The Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex contains roughly 6.5 million people. While the name “Metroplex” certainly conjures up images of a vast cyberpunk sprawl, the truth is somewhat less fun. D/FW is one medium-sized city, two small cities and a ragged gaggle of wealthy suburban communities. Every third car is a truck of some sort (usually an F-150) and over the last few months I’ve noticed an uncomfortable number of folks with big “SECEDE” bumper-stickers slapped on the butt of their Lincoln Town Car.
Cars like that become more common the closer you get to D/FW International Airport. So do huge houses and expensive private schools. There’s a lot of money in North Texas, and no small part of it comes from the oil and gas industry. Which is why the World Shale Gas conference and exhibition was held here this year.
From 3-5 November, bigwigs from Big Oil and Bad Gas flew their big asses into our big-ass airport and hopped the Rich Person equivalent of a taxi down to the Gaylord Texan Convention Center.
Where there are powerful executives meeting at fancy resorts, there are activists with costumes and signs waiting to yell at them. Which is why I battled gridlock traffic for ninety minutes in the almost-cool afternoon of November 3rd. The twenty-five mile drive up to Grapevine would be worth it if I got to see a dreadlocked hippy dressed as Datuk Hashim of the International Gas Union humping a paper mache donkey*. Representing, of course, the people of Fort Worth.
I’m not sure if I was more disappointed by the fact that the site of the protest ended up being well out of view of the Center, or that no one was there when I arrived.
I avoid travelling to Grapevine whenever possible, and I recommend you do the same. What moved me to action that day was an intriguing documentary by Josh Fox named Gasland. Fox is the man largely credited for bringing public attention to the controversy over Hydraulic Fracturing.
Hydro-fracking involves shooting incredibly high-pressure “fluids” into oil and methane gas deposits to fracture the rock around it and release the gas. The Big Energy folks point out how economically important fracking is for the United States. They fail to address the major environmental and human health issues. You’ll find a more balanced look here (PDF).
What’s really important to focus on is that word “fluids”. The people doing the fracking don’t like to talk about what those fluids contain. They even have the law on their side in keeping it secret. The “Halliburton Loophole” is an artifact of the Bush Administration. It stops the EPA from regulating the chemicals added to water used for fracking.
The frackers behind all of this claim that their mixes are proprietary. Letting the EPA know could cause Halliburton to lose a competitive advantage. Vice President Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton, urged passage of the loophole. He also headed up an energy task force in 2001 that kept health concerns about fracking out of their final report.
Health concerns like water you can light on fire.
See, fracturing all those rock formations can send natural gas and chemicals used in the fracking process pouring into local aquifers. 40 percent of the “fluid” used for fracking remains in the ground. Over 250 different chemicals have been discovered in that “fluid” so far, including carcinogens like benzene, arsenic and polycyclic aromatics.
There are also chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, damage fertility and a whole host of other nastiness you don’t want in your tap water. While an EPA study in 2004 concluded that hydro-fracking “poses little or no threat” to drinking water, the people who can light theirs on fire would probably disagree. And they’d be backed up by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who called the EPA report “unsupportable”.
So where’s the Resistance?
The town of Camillus, New York just passed a law banning horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Onondaga County and DeWitt both also have local bans on fracking. They plan to wait one year until more is known about the ecological impact.
Which is the same basic intent found in the FRAC Acts, two bills that amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and give the EPA authority to figure out just what the hell is in those fluids. You’ll find a slightly biased article on the acts here, and another one from the Energy lobby here.
And, of course, there was the protest with no attendees. I drove over to the Gaylord, just to make sure I hadn’t missed the activists. Nothing.
I motored home, popped open a beer and tried not to think about how much of my day had been spent bumper-to-bumper. It wasn’t long before I found out what had happened to the protest:
“We got busted up.”
Several van-loads of angry young canvassers had decided to make a bee-line for the Gaylord itself. Security and the local police kicked their asses out before anything interesting could happen. There was no violence, nothing messy. Just quick, efficient suppression.
There are a lot of scary numbers associated with fracking, but the scariest ones have nothing to do with water pollution. 80 percent of all wells drilled in the US today involve “fracking”. The injuries and poisonings mainly affect rural folks. The rest of us are more affected by the fact that 23 percent of our on-road fuel usage can be eliminated by the use of natural gas in trucks and buses.
Those vehicles make 26 percent of our transportation greenhouse gases. They are the big air polluters for most people in cities. Fracking makes natural gas on the scale we want possible. And it may also irreversibly cripple the wild parts of this country.
I have several friends who own land out around Fort Worth, and most of them have fracking operations of some extent on their property. Even whistleblowers within the industry note that it can be done safely.
And if your water catches on fire? Just move to the city. It’s what everyone else is doing.