FRICKING AND FRACKING AROUND WITH THE PLANET

By Paul

The word “fracking” has come to be used as a kind of shorthand abbreviation for the more technical term “hydraulic fracturing,” but I’m really not sure which of the two sounds more ominous and pejorative to me. The technical expression brings images to mind of cracking and breaking things apart, which, in fact, is exactly what happens. It is a process whereby millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are injected under high pressure into the ground in order to break apart, or “fracture,” the rock below. The fissures so created are then held in place by the sand, and the released oil or gas is pumped to the surface. In one sense, even to the layman, this sounds simple enough, and that’s the message that large oil and gas companies most definitely want to project: simple and safe.

“Fracking,” on the other hand, has become the term more favored by environmentalists and others opposed to the process. Personally, I can’t help thinking of Frick and Frack every time I hear it. And while that may sound as if I’m minimizing or trivializing the concerns of those who question this highly invasive and toxic procedure, I don’t mean to. Most people don’t even know anymore who Frick and Frack were, it seems. They were actually two real people, believe it or not, two Swiss gentlemen to be precise, who came to this country in the mid-1930’s, and who then became a famous comedic act performing in the Ice Follies. They skated and horsed around and made a lot of folks laugh, which no doubt was a good thing in the throes of the Great Depression. They soon became so well known that the term “Frick and Frack” entered into the language in a couple of ways. One was as a general reference to two guys who were constantly hanging out together and who came to be seen as almost indistinguishable. The other meaning took off from the first, but added another layer, that is, two guys frequently seen together, acting like “bozos” or clowns.   In the new 21st century context, I like to think of “Frick and Frack” as the modern take on Big Oil/Gas Companies and – sorry to say – government.

I say this because Big Oil or Gas can’t really go fracking around without government permission. And it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anybody that Big Money, which Big Oil and Gas most definitely have lots of, often goes to grease the wheels of government. I’m not talking about outright bribes, although I can’t say I would be totally “shocked-shocked” to hear of that too, but more so about the lobbying efforts that bring favorable bills to the fore in Congress and in state assemblies, to say nothing of the big bucks that go to getting “the right” representatives elected to these bodies in the first place.

Still, I suppose we really ought to try to be fair about things. Companies that do hydraulic fracturing claim that there are safeguards aplenty in place to protect the environment. I know that this may smack of the old “trust me” plea, akin almost to “the check is in the mail” scam, except that this time the checks are at least ostensibly in place beforehand. But shouldn’t we at least listen to what they have to say? Here is what one company, in fact, states: “Casing and cementing are critical parts of the well construction that not only protect any water zones, but are also important to successful oil or natural gas production from hydrocarbon bearing zones. Industry well design practices protect sources of drinking water from the other geologic zones of an oil and natural gas well with multiple layers of impervious rock.” Later on, referencing the chemical component of the injected slurry, they comment that “(t)he composition of the chemical mixes varies from well to well.”

The latter makes it sound as though this chemical mixture is a minor afterthought, and one that benignly varies in a simple sort of way merely to accommodate local requirements. In actual fact, companies almost never tell us exactly what these chemical additives are, although other sources report that they are often highly toxic and can cause cancer. Much of the language above reflects and reminds us of that used by other companies with a “trust-us-not-to-harm-you-or-the-environment” approach. Didn’t Exxon say similar soothing things to the people of Prince William Sound, for example, just before the huge oil spill (which was never supposed to happen) in 1989, and which still today, 25 years latter, continues to negatively impact the lives of humans and animals alike? And what of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of April, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico? We were similarly assured by British Petroleum, Haliburton, and others to “trust us” about this well, that all safeguards were in place and that technology had so advanced that anyone would have to be nothing more than a foolish fear-monger to worry. Technology is always touted by way of allaying the fears of those who fret, and we are always assured that modern science and engineering has taken care of “all those old problems.” So, stop worrying!

Well, I say, worry on. Just this week, geologists in Ohio have found “a probable connection” between fracking and several earthquakes in the region. The state shut down Hilcorp Energy Company’s fracking operation there because of five earthquakes near the Pennsylvania border, including one that registered 3.0 on the Richter scale. According to an article in the April 14, 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Times, scientists have found “a significant relationship between the initial blast of fluid and the earthquakes shortly afterwards.”

And in one sense, earthquakes ought to be the least of our concerns. There have been multiple accounts of a connection between fracking and contaminated ground water (apparently in spite of the “casing and cementing”), as well as greatly increased air and noise pollution, to say nothing of the enormous amounts of fresh water that are needed for the process. Between 1.2 and 3.5 million gallons are needed for the fracturing and completion of a well, and for larger wells, as many as 5 million gallons of water are required. As one expert has noted, “Shell gas wells completed in 2011 across the United States consumed on the order of 135 billion gallons of water.” And what to do with the contaminated water afterwards with, you remember, those toxic chemicals in it? Pump it back in the earth, we are told, but there have been many examples of this noxious mishmash leaking out into surrounding lakes, streams, and even reservoirs.

All this, and we haven’t even spoken about the specious underlying rationale of extracting yet more and more oil and gas out of the earth, with both the process itself and the results of it flushing more and more dangerous hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, thereby causing yet greater pollution, and ultimately warmer and warmer temperatures around the globe.

President Obama says we need “all of the above” in order to meet our energy needs for the 21st century, meaning that we’ve got to go on relying on “old technologies” that continue to pollute, while we are exploring and creating newer ones that do not. Even if there may be some truth to this, we have to think about drawing the line somewhere. And maybe fracking is where the buck ought to stop. Our two old Swiss friends made a lot of people laugh with their antics, and God knows we still need humor. But fricking and fracking around with the earth and the environment isn’t really a laughing matter. Let’s make a decision to stop this nonsense, and put our efforts where they can really do some good. We can no longer afford to clown around with whatever bozos care more about the bottom line than they do about the planet.

STOP FRACKING! GRAB THE GAVEL! Support Angela and Save the Susquehanna!

by Kevin

My environmental activist friends Jerry Lee Miller and Michelle Johnsen told me about how the young organic farmer Angela Nitchman stood up at a recent SRBC — Susquehanna River Basin Commission — meeting, yelled and grabbed their gavel out of desperation because they were voting to turn over millions of gallons of Susquehanna River water daily to the fracking industry. They will then pump the contaminated water deep into the Earth, polluting our ground water and farm lands. So I drew the poster above to help raise $1,600 for Angela’s defense fund. I went to the website just now and contributed a little money. It’s easy to do. Please donate what you can at www.indiegogo.com/whatgavel and read the story of Angela’s bravery in Jerry’s, Michelle’s and Angela’s own words below. Thanks!

LETTER FROM ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST & OUR FRIEND, JERRY LEE MILLER:

Dear Kevin & Robert

Angela Nitchman is a brave and good young woman. She sang a song at our open mic about 3 months ago; a song of gratitude for all that she’d been given. Yet Angela is actually in great need right now for standing up to the powerful on behalf of the Earth and the people and the Susquehanna River!
 
I’m asking you to join me in financially contributing to Angela Nitchman’s defense fund. Below is an explanation of Angela’s situation written by Michelle Johnsen. I’ll just say that I know and respect Angela for many reasons, having gotten to know her through Transition Lancaster and Occupy Lancaster. In her early 20s, Angela has both deep conviction and a willingness to work for what she believes in. She’s what I call a ‘front liner’.
 
Angela and the other concerned citizens who traveled to Wilkes Barre for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission meeting last December  unleashed something! When they stood up to the commission’s unconscionable blanket approval of water withdrawals from the Susquehanna, they derailed the process just enough. The subsequent rescheduling of the SRBC meeting to hear more public testimony bought us several months to organize resistance. Who knows what we will yet accomplish as a result?
 
As you may know, I’ve been traveling to Jersey Shore PA (near  Williamsport) where 30 plus families of Riverdale Mobile Home Park were evicted from their homes  as a direct result of the SRBC’s decisions. What’s happening there is tragic and outrageous on one level! Cruel and unjust! However, we have witnessed victories for a few of the residents (so far) which would not have been possible without the organizing efforts and the front line stand taken  by many of the citizens who were with Angela at Wilkes Barre. These front line activists are putting their bodies on the line. This is the depth of commitment it takes to win anything against overwhelming odds!
 
Even small victories stoke up the fires of motivation and provide the courage to keep  going while also giving us something to build upon. I plan to continue working with the Save Riverdale movement because it’s right and because I see much hope in it. I believe this movement would not be what it is without the ‘Wilkes Barre Uprising’.
 
Angela has been charged with a crime for picking up the SRBC gavel! I think we should all get ourselves a gavel to symbolize power to the people in this monumental fight we’re now in!  (I’m going out today to look for a gavel:-)  Why not?)
 
CAN YOU HELP ME HELP ANGELA? $25 would be GREAT! $50 would be twice as GREAT!! Thank you so much for caring! ( Contribute at www.indiegogo.com/whatgavel )
 
Yours in solidarity,
Jerry Lee Miller
 
STATEMENT OF EXPLANATION BY MICHELLE JOHNSEN (local activist and friend of Angela)
 
 Our friend and sister is in need of help!! Angela is an organic farmer from Lancaster, PA, whose love and respect for sustainable agriculture is matched only by her fierce spirit for protecting our environment, ecosystems, and in particular our beautiful rivers and waterways. This July, Angela will be on trial for disrupting a Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) meeting in December, and for removing the SRBC gavel from a table. Her legal fees have been estimated at $1,500, and we’re going to do everything we can to raise this money.
 
MANY of us here in Lancaster and across the globe (including Angela!) are passionately opposed to hydraulic fracturing of the earth’s Marcellus Shale for natural gas, or “fracking”. The gavel represents the power the SRBC yields over us and the Susquehanna River. At the meeting in question, the panel unanimously granted the fracking/natural gas drilling industry’s requests for new water withdrawals, despite the fact that 100% of the commentors were there to speak out against fracking. This means that MILLIONS of gallons of water PER DAY will be withdrawn from our beautiful river, our lifeblood, and will never be returned to the actual water cycle! The toxic waste water is then injected many miles below the earth’s surface, contaminating both soil and drinking water, harming both humans and wildlife. This toxic mix includes known cancer-causing chemical byproduct, benzene, among others. Fracking also contaminates the air we breathe and affects our already unstable climate. The protesters in attendance tried to explain that water, not natural gas, is essential to the survival of our species, but the SRBC chose to ignore them.
 
Angela feels her removal of the gavel was an act of desperation, a political, albeit feeble, gesture. In her own words, “As an organic farmer, I know firsthand how each of us depends on the health of our land and water for survival. I spoke up at this SRBC meeting, yes, I YELLED at the meeting, because I am under attack. My homeland is under attack. Our environment, our ecosystem, is being destroyed before our eyes. Because of this, it is not ‘unreasonable’ for me to react the way I did. What would be unreasonable would be for me to sit back and watch my livelihood disappear, watch as our water quality becomes non-existent. To be silent would be insane.”

Let’s put people over profits and take the power out of the gavel folks! Please consider a donation toward helping a wonderful community member, devoted local activist, and beautiful spirited human being. Angela stood up in the face of injustice and said NO YOU WILL NOT CONTINUE TO HARM THIS EARTH. She did what people often wish they could do- put herself on the line to protect this river and this earth, because fracking is WRONG and HARMFUL. This money will go solely toward legal defense for Angela, even if the entire amount is not raised. (CONTRIBUTE at: www.indiegogo.com/whatgavel )

This campaign is important to more people than just Angela. Fracking effects us ALL, and as we speak there are plans for a natural gas pipeline that would pass through parts of Lancaster County. This will cut through and destroy parts of PA’s dwindling forestry and cross the path of smaller waterways and streams, which will cause many of these to dry up and disappear. WE have to protect PA and all of earth from fracking!
 
KEVIN’S CONCLUDING STATEMENT:
 
Sometimes it is hard for those of us who are deeply concerned about preserving the Earth as a livable environment for future generations to know what to do about energy. We need some kind of energy to pursue our lives, and even some forms of wind and solar energy kill birds and turtles and affect the stability and peace of Nature. But hydraulic fracturing as a technique for extracting natural gas is a clear violation against our future well-being.
 
I spoke with a recently retired PA Environmental Protection Agency official who said that fracking sets off flashing red lights and screaming alarms for many of his colleagues and it never would have been approved during his tenure. It threatens our drinking water supply and soil. These are fundamental elements of nature that we must have to survive. The massive natural gas pipeline of which Michelle wrote above was recently installed less than a mile from Robert’s and my 12 acres here deep in the woods, crossing over our stream and cutting a huge barren gash — an environmental wildlife barrier — through these forests for miles and miles. Let’s stop hydraulic fracturing — the violent and poisonous extraction of natural gas from the Earth. Let’s save the water and soil for drinking and growing food. Let’s look at the least harmful alternatives for our future energy needs, and let’s protect the Earth.
 
To contribute to Angela’s defense fund go to www.indiegogo.com/whatgavel — Thanks!