I’ve just seen Josh Fox’s June 2012 short film (URL at the end) about the oil and gas fracking industries’ fierce lobbying to open up the New York City watershed to high-pressure gas extraction.
Using both personal and scientific arguments, delivered in a powerful, quietly emotive voice, Josh shows us how these industries spend millions on PR, and on “lobbying” that some might think looks a tiny bit like bribery, to convince Americans to trust them with the power to pollute our lands and water sources for short-term financial gain.
The risks, in brief
The fracking process introduces a ferociously toxic chemical cocktail into the ground. All these chemicals must travel, under pressure, through the crumbling rock and through the layers we get our water from, via unreliable and possibly short-lived concrete casings with steel liners. Each well requires millions of gallons of water to complete, much of which, afterward, permanently, becomes toxic waste. Some of this is carried away by road but in many areas it’s cheaper to leave it deep in the ground under our feet. And they do.
I grew up in Central New York – in Madison County, a region of small farms and towns – areas hit hard by the recent financial crises. People are scared about the future, and the offer of thousands of dollars for the rights to lease your under-used agricultural land must seem like manna from heaven if you’re about to lose your home.
But in the medium term, the leasing companies will ensure that these homes will be worse than lost. If we don’t halt fracking, we’ll lose our landscape to ugly, poorly regulated industrial development, and we’ll lose clean water and air. We’ll even make the rock itself toxic. None of these bode well for the health or happiness of our children and their descendents.
If you’re not furious already, here’s one final point: why are these companies willing to pay so much for the leases? The answer is this: they’re securing a chunk of our future earnings. As long as we depend on fossil fuels, every family has to pay whatever price the industry demands. Every year, this increases. In the UK, gas prices have risen by 40% in three years.
My home town
As a child I played on the Marcellus shale. I learned first-hand how it crumbles and fractures, harbours fossils and secrets. Sweet drinking water came from shallow wells because the impermeable shale underlies the earth at only a few meters’ depth. Deep snows fall here. Melt-water comes off the hills, soaks the upper layers of soil, and drains off the surface of the shale into rivers, streams and lakes that feed livestock, crops, and families.
I grew up in Madison County, north and west of the area they’re talking about in this new film. But look at the map of 2010 leases already under consideration or arranged by that year, in my home county.
Note how, by 2010, the threats this film discusses had already crept north from Pennsylvania, where – unlike New York, so far – regulations and controls have – to some extent – limited their reach. And note especially wells already marked as “abandoned” – a worry, when Josh and his experts show us in this movie that it’s possible or even likely that 50% of new wells will fail within thirty years.
PR and The Sky Is Pink: a historical perspective
In 1926, the great American political reformer Upton Sinclair published a novel, Oil!, about the oil industry and how it, and the financial institutions, took control of the media and politics of the period to push through oil development worldwide. It’s a fascinating, sympathetic and surprisingly modern book that lays bare how Americans were persuaded to elect those who had only their own interests at heart. These interests became more and more powerful as the century unfolded. It’s arguable that they’re even more powerful now.
Sinclair was not one for easy answers. He wrote at a time of huge political turmoil worldwide, and although he was sympathetic to reform, he was alert to propaganda and human weakness, whatever its source.
Disinformation and mis-information is one of the chief tools of power. As Josh shows in this new film, today this pro-fracking crusade has been delivered for management into the hands of PR professionals. In a near-incredible irony of history, we learn that these hands belong to the very same professionals who told us for years that tobacco was harmless, while concealing internal memos that proved otherwise.
Then he shows us some internal memos from the gas companies.
If this new film doesn’t put ice in your cocktail, I don’t know what will. Do watch it, consider it, and if you’re inclined, get involved in opposing this threat before it – literally – undermines our future.
Watch now: The Sky Is Pink
If you live in the UK, please see the Frack Off website for latest news about UK action.