Wellness Wednesday: What the frack?!

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I recently read an article about hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as it is commonly called, and the impact on human and animal health. The full study on the natural gas extraction process and its effects can be read here. The study examined farms within close proximity of fracking sites and showed that those living there often suffered from ‘fatigue, headaches, nosebleeds, rashes and sensory deficits’ while animals on the farm were dying. If these animals or their milk were intended for consumption, I can only imagine that the adverse health effects would be that much greater in humans once ingested.

To be quite honest, I didn’t know much about the process until recently. All I knew was that it had a funny name – I know, I am so mature. Thanks to the media and free speech we have been bombarded with contradictory reports. I am sure you could take a good guess and figure out which side of the fracking fence debate I live on, but I also respect others’ opinions when they are well-founded. My hope is that most people, no matter their position on natural gas drilling practices, will take the articles, reports, studies, and arts as inspiration to do their own research and formulate their own opinions. You could even have a fracking film marathon in order to help make up your mind. What’s everyone doing this weekend?

Here are just a few of the more recent films related to fracking:

  • Promised Land ­– 2012 film with drilling rights, fracking, and Matt Damon (side bonus!)
  • FrackNation – 2012 pro-fracking documentary
  • Gasland – 2010 anti-fracking documentary
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Listen to Wimpy: America needs to lean up its crude oil diet

One of my favorite quotes is Wimpy's: "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

It's an insightful commentary by the writers of the Popeye cartoon that reminds me of today's rampant energy consumption. That hot greasy crude burger, sweet Saudi fixins, a side of bite-sized anthracite and bubbly fracked soda. Nothing better. Good solid American meal. Comfort food.

J. Wellington Wimpy, however, has had enough. The rather rotund, balding sidekick of this analogy needs to go on a diet.

Fat and happy public

Wimpy serves as a stand-in for the American public. For too long this nation has put off dealing with the inevitable. U.S. energy policy relies heavily on the fossil fuel spectrum that until recently made us all fat and happy.

However, the oil of the future is more expensive to recover physically and environmentally. And, we've put off paying the price on emissions. Those are coming due. We simply need to stop the influx of carbon, ozone and other noxious emissions from burned fuel.

Failing to adopt more sustainable energy sources means continuing to pass the bill down to our kids and grandkids. I'd rather give future generations something besides the massive economic burden of cleaning up our swirling cesspool of an atmosphere and costly options for energy.

Inaction could cost big

"If we do nothing, the hardworking American population is going to be paying more to turn on lights, air conditioning, and their cars -- potentially much more than if those clean energy projects are built," says Joshua Freed, vice president of the Clean Energy Initiative at Third Way, on Huffington Post.

Freed says China, India and other emerging powers want to secure all the oil, coal, and natural gas they can "because that's where the economic growth is."

Competition for limited resources means price increases. Big ones.

So sure, solar and wind are somewhat costly. But they're getting cheaper and they don't foul the nest. There's got to be huge future value in that.

No help from D.C.

Political solutions are not likely.

Brian Keane, president of nonprofit Smart Power, paints a bleak picture of the clean energy future from a policy standpoint. Republicans and Democrats can agree on little, especially anything identified by the word "green."

Keane says in a piece in Huffington Post that this divide is enhanced by Republicans' efforts to oppose anything related to solar, wind or hydrogen, especially in light of the Solyndra failiure.

Media coverage of that divide isn't helping, Keane contends. "The media's focus on the politicization of clean energy in America is cutting this growing industry off at the pass," he says.

Clean energy: hot investment

However, on a grassroots level, clean energy's stock couldn't be better. The Average Joe, regardless of political affiliation, appears interested in making the world a better place.

Sometimes these are bizarre. I stumbled across "Are We Doomed?" by It's a movie about a road trip in which three people try to find others intent on saving the planet.

Mark Dixon and Ben and Julie Evans dig into things like replicas of Native American mud huts in Nebraska. In doing so, they unfold a tale of many people on many levels fighting a pitched battle to bring back a little of what's been lost.

Spinach or hamburgers?

Doubtless Wimpy would be one of them. He's the creation of newspaper cartoonist E.C. Segar and began as a more three-dimensional character than the one I grew up with in the 1960s. Wikipedia defines him as "soft-spoken, very intelligent, and well educated, but also cowardly, very lazy, overly parsimonious and utterly gluttonous."

In some ways, he's just like the United States. We're a smart country that walks softly but, decidedly unlike Wimpy, carries a big stick. We have a huge appetite and we've gotten a bit lazy.

That could change. There are any number of viable concepts that taken separately or together could offer a world of options for an oil-dependent economy. We don't even need to completely lay off the burgers (oil), just pop a can of spinach.

Earth Day: Don't mind the maggots

OK, OK. So I used a Rolling Stones "Some Girls" reference in the headline.

But my point is -- if I have one -- that on the eve of Earth Day 2011, debate over the environment appears as contentious as ever. For instance, on the late-night lineup of cable channel ABC Family, the Rev. Pat Robertson appeared questioning climate change as junk science. (My son had it tuned to the channel.)

Really? Pat Robertson? (He's still alive?) I shouldn't be surprised. The brutal economic downturn and televised armed conflict invading American living rooms on a daily basis have most of the country on edge. Politics is more heated than ever.

Environmental protections, climate change and clean energy look like luxuries easily jettisoned by people more interested in keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. There's no fault in taking advantage of unease to push political agenda. Heck, leverage is the American way.

Yet, the issue transcends the conservative-liberal divide. Clean energy is not limited to the granola-crunching Sierra Club member anymore. Wal-Mart is a huge proponent of sustainability and renewable energy. And Raytheon Co. just won an Energy Star Award for Sustained Excellence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "reducing energy intensity by 3 percent in 2010 and by 22 percent since 2007" and cutting more than 2 million kWh in 2010.

That's right, Raytheon, the Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor that produces "missiles, smart munitions, close in weapons systems, projectiles, kinetic kill vehicles and directed energy effectors for the armed forces of the U.S. and other allied nations," according to finance.

Soon, I believe, a lot more of this clean energy stuff will make sense to J.Q. Public. Already, energy efficiency is moving into the corner hardware store in the form of light-emitting diode and compact fluorescent technology and programmable thermostats. Heating and air conditioning companies are even getting into the solar mode, advertising exactly what it would cost the consumer to install 10 modules.

Honest. In the Fresno Bee, which I still read despite being a casualty of its shrinking newsroom, an ad showed a system for $12,000. Tax incentives and rebates drop that by about $4,000, according to the company. That's approachable pricing, especially with summer AC power drains coming up.

On, the site is trying to get people, organizations and corporations to embrace its "A Billion Acts of Green" campaign. The idea -- to pledge to live and act sustainably -- has reportedly received 45 million "actions" to date and seeks to register 1 billion in advance of the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

And why not? Many of these cost nothing.

For instance, T. Boone Pickens went big for wind power and now is investing in natural gas, joining with investment group Perseus in a $160 million deal to build a natural gas powered vehicle, according to a story by Katie Fehrenbacher at

Natural gas is abundant. We've got a lot of it up on Alaska's North Slope (just wait for Sarah Palin to start talking about the gas pipeline) and huge domestic reserves in the Lower 48 that can be accessed by the increasingly controversial method of hydraulic fracturing.

There may be traction on the natural gas front soon. Deirdre Shesgreen reported in that Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., is working with Pickens to "promote legislation that would provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur the development and purchase of natural gas vehicles."

One of the first goals of the bill, dubbed the NAT GAS Act, should it pass would be to drive development of commercial trucks away from diesel and into the fold. But expect more stations around the country offering the fuel and more natural gas powered Honda Civics using them.

"It's abundant, it's accessible, it's American," Shesgreen quoted Larson as saying. "The events in the Middle East and the events that have happened tragically in Japan only further underscore the urgency behind this."

Ah yes. Security. There's the immediacy. Pickens also touts energy independence. Just check out his Pickens Plan website.

Advances also are being made in algae fuel, cellulosic ethanol and isobutanol. None of this should be partisan. It's just really interesting and could pay off with huge dividends.

And by dividends, I mean jobs.

That's what it's all about. Opportunity in this industry for me is personal. We're working to assist teachers to train the next generation for jobs in clean energy through the Valley Legacy Grant. The resources come from the Workforce Investment Act. I'd like to see the kids from rural San Joaquin Valley communities with 20-plus percent jobless rates get a leg up in a growing industry. For more, check out our site, http://www.wiasjvceo/.

But to get there, this nation's gotta chill on the rhetoric. And it comes from both sides. I can rip on the Republicans, but the greenies do the same thing.

In a story on Huffington Post by Brenden DeMelle, executive director of, about climate-related dangers of methane emissions from shale gas fracking, a commenter who goes by the name gdauth provided perspective. DeMelle called his post "Highway to Hell," and I do appreciate the AC/DC Bon Scott reference.

"Let's see," writes gdauth. "Can't use natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear, hydro; what is left? Wind? Nope can't use that it kills birds. Geothermal­? Don't have any in Florida. How about solar? The Chinese own all the factories, besides a hail storm and a tornado wiped out the solar farm that looks like h*** anyway. Besides the Chinese own all of the battery factories so what o we do at night? I guess I will go home to my cardboard box under the bridge and cook my spam over a candle."

Yep, take a bite of the big apple. Just don't mind the maggots. It's a big issue and maybe we'll figure out how to get it all down.

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