Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ken Orlich on the Age of Dirt

Courtesy Toban Black

I asked friend and activist Ken D. Orlich, 44, to bring “What’s the Diehl?” readers up to speed on the “fracking” issue and he submitted the following:

Getty Images
So what is fracking, you ask? Well, the fact that you may be asking at this point kind of scares me but here it is in a nutshell. It’s the most horrible invention mankind has come up with since the McNugget. Maybe even worse. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a 60-year-old method of drilling holes deep underground, injecting high pressure water, and “fracturing” or expanding the tiny cracks in the rocks underground to release natural gas. When I say 60 years, that probably sounds like it’s totally safe, right? WRONG! It’s changed A LOT over the last 10 years. It used to be drill a hole straight down and gas would come straight up through the same hole. NOW we have horizontal fracking. That means they can drill a hole in one place and go MILES in any direction, and maybe, just maybe, drill under YOUR water well under YOUR home. And it’s not just water and sand going down that hole now. It’s water, sand, diesel fuel, chemicals and a whole list of stuff that they have absolutely ZERO obligation to disclose, thanks to new laws and gas company lobbyists.

This has already proven disastrous all over the country. Poisoned wells are only the beginning. There are documented cases of tap water actually BURNING when it comes out of the faucet. There have been earthquakes, sinkholes, radiation and a whole host of unexplained horribleness in places that were doing just fine until fracking came along.

A recent study by scientists at Duke University found high levels of methane in drinking water wells within a kilometer of gas wells in Pennsylvania and New York. This compared with water supplies up to three kilometers away. On average, the report says, “methane concentrations were 17 times higher.” (Click here for more.)

Earthquakes: Since 2010, Oklahoma residents have felt more than 250 of them – way more than the one to three reported each year in previous decades. The largest EVER in the state’s history, a magnitude 5.7 quake in 2011 that damaged 200 buildings, was “likely caused by fluid injection,” said scientists from the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and U.S. Geological Survey. (Click here for more.)

Radiation: A recent New York Times article had this to say from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report about Pennsylvania: “Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.” (Click here for more.)

Don’t take my word for all of this. Look it up. It’s easy to find information that conveys what a bad idea this is.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder supports fracking if it’s “done right,” he says. What does that mean? Just by saying this, you’re implying there’s risk, right? Where was it “done wrong,” Mr. Snyder? I think we now know. The question we need to ask, then, is “Is it worth it?” Is it still worth it if it’s “done wrong?” Michigan has over 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. So out of every five glasses of water anyone on the planet drinks, odds are very good that at least one of them contained Great Lakes water. That’s a lot of water! But CNN recently reported that Lake Michigan is at an HISTORICAL low. Fracking can use MILLIONS of gallons of water EACH DAY to get to the gas. Most of this water is never recaptured; what can be is so polluted that it can never be used again. When the water is gone, it’s gone. Sometimes there are risks you just don’t take. Sometimes there’s science that just needs to stay on the page and never be applied. This is the stuff of James Bond villains, not a useful energy policy.

But the Great Lakes are huge, you say? There’s no way they’ll ever go away, you say? Tell that to a Russian fisherman near the Aral Sea. Since 1960 it’s been sucked dry for industry and agriculture. It WAS one of the four largest lakes in the world and now it’s is literally barely a pond.

If we continue to allow our governments and corporations to squander our natural resources all for jobs and the economy, there will soon be nothing left for anyone to enjoy with the money we make. I recently read a great quote by Professor Guy McPherson from The University of Phoenix: "If you think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath as you count your money." Or more to the point, try drinking a glass of money when you’re thirsty. I understand we want more energy and natural gas seems like a great way for America to become more independent. But the question we need to ask is, “Why do we need so much energy at all?” Why are we so willing to sacrifice the planet to maintain our completely unsustainable lives of two cars in every driveway, an Ipad in every hand and electricity ever present? We waste about 50 percent of the energy we make just to have it always ready at the switch! (Click here for more.) On or off, the turbines still spin – and they’re mostly powered using dirty stuff from a dirty hole. The simple math is this. When you dig a hole, you make dirt. Always.

When it comes right down to it, we are not in The Space Age, The Information Age or even The Age of Enlightenment as many may want to think. Nope. Until we stop digging in the dirt, taking what we want without question or responsibility, the only name we can justifiably call our era is The Age of Dirt.

Ken D. Orlich earned his bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications from Michigan State University and has spent over two decades in cable and broadcast television. A progressive activist and leader in the Occupy Lansing movement, Ken is a certified rabble-rouser who says what needs to be said regardless of whose feathers he ruffles. He loves being outdoors – he recently started a community garden named “Rooster Square” near downtown Lansing – and devotes much of his time advocating for clean water and Great Lakes protection. He’s threatened to leave Facebook if Mark Zuckerberg continues to support the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).


  1. Not to split hairs or pick nits, but I'm professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. You can read all about it at Nature Bats Last.

  2. Hey Guy! Sorry about that! Not sure where I got that wrong. I apologize. I appreciate the fact checking. This is my first submission to this blog . . . I try very hard to double check everything and have had no complaints otherwise with other posts elsewhere. The right information on fracking should be all anyone needs to hate it. I've got no reason to distort a thing. Fracking should horrify any reasonable person that's paying attention. Thanks.