(EnviroNews California) – Los Angeles – Erin Brockovich is a people’s champion when it comes to battling against big industrial polluters who contaminate and poison groundwater, so much so that they even made a Hollywood movie showcasing her first amazing success story in Hinkley, California.
The movie, ‘Erin Brockovich’, starring Julia Roberts won an academy award, and brought the monumental case against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) into the international spotlight. PG&E ended up settling the case for 333 million dollars, the largest payout in a driect-action lawsuit in U.S. history. Since that time, they have also folded in a second case to the tune of 335 million dollars, with a third case still pending in court.
Those incidents of Chromium 6 contamination commenced decades ago, with the first suits being brought back in the 90s against PG&E by Masry & Vititoe, the law firm where Brockovich worked as a legal clerk when she uncovered the toxic mess in Hinkley. Now, more than twenty years later, new industrial adventures are threatening North American water supplies on a level not seen before.
One of the chief culprits in this escalating, unprecedented level of threat against the country’s drinking water is a technique known as “fracking”, an advanced technology extraction method used by oil and gas companies to force hydrocarbons from shale and sand deposits scattered widely across America, and the world.
Fracking has gained considerable notoriety in the last few years, in no small part from the HBO films directed by Josh Fox. GasLand and GasLand 2 are films that Brockovich called “fascinating”, and regarded highly for their wide-reach and educational value to the American public.
The contentiousness over whether or not fracking actually can cause groundwater contamination has left observers befuddled, and has demonstrated the incredible lengths that the oil industry is willing to go to in order to maintain their current hall-pass to frack for oil and gas in a virtually unregulated and no-holds-barred fashion.
The term “unregulated” is no joke when it comes to the technology of fracking, and in 2005 regulations that once protected America’s groundwater were savagely gutted when Dick Cheney helped pass his infamous Energy Bill; in the name of “national security” of course. Some environmental advocates have even gone so far as to label this bill “criminal” due to its sheer obliteration of the Clean Water Drinking Act while simultaneously rolling out a red carpet allowing for oil and gas companies to frack with total impunity.
Amazingly, in most places, there is currently nothing that requires operators to perform any environmental or groundwater impact assessment at a well-site in regards to the fracking element. Additionally, this same piece of monumental legislation also exempted the industry from any requirement to disclose the approximately 600 chemicals used in their so-called “proprietary” frack fluid cocktails.
Let us not forget that this energy bill was crafted by Dick Cheney, a man who was formerly the head of Halliburton, the most prevalent pioneer of fracking technologies on the planet — anyone see a potential conflict of interest there?
Just like there was no conflict of interest in handing out no-bid contracts to Halliburton for reconstruction in Iraq after Cheney had practically highjacked the Bush Administration into a nearly decade long war there right? But hey, he wasn’t the sitting chief of Halliburton at the exact same time right? So, how could there possibly be any conflict? I mean, he had absolutely zero friends over there, and cronyism is just a completely fabricated concept right? (I’m hoping you all gathered that the last paragraph is purely facetious sarcasm!)
Now, when you actually stop to think about whether or not fracking has the ability to cause groundwater pollution, it is really a very simple concept: If you pump a brew of nearly 600 substances containing deadly manmade chemicals into the environment, (in the case of fracking, through underground water aquifers) you absolutely CAN taint the aquifer. Any argument against this fact is simply absurd. Where do the chemicals go? Do they all just magically disappear from existence within seconds of being blasted at high pressure into the ground?
Oil and gas companies have had episodes where cement and/or casing fail on DAY ONE of drilling. In truth, this happens all the time in America. As a matter of fact, the industry is so prone to accidents and failures that this article could go on listing thousands of episodes where big oil and gas simply screwed up and subsequently spewed poisons directly into the environment. How long will people and the media continue to seriously entertain the argument that fracking cocktails DO NOT actually pollute the groundwater? If you boil down it’s dynamics, the very argument, from even a grade-school science level is both scientifically, and logically ludicrous.
Earlier this year, an EnviroNews field reporter interviewed an anonymous, downhole expert and sitting oil CEO of over 20 years, and what he said couldn’t have summed up the scientific dynamics any more simply in regards to whether or not theses deadly frack cocktails can make their way into the drinking aquifers. Here’s what he had to say:
Let me be clear one more time. Anything the industrial lobbyists might be saying about this not being a cancerous contamination threat to this aquifer (New York) is pure nonsense. Because once again, any penetration of an aquifer down to oil and gas layers below poses a direct threat because it’s the path of least resistance. Let’s remember that, the path of least resistance. There’s pressure down there and because cement doesn’t last forever period. It might last fifty years, or a hundred years, but it won’t last a million years. And what about earthquakes? It is clear that extensively fracking the earth in a location can cause earthquakes. First of all, it’s already been observed in Oklahoma and other places, and what then?…What about those blowing apart and crumbling older existing well-bores? A strong earthquake on the East Coast could cause these wells either in production, or old and abandoned wells….we’ve created the path of least resistance. The pressure would push whatever’s below towards the surface and oil and gas, it’s bad enough with the chemicals they put in it, let alone the deadly cocktail of slick-water sand fracks and the other types of fracking that are in there. You’ve got big trouble if you’re drinking that water. And what about wildlife. Again, these poisons can cause mutagenic expressions.
The lifelong oil man in black also went on to debunk the “impenetrable layer” myth wherein oil companies have said time and again that they can SAFELY (remember that word) drill and frack down below these so-called “impenetrable levels”.
The whole concept of drilling down there and then saying it’s an impenetrable layer. It’s not impenetrable because you’ve created the path of least resistance right either behind the cement if the cement fails, or through the cement, or through the casing, or back up, the cement get’s a hole in it in the aquifer area under these extreme pressures, or a frack get’s loose and they pump right in the aquifers. I can guaruntee ya’ that they probably already pumped in the aquifer. They just haven’t told ya’ about it…This is Nationwide. Worldwide.
In regards to fracking, the oil industry’s story is the same as it always has been, a tale that repeats and reiterates almost robotically how they can do it all “SAFELY”. In a documentary on oilwell setback protections earlier this year, EnviroNews USA Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry summed it up succinctly:
One word that your common man, and every review board in nearly every regulatory and environmental sector has been bombarded with over the head time and again with is the word ‘Safely’. That’s what they always say. ‘They’, meaning big energy pumpers. You know, like they can drill ‘safely’ offshore, until BP happened. And like, they can ‘safely’ build nuclear reactors on the ocean, until the full blown triple meltdown in Fukushima happened. And they can ‘safely’ tank oil around the oceans, Until Exxon Valdez. And they can pump deadly bitumen crude from tar sands around the country ‘safely’, until Mayflower Arkansas. And so forth, and so on. This documentary could go on for days citing examples of how energy developers said they could do it ‘safely’ until the next loss of life, or human health, or environmental calamity is upon us. So the question remains: Is any energy exploration enterprise to be trusted when their accountability, loyalty, and very duty go first and foremost to their shareholders for the bottom line? When stock value is the very first priority and prime directive, and safety, workers rights, and environmental responsibility are tertiary at best? When oil and energy companies have been demonstrated to choose profit over people time and again, can they really be trusted when they use their very favorite little word ‘SAFELY’?
This does raise a very good point, when it comes to oil companies providing their own bought and payed for environmental impact assessments on their next permit application for their next exploratory adventure. Seriously, does the oil industry even have any credibility left when they use their “favorite little word SAFELY”?
Another important point worth understanding about the whole “frack-for-all-fiesta” going on around the country via the Cheney Bill hall-pass is that science is pretty much always ahead of regulation, quite often by a good decade or more. Well, it hasn’t even been a decade since the implementation of the monumental energy bill, and there are already countless thousands of wells coast-to-coast in America that have been fracked with cancerous chemicals in the last 8 years, with utter and total impunity.
So, if it turns out that widespread contamination has indeed resulted from fracking’s open hall-pass, it would seem that everyone may get to throw their hands up, point the finger, and say: “Golly, we had no idea that this could pose a threat to the water supply that we perforated. Oh well. Have a nice day!”
When it comes to America’s cherished drinking water supplies, doesn’t it seem like it would be wiser to err on the side of caution, versus enabling a coast-to-coast, “frack-for-all” bonanza party that plays Russian Roulette with the all-sustaining clear liquid known as H2O that all life relies upon every single day for survival? Or is it wiser to frack the living dung out of everything, everywhere, for every single last drop of natural gas that we can extract, as quickly as possible, right now and today, while kicking the can down the road on critically important environmental and public health questions for years, if not decades? You can be the judge on that one.
Once a water supply is contaminated you’ve got a huge problem on your hands. The chances of every truly restoring a precious aquifer to its original state are slim at best. Would the natural gas industry really be willing to spend millions or billions on clean up, in an effort to restore tainted water aquifers? That seems doubtful unless their hand was legally forced.
Along these same lines, let’s not forget one of the energy industry’s favorite little philosophies: ‘The solution to pollution is dilution.’ Of course, widely-available epidemiological data proves this notion to be farcically incorrect, as ANY exposure to many of the known mutagenic compounds used in fracking formulas is considered to be unsafe.
As of late it would appear that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that an ostrich-like, head-in-the-sand approach will suit them best. In a recent and shocking reversal, they have decided to walk away from several of the most blatantly suspect cases of contamination from fracking. Among the sites that the EPA turned their back on were Pavillion Wyoming, Dimock Pennsylvania, and Parker County Texas, which were three of the sites documented in GasLand 2, the HBO documentary.
Josh Fox, the Creator and Director of GasLand had this to say about the EPA reversal:
These are the cases we investigate in Gasland Part II, three cases where the EPA has ignored their own data, caved to political and industry pressure and walked away from their own investigations. The EPA wants this story to be over. We can’t let them close the books on this and walk away….They’re walking out on all of us, and by doing so declaring that political influence matters more than scientific evidence and the safety of this nation.
It would seem that the issue of fracking would be right up Erin Brockovich’s alley. First, it involves localized incidents where the finger could potentially be pointed at a particular company with a particular “proprietary” blend of disease-causing frack fluid. That being said, on an issue like the PG&E chromium cases there was a clear culprit in a relatively isolated set of circumstances, with a distinctly obvious toxin, yet with no big Federal piece of legislation harboring their activities and giving them permission to pump straight poison into the ground as fast and furiously as they like. In the case of the fossil fuels industry, that is exactly what they have, and that forms the shielded terrain where they presently operate.
In the recent Brockovich interview, she was asked how one even pinpoints an area to zero in on in regards to fracking, as the entire map of America is now completely covered in “red dots” indicating frack locations. She was also asked if her team is currently involved in any fracking battles at the local level. In reply, the renowned activist and consumer advocate had this to say:
Not yet, we’re watching. I mean, fracking’s so new and everything is just starting to develop. We’ve all seen GasLand and it’s fascinating, and I think that was something that created a great deal of awareness. I see it all over whether it be California, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, North Dakota…they’re all coming to us.
With the EPA now apparently determined to close the book on fracking, in a move that will abandon seemingly desperate communities around the country that are currently up in arms and shouting about the myriad of health issues afflicting them from local natural gas pillaging, many are wondering just where the “protection” in Environmental Protection Agency lies. It would seem a good wager that ‘Team Brockovich’ will be receiving a lot more complaints in the near future from helpless citizens affected by the activities of gas frackers.