Silent Spring of Our Generation

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

I read an editorial in the Denver Post today that lectured the City of Longmont on why they should not bother to protect themselves from a toxic industry.

It occurred to me that opposing fracking may well be the Silent Spring of our generation. Silent Spring, for those who are not familiar with it, was a ground-breaking 1962 book by the naturalist writer Rachel Carson, who was curious about mass bird deaths. Her search led her to the impacts of the widespread use of the toxic pesticide DDT. That awareness led to concern for public health, which led to the book, which led to a movement, which led, eventually, to the banning of DDT.

Al of which was met, of course, by vicious industry attacks, personal slanders, lobbying, and lawsuits and posturing and gnashing of teeth by the people who made money off of making DDT. The attacks and distortions, not incidentally, continue to this day.

By the way, it is worth noting now through the benefit of hindsight, that economic life, Western Civilization, and the agricultural industry did not come to a screeching halt as a result of regulating DDT, as the defenders of the toxic DDT warned ominously back at the time.

The lessons of the book, alas, were not fully learned, though, because we still are confronted by an ever-increasing and ever-more toxic and reckless array of chemicals released into our environment with little scrutiny, regulation, or accountability. One of the latest toxic threats running amok – with regulatory forbearance, government subsidy, and a personal waiver (the so-called Halliburton loophole) from the environmental rules that everyone else has to follow – is fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing as most of us now know is the practice of breaking up rock far underground by injecting millions of gallons of water down every single hole, using a process of high-pressure injection that contaminates the water with thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals.

We are told by industry that it is safe and responsible to do this, to inject all that toxic stuff into the ground. That’s hogwash. What fracking is, is insane. And idiotic. The notion that we can inject billions of gallons of toxic water into the ground, without that water someday, some way coming back to bite us on our collective butts is idiotic. The fact that the contamination occurs thousands of feet deep underground doesn’t make fracking safe; it only makes it deeply idiotic.

We were told fracking is safe by the same breed of lobbyists and executives who told us that cigarette smoking was safe – a lie they repeated over and over in the halls of Congress for years after the time that members of Congress were the only people in the nation who didn’t roll their eyes and groan at the transparency of those lies – and told long after they themselves were aware of their own evidence to the contrary. The track record of harmful industries lying to us, buying our politicians, suppressing evidence of harm, and bullying anyone who dare opposes them is overwhelming. The fact that we still grant the assurances of these self-interested polluters with even a shred of credibility is absurd.

Don’t let their smokescreens and threats cloud the issue though; the key answer is not complicated at all: Fracking is unsafe at any speed.

As the lies and myths and threats and rationalizations for allowing ourselves to be inundated by toxic water washed over me, I realized that Fracking is the DDT of this generation. And we must fight it the same way. With zero tolerance for chemical self-destruction.

So when I read the Denver Post editorial today – in which the Post opposed the Longmont fracking ban – it was painfully clear that the reasoning cited by the Post’s editorial Board was tenuous and specious, following in the footsteps of tenuous and specious rationalizations made in the past to divert public action away from reasonable civic self-defense. Don’t ban fracking they said, because it might be expensive to enforce; because it might get challenged in the courts; and because fracking has not yet caused a crisis within the City’s limits. Emphasis on that qualifier: not yet.

What a wagon-load of horse apples.

In its haste to protect Longmont residents from themselves; however, the Post did not address the most important question: is banning fracking the right thing to do? Let’s answer that question for them now: banning fracking, and banning it now, is the right thing to do. And furthermore, it is within the rights of local jurisdictions to protect themselves from toxic assault, particularly when the State and federal Governments refuse to do so.

The Post apparently prefers that the citizens of Longmont should delay dealing with fracking until after it becomes a crisis. The Post recommends that the City delays dealing with the threat until it is too late: delay until the drilling permits are pulled and the well heads are going up. That’s some lousy advice from the Post.

The Post claims also to be concerned with the inconvenience such a ban might impose on the City. Indeed, giving up smoking cigarettes isn’t easy either. Doing the right thing is not always convenient, particularly in the face of a well-financed and well-connected industry. Doing the right thing is not always convenient, or easy. The oil & gas industry, backed by the Governor and his Attorney General, have made clear their intent – they will fight for their right to tell towns that only the state can decide who can pollute in the local jurisdictions. We already know the state’s answer: anywhere they please, any time they please, and any way they please. And no uppity local jurisdiction shall stand in their way.

So let’s be very clear on what is at stake. The Governor has drawn a line in the sand – if local governments try to control toxic activities within their own boundaries, then the state, in tandem with industry, will muscle in with its full weight and will body-slam the locals without mercy. On this point I do agree with the Post. The state’s intent to enforce its monopoly on regulation is clear, and the industry’s litigious nature is also well-established. We can assume the City will be sued.

I say: bring it on. I say: make the Supreme Court reiterate their position that towns have no right to protect themselves from toxic pollution. I say: make the Supreme Court defend the polluters right to pollute over and over, until eventually the courts finally get the answer right, and fracking finally goes the way of DDT, along with child labor and every other indefensible abomination that was perpetuated on the citizens of this nation until enough people stood up and refused to sit down.

The question before the City of Longmont remains simple: is Longmont ready to do the right thing to protect itself? Is Longmont ready to stand up for itself, and stand up against the State and industry if necessary to do so? Or will the City back down in the face of threats and bullying by the Governor and industry? Not to mention some lecturing from the Denver Post.

I hope the City is ready to see this through. I hope the City is ready to tear a brick from the wall built around fracking.

I do agree with the Post on another point, banning fracking is effectively the same as banning drilling – this is because the vast majority of drilling being done uses fracking. However, the conclusion the Post draws from this is that we must therefore yield to fracking. Nonsense. On the contrary, it is industry that must stop fracking, not the citizens that must roll over and accept it. Industry must find a way to extract oil & gas without injecting millions of gallons of toxic water into the ground for every well, or they must stop drilling. We can be certain of one thing; industry will keep fracking until we make them stop. They will keep injecting toxins into the water until we make them change their techniques. In the meantime, every new well fracked is another well injected with millions of gallons of toxic contaminated water.

I believe in the genius of capitalism and the innovativeness of motivated entrepreneurs – which is precisely why we should stop shielding the oil & gas industry from the consequences of their toxic activities and force them to clean up their act, or get out of the business and make way for people who can move us forward without setting us back. This same belief is why I support incentives and rewards for entrepreneurs who develop truly clean and sustainable ways to power this country, and better yet, who pursue ways to use less energy and to be more efficient with the energy we do use.

The Denver Post blew a lot of smoke into a simple question, in the hopes perhaps of obscuring the simple truths from our vision: Fracking is a massively toxic industrial process, and towns have every right to protect themselves from it.

  1 comment for “Silent Spring of Our Generation

  1. Gregory Iwan
    November 4, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I have observed the editorial page and emanations from the Denver Post over time. Sometimes it seems it must be easier to print first, learn later. Their lack of research into this important topic is as plain as the growing nose on their faces. There is a fear that if a city or — god forbid — a state is PERCEIVED by the oil and gas industry as being “difficult” for operators, then those “operators” will ply their trade elsewhere. And with the scourge of TABOR this state is admittedly desperate for every dime, from oil royalties, tourism, anything. This suggests an interim “solution” of sorts here: command Doug Bruce to perform community service by digging, sampling, closing and cleaning up all fracking discharge pits for ten years. Maybe the man who would be J. Edgar Hoover II might cave in and put the removal of TABOR on the ballot for us. After all, even the devil himself doesn’t want to be around fracking fluid, whether effluent or raw.

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