Earth Doctor / Climate Troubadour

Better Keep It Clean

You may like coffee, and you may like tea,
Hurricane or home brew, it’s the same to me.
You ask anyone to validate:
They’re all made out of water, and they all taste great.

You’ve got to be some kind of crazy fool
To mix it up with mercury and fossil fuel,
Arsenic and tar sands, and benzene.
You get them in your water and it won’t get clean.

There is no dispute, there isn’t any substitute.
Whether you are blue, or red or green,
If you want to keep your water, better keep it clean.                          

Don’t want to lose it through a fracking drill,
Don’t want to lose it with a pipeline spill
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Never, ever gonna get it clean again.

It may be preaching to the choir,
But I don’t want to light my sink on fire.
This isn’t any way to treat your friends,
Mixing up their water with carcinogens.

You know the fracking industry today
Has bought the universities, and the EPA.
They keep telling me it’s all just fine,
But all that they are watching is their bottom line.

It may be preaching to the choir,
But I don’t want to light my sink on fire.
You may be blue, or red, or green.
But if you want to keep your water, better keep it clean.
If you want to keep your water, better keep it clean!

Words & music ©Doug Hendren 2013

What’s it about? In the continuing pursuit of cheap fossil fuel energy, we are taking foolish chances with our water supply. This is true of oil pipelines as well as hydrofracking for gas or oil. Oil pipelines: Of note, the proposed route for the controversial Keystone XL “tar sands” pipeline from Alberta, B.C. to Texas goes over the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies nearly a third of all US crop irrigation. The smaller, original Keystone pipeline leaked no fewer than 14 times (!) in its first year of operation. Among other things, these pipelines contain tar, sulphur, arsenic and mercury, which are not things we want to mix with our drinking water. The coal industry has chalked up two major disasters in the first two months of 2014:  A huge chemical spill into the West Virginia water supply, and 82,000 tons of coal ash into water supplies in Virginia and North Carolina. Testing the latter shows high levels of arsenic, chromium and lead. Hydrofracking (for either gas or oil) poses numerous risks to our vital drinking water. For starters, the practice consumes an enormous amount of fresh water, millions of gallons of water per well, permanently lost. Some US counties in New Mexico and Colorado, with limited water supplies, have banned fracking outright for this reason. Fracking fluid contains many toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. Numerous reports are available on the sickening and deaths of pets, farm animals, and wild animals exposed to these fluids. Even many people, trying hard to avoid exposure, have experienced disturbing illnesses. Petroleum Institute spokespeople claim (correctly) that fracking fluid is “99.5% safe”. But think about it. Or as Bill McKibben says, “do the math!” One half of one percent of 5 million gallons is still 25,000 gallons of toxic chemicals per well. That’s a good-sized swimming pool full of poison. Not very reassuring. What comes up from fracking wells is toxic, too. Along with natural gas (mostly methane), back flow from wells includes radioactive substances, heavy metals, and known carcinogens including benzene, toluene and xylene. If a well casing leaks, the fracking fluid as well as methane and other toxins can get into the water supply. When this happens, methane can come out of the faucet, enabling people to “light their sinks on fire”. How often do the well casings leak?  Although relatively uncommon, it happens. Some estimates indicate about 6% of gas fracking wells leak in their first year. Given a total of about 2 million fracking wells in the US, that would mean 120,000 wells that leak. Though the industry claims safety, citing a 60+ year history of fracking, the vast majority of wells have been drilled since 2005, when Vice-President Dick Cheney helped to pass the “Halliburton Loophole”, changing the Clean Water Act to exempt natural gas drillers from public disclosure of fracking chemicals.  We therefore do not have long-term studies to establish whether it is safe or not.  To the contrary, there is evidence of very significant threats to our vital water supplies. What is “Frackademia”? This is the name given to what is essentially fake, or intentionally misleading “science” done at American universities, paid for by the petroleum industry. Astonishingly, as of 2013 most American universities do not require disclosure of the financial interests or sources of funding of professors on their faculties. As a result, publications now coming from our universities may often be pure propaganda. Fortunately, journalists are beginning to expose this serious conflict of interest.  The University of Texas last year fired two faculty members who were found to be “frackademics”. We will ultimately learn to do without fossil fuels altogether. We cannot do without water. Better keep it clean.

Addendum: As of 2024, the vast scale of leaking and abandoned fracking wells is just beginning to come to light. They are costly to cap, and the tab is by an large left for the public to pick up. There are now more than 3 million wells all over the United States, and “Nobody really knows what to do.”

Well-water contamination found in 4 states.  Associated Press report, January 5, 2014
Gasland (documentary film).
Gasland II (the sequel, targeting the fracking industry’s influence on the US government).
Richard Heinberg (2013) Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future.
Sandra Steingraber (2011) Raising Elijah: Protecting our Children in a Time of Environmental Crisis.

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