Standford University

Frack Off, Oil and Gas

 What would you do if you turned on your kitchen faucet one day and it smelled funny? Or if you put a lighter up to the faucet and it lit your water on fire? Would you still drink it? Unfortunately this is a brutal reality for millions of people around the world who are victims of fracking imposed on their own property. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground thousands of feet into a gas shale and pumping water into the shale laced with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals. This water is pumped into the ground at such intense pressures that it creates fractures in the rock freeing the gas and allowing the water and chemicals to leak into fresh water resources.

Josh Fox’s film GASLAND Part II following his first Oscar®-nominated film GASLAND dives deeper into the controversies and dangers of the oil and gas industry, specifically the hydraulic fracturing. The film opens with a haunting clip of the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill in 2010. As far as the eye can see, the surface is coated with the thick black toxic sludge. Fox describes that BP had permission to spray chemical dispersants across the surface making the oil more toxic but also allowing it to sink to the bottom and further into the water column into the sediments out of sight. For them it was out of sight, out of mind. Although they have completely killed the Gulf of Mexico as a productive ecosystem, they will continue to drill, suck out all of the oil, and kill anything in its path as long as it brings in the big bucks. This is exactly how the fracking industry works.

Throughout the film, Fox focuses on various families throughout the US and Australia sitting on natural gas shale formations which have been either thrown off their properties, diagnosed with various threatening health issues, or forced to sign contracts and keep their mouths shut. Thousands of cases of health issues, air pollution, and water contamination have been reported across the globe and have been linked to properties with fracking wells leaking chemicals into their fresh water sources but of course the gas industry denies all of it.  Fox points out numerous disturbing red flags throughout his film about this industry’s manipulative and deceiving techniques to continue ruining people’s lives around the world. 

Cornell University Environmental Engineering Professor, Anthony Ingraffea, explains that a gas well is made of a steel pipe surrounded by 1 inch of cement that often cracks and allows chemicals to leak. He goes on to say that about 5% of all fracked wells will have a failure of cement allowing for methane migration. This means that anything stored in the rock down below now has a pathway to get into the well. If one well has been contaminated, that means that the entire aquifer has gone bad potentially leaving thousands of people without safe drinking water. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) well water laboratory test results show high levels and traces of methane, ethane, ethane, benzene, carbonyl, hydrogen chloride and more. This is a serious issue of resource extraction at the expense of human beings, involving millions of people to be driven out of their homes, leaving thousands with irreversible health problems, and no alternatives for accessible fresh water.

PSYOPS or Psychological Operations are used in war zones for managing outrage and to destabilize a population from insurgency against an invading army. This was what the American military used during the war in Iraq. Although the Defense Department ruled it illegal to use these techniques against Americans, the gas industry still employed former PSYOP experts to write local laws to be used against landowners fighting the gas industry in Texas and Pennsylvania. Anti-fracking protesters were labeled as “environmental terrorists”.  The same company that supported smoking cigarettes and tried to hide scientific research about the harm cigarettes can do to your body was hired on by America’s Natural Gas Alliance (anga) as their PR firm. As Fox states, “just like there is no safe cigarette, there is no safe drilling.”

What disturbed me the most during the film were the actions the EPA took against many of these families who needed safe and clean drinking water, which is supposedly one of the agency’s very principles. Mid-level employees were reported telling numerous affected families that their cases had been dropped and although the water tested positive for numerous life threatening chemicals, the media reported their water as “safe to drink.” Their reasons? Because the EPA receives an overwhelming amount of contributions and donations from the oil and gas industry themselves basically influencing their every move. What happens when the very people you’re fighting against are manipulating the intentions and principles of a federal agency? You lose complete trust in your government.

Hydraulic fracturing has become a worldwide energy issue now with 32 countries extracting natural gas. Many people think natural gas is the answer to global warming and can be a safe alternative to our coal and oil dependency but this is far from the truth, as you will see in the film.  Cornell University Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Robert Howarth, states that about 3.6 to 7.9% of the total amount of gas from a lifetime of a well is emitted into the atmosphere as methane, which is more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 contributing significantly to global warming.

What can we turn to? There are many solutions being studied and implemented now across the globe in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on coal and oil. Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/ Energy Program at Standford University explains that when you combine all renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, solar photovoltaic, tidal, wave, and geothermal power, there is enough wind power in fast wind locations to power the entire world 5 to 10 times over.  According to Jacobson, if we bundle these resources together we can easily supply the demand even in places with lack of solar and wind. Watch the film and make your own opinions on whether you think hydraulic fracturing is an ethical and viable solution.  

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