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AdLib On June - 23 - 2010

It has been hailed as America’s most sensible solution for breaking our dependency on foreign oil and reducing the potential environmental destruction oil drilling can cause, such as the ongoing catastrophe in the gulf.

It has been marketed and promoted by such trustworthy sources as T. Boone Pickens, oil industy megabillionaire and former financier of the fraudulent Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Natural gas will save America. And hey, it’s natural!

Of course, so is benzine and many other cancer-causing chemicals which are now polluting our nation’s water supply like an epidemic because of the process used to get natural gas out of the ground.

The lie is that natural gas is better for the environment than oil. The truth is that while the exhaust from vehicles and generators that use processed natural gas is less polluting than oil, extracting natural gas from the Earth is a horribly destructive process to our environment.

The trade off is, our drinkable water for fuel. Does this make any sense?

It is in fact a kind of shell game, all that is promoted to the public is the final product, cleaner burning fuel. What is hidden is that the destruction to the environment to get that fuel.

There is a remarkable documentary now airing on HBO titled “Gasland” that keenly exposes this deceit and the fraud of “natural” gas.  Here is the trailer for this eye opening film:

What is at the root of the catastrophe that is natural gas production is the method of extraction that is called Hydraulic Fracturing (referred to as “Frac” or “Fracking”).  In essence, it consists of high pressure drilling of holes which create many fractures in the Earth’s crust then forcing huge amounts water bearing over 596 toxic chemicals in to free the trapped natural gas and force it to the surface.

What this is accomplishing is destroying ground water, rivers and lakes across America. If it continues at the current pace, we may have plenty of cleaner burning fuel for our cars and reduce some of our dependency on foreign oil but we may instead become dependent on importing our drinking water from foreign countries. And there is no alternative to pursue for our reliance on water.

The process of mining and refining natural gas actually produces an enormous amount of hydrocarbons and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

In Gasland, filmmaker Josh Fox documents how severely polluted the water table is becoming. In the trailer above, you will witness one of many cases presented in the film of people lighting their tap water on fire.  River water bubbles with natural gas and lights on fire. Water wells at people’s homes have exploded. People who have lived on ground water have become ill and have died. Many now have to cart in huge amounts of water on a weekly basis to fill plastic cisterns on their property so they can have water to drink, do laundry and water plants. Animals and vegetation have become poisoned and killed. Cattle, chickens, etc. drinking contaminated water enter the nation’s food supply.

A few pieces of information from Gasland that are interesting:

  • The 2005 Energy Policy Act (nicknamed “The Haliburton Loophole”), drafted via Dick Cheney and his Energy Task Force that included the CEOs of most major oil and gas corporations in the U.S., exempted oil and gas companies from The Safe Water Drinking Act, The Clean Air Act and The Clean Water Act. They are permitted by law to put any chemicals they unilaterally choose to use, no matter how toxic or cancer causing, into the Earth and water that people drink and bathe in. The passage of this bill unleashed a stampede of companies to drill and the frenzy continues today.
  • Despite the conclusion in 2004 by the EPA that Hydraulic Fracturing was causing water contamination, the industry-stocked panel that the Bush Admin put in place rejected the report, simultaneously acknowledging that this process was putting toxic, cancer-causing chemicals into water but declaring that there was no reason to investigate and it wasn’t a risk. Five of the seven members on Bush’s panels appeared to have had conflicts of interest due to their involvement in the oil and gas industries and would appear to benefit from the EPA not pursuing this matter.
  • Each well, from drilling to the first flooding with Frac water (water that is contaminated with hundreds of toxic chemicals), requires 1,150 truck trips, often to distant, remote areas.  Out of all of the 400 to 600 tankers of Frac water that is injected in the drill holes, only about half of that amount comes back up and is removed…to open pits that allow for the Frac water to seep into the ground and some even have evaporation sprayers that spray Frac water up to evaporate into the air we breathe.  More problematic, the refining process for natural gas evaporates unwanted Frac moisture out of the gas and also releases it into the atmosphere. Ozone and pollutants in the air around such communities where such facilities are located are elevated and in some cases, far above EPA acceptable levels.
  • There are approximately 450,000 natural gas wells around the U.S. at this time. For the Frac process, each well initially requires between 1 million and 7 million gallons of water. Wells are re-Fracked up to 18 times, each time another 1 million to 7 million gallons of water are used. The math looks like this, 450,000 wells times 18 times 1-7 million gallons is in the ballpark of 40 trillion gallons of water…all of it polluted with the 596 chemicals and undrinkable in the future (how long can this be sustained without severely and permanently depleting our nation’s potable water supply?).
  • The Natural Gas industry is in the process of drilling and pursuing hundreds of thousands of more Frac wells across the country. The northern portion of the watershed area that supplies New York and the Delaware river basin, the largest unfiltered water supply in the world which supplies 15.6 million people with water (in NY, DE, PA and NJ),  is slated for natural gas drilling.  Around 50,000 gas wells are expected to be drilled in this area if drilling is not prevented (no NG wells have yet been drilled).

As with the Gulf state Governors who howl about the moritorium on deep sea oil drilling because of how it impacts the short term economy, this small minded ignorance of killing the golden goose to get its golden eggs today is reflective of the battle over a transition to clean energy.

The only way to make a transition is to reduce one element while increasing others. The problem here is that many states and corporations make a lot of money off of fossil fuels and will fight a real transition with everything they’ve got. Bobby Jindal, Mary Landrieu, Haley Barbour and other oil-company-owned pols in the Gulf will mindlessly campaign for more oil drilling even if it destroys their fishing industry and their wetlands…which will make another hurricane’s destruction of New Orleans more likely.  So, in order to save the Gulf, we must make destroying it more likely.

And the Natural Gas industry is smiling glibly at offering natural gas as a transitional fuel to get us to renewable energy but the more money they make and the bigger portion of the energy marketplace they hold is only a testament to the battle they will mount against ever moving off of natural gas to renewable energy.

The industry push for natural gas is the equivilent of a crack dealer offering their drug to help you get off of that nasty meth. It is not an answer, it is more quicksand for any pursuit of renewable and nonpolluting fuels. Unfortunately, many progressives (including me) and Dem politicians all the way up to Pres. Obama have been convinced along the way by the propaganda of natural gas and have supported it in the past.

As it was a wake up call for me, I hope policy makers and the President see “Gasland” and recognize that the terribly polluting process of obtaining natural gas is not outweighed by its cleaner burning properties and conversion should not proceed any further. At some point, there must be a somewhat bumpy change of course offroad from the Fossil Fuels Highway to the Renewable Fuels Highway. There will always be those that protest at the loss of jobs and business that fossil fuels “fuels” but that loss must occur at some time if we are to end our dependency on it.

Progress is painful but it is necessary. Avoiding pain in the short term at the cost of sacrificing necessary progress in the long term is short sighted and in the big picture, self-destructive.

After all, what jobs will left in the oil and natural gas industries anyway if there’s not enough water left for Americans to drink?

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

21 Responses so far.

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  1. dildenusa says:

    So how could a “coalition” of oil and oil service companies within a few weeks of President Obama’s moratorium on deepwater drilling not only file an injunction against the moratorium, but find a friendly judge to hear the case without further delay? This is a perfect example of the “shadow elites” at work to undermine efforts to make the corporatocracy accountable. Instead we get arguments about the government hindering legal business activity.

    Just like unnatural gas with it’s pretzle logic, we get environmental destruction on a grand scale with the corporatocracy and their shadow elites telling us to stop whining. I’m not whining, I’m screaming.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/us/23drill.html?th&emc=th
    http://www.ourfuture.org/

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-johnson/drill-baby-drill-judge-pi_b_622888.html

  2. escribacat says:

    Great post, Adlib. I remember reading about those “fire faucets” that occurred in a town north of me and just thought something had gone wrong in that area. I didn’t realize how widespread and insidious this is. What is wrong with the human being that he is so willing to destroy his own planet home for a quick buck? Do these folks have some disconnect in their brains? I just don’t get it.

    • AdLib says:

      Thanks Escribicat!

      My unfortunate conclusion is that there are many wealthy people who only care about one thing, being wealthier. Greed isn’t just good to them, it’s God. And they serve their God above all others.

      As Kesmarn mentioned below, like Cheney, they have kids and/or grandkids themselves but even their own children’s lives and futures come a distant second to greed.

      As I mentioned below, I think they believe that their wealth will insulate and protect them and their families from the terrible future they are working towards, a convenient delusion which serves them and their pursuits well.

  3. bitohistory says:

    FYI, A good progressive site/think tank that has some quality articles on the environment:

    http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/energy/

    I found this one interesting because Bernie Sandes had an amendment defeated 60-30 to end $35b in energy subsidies. Not one R voted for it.
    http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/05/gandhi_video.html

    Why Do We Give Oil Companies Such Large Subsidies? Sima J. Gandhi explains why oil companies get such large government handouts, why they take such little responsibility when they cause disasters, and what we can do to hold them more responsible.


    • AdLib says:

      I wonder how such an amendment would fare right now? It’s too bad that elections are rolling around now, I don’t have a lot of faith in Obama and Congress being able to move an energy bill forward now but it would seem to have such a wind at its back right now.

  4. choicelady says:

    AdLib. I’m so overwhelmed by all this. I knew none of it, and it’s so typical of the way we proceed. Science is no longer “pure” but always applied, and it seems that when we learn something about any aspect of our world, we move immediately to the WORST applications. There is a serious incentive NOT to do the things that are easy since they cannot be securely patented or pinned down as our exclusive property. The more complex the process -- the more dangerous -- the more the corporation that invented it is essential to the ownership, operation, and yes, clean up of whatever disaster we have created.

    We also do see people as utterly extinguishable. Today on HP there was a story about a tiny town SE of Los Angeles, Maywood, that is giving up ALL its services and contracting with surrounding communities since they have absolutely no tax base. It is 1.20 square miles large. There were SO many people who wrote -- 1.20 square miles? Who cares?

    CA will have an $11 billion water bond up in November. I want DATA on what is to get done, what it costs, who has bad water and why, and why we are not using up what’s left of the last TWO water bonds. We were approached for support of the bond, and I asked for data. What I got was the slick glossy PR shit. (Yeah -- the Churchlady swears. Often.) I do not doubt now that we have problems, probably around King City from Frac work I betcha, but WHERE and WHY. ANd if gas companies are responsible -- why put this state in MORE debt??? Make the companies provide the clean water and do the cleaning up!!!

    I’m exhausted from stories about poor and isolated people -- often immigrants -- who come here for hope and die for the lack of simple justice. I’m sick of being expendable. I’m sick of the 19th-century rape the planet, there’s always more kind of attitude. There is NO more. None. I never thought I’d live to see the planet die, but I am. It’s entirely preventable, but we won’t do it until it comes to Beverly Hills. BTW -- there ARE gas fields there and under Hancock Park. That might be our answer -- off a few of the rich and famous, and then see the remediation!

    This is as depressing as (was it WTS? bito? Sorry I can’t look) the post on the Big Burp in the Gulf on OT.

    I watch this president try to stave off the creepy technologists with little impact, but somewhere, some time, we have GOT to come to our senses! I simply do not know what to do. It’s all beyond me anymore.

    I deeply appreciate the story. It is information I never had, and it’s incredibly useful. Thank you. When I get over being depressed about it I WILL act on it! Thanks, AdLib!

    • AdLib says:

      My response to this revelation was anger and unfortunately, a feeling that, of course, it figures that the “solution” offered by gas and oil companies would be designed with total disregard for and contamination of the environment.

      Insatiable greed seems obviously the main motivation for Wall Street to sabotage the world economy and energy corps to destroy the the planet (but never The Planet!).

      Additionally, I think in some of these monsters’ heads is the religious belief that it is mankind’s duty to to sublimate nature, so pursuing greed while destroying all around oneself is fulfilling God’s plan.

      I appreciate your feeling sucker punched by this, I was too. I do think proliferating this info at this time, when oil and gas companies are being universally seen as destroying our planet, could result in change. Witness Bito’s post below about Wyoming moving against these powerful interests in their state on their fracking.

      It is discouraging that there is no direction we can turn without discovering more corporations raping and pillaging. It does feel though that a day of reckoning is coming closer and closer, where the people will either push back against corporate domination or be steamrollered as victims underneath them. I do think, in the end, the people will prevail but it may be a long and destructive road getting there.

  5. kesmarn says:

    Would love to hear the rationale for why only water that has been contaminated with toxic chemicals is suitable for accomplishing this “fracking” feat. Mere water alone wouldn’t do it? Grrrrrr.

    There’s something so…so…Halliburton about all this. Does Cheney actually believe that his own grandchildren are not going to grow up on this planet? Will there be canned air and bottled Evian enough for his lineage to survive for generations? Or has he already purchased land and mineral drilling rights on Mars?

    • choicelady says:

      This may explain his support for GLBT rights and marriage equality -- fewer kids, none of them his grandchildren. Is that too cynical?

      • kesmarn says:

        😆 Hey, c’lady, CNN is doing a story called “Gary and Tony Have a Baby,” so he’d be well advised to revise his sinister game plan.

        I think anything that smacks of life…any sort of joie de vivre or mirth or creativity makes his sorry little soul shrivel a bit more (if that’s possible). So a toxic tea flowing from the faucets of the nation warms the cockles of his tiny heart, I’m sure.

        • choicelady says:

          kes -- H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism (should actually have been Victorianism) as “the fear that someone, somewhere, somehow is having a good time.” Apparently the only real joy Cheney gets is shooting things. Or people. I would imagine you’re quite right that knowing the “little people” are getting sick from his making billions would at LEAST bring a smile.

          Stinking old bastard.

    • AdLib says:

      The chemicals are principally for maximizing the amount of natural gas that is freed.

      Though the practice is destructive just by cracking the Earth’s crust and allowing natural gas to infiltrate the water table and atmosphere, not doing the fracking would make it less destructive.

      The yields might be reduced but it would still be fruitful. That’s not good enough for greedy corporations. “More profits but poison the U.S. water supply? Makes sense to me!”

      Like other sociopathic, wealthy and powerful people, they don’t care about destroying society because they’re confident that they and their families will be protected by their wealth and power. So if destroying the environment will make them wealthier and more powerful, all the better to them.

  6. bitohistory says:

    Ah,ha. I wasn’t dreaming, it was on NOW

    A new boom in natural gas drilling, a process called fracking, raises concerns about health and environmental risks. NOW talks with filmmaker Josh Fox about ‘Gasland’, his Sundance award-winning documentary on the surprising consequences of natural gas drilling. Fox’s film, inspired when the gas company came to his hometown, alleges chronic illness, animal-killing toxic waste, disastrous explosions, and regulatory missteps.

    to buy:
    http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=4040700

    To watch:
    http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/index.html

  7. bitohistory says:

    What is strange is PBS had a program that had nearly all the facts you listed from the HBO film. It was both frightening and enlightening. The chemicals that they pump down the wells is also interesting in that the make-up of them is mostly unknown—THEY ARE PROPRIETARY! “None of our business what we are putting in your water. Its not the governments business either.”

    I, like you, was believing all of the salvation news of “getting us off foreign oil.” “The energy of transition.” It sure sounded good to me.

    Good article, AdLib. Now we need some action to stop this practice before we have to start having to import water and oil.

    • AdLib says:

      I’m a bit mad at myself for originally accepting the deceptive representations about natural gas. You really can’t take anything in the media or that’s “common knowledge” for granted…especially when T. Boone Pickens supports it.

      We do need a transition from fossil fuels but not from one to another, that’s terribly nonsensical when you stop for a moment to think about it, hence my meth to crack allegory.

      • bitohistory says:

        AdLib, As I understand it, fracking is not absolutely necessary. They do it to get every last molecule of gas out of marginal wells. I don’t know when this became a common practice.

        Oddly, I went to Center for American Progress after reading your post and the “Idea of the Day” dealt with the topic of fracking. You may like to take a look.

        Idea of the Day: Disclose Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

        The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted unanimously two weeks ago to approve new rules that require oil and gas companies in the state to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing of underground formations during drilling. The fossil fuel industry boasts enormous clout in the state, and the vote suggests that the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill may be convincing regulators that tougher oversight is needed, even in places where the oil and gas industry is viewed as an ally.

        http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/ideas/2010/06/062310.html

        • AdLib says:

          Very good news to hear there’s a state reassessing fracking, especially one so intertwined with the oil and gas corporations.

          I agree with you, the toxic fracking doesn’t appear to be necessary but is to maximize returns.

          States should at the very least pass restrictions to ensure that water should not be contaminated to be used for fracking…while working to end this practice. We have had natural gas extraction well before Haliburton came up with this destructive process.

  8. dildenusa says:

    OK. I must have drunk some of the waste water from a fracking operation because I’m a little confused. Now, as anyone who has watched the live feed from BP’s blown out oil well and the surface ships burning off gas so they can collect the oil, I have become completely disoriented. There is enough natural gas that seeps into the oceans every day, not even counting BP’s well, that could light up the entire city of New York for some incalculable length of time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate
    So it seems to me that before we poison ourselves and muck about in the worst kind of toxic waste imaginable we should be designing and deploying technology to go after the methane at the bottom of the oceans.

    • AdLib says:

      I’m not opposed to the use of natural gas but it seems unavoidable that corporations destroy the environment when they pursue fossil fuels.

      Knowing the oil and gas companies, they’d probably create natural gas capturing machines at the bottom of the ocean that emit radioactivity or mutant killer shrimp.


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