The joke in the news room this week was that Dick Cheney has officially turned into Darth Vader. After receiving an artificial pump, Cheney no longer has a pulse. Instead, blood flows continuously through his veins like his beloved oil to keep his black heart alive.
It’s fitting that big Dick is back in the news as New York State wrestles with legislation regarding hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as “hydrofracking”—in the Marcellus shale, which extends from Tennessee through upstate New York. Trapped within the shale is theoretically enough natural gas to power the United States for years, but extraction is a difficult and dangerous process that has many New Yorkers concerned about the deleterious effects resulting from it.
Thankfully, the good people at Halliburton devised a way to obtain the gas through hydrofracking decades ago. Now that it has been “perfected,” oil and gas companies are locking up land leases and drilling rights, or purchasing properties located atop shale throughout the United States. Oh, but there were pesky environmental protection laws along the way that sought to curtail rampant exploration of natural gas through this process. Fortunately for the oil and gas companies, they had big Dick on their side. In 2005 he was able to amend the energy bill to preclude the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating hydrofracking through the Safe Water Drinking Act. This important addition, known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” paved the way for aggressive growth in this industry.
While hydrofracking has been around for years, recent technological advances and an insatiable consumer demand for fossil fuel have exponentially increased exploration. Because the growth has been so sharp, few regulators and landowners truly understand the actual process until it’s too late. After drilling vertically deep enough to bore through the shale, the drills then move horizontally, pushing sand, water and proprietary (read: none of your business) chemicals with extreme pressure through the shale to explode the pockets of trapped natural gas. Once at the surface the gas is stripped of the propane element and captured.
The problem, naturally, is that hydrofracking has disastrous consequences to the groundwater. There have been countless documented cases in neighboring Pennsylvania of contaminated wells, ruined water sources, and even underground explosions resulting from this brutal process. Some homeowners who live near these drilling operations can light their tap water on fire. Neat trick at a party if you’re Jim Jones.
The whole endeavor is so illogical and counterintuitive it’s stunning. But the enormous potential profits from domestic drilling and the hefty sums extraction companies are willing to pay landowners are extremely attractive, particularly in economically challenged parts of the country. But without an efficient and scalable renewable energy plan for America, fossil fuel consumption will be a necessary evil for the foreseeable future. Some see natural gas as cheaper, cleaner burning and more efficient than oil and coal, and are even touting it as the logical bridge between our present day energy infrastructure and the renewable age. The more tangible benefit is that new drilling opportunities mean job creation in downtrodden regions.
Even New York environmental groups in support of so-called “bridge fuels” are attempting to appease the global need for job creation by only calling for a moratorium on drilling while further studies are conducted on the safety and efficacy of this exploration. This simply ignores the fact that the most important hydrofracking job creation that would ultimately matter would be increased staffing at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Considering the DEC doesn’t have the resources to keep track of our current infrastructure problems and groundwater contamination issues, it’s hardly plausible the agency would ever have the resources to contend with the harm brought about by hydrofracking.
The DEC can set forth any regulations and standards it chooses to monitor a technology that is undeniably caustic and toxic to the environment. Without the resources to police these standards, hydrofracking will inevitably poison upstate New York, just as it has affected parts of Pennsylvania. All of this nonsense would make my beloved Long Island seem all the more palatable and slightly less toxic I suppose, but if big Dick just got a new lease on life I’m sure he’ll devise a way to sink us as well.