Gassing the American People

Gas warfare was invented and used by both sides during WWI.  The French used it first.  Eventually, mustard gas became the preferred method of mayhem.  It had little smell, worked slowly, and terrorized the troops.  Poison gas was the first instrument of war to be termed a weapon of mass destruction.

Gas warfare was outlawed in 1925, but the prohibition has been regularly disregarded by warring nations, including our own.   Over the 4 years of WWI, casualties numbered over one million, with about 91,000 soldiers, less than 10 percent, dying directly.  The long-term death count from later health complications is unknown.

Last year the World Health Organization said over 7 million people died from air pollution, making it the largest killer on the planet–killing almost 80 times more people in one year than died of poison gas over the 4 years of WWI.

But don’t expect a crisis call from the ruling class, for the source of this poison is overwhelmingly fossil fuels, and the owners of this wealth have bought the future, both here and across the globe with money and monopoly advertising.  It is the reactionary’s siren call: “There is no alternative,” reformulated in the present case, as “Natural gas is our bridge fuel.”

This fabricated sense of inevitability, coupled with the industry’s propaganda machine dedicated to creating doubt about the science of climate change and public health consequences of fossil fuel dependency, is just dull witted enough to be embraced by the corporate press and the stasis seeking ruling class.

The industry insists upon proof about future impacts, which it knows is an impossible test since the only proof of the future is the future itself.  Still it is a useful stratagem borrowed from the cigarette industry.  In this case, it protects concentrated wealth and shelves renewable energy alternatives such as solar.   As wealth knows, the chief disadvantage of solar is that it is free and abundant.

Recently, on the battlefield that is Colorado, citizens, with an infrared camera, captured gas releases from a fracking operation inside the city of Greeley, next to a public school.   The images are Grade-B-movie creepy, almost reminiscent, one could imagine, of a mustard gas cloud in WWI, only this time we are poisoning our own—slowly.  Earthworks has a growing library of these toxic releases as captured in infrared on its website.

The reaction from the Greeley operator, Synergy Resources, was predictable.  First they said the film was a phony.  It had been doctored, said they.   Then, they admitted to the gassing, and supported citizen insistence that the state investigate.  The state did and found the leaks to be a normal part of fracking operations, nothing to be upset over, cooed they.

An interesting sidebar to all this is that only weeks earlier the COO of Synergy, Craig Rasmuson, in his best we’re-just-people-like-you imitation, said before a suspicious small town audience in Timnath, CO, that Synergy would do everything in its power to protect their health and property and that he wouldn’t be afraid to live next to a gas well, and had in fact done so.  Following his aw-shucks performance, he drove away in a Bentley ragtop. The car’s starting price is over $200,000.

The promise of no harm, don’t worry it’s safe, is the industry’s favorite trope, even as events in the real world continue to give the lie to this absurdity.

Last week a University of Colorado study showed that air pollution in locales under invasion by the industry are experiencing devastating air quality degradation.  Backyards near wells in the communities of Erie and Longmont, showed air borne chemical contamination as much as 77 times greater than regional background levels.  Longmont is the city fighting the state and the industry over its ban on drilling within the city limits.

The same study reported that the people of Platteville, another small community in the drilling zone, are being poisoned by benzene at levels 3 times greater than deemed safe by the EPA. So much for bucolic life.

The nation’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, describes benzene many poisonous qualities as follows:

“Breathing benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and unconsciousness; long-term benzene exposure causes effects on the bone marrow and can cause anemia and leukemia.

It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.

Benzene can pass from the mother’s blood to a fetus. Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene.”

The state’s air quality office said the air quality readings were not a surprise.  Its about what we expected, intoned the agency head, Will Allison.

CU’s study leader, Dr. Chelsea Thomson, an analytical chemist and atmospheric scientist at the school’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, expressed doubt that the state’s self-congratulatory air quality rules would do anything to reduce the pollution since any reduction in gas releases from existing wells would soon be masked, and likely increased, by the pollution from thousands of new wells being drilled.

Another recent study out of New York adds to the poisoning-of-the-people narrative.   For example, air samples near wells in Pinedale, Wyoming, recorded benzene concentrations 330,000 times greater than EPA’s recommended safe level of 0.4 ppm.  This was the worst-case example. It is perhaps indicative of gas warfare on a scale not seen since the Battle of Ypres.

The study leader, Dr. David Carpenter, the Director of the Institute of Health and the Environment at New York State University, Albany, said because the air in Pinedale was so toxic and alive with benzene “you could practically just light a match and have an explosion with it.”

In summarizing, he said: “Chemical exposure is insidious and cumulative, and so it may take years to really understand the magnitude of impacts on people’s health from oil and gas development.”

Even the children find themselves forced to buck their government when it comes to protecting public health from oil and gas operations.  A couple of weeks ago I listened to lawyers representing a group of teens and pre-teens argue for stronger rules to protect public health in Colorado.  The state said they couldn’t issue stronger regulations because they had to balance oil production against public health impacts.  They were restricted by statute in what amounts to a stunning reinterpretation of the Golden Rule.

The children offered into evidence 306 scientific, magazine, and newspaper articles, buttressed with 38 pages of narrative describing fracking’s onslaught on public health, air, land, and water.  An American Petroleum Institute lawyer sat with the state’s attorney as arguments were presented.

As the scientific evidence grows to the equivalent of a four-alarm fire, truly peculiar political voices from an alternate universe were announcing gassing is good for you.

Republican state senator, Randy Baumgardner, said he thought the methane leaks from fracking probably were beneficial.  He informed people the American Indians used to seek out methane fires in surface water and use them for winter warmth.  Baumgardner, a rancher, wearing boots, of course, and sporting a giant mustache and prize-winning sideburns to make clear he was cut from the rest of the herd early on, made this pronouncement while seeking the Republican nod for U.S. Senate this summer on the daily TV program  — The Pray in Jesus Name Project — of Gordon Klingenschmitt, from Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city.

His climate denying host Gordon Klingenschmitt is an Air Force Academy graduate and a defrocked Navy Chaplin. Deaf to sexual innuendo, he calls himself Dr. Chaps.  Rabidly anti-Obama, he asserts the President is possessed of demons.  A man of infinite looniness, he has asserted that Obamacare causes cancer, that gays want to steal our children, and that the wedding photos of gay couples should be stamped with the words “Worthy of Death,” a phrase he lifts from scripture.

He was also elected to the state legislature in this year’s Republican “whoppin.”  Thus, he will be sharing prayer and policy making with his ranching, anthropologist TV guest when the state legislature convenes in January.

Among other public business, they will be asked to debate the recommendations, if recommendations there be, from the governor’s recently appointed “Blue Ribbon” fracking commission.  This is the commission the governor and congressman Jared Polis, both Democrats, concocted so two ballot initiatives that would have added new controls on fracking could be taken off the ballot. This action denied the people their constitutional right to a direct vote on their continued gassing.

The legislative session promises to be gravity defying, with the dialogue often bordering on travesty, but the continued poisoning of the people and the planet will go unresolved in what used to be termed the People’s House.

Come spring the issue will be back in the people’s court.  Initiatives to ban or control fracking will be written and argued.  The ruling class will once again sound the alarm about the dangers of direct democracy, unknowingly embracing Charles I’s sneering assessment of the people in a democracy, “…equal votes for unequal minds.”  Yet, they should become increasingly cautious.  The people of England beheaded Charles.

PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. He can be reached


PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. Doe is a co-sponsor of a public trust initiative that would turn the tables on the permitting process by making those seeking to use public resources, air, land, and water, to first demonstrate that the proposed use would not irreparably harm those resources–the reverse of the present permitting process. He can be reached