Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fracking Stupid

There is a procedure being used in many areas around the US, and the world, called Hydraulic Fracturing. Also referred to as 'fracing' or 'fracking' for short. Put simply, this procedure uses high pressure to pump a liquid, often made up of water and various chemicals, to fracture the underground rock. This creates a high permeability conduit to allow otherwise difficult to access deposits of natural gas or oil to be extracted. It's being used heavily in many parts of the northeast region of the US to access natural gas deposits that would otherwise be difficult to extract.

Now think about this, a high pressure stream of water and various chemicals are injected deep underground to break up the rock strata. Is there anything about this that seems problematic? I know that when I first heard this described my initial thought was, "what about the ground water?" After all, we get much of our drinking water from underground aquifers. If we are pumping chemicals, some of which are known to be hazardous, into the ground and fracturing the surrounding rock, it's inevitable that this will contaminate ground water. There's no way to prevent it. I've seen film of well water emerging from a normal sink faucet that can be ignited by a simple cigarette lighter. Now you might think, that there are federal laws that protect our drinking water. Yes there are. However you might be surprised to know that the G.W.Bush administration and Congress passed legislation in 2005 exempting oil and gas companies from those pesky regulations.

Why are we and others around the world doing something that basic common sense says is blindingly stupid? Borderline suicidal, even? Because energy companies want to make more money. It doesn't matter if it's effective in extracting more natural gas and oil. It doesn't matter if this contributes any tiny bit to our energy independence. If the process is polluting our water supply, and there seems to be evidence beyond just having a functioning brain to indicate that it does, than who the frack cares if it's profitable or provides any energy independence?! It's a simple case of risk/benefit analysis. The risk to lives far outweighs any benefit that may be produced. And if an energy company's profits weren't involved or a politician's donations weren't involved we wouldn't even be having the discussion. You want a picture postcard of what's wrong with our corporate influenced system, then this is it!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


We've all been in the position where we had multiple problems but limited time or resources to address them. So what do you do? You look at your problems and figure out which is the most pressing. The one that absolutely can't be put off. The problem that threatens to overwhelm you if not dealt with as soon as possible. You may have several that at first glance seem equally important but, in almost every case, when you look closely and weigh the facts you will see that one is more of an emergency than the other. It may not be by a lot, but there is a difference. Once this is sorted out, you focus as much as you can on this one problem and resolve it, or at least make enough progress that you can set it aside in favor of a more pressing issue. Put simply, you prioritize.

This is what we all do everyday. We prioritize errands, bills, obligations and all the other things in life we have to address both good and bad. But as often seems to be the case, our elected leaders appear to have forgotten this, whether by intention or incompetence. I think most Americans would agree that the two most pressing problems, on a national level, are the economy, which includes unemployment, and the national debt. Since being swept into office last November on a wave of impatience and discontent, the Republicans have, between inexplicable bouts of anti-abortion and anti-union zeal, screamed to the rafters that we must cut spending. Cut, cut, cut. Now, now, now! They say the government is spending too much and while true this is hardly different from the previous eight years, when they were in charge.  I agree that the debt is a huge problem. One of my early posts from 2004 was about the need to address the problem. Of course then the problem was only dire. It hadn't yet reached the level of obscenity we now face. So I'm fully in agreement that the debt must be faced and a plan set in place to reduce it.

However, one other thing has changed since 2004, when I first waved the red flag on our debt. You may even have noticed it when it occurred. It was when the economy dropped through the floor like a tank on balsa wood. Ring any bells? So here we sit, with unemployment hovering around 9% nationally and far worse in some areas. We've had some marginal growth, but it's been stuttering and uncertain. Foreclosures and bankruptcies are at eye watering levels. In fact, the only people doing well are those who either had lots of money to cushion the fall or the robber barons who parked the tank there in the first place! To top it all off, Republicans, with misguided and grudging Democratic support, ladled another $700 billion to the debt over the next few years so the richest people in the nation wouldn't see a slight tax hike.

This complicates any plan to balance the budget and put even a smudge on the national debt. It's the same old story, when the economy is booming and we could actually afford to reduce the budget and make inroads against the debt without major cuts, everyone wants to spend, spend, spend. As soon as the economy sags, everyone is suddenly calling for the end to NPR funding and home heating oil subsidies for the poor. Aside from the questionable morals of taking aid away from the poor after ensuring the wealthy don't see a tax increase, there is the fact that cuts like these have no real effect on the budget. Most of the cuts I see proposed are all focused on balancing the budget from the tiniest slice of the whole pie, discretionary spending. They ignore the largest percentage made up of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid & Defense. Why? Because those would require real effort and debate. So much easier to just go for the easy pickings. The stuff you can get the base riled up about, but that won't really make a difference.

Want to deal with the budget? Focus on the economy! The most important thing is to get the economy growing and get millions back to work. That will scale back the bankruptcies, the foreclosures and spending on unemployment benefits. It will also generate revenue that can be used to balance the budget, along with some modest cuts. Remember, the underlying reason for the huge budget problems at the State and Federal levels stem from the recession. Yes, government has spent a lot in the last 3 years, but the reason it did, whether you agreed with the choices or not, was in direct response to economic strife. Propping up huge corporations so they wouldn't collapse and take large chunks of their fiscal neighbors with them. Trying to pump money into the system to keep the economy from flat lining. That's where the majority of our recent deficits came from. So focus on the economy. Get that running on all cylinders again and a significant percentage of the problem will correct itself.  No, it won't solve it, but it will have a far greater and long lasting effect than any discretionary spending cuts. And if you're going to look at cuts, consider EVERYTHING, not just your pet, partisan punching bag. We will never balance the entire budget if we are only willing to make cuts to 15% of it!