by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Fracking is the energy industry's answer to peak oil, catastrophically offloading the increased cost of oil and gas extraction onto farmers, ranchers, humans who drink water, and the environment itself. It's about as ethical and responsible as the brain deciding to mine the liver and sell the contents. And it's national energy policy under the Obama administration.
Should We Really Re-Elect This Fracking President?
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Any time someone mentions corporate American technological innovation, you should think of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Fracking is how enormous amounts of oil and gas that used to be beyond the reach of energy companies is now being extracted across much of the United States. Barack Obama is the Fracking President. In his 2012 State of the Union he repeated the oil industry's absurd and irresponsible claim that fracking would create 600,000 jobs.
“...the U.S. president made clear in his State of the Union address that when it came to the other big eco-controversy in America—hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to access natural gas reserves—he was siding with the oil and gas industry.
“'We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,' Obama proclaimed. His remarks were a clear indication that, while environmental groups, celebrity protesters and a handful of jurisdictions including Quebec and New York state continue to resist, the mainstream is prepared to ramp up gas production—and abide with the environmental risks involved.”
But the risks are beyond rational calculation.
Fracking is the explosive injection of huge volumes of water combined with secret mixes of toxic chemicals, heated hundreds of degrees past the boiling point of water and at hundreds of atmospheric pressures into deep underground rock formations where the amounts of gas or oil used to be too small to be worth going after. Some of that poisoned water seeps off to pollute finite underground water reserves. The rest is pulled back to the surface mixed with the oil, gas or whatever is being sought. When those things are removed, vast amounts of what used to be water, now irretrievably poisoned, are pumped deep into the earth.
That “water” eventually returns to us. It comes back in springs which are the sources of streams and rivers, and in wells used for irrigation and drinking water. People in areas where fracking has gone on for some time can often set afire whatever issues from their household plumbing. Fracking and disposal of large quantities of waste water may even be implicated in some seismic activity; earthquakes.
Fracking is the energy industry's answer to peak oil. It keeps oil companies profitable by catastrophically offloading the cost of oil and gas extraction onto farmers, ranchers, humans who drink water, and the environment itself. And it's national energy policy under the Obama administration.
Let's be clear. Fracking is about as ethical and responsible as the brain deciding to mine the liver and sell its contents.
But the US is run by capitalists, and for them fracking makes good sense. Capitalism after all, is based upon externalizing, offloading your cost onto someone less powerful, or onto nature itself. Thus capitalists make workers pay their costs by keeping wages and safety standards low. They make the public at large pay their costs by getting public subsidies and tax breaks, also by keeping safety standards lax or nonexistent, or sometimes through privatization, the handing over of public assets to private operators.
Nobody offloads costs onto the public and the environment like energy companies. Think about the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which everybody is paying for except BP. Fracking allows energy companies to use million-year old underground water reserves (that's why they are called “fossil waters”) their private toxic sewers.
In 2008 Obama supporters projected their environmentalist beliefs on him, pretending that he stood for “green jobs” and conservation. Since Obama announced himself, at the 2008 Democratic convention as the candidate of “clean coal and safe nuclear power” this was quite a stretch. They will have to stretch even further in 2012. The Obama administration is bullish on fracking.
There's an enormous amount of local organizing across the country, from Ohio and New York to Colorado and California, opposing hydraulic fracking. But such efforts get little news coverage locally, and are invisible in national corporate media news. Thus environmentalists who want to support Obama can, if they try really hard, console themselves with administration fairy tales of “safe fracking,” or be content with regulations that might require companies to tell us what toxic chemicals are used in the process.
Fracking is reckless, irresponsible and downright evil. But the unwillingness of environmentalists to oppose energy policies from the Obama White House that they would never have tolerated from Republicans makes Barack Obama, as Glen Ford frequently puts it, “the more effective” not the “lesser” evil. Of course Mitt Romney is evil as well, and one of them will be president until the end of 2016.
What with choices limited to greater and lesser evils, or more and less effective evils, it might be time to ask ourselves, how is this politics of choosing evil working out for us? Can we, and why should we hold our tongues and noses to re-elect this fracking president?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him through this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.