JD insisted that I watch this documentary about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the US. (Aquadoc's detailed summary of the film and review is here; also see wikipedia.)
In the film, Josh Fox travels in areas that have "experienced" fracking for years, collecting stories and data about damage to the environment and people's health that result from fracking in shale formations. (The most appalling scenes in the movie are where industry representatives try to deny that they have anything to do with polluted surface and ground water, using the old "those claims are over-stated" and "we have no evidence" excuses to cover up their activities.)
Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Dick Cheney's secret energy taskforce was directly responsible for the legislation that exempted fracking from regulation under the clean water act. (Iraq appears to have been a hope for the energy folks, but that invasion was more about neoconservative's pipedreams of democracy, I think.)
- Some environmental regulators (from PA and NY, e.g.) appear to think that their job is to protect the energy industry, not the environment.*
- Halliburton (the company that admits it was using weak concrete on the Deep Horizon wellhead) does a lot of fracking work. Cheney is also its ex-CEO (and apparently, he's being sought by Interpol for bribery in Nigeria). Bad news.
- Fourteen percent of Americans get their water from wells; these people often live in rural areas where fracking happens. These people are the ones losing their water supplies. It's ironic (and sad) to me that these stereotypical pro-fossil fuel Republicans are getting screwed by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry.
- Companies that take responsibility for polluted groundwater often provide drinking water. This does nothing to replace polluted water that cannot be used (safely) for livestock, irrigation, etc.
- The famous "flaming tap water" scenes in the movie may be caused by methane instead of natural gas.**
- The FRAC Act to close the "Halliburton loophole" by requiring that chemicals used in fracking be disclosed and that fracking operations comply with the safe water drinking act is still stuck in Congress.
First, the problem with fracking is not necessarily the chemicals that are injected underground. Those may or may not be dangerous. The problem is how the fracturing allows ANYTHING to mix with groundwater -- polluting it with **methane, natural gas, arsnic or any other substance that was previously isolated from the aquifer. It's in this sense that fracking operations may be causing the most damage.***
Second, the infrastructure for moving natural gas is responsible for significant pollution (e.g., Dallas-Ft. Worth has the same pollution from pipes and compressors as ALL the auto traffic in the area.) -- this pollution should be added to the pollution from production AND consumption to get the REAL cost of pollution from "clean" natural gas.
Third, I blame (like with the BP spill) inadequate regulation drafted by corrupt politicians. The 2005 energy bill gave frackers the exemption from clean water laws; citizens are not allowed to sue (under common law) for damage to their water supplies when companies "comply with the law." Yes, of course the companies are responsible for pulling the trigger -- in running operations that rape the earth and destroy the environment and health of the people, plants and animals in the area -- but those companies were given the gun and permission to fire by politicians. It is in this sense that Dick Cheney (with help) is the equivalent to Stalin, Mao or Hitler -- willing to sacrifice "his people" for his selfish pursuit of glory, money, etc.
Bottom Line: I give this film FOUR STARS for highlighting the cost of "All-American Clean Natural Gas"
* NY's legislature put a moratorium on fracking last week. That's good news for NYC's drinking water.
*** In recent news (via aquadoc), farmers in Wyoming (Cheney's home state and location of many fracking operations) are selling more of their groundwater to oil companies. The state engineer is approving these sales, but they are going to deplete groundwater more quickly (because water is being used more rapidly AND not recharging aquifers) and probably result in more polluted water (via return flows from fracking, produced water, etc.)