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The other day I saw the headline story ‘Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us‘ at ProPublica and wondered to what lengths we as a society will go to keep industrial civilization running before we come to our flippin’ senses figure out that our current way of life is neither sustainable nor the model for the rest of the world to emulate. BraneSpace did a post on this subject as another obvious sign that we have hit peak oil:

…I want to confine attention in this blog to the energy issue, that of Peak Oil certainly having passed in 2005, and the further evidence being what I call energy pursuit desperation. Evidence? Since 2005, 680,000 waste and injection wells have been drilled, of which nearly 150,000 have injected millions of liters of toxic industrial fluids below the surface to “frack” natural gas. None of this polluted water can then be incorporated back into the hydrological cycle because of the 190 -odd contaminants (most carcinogenic) that the fracked water contains.

In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” according to Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”

Another aspect to what I call “energy desperation”, in the sense of being willing (now) to put aside concerns for life quality to obtain energy: The 2005 Federal Energy Appropriations Bill which exempts the gas industry from compliance with:

– The Clean Water Act

– The Safe Drinking Water Act

– The Clean air Act

– The Superfund (CERCLA) Act

The last implying they can dump as much toxic crap as they want and there’ll be no “toxic release inventory'” to assay it, and hence, no need to ever clean it up. If this isn’t desperation, what is? The willingness to put our future health as a nation in dire risk to satisfy immediate energy demands – mainly to dredge whatever low EROEI (energy returned on energuy invested) sources from the ground since the high EROEI oil has peaked.

More signs of desperation in the western states, such as Colorado: According to a Denver Post report on the results of an analysis by the Western Resource Associates (WRA), “Colorado’s oil and gas drilling consumes enough water to sustain 79,000 households for a year- enough for a medium sized city.”

This despite the fact the state has been in the throes of drought for years (though the severity has waxed and waned) and now is as bad as it was in 2002, with wildfires occupying more land than the whole Florida panhandle. But how is our water being used? On oil drilling and fracking!

According to WRA, between 22,100 and 39,500 acre-feet are pumped into the ground each year for drilling wells and hydraulic fracturing to coax out oil and gas. Tens of thousands of wells now dot the Colorado countryside. Meanwhile, farmers in the state barely have sufficient water to bring one crop to market far less all of them.. (As much as 5 million gallons of water can be injected into a single fracking well, of which 200,000 is laden with carcinogenic toxins such as benzene, so the water can’t be re-used.)

Pair this with the earlier use of corn (a food crop) for ethanol, and you have the makings of an energy desperation syndrome of epic proportions. But hardly anyone hears of the extent of it or the harm done…

This is what I and others call the Third-Worldization of America as we descend the net energy cliff of peak oil. We start using the harder to extract, dirtier stuff like tar sands, deep water oil, and gas fracking:

The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way of intensified drilling, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way.  Put another way, North America will have to be Third-Worldified…

Has any American bothered to look at how our energy hungry lifestyles have left the environment in the Third World? That’s what happens when mass consumerism is coupled with unfettered free-market capitalism devoid of regulation. If you missed it, Obama recently opened the gates for the oil companies to drill in the Antarctic:

President Barack Obama personally helped Shell obtain authorization to drill for oil in Alaska, according to a 4,678 word front page article in the New York Times. This is a startling break from decades long U.S. policy which regarded the environment in the Arctic region too fragile to tamper with…

Someone at the Oildrum once said that our planet will look like it’s been denuded and scavenged by a swarm of hungry locusts when humans are done with it. That seems to be an apt description at the rate we are going trying to prolong the impossible. To put another more devious twist on this situation, we now have privately owned water companies partnering up with the fracking industry in order to profit off the exorbitant amount of water those drillers need to perform their nasty business:

…The water companies — American Water and Aqua America — are leading drinking water suppliers in Pennsylvania, where drilling is booming. They also sell water to gas companies — which use a drilling technique that requires massive amounts of water — and have expressed interest in treating drilling wastewater, a potentially lucrative opportunity.

These investor-owned, publicly traded water utility companies are also dues-paying “associate members” of the gas industry’s powerful Marcellus Shale Coalition, a fact confirmed by coalition spokesman Travis Windle, who says associate members pay $15,000 annually in dues. “Our associate members are really the backbone of the industry,” adds Windle…

…Aqua America is aggressively positioning itself to take advantage of what CEO Nick DeBenedictis has described to investors as a “water-energy nexus that could have a positive impact on the future of our company.” In recent years, the company has made sizeable acquisitions in Texas and Ohio – states that, like Pennsylvania, are home to large shale gas plays – and is also building a pipeline in Pennsylvania to supply water to drillers.

It’s not a good sign when a life-giving resource the public wants protected is owned by a company profiting from it. We then get perverse alliances like that described above in which the water company sees dollar signs when it looks at the profligate use of H2O by the fracking industry. You see, our capitalist system is not engineered to protect resources, but to maximize their consumption for the most profit possible, whether that be through people drinking it or the fracking industry pumping millions of gallons of water into the earth mixed with a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals. The for-profit water companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves in regards to what is in the public’s best interests.

I’m glad that at least one state is smart enough to see the self-destruction of fracking and is strong enough to do something about it: