The new movie, “Gasland part II” premiered last night on HBO and it repeats this afternoon, July 9, 2013 at different times, depending on time zone. Of course I didn’t see it last night because we don’t have HBO. But I’ll see Gasland 2 soon enough, even if I have to wait till it comes out on Netflix.
I just recently (finally) saw the first Gasland movie. In case you’re wondering, it’s really good and mostly interview-based, with real people really affected by fracking. If you haven’t seen the movie, you may have seen some of the scenes where people take a lighter to their garden hose or their kitchen faucet and start a flame-thrower.
In addition to bringing home flame-throwers to America, the various implements of fracking (the proper name is “hydraulic fracturing“) – drilling rigs and wells, storage tanks, etc., leak a lot of gas and toxic chemicals into the air and into and onto the ground. When I saw this in the movie, I was instantly reminded of a very interesting landlady I once had, who shall forever be known as… Psycho Judy.
I won’t give Psycho Judy’s last name because she would just love the chance to sue me – with or without merit. I would win the case, but it would still be a big pain. I also won’t go into all the reasons that I, my friends, and many people who have met her called her “psycho,” even before the incident I’m about to describe, because they are irrelevant to the comparison to fracking, which is the topic of the day.
Psycho Judy, long after I had moved out of a room I had been renting in her house, started up a silicon wafer manufacturing operation. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the operation was at her tract house, in the garage and the side yard, with neighboring houses only a few feet away.
She got herself a hardware store gas-mask, some new big garbage bags, emptied out some of the trash cans (that she had stolen from neighbors), and apparently had other equipment in the garage. Then she set up a web page with some semi-impressive pictures that she had just dredged from the net, it looked like. The picture were mostly nondescript, but somehow implying high-tech.
A friend of mine who lives within eye-shot of Psycho Judy’s house saw her wearing a gas mask and handling garbage cans full of chemicals out in her yard. My friend called the police and they brought the haz-mat (hazardous materials) team. Soon, Psycho Judy’s yard and house looked like a seen from the Sean Connery movie, “Outland.”
Psycho Judy was arrested, convicted, and went to jail.
The question is… Why? Okay, the question’s not too hard to answer. She had endangered her neighbors by bringing in and handling hazardous chemicals in a residential neighborhood. These chemicals give off toxic fumes, some of which hug the ground and spread because they are heavier than “normal” air. The fumes that are not heavier than air simply take to the wind and, depending on weather conditions, might go visit near-neighbors or another neighborhood, blocks or even miles away.
Psycho Judy had put the health of ordinary citizens in jeopardy, and for that, she went to jail. Frackers do the same thing. Fracking operations spread toxic clouds of chemicals, contaminate groundwater, use up and contaminate trucked-in water by the billions of gallons, and pollute an area and the general atmosphere in several other ways, all of which are shocking in their scale. But do frackers get arrested? Do they go to jail? Not a chance.
The question is… Why not? Unfortunately, that question’s not hard to answer, either.
Fracking has been “exempted”. Exempted from complying with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. This happened because rich, powerful fracking companies have incredible influence over our government. These companies always have several of their former employees working at regulatory agencies. They also have several current employees who were once elected representatives or senators and, at the time of this exemption, an inside man at nearly the top – Dick Cheney, then Vice-President of the United States.
Dick Cheney was the key facilitator in getting fracking companies exempted from environmental laws. Asking if Cheney is pro-energy industry is precisely akin to asking if the Pope is Catholic. Before he became Vice President, he had been CEO of Halliburton, which some would say is the ultimate energy and war profiteering corporation on Earth.
What are environmental regulations for? What good are they if the worst polluters are simply exempted? It’s not that different from many situations we face here in America where issues of legality or justice are concerned – little crimes get punished, sometimes severely, while huge crimes are ignored.
I’m glad Psycho Judy was punished. She was a menace to her neighbors in several ways, including some which were very serious. But frackers are endangering us all, and some people are suffering direct, immediate, and very harsh consequences from fracker’s actions. And like Wall Street criminals, they are not considered criminals at all by the U.S. Department of Justice. Frackers can’t even be found in violation of Environmental Protection Agency rules – they are above the law.
But don’t let this make you think you can sneak into a ball game or smoke in a restaurant or something. You’ll probably go to jail for that. You’ll at least be fined.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.