I finally got to watch “Gasland”, a 2011 nominee at the Academy Awards for best documentary. The accolade was well deserved. The film, directed by Josh Fox, tells a story of truly staggering proportions. In the search for sources of energy other than foreign oil, the United States (and Canada too, I later discovered) is increasingly turning to natural gas that is trapped in shale deposits (not to be confused with the natural gas that is produced after a bowl of chili; sorry, I know that was lame, but the eight year old inside me couldn’t resist). It turns out that where natural gas is concerned, North America is the Saudi Arabia of the world with a sea of natural gas trapped in massive shale deposits that cover entire states. All you have to do is “frack”. And what is fracking, you ask? A series of controlled explosions deep underground complemented by the injection of fluids with 596+ chemicals — many carciogenic, many others with unknown effects upon human beings and the environment — to force the natural gas which has been released from the shale up to the surface.
This is so insanely short-sighted that it is difficult to comprehend. Once you’ve extracted your share of natural gas, how the hell are you going to get all those bloody chemicals out of the ground again? This is like dumping red wine on a white carpet every time you want to get your child’s attention. It may work, but how do you propose to deal with the aftermath? (One of the most terrifying statistics presented in the film is that fracking has already contaminated more than 40 trillion gallons of water with those 596 chemicals. That’s a lot of red wine soaked into the carpet.)
The stuffed-suits from the satanic corporations that are despoiling the environment have an advantage over the public relations disaster of fractured pipelines spilling crude onto the tundra: out of sight, out of mind. And it works … for a little bit anyways. That is, until people discover that the water running from their taps is flammable, and until the hair on their pets starts falling out, and until they start suffering from migrane headaches and nausea. Twice anti-christ representatives come from the natural gas companies to tell these beleaguered residents that their water really is okay. Twice those representatives are then handed a glass of tap water by those beleaguered residents who then ask them to take a drink. And twice the shameless representatives decline.
I’ve talked in this blog about bullshit as something distinct from lying and arguably even more insidious. As Robert Fortner has written, “If Satan is the father of lies, he must also be the highpriest of bullshit.” Those executives aren’t lying about the water. They are just saying whatever they can to maximize returns to shareholders and line their own pockets. Even if that means injecting 596 chemicals into the earth in state after state after state.
Here’s the real problem though. It is easy to complain about evil energy companies (as I have been doing) and there is no doubt that what they are doing is often evil. But look, we want to have air-conditioned homes in Phoenix in August and toasty warm homes here in Edmonton in January. We want to go on long road trips to visit the in-laws for Thanksgiving and we want to eat kiwi fruit year round. We want 60 inch television screens and iPhones and plane flights to Hawaii and a hot cup of coffee and a thick burger ….
So where’s the energy going to come from?
I don’t have the answers. I’m just a Christian theologian, after all. But I do know this: if living as we do requires that some of us have flammable water, and environmentally induced cancers, and a destroyed environment, then we really have made a deal with the devil.