Sacrificing Drinking Water for Clean Energy

Posted by Greg on Nov 4, 2009 in Op-Ed

Sacrificing Drinking Water for Clean Energy
By Chris Hedges

With coal and oil decried as dirty and blamed for global warming, natural gas is being touted as clean and green by industry and the Obama administration. Even the New York Times is on-board, proclaiming that new drilling technologies for extracting natural gas from formerly inaccessible shale bedrock may vastly expand global supplies.

But reports from across America are painting a different picture. This August in Pavillion, Wyoming, federal investigators found drinking water wells contaminated with highly toxic chemicals used by the new natural gas drilling processes. In September in Dimmick, Pennsylvania an 8,000-gallon gas drilling wastewater spill caused a major fish kill in Stephens Creek. And this month in Dish, Texas gas drilling was identified as the cause of carcinogenic and neurotoxic air pollution emissions violating state standards.

These events and others serve as a warning to communities being courted by the fossil fuel industry as it gears up to tap natural gas shale reserves in up to 31 states using new technologies’ horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At the top of the list is New York state, where a just released Department of Environmental Conservation Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is viewed by many as giving a green light to drill thousands of fracking wells in a vast swath reaching from the Catskills west to Lake Erie.

“The industry is calling the Southern Tier of New York state the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” says Wes Gillingham, program director of the Catskill Mountainkeeper environmental group. But this region is also the Saudi Arabia for clean drinking water, serving New York City, Philadelphia, western New Jersey and Delaware. Irreversible contamination of that watershed’s underground aquifer, he says, would be catastrophic, destroying the drinking water for fourteen million people.

But the oil industry wants the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas locked under the Marcellus Shale that runs across New York, through Pennsylvania into Ohio and West Virginia.

It takes 3 to 5 million gallons of water per well to drill down through the shale to the natural gas using the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. The water is mixed with resin-coated sand and a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, biocides and benzene to facilitate the fracturing of the shale to extract the gas.

The toxic brew is injected with extreme force deep within the earth. The drilling is vertical for the first 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Then new technology, developed by Halliburton, allows drills to abruptly turn sideways propelling toxic chemicals and sand horizontally for half a mile. The sand holds open the fissures created, and the gas flows to the surface in steel casings.

Much of the toxic water used to extract the natural gas is left underground, and could seep into groundwater. The rest is stored in huge open pits or tanks that dot the landscape at drilling sites, awaiting vast fleets of trucks to transport it to already overworked wastewater treatment facilities. Fully developed natural gas fields can include thousands of well pads, surrounded by mega-complexes of compressors, condensate pools, tanks, and mazes of feeder pipelines.

“Living with this type of infrastructure and development is difficult to imagine. You can feel and hear the compressor engines roaring,” says Kathy Chruscielski, a citizen activist with the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “It’s like living next to a 24 hour truck stop. Homeowners suddenly find themselves next door to an industrial zone with very little recourse at the federal and state levels.”

Such drilling has already poisoned wells, and threatened property values, in western Pennsylvania, Colorado, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, Montana, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Farm animals that have drunk the toxic mixture leeching from drilling sites have died. Colorado cattle ranchers report that livestock raised near wells have been victim to falling birthrates and deformed offspring, while anecdotal reports of increased human cancers near wells are increasing.

The natural gas companies insist that the millions of gallons of poisoned water left underground or stored in open pits pose no threat to watersheds. Let us hope they are right. The truth is, no one knows.

“What’s amazing is that we never seem to learn,” says Gillingham. “Whether it is PCBs or DDT, we always embrace these new technologies without invoking the precautionary principle.”

The natural gas companies, however, are taking no such risk. Their lobbyists ensured that the industry be exempted by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 from complying with the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

So today, there is no federal oversight over horizontal drilling and fracking, and wholly inadequate state oversight. Meanwhile, the toxic fracking formulas used by the drilling companies are secret, and not released to the public.

We are simply told to trust the natural gas industry, as we were told to trust Wall Street.

© 2009 www.blueridgepress.com

Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Chris Hedges has spent nearly three decades as a journalist, working for The New York Times, National Public Radio and The Dallas Morning News. He lives in Princeton, NJ.


Guest Editorial: Washington’s Masque of the Red Death

Posted by Greg on Nov 4, 2009 in Op-Ed

Washington’s Masque of the Red Death
By Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

New administrations normally inspire commentators into rummaging through a thesaurus to extract that single phrase or word that is apposite to the times. Instead musing about a reincarnation of The Square Deal, The New Deal, The Great Society, or the If-You-Thought-the-Others-Were-Something-Wait-Till-You-See-This Program, lets look at a writer who really had a taste for the extravagant, Edgar Allan Poe. No one beats this master of the macabre for delving into the remoter regions of the dark side that lurk in every soul. And without question, there’s enough macabre lurking in our nations capital today to satiate the weirdest among us.

So many poems, so many stories, so little space to use them all! Lets settle on The Masque of the Red Death and see where that leads us. The tale begins with Prince Prospero gathering a thousand of his friends into the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys to seal them from a pestilence, the Red Death, which had claimed half of his countrymen. Within this secure confine these masquerading waltzers revel in the company of buffoons and ballet dancers, while cavorting through chambers where a kaleidoscope of colors sprays ghastly patterns across walls and floors. In one room, a giant ebony clock looms over all, sounding its brazen lungs on the hour, causing temporary surcease of frivolities. Into this mix enters a masked figure, shrouded in the habiliments of the grave, with a physiognomy of a corpse dabbled in blood. His presence so enrages the prince that he assaults the stranger, only to drop dead in the encounter, as do all of his companions when they discover to their horror that the disembodied wraith was untenanted by any tangible form. At the last stroke of twelve, the ebony clock expires with the last of the gay.

What does this all mean? Poet Richard Wilbur explains that this windowless fortress represents a dream world whose inhabitants are free from the harshness of waking temporal consciousness, symbolized by the deathly figure draped in funereal garb speckled with blood. The ebony clock represents the inevitable countdown to the ruthless truth of reality, from which Poe spent his entire professional life trying to flee. Injecting the reality principle into the fantasies of the revelers destroys them and the world they inhabit.

So what does this have to do with politics? Plenty, especially if one no longer can make sense of stories about Washington’s revelers, whose antics defy normal categories of policy description and push to the farthest boundaries of political and economic sanity. A sampling: multi-trillion dollar deficits are projected for programs that somehow magically will save money, all while being opposed by a majority of the American people. Unemployment soars, in a world where fears of man-made global warming challenge Puff-the-Magic-Dragon for the award of the most favored fantasy of the decade. Charges are hurled against citizens who are regarded as cowards or children by those who haven’t the faintest idea of what lies outside the cocoon of Washington rhetoric. Patriots are prosecuted while psychopaths are protected; allies are betrayed, crucial decisions dithered on, adversaries appeased, dictators coddled, dissent dismissed with contempt and threatened by subtle hints of annihilation.

To some of us who once peppered our lawns with I Like Ike signs, whose eyes get watery with the sounds of patriotic music, and whose intellectual architecture includes John Phillip Sousa melodies and tales of Orson Wells attack of the Martians, it is all madness. It is Prince Prospero’s costumed specters whirling in masqueraded follies, insulated from the world and from the red death of reality. Even Poe would be challenged by such a lunatic environment; indeed, he should sue Washington for copyright infringement.

All of which leaves some with the feeling that what we are witnessing in our nations capital today simply cannot go on indefinitely; it is not sustainable, to use currently fashionable gibberish. A day of reckoning awaits us; or an apocalypse, call it what you will. Time and repetition have attenuated the shock value of facile comparisons to the Great Depression or banana republic economics. Something more profound is at work here, more disturbing. Call it deep anxiety, that creeping terror that hollowed out the souls of Poe’s characters, leaving them empty and quaking at the same time. Can a void tremble? Yes, it can, he taught us and experience confirms. Were waiting for the reality principle to assert its truth, for that doleful clock to strike its final note.

God help us all when that time arrives for America.

Marvin Folkertsma, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and Fellow for American Studies with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is the author of several books. His latest release is a high-energy novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”

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