Sunday, January 17, 2010

“Frack You, USA!” - A Corporate War On Americans

Let’s say you’d like to pump poison into the groundwater of your community - never mind why.   Or do the same with combustible fluids. Or carcinogenic agents.  And, let’s say understandably, you don't want to tell anyone what those poisons, combustibles or carcinogenic agents were. And let’s say your actions might even be suspected of causing seismic events on occasion.

Can you do that without worrying about being arrested, or being responsible for the consequences? Of course not! You’d immediately be arrested, thrown in jail, declared a terrorist and likely suffer rendition to some country where torture is allowed - and everyone in the country would cheer!

That is, unless you represent an energy company like Halliburton. And, pumping such a witches’ brew into the nation’s groundwater stood to make you lot's of money. And say, not incidentally, your former CEO was the Vice President of the United States of America. Such were the ingredients needed to have a special law passed for you, and companies like yours to pump whatever you wished into the nation’s groundwater - and not even tell anyone what is was! For, after all it is your special recipe, and a proprietary one at that, and disclosing the ingredients publicly would make it easy for someone to steal your secret recipe. Heaven forbid!

So, you and your friends go to work to get a special law passed exempting you from liability. The law is known as the “Energy Policy Act of 2005”. I don’t know for sure whether the acronym “EPA” is an corporate sneer at the Environmental Protection Agency or not, but I suspect it was. The law was vigorously championed by VP Cheney and his cohorts in the energy business like Tom Delay, and other corporate socialism types. Note also however, that 36 Democrats joined 48 Republican senators to pass the bill. Then senators Obama, Biden, Clinton, Reid, and Boxer were all among those who voted FOR the bill.  Senator John McCain did not, Sarah Palin notwithstanding.

The new law exempted the petroleum industry practice of “Fracking” (Hydraulic Fracturing) from the Clean Water Act. Fracking is the pumping under high pressure of fluids, including many extremely toxic and hazardous substances into the ground, to ‘fracture’ rock layers and force recoverable natural gas to extraction wellheads. Strongly supported by the American Petroleum Institute, the exemption was passed into law and signed by President Bush, becoming colloquially known in the industry as the “Halliburton Loophole”.

So, is there really a problem?  It is estimated that minimum of 100,000 gallons of fracking liquids is used for each well, 80% of the time. According to Abrahm Lustgarten, of ProPublica,  “in 2007, there were 449,000 gas wells in 32 states, thirty percent more than in 2000. By 2012 the nation could be drilling 32,000 new wells a year . .” Hmm, let’s see . . . . 450,000 times 100,000 gallons equals about 45,000,000,000 gallons. Gee, after awhile we’d be talking about a real quantity in the groundwater, wouldn’t we? By my math that is equivalent to about 216 SQUARE MILES covered by a toxic cocktail one foot deep.  To date this stuff is scattered in the ground waters of 32 states, and the industry has big plans for the future. In fact, in one case, EXXON-MOBIL has written into their purchase contract for a smaller company the provision the deal is null and void if the Energy Policy Act is repealed!

Fracking liquids can include hydrochloric acid, surfactants, solvents, lubricants, and corrosion inhibitors. No one really knows because the companies doing the pumping don't have to tell.  It is said to contain many of the same carcinogenic chemicals found in household Drano and such things you probably wouldn't want to drink, or even get on your skin. But, under the ‘Energy Policy Act” the companies who use this stuff don’t have to tell anyone the ingredients.  It is their propriety ’secret recipe’ (their words), and to disclose the actual mix would put them at  ‘competitive disadvantages’! (No, I’m not making this up.  I don’t have enough arrogance for that.  I have to leave that to the industries themselves.)

Besides the act shielding energy companies from responsibility, or even disclosing the ingredients of their toxic cocktails, the EPA too,  under Bush has been complicit. That’s right, the Environmental Protection Agency, the group which is tasked to PROTECT people and the environment itself engaged in onerous duplicity: “Under Christine Todd Whitman's tenure as Administrator, the EPA engaged in SECRET negotiations with industry, while supposedly addressing drinking water issues related to the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." In 2004, the EPA undertook a study on the issue and "the EPA, despite its scientific judgment that there was a potential risk to groundwater supplies, which their report clearly says, then went ahead and very surprisingly concluded that there was no risk to groundwater,"

So much for ethics in the Bush administration. But, we already knew the score on that.  But, the Obama Administration too?  You betcha!

Is fracking actually dangerous? You can judge for yourself. There have been hundreds,  probably thousands of of anecdotal and documented cases of severe contamination. In Texas 16 cows died from drinking contaminated groundwater, 10 in Louisiana - but what the heck, Texas and Louisiana have cows to burn. But, there are also lot’s of horror stories concerning humans too. There are documented cases of household water supplies catching fire. Some residents have been instructed to leave their windows open to prevent a build up of explosive gases coming from their faucets. And, there are cases of houses actually exploding. Now, that might get your attention!

There is a move by some senators to repeal the exemption energy companies how enjoy courtesy of the Bush Administration. But, as you might expect, that is being vigorously fought by the industry and the American petroleum Institute, who have so far poured nearly two million dollars into lobbying.

And, as recently as January 15, 2010, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said “he would not favor a ban on " fracking . .“ After all, what is public health when it comes at the expense of corporate greed and profit?

Further Reading:

Energy Policy Act
American petroleum Institute
Hydraulic Fracturing
National Public Radio
Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act

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