Saturday, November 15, 2014

Wasting the land for fun and profit with fracking

I note with supreme disappointment some of the abysmal images of what the land looks like after oil and gas companies are done with fracking the land (just do a search for images of land after fracking and you'll see what I mean). It's just as bad or worse than mountain removal mining, something that's all the rage here in Utah.

Fracking is a process of using water to force oil and gas out of the ground for collection. Fracking allows oil and gas companies to get at hard to reach, hard to extract, but very large deposits of gas and oil. According to some sources, fracking has increased oil production here in America by 50%.

Unfortunately, fracking is wreaking havoc across our land. Fracking is polluting our water supplies, leaving square miles of wasted land where nothing will grow, land that is ugly, and far beyond remediation. It will take centuries for nature to reclaim that land. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the remake of the television series, Battlestar Galactica used the term "frack" in place of a well known four letter word.

Oil and gas companies defend their practice of fracking and are happy to see a Tea Party Congress not only ready to defend them, but just chomping at the bit to reward them with a regulatory environment that lets them walk away with the profits without cleaning up their mess. To put it differently, the Tea Party is working hard to allow oil and gas companies to privatize the profits of their activities while socializing the costs.

It is unfortunate to see President Obama supporting conservative efforts to allow fracking to continue in the United States. This is particularly vexing when even the the most favorable evidence shows that US domestic oil production pales in comparison to world production and demand, with negligible effects on energy prices.

The natural resources extracted from our land will be sold at a profit and the profit will see very little taxation. Just ask Exxon. The best estimates place their effective tax rate at just 17%.

But I don't think it's just a question of taxation and reparations. After looking at the tremendous abuse that fracking does to the land, I don't think there is any amount of money that can be paid to rebuild the land as it once was. The damage is so horrific that many small towns, cities and even one state have all banned fracking.

We might not be having this conversation save for one president Nixon. In 1971, Nixon gave a speech to Congress to address energy policy in the United States. His speech directed our efforts towards a fast breeder reactor, the same reactor we still use today for producing energy from nuclear fission.

Had he turned another way, we could have had a far more efficient and safer molten salt reactor that runs on thorium and is at least 200 times more efficient in energy production, produces 1% of the waste of uranium and requires a fraction of the mining and processing effort. One ton of thorium can replace about 31 billion barrels of oil. Why? Nuclear fission has an energy density one million times greater than the carbon bond.

If the free market is so rational, why did it pick and stick with two of the most inefficient methods for producing energy, carbon-based fuels and the fast breeder reactor?

There is one more question to ask: who will pay for all of the mess? The Koch Brothers? They have every intention of extracting their profits without cleaning up their mess. Just ask the Tea Party. Lucky for them (and others like them), their anonymous contributions allow them to buy public policy without being responsible for their mistakes. Not so great for the rest of us.
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