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General News    H2'ed 1/23/12

Ellen Cantarow: An Environmental Occupy Fracks Corporate America

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: For a recent Foreign Policy in Focus review of my new book The United States of Fear , click here; for a recent interview that David Walsh of the website History News Network did with me based on the book, click here. If you buy a copy via this book link (or any other TD book link) at Amazon.com, you'll also be contributing a small percentage of your purchase to TomDispatch at no cost to you.  Finally, visit our donation page and for $75 or more, you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book. Tom]

They say you can't keep a good man down, but the "good" part of that equation is often negotiable.  If you thought you had seen the last of the then-disgraced Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, you know what I mean.  The same goes for corporations.  Even scandals, swindles, and sanctions don't seem to matter -- at least when the company is valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

Founded in 1919, Halliburton -- a Houston-based oil services company -- always did well, but it catapulted to fame and further fortune during the 2000s as it made a killing off the killing in Iraq.  With former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dick Cheney in the White House, Halliburton, mostly through its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, reaped billions in Iraq War contracts.  As the money piled up, so did the scandals.  As Politifact.com observed in 2010:

"Government officials have raised many questions about KBR's fulfillment of its contracts, everything from billing for meals it didn't serve to charging inflated prices for gas to excessive administrative costs. Government auditors have noted that KBR refused to turn over electronic data in its native format and stamped documents as proprietary and secret when the documents would normally be considered public records.

"Over the course of several years, the Defense Contract Audit Agency found that $553 million in payments should be disallowed to KBR, according to 2009 testimony by agency director April Stephenson before the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In 2007, amid outrage over its actions, Halliburton sold off KBR.  But like a bad penny, the company continued to pop up in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons.  In February 2009, KBR pled guilty to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribes paid out in Nigeria while it was still part of Halliburton.  In the spring of 2011, the New York Times reported, a lawyer "accused of helping steer bribe money" from KBR (then still part of Halliburton) to Nigerian government officials in exchange for "more than $6 billion in contracts for liquefied natural gas facilities," pled guilty to federal charges and was ordered to forfeit almost $150 million.

And then there's the Gulf of Mexico where, in 2010, an oil rig explosion killed 11 people, injured dozens more, and resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.  This past fall, the Department of the Interior cited Halliburton, along with BP and another company, "for numerous safety and environmental violations in the operation of the doomed Deepwater Horizon well."

It's hardly surprising then that, as TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reveals in groundbreaking reporting from the front lines of the latest grassroots uprising in America, Halliburton also has a down and dirty history when it comes to the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."  This time, however, Halliburton may have met its match in the towns and hamlets of upstate New York.  Nick Turse  

Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement

By Ellen Cantarow

This is a story about water, the land surrounding it, and the lives it sustains. Clean water should be a right: there is no life without it. New York is what you might call a "water state." Its rivers and their tributaries only start with the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna. The best known of its lakes are Great Lakes Erie and Ontario, Lake George, and the Finger Lakes. Its brooks, creeks, and trout streams are fishermen's lore.

Far below this rippling wealth there's a vast, rocky netherworld called the Marcellus Shale. Stretching through southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the shale contains bubbles of methane, the remains of life that died 400 million years ago. Gas corporations have lusted for the methane in the Marcellus since at least 1967 when one of them plotted with the Atomic Energy Agency to explode a nuclear bomb to unleash it. That idea died, but it's been reborn in the form of a technology invented by Halliburton Corporation: high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing -- "fracking" for short.

Fracking uses prodigious amounts of water laced with sand and a startling menu of poisonous chemicals to blast the methane out of the shale. At hyperbaric bomb-like pressures, this technology propels five to seven million gallons of sand-and-chemical-laced water a mile or so down a well bore into the shale.

Up comes the methane -- along with about a million gallons of wastewater containing the original fracking chemicals and other substances that were also in the shale, among them radioactive elements and carcinogens. There are 400,000 such wells in the United States. Surrounded by rumbling machinery, serviced by tens of thousands of diesel trucks, this nightmare technology for energy release has turned rural areas in 34 U.S. states into toxic industrial zones.

Shale gas isn't the conventional kind that lit your grandmother's stove. It's one of those "extreme energy" forms so difficult to produce that merely accessing them poses unprecedented dangers to the planet. In every fracking state but New York, where a moratorium against the process has been in effect since 2010, the gas industry has contaminated ground water, sickened people, poisoned livestock, and killed wildlife.

At a time when the International Energy Agency reports that we have five more years of fossil-fuel use at current levels before the planet goes into irreversible climate change, fracking has a greenhouse gas footprint larger than that of coal. And with the greatest water crisis in human history underway, fracking injects mind-numbing quantities of purposely-poisoned fresh water into the Earth. As for the trillions (repeat: trillions) of gallons of wastewater generated by the industry, getting rid of it is its own story. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes: eleven in Ohio alone (normally not an earthquake zone) over the past year.

But for once, this story isn't about tragedy. It's about a resistance movement that has arisen to challenge some of the most powerful corporations in history. Here you will find no handsomely funded national environmental organizations: some of them in fact have had a cozy relationship with the gas industry, embracing the industry's line that natural gas is a "bridge" to future alternative energies. (In fact, shale gas suppresses the development of renewable energies.)

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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