Cheap Gas Isn’t Worth It, Colltalers
While many were transfixed by yet another appalling Trump’s mini world tour, other two, equally relevant, and inevitably related events took place: North Korea’s test-launched an intercontinental missile, capable of hitting the U.S., and the U.N. adopted a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
But as serious to our future as the new nuclear strike toy at Kim Jong-un’s disposal is, there are other issues failing to get due attention. Take hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for instance, and how it’s driving profits, cheap gas, and widespread quakes and groundwater contamination.
Because it lowered natural gas costs – when conveniently ignoring the environmental impact it causes -, fracking has been the last hope for a still rich but increasingly uncompetitive fossil-fuel industry. Specially because its decaying infrastructure, and traditional investor bias, have been easily repurposed for the new approach. But fracking is neither ‘clean energy,’ nor competitive in the long run against renewables.
Behind the propaganda, which is heavy on job creation assumptions, and neglectful about the toll on natural resources the procedure causes, other factors may be critically overlooked about the rosy natural gas picture. An example is the number of wells dug to extract it, which since 2011 has been increasing at a much greater rate than production, according to a recent EcoWatch study based on government research.
That means that, as gas output growth remains steady, more land has been compromised by its extraction than ever, at a rate that surpasses even the oil industry boom of the 1930s. And the well-paid jobs, advertised by the American Petroleum Institute to grow to ‘two million by 2040,’ are heavily dependent on high-level college education or specialized training, two areas chronically afflicted by low investments.
The most visible risk related to widespread fracking is the increased occurrence of earthquakes, a fact that the industry goes to great pains to divert public attention from, without much success. A 5.8 temblor in Montana, last week, was the strongest in the region in over 60 years.
It’s no wonder that Montana, the Rocky Mountains, northern states, and other regions have experienced ‘induced seismicity,’ i.e., man-made quakes. They are all within the expanding ground zero for fracking operations, which the Trump administration’s energy policies favor.
Only the industry’s minions deny that the injection of massive amounts of water and chemicals into the shale, and consequent re-injection of the liquid waste into underground storage pools,
cause shakes and temblores. But as long as profits and paychecks grow, they will.
A bigger threat to millions of Americans living in those areas, though, is related to water, which fracking consumes with gargantuan thirst. It not just competes with consumer needs in major cities, but its possible heavy metal contamination, below and above ground, represents a still unknown, but likely astronomical, cost to public health (see Flint, Michigan, Water, for comparison), besides impacting land property values.
The estimated 239 billion gallons of wastewater oil and gas companies have produced since 2005 have been linked to almost a million acres of contaminated public land, and thousands of wells in private properties. But it’s taxpayers, not the industry, who are liable to foot the tab.
Also, once a well or wastewater pool has contaminated drinking water, costs to clean it up are so high that it’s almost never even attempted. That compounds to increase the average public health costs of breathing fracking-producing smog, heavy on Nitrous Oxide, for instance.
Finally, fracking demands a disrupting infrastructure of wells, roads, and pipelines, which replaces forests and wild life habitats, suffused with natural resources better left untouched. Once exhausted of their profit potential, those areas are left sterile and hostile to human life.
Not something likely to happen with solar and wind power production. That’s mainly because the renewables industry faces more regulations and scrutiny than oil and gas’ lobbying muscle would allow. But the reality is that, according to an Environmental Defense Fund study, it has been beating the natural gas industry in both profit and job creation, and growing at a rate 12 time faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.
While growth rate of employment in the fossil-fuel industry was -4.5% from 2012 to 2015, renewable-energy jobs had a rate of 6% during that period. The study also suggests that the U.S. solar industry alone now employs more people than coal, oil, and gas combined.
Nothing of this should come as a surprise, of course, given the president’s dispiriting environmental agenda, and disingenuous way to sell it. Case in point, the Keystone Pipeline, which he falsely claimed it’d create 28,000 construction jobs, but reports place the figure at 7,000, and mostly temporary. Never mind either that the whole project may cause extensive damage to native Americans lands, and yes, our future too.
Then again, despite such blatant lies, Trump has remained unscathed by public criticism, and successful at placing blame elsewhere. And what his supporters seem to be still ignoring, it’s already clear to people all over the world, from Europe to Africa to South America to Asia: he’s endorsing projects and corporations that represent huge financial benefits to him and his family, the American people be damned.
Thus, no amount of sideshow antics can be left unattended, despite two obvious facts: they’re diverting tactics, and their cumulative effect on one’s psyche is taxing. But they’re worthy keeping track of, for they may suddenly lead to terrifying news, as that missile reminded everyone.
Granted, the escalation of the North Korea’s adventure can’t be completely credited to Trump, as years of misguided confrontation policies have resulted in, well, more confrontation. But now, as foreign policy and defense have been practically delegated to the Pentagon by the president, we may see an unwanted move closer to midnight of the Doomsday Clock, closer than the Cold War era has ever made it possible.
In March, a frightening Bulletin of Atomic Scientists study didn’t even have to mention the Korean dictator to make its point: the so-called modernization of the U.S. nuclear apparatus, started by the Obama administration, represents a threat in itself. ‘Super-fuze,’ a new technology used to improve targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal, has given a renewed ‘confidence’ that a first strike can be successful.
That’s because, to the militaristic view of dealing with nuclear threats, the priority is to instantly neutralize the ability of an enemy to strike back. On that scenario, one ‘surgical’ hit would potentially cancel out an extended conflict, a hypothesis so deranged as utterly unrealistic.
What minds behind this concept can’t predict is the possibility, way more realistic, that a mistake, by human error or a hacking attack, may launch a multi-head ballistic rocket towards, say, Pyongyang or Moscow, killing instantly, heaven forbid, a million-plus people.
That can’t happen, of course, but if anything, the new technology offers yet another carrot to dangle in front of predisposed hawks. Who, not in a million years, would consider for a second that the little that has been accomplished, and has effectively prevented that nightmare from happening, is not on their spreadsheets: to talk. That’s what the diminutive Korean leader so desperately wants and hasn’t given a chance.
Judging by the way our ‘dearest’ leader has been talking to, say, Putin, though, never mind that either. We need diplomatic pros to handle this threat, not generals and even less Trump. Short of that, only massive popular mobilization, the sort not seen in this country since the 1980s, would do it. That’s what should worry those already convinced that the Democratic Party is not up to pretty much anything these days.
The U.S.’s new diminished global role may offer something good: to follow, for a change. And why not? France is committed to ban ‘petrol and diesel vehicles’ by 2040. Let’s do that. Germany, Ireland, and Bulgaria, have joined the French to ban fracking too. Can we? 130 nations want a nuclear weapons ban. We too. At this point, except for the 30 million still backing Trump, nobody else wants him to lead anything.
It’s part of a nation’s greatness the ability to adopt a path that benefits its citizens and those who support their survival. Corporations or the drive to win at any cost accomplish only single-mind, individualistic goals. They’re not fit to serve as beacons, to inspire us to grow and build a better world. Instead, they’ll nail us all to the ground, in pursuit of their interests. There’s no way around it: we have come to a crossroads.
We must decide whether our ideals for social inclusion and community first are still viable; our will remains determined as required; and our resolve is strong enough to succeed. Or that we’re too far gone to hope; too lost to helplessness; too discouraged to care. Whatever road we take today may set, or unsettle, what tomorrow is left to our children’s children. Trump’s back in the U.S. Let’s not let him sleep well. Cheers. WC