You are only as good as your worst operator

One of the more telling comments I have heard about fossil fuel extraction was made by a scientist who worked for one of the big companies. His comments apply to deep sea oil drilling, coal mining and fracking for natural gas. To paraphrase, he said the industry does its best to make sure the process is as safe as possible, but leaks do occur. Yet, even if the process could be made fully safe, you are only as good as your worst operator.

In my home state of North Carolina, there was a last minute attempt by some legislators to sneak language into another bill to circumvent the study process going on to make fracking as safe as possible before the state embarks down this path. I say last minute as the General Assembly finished their work for the year, unless a special session is called. The bill fortunately failed and the inserted language was one of the reasons cited. It is ironic that this Machiavellian attempt occurred on the day it was announced Halliburton, one of the largest fracking companies in the world, pleaded guilty to destroying evidence which showed they knew the cement casings on the BP Horizon (which dumped all of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico) needed more metal support than was given and contributed to the leakage and blow out. For more on the story, here is the link:

You may be interested in knowing it is the cement casings around the fracking housing that fail immediately 1 in 20 times according to another fracking industry expert and fail over time at an even higher rate. The industry knows about this and has for years, which is one reason Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, inserted langauge (in a Machiavellian way) into the 2005 Energy Policy Act to forego frackers from being subject to the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts and did not have to disclose chemicals used in fracking, the last item which was proposed last week in the bill defeated in North Carolina.

Please ponder this as you watch on the news about the natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico which was on fire and venting methane into our environment and leaking into the Gulf. We are focusing on the leakage into the water after the BP Horizon collapse, yet the bigger story to me is the leakage of methane into the air. Here is an article from Huffington Post: The reason for this blow out is still being determined. Yet, I am hopeful people outside of the companies involved will get to the bottom of this.

We need to rely on data from scientists and not those involved in the industry whose livelihood and profit margins are dependent on telling as good a story as they can. I say this as the fossil fuel industry does an excellent job of masking their troubles and especially their bad operators.  The industry has a Public Relations firm which is used to mask the real stories. This is the same PR firm the industry used to countervene the now apparent evidence that global warming is happening and is man-influenced. The real story is fracking is not safe and cannot be made to be perfectly safe. Yet, even if it were, it is only as safe as its worst operator. And, Halliburton has pleaded guilty to trying to hide this fact from the public.

I urge everyone to get all the facts and not someone’s spin of the facts. In my reading, I have noticed several websites that are geared around creating doubt about the arguments of fracking critics who are demanding more from the industry. I firmly believe when you look at the data, the prize is not worth the price everyone will pay. There is no question the industry will make money and the landowner who has the mineral rights will be compensated. But, everyone else will be left holding the bag due to a more toxic air and water supply, the resulting health deterioration of people and livestock, a degraded environment and less water to drink and use.

Yet, the supporters of the industry like to throw back as their final argument, but this industry is creating jobs. Yes, but so are others and they tend to be local jobs, not hired fracking guns from out-of-state. Just in North Carolina, there is a company in Chapel HIll called Strata Solar whose solar panel installers are flat out busy. California, if measured as a country, is the 7th largest producer of solar energy in the world. Appalachian State University is doing cool things with its Wind in Schools program and has completed eight wind mill projects. As of last fall, there are 75,000 wind energy jobs nationwide with wind energy in 39 states. As a case study, the retailer IKEA will be energy independent with wind and solar energy by 2020 and already has solar panels on top of 39 of its 43 stores in North America.

This is the direction we should go. The jobs are local, the industry is cleaner and renewable and safe for the environment. If I were the Governor of West Virginia, I would embrace this new path forward, plead for matching federal funding and train my coal miners to install solar panels and build windmills. If you tell a coal miner he or she need not go down in a hole and can make good money doing something better for all of us, I believe he or she would take that trade.

I would also remind you of the West Virginia coal mine disaster in the past two years, by a company whose owner had funded several politicians and judges to look the other way as he cut corners. You are only as good as your worst operator. And, one final comment courtesy of Bill Maher answering is own question – what do you hear when a windmill crashes into the sea – a splash. So, a bad windmill operator won’t be nearly as detrimental as a bad fossil fuel operator.