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Fracking, the environment & capitalism in crisis

Published Dec 2, 2010 10:22 PM

Betsey Piette
WW photo: Alan Pollock

Following are excerpts from a Nov. 13 talk at the Workers World Party national conference given by Betsey Piette, an organizer of the Philadelphia branch of WWP and a WW contributing editor.

Capitalism cannot recover in any way helpful to the planet’s people or ecology. But what is the price of letting capitalism drag on indefinitely?

It’s a price being paid by people living atop the Marcellus Shale rock formation spanning New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, which contains 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth trillions of dollars.

The gas industry calls the Marcellus Shale “shale gale” — a perfect storm for maximizing profits.

The industry, eager to exploit that gas, isn’t letting the planet’s future get in its way. An environmental disaster waiting to happen — hydraulic fracturing or fracking — may be coming close to you.

Fracking was developed by Halliburton. It involves injecting millions of gallons of water containing toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into shale formations to release natural gas. There are nearly a million wells in 38 states. Wells are being fracked in 70 countries.

Half the fluid returns to the surfaces as briny wastewater that may contain radioactive particles. Wastewater is trucked off or stored in open-air pits on site where it evaporates. It is being dumped along Pennsylvania highways for “weed control.” Spills of frack fluid occur daily.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempts hydraulic fracturing from regulation, so it’s not known what chemicals are in frack fluid. But people are experiencing their effects — nausea, skin rashes, and brain and nerve disorders.

Tap water can be lit on fire. Water wells are permanently poisoned. Many fish and animals have been killed.

In northern Texas, 25 percent of children have asthma, though the average is 7 percent statewide. More than 10,000 gas wells, built near schools and playgrounds, carpet Fort Worth.

Once pristine forested areas of Colorado are completely industrialized. Methane gas bubbles in the Susquehanna River, a major tributary in the Delaware watershed and a New York City water source.

The documentary “Gasland” shows the extent of this problem.

A movement to ban drilling is growing, but the industry has ignored it and has spent millions to elect politicians who will block regulations.

The International Energy Agency estimates that North America sits atop 3 trillion barrels of oil and 1 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas. Corporations are eagerly building pipelines across the U.S. to bring gas to seaports for export.

Chevron Corp. just entered the Marcellus Shale arena, paying $4.3 billion for Atlas Energy Inc. Range Resources sold off holdings in the Texas Barnett Shale to invest $1.2 billion in Marcellus, the “new frontier.” Exxon, Shell and Schlumberger paid top prices to take over smaller companies.

Onshore natural gas production increased more than 20 percent in recent years, creating a long-lasting gas glut. Overproduction is driving prices down. Federal regulations might create an incentive for more drilling by causing higher gas costs, but capitalism is not a rational system.

Gas companies paid off politicians in Pennsylvania to stop a gas tax. They gave more than $1 million to governor-elect Tom Corbett, who reciprocated by appointing Christine Toretti, owner of SW Jack Drilling, to his transition team.

Corbett promises to rescind a recent executive order against leasing 800,000 more acres of state forest for drilling. He supports legislation allowing companies to drill even when landowners refuse to sign leases. The industry wants the state to overrule local prohibitions against drilling, like a recent Pittsburgh ban.

Karl Rove, flush with pro-drilling candidates’ electoral victories, told a drillers’ conference in Pittsburgh that environmentalists “won’t be able to pass climate-change legislation. ... Climate’s gone.”

Fortunately, many people reject this notion. Hundreds of anti-fracking demonstrators rallied outside that conference. They represent a growing anti-fracking movement that is uniting young and elderly, rural and urban, communists and others, despite Homeland Security spying on them for “threatening industry.”

The anti-drilling movement faces other problems. In rural towns, industry pits worker against worker, taking advantage of high unemployment and severe poverty to pressure people to lease their land for gas wells that are poisoning their neighbors’ water.

To grow, this movement must link with struggles for jobs and against union busting.

The bosses see profits and don’t care that drilling causes suffering. They ignore alternative energy technology in favor of controlling global gas supplies. We need to shut this capitalist circus down!