“I can feel the heat begin to rise/I can see the vapor in my eyes/Any way you look at it, it’s hard to take … I can feel my skin begin to peel/I can see the dollar and the deal/I can see the companies on the make…”
The year was 1983 and the song was Graham Nash’s “Barrel of Pain,” a musical jeremiad in protest of the heinous, nearly 40-year long practice of dumping nuclear waste into the oceans.
Touted as the fail-safe solution for ridding 13 developed nations of their radioactive byproducts (whole ships and reactors as well as liquids) companies around the world were commanding millions for creating underwater fissile garbage piles.
The privatized dumping continued for another decade, ending in great measure because of an unlikely backer of an international treaty: Big Oil. (Turns out underwater nuclear waste sites are a hazard when your business is drilling more and more holes in the ocean floor.)
Alarmingly, a new barrel-of-pain era has dawned, this time on Terra Firma.
Take my native Ohio, where fracking waste is the new gold standard for the feeder corporations doing the dirty work of injecting the materials (chemicals, oil and gas waste) 8,900 feet underground.
So welcoming is the state that nearly 60% of the toxic shale “brine” generated by fracking is imported from other states.
In a single year, 2011-2012, hydraulic fracturing booms elsewhere (in bordering states Pennsylvania and West Virginia in particular) created a 19% increase in out-of-state brine dumping, prompting the head of Ohio’s Sierra Club chapter to dub the state a “preferred destination for this waste.”
Undeterred by the mounting evidence that fracking brings with it any number of short- and long-term collateral problems, Gov. John Kasich and most other “pro-job” legislators (Democrats as well as Republicans) regularly tout the benefits of gas over oil, seemingly impervious to reputable studies linking shale brine with water and air toxicity.
Meanwhile an estimated 600 chemicals, metals – and in some instances naturally occurring uranium – are being deposited in Ohio’s 191 disposal wells, more and more of which are serviced by out-of-state tankers.
Further blocking sane state-level gas practices is the loose oversight in Washington regarding fracking waste, its interstate transportation included.
On the one hand, safeguards such as the Federal Clean Water and Air Acts are loophole silent on anything to do with natural gas, including its recovery; opening a clear path for modern day gas prospectors to negotiate land leases and set up shop.
And on the other, federal commerce provisions prevent states from imposing bans or even levying tariffs on one another so long as the commodities in question meet legal shipping standards; creating instead a Halliburton-style culture in which modern day corporate carpetbaggers have free rein in any state that will do business with them.
Defenders of the fracking process point out that this is hardly the first time a large industry and government have conspired to turn massive profits, and that Ohio’s elected officials are not alone in their zeal to deal with the fracking devil.
But no matter how you figure it, it’s good to be Big Gas inside (and outside) the Buckeye State – a place where barrels of pain are more than welcome.
A hopeful footnote: Anti-fracking Ohioans and their allies have created well-functioning if underfunded registered nonprofits. Run a search, find a reputable organization and lend a hand. Help stop the madness.
Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2013
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