What the Frack!?

In 1969, the Cayahoga River, one of Lake Erie’s major tributaries, caught fire. This provided the kind of visual evidence boring old science never could. Folks got hip: Industry, they realized, was using American waterways as a massive free sewage system for their most noxious waste. Americans got serious about pollution in our water for a minute. Then we all got back to business and tried to forget about the future.

Now our present generation of leaders and decision-makers has its own Compelling Visual to consider as they try to sell the easily sold American public on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which a proprietary cocktail of water, sand, and toxic chemicals are blasted into shale fissures deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The blasting breaks apart the rock formations and causes them to give up oil and natural gas deposits. The Academy Award-nominated (and therefore Good and Worthy) documentary “Gasland” showed residents of Colorado lighting their tap water on fire. You would think it was Lake Erie all over again.

You would also think there’d be some kind of revolution. Water equals life, right? OK. Sure. Fine. But life without cheap gasoline is not really a life worth living. You can have all the potable water you’d like, but what’s the point if it costs $94 to fill up your Chevy Tahoe?

You also might think we the people wouldn’t stand for another ruthless corporation with money on the brain to frack with our most essential resource. But these are different, more perilous times. It’s difficult to worry about poisoning the water supply — your precious children’s water supply — when you’ve got a car payment, an upside-down mortgage, and a giant Amex bill to fret over. For some years now, all sorts of credible people have been warning us about the dangers of fracking, but we’ve been a bit too busy with important stuff like the new season of “The Voice” and keeping up with “Hunger Games” news to be concerned about something incidental like our aquifers.

The mantra of Small Government reactionaries is “get the government off our back.” Abolish the Energy Department. Rip up the regulations. Let the market fix everything. Until those kind of patriots take over Washington (and the vaginas of women everywhere), we still have people called Regulators whose job it is to regulate. Quaint and charmingly naive as it sounds, these regulators are paid to protect the public from companies who care less about birth defects and causing cancer than reaping profits. The frackers make the same claim that the pesticide and cigarette makers used to make: it’s safe! It’s proven! It’s widely accepted! Heck, it might even be good for you, just like a glass of high-fructose corn syrup and a deep-fried potato is good for you.

Regulators in Ohio concluded that fracking probably triggered more than a dozen earthquakes. In Ohio.

States from Montana to Maine are “debating” (read: “politely suggesting to  their Energy Company benefactors”) moratoriums on fracking after toxic chemicals were found in nearby drinking water.

And in the great state of California, the people in charge of regulating the extraction of fossil fuels from California land are doing virtually nothing. The reason, they admit, is because they have no idea what’s going on. The regulators have no regulations on fracking.

California is the fourth-largest oil-producing state. Even in Los Angeles we have active wells bobbing along in a vaguely fellatio-like motion, including on the La Cienega-Baldwin Hills corridor, linking Hollywood and the airport. But almost no one aside from the shot-callers at Halliburton knows how much or what type of fracking has been conducted in our communities. Why? Because the energy companies and their lobbyists, dancing to the drumbeat of deregulation, have successfully scuttled legislation that would answer some simple questions. Like:

Where does fracking take place?

How often does fracking take place?

What are the potential risks?

These seem to simple country folks like us to be reasonable and not terribly provocative queries. But the energy industry finds this all to be a bit much. They’ve invested a great deal, you see, in chemical recipes (and lobbyists) and they’d really prefer if the Government would just stand back and let them deliver domestic oil to domestic Americans who may or may not drive domestic vehicles.

On March 22, it’s once again World Water Day. There will be speeches and heartbreaking videos and all sorts of startling facts and figures. While a small portion of the population will be engaged in earnest discussions and fretful hand-wringing, another portion — the part that believes jobs and cheap gasoline are more important than clean water — will be blasting away, fracking up the environment. The vast majority, almost everyone else, won’t know or care or understand. They can’t be bothered. One day these people will have children and grand-children and maybe even great-grandchildren. Fortunately, when these future generations inhabit what’s left of the Earth, few of us will be around to face the question: Why did you let this happen to our water?

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