Part 1. The Cost That Cannot Raise Its Head
Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV
There are many arguments for and against shale drilling. It produces a lot of cheap natural gas and oil right now, it helps industries that need cheap energy and feed stocks, it requires lots of inputs (especially steel and diesel for running all those engines) and it provides jobs, but not so many or so well paid as coal.
Due to United States economic policy for the last few decades, there is a lot of capital piled up looking for some place to go. Particularly in foreign tax havens, since tax avoidance is a national preoccupation in the U. S. which is only exceeded by Italy and few other nations. Everybody is looking for a sure thing, quick. If you read the investment newsletters, shale drilling looks like IT.
So shale drilling has garnered some lovely advantages for itself, some by being part of the petroleum industry and fossil fuel business, and some unique to shale drilling itself.
But the accounting used to evaluate the industry can see only in one direction. This is because energy supports our much loved but wasteful relationship with personal transportation, much of it in oversize vehicles, and with our much loved but scandalous desire to dominate the rest of the world with our war machines. It is needed for industries such as steel, glass, concrete, and for our development of huge over-centralized supply networks for almost all goods, requiring huge amounts of long distance transportation, rather then local supply networks. We need too much heating energy because we build without proper insulation and do not utilize the waste heat from electrical generation and a host of other industrial processes.
Control of fossil fuels is one of the most centralized human pursuits on earth. The subsidies are discussed here.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that global subsidies amount to… get ready… $1.9 trillion a year. And they think that figure may be an underestimate!
BillMcKibben says subsidizing fossil fuels is like encouraging a diabetic to eat more doughnuts. Oil Change International estimates that fossil-fuel companies get $59 back for every dollar they spend on donations and lobbying.
So what about the other side of the ledger, the costs, to shale drillers? Obviously, they have to pay for equipment, labor, supplies and subcontractors, and all that PR and lobbying. The companies sometimes help with the road they break up. That’s about it.
Real costs of extraction include sickness due to air and water pollution, often not understood by rural doctors with no experience in toxic effects, and without backup for referral. There is an endless list of people affected, some of which can be found in this list of harmed persons, which stood well above 1384 as of June 11 just past.
I suggest doubters try any search engine for “shale drilling health effects.” Veterinarians picked up quickly on death of animals, which are usually not paid for, and environmental experts picked up on destruction of habitat for fish and wildlife, deer and other animals. The Isaac Walton league has shown particular interest in these issues.
Note: Assistance was provided by Lettie Butcher of Preston County, WV. Part 2 to follow tomorrow.