electricity generated by burning natural gas. In the dream I took the perspective of the bystander who felt embarrassed, but also compelled, to speak out. I felt relieved when the people around me joined in to call out the abuser.

By writing this post, I'm sharing my dream with you. You can help me turn it into a good dream by standing up against hydrofracking. Next time someone tells you that natural gas is cleaner than coal, or that we need natural gas to bolster our "energy independence," speak up and tell them that that natural gas is a fossil fuel that causes climate change. Instead of subsidizing hydrofracking, we need to invest in renewable energy. And you can do more than speak up. Stand up and join the movement against hydrofracking.

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is a New York-based environmental psychologist and activist. She is the founder of Jews Against Hydrofracking.