A frack rig goes up in Montana - ready to despoil more air, soil and water.
Where does it end? The relentless, unregulated fracking I mean, which continues to despoil the landscape of the nation, rapidly converting it to a de facto moonscape. But don't take my word. A recent NDRC investigation into the oil and gas industry has identified ExxonMobil and Shell as the two top fracking violators in Colorado, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. These companies have been placed on the 'most wanted' list and charged by state environmental groups and authorities with violations and crimes that include: illegal dumping and spills, illegal pollution of air, and contamination of drinking water - as well as failure to conduct safety tests.
The full report on the nefarious acts, released in March by NDRC and the FracTracker Alliance, shines a harsh spotlight on a renegade industry shrouded in secrecy as it not only corrupts the locations its frack wells bore into, but distant ones through which its assorted 'bomb' trains pass - any one of which could explode at any time. See e,g.
But is anyone paying attention? Don't count on the Neoliberal gov't which is ok with the industry being shrouded in secrecy and the difficulty of gaining any access to fracking operations. So long as the proles are kept in the dark they don't have to worry or fret about the pitchforks and protests. To give an idea of the extent of the secrecy - and btw, if these operations are so great as the pro-frack ads proclaim, why the need?- the public records on violations are available in only 3 of the 36 states where fracking occurs.
According to Amy Mall, an NDRC senior policy activist:
"You'd want to know if the company or companies operating in your backyard is a responsible corporate citizen or a serial violator. But as it stands now, it's nearly impossible to uncover a company's track record"
This isn't just blowing smoke as the Union of Concerned Scientists has also made clear. The public's need to know is more urgent than ever as a growing body of evidence points to the serious and far reaching health effects of fracking. Leave out for the moment just the 4 million gallons on average it takes to frack one well - a disaster in dry states like Colorado. Many of the chemicals used in fracking fluid are toxic and they contaminate water resources when leaked or spilled. A report in a Denver Post investigation in May of last year found:
State data also show that 12.3 percent of the past 1,000 spills (since June 24, 2012) already had contaminated groundwater before companies began cleanups.
Thanks to a trio of diligent Democrats: Henry Waxman of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, we now know the extent of the pollution of our precious watersheds thanks to the hydro-fracking industry. We know, for example, the oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005- 09.
According to the report, the product of an inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010-11, fourteen of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of chemical fracturing products, and more than 650 of the chemicals named in the report were known carcinogens, supposedly regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (Which was rendered toothless for fracking by lobbyists) Among the most toxic of the chemicals used (11.4 million gallons in all) were:
Benzene: a powerful bone-marrow poison (aplastic anemia) associated with leukemia, breast and uterine cancer
- Styrene, which may cause eye and mucous membrane irritation, neurotoxic effects in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
- Toluene, which may cause muscular incoordination, tremors, hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo, emotional instability and delusions, liver and kidney damage, and anemia.
- Xylene, with cancer-causing (mainly in the kidneys, liver) and neurotoxic effects, as well as reproductive abnormalities.
- Methylene chloride, which may cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system disorders and COPD.
As we know from Devra Davis' landmark book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, the first two of these toxic chemicals have well known correlations to brain carcinomas and chordomas. The other two, to liver, breast and prostate cancers.
Apart from this, it has been found that the gas allowed to escape from frack wells can also leak into the ground into nearby water wells - presenting a different hazard because it is highly flammable. This was demonstrated by Josh Fox in his excellent documentary exposing the fracker criminals, 'Gasland':
Water catching on fire from methane having diffused into it.
While such documented flaming water from the tap has prompted numbskulls to get cheap jollies, the facts are a bit different. According to Food & Water Watch there are dozens of cases of methane leaks near drill sites that have caused houses and wells to explode.
Then there is the air pollution. According to NDRC senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman:
"The risks are not limited to what's in our drinking water. Oil and gas operations are also poisoning the air we breath."
A new analysis by NDRC pinpoints five major health threats from fracking-related air pollution, including: respiratory difficulty, nervous system impacts (brain blackouts, memory loss), blood disorders, birth defects, and cancer.
At least one state has acted on this information on behalf of its citizens. This occurred last December when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York banned fracking in the state because of the lack of scientific evidence that it can be done safely. In doing this, Governor Cuomo broke from the Neoliberal imperative by invoking the precautionary principle. To refresh reader memories, this entails placing the onus on the maker of the product or those performing the process to prove their product or process is safe. It is not the job of the consumer or citizens to prove they are unsafe, yet Neoliberal business has adopted this specious plank as noted by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton in Toxic Sludge Is Good For You.
Think of it! By negating the precautionary principle the Neoliberal market is able to dump all manner of crap on unwary citizens and disarming them so that they can't fight back. "You have to prove to us there is cancer risk!" they shout. Turning the principle on its head.
But unless the rest of us fight for that principle we may all end up in early graves from some kind of cancer or other condition that shortens lifespan. IN the 'Toxic Sludge is Good for You' book, the PR industry backing the fertilizer manufacturers argued that the people were wrong because "toxic sludge was great for crops". And besides the complainers had no proof of ill effects. Never mind the vomiting, breakouts in rashes, sexual dysfunction, brain anomalies and convulsions, which "were just in their minds."
Fracking will not go away in other states unless we the citizens demand it and fight for it. The Neoliberals are too invested in this crap - which really has no business even leaving the ground. It's too degraded an energy source and also doesn't deliver on its energy promise no matter what its PR rats claim. As Richard Heinberg explains (p. 110) it in his book, 'Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future':
No evidence suggests that the technology of fracking has actually raised the EROEI for natural gas production. It temporarily lowered prices but only by glutting the market.
Regarding the promises for kerogen or oil shale, he writes:
"Kerogen is not oil. It is better thought of as an oil precursor that was insufficiently cooked by geologic processes. If we want to turn it into oil, we have to finish the process nature started: that involves heating the kerogen to a high temperature for a long time. And that in turn takes energy- lots of it, whether supplied by hydroelectricity, nuclear power plants, natural gas, or the kerogen itself. "