Fracking: Why corporate-driven energy policy is bad for America

ROBERT KUDLOW: Won’t this natural gas fracking revolution really change America, change business, make us more competitive, and help people with utility bills at home?

MITT ROMNEY: Yeah, it can be a real godsend. This natural gas can just be an extraordinary source of economic vitality for this country, make us more competitive, particularly in energy-intensive industries than we have been. Be a real blessing to the American homeowner. The natural gas revolution, given the new technology of horizontal drilling, fracking, the 100 years supply of natural gas, this is a huge benefit.

The Kudlow Report, CNBC, April 21, 2012

This exchange and the reassuring ad that follows provide examples of how media, corporations, advertising and politicians work together to sell dubious corporate agendas to the American people. Bolstered by slick public service announcements, and focus group tested talking points, corporations are able to neutralize criticism and foist outright lies onto a gullible and complicit public. The lies and misconceptions are there to hide the often devastating public cost of private gain. And when it comes to fracking, the cost is steep.  And why is it steep? You can thank your corporate owned government.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005

To understand how our government is in the thrall of corporate interests (no matter which party is in power) we need only look at the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which specifically included provisions to exempt the gas and oil industries from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was passed (by Democrats and Republicans) shortly before the recent upsurge in natural gas drilling. The bill specifically exempts the fluids used in a method of natural gas extraction developed by Halliburton called “hydralic fracturing” or “fracking.” Fracking uses massive amounts of water combined with proprietary mixtures of highly toxic chemicals to release natural gas trapped in rock or shale. As natural gas drilling increases, contamination of water wells and the surrounding environment increases. If contamination were due to accidental negligence, the problem would not be as widespread as it is.

In its February 2011 three-part investigative series on fracking, the New York Times reported on more than 200 fracking wells in Pennsylvania, which produce wastewater containing corrosive salts and radioactive and carcinogenic materials. Its investigation found that toxic wastewater had been sent through sewage treatment plants. The treatment plants were unable to remove some of the contaminants before the water was discharged into rivers and streams that provide drinking water.

The Times discovered lax regulation, irresponsible gas industry behavior, and politicization of the science involved in government decision-making. It was clear that EPA Environmental Impact Statements, scientific investigations and reports to Congress had been deeply impacted by powerful special interests.

If the industry and its political retainers in the White House, Congress and the EPA believed that the aquifers and environment would be protected, there would have been no need to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The industry pushed for the exemption knowing full well it would be contaminating water supplies and a complicit government acquiesced. The industry wanted to protect itself from interference and liability for environmental damage as it took advantage of new technologies to expand natural gas drilling.

What CNBC did not report:

  • Drilling emits Nitrogen Oxide & Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) resulting in destructive surface smog.
  • Researchers suspect that 65% of the compounds used in fracking are hazardous to human health
  • Over 3,500,000 gallons of water are used when fracking a single well.
  • Over 70% of fracking fluid remains in the ground and is not biodegradable
  • Over 80,000 pounds of chemicals are injected into the Earth’s crust to frack each well.

As documented in the movie Gasland, some in Pennsylvania, who have licensed their land to fracking operations, have lost their homes and suffered serious health problems.  Some have had their water supply so compromised that they have been able to strike a match and ignite the water coming from their kitchen faucet. Besides health hazards and environmental pollution, scientists have confirmed fracking has triggered earthquakes. Earlier this year, the struggling city of Youngstown Ohio bought earthquake insurance because of an increased incidence of earthquakes caused by fracking.  According to a Bloomberg news article published in January of this year:

There have been 11 earthquakes in this northeastern Ohio city since D&L Energy Inc. began injecting drilling brine, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, 9,200 feet (2,804 meters) underground in December 2010. The strongest magnitude 4.0  hit last week on New Year’s Eve.

Who pays for environmental destruction caused by fracking?

CNBC’s Kudlow Report, a pro-industry love fest masquerading as journalism, ignored the serious environmental and health problems caused by fracking. Further, it failed to mention that corporations are passing on the costs of fracking—environmental degradation, loss of homes, and health problems—to the American people.

Why shouldn’t the always-profitable, taxpayer subsidized, energy industry pay for the cleanup of their destructive practices rather than shoving it off on individuals and local governments? Then again, why are we accepting the inevitability of having to “clean up, anything” whether the mess is from deep water oil drilling, natural gas fracking, or a nuclear meltdown? Why haven’t we shifted our focus away from fossil fuels (including “clean coal”) nuclear energy, and other damaging and potentially dangerous technologies, toward environmentally safer renewable energies like wind and solar? That’s easy: Because we allow myopic, profit-driven, self-serving corporations to determine our energy policy.

If we continue to embrace a corporate driven energy policy, we will continue to be at the mercy of CEOs and boards of directors of multinational corporations who have no allegiance to this country, or its people. The idea that we should “drill here” because we need to rid ourselves of foreign oil is ludicrous as oil multi-national companies sell oil on the international market, wherever they realize the best profit. And, uplifting public service announcements notwithstanding, corporations, by and large, are not all that interested in what is best for the environment. They are interested in making money for themselves and their shareholders. In other words, we really can’t count on Exxon Mobil to “do it right.”