I really owe Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief exec at BP, many thanks for helping me decide what to watch on the tele last evening. If it wasn’t for his role in helping big oil destroy our southern shores, I would have never thought to watch a documentary on how the natural gas industry might just achieve a similar outcome with our nation’s precious supply of fresh water.
So while Tony was still washing the salt spray off his deck shoes and out of his hair after a weekend of yachting off the English coast, I sat down to watch the HBO premier of Gasland. This truly remarkable and troubling film by Josh Fox explores the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, and the effects it has on human health, wildlife and the environment.
Among the many disturbing facts exposed in the film, in addition to faucets that spew ignitable water, is something known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” In 2005, then Vice President Dick Cheney, and a former CEO of Halliburton, was able to parley a provision into the Energy Policy Act that exempted fracking from the regulations and standards set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act. That provision effectively stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing or to force public disclosure of the chemicals being used as part of the drilling procedure.
Amid the scores of toxic compounds and agents, that can turn your kid’s bubble bath into a pyrotechnic display, are known killers like benzene, xylene and ethylene glycol. In actuality, the ongoing calamity on the Gulf Coast probably poses less of a long-term threat to our wellbeing than that which is being perpetrated by the suppliers of natural gas.
In time remediation of the spill will occur via those organisms that feed on and break down the oil; but nature does not have a strategy to cope with those manmade non-biodegradable chemicals used in the fracturing process. And if the BP model of preparation and contingency for disaster is typical of the energy industry, then it is highly unlikely that the natural gas boys have a plan or the capability to deal with the next monster that will emerge from the depths of the earth.
Unfortunately for myself and the nearly 20 million Americans that live in and around the cities of New York and Philadelphia, that monster is lurking under the bed.
Just north of my home on the Delaware River in Frenchtown, New Jersey are vast reserves of untapped natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. These deposits lie directly beneath the river’s watershed–which also happens to be the largest source of unfiltered drinking water in the United States.
As for me, I hardy ever drink water, but according to the bartender manning the taps at Jack’s Firehouse in Philly, my next pint of locally brewed beer is dependent upon the waters of the Delaware River Basin remaining free of anything not in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot of 1516: sort of the German equivalent of our Clean Water Act which states that the only ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer are hops, yeast, malted barley and good water.
So pour me another pint of IPA, and for all our sakes–hold the benzene, xylene and ethylene glycol.