From Pennsylvania to Ukraine and Bulgaria: The toxic aftermaths of fracking

Many people are already deeply concerned about the sinister damage to the environment done by hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking.” This process, which breaks up underground shale rock through the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of toxins-laden water in order to release natural gas, already supplies 67 percent of the gas consumed in the U.S. (Department of Energy, April 2013)

People need to know that the energy companies have big plans to sell a lot of this gas to Europe in the future, which will increase the danger to the land here and also the political pressure on vulnerable politicians in Washington to OK the process.

Already, homeowners of modest means in rural parts of many states, who had taken for granted their relative tranquility and the purity of their well water, are ruing the day they got talked into signing contracts that allow energy companies to exploit the shale under their land for a pittance.

And it’s about to get a lot worse.

Frackers take on Ukraine, Bulgaria

Countries in eastern Europe like Ukraine and Bulgaria may be far away from the Marcellus Shale states, but they are now the target of huge U.S. energy companies that want to dominate the European market.

For many years, most countries on the Continent have relied on Russian natural gas, delivered through pipelines running through Ukraine and other countries to Austria and beyond. These pipelines supply hundreds of millions of people with energy to heat their homes and have hot water and cooking gas.

But the U.S.-based energy giants want to change all that. There is now so much fracked gas available here that they’re afraid prices will fall. So they are laying plans to sell a lot of it in Europe. That’s a big project, involving building facilities for liquefied natural gas and the ports and tankers that can get it to foreign buyers. All that is now on the drawing board.

As of July 31, three terminals for the export of LNG have been approved by the U.S. Department of Energy — in Sabrina and Hackberry, La., and Freeport, Texas. (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website)

Every big business, however, wants to be sure of its market before laying out big sums for new facilities. So these companies, through their political allies in Congress, the Pentagon and other centers of power, are pushing hard to whittle down Russia’s ability to sell its plentiful natural gas to Europe.

Cutting off Russian gas

An important gas pipeline going from Russia to Europe via Ukraine is already in trouble, thanks to the U.S.-engineered coup in Kiev last year. That coup has led to a civil war in Ukraine, after neo-fascist groups there provided the muscle for the overthrow of the elected government and then opened an attack on the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country.

The sanctions the U.S. has now imposed on Russia will also affect the pipeline. Russian gas is being piped through Ukraine to other European customers, but the new right-wing Ukrainian government refuses to pay a cent on its $4.5 billion gas debt to Russia. It is now threatening to “halt [Russian] deliveries of natural resources to the European Union, following sanctions by the U.S. and the EU. Gazprom [of Russia], the world’s biggest gas producer, ships about half its exports across Ukraine to Europe.” (, Aug. 11)

The next place to watch in relation to this struggle is Bulgaria, which is now undergoing a “banking crisis.” The Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), the country’s fourth largest, has been closed since June when there was a run on the bank by many depositors demanding their funds. Its largest shareholder, Tsvetan Vassilev, told the Financial Times that “the events that have been taking place since last week are the visible part of a carefully prepared and planned scenario aimed at destabilizing Corporate Commercial Bank.” (, June 20)

Vassilev did not say who he believed was behind the alleged attempt to destabilize KTB, but he did say that “more than 20 percent of the financial institution’s assets were withdrawn in less than a week.” The result has been a political crisis in crisis in Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, where, like Ukraine, the planned economy and public ownership have been overthrown and most enterprises privatized.

Bulgaria is also a country that signed an agreement with Russia in 2009 for the planned South Stream pipeline, which would transit the country to deliver natural gas from Russia to western Europe.

Reuters wrote on Aug. 7, “The planned $40 billion pipeline has put the Balkan country, which relies almost entirely on Russia for its energy, in the center of the row between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

“Bulgaria’s Socialist government — which stepped down in late July — backed the pipeline but reluctantly suspended construction amid threats of punishment from the European Commission.” This leaves the field wide open for U.S. energy corporations.

The companies behind fracking have huge clout in Washington and with the policy makers of this country. They dictate the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and U.S. hostility toward Iran and Venezuela. They dictate the support for Israel that makes it a military superpower in the oil-rich Middle East. And now they are hellbent on confronting Russia in order to increase their profits from European sales of a product that pollutes the water table in dozens of U.S. states.

The fight against the grasping energy oligarchs is one, from Western Pennsylvania and North Dakota to Gaza and Ukraine.