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No Fracking Way! Forum at GVSU

March 27, 2012

Earlier today there was a forum on fracking, organized by a student socialist group at GVSU on the Allendale Campus. The group invited two speakers to present, a GVSU professor and Chris Williams, author of the book Ecology and Socialism.

Professor Peter Wampler, who presented first, works in the geology department at GVSU. His presentation was very clinical in that he showed slides and presented information that provided those in attendance with basics around where natural gas is and how it is being extracted around the US.

Wampler made some distinctions between shale-based natural gas and other forms of methane gas, such as the gas from human or animal waste or the methane created at landfills where organic material are breaking down.

The GVSU Professor then presented some basic aspects of what fracking is and how the industry extracts it natural gas from shale. He stated that most shale is found at least 1000 feet below the surface.

Wampler then shifted his presentation to why there is such a big push for fracking now. He stated that this is a “trend” that really began in 2009. You can see from the graph here the current and projected trends with natural gas extracted from fracking.

Wampler continued with more information on how the industry extracts the gas from shale. He then identified consequences of fracking, such as micro-earthquakes, groundwater contamination, surface water contamination and increased dependence on fossil fuels. One thing he mentioned about contamination in groundwater is because of the chemicals that are pumped in with water to create the fracking necessary to extract the natural gas.

Wampler concluded by saying that there is not enough evidence on the real or longtime consequences and that at a minimum the industry should be responsible for collecting data. This seems to contradict what we know already about how the industry has refused to do the investigation or has lied about the environmental and health impact of fracking.

Chris Williams began his presentation by framing the issue as bigger than just fracking, with an emphasis on a systemic analysis that looked at how we use water in general as well as the larger economic and political factors that determine national and global energy consumption.

Williams made the point that the US is taking a different route than many other industrial nations, such as Germany and France, which have recently banned fracking due to massive public opposition.

Williams feels it is important that we have this discussion about fracking within the larger energy discussion, primarily because of the urgency humanity faces with global warming/climate change. Williams cited the journal Nature, which argues that the rapid rise in temperatures and extreme weather patterns would indicate that climate change is a very serious matter.

Williams then discussed political dynamics as it relates to fracking and fossil fuel dependency in the US. He cited the recent decision by the Obama administration to give the green light to the Keystone XL project. Williams quoted a New York Times article where the President stated that he not only supported the Canadian Tar Sands Project, he endorsed continued oil exploration and production in the US.

Williams presented a summary of current ecological destruction being brought about by the energy industry and made it clear to those in attendance that the root of this crisis is the economic system of capitalism, which demands constant growth and ever increasing profits.

Another policy dynamic that Williams addressed was the US government’s decision to increase domestic fossil fuel production. Some might argue this is a “good” outcome, as it will make the US less dependent on foreign oil, but the speaker made it clear that this is not the dominant motivation. What motivates the decision is profits and growth, so that the US can continue to dominant the global economy.

Williams stated that the bulk of US oil does not come from the Middle East, rather it comes from Canada and Venezuela. He didn’t address the reasons for US interest in controlling Middle East oil, which is primarily driven by geopolitical and economic interests. The US does not consume much of the Middle East oil, but if they and the oil industry can control global access to this oil, they can control the profits and have greater influence over global politics. (see Michael Klare’s film Blood & Oil.)

Williams also addressed larger geopolitical issues around the US energy policy and what the Obama administration has done that is fundamentally a continuation of the Bush administration’s energy policy, with the only difference being rhetorical.

Williams emphasized to the audience that we have to look at the nature of capitalism to truly understand the current energy crisis. If there is constant growth in production and consumption, there is no way that we can have a sustainable world, since there are finite limits of all “resources.”

The profit driven system for more energy consumption is further complicated when the private energy sector dramatically influences the political process in the US with massive monetary influence in the electoral and policy process. According to Open Secrets, the amount of money that the energy sector has used to buy their political interests has been hundreds of millions of dollars since 1990.

Williams concluded his remarks about the need for a revolutionary movement in response to the environmental destruction that fracking and other energy policies will bring about. The author argued that there are growing movements against fracking and the Keystone XL project, which we should also see as connected to other struggles in the US and around the world, such as the Arab Spring.

Early on in the Q&A someone involved in fighting to prevent fracking in Michigan told people about a public hearing in Alpine Township that was taking place just after the lecture. The Michigan-based group is called Ban Fracking in Michigan.

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