Fracking has Become a Corporate Device for Profits without Adequate Protections

by Duane Nichols on June 16, 2016

The Dominion of Hydrocarbons, and No Equitable Resolution

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV
A wise man once defined empire as a “political system that brings wealth from the periphery to the center.” The British Empire famously brought wealth from all over the world to London, and to a lesser extent other parts of England.  It was a kingdom.  The Roman Empire  brought wealth from all over the Mediterranean and brought it, mostly, to Rome.  It began as a republic and ended in a dictatorship.
The military aspect – simply stealing the good stuff – was about the only method of Rome, and in those days few were embarrassed about it.  After 1500 years there was, in the time of Great Britain, a higher moral consciousness, and the rapine took the form of forced business, and the loss of the conquered was justified by “the white man’s burden,” the need to transfer European cultural superiority.  This gift was the benefit the unfortunates received in exchange.
So today we don’t have empires, or do we?  Lets ask, “How would one go about bringing home wealth from other places?”  What does bring wealth from foreign and rural places to where it can be displayed and enjoyed in comparison to other accumulations of wealth, the big cities? –  You’ve got it!  Corporations.
Today, overt rapine is beyond moral sensibility in all but the most primitive places.   But it exists, and it is in the form of business.  Lopsided business.  Some is easy to spot, such as loan sharking or products built not to last or cheap, unhealthy food.  Some of this is so deeply imbedded in business, so thoroughly protected by law and long practiced, it is less than obvious.   It is like the British East India Company, adept at moving wealth from India to England for 250 years.  Other transports of wealth comes from abrupt changes which apply new techniques bearing familiar old names to old quests.  Similarly, we have fracking, sometimes called hydraulic fracturing,  which is new in scale with new drilling objectives, new chemicals, serious waste problems, health problems, environment degradation, and a whole new capital situation.  Vast capital is required, but a quick payoff can occur if it “works” as planned.
Corporations usually try to work within the law, because it can be enforced. (Which, if you think about it, actually defines what the state is, the only institution that can legitimately use physical force – police action, tax, war, etc.) This in turn, means there is a premium on fitting the law to the corporate needs.  Law is quite plastic, can be made to fit any bodies’ want, if you think about it. It requires lobbying to hold laws favorable to the corporation, and to get new laws against the interest of those whose advantage oppose what the corporation wants to do.  
So modern corporations have empires, and nations only have empires to the extent they serve the centers of wealth accumulation, corporations.  This point is easy to miss, because wars are always fought by nations, and justified in the media  in nationalistic terms.  In the end they are about money – some entity wants to own resources someone else has, and that person has to defend themselves.
Corporations influence legislation and law enforcement by supporting candidates.  And they manage public opinion by advertising in various media, by telling their story to the Chamber of Commerce, service clubs, and any other body that will listen.  Since rural people are not organized and generally not communicators, there is no one to speak for their interest in the volume and with the skill of corporate spokespeople.
So how to resist?   How to counter a very one-sided narrative generated in favor of Fracking?  Science, knowledge organized to be truth is powerful. As your author has said recently in these pages, science is a vast debating society with rules for eliminating error in the narrative it generates, it is explanation of observed facts.  A truth-finding machine.  It is slow and expensive, but “it grinds exceedingly fine.”
Also by organization. Get the story out.  Recruit the public.  Anyone and everyone can contribute to this.
Today science concerning fracking shows most of the complaints dismissed as “anecdotal” by companies (and often in court) have a basis in chemistry, environmental science and accounting.  It is slow getting started, but is coming along nicely.  For example, well water at Dimock, Pennsylvania, once considered a settled matter is under review, this time by the EPA, with results unfavorable to the driller, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   Duke University scientists have shown that methane in water wells near fracking operations frequently has an isotopic signature of deep gas, rather than gas generated by microbes near the surface.
By this time it is clear that fracking and waste disposal cause earthquakes. Articles with titles like “Why the Scientific Case Against Fracking Gets Stronger” and “The Truth about Fracking” appear in general interest magazines.
As for organizations needed to fight fracking, that has reached a mature state.  There were hundreds of organizations with web sites several years ago, and now organizations to fight the pipelines are rapidly growing too.  The purposes and methods are quite diverse.  Some are set up because of fears of global warming, some are based on health issues, water and air contamination (one is a list of the people who have their health harmed by fracking (currently over 650 ). There is a list of workers killed in the industry in the West between 2000 and 2007.  It is a sidebar to an article titled “Disposable Workers of the Oil and Gas Fields,” in a general purpose publication.
Some of these support alternate energy, some oppose fracking, one lists political contributions supporting fracking, one supports trout fishing, many are for or involve lawyers.  Some have a religious basis, one rates landmen,  some carry pictures of pollution, environmental damage, broken roads, gas escaping from equipment using infrared light, etc.
There are conferences being held, such as Health & Shale Gas Development: State of the Science Conference!  Books are being written, such as “Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment” described thusly: “exposes the handful of corporations, financial institutions and individuals that have shaped the policies that keep us reliant on dirty energy sources. With the same forces in play, learning this history is critical to finally moving beyond fracking and fossil fuels.”  And there is to be an anti-fracking play, Driftless, which will appear in Pittsburgh.
“Slower generation growth, rock-bottom coal prices and robust deployment of renewables constrain gas’s ability to grow faster in today’s low-price environment.” Global consumption will expand by 1.5% annually between 2015-2021, down from last year’s forecast of 2% growth between 2014-2020.  IEA quoted in the June 8 Seeking Alpha.

One presidential candidate is openly opposed to fracking.  Districts and counties are passing regulations against fracking (mostly to have them overturned by courts, citing state regulations, as yet).  Over half the population is opposed, up considerably from last year. On April 10, 2016  it was written, “At this time last year Americans were split on fracking — fracturing rock deep underground to release natural gas — with 40 percent supporting it and 40 percent opposing it. Now, Gallup reports that just 36 percent support fracking and 51 percent oppose it.  The biggest erosion came among Republicans, as GOP support plunged from 66 percent to 55 percent. Meanwhile, Democrats and independents overwhelmingly oppose fracking, with approval at only 25 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents.”  

So what is the hold up?  State legislatures.  Legislators, like all other politicians above the local level are forced to go around with their hand out for donations.  They have to use advertising, one of the most gross dependencies of our system. The result is they are not responsive to needs of citizens, as we assume, but of donors.  If they don’t accept the money, their competitor will be right there to take it.

This leads to such excesses as the bill in North Carolina which makes it a felony for disclosing the contents of fracking fluid.  Suppose physician discusses a case with a fellow doctor and reveals what is causing the symptoms of similar cases – something in fracking fluid – jail time!  Or the bill introduced to the West Virginia legislature which effectively does away with nuisance suits?  Fortunately these failed, but fracking ambition apparently has no bounds.

“The 40 largest insurance companies in the United States have $237 billion invested in electric and gas utilities, $221 billion tied to oil and gas companies and nearly $2 billion locked into coal, a new report reveals.”  And “there are currently $5.7 billion worth of pipeline projects on the drawing board for W. Va. ” a statement attributed to Paul Kress, a VP at EQT (Equitable).

Big money = big influence.  Local impacts and global disturbances are likely if reason does not prevail. Environmentalists along with most farmers and many people living in rural areas know that alternative energy sources are the real future.

In our system, it will be slugged out in these terms.


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