Fire on tap

It doesn’t take a genius to know that tap water is not meant to catch on fire. Yet that is exactly what has happened to perhaps hundreds of residents who live near natural gas drilling stations.

Natural gas has been billed as a “clean” and inexpensive form of energy. But, when it is extracted from the ground by the a process called fracking, it can contaminate nearby water supplies, pollute the air and cause serious negative health impacts for both the humans and animals who live nearby.

And, as many who live near fracking sites have determined, their water not only looks, smells and tastes funny, but it also can be lit on fire.

So many say they want clean energy–but what people really mean is they want clean energy as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Unfortunately, everything has a cost. The question is when you pay. Natural gas may initially appear less expensive than say wind energy. But is it still cheaper once the costs from things like the human health toll from air pollution and water contamination and the destruction of nearby watersheds and the release of mercury into the air are included?

Josh Fox’s documentary GasLand, about natural gas extraction by means of a hydraulic drilling process called “fracking,”

Congress exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005.

When measuring cost, we must include these external hidden fees. To neglect to do so paints an inaccurate picture of the true expense of polluting our environment, ill-paying workers and damaging human health.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper

When fire flows from the tap

March 27, 2010

It doesn’t take a genius to know that tap water is not meant to catch on fire. Yet, for some who live near natural gas drilling stations in the United States, it is very much a reality.

Natural gas has been billed as a “clean” and inexpensive form of energy. But, when it is extracted from the ground through a process called fracking, it can contaminate nearby water supplies, pollute the air and cause serious negative health impacts for both the humans and animals who live nearby.

And, as many who live near fracking sites have discovered, their water not only looks, smells and tastes funny, but it also can be lit on fire.

To extract natural gas through fracking, water and a secret cocktail of hundreds of hazardous chemicals are pumped deep into the earth. An EPA report in 2004 determined that fracking did not pose a threat to drinking water and Congress exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005.

Last week the EPA announced that it would revisit fracking’s health and environmental impacts, a major move forward for environmentalists. However, this week, reports have been leaked that the oil and gas industry has inserted language banning federal regulation of fracking into the climate and energy bill being negotiated by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Beyond the potential for contamination of water supplies, the fracking process itself uses millions of gallons of water. No problem you say, the planet is some 70 percent water. Unfortunately only 3 percent of the world’s water is freshwater and half of that is locked in the polar ice caps and glaciers. The world’s supply of freshwater is dwindling, a situation all too familiar in the West.

Further, according to a new report by the United Nations called Sick Water, it has been found that 3.7 percent of all deaths in the world are caused by water-related illnesses. Considering that while cheap energy is nice, we all need water to live, we must ask ourselves, why we do not step forward and demand action.

We can no longer afford to recklessly waste our water and pollute our air in the name of cheap energy. So many say they want clean energy–but what people really mean is they want clean energy as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Unfortunately, everything has a cost. The question is when you pay. Natural gas may initially appear less expensive than say wind energy. But is it still cheaper once the costs from things like the human health toll, air pollution and the destruction of nearby watersheds are included?

So, we must ask ourselves: do we want cheap energy at the expense of clean water?

– By Jennifer E. Cooper

Hidden costs

Today, as I watched a screening of Josh Fox’s documentary GasLand, about natural gas extraction by means of a hydraulic drilling process called “fracking,” it struck me just how often we allow short-term greed to stand in the way of what is best for everyone over the long term.

Natural gas has been billed as a “clean” and inexpensive form of energy. But, when it is extracted from the ground through fracking, it can contaminate nearby water supplies, pollute the air and cause serious negative health impacts for both the humans and animals who live nearby.

So many say they want clean energy–but what people really mean is they want clean energy as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Unfortunately, everything has a cost. The question is when you pay. Coal may initially see less expensive than say wind energy. But is it still cheaper once the human health toll from mining, the destruction of nearby watersheds and the release of mercury into the air are included?

The same can be said for ensuring everyone has a job that pays a livable wage. Business owners may argue that they cannot afford to pay employees higher wages. But can we afford to subsidize the housing, food and health care of those who are not paid a livable wage?

When we buy a $19 pair of jeans or a $10 pair of shoes we neglect the cost on the developing nations. Third World workers bear the real costs in lower wages as do struggling domestic businesses who lose out to cheap imports. Further, a recent study by the scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science found that more than a third of carbon dioxide emissions associated with the consumption of goods and services in many developed nations are emitted outside their borders.

Roughly 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person are consumed in the U.S. but produced somewhere else. In Europe the figure can exceed four tons per person. Suddenly the $10 pair of shoes is not so cheap.

When measuring cost, we must include these external hidden fees. To neglect to do so paints an inaccurate picture of the true expense of polluting our environment, ill-paying workers and damaging human health.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper

Disposable

As I watched a screening of Josh Fox’s documentary GasLand, about natural gas extraction by means of a hydraulic drilling process called “fracking,” it struck me just how often we allow short-term greed to stand in the way of what is best for everyone over the long term.

Natural gas has been billed as a “clean” form of energy. But, when it is extracted from the ground through fracking, it can contaminate nearby water supplies, pollute the air and lead to serious health impacts on the humans and animals who live nearby.

So many say they want clean energy–but what people really mean is they want clean energy as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Unfortunately everything has a cost. The question is when you pay. From wind to solar to coal, each form of energy comes with at least some sort of negative impact on the environment and to the people who live nearby.

The same goes for ensuring that everyone has a job at a livable wage–all well and good until it hits our finances in the short-term. We fail to see that what may appear to be the cheap way out ends up being far more costly over time. Our society is only as strong as the workers who support us.

What it means to be poor

March. 02, 2010

Are you poor if you earn enough money to buy food and keep a roof over your head, but not enough to pay for child care or essential prescription drugs? What about if you earn twice the official poverty rate, but, thanks to a high cost of living, are paying more than 50 percent of your income in rent? Should you be considered poor if you have to decide between food, rent and tuition?

The Obama administration today took the first steps toward creating an alternative means of defining poverty. In what has been called a “supplemental poverty measure” it will take into account not just the cost of food but also shelter, clothing, utilities and a cushion for unexpected expenses.

While it is a start in addressing the gross economic disparities in this nation, it will not replace the current measure of poverty, which has been used for nearly a half-century and measures cash income to determine eligibility for assistance programs. Instead it will provide another means by which to look at economic need. Under current guidelines, roughly 37 million people in this nation (13.2 percent)were living in poverty in 2008. That number would likely rise under the guidelines proposed by the Obama administration.

But, even if the new definition takes into account other living costs, it is hard to measure just what it means to be poor. Poverty means being forced to make tough choices between the necessities of life. It means making short-term choices out of desperation. And it means reduced options and fewer opportunities.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper