Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Inside Look at “Food & Water Watch

Thoughts on a Food and Water Watch Conference Call

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

I was privileged to join a conference call conducted by the Food and Water Watch (FWW) on the 12th of November.  FWW is a non-governmental organization with members all over the U. S.  concerned with consumer food rights.  They devote much of their attention to fracking because of its potential effects on food and rural people.
This is an interesting angle to me, because as my regular readers know, I am a farmer very disturbed with the possible effects on my production and my family life.   Here are some of the highlights from the call:
  1. The area of land leased for fracking in the U. S. is now greater than the combined area of California and Florida! Here is a map of the areas believed to have potential.
  2. The size of the anti-fracking movement is constantly increasing and is reaching critical mass in certain areas.  In Colorado,  fracking bans have been passed in some towns, in New York and Maryland, the industry has been staved off, in New Jersey the situation is even more complicated.   Also, rapidly growing movements are occurring in developed, densely populated countries.  The correlation between education and opposing fracking is quite strong.  People with foresight, oppose it, unlike people who choose to oppose it after they get hurt.
  3. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of FWW, listed numerous new organizations including California Chefs Against Fracking (New York State already has such an organization.)  Another especially important organization recently formed is the Americans Against Fracking coalition.  Its members include Civic, Faith, Outdoors (hunting, fishing, etc.) and Social Justice groups.  It has pages of member groups.
About half of the conference time was devoted to questions submitted by the callers:
  1. “What about the claim that fracking alleviates economic hardship?” Take a moral stand for the future – the long term consequences are more important than any short term gains such as jobs and royalties.  
  2.  “What about the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement?” This is an agreement between 11 Pacific rim countries, including the U. S., to improve trade.  Negotiations are secret.  For fracking, this could mean an increase in the export of liquid natural gas, particularly to Japan and China, as well as a business-oriented supra-national control of safety and environmental restraints.  This is a huge issue with labor, because it favors the 1%, not the 99%.  Foreign nations can sue U. S. states for hurting profits.  Although Congress is constitutionally empowered to regulate foreign trade, the Obama Administration wants to “fast track” the agreement, avoiding Congress.
  3. “Why so many energy advertisements?” The consensus was that fracking has run into many unanticipated technical problems with the change to “extreme energy” extraction under very difficult conditions.   (I feel this is because the technology requires increased pressures, increased volumes and new chemicals, foreign manufacture pipes, etc., and because they did not go through a “scale up” phase with research along each step, like a normal industry.  Nor did they see the advent of public awareness of Climate Change.)  They can not change these realities now, and can only counter them with “public relations.”  They work like the tobacco companies advertisements to increase doubt about true facts and science.
  4. “What about community disruptions?” The media, which is largely captivated by advertisements paid for by the fracking companies, has little to say about anything but the environmental problems.   They do not discuss the declining quality of life in rural neighborhoods, or the roads, congestion, noise, lights at night, odors, worry, lying land men, overbearing agents to deal with in placement of pads and roads and pipelines, accidents, interference with normal rural activities such as farming, hunting and fishing, recreation (in parks and elsewhere).  What about workers with money, but with no local social connections?  This results in drunkenness, fighting, and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (up 62% in one area).  It was stated that fracking workers have seven times greater fatality rates than all industries combined.   Communities are torn apart, and while a few people receive royalties, problems are distributed to everyone.
I have written before about “externalized costs,”  real costs of an industry that the industry does not pay for, but are incurred by people receiving no benefit.   WE are no strangers to this reality in West Virginia and Appalachia in general. It is the hallmark of the extractive industry.  It makes people passive, devalues land and it makes you the butt of bad jokes.  It is happening again.  This time it will happen to a lot of other people and places, too, if it is not stopped.