Here’s how Lila knows we are doomed as a species: there’s hardly any water left in California, and we’re letting Big Oil ruin it by fracking. News flash: you can’t eat dollars or drink oil.
Lila’s undergraduate degree is in Geology. Decades ago, we predicted that economically accessible oil supplies would run out by the early 21st century. While we knew that the Earth harbored more reserves of fossil fuels, the age of easy discovery and easy extraction of large deposits was mostly past. In the future, we thought, remaining oil deposits would be too difficult and expensive to reach and to extract, making the venture non-cost effective in terms of business profits. With our own vision colored by the recent memory of the OPEC oil embargo, “No Gas” signs at stations, and long lines to fill up on alternate days based on your license plate number, we students were thinking ahead to alternative energy resources.
Well, decades later, the future is now. And what have we done about alternative energy? Not enough! Oh, advances have been made, and the technology is there, but we are still overly dependent on fossil fuels from politically unstable problem areas of the world. Lila’s solution to that – for both environmental and security reasons – is: get off the fossil fuels, duh!
But Big Oil knows best. Silly students and environmental nuts like Lila are all wrong! The Earth still has plenty of fossil fuels, even right here in the good ol’ USA! There is no need to switch to renewable clean energy, because we have managed to develop the means to reach and extract those difficult deposits. That method is known as fracking.
Fracking: an abbreviation of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic, as in: fluids, and fracturing, as in: fracturing rock layers deep underground. Golly, what could go wrong with this? Earthquakes, pollution of the surface site and air, and contamination of groundwater are all known effects of fracking. Oils so obtained often are also contaminated with fracking chemicals. But the industry has kept a tight lid on this information and our government – at the state and federal levels – hasn’t been much help, either. People living near fracking sites and complaining of noise, smells, quakes, and ruined water supplies have been pooh-poohed, their concerns too often dismissed.
Here’s an example: Ray Kemble, of Dimock, Pennsylvania. As Andrew Barksdale of the Fayobserver wrote earlier this year:
Dimock… became a focus of the national debate a few years ago. Footage of faucet water lit on fire became emblematic of opponents’ arguments against hydraulic fracturing…. Kemble, along with several of his neighbors, blamed Cabot Oil & Gas for their water turning cloudy and bubbly…. One neighbor’s backyard well exploded because of gas buildup in the water…. Cabot officials have denied their drilling or fracking operations caused the contamination. The company agreed in a 2010 consent order with the state to pay $4.1 million to more than a dozen families, treat their water and buy out some of their homes. [Says Kemble,] “…you are contaminating my backyard. This used to be a nice area. Now, you’ve got rigs and pads and all kinds of truck traffic.” …About two years ago, Pennsylvania regulators allowed Cabot to resume fracking at seven existing wells in Dimock. The state’s rationale was that fracking did not cause the methane contamination…. The EPA said no further action is required.
The Dimock case, which has been going on for years now, should have taught us something, should have given us pause. But no. The latest? Fracking is apparently contaminating what little groundwater is left in California in the midst of the worst drought in modern history. The future? North Carolina is about to allow fracking to endanger some of the cleanest natural water and most beautiful rivers in the country, with absolutely no approved rules in place to govern the conduct of the industry there. I think I hear some dollars talking… and it ain’t pretty.
The lesson in all of this is, our assumptions were correct way back in the 1980s. The cost of extracting these energy reserves is too great to be worthwhile. The industry may be happily raking in profits, but costs do not come only in the form of direct operational expenses; they also come in the form of other people’s money, those who have their property values ruined, who have to move elsewhere and start over, the loss of tourism and local businesses, or the expense to local governments to clean up waterways.
I am reminded of the story of King Midas. What good is gold if you cannot eat, or drink, or hug your loved ones? Midas was a fool, but knew well enough to plead for his short-sighted wish to be reversed. Will our government – starting with the California government – know well enough to halt fracking before all our drinking water is turned to methane and contaminants for the sake of fossil fuels?