Sunday, July 27, 2008

Men: An Endangered Species

For many years, natural gas was mined, refined and sold to us to heat our homes nd cook our food. It took some doing — pipelines, compressor stations and the like — but it lay in large pools, often in coal beds, and not difficult to bring to market. The deeper, hard-to-get gas was not worth the trouble or expense to mine.

In the 1990s the CEO of Halliburton, Rich Cheney, foresaw the future … in his own image. He planned to: nominate himself for the Vice Presidency, move into the White House via the back door of the Supreme Court, invade Iraq, give Halliburton no-bid contracts, cut taxes for the ulttas, run the federal budget into steep deficit, and destroy the value of the dollar as measured against other major currencies. George would merely do as he was told. [Remember George reading in a classroom with school kids on the morning of 9-11?)

Back in the 90s, the Manchenean candidate figured that the price of natural gas could be quietly raised along with the price of oil, and it would be worth a little extra expense to get at the deeper, more difficult gas reserves. He tasked the Halliburton engineers & chemists to develop technology to get at the less accessible gas known to exist in north TX, WY, NM, and CO. In the area around Fort Worth TX, the Barnett Shale contained lots of methane, ethane, propane, butane and other natural gases in small nooks & crannies a mile or two under the surface of the Earth.

It took some doing to open up the bedrock so the gas could collect in large spaces from which it could be brought to the surface in commercial quantities. The method devised was called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short. The on-site drillers (the home team) pumped in one or two million gallons of water taken from a nearby stream or river along with a few ordinary chemicals such as propylene glycol (ordinary antifreeze), methanol (ordinary wood alcohol), 2-butoxyethanol (ordinary paint solvent, a few methylnapthalenes (ordinary polycyclic hydrocarbons used in the manufacture of everything from PVC pipe to toilet deodorant cakes). 40% to 70 % of the toxic slurry came back up as waste water in the operation with added arsenic, mercury, and sometimes radium and uranium.

Aha, now we’re getting somewhere. The April 2008 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives reports a study that associates chronic arsenic exposure from contaminated drinking water with lowered testosterone levels and ED (erectile dysfunction). Another study in the December 2007 edition reports that exposure of pregnant women to radiation results in fewer boy babies. How will we keep our macho image in the face of these revolting developments? Maybe we’ll just have to pass on gas drilling. Some things are just priceless.

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