Monday, September 10, 2012

Fracking Is A Little Harder To Ignore Than Global Warming

 If you have ever channel surfed your way over to the news, or picked up a newspaper since the 1980s chances are you have heard about global warming.  Its a favorite topic to kick around, there is enough science or lack thereof on both sides to make an argument.  Either we have junked up the planet so much we are slowly cooking ourselves alive, or we just haven't been able to track the planets temperature long enough to rule out warming and cooling cycles.  I'm sure our children's grand children will have a better answer to that question.  In terms of environmental issues its one of the sexier ones right up their with saving the whales, it gets a lot of attention and its a popular around Hollywood as the cause of the day.  What's less publicized is Fracking.  No its not some made up swear word from Battlestar Galatica, you welcome for the reference you nerds.

Fracking is a technique to extract natural gas from the earth by breaking up pockets of natural gas by pumping chemicals into the ground.  These chemicals are toxic and are finding their way into the water supply for everyone to enjoy.  Fracking already occurs out in the Mid West of the United States and its effects are documented in a movie called Gasland.  I watched the movie, and it documented the problems that arose from Fracking.  Probably the most telling scene that has to give anyone pause is when a homeowner is able to light the water coming out of the tap on fire.  I'm not talking about a little pilot light or cheap butane lighter flame, think more billowing inferno like the John Wayne classic The Hellfighters.  As you watch the flames trying to lick the kitchen ceiling and ready to consume the window curtains if they were there any more, its a good time to test if you are a rational person.  A rational person would think something like this falls under the category of "Not Good."

Then comes the reported health problems and some damage control by the natural gas companies involved in Fracking.  You have your series of nondisclosure agreements, out of court settlements, half-hearted remedies followed by law suits and the big scare that cancer clusters are popping up because of Fracking.  A cancer cluster is when a local area sees a surge in recording cases of cancer developing beyond the expected rate.  The movie goes through some pretty heartbreaking stories, tales of callous responses and the promise of the looming threat of Fracking on the East Coast of the United States.

Now for the sake of fairness lets pretend these claims are not substantiated or based on junk science.  The energy companies engaged in Fracking have an interest to generate data contradicting the concerns raised by environmentalists, lawsuits, and this movie.  Sure enough there are reports out there that focus on debunking these claims, it would be a financial disaster otherwise.  It would certainly effect jobs and energy prices, and of course America's dependence on foreign energy.  If you live anywhere near where they are proposing to Frack, you probably have seen a number of commercials extolling the virtues of Fracking.  More jobs, energy independence, safety concerns and big international energy firms playing the concerned neighbor.

I personally am against Fracking.  I pretty much wrote it off as a source of energy production the minute I saw that tap become a flamethrower.  Its a powerful image and one observable by the naked and requires little in the way of connecting the dots.  Dangerous flammable chemicals go in the ground, end up in the water supply, and your kitchen tap can suddenly cook the Thanksgiving Turkey.  Contrast this to Global Warming where you have a mild summer followed up by a scorching one the next year.  There are tons of factors that make connections between green house gases murky, but with Fracking we have the smoking gun of a flaming tap.  Just for fun find the scene where they light it on fire online or even watch the movie, and come up with arguments how its all coincidental or circumstantial.  If you can do that convincingly you have a future as a lobbyist, and a high paid one at that.

Certainly a line gets crossed when the safety and health of the public takes a second to profits.  Especially when the public doesn't have the ability to avoid the harm caused by the hazardous activity undertaken.  In a down economy the arguments of energy independence and job creation are going to the Trojan Horses to sneak the acceptance of bodily harm past policy makers and people sitting on the fence.  Anyone taking a long view of the situation should be smart enough to see past those two arguments.  First natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a limited resource, true energy independence can only come from renewable resources.  After all once you run out of something you have either do without it, or simply buy it off someone else.  Second you can create all the jobs in the world but if you end up disabling and killing off your workforce, getting shellacked with class action lawsuits and making sizable chunks of land uninhabitable for health reasons, you are going to end up costing everyone in the long run.  Moving people away from the area effected is costly, workers from Fracking jobs shut down probably will be looking at unemployment, and just the costs of appealing court decisions, lawyers and a potential jury trial is going to wreck any company.  At the very least dealing with all that is going to negate your short term profits, and its just bad business to knowingly ignore harm for profits.  Go look up what happened to Ford when it tried to cover up the dangers of the Pinto, the resulting lawsuit made Ford a limping ghost on its feet in the automotive world for years.

Where the line should be set by energy companies and policy makers is developing and encouraging clean, alternative energy and the abandoning of fossil fuel sources as it becomes practical.  At the very least the practice of Fracking should be abandoned in favor of better technology to safely harvest natural gas.  Ignoring public safety for a moment, the long term sustainable jobs created by pursuing better technology carries less harm and opens up new avenues for profitable growth.  It should also be a matter of international prestige, just like it was a big deal to land on the moon, so should being the first country to develop renewable cheap energy sources.  Certainly the demand for people to do that would mean gearing up our education system to produce scientists, mathematicians, computer analysts and a host of hi tech jobs.  In comparison Fracking doesn't demand nearly the same level of technical dedication as its based on technology from 1947.  We can do better than a the fracting pump 2.0, we should expect American industry to come up with something better.

If you still are not convinced that Fracking is a bad idea and you can't be bothered to see a "preachy environmental movie."  Ask yourself, would you be comfortable drinking a glass of water near landed that has been Fracked?

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