A friend of mine recently hosted a home screening of the documentary Gasland 2 by Josh Fox. The film exposes the environmental and health dangers of “fracking,” a technology used to extract unconventional natural gas trapped below shale and coal bed rock formations. Although vilified by the gas and oil industry, Fox’s first documentary Gasland was nominated for an academy award and won a special jury prize at the Sundance film festival.
Both Gasland documentaries reveal information about fracking rarely covered in corporate owned media. If you are at all concerned about global warming, the environment, or the growing influence of corporations in government, Gasland 2 is a must see film. You will come away convinced that fracking is dangerous and needs to be stopped. There’s hope. The entire state of New York has banned fracking—at least temporarily. When citizens mobilize and push back hard, democracy works. You can catch Gasland 2 on HBO and watch the first Gasland on Netflix.
But, be forewarned. In 2010, the Guardian reported that the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security placed Actor Mark Ruffalo on a US terror list because he organized screenings of the first Gasland documentary and openly campaigned against fracking. Yes, you too could be named a terrorist for organizing viewings of Gasland 2, for calling for the end of fracking, for campaigning against Monsanto and its bee-killing pesticides, or demonstrating against the extension of the Keystone pipeline. In a corporate controlled government, if you are an activist or a journalist who questions or protests corporate or government activities, you exercise your first amendment rights at your own risk.
Obama’s speech on climate change
In his recent speech on climate change, Obama brilliantly managed to push fracking without using the word fracking. He simply repeated the industry’s carefully parsed talking points.
Now, even as we’re producing more domestic oil, we’re also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on Earth. And again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer, because in the medium term, at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.
Obama goes on to say:
Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a critical ‘bridge fuel’ for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy.
That premise is false. When measured in its entire life cycle—as Cornell University researchers found —fracked gas is actually dirtier than coal and therefore is a bridge to nowhere other than extreme climate disruption. That’s due to fugitive methane emissions, conveniently left out of the climate plan: methane is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.
Studies show that the process of drilling, fracking, processing and transporting natural gas releases a tremendous amount of methane into the air. Methane is 70-100 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. Some recently published studies on methane emissions show that burning natural gas may be even worse, in terms of the overall greenhouse gas footprint, than burning coal for electricity and burning fuel oil to heat homes or run industrial boilers. A massive expansion of fracking threatens to undo any gains from other parts of [Obama’s] plan and may make matters even worse.
Wherever it occurs, fracking puts communities at great risk of serious water diversion, depletion, and contamination. Families who live near fracking operations have experienced serious unexplained illnesses, had their drinking water polluted with toxic chemicals and their property values plummet to zero. Recent studies have linked fracking to an increase in earthquakes.
As documented in Gasland 2, the Obama administration has directly interfered and frustrated the efforts of career workers at the EPA. It has prevented the EPA from releasing negative studies on fracking and water contamination, and prevented the agency from helping people sue for compensation from the industry when their homes and communities have been destroyed.
The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 contained an exemption for gas drilling and extraction from requirements in the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Other exemptions are also present in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The Obama administration supports those exemptions. Thanks to intensive lobbying by the industry, fracking is exempt from many state water use regulations that limit large water withdrawals despite the fact that each fracking well can use up to five million gallons of locally sourced water.
At the behest of the oil and gas industry, President Obama has been aggressively pushing to expand fracking on 700 million acres of federal public land some of which is near national parks. He has already leased 38 million acres of federal lands, on which over three thousand new wells have been drilled, most of which have been, or will be, fracked.
So who, exactly, is President Obama working for?
We can find out who counts in Washington by reading an excellent 2013 report, Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab, by the Transnational Institute (TNI). TNI is an international network of activist-scholars who provide critical analyses of the global problems.
First, there are the technology experts including Halliburton, Schlumberger, Haker Hughes, GasFrac Energy Services, and Frac Tech services. Next there are the drillers, global corporations such Exxon Mobil, Chesapeake, Chevron, Apache, Encana, Shell, etc. Finally, there are the financiers and investors such as French Total, Italian ENI and Spanish Repsol, who finance projects in joint venture with drillers. Each fracking site usually involves at least two or three companies, both national and foreign. And of course, these corporations have to partner with governments around the world because governments issue licenses and permits, develop energy policies that support fracking, and pass laws that facilitate exploration and production.
Because corporate capital is global Obama’s fracking agenda is global
In 2010, Obama and Hillary launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative through the Department of State. Its mission is to push legislation worldwide that favors fracking. To support this new initiative, in 2011, Obama had the Department of Energy map the gas shale resources across the entire globe.
In the US, global oil and natural gas money funds lobbies such as the Americas Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute. Also on the natural gas payroll are those in the academic and scientific world who develop bogus studies for the industry to support fracking. These well paid, industry friendly academics, scientists and consultants are, in turn, called on to write industry friendly government reports such as the US Department of Energy’s influential World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States. In this way, justification for fracking is manufactured through a complicated web of industry connections and interests and greased by industry money.
Obama’s fracking policy impedes the advance to sustainable energy
Just like Obamacare served to kneecap a move to single payer health care, Obama putting his full weight behind fracking impedes the full advance of cleaner and sustainable energy solutions, while expanding corporate, profit-driven control over natural resources and public lands. He has enabled the oil and gas industry to postpone the coming end of the oil gravy train by cashing in on a reckless and damaging pursuit of natural gas profits.
Contrary to oil and gas industry disinformation, according to one scientist interviewed in Gasland 2, we have the technology available, right now, to provide all the world’s energy needs with renewables, such as wind, solar and tidal power—many times over. What’s stopping that from happening? —Politicians and presidents, in the United States and elsewhere, who, first and foremost, serve the interests of oil and gas industry billionaires.