Is putting a natural gas pipeline in Alaska a good idea? I got curious after hearing how much natural gas may be available on the slope and decided to dig a little deeper. Apparently the act of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” as it’s called has been going on for a long time within the oil industry as well.
Over 590 chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing, the process of getting deep down to the gas and oil. These chemicals are some of the worst things on earth and dozens of them are well known cancer causing agents. Here are just some of the chemicals that are injected deep into the ground in order to break up rock and salt: Ammonia, Boric Acid, Benzoic Acid, Chloride, Choline Chloride, Gluconic Acid, Isopropyl Alcohol, Mercury, Methanol, Sulfuric Acid, and Tetramethyl Ammonium, just to name a few.
Most people can barely pronounce half of those so you know they’re pretty bad. Who wants to drink the water in areas where Ammonia is being injected 10,000 to 20,000 feet down? Also, what happens to all of these chemicals once they serve their purpose? Where does the waste go?
Things, like chemicals, have a tendency to migrate and that can cause problems. I’ve heard people in the industry say that there isn’t a high density population in the areas that the companies are looking to drill in. Therefore, ground water being polluted should be less of an issue. But what about the wildlife? Shouldn’t they have a say? Others in the oil and gas industry that I’ve spoken with, say fracking is dangerous. After all, the earth moves and so does everything within it.
Can you imagine if this stuff made its way to the Arctic Ocean? Let’s face it, there is quite a bit of waste with hydraulic fracturing that companies, like Halliburton, in the past, have been accused of dumping into open waters.
When Bush Jr. became President, Dick Cheney came up with an energy plan. It was done behind closed doors with 17 CEOs of the country’s largest energy companies and one person representing the environment. That must have been intimidating. The legislation, known as the Energy Policy Act of 2005, stated that companies drilling for natural gas do not have to say what chemicals they are using. They are also not regulated by the Clean Water Act or the Safe Water Drinking Act. Cheney made sure that the energy companies like Halliburton, which he was once CEO of, had proprietary privileges. Translation – “We’re using really bad stuff and we don’t want people to know what it is.”
Theo Colburn, a respected scientist in the industry, testified in front of Congress and said that 2-BE is the worst of all the chemicals that is used in hydraulic fracturing. It is colorless, odorless and dissolves red blood cells. It actually dissolves fat in the cell membrane and you end up with bloody eyes, a bloody nose and blood in your urine. It can cause retinal detachment and harms the liver, spleen, spinal bones, and just to top it all off, it can cause kidney failure.
The Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, recommends that 2-BE be classified as a “mild eye irritant.” Then again, this is an agency that told everyone after the World Trade Center came crashing down that the “public in these areas were not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances.” They went on to say the air quality and water were just fine. Sure they were. Only 2,500 different contaminants went into the air that day causing pulmonary fibrosis and a host of other fun diseases. The government got sued accordingly and paid out millions to the victims.
Everyone thinks of natural gas as clean, and everyone sees a big dollar sign at the end of an Alaska pipeline and more off shore Arctic drilling. They can’t get passed the idea of raking in cash to sustain our unsustainable habit – the need for greed. What we forget about is that these poisons could end up in the Ocean. Mr. and Mrs. Polar bear are having a tough enough time with global warming. They don’t need Benzoic Acid entering their home. This stuff can travel like a tourist in a Winnebago on the Seward Highway.
I have yet to see the detailed plan, by any company, as to how the natural gas pipeline would work. Where would the waste go? How would it be transported? There is such a thing as the “Frac Act” which is supposed to monitor these things but who runs it? Is it the Minerals Management Services (MMS) – the same agency that was supposed to watch over the oil companies before their Gulf Coast rigs began to blow up and then we found out that the MMS allowed them to write their own regulations?
The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stated, “There have been no verified cases of harm to ground water in the State of Alaska as a result of hydraulic fracturing.” (Regulatory Statements on Hydraulic Fracturing, June 2009). The word “verified” can mean a lot of things and makes me kind of weary. That’s almost like saying, “We did not, knowingly, put chemicals in the ground.” Or Sen. Begich stating, “Producing the enormous energy resources available within our borders is vital for our economic and national security, but we must develop these resources in a safe and environmentally responsible manner” (Climate Progress, January 13, 2011). Define safe and responsible, please. When using these chemicals we need a little more definition rather than common, political rhetoric.
People have a right to know what is going to possibly, and already may have, infiltrate their drinking water and wreak havoc with our wild life. They have a right to know how close Boric Acid and Ammonia is going to be to populated areas. We have a right to breathe clean air. This shouldn’t be some sort of closed door meeting that simply focuses on the almighty dollar. We had enough of that in the Bush administration.
Alaska needs to do the smart thing here and talk to other state agencies that have dealt with the aftermath of this “fracking.” We need to have an open discussion about the long-term effects and whether this is a good deal for a state with so much wildlife and a growing population. We need to have a transparent process where the public can make an informed decision rather than the legislature, Governor and corporate CEOs deciding what they think is best for us.
In the end, I think that not putting things like Boric Acid, Tetramethyl Ammonium and 2 -BE in the earth would be the “safe” and “responsible” thing to do. But then again, I’m not a politician.