When drilling goes sideways

Columnist Rob Brown thinks there should be fewer Dick Cheney's in the world

Angler is his handle. No surprise. He grew up in Wyoming where trout fishing is big. We know him as Dick Cheney, vice president during the reign of Bush the Second.

Tasked by Bush the Younger to come up with a running mate, Cheney devised a process so intrusive it bordered on a violation of prospects’ civil rights. Each candidate’s medical records and business dealings were examined in microscopic detail, as were any dealings with the cops. When none of the prospective VEEPs passed muster, Cheney himself deigned to assume the position, but only as a favour to George Dubya, said Cheney.

Journalists noted that Cheney had brushes with the law during the heavy drinking days when he was a young man laying cable. They noted he had a bum ticker, and was the CEO of the multinational oil services corporation, Halliburton, but somehow avoided the vetting the other aspiring running mates had endured.

During the fraudulent election that ultimately led to the Supreme Court appointing Bush Jr. as president, Cheney took it upon himself the unprecedented action of running a transition team that put together a staff of friends he’d acquired during his long career serving under Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush Senior. Washington watchers observed that when Bush assumed the presidency, the staff led by Cheney was in control.

The rest, as they say, is history – and what a sordid history is was: 9/11, Homeland Security; the illegal unprovoked terrorist attack on Iraq that was euphemistically called the Iraq War; the arrest and torture of putative terrorists who were placed in Cuba so their rights could be denied; the mess in Afghanistan; Abu Ghraib; the massive US bank and stock market fraud and Wall Street collapse.

Cheney, the puppet master, was always in the back ground.

After my conversation with Phil Pretty, I started surfing the net for the effect of drilling on ground water, I found Dick Cheney lurking in the background again. Turns out that Dick was instrumental in getting some powerful legislation passed during his time in the Dubya White House that immensely benefitted his former company, Halliburton and his pals in the gas and oil business. One law allowed oil and gas companies to keep the chemical constituents of their drilling fluids secret in much the same that McDonald’s does with their special sauce.

Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking is the amazing technology that allows gas companies to  drill down and out at a 90º angle. Such is the degree of accuracy frackers can achieve that if a cottage was buried thousands of feet under the earth, they could drill through its front door and exit out the back. To bust through the earth and rock and extract gas from shale requires chemicals that will crack rock, biocides, clay stabilizers, corrosion inhibitors, carrier fluids, as well as cross linkers to maintain fluid viscosity, friction reducers, winterizing agents, gelling agents, precipitation inhibitors, non-emulsifiers, adjusting agents, scale inhibitors, and surfactants. There were 81 chemicals in one frack fluid recipe I found on the net exclusive of the secret chemicals, a real witches’ brew that drillers mix with many of thousands of gallons of water to work just one well. Each well can be fracked from 1 to 18 times.

The other bit of Cheney influenced legislation was a nasty bit of work that exempts gas and oil drillers from the US Clean Water Act and the US Clean Air Act. These two mind boggling bills tied the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and effectively deregulated hydraulic fracturing. A curious move when many of the chemicals in fracking are associated with cancers of the bone, liver, breast, and pancreas, as well as neurological disorders, developmental problems, and birth defects.

Fracking uses a staggering amount of water and produces an enormous amount of waste water as a result. This effluent is left in standing ponds or sprayed into the air, contaminating the receiving environment. The horror doesn’t end there. Depending on where they are drilled, fracking waste can contain radium, radon, and uranium, which has to be dumped somewhere. Volatile organic compounds are released along with methane, the latter gas traps carbon dioxide so well that it puts the extraction of natural gas on par with coal as a greenhouse gas. Fracking is going on in 36 of the contiguous United States. Thousands upon thousands of wells have been drilled.

Natural gas extraction is as dirty as any other form of fossil fuel extraction despite what Christy Clark says. The short term economic benefits are trumped by the long term ecological consequences. If you don’t believe me, log on, go to YouTube and put “Gasland” in the search field. After watching the documentary, spend some time exploring related links.

When you are swapping water for a fossil fuel, you are hiring contractors over which you have no control to dismantle your house. You are engaged in a fundamentally flawed activity. It will make the Dick Cheneys of the world immeasurably rich, but in the end, the climate will crush us all.