Ian Urbina at the New York Times has written another excellent piece on the character of the economic momentum behind and environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing: this time in a global context. He focuses on South Africa, but Poland, Peru, and Indonesia are mentioned as well.
What struck me is the extent to which the US government (eg. state department, USGS, export-import bank) is actively promoting and financing the globalization of hydraulic fracturing – rather complicating the commonplace notion that globalization must be an amorphous process. Who promotes hydraulic fracturing, who benefits from it, and who is put at risk by it is actually highly definite.
In the United States, where the water-intensive drilling technique of fracking was invented, the government is taking a lead role in supporting the dissemination of the technology abroad, as well as promoting other energy projects, including building infrastructure to extract and transport liquid natural gas.
Over the past three years, President Obama has promoted shale gas during visits to China, India and Poland.
“We believe that there is the capacity technologically to extract that gas in a way that is entirely safe,” Mr. Obama said in a speech in May in Warsaw, where the American Embassy co-hosted an international shale gas conference.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States has financed some of its biggest gas projects over the last several years, including the largest transaction in the bank’s history — $3 billion approved in 2009 for hundreds of miles of gas pipeline and a liquid natural gas plant and terminal project led by Exxon Mobil in Papua New Guinea.
The United States Geological Survey has offered training and technology to geologists exploring shale gas in Europe…
Some economists and environmentalists say that while the governments of poorer countries may benefit from the new tax revenues and jobs, they may not be paying enough attention to the environmental risks of drilling. They also note that local residents — who bear the brunt of the air pollution, potential water contamination from spills or underground seepage, and truck traffic that come with drilling — may see few benefits.
“These projects have already started causing steep inflation in costs of local housing and services, and except for the lucky few who get temporary construction jobs, the economic conditions for local communities can actually get worse,” said Doug Norlen, policy director of Pacific Environment, an advocacy and research organization that tracks federal and corporate financing of energy projects abroad.