Too Small To Matter

Posted: 06/24/2010 by Lynn Dartez in Land of The Free
by Jim Quinn
by Jim Quinn
Recently by Jim Quinn: Two Decades of Greed – The Unraveling

As I watched the documentary GASLAND last night on HBO my blood began to boil. I’m sure my blood pressure went up dramatically during the 1 hour and 40 minute film. After watching our corrupt government decide that the biggest baddest banks on the planet were too big to fail over the last two years and giving my children’s and their children’s money to these behemoth criminal enterprises, I was not surprised to see poor working class Americans treated like dirt by these same corrupt politicians. Big corporations can buy off politicians to ensure profits. The “small people,” as the Chairman of BP likes to call them, are expendable and can be ignored. They are too small to matter.

Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton from 1995 until 2000, when he became VP of the United States. Halliburton had invented a new process for extracting natural gas from shale formations. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. Horizontal hydrofracking is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling. Vertical hydrofracking is used to extend the life of an existing well once its productivity starts to run out, sort of a last resort. Horizontal fracking differs in that it uses a mixture of 596 chemicals, many of them proprietary, and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of.

This new process opened up much of the US to drilling for natural gas. Every big oil and gas company in America was falling all over themselves to buy up the land rights for drilling. Chesapeake, Encana, Cabot, etc. saw big dollar signs. This is where the story gets interesting. George Bush signed a new energy bill into law in 2005. A loophole was inserted into the bill regarding fracking. The Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.

The industry insists that fracking is safe and does not contaminate drinking water. Why would they need an exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act if their process doesn’t contaminate drinking water? Did the American public benefit from this loophole? The loophole benefitted Halliburton and the massive gas corporations. This jump-started a phenomenal boom in 37 states. My state of PA sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation. Northern and Western PA are undergoing a drilling boom.

Now the inconvenient truth. The process of capturing this natural gas has consequences:

  • The average well is up to 8,000 feet deep. The depth of drinking water aquifers is about 1,000 feet. The problems typically stem from poor cement well casings that leak natural gas as well as fracking fluid into water wells.
  • Generally 1 to 8 million gallons of water may be used to frack a well. A well may be fracked up to 18 times.
  • For each frack, 80–300 tons of chemicals may be used. Presently, the natural gas industry does not have to disclose the chemicals used, but scientists have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
  • The gas comes up wet in produced water and has to be separated from the wastewater on the surface. Only 30–50% of the water is typically recovered from a well. This wastewater can be highly toxic.
  • Evaporators evaporate off VOCs and condensate tanks steam off VOCs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The wastewater is then trucked to water treatment facilities.
  • As the VOCs are evaporated and come into contact with diesel exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site, ground level ozone is produced. Ozone plumes can travel up to 250 miles.

Since the process is “safe” according to the gas industry, they lease the land from the occupants and drill in people’s front and back yards while the residents continue to live on the property. If the process wasn’t safe, these companies would have to negotiate a purchase price for all the land. This would decrease their profits significantly. Josh Fox lives in a small PA town that sits atop the Marcellus Shale. He received a lease proposal that would have paid him $100,000 if he allowed the company to drill on his property. He decided to find out if the process was indeed safe. He went to a neighboring town where drilling was already being done. He found poor people getting sick. Their drinking water was contaminated and brown. He met people who could light their tap water on fire. The mega-corporations doing the drilling insisted that it wasn’t their fault. Josh then went on a whirl-wind tour of the U.S. to see if these problems existed in other parts of the country. The journey was painful to watch. Homeowner after homeowner detailed sicknesses, brain lesions, aches, cancer and horrific smells and air pollution. Multiple people demonstrated the ability to set their tap water on fire.

As I watched the film, it was clear that there are many parallels to the BP disaster in the Gulf. Corporate fascism rules America. Corporations spend billions to generate legislation which benefits their bottom lines. Their lobbyists write the legislation and bribe the corrupt Washington politicians. The American people suffer. The documentary GASLAND leads me to the following conclusions:

  1. Mega corporations are not inherently evil, immoral, or greedy. The men who run the Mega corporations are evil, immoral and greedy. EPS, profits, and bonuses are what drive corporate executives.
  2. Mega corporations use their political connections, highly paid lobbyists, and vast financial resources to steer legislation in order to reap greater profits.
  3. The people that Josh Fox profiles in his film are poor, uneducated, hard working, and helpless. They are no match for a big corporation. They don’t have the financial resources to fight a corporation with thousands of lawyers and billions of dollars.
  4. Corporations see the “small people” as just another cost of doing business. The deaths of some uneducated country folk are inconsequential to the Harvard MBAs running corporate America.
  5. The gas drilling companies have a checklist on how to rape and pillage the land.
    • They low-ball the country bumpkins who occupy the land for the drilling rights.
    • They promise that the fracking process is safe.
    • When they contaminate the wells and people complain, they deny it was their fault.
    • If the complaints persist, they agree to pay for the well water being cleaned.
    • If this doesn’t work, they pay the occupants a lump sum of money and make them sign a legal document saying they can’t speak about the issue with anyone.
    • When people begin to die, they put their high-powered legal teams into action fighting every charge until the victim gives up.
  6. The Federal and State regulators of the gas industry have been instructed by their politician bosses that the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the corporations. They generate the tax revenue. They generate the jobs. They make the political contributions. The people drinking the contaminated water can’t have any impact on a politician’s re-election.

The unholy alliance between Big Business and Big Government is destroying this country. The “small people” do matter. The time is approaching when the little guy is going to rise up and take back what is rightfully theirs. Some people are waking up. Some people are getting angry. Some people care about the future of this country.

If you want to get angry, tune into GASLAND on HBO this month.

June 24, 2010

Jim Quinn [send him mail] is Senior Director of Strategic Planning at an Ivy League university. This article reflects the personal views of Jim Quinn. It does not necessarily represent the views of his employer, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them.

Copyright © 2010 James Quinn

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