October 19, 2011
By Ken Krayeske • 11:45 PM EST
The front page of the Gasland website shows the shale plates that stretch under the American continent. These contain an ocean of natural gas, waiting to be exploited by Halliburton and other energy companies. In the process, the planet will be irreparably harmed.
Dear Congressman Larson -
A year goes by quickly. Last October, you and I were wrestling for votes as we were both fighting for your Congressional seat. During our grueling debate schedule, several times you championed clean natural gas as an alternative energy source.
You said we should listen to your friend billionaire T. Boone Pickens about relying more on natural gas.
After you won re-election, in March 2011, you made good on your promises, and introduced the NAT GAS Act (New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions), which gives incentives for natural gas powered vehicles.
It's funny, though, last night (October 18) about a dozen of us gathered at La Paloma Sabanera on Capital Avenue in Hartford for the Tuesday night Keno Café to watch a special presentation of Gasland, the documentary about hydrofracking made by Josh Fox in 2010.
We thought of you, because midway during the movie, Fox tries to get in touch with your friend T. Boone Pickens. And Pickens never responds.
Perhaps Pickens knew Fox was a muckraker, more than Fox knew he was a muckraker. But I started thinking you might connect Fox and Pickens so they can converse about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for short.
If you haven't heard of Gasland, the movie explores problems associated with fracking. Fox traces how the 2005 energy bill pushed by Vice president Dick Cheney exempted fracking from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, among a dozen other environmental and safety regulations.
Cheney, who used to be president of Halliburton, managed to get you to vote for this bill (which I think included your tax incentives for fuel cell energy). It's no coincidence, then, that Halliburton patented fracking, and their trucks are all over Fox's movie. It's frustrating to think that Cheney and industry people envisioned this kind of legislation 15 years ago, and now we are just catching up.
Fracking, Congressman, if you don't know, involves drilling a well down 8,000 feet then going sideways a few thousand feet. Then using highly-pressurized fracking fluid, Halliburton's method cracks open the shale to release the natural gas trapped in the rock.
The problem is that this gas then destroys nearby well water. People Fox interviews drink their water from the wells until they become sick, only then realizing the well was contaminated. They can light the water coming out of their faucets on fire. The movie shows this to great effect.
Sometimes, the water coming out of the faucets hisses and pops. Other times, it is black with fluids that one suspects to be fracking fluids. To crack open the shale rock, fracking pumps between one and seven million gallons of water infused with more than 600 chemicals, many of them known carcinogens or suspected toxins. Others, we don't know and can't trace, because Cheney's bill made them a trade secret like Big Mac sauce or the formula to Coke.
This "produced water" - as the industry calls it - is some of the stuff exempted from the environmental regulation. It must be disposed of. Where to put it? Who knows? And produced water will continue to be produced, because one well can be fracked up to 18 times. There are thousands of wells across the country. The pollution from the wells makes many of the neighbors to fracking sites sick.
The Americans in the movie, Wyoming to Colorado to New Mexico to Arkansas to Pennsylvania, where fracking happens, all get sick. Some get lesions on their brains, some get headaches. Some pass out, or get aches and pains. Some can't eat. It is reminiscent of the story of water contamination L. Scott Turow's classic "A Civil Action." And the pictures of pollution allude to "Crude", Joe Berlinger's documentary film about Chevron's oil pollution in the Amazon.
It seems that we will never stop destroying the planet to obtain fossil fuels. The earth took billions of years to hide deep in the planet the substances toxic to life, and now we are digging them up and making us all sick. Will it ever stop? We cannot buy back clean rivers after we contaminate them with barium and and arsenic and surface reactants and 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene.
Fox only came to know about fracking, though, because he grew up in rural northeast Pennsylvania on 19 acres on the Delaware River, in a house his hippie parents with their own hands. His property sits on the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation which stretches from New York to Tennessee and west to Ohio. The Marcellus Shale contains what industry proponents call an ocean of natural gas.
Shale plates sit under across 34 states in America, and underneath Europe and North Africe, too. So what is our problem will soon cross the Atlantic. People there may learn about fracking the way Fox did.
He received a lease in the mail from an oil company promising almost $5,000 an acre - $100,000! - to drill natural gas wells on his land. He turned down the money after learning about how horrible the process is.
The biggest problem with drilling in New York and Pennsylvania is that Fox's property, and all his neighbors, are in the New York City watershed area. The Delaware and Susquehenna Rivers that run on top of the Marcellus Shale provide drinking water for 15 million people.
The kicker, today, is that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection just let the drilling companies out of having to provide drinking water to residents of Dimmock, PA, who were featured in the movie.
Fracking, its natural gas leaks and its poison fluid dumps threaten to contaminate the drinking water supplies for New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware.
So while Connecticut doesn't sit on a shale formation, it is arguable that its economy depends, in part, on trade with New York City. So I think clean drinking water for New York City is a Connecticut issue.
City Councilors from New York City rail against fracking in Fox's movie, which New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation refuses to stop.
The only hope is a bill by your Congressional colleagues, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to remove the fracking exemptions. In Gasland, Fox documents a House Minerals Committee hearing on fracking.
Industry representatives testify that fracking doesn't create any pollution, despite the thousands of instances of well contamination. Your Democratic colleague Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) agrees, and is rather inarticulate in describing how it will stop terrorism.
This worries me because you sponsored natural gas legislation in December 2009 with Rep. Boren, who comes from a family of politicians. You and Rep. Boren got the whole House of Representatives to pass legislation to extend tax credits on natural gas. Your press release from your website quotes you:
"Natural gas is a vital part of our transition to cleaner American energy. By encouraging businesses to spend their money on a fuel found in abundance here in America, we are making our economy and our homeland more secure and reducing our reliance on foreign energy."
The internet is filled with quotes like this from you praising how clean natural gas is. It makes me wonder if you know about the dark side of fracking. Maybe you can refute some of what Josh Fox has discovered.
Thus, I invite you to come to La Paloma Sabanera to watch Gasland. You've got nothing to lose, and knowledge to gain. It's an offer you shouldn't refuse.
And don't worry. I'm not running against you next year. If you want, we can even turn the movie showing into a fundraiser for your campaign. Have your Congressional staff or your campaign staff contact me to set up a time. I can't wait to see you there.