Saturday, June 25, 2016

Feds Approve More Fracking off California Coast

Sounds horrible, doesn't it?

On May 27, 2016 two bureaus of the federal government - BOEM and BSEE - both tasked with protection of offshore waters and the promotion of energy from those same waters, announced approval for well stimulation treatment (WST) to increase the extraction efficiency of existing oil wells off the California coast.  Most of these wells have been producing oil for many years but are now faced with depletion rates that make further extraction unfeasible unless they are allowed to use newer techniques and technologies.  Among those techniques are different forms of what is commonly known as "fracking."  As most people concerned with environmental issues know, fracking is potentially dangerous and harmful to the environment if improperly regulated.  We also know that drilling in ocean waters is fundamentally more difficult and dangerous than drilling on land.  That said, it bears examination as to whether the concerns of those wishing to prevent further oil extraction are not exaggerated, in this case.

Some of the deepest roots of today's environmental movement trace themselves to the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill the 1969, when nearly 100,000 barrels of oil polluted the shores of Santa Barbara to Ventura and the Channel Islands, killing thousands of sea life and blocking the enjoyment of the natural world.  It remains the third largest oil spill in US history, after Exxon Valdez and the Gulf.  The disaster also gave rise to the Clean Water Act, the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and numerous environmental advocacy groups throughout America.  These groups and agencies continue to ensure that corporations comply with environmental protections and do a great deal to both educate the public and protect those public lands that we are all entitled to enjoy.

More importantly, perhaps, the consciousness of America was greatly impacted.  A sudden realization took hold of an increasingly large portion of people that America was beset by a different sort of threat, a potential suicidal urge that would destroy the quality of life to the extent that we are in danger from the way our society operates and produces wealth.  The oil spill and many similar disasters changed perceptions of our responsibilities and altered our view of values long accepted as good and virtuous: that the pursuit of wealth is the highest good; that the natural resources of the world are ours to exploit and to use in any way we see fit; that the natural world is our servant and obliged to disgorge all its wealth, whenever we call, for our benefit.  Those assumptions no longer have any legitimacy, even within the oil industry.

The industry has been turned on its head.  It is now accepted that some kind of carbon tax, which accurately costs the pollution created by extraction and burning, is inevitable.  It has long been known that most conventional reserves have been depleted and it is only a matter of years before shale deposits - the same that must be extracted using fracking - will soon be exhausted.  A cross current of objectives and reality occurs: while trying to exploit as much as possible, the oil industry is preparing for the day when their industry must inevitably and is already, changed.  Every drop of oil is now harder to get and because capital investment costs are so high, the need to extract every drop to pay off debt becomes an enormous pressure to keep drilling for harder to get oil.  Unfortunately, as more oil reaches market under these economic pressures, the price of oil drops creating more financial pressure to keep fracking and drilling.  And to this increasing pressure from government agencies to enforce strict safety measures and increasing pressure from the environmental movement to stop drilling altogether, the oil industry is headed for oblivion.

Government policy has a two headed dragon to contend with here: On the one hand, there must be strict rules to prevent further accidents and protect the environment but on the other hand, the resources of the natural world do contribute to the economic well being of its citizens.

Which bring us to the approval for drilling off the coast of California.  The approval to use fracking by BOEM and BSEE, limit the approval to existing wells that are already producing oil but at decreasing levels - 42 wells to be exact.  The agency expects the industry to use WST at about 5 wells, according to their reports.  There is an obvious conclusion to be made here: the oil to be extracted doesn't amount to much and the request for fracking techniques is merely to give a few existing wells a few extra years of production so that as much profit can be had as possible.

But in granting license to the industry to use WST on a few existing wells, what does the government demand in return?  According to the BOEM:

An Environmental Impact Study must be prepared;
Companies must provide bonds to cover financial loss;
Drilling is limited to existing locations previously approved by the government;
There must full and complete compliance with safety regulations and environmental protections;
Techniques and technologies used must comply with federal and state standards and are subject to periodic inspection and improvement, if necessary;
There must be fair market value returned to taxpayers for the right to drill offshore;
And, in the event of a spill, liability for clean up is laid strictly upon the industry.

The point of all this discourse is to illustrate that while some industrial practices like fracking can be potentially dangerous, the government is vigilant.  There are obstacles that the industry must overcome if they want and need to do this sort of production.  In other words, the government is doing its part.

Which begs the question: Are we doing our part?  It's not enough to protest a rule or a process that is already underway.  There are many opportunities for citizens to have their voices heard during these hearings that lead to rule making but they require the same vigilance we demand of our government.  Howling before the fact is what matters, not complaining afterwards.  People may protest that their lives are busy and it's hard to know which agency to lobby and how can anyone find out what's being planned before it happens, anyway?

The answer is simple: join an nonprofit environmental organization that speaks to the issues you want addressed: There are hundreds to choose, from the Sierra Club to a local beach protection nonprofit.

Follow this link to discover some of the better known organizations that can use your support and are committed to protecting the lands and waters we all share and revere:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Is the 2nd Amendment Relevant?

The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to own and bear arms - for recreation and personal protection, the Supreme Court now says, an opinion penned by Anton Scalia. However, the original intent was to provide a resource for State militias, regulated and controlled by those States, in order to contribute to a National Army when needed. Neither of those rationales are true any longer. First of all, the US maintains a standing military force, rendering the need for state militias moot. Since there is no longer any need for state militias to provide soldiers, the Court had to come up with the rationales of, one, recreation and, two, self protection, despite the fact that neither is mentioned in the 2nd Amendment.

The notion of recreational use of guns has always been assumed, as most people used shotguns and squirrel rifles for hunting in the early days of the Republic and brought those same guns when called upon by their states to form militias for Indian uprisings, emergencies, etc.  Indeed, many southern states were unable to arm their early volunteers from lack of a decent arms industry and had to rely upon a volunteer's personal weapons to fill out their ranks with something other than pikes and axes, in the first year of the Civil War.  As the war progressed the arms industry caught up with the needs of the various armies and provided rifled muskets that were becoming common throughout the world.  However - and this is important - after the war, none of these weapons were allowed to be kept by discharged soldiers.  They were only allowed to keep their original hunting guns and sidearms for officers.  This prohibition of keeping military weapons out of the hands of discharged soldiers has been in effect ever since that time.  There was a simple reason for that prohibition: the national government wanted to eliminate the possibility of another Civil War or any other uprising that could tear the country apart again.

Of course, by the end of the war the gun industry had grown so much that maintaining that market share through private purchase to replace the large government contracts it was going to lose become paramount in their plans.  Guns and rifles were produced for protection against Indians and outlaws in the West and against gangs formed by and against immigrants in the urban centers of the East.  It became the goal of the gun industry to promote the idea of self protection and continuing conflicts between various groups in order to keep gun sales growing.  And the government still bought weapons, of course.  Weapons for the Indian Wars, smaller wars for expansion in the Pacific that culminated against the Spanish Empire, and for protection of borders and for the use of various police agencies throughout the country.

Ironically, the notion of self protection against that same peace keeping government, gained increasing currency after the Civil Rights movement when increasing numbers of radical conservatives and white racists began accumulating military style weapons to protect themselves against what they viewed as the encroachment of tyrannical governments imposing its views upon their lives.  It was no longer the belief that government would protect people against criminals and other potential foreign enemies. It became the belief that government, itself, was the enemy.  It hardly matters whether this view is true or not, it only matters that some people believe it is true.  As various groups like the Aryan Nation and older groups like the KKK regained popularity they began to accumulate weapons for protection against an imagined tyranny or worse, a race war, or both.  Those sentiments have now metastasized to include anti-gay groups, anti-immigrant groups, and radical religious groups expecting a coming Apocalypse.

It's only a small step in logic to combine the two reasons of recreation and self protection to rationalize owning not just squirrel rifles and shotguns but military style weapons whose only purpose is to kill other human beings and create mayhem on a scale that threatens the security of local and state governments. These are clearly offensive weapons designed for war and insurrection. The nature of these weapons pose a direct threat to the national government since they can be used effectively in military styled attacks against a civilian target in order to cause mayhem and disorder. It is the government's responsibility to protect its citizens from attack, to maintain order and to preserve a social system that benefits all and not just a few. Therefore, a ban on military style weapons protects not only the public welfare but is also a prudent defense against insurrection. And if any doubt that insurrection and rebellion do not pose a threat remember that this country was torn apart in civil war in the mid 19th century, and its effects still linger in bigotry and racism throughout the nation. Weapons control is imperative to preserving our national integrity and furthering public safety.

The rationale that the 2nd Amendment protects an imagined right of the people to kill other people and throw parts of the country into chaos is now what underlies the belief that ownership of all weapons should be protected by the Constitution and any use of those weapons is justified, no matter the consequences to security, other peoples' liberties, and social order.  Its reductio ad absurdum justifies every negative consequence in the pursuit of one right.

In other words, and to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: "Shall all the laws, but one, go unenforced and the government, itself, go to pieces, so that one law be preserved?"