Just this week (the week of our “Gasland” showing, on 7/21/2011), the Lansing State Journal ran an article about fracking in Michigan. (http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/article/20110718/NEWS01/107180325/Oil-gas-industry-defends-fracking- In addition to being a curse word used in “Battlestar Galactica,” fracking is the short form for hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new method of opening up a well to produce natural gas and sometimes oil.

In hydraulic fracturing, a water-based solution is forced out of the well and into the shale formation underground under extremely high pressure to form a web of cracks in the rock. Grains of sand are carried in the solution to prop the cracks open after the solution is allowed to return to the surface.

Even if the solution pumped into the shale were purely water and sand, the solution returning to the surface would still be hazardous. The shale into which it is pumped will contain varying amounts of the radioactive elements uranium, radium and thorium. These radioactive elements which can be dissolved into the fracking solution. The natural gas coming from this shale will carry with it radon gas, a radioactive product of the decay of the above mentioned solid radioactive elements. In other words, the “produced water” from fracking can be radioactive, and has been radioactive far beyond the levels acceptable for drinking water.

However, the solution pumped into the well is nowhere near so harmless as water and sand. A long list of complex organic chemicals is put into the mix to create fracking fluid. The purpose of these chemicals is to increase the viscosity of the solution so it will carry the sand, to prevent the solution from wetting the shale, to prevent corrosion of the equipment, to keep other chemicals in solution, and so on. These chemicals are to various degrees directly poisonous and/or cancer-causing.

It is obvious we should not have either radioactive elements or cancer-causing chemicals introduced into our ground water or our surface water. According to Hal Fitch, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Geological Survey, “that can’t happen in Michigan because the shale containing natural gas is far below the water table.” (This quote is from the Lansing State Journal article.)

In fact, contamination of ground and surface water by fracking fluid is not impossible. Wells have been over-pressured, causing spectacular blowouts. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/20/pennsylvania-fracking-spill-gas-blowout-2011_n_851637.html) Trucks carrying fracking fluid to the well site can have accidents. Accidents can happen, and they do happen.

Aside from these ordinary errors, drilling the well creates a channel from the deposit, no matter how deep, all the way through the water table to the surface. All it takes is an imperfectly sealed well casing to turn the well itself into a route allowing fluid and natural gas to mix with the water we drink, the water that fish live in, the water that is used to irrigate crops. This too can happen, and will happen as long as fracking is allowed.

A number of organizations are opposed to fracking:
Sierra Club (http://www.sierraclub.org/), Food and Water Watch (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/), Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council http://www.watershedcouncil.org/), Michigan Land Use Institute (http://www.mlui.org/), Clean Water Action (http://www.cleanwateraction.org/), Don’t Frack Michigan (http://dontfrackmichigan.org/) and no doubt, some that are not on this short list.

Some are for a complete ban on the practice; some are for a moratorium; some are for better and more effective regulation; some just want exemptions from the requirements of the Clean Water Act to be repealed. If any or all of these positions make sense to you, then you should support them with money, memberships, petitions, letters to lawmakers or to the editor.

Transition Ferndale does not have a “position” on fracking, because we are not a political group. Fracking, like deep-ocean drilling for oil, mountaintop removal for coal, tar sands mining to produce syncrude, growing crops for biofuels and proposing new nuclear plants after multiple meltdowns have demonstrated the danger, is one more indication of desperation to keep the industrial economy running in the face of resource depletion and declining net energy.

We urge individuals and communities to prepare for a future in which energy of all types will be increasingly expensive and unavailable, and in which the products of industry, including especially food from industrial farming, will also be increasingly expensive and unavailable. The way to prepare is by learning to grow some food locally; to support local food production such as community-supported agriculture and farmer’s markets; to reduce dependance on industrial energy for heating, cooling, cooking and transportation; to develop the skills that will be useful in a sustainable local economy; and to develop the community without which the local economy will not function.

There’s nothing in this list of transition projects that can’t be done for a host of other reasons. Most of them, like doing more walking or bicycling and less driving to the discount mall, will either save money or be good for your health, or both. Some of them, such a developing some skills at woodworking and using those skills to build a solar food-dehydration rack, could just be an interesting hobby. Transition ties them together with the realization that the industrial economy is unreliable, and is likely to decline.

Art Myatt

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