From the Monterey shale under our very feet to the Bakken formation beneath
the Great Plains, the United States is riding high on an almost incalculably huge pool
of oil that new technologies and methods of extraction now make accessible. In fact,
recent reports indicate that these vast reserves might outstrip those of the rest of the
world–especially Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia–making them “petro-irrelevant.”
Drill, Baby, drill–right? Not so fast. Let’s at least first consider some less than
savory aspects of this bonanza. Not an embarrassment of riches so much, perhaps,
as the hazard of them.
As with so many things we take under advisement when grappling with new
technologies, how these might affect our environment must be foremost. Fracking,
the method of fracturing shale and other rock formations, thereby freeing the oil
they contain, and new deep-water drilling techniques make petroleum ever more
economically viable both to access and prospect for. But beneath our nation fracking,
while far from new, has as of late grown exponentially as a means of drilling.
Still, it remains highly controversial. Rife, and well-documented, are reports of
flammable tap water–yet it cannot be proven that fracking has led to the introduction
of methane into groundwater. Well-documented, too, is new seismic activity
in areas geologically dormant before the introduction of fracking–yet it cannot be
proven that fracking has led to the quaking of previously stable land. What is immediately demonstrable, and indeed occurs, is the spilling of toxic fracking fluids.
Many of the concerns therefore–and new regulations–about fracking are limited
to these, with the happy result that we may now know what is being pumped at
high pressure into the ground beneath us. Previously, these recipes were secret. But
the regulation of such brews, in addition to the capture and treatment of waste water
spewed forth, surely must be the initial steps of a deeper inquiry. Shouldn’t we first
establish, as best we can, whether fracking actually does contaminate groundwater
and seismically destabilize those areas once known as solid? Of course! But here’s a
better question. A generation ago oil was considered a dwindling resource–so much
so that conservation, from public transport systems to fuel efficiency standards, was
prevalent in the consciousness of the era. This birthed the plethora of green and
renewable energies we enjoy today. Will these be stilled by an new petro-abundance
that technology now makes cheaply extracted?
In spite of an oil boom–despite this…temptation–shouldn’t we still be pursuing
energies less toxic to us all than oil has historically proven to be?
Because it’s not just wealth, and its chimerical distribution to “everyone,” that
comes with striking it rich, so to speak, with oil. Crime also comes. In North Dakota
and Montana, two states at the center of this new rush, crime has rocketed as
workers–and cash–have flocked to fresh oil fields. According to the New York Times,
in the booming areas of those states alone, crime has surged 32 percent since 2005.
Watford City, N.D., saw a 565 percent increase in arrests for that time; in Roosevelt
County, Montana, arrests have risen by 855 percent.
Be careful what you wish for.
And this is strictly on an inter-personal level. Can you imagine how unstable
the globe would be if Russia, China and Saudi Arabia were rendered “petro-irrelevant?”
California gubernatorial hopeful Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Twin
Peaks, opines of oil, “We ought to be drilling it and fracking it rather than importing
it from our enemies.”Really? It’s a pretty thought that our new petroleum predominance
might go some way toward solving many of our domestic financial dilemmas.
It is, indeed, a temptation. But it’s fanciful to think that our bonanza will somehow
pacify the world. Even if it could, we already know what environmental devastation
is engendered by our over-dependence on just this single, solitary commodity.