Let's get the truth about fracking


Photo- Marcellus Protest

Michael Hiltzik's L.A. Times column today is about lack of information. Specifically, lack of information about fracking (scroll).

Fracking — "hydraulic fracturing," technically speaking — involves drilling a pipe horizontally into an underground oil- or natural gas-bearing formation and pumping a slurry into the formation at high pressure to liberate the hydrocarbons trapped within.

The very first sentence of his piece is a very important one: "As a public policy, denial requires one prerequisite to take root: lack of information." Lack of information. That's a powerful weapon used by the likes of Fox News [sic], one that I wrote about here.

But the more we know, the more armed we are to speak, respond, and act intelligently about all kinds of things, and in this case, threats to our environment. Republicans, and of course their powerful, influential Big Oil, Big Business supporters, don't want Americans to know much about anything that can be regulated, especially oil drilling and fracking.

In fact, directly relating to this very topic, we now  know why the GOP insists that there’s no climate change:

Some economists suggest that the milder winter allowed employers to hire workers sooner, making recent spring unemployment numbers look soft. And that, of course, has the potential to influence elections.

And so they like to keep pertinent information under wraps to avoid more regulation that would not only keep our air and water clean, it might lose them votes.


Fracking has a lot of friends these days. There's the oil and natural gas industry, which spends more than $4 million a year lobbying in Sacramento. And there's Halliburton Co., which pioneered the technique in the 1940s and remains a huge player in the field. The company's former CEO, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, got Congress in 2005 to exempt fracking from regulation under the Clean Drinking Water Act, and it employs one of the best-connected lobbying firms in the state. [...]

[There is] evidence that the huge volumes of chemical-laden water used in fracking can contaminate local water tables and streams and bring unexpectedly high levels of radioactivity to the surface. Residents near fracking sites have reported that chemicals have rendered their water unusable and that gas has migrated into their mains, a phenomenon memorably depicted in the documentary "Gasland" when the water flow from a household tap is made to burst into flame.

California state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) introduced a bill (that failed) that would have done nothing to actually regulate fracking.  It would have required drillers to let local property owners and water authorities know in advance that they were planning to frack, and that before they did that, and after they did that, groundwater would be tested. That way they could accurately determine any resulting damage.

"No one seems to know where the wells were and there's no testing and no one knows what chemicals are being used," Pavley observes. "It had been a self-regulated thing."

Oh, right. Self-regulation. If you'd like a sample of how well that works in principle, consider that Wall Street was largely "self-regulated" before it created the crash of 2008.

Of course, what the frackers really cared about was this: If local residents and authorities were better informed, they'd be able to more effectively push back, and they wanted none of that.

The biggest sticking point involves trade secrets — that is, the exact formulation of the fluids injected into the ground during fracking. The industry wants to withhold these secrets even from regulators.

Secrecy, aka withholding of information, continues to be the weapon of choice. Ignorance is their friend.