Michigan anti-fracking movement worries gas industry

Capitalist propaganda has a peculiar way of turning reality on its head.

A case in point is the well-funded effort to defeat an anti-fracking ballot initiative in Michigan. Hijacking the typical language of a bona fide mass appeal for a progressive cause, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce claims that “over the next year” it “will be building a grassroots force that will trump any paid efforts by out-of-state individuals to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. We will be organizing rallies, events, and penning letters to the editor. With your help, we can defeat this illogical proposal.”

The Chamber’s “Protect Michigan’s Energy Future” site also blames “out-of-state interest groups” for threatening jobs and “energy independence.” To defeat this “dangerous” effort to let the voters decide on a fracking ban, these humble one-percenters “cannot do it alone.”

We could not make this up!

In actuality, the “grassroots force” of well-heeled contributors reads like a “Who’s Who” of the fracking industry — with a little capitalist-class solidarity shown by Lilly, Nestle Waters, Amway and their ilk. Out-of-state energy interests are among the largest contributors to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been raised. They are paying for the pro-fracking billboards popping up along state highways. Denver-based Encana USA, which has applied for more than 500 separate fracking permits, is on the list of contributors of $10,000 or more.

The real grassroots force is the all-volunteer army of hundreds of petitioners, working on a shoestring budget to get a fracking ban on the ballot statewide. The ballot proposal of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan eliminates language of a 1939 law obligating the state to “foster the development of the [gas and oil] industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the maximum production of these natural products” and instead commits the state “to protect human health and water.”

People in Michigan have good reasons to back this initiative. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new but dangerous technology used to drill for methane, natural gas trapped in the earth’s shale rock layer. Horizontal fracturing is unlike the older vertical fracturing technique, which involves drilling straight down to the shale and forcing pockets of methane up to the surface hydraulically. With horizontal fracking the drilling continues horizontally for thousands of feet after the drill reaches the target depth.

The technique uses anywhere from 5 million to more than 20 million gallons of water every time the energy companies drill. This water is laced with hundreds of chemicals, some known carcinogens and others concealed from the public under a 2004 federal law protecting “trade secrets.” The water cannot be treated. Fracking not only steals and destroys water resources. It is also known to contaminate groundwater and drinking water. And while methane is touted as a clean-burning fuel, the methane that escapes during fracking is a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than fossil fuels.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has, using the language of the 1939 law as justification, approved the leasing of hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands to the same gas companies that are backing the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign.

Nature lovers are seeing frack wells in public parks. Once a land lease is granted, the water on the land is free. One petitioner described seeing a dried-up lake in Indian Springs Metropark northeast of Detroit — the water was used for fracking what turned out to be a dry well.

While the majority of land leased for fracking is in the northern section of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Collingwood-Antrim Shale extends as far south as Detroit, where there is an abundance of vacant land due to the mass demolition of abandoned foreclosed homes. Thus, there could even be fracking inside city limits.

It is atypical for a propaganda blitz over a ballot initiative to begin before petitions are even submitted; the mass campaign is usually launched after the proposal has been approved to appear on the ballot. The Chamber’s campaign is intended to convince voters not to sign the petition.

Response to a recent anti-fracking demonstration, however, suggests that voters aren’t swayed by the Chamber ads. Two 18-foot banners draped from a freeway overpass drew a steady stream of honks, waves, thumbs-up and peace signs from motorists. Only a few dozen responded with thumbs down and obscene gestures.

The aggressive and dangerous push to frack for profit is one of many ways that capitalism is harmful to people in Michigan. The same system that puts profit before people is responsible for the closing of scores of auto and other manufacturing plants. For more than 100 years, the capitalist economy has been dominated by the finance capitalists, who have bled Detroit dry and are now after city workers’ pensions and prized public assets. Only a mass movement that links all of these pressing issues can save the planet from these predatory thieves.

For more information on the anti-fracking campaign, visit letsbanfracking.org.