Garden Night + What We’re Reading

Join us tomorrow evening (Wed. 7/10, 5pm–sunset) for our regular stewardship time at Waters Garden!

What We’re Reading

Pete’s review of the “remarkable” book Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It by Justin Nobel:

Most people are aware of the danger of continuing the use of fossil fuels, the resulting release of CO2, the acceleration of climate change and the disasters that come with that. But Justin Nobel investigates the largely hidden reality that “drilling brine”, the mix of water, sand, chemical brews, and rock debri that spews out the the drill holes, is radioactive—sometimes 5, 10, 100, 1000 times more radioactive than is legal. This glowing soup is largely left to pool on the ground, soak into soils, run down creeks or evaporate into the air, leaving behind radioactive dusts that scatter across rural landscapes and end up detectable in crops, livestock and humans.

Even more frightening is the fact that oil and gas, when piped miles away, build up scale in the pipes that has to be removed. This work is done by hand, by small contractors, who have no idea that the scale has greatly multiplied the radioactive by-product as it settles out. This scale is hauled away to dumps, mostly unregulated, exposing countless workers, their families and neighbors to radiation and the subsequent cancers it causes.

How could this be? Why are trucks barreling down the road filled with high levels of radon and its breakdown products, lead, bismuth, and polonium, etc., not even marked or identified?? Why is this not regulated and monitored?

Loyd Bentsen. The former Texas senator, now deceased, sought to protect the oil industry from regulation and lawsuit and in 1980 managed to amend a hazardous waste bill, to exclude “drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, and production of crude oil or natural gas or geothermal energy.” Just like that!

For us city dwellers, fracking and oil well drilling is mostly out of sight and out of mind. But criss-cross this country, and once off the interstate, oil wells and frack pads abound, and each is disgorging toxic radioactive waste into the environment. Some of the brines are spread on public roads to de-ice (in winter) and “keep the dust down” (in summer). Across the country, the most hazardous wastes are pumped underground where they come into contact with fresh water aquifers and leak into streams and lakes.

Justin does a terrific job of talking to people and letting them tell their stories: mainly frontline workers, but also scientists, regulators, first responders and doctors. So often, rural workers accept these jobs because there is nothing else available, and the pay is better than most jobs. But they are not warned about radiation, given protective clothing, or advised to keep the dangerous and filthy work clothes out of the family washing machine.

It is difficult for most people to believe, because of the delay in effect, that radiation poisoning is taking place. But ingestion of radioactive materials, once it is inside of you, relentlessly gives off alpha particles that interact with cell DNA and can cause damage including mutations, some of which cause cancer.

Can you prove it? People try. Epidemiologists have compelling data, but most affected workers are stuck with life threatening or life ending cancers, out of work, and often without health care. It seems that workers’ lives are considered disposable, as there are others waiting and willing to take up this gruesome, secretive work of poisoning people, the land and water.

“Many people tell me there is nothing to see here, the levels aren’t that bad, but unfortunately this is the same thing the oil and gas industry’s shadow network of radioactive waste workers have often been told. So they work on, shoveling and scooping waste, mixing it with lime and coal ash and ground up corn cobs in an attempt to try to lower the radioactivity levels, without appropriate protection, sometimes in just t-shirts, eating lunch and smoking cigarettes and occasionally having bar-b-que cookouts in this absurdly contaminated work space.” (from Intro)

Read this book and let it spur us on to regulate fossil fuel production and to limit our own consumption, which in the end pays for and drives the industry.

Nobel’s book comes out of a 20-month Rolling Stone investigation that won an award from the National Association of Science Writers. It is available to order online. I also have a copy I can loan.