In his acceptance speech President Obama spoke out of both sides of his mouth on the critical issue of environmental protection. He said he would not let our government do away with regulations enacted to protect our environment in order to allow energy conglomerates to profit even more greatly at the expense of the American people’s health and safety. Yet he went on to brag about hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created in shale gas exploitation using the process of high volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing; better known as fracking. He spoke as if he didn’t know about ever increasing volume of scientific information that is exposing the many environmental dangers created by fracking. And worse, he spoke as if he was unaware that the horizontal fracking process is only possible because specific Environmental Protection Agency regulatory powers were eviscerated during the Bush-Cheney administration or that his administration failed to restore these regulatory powers to the EPA.
The EPA was created during the Nixon administration and for over three decade and was supported and enhanced through four Republican and two Democratic administrations. Then Bush and Cheney were elected. Vice President Cheney, in secret meetings with the heads of major petrochemical multinational corporations, produced a scheme which would eliminate the EPA’s power it had under the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts, to have regulatory oversight of disposal of waste water by the petrochemical industry specifically. While all other industries still fall under regulatory enforcement by the EPA, the petrochemical industry was solely exempted from these regulations. The Republican controlled Congress passed these new rules amending the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts in 2005.
Absent this exemption from EPA regulation, the horizontal fracking process would not be possible because it involves the injection of millions of gallons of water per well. This water contains fracking fluid which is a concoction of up to two dozen known or suspected carcinogenic chemicals. Under extremely high pressure this fracking fluid is used to break up the shale into which it is injected in order to release micro bubbles of natural gas. Some of the water, (estimates vary between 30% and 60%), is then pumped out of the wells. The rest remains in the ground and is free to travel in all directions through the fractured shale. Recent studies indicate that this toxic fluid, which may still be under considerable pressure, can eventually flow up through cracks and seams in the rock formations above and into aquifers and other water sources.
As for the extracted fracking fluid; some of it is cleaned and recycled, but the un-recycled sludge is the dumped in ordinary landfills which can leaks these toxic chemical into surface and underground water sources. Some of the waste fracking fluid is dumped into played out gas wells. In Ohio where this dumping is being done, the process has been linked to earthquakes. Worst of all, the extracted fracking fluid also contains radioactive material which was dislodged by the fracking process. There is no current technology that can remove the radioactive waste from the fracking fluid waste. And even though the EPA can no longer regulate the disposal of this un-cleanable waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency has recently reported that some of the fracking waste water contains from 300 to 3000 time the level of radioactive material that is allowable in drinking water.
The petrochemical industries own scientific studies have revealed that 6% of their well casings fail on day one and that in only 30 years over 50% of the well casings will fail. That means some, and eventually most, of the triple wall, cement encased pipe used to pump toxic fracking fluid down and up and which also bring natural gas (methane) to the surface will leak their contents into the surrounding ground and/or water.
The EPA, although currently prevented from effectively regulating the fracking process, has however begun an in depth, comprehensive series of studies of the various environmental dangers posed by the fracking process. Preliminary results from these studies should be available beginning in 2013. A health study in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, where fracking has occurred for a few years has revealed preliminary indications that an increase of cancer and respiratory illness can be linked to fracking. Two studies by Colorado medical organizations also indicate links between fracking and health risks. Studies are proposed by two medical organizations along the border between Pennsylvania, where fracking has been underway a few years and New York, where there has been a moratorium preventing fracking. The danger fracking poses to water supplies has already been acknowledged in New York State. New York City and Syracuse have already been exempted from fracking on or near their water supplies because the risks and dangers to their water supply are considered too high to chance.
Because of the mounting evidence that fracking is a real and present danger to health, safety and well being of millions of Americans, the petrochemical industry is putting on a full court press to push for fracking to be allow to proceed in New York State quickly. The industry is spending almost 100 million dollars on advertising and applying the full range of their extensive economic inducements and political influence to pressure the public officials in Albany and Washington to let them have their way. And it appears to working.
It was not surprising to people concerned with environmental issues that the Dick Cheney, former head of Halliburton, the largest producer of fracking fluid, would lead the secret cabal that gutted the EPA’s ability to regulate the petrochemical industry. But it was surprising that when the Obama administration came to power they didn’t lift so much as a little finger to restore the long standing power the EPA had lost. It is not surprising that the Romney-Republican Party position of de-regulation is a center piece of their supposed plan for increased economic growth (albeit for a very few). The powerful influence of the multinational petrochemical industry in Republican administrations is a long established “devil we know”. The “devil we didn’t know” is the apparent power of this industry within the current Democratic administration.
It was assumed by many progressive political and environmental activists and Obama supporters that when he put forward and all of the above approach to energy production, it of course also meant; only if it is safe and long term beneficial to the economy and the people of this country. We have seen many times before that expediency in the name of more jobs, or greater energy supply has allowed the dirtiest industry in the country to create environmental disasters that have cost more in the long term to attempt to remediate, than the money they saved or benefits they produced in the short term. Growing the list of would be super-fund sites that will not or cannot ever be cleaned up is the opposite of progress by any definition.
The number of jobs produced by fracking has been outrageously over estimated. An industry financed study predicted 110,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, but the real number produced was about 11,000; an over promise by 10 to1. In fact many of those jobs were not new jobs but transferred workers from played out gas fields in other states, producing even lower net job creation. The promise of increased local or national revenue is also a false promise. The petrochemical industry is notorious for writing off foreign expenses against American profits enabling them to pay minimal if any domestic income tax. With New York and Pennsylvania not having a severance tax (tax on a natural resource extracted from a state), the entire cost of; the damage to these states infrastructure by tens of thousands of overweight tanker trucks; increase police and HazMet services; and more, will be borne by the state’s local residents, as a another subsidy or corporate welfare gift to the petrochemical conglomerates.
One of the industry’s top cheerleaders, T. Boone Pickens revealed on national television that natural gas would have to double in price from its current $3 per thousand cubic feet to $6 in order for the industry to make its expected profit margin. He also admitted that natural gas’ current overseas selling price of $12 to $15 is added pressure for the price to increase, as well as a significant amount of natural gas being exported. So the oft touted benefit of natural gas being a “cheaper” fuel will disappear as soon as the pushed for commitment to use it to generate more electricity and run our 18 wheelers on it becomes fact. After costly conversions; the U.S. will be married to natural gas for a long time. Referring to 100 years worth of natural gas makes a mockery, if not an outright lie, of the idea of using this hydrocarbon as merely a transitional fuel source.
Claims of the cleanliness of natural gas also come up ringing false and hollow. Work by scientists at Cornell University points to the total amount of greenhouse producing effect on the atmosphere makes natural gas virtually as dirty as coal. While its CO2 output when burned is less than other carbon based fuels, the significant amount of methane which vents into the air from wells, transfer pipelines and compressor stations; is twenty or more times as destructive vs. CO2 when it comes to producing the greenhouse effect which is the primary cause of global climate change. The real cost in terms of crop loss, desertification, rising oceans and a host of other planet and people destructive results from climate change make any further commitment to expanding the use of any fossil fuels, even as a temporary economic maneuver, a wrongheaded fool’s errand.
Any increased commitment to the burning of hydrocarbons will put new and greater road blocks in the way of the real progressive approach to energy production in this country. Only truly clean, safe and renewable energy is the right answer for the 21st. century and beyond. Wind, solar, geothermal and ocean hydro-electric generation, developed where appropriate and used together in the right mix, truly hold the promise for infinitely available, safe, clean, environmentally responsible, and ultimately cheap energy for now and the future. If the health, safety and well being of the people of this country, and indeed the world, are truly important to President Obama and members of his administration, rather than putting up a defense against the criticism from the hydrocarbon lobbies and their political operatives; he wouldn’t give those pushing for fracking, increased ocean oil drilling, the destruction of a part of North America the size of Florida for the mining of oil tar sand, the go ahead until and unless they can produce, high quality, long term, independent scientific studies showing proof positive that there are no environmentally destructive consequences from these radical petrochemical extraction process. Virtually everyone knowledgeable about environmental issue knows that proof of the sanity and safety of these processes currently does not and almost certainly will not ever be shown. On the other hand the amount of scientific evidence of the destructiveness of radical petrochemical exploitation is accumulating every day.
Until President Obama shows the concern for all the people of this country and the world, as well as the steel-like spine, that his supporters claim he has, by standing up to the single most destructive, dirty, greedy industry in the world; Obama can’t be trusted to protect the environment.