The Fracked Looking Glass

Fracking fluid pond.
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If you go to a certain room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’ll find “Andromeda and the Sea Monster”, a white marble statue. Her face caught in an ethereal gaze, she has the look of a woman who has never given herself to a man consensually, and she seems worn down through years of forcible whoring. It isn’t clear whether the shadows of natural light  across her face are meant to assist how brilliant her sorrow appears, of if I had simply caught her painful face at the right moment sometime near one in the summer afternoon.


The sea monster is horrible. It appears with a hint of scaled wing right beneath its fat and pestilent neck riding up from the sea onto the rock where she is bound looking up an away. Andromeda and her sexually ripe flesh seem an instant from a final vile rape that heightens the terrible thought that her beauty—like some forgotten star in a part of the sky no one looks at anymore—has the same trivial significance to time as a match-flare in a thick fog on some decrepit peer in an abandoned part of the world.


A number of people feel the same way about America and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as they do about Andromeda and the Sea Monster.


Americans were largely introduced to the fracked looking glass in 2010 when director Josh Fox released a documentary called Gasland. His film became a sensation because of a few scenes that showed flammable tap water (verified in other places since the documentary) and communities struggling with the grim reality that their choice to lease their land to natural gas companies was a seriously bad one, but only because they did not know that the hydraulic fracturing chemicals used in the process that is now commonly known as “fracking” could migrate underground and enter into their own tap water.


The idea that frack chemicals can migrate underground has been hotly contested, but seems more and more likely as studies emerge linking fracking wells to the presence of certain chemicals in tap water. Many other studies have emerged that have stated the opposite.


Right now, the images of burning faucets and hair melted off animals’ bodies seem anecdotal, and isolated. However, the fracking industry has been receiving massive attention from celebrity activists and the scientific community alike–again, some for and many against.


In recent news, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has considered a plan to allow drilling in a few counties along the Pennsylvania border of New York state. This has prompted several protests and loud condemnation from groups like New Yorkers Against Fracking, Frack Free Nation, Don’t Frack With NY!, and a new short film by Fox called “The Sky Is Pink,” along with a followup documentary to Gasland for HBO.


The frack debate might read like lines from a Maynard Keenan screenplay about massive oil-drum gas-chemical-drooling frack well monsters who terrorize Americans by undulating and jamming their massive dorks into nubile lands. And horrible imagery like that might be why so many artists, celebrities, and regular people have gotten behind this national protest.


For instance, last month Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon announced the launch of Artists Against Fracking on the Jimmy Fallon Show. AAF at its start had 130 artists signed on. And, Alec Baldwin held a screening for Gasland, which focuses in large part on Dimock, Pennsylvania and other communities effected by natural gas drilling.


Mark Ruffalo and others protest fracking.

The message is relatively simple: with much of the science “apparently” still out on fracking, and so many indications of contamination, and probable contamination, why would we allow fracking anywhere?


Drilling near New York City will be dangerous for several reasons. People tend to riot, for one, when their peace is ruined, let alone when chemicals start causing mass obscene health problems. It does not take much imagination to wonder how violent and vengeful a city like New York might get should problems arise—and when they revolt and stomp out those companies like a dog whipping around a dead skunk like a rag doll, it will likely be too late to do anything, because the poison will be in the ground.


Fox and Mark Ruffalo, an actor and inveterate activist against fracking, exhibit a wary earnestness subtled by their grim cause. It betrays the secrecy that they believe what they speak, and have thought enough about the prospect of expansive fracking to carry true horror in their minds, which again seem hardened by the sentence no one in their shoes wants to admit: it’s too late. Right now, it is not.


Websites like Don’t Frack With NY! have gained a large following online and have been an effective tool for demonstrating to people what exactly anti-fracking groups are protesting against.


A ticker in the top right of the webpage counts up how long Dimock, PA has been without clean, drinkable water. It’s titled “DAYS CABOT HAS DENIED WATER TO DIMOCK FRACKING VICTIMS”. Cabot Oil & Gas is being accused of ruining the local water supply of the Pennsylvanian citizens in the Dimock area after leasing land and conducting natural gas drilling. The residents have dangerous levels of explosive methane in their drinking water.


As of this writing eight months, six days, 11 hours, 11 minutes and 10 seconds have passed since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed Cabot to stop mandatory deliveries of free clean water to individuals with contaminated well water.


In addition to the actual spread of fracking, the natural gas industry has spread cheap slogans to generate doubt in the science backing up the anti-fracking lobby with the same kind of passive wording that cigarette companies used to use to cast doubt on claims that their cigarettes were harmful and addictive.


A postcard from Independent Oil & Natural Gas was distributed in April, according to a Politics on the Hudson article, and read: “In real life, reading from a script doesn’t make you a scientist or geologist,” with mock Polaroid images of Josh Fox, Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger. The top of the postcard reads: “Welcome to Hollywood, NY/Where the line between fact and fiction is blurred.”


It is a story not well covered by newspapers–that defamatory, gibberish-filled skeptical attack advertisements with a few vague phrases can cast terminal doubt on pure science and logic. One serious failing of American media today is that instead of investigating the validity of two opposing statements (“Fracking is not harmful,” and “Fracking is very harmful”), they just report that there happen to be two statements.


If this issue is not addressed effectively, it could  be a hard thing to explain to future generations: why they have to deal with real life Gorgons and other monstrous birth defects when it should have been known all along that pumping seriously toxic chemicals into the ground is not that great of an idea, particularly when there are other ways to get energy since we have a billion-year light bulb glaring in the sky nearly each day.

by & filed under Science News, Science, Earth & Stars.