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Fracking: Poster Child for the Corporate Welfare State

Just about every week another story comes to my attention confirming the complete and total government-dependency of fracking — beloved of so many self-proclaimed “free market” advocates on the libertarian right. Something about eminent domain to build the pipelines, or liability caps for spills, or regulatory approval of unsafe pipelines superseding tort liability for negligence, and ad nauseam. I have another couple of them right here.

First, an article in Monthly Review (Lauren Regan, “Electronic Communications Surveillance,” July/August) describes the revolving door of personnel between federal law enforcement and the oil and gas industry’s private goon squads, and how “the U.S. government has colluded with private corporations and extractive industries to ratchet up their COINTELPRO-esque tactics upon climate justice activists.” The fossil fuel industries like to spin off private “security” and “public relations” firms (often staffed by retired federal and state cops) to spy on perfectly legal activist groups, infiltrate and disrupt them, and give intelligence to PR staff — who then cook up scary “fact sheets” to discredit activists to both media and law enforcement. Extractive corporations like TransCanada also give PowerPoint presentations to various levels of law enforcement advocating surveillance and prosecution of activists as “terrorists” — something the cops are all prepared to eat up, what with the proliferation of “Fusion Centers” looking for stuff to panic over.

The other item: According to a study by Katie Keranen of Cornell University, almost all of the 2,500 small earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past five years have been the result of high pressure wastewater injections related to fracking. The change of stress on existing fault lines from the injection of water can trigger them — with water travelling along fault lines and causing earthquakes up to 22 miles away. And other states — Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio — have also seen sharp rises in small earthquakes corresponding to the introduction of fracking there. Youngstown, Ohio — which hadn’t previously been bothered by earthquakes — was hit by 109 of them in 2011 following the creation of an injection well.

Somehow I’m guessing even the minor structural damage to homes from thousands of earthquakes in five states, breakage of possessions, and the like, would cumulatively amount to a significant sum of money — enough to have a real impact on the bottom line of an industry that has problems with financial sustainability as it is and is highly reliant on a bubble financing Ponzi scheme. And we haven’t even gotten into the poisoning of groundwater from injection of toxic chemicals into geologically unstable areas.

At every step of the way, the state steps in to subsidize the operating costs of the fossil fuel industry, steal land for it to build pipelines on, and indemnify it against liability through regulatory preemption of tort law or even flat out statutory caps on liability for damage. And yet self-proclaimed libertarians like the Koch Brothers and much of the right-wing libertarian think tank and periodicals establishment loudly proclaim their support for fracking and Keystone in the name of the “free market.”

Sorry, folks. Fracking and pipelines have nothing to do with the free market. They’re creations of the state from beginning to end.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

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Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

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