Drinking the fracking Kool-aid

The newest claim from the oil and gas industry: Halliburton-produced fracking fluid is safe to drink

Topics: fracking, Water, Oil and Gas, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Environment,

Drinking the fracking Kool-aidColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (Credit: AP/Chris Schneider)

There are few politicians – Republican or Democratic – who more singularly embody the notion of “drill, baby drill!” than Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. This week, in a Washington PR stunt, he yet again proved how devoted he is to deceiving the public on behalf of the oil and gas industry at a high-profile Senate hearing.

Before we get to the stunt, remember that Hickenlooper started his career as a petroleum geologist and his gubernatorial campaign was bankrolled by the fossil fuel industry. Remember, too, that Hickenlooper has publicly denied that global climate change is even happening; appointed one of his fossil fuel industry donors to a key regulatory position; overseen both an explosion in oil/gas spills and a decrease in state fines against oil/gas companies for those spills; and is offering to help oil/gas firms overturn local drilling regulations. He has, of course, also repeatedly claimed that hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) is completely safe and poses “literally no risk” to human health.

On top of all this, Hickenlooper became the first sitting governor in America to moonlight as the official spokesman for the fossil fuel industry while still in office – that’s right, he appeared in the industry’s paid ads dishonestly repeating the oil and gas industry’s claims that fracking is perfectly safe. And mind you, he has done all this despite scientific reports from (among others) the Environmental Protection Agency, Duke University, the University of Colorado and the fossil fuel industry itself all documenting fracking’s very potential hazards.

Evidently, though, all this wasn’t enough. As if worried that he hadn’t already proved his standing as the fossil fuel industry’s most reliable political puppet, Hickenlooper on Tuesday took to Capitol Hill to promote one of the most dishonest storylines yet about fracking – a story claiming that despite all evidence to the contrary, fracking fluid is so innocuous that humans can not only be around it, but can can safely drink it.

Here is the stunning story in the conservative Washington Times, reporting on how Hickenlooper is now trying to prevent Congress from even forcing fossil fuel firms to tell us what is in fracking fluid (emphasis added):

The first-term Democrat and former Denver mayor told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he actually drank a glass of fracking fluid produced by oilfield services giant Halliburton…

The fluid is made entirely “of ingredients sourced from the food industry,” the company says, making it safe for Mr. Hickenlooper and others to imbibe.

“You can drink it. We did drink it around the table, almost rituallike, in a funny way,” he told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “It was a demonstration…they’ve invested millions of dollars in what is a benign fluid in every sense.”…

While some laughed at the governor’s statement, he brought up the incident to make a serious point: that oil and gas companies have taken major steps forward in fracking technology…

Mr. Hickenlooper stressed that the Halliburton food additive mixture is so safe, one can literally drink it. He also cautioned against state and federal lawmakers going too far with laws to force companies such as Halliburton to disclose the formulas for such products.

“If we were overzealous in forcing them to disclose what they had created, they wouldn’t bring it into our state,” he said.

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This is a story Hickenlooper has told before here in Colorado – and sure, it sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Why don’t we just laugh along with Colorado’s governor and go a step even further by just sell fracking fluid as a health food, right?

Well, because that would probably make a lot of people very sick – a fact Hickenlooper’s story is designed to obscure.

Last year, after Hickenlooper first bragged about “taking a swig” of that Halliburton fracking fluid, the political website ColoradoPols showed how misleading Hickenlooper’s story really is – how it is quite literally designed to distract from inconvenient facts. Here’s the key excerpt:

Presumably, Gov. Hickenlooper “took a swig” of Halliburton’s fracking fluid product called CleanStim, which we reported on last August–though in the AP report we read then, Halliburton’s CEO Dave Lesar pointedly did not drink the fracking fluid, handing it off to another executive instead. CleanStim, as Hickenlooper said like reading from a script, is indeed composed of chemicals “sourced from the food industry,” though many of those chemicals are still considered hazardous on CleanStim’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

“CleanStim’s” biggest problem? According to the Houston Business Journal, it’s only a small fraction of all the “fracking” chemicals sold today. There’s no requirement in Colorado or anywhere else that “CleanStim” or another newer “food grade” fracking fluid actually be used, and we’ve been unable to find any sales figures to demonstrate how much “CleanStim” is actually being used in Colorado compared to, say, whatever the gaspatch worker in Durango showed up at the emergency room covered in a few years ago that almost killed his nurse.

Thus, we see that Hickenlooper’s latest whopper is just that – a deceptive fable carefully designed to distract from the real problems. It cites one tiny example as alleged proof that the far more pervasive norm isn’t a problem. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of rolling out a prototype fuel cell car and then saying that because you happened to have gotten a test drive of it, it must mean that pollution from all cars on the road pose no serious threat to human health.

Hickenlooper is no doubt making a political calculation – he is betting that if he decides to run for president in 2016, his “drill, baby drill!” profile will generate him so much oil and gas industry cash that he will be able to spend any environmental or public-health critic into the ground.

He is betting, in short, that enough money will be able to buy him enough ads to distract Democratic primary voters from asking (or even knowing) about his environmental and public-health record. We will soon see if his bet pays off – and here’s betting that he will refrain from taking a swig of more typical fracking fluid if someone on the campaign trail offers him a sip.

David Sirota
David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

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