On a recent edition of the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, guest host Joy Reed presided over a panel discussing fracking and the effect of it on the drought in Texas. It was an eye-opening segment that addressed the issues of economic necessity vs. the need for so-called “clean energy.” The panel consisted of Luke Metzger, Founder and Director of Environment Texas, Josh Fox, Director of Gasland and Gasland 2, Deborah Cippola-Dennis, native Texan now living in Dryden New York and member of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All and Uni Blake, Director of Environmental Affairs for Hometown Energy Group, an independent energy consulting firm with clients in the oil and gas industry. The discussion was lively and informative and if you’re interested, you can watch it below.
The drought in Texas is no secret. That state, as well as several others in the country, has been suffering under extreme drought conditions. Little rain and soaring temperatures have been the hallmark of the event that began in October of 2011 and has shown no signs of abatement. Metzger reported that 98% of the state is experiencing drought conditions, the reservoirs are at 60% capacity and Texas officials think that 30 communities in the state will run out of water by the end of this year. With water in such short supply, the use of the precious commodity has drawn attention to the amount of water required for hydraulic fracturing. Each well drilled uses 8 million gallons of water per day to extract the natural gas and oil from the ground. In the Barnett Shale near Dallas/Ft.Worth alone, there are 12,000 wells.
Proponents of the practice will tell you that it only counts for less than one percent of the state’s water supply, however, that figure is deceptive. A University of Texas study found that in the Eagle Ford Shale, which is in Dimmit, Webb and LaSalle counties, more than 50 percent of total water use comes from the broad category of mining. When you couple that with the reality that only 20-25 percent of the water is recycled, it means that 75-80 percent of the water used is lost forever. In the face of the most severe drought the state has seen in generations, it is a cost that a lot of people are beginning to view as too high.
Another argument put forward by proponents of fracking is that it creates jobs and fuels the economy as well as our homes and vehicles. That is true, but they fail to mention the flip side of that coin, which are the costs incurred due to fracking. Billions of dollars are needed on an ongoing basis to repair the damage done to roads that crumble under the heavy weight of the water being trucked in and out of the drilling sites. Farmers and ranchers have lost their livelihoods due to the drought, which has been exacerbated by fracking, both by the removal of precious water and by the greenhouse gases that are the result of fracking, which in turn, fuel global warming, the cause of the protracted drought.
There is also the argument that natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal. Yes, that is true, but natural gas is NOT clean. More importantly, fracking releases 40-60 percent more methane into the atmosphere than conventional natural gas wells. Methane traps 20-25 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years. Although this is far less than the time CO2 remains, about 30-95 years, it is estimated by scientists that methane will contribute 44 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the United States over the next 20 years, thus contributing immensely to the very real problem of climate change.
One of the most inane arguments in favor of continued dependence on filthy fossil fuels is that solar and wind will never be able to meet the energy demands of the nation. When one thinks of it for more than a nanosecond, one can see what a patently ridiculous statement that is. As long as the Earth is here, we will have sun and we will have wind. We also have the technology to store the energy harvested from those never-ending, clean energy sources. So when the sun goes down and the wind calms, we will still have the energy generated by each, much as natural gas and oil is stored until it is needed. The difference is that wind and solar are truly clean – not just cleaner – and, unlike oil and gas, they will never run out. Never. Yet, the United States government hands out subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies in the billions of dollars every year, far eclipsing the amount of money invested in renewables. Although the president has consistently called for the reduction and eventual elimination of the subsidies to companies that are already making money hand over fist, Congress has refused to act.
Texas is a microcosm of what is occurring in one way or another, all over the country. Towns are running out of water or having their water supply poisoned by the chemicals that leak from the fracking process. No, not every well leaks, but it has proven to be a problem of epidemic proportions wherever fracking is taking place and the more wells that are drilled, the bigger the problem will become. No one is naïve enough to suggest that all fracking should stop immediately. Although one can wish. However, it does seem to be a sensible move to take the money thrown at already profitable fossil fuel industries and put it towards developing sustainable energy systems and transitioning workers into the future instead of keeping them in a dangerous and dirty past. I’ve driven through Texas and there’s a lot of sun and a lot of wind. Seems to me that the oil and natural gas boom could just as likely be a solar and wind boom if only there was the will to do it.
The influence of money is strong and those who wield the power of the Almighty Dollar are averse to letting go of so much as one dime to change the status quo. Because money is power, we find ourselves in a situation where what is good for the country and our citizens is in direct opposition with what the Feudal Lords deem to be good for business. They are too greedy and too short sighted to understand that, just like there was money to be made in fossil fuels, there is money to be made in renewable energy. It’s just that those captains of industry aren’t willing to let go of the past. After all, they don’t live in the communities that are about to run out of water, and the water from their faucets doesn’t catch on fire. They believe they are above it all and the rest of us don’t matter.
Communities around the country can take heart from the victory in Dryden, a small rural community in upstate New York. Their story was told on the Melissa Harris-Perry show referenced at the top of this article. They fought and won to keep fracking out of their community. It isn’t over yet, but two courts have ruled in their favor and Earthjustice is representing them pro bono to insure that the rulings stand and the people of Dryden get to determine what will and will not be acceptable in their community.
The fight for affordable, clean energy is a David and Goliath struggle, but if you’ll recall, the giant in that story didn’t do so well. Here’s hoping David triumphs again.