Generally speaking, I am not subject to fits of anger. I tend to keep a level head in most situations, practicing meditative compassion during rush hour traffic and while standing in long grocery store lines. Walking along gently flowing creeks and a hike in the woods is my idea of a wild time out, and I’ll raise my voice only to get someone’s attention in a crowd or accentuate the punchline of a terrible pun.
However, while watching Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, I nearly had to pause the film on several occasions in order to march out into the street in a frothing rage to go and hit someone in the face. Why the almost Hulk-like transformation from pacifist to puncher? Hydraulic fracturing.
On the surface, harvesting natural gas from deep underground seems like a a good idea. The United States contains a great deal of fuel-producing shale formations that trap potential sources of energy. Proponents of natural gas extraction argue that we could wean ourselves off foreign oil by taking advantages of this home-grown alternative fossil fuel. New York alone has enough natural gas to rival two Saudi Arabias, and extraction sites occur across the most of the south, midwest and parts of the west.
The infrastructure needed to drill, remove and process the gas has the potential to create new jobs and revitalize the communities whose land is leased to drill the fracturing wells. Industry advocates assure the pubic that the harvesting process is safe, unobtrusive, and an overall benefit to the landowners participating in extraction. As Fox discovers after being sent a request to drill on his creekside Pennyslvania property, “fracking” holds some very hazardous secrets that affect the well-being and health of human lives, watershed ecosystems, and political transparency.
During Fox’s investigation of fracking, there are almost too many violations of decent human conduct to name. Despite claims of fracking’s minimal impact on the environment, the process of drilling requires over 500 chemicals and millions of gallons of water to break shale deposits, keep the drill well open, and extract the gas. Many of the compounds are known neurotoxins and carcinogens, and along with the gas they help remove, highly flammable. Most of these chemicals are not biodegradable and sit in slurry pits, affecting the health of nearby residents, livestock and habitats.
Reports of cancer, brain lesions, fatigue, hair loss, infertility, and a veritable medial text book of other maladies skyrocket next to fracking wells. Once clean wells become unit for consumption and water must be replaced with expensive alternative sources trucked in from miles away. Promises to compensate landowners are either met with legal teams and empty guarantees or outright denials of the well’s detrimental effects. Animals lose their hair or die outright, human beings suffer from permanent and irreversible illnesses, and the value of once productive agricultural land plummets.
As if corporate greed were not enough to stoke the flames of fury, the backdoor deals and creation of big business loopholes will set you ablaze. Sidestepping the Clean Water Act, legislation in 2005 known as the “Halliburton Loophole” allowed the Bush-Cheney White House to let fracking industry forgo environmental impact reports and keep the identity and composition of their “proprietary” chemicals from public review. The Act was also instrumental in the largest transfer of public BLM land to private interests in the country’s history.
Pieces of national heritage were opened to exploitation and almost irreversible damage without the majority of Americans being aware of the laws affecting their health and the appropriation of their tax dollars. It may have been at this point in the film that I nearly had an aneurism. (On second thought , it might have actually happened while watching people lighting their drinking water on fire. WATER. ON FIRE.)
Now, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s consideration of lifting the fracking ban in New York state, it is time for the nation as a whole to take a closer look at the hydraulic fracturing industry. How do we as a society want to power our infrastructure? Where do we draw the line between consumption and safety, and what are we willing to sacrifice or change to be able to live in a healthy industrialized nation?