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Could fracking finally kill off rural America?

US fracking map

U.S. map showing waterways (in blue) over shale gas plays (in red). Photo: Gasland 2.

Gasland 2, the sequel to Josh Fox’s documentary about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, introduces a frightening image.

It’s not another money shot of tap water on fire, though the water well hose lit up by the owner of a multimillion dollar home in Parker County, Texas is a wonder.

Nor is the most frightening image an internal gas industry memo labeling residents of small towns in Pennsylvania or New York State an “insurgency” that must be put down with PSYOPS techniques honed by the military in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most frightening image in Gasland 2 is a map of the United States covered with potential fracking sites.

The United States of Fracking

Look at the map. It’s hard to find a state whose water supply doesn’t originate in or cross through a place that the industry would like to frack.

So what? The U.S. government says that fracking can be done without harm to groundwater. And the industry claims that no study has ever proven that fracking has contaminated one single water supply.

Don’t believe them, says Fox, with plenty of science to back him up. Using that science, the Gasland 2 website gives a clear answer to the question “Is fracking safe?”

No. Fracking, as currently practiced across the United States, poses serious risks to the health and safety of communities and the environment.

Water supplies across the country have been contaminated by fracking. There have been multiple documented cases where natural gas, or methane, has migrated out of wells and into underground aquifers. The fracking process also forces gallons of chemically-treated watered into the ground along with numerous byproducts including chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs), dissolved solids, liquid hydrocarbons including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, and heavy metals.

Wanna be a farmer? Fuggedaboutit.

The implications of fracking America go far beyond whether your natural gas bill stays low or some bedraggled folks in flyover states get somewhat more bedraggled because they have to have their drinking water trucked in.

It’s not just Detroit that has gone bankrupt. Today, urban industrialism looks more ready than ever to collapse under the weight of its own staggering financial, ecological and spiritual debt.

Rural areas have had it tough for decades, losing family farms to industrial agriculture, losing Main Street shops to Walmart and losing young people to the allure of the big city. Yet these days, judging by all the back-to-the-landers, homesteaders and greenhorns fleeing corporate cubicles for fields of produce and pigs, you’d think that rural America was on the verge of a renaissance, ready to step up and provide the nation with wholesome food, natural carbon sequestration and a sense of community that our alienated citizenry yearns for.

Then — bam! — enter the frackers to put the kabbash on this happy ending and put rural areas back in their place as sacrifice zones for polluting industries.

By contaminating water supplies from sea to shining sea, the industry’s final desperate gambit to keep the fossil fuel party going for a few more years could render much of rural America uninhabitable. As despoiled rural communities shut down, families will have no choice but to seek housing and work in the city. And the cruel joke at the end of it all is that natural gas may turn out to be a bubble, with fracking ruining millions of acres of perfectly good land for only a few years of gas supply. The wells may run dry in five or ten years, but the pollution will remain for decades.

Meanwhile, urban escapees will have to forget their dreams of moving to a rural area, buying a little farm and building a self-sufficient homestead. If fracking renders large areas of countryside unfit for sustainable farming, not to mention plain old human habitation, disaffected downtown office workers may little choice but to stay in their cubicles, shut up and do their work — at least until the next round of layoffs.

Making the world safe for frack-ocracy

An image nearly as scary as the U.S. map is a corresponding map of the world showing shale plays that industry would like to sink its teeth into.

But don’t think the Obama Administration, which touts natural gas as a clean fuel that will help reduce climate emissions, is just sitting around waiting for other nations to get into fracking. Fortunately for top U.S. gas drillers such as ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy and Anadarko, the administration has recruited the U.S. taxpayer to help pry open reluctant markets like Poland and India through the State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative (now known as the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program).

Watch the Gasland 2 trailer. Then, find a screening near you or get a copy of the DVD to watch at home.

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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