Fracking, global warming & capitalism

Betsey PietteWW photo: Brenda Ryan

Betsey Piette
WW photo: Brenda Ryan

Taken from a talk by Betsey Piette, a Workers World Party organizer from Philadelphia, at the Nov. 17-18 WWP national conference in New York City.

If you are worried about climate change the Marcellus Shale Coalition has good news for you: an alternative to burning coal and oil. It’s natural gas – the “clean energy.” Drilling for natural gas provides jobs and makes the U.S. energy-independent. We won’t need wars to take other peoples’ oil.

Trust them. Fracking is 100 percent safe. If you fear your water’s contaminated, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection will test it. So what if they don’t report on the fracking chemicals it contains – what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

I’m not making this stuff up! Okay, the Marcellus Shale Coalition never said the part about not going to war for oil – but the rest is pretty much verbatim. Don’t be confused by the name; this coalition represents oil and gas industry executives, not anti-drilling fracktavists.

The reality is that unregulated fracking for natural gas leaves a higher carbon footprint than burning coal. It requires more energy to extract gas. The methane released has 25 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide. A study by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research found that switching from coal to gas increases global warming.

This issue goes beyond environmental concerns. To end fracking we must fight capitalism.

In October the New York Times ran an article entitled “After the Boom in Natural Gas.” It wasn’t about pollution or ruined land values or jobs. Their concern? “The gas rush is a money loser so far for many of the gas exploration companies and their tens of thousands of investors.” Gas producers drilled too many wells too quickly, and the price of gas fell below the actual cost of production.

The gas producers needed even more investment capital just to maintain their cash flow. The Times article called this a “Ponzi scheme.”

But isn’t this how capitalism has always worked?

Marx understood that the source of all profits under capitalism stems from the exploitation of labor. In a market economy, production is for profit, not human need.

Competition for market control leads to the introduction of technology, which leads to increased exploitation of labor to maximize production. But more production can also drive prices down.

To compensate, even more technology is introduced, resulting in a glut of products on the market and leading to overproduction. If capitalism can’t sell all it produces, and overproduction cuts into profits because prices dropped, production is halted and workers are laid off.

Fracking may be exempt from government regulation but it can’t escape the laws of capitalism.

A decade ago, the incentive for the heavy investments required for fracking was the high price of natural gas – over $13 per million Btu [British thermal unit]. Gas companies promised a 100 year supply.” But with the sheer numbers of wells drilled, the price of natural gas dipped to an all-time low – $3 per mm [million metric] Btu. Wells panned out after a few years, so more were drilled. Drilling also requires workers with special skills whose wages tend to be higher. This doesn’t even take into account that fracking has gone global.

Today there is so much cheap natural gas they’re building pipelines to export it to other industrialized countries. Many of these pipelines, like the one proposed for storm-ravaged Rockaway [in New York City], threaten environmentally protected zones and Indigenous lands.

The natural gas industry expanded by targeting economically depressed communities from rural Louisiana to rural Pennsylvania — areas where globalization has driven out jobs. Now even the promised fracking jobs, especially in Pennsylvania, seem to be drying up. Like the coal industry a century earlier, fracking’s legacy will be a polluted and devastated landscape.

There is no question that capitalism is at a dead end, and we know, as Marx said, “capitalism creates its own gravediggers.” That’s us. As we push this rotten system over the cliff and into its grave, we need to make sure it doesn’t take the health of this planet and future generations down with it.

Stop fracking. Abolish capitalism. Build a workers world!