A fracking mess

What the frack??*

That might be what well-water users ask when, without warning, water starts jetting out of toilet bowls and showers emit foul odors and horses won’t drink the water. Or if your house explodes. The chief suspect: “Fracking,” the natural gas industry’s slang for hydraulic fracturing.


A natural gas well in action, more or less

Hydraulic fracturing helps gas wells maximize their productivity, squeezing every last “gasp” of gas out the rock below.

NPR describes the process: “Hydraulic fracturing allows drillers to dramatically increase production. The chemicals pumped underground with the water help drillers bore through the hard rock. The pressure used is tremendous — about 300 times a typical garden hose. That creates small cracks in the rock that allow gas to escape.”

A few years back, certain White House friends of the energy industry managed to loosen up a few regulations, including the use or even disclosure of use of certain chemicals in extracting fossil fuels from the earth below. Now, gas drilling operations aren’t even required to tell what chemicals are used to pump underground to help drillers bore through the rock to force natural gas out of the rock.

Scientific American with Pro Publica writes about a well that yielded benzene, a chemical contaminant that forced Perrier water off store shelves a decade or so ago.

The drillers pump this chemical-laced water at pressures much higher than that of a garden hose (household pressure is typically 60 pounds per square inch [psi]; municipal fire hydrants are typically more like 200 psi). Imagine a power washer on steroids pumping chemically altered water into your house’s plumbing. Sounds like fun, huh?

exploded_houseThis of course was the result of getting government off small business’s backs and helping regular Joes help reduce our energy dependence on foreign oil, etc. Which is great. Except when there are side-effects such as abdominal bloating, rashes or exploding houses.

A house exploded in 2007 in Northeast Ohio, and the ensuing investigation by the Ohio EPA (ohio_methane_report_080901) found quantities of methane in the water, pointing to a nearby gas well as the likely source. Problems have cropped up around the country from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Texas.

Welcome to the World of Unintended Consequences —  or maybe more appropriately, the Theater of “So What?”

A fight in Congress is brewing over whether – or how – to protect aquifers and their users from the threat of contamination from fracking or other mining and drilling techniques.

This should be fun — pitting real Texas ranchers against Texas ranchers. Until then, take advice from the Dave Matthews Band: Don’t Drink the Water.

* “Frack” is also a euphemism made famous, more or less, by the recently concluded Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica to skirt censorship with a sanitized version of a better-known “f”-word.






Like a bridge over troubled waterboardings

Oh, the fisticuffs over “to waterboard or not to waterboard” have already broken out:

NPR’s headline says Torture Debate Ties Washington in Partisan Knots.

With both sides of the, ahem, debate ratcheting up the rhetoric, another ugly series of investigations (or persecutions, depending on your point of view) is becoming more and more likely.

We’d all be better off if the respective parties could muzzle Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi, but I guess it’s too late for that.

Tortured context

I don’t know if you had a chance to see the he said (Barack Obama)/he said (Dick Cheney) media-fed free-for-all regarding “extreme” interrogation techniques, aka waterboarding, walling or “other” vays of gettink eenformation. Clearly, Dick doesn’t believe waterboarding is torture, or if he does he isn’t about to admit it to anyone.

And at one point, Cheney trotted out the old chestnut of Saddam Hussein’s “known” association with al-Qaida. What, no Yellow Cake?

Funny seeing Dick Cheney in public more in the last five months than in the previous eight years, or so it seems.

It’s even funnier to hear someone politicizing national security complaining that his counterparts are politicizing national security. What in the name of Freedom Fries is going on here?

Coming up tonight: Shouting Heads go noggin-to-noggin over who was righter or wronger, because I’m louder and more obtuse.

Now playing in the Interrogation Room

I recently had a conversation on the phone with a Vietnam Vet. We were talking about current events and he said the whole “torture” or extreme interrogation techniques used to question terrorist suspects really struck a nerve with him. He said he was involved in prisoner interrogations while deployed in Vietnam. And he said torture techniques do not work. The prisoner will say anything to get you to stop. The prisoner will say what he thinks you want to hear. After a while, say 150 times, it becomes an exercise in sadism.

I can’t verify that his story is absolutely true, but he sounded authentic. And he’s definitely of the right demographic to be what he says he is.

His take added to the volumes of testimony from military and CIA experts who almost (almost) universally agree that torture (almost) never works, and that there are other, more effective ways to extract information from evildoers – Jack Bauer’s technique notwithstanding.

Pick your favorite Hollywood torture scene: Marathon Man (“Is it safe?”); Lethal Weapon, Casino Royale. So we have a little waterboarding (or a 168 times) here, a gunshot to the leg there (just saw The Hunt for Red October on TV again), a little pressure on an open wound (Jack Bauer seems to favor this). So how come “contractors” were doing the interrogating instead of the official folks?   At some point reality blurs with fiction. Which really happened and which didn’t?

Olivier gave new meaning to “drilling down for more information” in Marathon Man:

What did Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it?

Some political hair-splitters, as opposed to terrorist-splitters, are complaining that Nancy and company knew about the waterboarding as far back as 2002, and now there’s the back-and-forth of so-and-so misled us, so-and-so’s a liar, liar, pants on fire.

It would be nice if just once, somebody had the courage to say, “Well, we really screwed up here, and we’re sorry.” Instead we have posturing and territorial, um, watering.

Welcome to the Great Recession

If you think the economy is turning the corner, guess again. Unless by “turning the corner” you mean “stepping off the abyss.”

Now that GM and Chrysler have announced massive dealership closures, on top of the plant closures, guess what that means? Yep, more joblessness. It means more people competing for lower-wage jobs, more people going on food stamps, Medicaid and other assistance, more houses foreclosing and more bankruptcies.

It means people who used to make $75,000 a year are fighting for jobs that pay $35,000 and bumping out people who used to make $60,000 a year out to scrap for the $20,000 a year jobs. It means no health insurance because you’re not quite broke enough to qualify for Medicaid or food stamps but the debt just keeps piling up. It means if you cash in your 401(k) (Bad idea anyway), it’s worth maybe HALF what it was two years ago. It means an entire new underclass, the Nouveau Broke – the ones with 15- to 30-year careers that are now in ruins without many promising prospects.

Take journalists, for instance. How do you reinvent yourself? There are only so many PR/marketing jobs out there, and they’re often the first once to get cut when the economy goes south — making matters even worse.

It means middle-age family guys moving in with their retired parents and the crushing humiliation that comes along with it. It means millions of lives interrupted, plans put on hold, homes lost, careers dashed, college aspirations crushed.

A lot of good a tax break  does if you’re making so little money that you can’t pay your mortgage/rent and credit card bills, and God help you if you have car payments too.

Disillusioned? Bitter? Maybe, but really, I’m more interested in just clinging to what I have long enough to survive this long, long, long downturn.

How about you?

Reports of Onion’s death are slightly exaggerated

Word that the celebrated fake newspaper, The Onion, was on its last legs was slightly off-target, as CEO Steve Hannah said to staffers in a memo.

onion.onnSome bloggers (but not here! We’re far too smart for that) were fueling speculation that the Onion was about to cease its print editions and join the Post-Intelligencer in cybernetic existential suspension. (If it comes out of my inkjet, is it real?)

Not so, said an indignant Hannah in Ad Age.

“The stuff is speculative, stupid, inaccurate, sourced by people who know next to nothing about our company and can’t pick up a telephone to call, irresponsible and more than a little mischievous,” he wrote. “Other than that, it’s Pulitzer-quality reporting.”

Readers, meanwhile, expressed shock and dismay to learn that some of the news in The Onion has been, well, made up.

See this recent dispatch from the Peabody-winning ONN.

Hot Apple Twitters, anyone?

They’re fresh out of the deep-fryer, kids!

appletwitThe daily rumors of Who Will Buy Twitter have turned, for now, to Apple. Google and Facebook have been among other would-be suitors for Twitter, one of the darlings of the social media glitterati despite its penchant for hemorrhaging  cash faster than you can say securitized debt obligation.

You can bet Apple won’t get anywhere past hello with Twitter unless Steve Jobs and company think they can make a buck off this thing (See: iTunes).

Blog maven Kara Swisher says ’tain’t so, so it must be it ain’t.

Now I like to whisper Tweet nothings as much as the next guy, but I’m not betting the farm on Twitter’s blockbuster success, or even survival. Besides, the farm is already mortgaged to the hilt and cash flow ain’t so great right now.