Adele Elliott: What the frack?

February 22, 2014 11:39:06 PM

Adele Elliott - [email protected]


Please tell me that winter is over. Oh, I know the forecast for the coming week predicts that temperatures will drop back into the 20s. But, they could be wrong. Cross your fingers. 


This has been the winter from hell, the long-dreaded one -- when hell froze over. It has left us thinking hard about the energy we need to heat our homes and everything else. If your utility bills have been shocking for the last three or four months (as ours have), then you may be deciding between paying the gas and electric bills and eating well. That is a distressing choice. Chris and I compromised by wearing multiple layers of clothing and dining way too often on peanut butter or noodles. So, we were left cold and unsatisfied. 


This country's addiction to fossil fuels increases daily. And why not? We have the technology to stay warm. There is no reason to suffer. 


Fossil fuels -- coal, petroleum, and natural gas -- are formed by the process of the decomposition of buried dead organisms. That sounds like a renewable resource, right? Actually, the whole system takes about 650 million years to complete (Wikipedia). Even Job might have trouble mustering up that sort of patience. 


We do have other choices, don't we? There is fracking. 


Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used by the energy industry to extract oil and gas from rock by spewing high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. They are injected underground to split open oil and gas bearing rocks (Clarion Ledger, February 2013). 


Mississippi is on board with this. Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law that gives a tax break on a specific well for up to 30 months. The law also gives a five-year tax break for oil exploration efforts. Several companies are conducting horizontal drilling operations in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation in Amite and Wilkinson counties in southwest Mississippi (AP, May 2013). 


Eleven states, including Mississippi, use FracFocus, a database that tracks the chemicals used in fracking. However, a report by Harvard Law School raises serious concerns about the online database. Some apprehension is based on loose reporting standards and inconsistency in labeling chemicals "trade secrets," a loophole which shields them from reporting which chemicals are used. This flaw, the Harvard report says, creates excuses that could allow operators to avoid sharing information required by state law (Mississippi Business Journal, January 2014). 


Now there is evidence that fracking may even cause earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that from 1975 to 2008 central Oklahoma, which has many fracking sites, experienced one to three 3.0-magnitude earthquakes a year, compared with an average of 40 per year from 2009 to 2013. There have been more than 500 earthquakes in Oklahoma this year and 150 last week (AP, February 2014). 


Nicholas van der Elst, a post-doctorate research fellow at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says the "most reasonable hypothesis" to explain Oklahoma's spike in earthquakes is they've been triggered by injection wells used for oil and gas production. He said, "The burden of proof is on well operators to prove that the earthquakes are not caused by their wells" (The Nation, February 2014). 


It just seems to me that we have some real and safe choices to solve our energy crisis. Solar energy is perpetual and plentiful, especially in a place like Mississippi. Wind energy is also a practical option. 


Here, in "The Buckle of the Bible Belt," we give a lot of lip service to our gifts from God. In my opinion, the sun and wind are created by nature, poison chemicals are not. Doesn't splitting open the Earth sound counter-intuitive? 


I do not claim to be a scientist or an intellectual whiz kid. But, I do have a bit of common sense, and a love for our only planet. I just want to say to all the destructive and invasive practices, "Frack no."

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.