Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: The High Cost of City Hall Politics
Next story: The Useful and Beautiful Life of Danny Winter

Language Counts

Extreme environmentalists, fracking, spills, disasters, and the free market

Last week, BP went on trial for the damages caused by the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that caused 11 direct human deaths and untold damages to the ecology and economic future of the Gulf Coast.

In the years leading up to the blowout, arguably the greatest human-caused environmental disaster in history, the media downplayed environmentalism as an obstructionist strategy preventing economic growth. Climate change deniers grabbed the headlines. The devastations of the energy industry were obscured by the American obsession with war and the latest Hollywood sex scandals. Media abandoned the work of seasoned reporters and used industry “talking points” to construct storylines that had no critical basis.

Even after the ongoing disaster all but destroyed the ecosystems and human lifestyles of the Gulf, many still refer to the disaster as a “spill.”

This was no spill.

This is a huge disaster that was caused by a deceptive industry intent on cutting corners and squeezing the most profit possible out of dangerous operations. When you hear the phrase “Gulf oil spill,” you are being asked to downplay the reality and enormity of this planet-changing disaster.

Similarly, the New York State hydrofracking issue has brought an oil- and gas-industry-sponsored campaign replete with a barrage of partisan and divisive language-crafting. The phrase engineering is designed to incite passion against those who urge a cautious approach to hydrofracking.

This includes economic arguments that urge us to believe unconditionally that jobs and economic growth are totally dependent upon the industry’s ability to extract wealth for private gain from, among other places, public properties, using public money. The truth is much further away.

Industry-oriented projections of fracking-affiliated New York State jobs have been repeated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as it seeks to justify hydrofracking operations in the state. DEC consultants—a local company with strong ties to the oil and gas industry, Ecology and Environment—wrote in a taxpayer-funded report that a New York State shale gas development scenario would bring 53,969 jobs. Food and Water Watch, an activist organization opposed to hydrofracking, published an independent analysis last November entitled “New York State Exaggerated Potential Job Creation from Shale Gas Development.” It states that the Ecology and Environment projections are “deeply flawed.” It states that “in the first year of an average scenario only 195 new jobs would be created for NYS residents, and that after 10 years only 600 jobs. After the 10th year there would be almost no more new jobs created.”

There are other substantial economic, environmental, and social impacts. These include the probable boom-and-bust cycle that accompanies most natural resources extraction operations. Communities should experience extraordinary downsides once the fracking operations cease. These include significant infrastructure costs, including roads and maintenance, damage to fragile and valuable ecological systems, and impacts on human health and well-being.

Anti-fracking activists point to a lack of science substantiating that fracking safe. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that both the process and chemicals injected into the earth permanently contaminate water that all life depends upon. This affects humans, animals, and agriculture and food production. There is significant science that clearly links chemicals used in hydrofracking with human disease, including a wide array of cancers. This business is as serious and as costly as death.

Many of these impacts are considered “externalities” in our traditional way of accounting for economic impacts. Many of the costs of fracking will be borne by individuals and taxpayer rather than by the industry.

One of the principle issues is that many of the chemicals used in fracking fluid are proprietary, which means that they are kept secret by the industry. While we know mostly what the chemicals are, by refusing to disclose proprietary formulas, the industry can disingenuously argue that chemicals found in well water and aquifers cannot be traced to drilling. In addition, gas and oil extractions are legally exempt from important parts of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Water Act, the Community Right to Know Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. This Bush/Cheney era energy legislation that created these exemptions enjoyed bipartisan support. Accountability and the ultimate health costs are protected by a complex and costly legal system that ensures that costs will be borne by a wider society—-the taxpayers and individuals effected. These corporate entitlements are outrageous and dangerous.

A Call For Accountability

The first order of business is to ban fracking.

Beyond that we should make the industry be totally accountable by revisiting the federal exemptions from environmental and community protections, and making the industry pay for independent analysis.

It is time that we adopt a concept newly emerged from the Occupy movement:radical accountability.

Let’s take the promises of jobs and safety from of the industry and codify them with financial incentives. For instance, if the state is not going to wait for the science, do the health analysis, or conduct full economic evaluations, make the profiteers accountable by demanding that corporate entitlements be incentivized by:

• a public accountability panel, with no appointees and no members of their families linked to fracking profits. The independent panel must be be funded by the private sector and will include a privately financed fund to independently evaluate health and economic impacts of fracking in New York.

• full public disclosure of chemicals used, to include tracers on the chemicals and substances used at each site, so that when they appear in water, they can be sourced.

• adequate private financed bonding (a minimum $50 million bond for each well) for potential public damages. Let the industry bear the costs, not society. Let the freemarket decide. Make the externalities internal transparent costs.

• publicly disclosed job guarantees linked to every individual well and the aggregate that includes penalties if they turn out not to be true.

Without these actions, the public takes all the risks, there is no free market, and corporate entitlements will continue to eviscerate the 99 percent.

Without these actions we cannot find a way to protect our environment. And, not to put too fine a point on it, without ecosystems, there is no economy.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is at least a year away from releasing its science on the safety of hydrofracking. Early drafts clearly point out that that contaminated well waters and aquifers are directly linked to fracking operations. This brings us to the common sense fact that the economic impact of gas extraction may be far from positive. Individuals who have testified against fracking include doctors, ecologists, scientists, economists, oil and gas extraction specialists, and DEC technical staff who say that they do not have nearly enough resources to safely oversee fracking.

When the federal government says that they are considering requiring gas drilling companies to disclose proprietary formulas used in frack liquids, the question has to be “Disclose to whom?” Unless the formulas are fully disclosed to the public, there is no possible way that the public will be safe. Nor can the public make informed decisions about fracking safety. Many, including those inside government, claim that the government does not have the resources to oversee the many aspects of fracking. It is not hard to imagine that as the size of our government recedes, its capacity for oversight will also diminish. If the formulas are disclosed to the public, we certainly would find a way to scrutinize, analyze, and ultimately make informed and transparent choices about the processes and impacts of this dangerous industry.

Environmental activists of all stripes have been and continue to be targets of the campaign to disarm citizen knowledge. This assault is led by industry apologists and death merchants, many of which stand to make huge profits if we the people allow fracking.

In early December, Fred Dicker, the longtime state editor of the New York Post, went off on “extreme environmentalists” on a Fox TV broadcast, suggesting that those who oppose fracking are radicals, use hyperbole, and are uninformed. Local news accounts in our legacy TV and print outlets carry that same message. More often than not, the media carries uncritical accounts of fracking issues from the point of view of the businesses that have the money to spend underwriting local news operations.

The propaganda greased by the big companies goes all the way to the governor’s office and beyond. Some of the justifications go beyond the pale.

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who seems to believe that his radical brand of fundamental Christianity should guide our political/economic/social destiny, suggested that God made planet earth in order to allow humans to exploit its natural resources. He said that “radical environmentalists believe that man should protect the earth.” He said, “That is a phony ideal, we are not here to protect the earth,” and that “the objective is man, not environment.”

How does one even begin to address this exasperating disconnect? Without a healthy earth, a healthy planet, there is no man. If we poison the planet with phony idealism such as Santorum’s, humans disappear. It’s that simple. This election may very well be about the ability of humans to survive.

Activists who are willing to go against the grain and stand up for ecological integrity, clean water and air, and fight with their words and actions against a monstrous corporate financial and propaganda machine should be considered heroes and patriots. Instead, some of the mainstream media parrots the industry talking points and portrays activists as misled, selfish obstructionists, socialists, or eco-terrorists. That last label puts individuals and organizations that oppose fracking and are willing to say so on a list of potential criminals, and the consequences of such labels are becoming increasingly dire.

Just because someone is so green that the trees hug them doesn’t or shouldn’t mean that they are extremists. Why aren’t the profiteers and their spokespuppets who use disinformation and half-truths, and urge quick decision-making that masks economic, environmental and social truths, considered the extremists? Who are the criminals here?

blog comments powered by Disqus