The Fracking of the American Mind

When future historians catalog Barack Obama’s many betrayals of those voters who were gullible enough to fall for his “Hope and Change” routine, they will be hard-pressed to assign an order of severity to his infractions. In the early years of the Obama presidency, it seemed clear that the ugliest stain on the Obama escutcheon would be his failure to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kill the “vampire squid”1 of finance capitalism, and particularly the head of that squid, Goldman Sachs. (Since Goldman and other Wall Street players had contributed mightily to Obama’s campaign and also mastered the game of revolving doors that places the right people in the right place at the right time, that was never going to happen. Is this a great country, or what?) Other notable, early acts of treachery included the failure to prosecute torturers within America’s sprawling security state and the brilliant coup –  yet to be appreciated even by most politically-attuned Americans – of placing real health care reform out of reach for generations. But now, as the second Obama term leaves his supporters with even fewer places to hide, there are additional contenders for the coveted spot of top reason to despise our president.2 The Snowden revelations will echo down the ages as the undeniable acknowledgment that the Land of the Free has undergone a breakneck bastardization into an Orwellian police state. Record-setting corporate profits and stock-market highs confirm the country’s concentration of ownership in the hands of an American aristocracy. But rising Obama Delivers Climate Speech at Georgetown Universityabove all these hopeless failures to effect the change that ordinary Americans craved is Barack Obama’s cynical posturing as a visionary protector of the earth’s climate. His monumental failure in this arena is not just a betrayal of his electoral base; it is a betrayal of the entire human race and the ecosystem that supports it. And yet, as the ubiquity of the pertinent propaganda illustrates, Obama’s climate treachery perfectly expresses the imperatives of empire. History will show that Obama has been exactly what America’s owners needed him to be.

Drilling Down Through the Fossil-Fuel Propaganda

The American people must be under no illusions here. Barack Obama’s high-flown rhetoric on climate change is nothing more than a velvet glove over an iron fist of environmental destruction. While Al Gore praised Obama’s major climate speech in June, which proposed limits on carbon emissions from power plants, as “the best address on climate by any president ever” – which really isn’t saying much – Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party rightly condemned the president’s “all of the above” approach to energy:

You can’t give your child an ‘all of the above diet’ with toxic lead and arsenic, and think that adding some spinach and blueberries is going to make it OK. Likewise, reducing carbon pollution from coal does not make fracking, tar sands oil, deep water and Arctic drilling OK. The climate is spiraling into runaway warming. Obama’s promotion of cheap dirty fossil fuels makes coal regulations just window dressing on a disastrous policy.

Putting aside the empty promises of renewable energy sources, what we find in the president’s “vision” is a heavy reliance on “natural gas.” But there is nothing remotely “natural” about the gas in question. As Josh Fox, the producer of the movie Gasland and the recently-released follow-up documentary Gasland II, explained in an excellent interview with Laura Flanders, “natural gas” needs to be called “frack gas,” for it is the result of the man-made process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A key extract, shown below, explodes the myth, propagated by Obama, that natural gas is “cleaner” than other fossil fuels. But Josh Fox is by no means the only person exploding that myth. A 2011 Cornell University study concluded that frack gas has a worse effect on the climate than coal.

When Barack Obama sells frack gas, he is really no different from the more obvious propagandists of the corporate oligarchy. Thus, when we think of Barack Obama, we should really think of Deroy Murdock, another black man seemingly intent on becoming as white as possible in the pursuit of power and relevance. In a recent article in the Leesburg Daily Commercial that echoed the previously published oil and gas mania of Jay Ambrose, Murdock sold fracking in a pitch that lacked Obama’s flair but served the same purpose:

The only thing deeper than a natural-gas well is the ignorance of the anti-fracking crowd…. Frackophobes would be astonished to see how much Anadarko, America’s third-largest natural gas producer, obsesses over the environment in its Marcellus shale operations…. [I]t identifies flora and fauna near production sites. In Pennsylvania, it uses outdoor cameras to determine which animals traverse the area. A large pond on a small hill belonging to the Elbow Fish and Game Club temporarily holds production-related water for an adjacent development site. A few minutes away by car, several wells are being fracked on acreage owned by a farmer…. A thick felt-and-rubber pad, surrounded by a large berm, prevents potential spills from contaminating Landon’s soil.

What’s not to like? This fuel is all-American, and the profits stay here – not in the hands of people who want to kill us.

All that’s missing from Deroy Murdock’s children’s story is a mental picture of butterflies alighting on well heads, fawns gamboling in the surrounding meadows, and a Sierra Club bumper sticker on the back of a gleaming Anadarko truck braking for a smiling turtle. And since this is just a children’s Fracking Wastewater Dischargestory, there is no need to worry about what is happening underneath this bucolic scene, where a toxic brew of chemicals permanently contaminates what was potable groundwater flowing for many miles in unpredictable directions. Nor is there any need to worry about the warming potential of leaked methane gas; after all, anthropogenic climate change itself is just a scary story cooked up by mischievous adults who want to have a little fun, like at Halloween or on a camping trip. It’s really mean of them to use such big words and to tell children that they can’t have their fossil-fuel treats. And children certainly don’t need to worry about the adult concern of profits, or the possibility that the Americans amassing them (who already have huge amounts from conventional fossil fuels, extracted at home and abroad) might in fact be killing us with their poisonous pollution. Besides, American children know in their hearts that death and destruction are only caused by villainous, swarthy Muslims, not by nice American corporations.

It is easy to be outraged by Deroy Murdock’s patronizing lies in the service of corporate wealth and power (particularly when the truth about those nice people at Anadarko, to whom we shall return, is learned). But Deroy Murdock is merely a propagandist, a paid hack, a corporate toadie. He does not make policy; he simply seeks to control the climate of ideas in which policy evolves. We need to focus our disgust and loathing on the appropriate target, Barack Obama. To that end, another Scripps Howard syndicated columnist will be of great help.

The Administration Cover-up They’re Not Talking About

Bonnie Erbe used to appear in the Daily Commercial quite frequently, but is no longer the token liberal of choice. It’s not hard to see why her column of July 25th found rare favor with the illustrious editorial board of our little rag.

I’ve been on a tear to find good news about the environment, because there is so much bad news.

[A] landmark federal study on “fracking” made public last week finds that no chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing – the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock – leak into groundwater or drinking water. This is apparently due to the fact those chemicals are exploded thousands of feet below where drinking water resources reside.

Although Ms. Erbe does subsequently qualify her “good news” with a dash of personal skepticism, her column displays a level of naivete that is only slightly less pronounced than that of Deroy Murdock’s target audience. When the government has just been caught red-handed lying to Congress and the American people about its surveillance activities, why would we believe anything that it tells us? Indeed, just two days after Bonnie Erbe’s column appeared in the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that the Obama Administration deliberately covered up its own findings on the effects of fracking during the 2012 election. One would have thought that Republican attack dogs would be slobbering all over this story, but for some strange reason it hasn’t made it to Russ Sloan’s Bottom Line. That’s something to think about the next time we hear about “four brave Americans” dying in Benghazi. Slow deaths from environmental toxins must not involve the requisite amount of bravery to merit our attention.

In the summer of 2012, reports the LA Times, the EPA concluded a study of drinking water in Dimock, PA, by telling local residents that their water was safe to drink. However, EPA staffers clearly did not agree with the published conclusion.

In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Tribune/Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau, staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production.

The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that “methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.” The presentation also concluded that “methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work.”

And this isn’t the first time that the EPA has ignored troubling findings.

In March 2012, the EPA closed an investigation of methane in drinking water in Parker County, Texas, although the geologist hired by the regulator confirmed that the methane was from gas production. In late June, the EPA dropped a study of possible contamination of drinking water in Pavillion, Wyo., despite its earlier findings of carcinogens, hydrocarbons and other contaminants in the water.

“We don’t know what’s going on, but certainly the fact that there’s been such a distinct withdrawal from three high-profile cases raises questions about whether the EPA is caving to pressure from industry or antagonistic members of Congress,” said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Industry apologists and the EPA’s published findings on Dimock try to explain such facts away, claiming that methane occurs naturally in groundwater. But Professor Robert Jackson of Duke University disagrees.

A study by Jackson and other Duke scientists published in June indicates that drinking water wells near natural gas production in northeastern Pennsylvania, including Dimock, are at greater risk of methane contamination than those farther away.[…]

Although methane gas occurs naturally in the area’s aquifers, the Duke study showed that the chemical “fingerprint” of methane in shallow water wells near the gas sites was the same as the natural gas extracted from deep underground.

Steve Horn, a dogged environmental reporter writing at desmogblog.com, initially suspected that the EPA may have overridden the concerns of its own staff at the behest of former Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, a Democrat with close ties to the fracking industry. But after Horn obtained a copy of the suppressed PowerPoint presentation, two of the staffers who wrote it blew the whistle, stating that the gag order had come from EPA administrator Lisa Jackson herself. Interestingly, the whistleblowers have been working with a right-wing group that has initiated Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about Jackson’s role. The group in question has made it clear that they are not concerned about the safety of fracking; they simply want to expose undue political influence during the election campaign, which they seem to think was motivated by a desire to mask the administration’s “war on coal.” But for the right wing as a whole, this particular “scandal” is surely radioactive, as the general public may not be so willing to overlook the substance of the case. More importantly, however, the administration’s motives stem from imperial prerogatives that are close to the heart of both parties.

The Emperor’s New Fuels

When the pro-fracking “good news” is being pumped into American minds from all angles, including local newspaper hacks of both stripes and the Propagandist-in-Chief himself, then we know that the establishment’s course is resolutely set. While energy-industry interests are certainly at work here, the ultimate driving force behind the fracking of America is geopolitical.

Michael Klare, a professor at Hampshire College, explained in an excellent historical overview that the global economy is entering a third carbon age, driven not by coal or the readily-available oil of the 20th century, but by more unconventional fossil fuels.

According to the IEA, the major fields that currently provide the lion’s share of global petroleum will lose two-thirds of their production over the next 25 years, with their net output plunging from 68 million barrels per day in 2009 to a mere 26 million barrels in 2035.  The IEA assures us that new oil will be found to replace those lost supplies, but most of this will be of an unconventional nature. In the coming decades, unconventional oils will account for a growing share of the global petroleum inventory, eventually becoming our main source of supply.

The same is true for natural gas, the second most important source of world energy.  The global supply of conventional gas, like conventional oil, is shrinking, and we are becoming increasingly dependent on unconventional sources of supply — especially from the Arctic, the deep oceans, and shale rock via hydraulic fracturing.

These fuels tend to have higher carbon contents, and their extraction requires huge amounts of energy and fresh water, features which will exacerbate climate change and create water shortages and conflicts. But for the United States, they present an opportunity to secure the superpower status that flowed from American exploitation of oil in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

U.S. and Canadian companies are playing a decisive role in the development of many of the vital new unconventional fossil-fuel technologies; in addition, some of the world’s largest unconventional oil and gas reserves are located in North America.  The effect of this is to bolster U.S. global power at the expense of rival energy producers like Russia and Venezuela, which face rising competition from North American companies, and energy-importing states like China and India, which lack the resources and technology to produce unconventional fuels.

At the same time, Washington appears more inclined to counter the rise of China by seeking to dominate the global sea lanes and bolster its military ties with regional allies like Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea.  Many factors are contributing to this strategic shift, but from their statements it is clear enough that top American officials see it as stemming in significant part from America’s growing self-sufficiency in energy production and its early mastery of the latest production technologies.

This last point was amplified by the brouhaha surrounding General David Petraeus’s new adventures in civilian life. Petraeus was offered the princely sum of $200,000 to teach a single course at the City University of New York Petraeus(CUNY), in contrast to the $3,000 normally paid to adjunct faculty. After the matter provoked an outcry, Petraeus agreed to accept a fee of $1, although he will still receive undisclosed payments from a private donor. For our purposes, however, what matters here is his choice of syllabus, entitled The Coming North American Decade(s)? According to Steve Horn, Petraeus will devote two weeks to the “Energy Revolution,” and will assign to his students two studies on fracking that were funded by the oil and gas industry. Conspicuously absent from the course material is any discussion of the negative environmental impacts that large-scale fracking will entail. And subsequent to a New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, it emerged that Petraeus will also be using a State Department study of the Keystone XL pipeline that argues for its approval.

Brainwashing the next generation of American leaders is child’s play for David Petraeus, for he was one of the authors of the U.S. military’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual. And it turns out that those nice folks at Anadarko Petroleum – the ones who worry about bunny rabbits and make fishing ponds for all the people to enjoy – like to read Petraeus’s work. At a 2011 fracking industry conference, Matt Carmichael, the External Affairs Manager at Anadarko, and a former employee of the Halliburton division that provided mercenaries for Iraq, advised all attendees to download the Counterinsurgency Manual “because we are dealing with an insurgency.” The manual includes extensive training on the use of psychological warfare, or PSYOPs. At the same conference, Matt Pitzarella of Pennsylvania fracking firm Range Resources proudly described the company’s use of PSYOPs right here in the United States:

We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania. [Emphasis added.]

Barack Obama has made a deal with the devil. The global dominance with which he is clearly most concerned will come at the high price of a permanently hotter global climate. The water we will need to quench our thirst and irrigate our crops, if it still exists at all, may not be safe to use. And the people who once thought of themselves as the world’s best democracy are being watched by the state and manipulated by corporate warriors schooled in the evil techniques of imperial warfare.

What’s not to like, Deroy? Every fracking thing.

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  1. One of many trenchant phrases coined by Matt Taibbi.
  2. Oh dear! Did we just trigger an NSA or IRS keyword?

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