While a transnational corporation asserts its "right" to extract gold from El Salvador under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a grassroots anti-mining movement fights for self-determination and its leaders are turning up dead. In recent weeks, death threats have also been sent to radio journalists at Radio Victoria, the sister radio station to Madison, Wisconsin's WORT-FM.
Corporate insiders peddling the claim that drilling for methane gas will solve America's energy needs just scored big in Washington -- and for these insiders fracking for gas is very lucrative business. House Resolution 1380, given the feel-good moniker of the "New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act " or "NAT GAS Act," was announced on Wednesday, April 6, in the U. S. House of Representatives. The bill is 24-pages long and rewards the fracking industry with tax credits and products to help "drive" consumption. The bigger the vehicle, the more tax credits given.
This initiative to expand the controversial fracking process -- which has already resulted in contaminated wells and rivers and even ignitable tap water for some -- is being spearheaded in Congress by Reps. John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma), Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma), John Larson (D-Connecticut), and Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The bill has 77 co-sponsors, with 40 Democrats in support, and 37 Republicans, from 33 different states.
But, perhaps its most powerful supporter or potential supporter is President Barack Obama. Just two weeks ago, he alluded to being a strong supporter of a bill of this nature in a speech on March 30 on "America's Energy Security" at Georgetown University. In that address, he specifically mentioned T. Boone Pickens's name when discussing legislation to support expanded fracking for methane.
The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hasn't stopped some U.S. legislators from insisting U.S. nuclear power plants are completely safe, but that support may be based less on facts than on financial influence. Between 1998 and 2010, the nuclear industry invested over $46 million in lobbying, about $18 million of which came from the industry's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). In addition to simply giving money to legislators who deal with energy legislation, the NEI has also employed congressional staffers and bestowed awards upon members of Congress. Senate Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), still supports nuclear energy, saying Japan's nuclear plant disaster hasn't altered opinions much on Capitol Hill -- but Bingaman has taken generous donations from people and institutions with vested interests in nuclear power. Over his career, Bingaman has accepted over $49,000 from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the place where the atomic bomb was invented. The country's largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants, the Exelon Corporation, has given Bingaman over $38,000, and in 2006 the Nuclear Energy Institute gave him a leadership award. Similarly, House Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) has taken over $31,000 in donations from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and was graced with the same award from the NEI. Barton, who recently toured the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant located about 80 miles southwest of Dallas, insisted to the Dallas Morning News that American nuclear plants are 100 percent safe.
Gasland, a documentary film that exposes the dangers accompanying methane gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, has been mercilessly attacked by Big Oil since the film was released during the summer of 2010. The attacks have only escalated both in intensity and volume as the film has grown in popularity and acclaim, reaching their peak when it was announced that the film was a candidate for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.
While most of the spin has centered around factual misinformation about fracking, utilizing the prototypical Big Oil, Big Lies playbook tactic, Big Oil has now raised the stakes. In lieu of lying about how "environmentally friendly" the fracking process is, they have shifted to the propagandist's last resort: shooting the messenger.
Embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came under fire today after news broke about statements he made in a 20-minute phone call from a Buffalo-area alternative news reporter, Ian Murphy of the Daily Beast, posing as David Koch, a billionaire whose corporate PAC directly supported Walker and who has given millions to groups that have run ads to aid Walker's rise to the state's highest office. (Listen to the call here.)
As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the Koch PAC not only spent $43,000 directly on Walker's race, but Koch personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association which spent $5 million in the state. Besides the Governor, the Koch brothers have other "vested interests" in the state.
Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held energy company in America, have poured millions of dollars into creating a web of media influence to increase their power to sow doubt about climate change among the American public. A network of bloggers, pundits, think tanks and foundations get funding from the Kochs, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received over $700,000, and the libertarian Cato Institute, which has received $13 million from the Kochs since 1998. The Manhattan Institute received $1.5 million, Americans for Prosperity has gotten $5.5 million, the Pacific Research Institute has gotten $1.2 million and the Federalist Society $2 million. This web of think tanks and foundations operates blogs and Web sites and house prominent writers who pump out climate denial writings that help spread the Kochs' anti-climate change ideology. The Kochs' influence isn't limited to fringe media, either. Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, who writes for the Weekly Standard and the Washington Post, Philip Anshutz, owner of the Examiner newspapers and the Weekly Standard, Stephen Moore, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, are just some of the conservative media figures who attend the Kochs' exclusive, private annual gatherings.
The Marcellus Shale lies are unraveling daily right before our eyes. T. Boone Pickens, for example, was on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Thurs. Jan. 27 to hype up the Pickens Plan. Yet, this is what the Pickens Plan will get us on a weekly, if not daily basis. The New York Times reports:
Drilling service companies have injected at least 32 million gallons of diesel fuel underground as part of a controversial drilling technique, a Democratic congressional investigation has found. Injecting diesel as part of hydraulic fracturing is supposed to be regulated by U.S. EPA. But an agency official told congressional investigators that EPA had assumed that the use of diesel had stopped seven years ago ...The letter said they had not been able to determine whether the diesel injections threatened groundwater. The service companies told Waxman's staff they did not know how close their frack jobs were to sources of drinking water, saying their clients, the well operators, would have that information. Of the total figure, 10 million gallons was 'straight diesel fuel,' according to the letter, while another 22 million gallons was products containing at least 30 percent diesel.
Acquiring "clean natural gas" and "getting off of foreign oil" are pitched as reasons to continue natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. And yet, beyond all the problems associated with fracking, Pro Publica's Abrahm Lustgarten revealed in a January 25, 2011 article that "clean natural gas" isn't all that clean after all. Lustgarten writes,
The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency … is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change … Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future …The EPA now reports that emissions from conventional hydraulic fracturing are 35 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. It also reports that emissions from the type of hydraulic fracturing being used in the nation’s bountiful new shale gas reserves, like the Marcellus, are almost 9,000 times higher than it had previously calculated …"
Environmental groups say we should be certain of the factual data about emissions and environmental effects of shale gas drilling before making major policy decisions that push the nation into dependence on methane gas obtained through drilling.
Those who follow energy politics closely should not be surprised. The government-industry revolving door constantly spins rapidly, and thus it is no different on the natural gas front within the United States. This is highlighted acutely by ProPublica in an article titled, "Some Appointees to Oil and Gas Commission Are Industry Execs, Lobbyists."
The article states, speaking about the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission,
The home page of T. Boone Pickens' "Pickens Plan" is emblematic of the oil industry's aggressive push to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale basin. The page greets visitors with the blaring headline, "WE MUST BREAK AMERICA'S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL. The Pickens Plan will do it, but we need your help."
In the age of the perpetual War on terrorism, politicians, pundits and other U.S. demagogues have successfully used fear as a bargaining chip. Fear-mongering is a method of Orwellian thought control. In this example, Pickens equates foreign oil with evil, similar to the Bush Administration's Orewellian logic regarding American's position in the world: "You're either with us, or you're with the enemy." Bush put forth a false paradigm of absolute good versus absolute evil. The Bush Administration used fear as a political tool after 9/11 to march the country into war, and convince citizens that we need to permit domestic spying to keep us safe domestically. (Think Patriot Act). Fear also led to the heinous crimes committed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib Detention Centers.