by Francis Shor
(Swans - November 15, 2010) A terminal cancer is eating away at the very bowels of the American earth! In various geographical locations of the United States where massive shale deposits offer opportunities for extraction of natural gas through a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the deadly drilling of this fossil fuel continues to metastasize. While there is growing concern about and protest against fracking, the inexorable exploitation by and economic power of the oil and gas companies involved augurs a future of devastating pollution of diminishing land and water resources.
Much of the struggle over the leasing of mineral rights and the attendant fracking has moved from western states like Colorado and Wyoming to those eastern states like Pennsylvania and New York that contain the large Marcellus Shale reserve. In New York the state legislature, responding to growing complaints about the potential exposure to toxic chemicals, especially to those whose water supply comes from the Delaware River Headwaters, has recently imposed a six-month moratorium on any further hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region. However, while citizen groups from southwest to northeast Pennsylvania have mounted campaigns to demand a moratorium or even outright banning, the state seems wedded at this point to finding ways to tax and regulate the industry.
Yet, two major fracking "accidents" in Pennsylvania, one in September of 2009 and another in June of 2010, underscore the inherent dangers in hydraulic drilling. The first took place in a rural area of northeast Pennsylvania where Cabot Oil and Gas released 35,000 gallons of wastewater into surrounding streams, killing off much of the flora and fauna. The other incident was an actual blowout of a well a little south and to the west in Clearfield. Although the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the company involved (EOG Resources), their license to drill was not revoked. Indeed, tens of thousands of individual licenses in Pennsylvania alone suggest the allure of profit is hard to resist.
While much of the insidious impact of fracking still remains underground and out of sight, there are clear signs of controversy on the horizon. Even with the now well-documented cases of the poisoning of groundwater in some of the western states, the industry seeks to hide behind its proprietary control of the fluids used in fracking. Nonetheless, carcinogens, such as benzene, have been part of the toxic mix brewed by such industry giants as Halliburton. As a consequence, the exemption from the Clean Water Act, engineered by former vice president and Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney, is now coming under scrutiny.
The above-ground implications of fracking were made particularly evident to my wife and me as we traveled through rural northern Pennsylvania recently. Driving on the newly paved sections of Route 6 in Bradford and Tioga counties, we saw truck after truck hauling away or delivering materials from hydraulic drilling sites. Having seen the powerful exposé of fracking in Josh Fox's documentary Gasland we were only slightly stunned by this non-stop caravan of trucks. In fact, it has been estimated that nearly 1000 truck trips per drilling and fracking is part of the process in Pennsylvania alone. No wonder that Pennsylvania politicians want to keep being players in these fossil fuel follies. Lots of money is there for the making, as well as needed jobs to be procured.
With corporations like Exxon and BP starting to buy up the smaller natural gas companies, the power of this industry will spread its tentacles from state to state and into the federal government. Already the federal Bureau of Land Management is leasing drilling rights at an incredible pace. The projection of hundreds of thousands of hydraulic fracturing sites around the country suggests a future of a staggering depletion and destruction of water resources. If the economic shortsightedness and hype of so-called "clean fuel" continue to boost and expand fracking, we will face an unprecedented assault on the environment that may very well doom future generations of residents of the United States to a slow, but sure, toxic death.
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About the Author
Fran Shor, a Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, teaches courses in the fields of historical and cultural studies. He is the author of three books, Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, 1888-1918, Bush-League Spectacles: Empire, Politics, and Culture in Bushwhacked America, and the recently published Dying Empire: U.S. imperialism and global resistance (Routledge, 2010); and scores of articles in academic journals. He has also published extensively on Web sites such as Common Dreams, CounterPunch, and History News Network. A veteran activist in peace, justice, and international solidarity campaigns, he is a long-time board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and Peace Action of Michigan. (back)