Trump and his allies enjoy huge financial benefits amidst harmful and unsustainable economic and environmental trends

Trump and his allies enjoy huge economic benefits amidst harmful and unsustainable economic and environmental trends

Bob Sheak – September 2, 2018

Trump twitters in delight that recent economic news about a “strong” economy will increase the chances that the Republicans will hold onto the Senate and the House in the November midterm elections, and that any movement to impeach him will go away. Indeed, there is some good news, though it occurs amidst overall economic conditions that are troublesome, if not worse. The good news, according to some of the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other authoritative sources, includes the following examples: economic growth is robust in the second quarter of 2018; unemployment is low; jobs, including manufacturing jobs, are being added to the economy; the stock market remains at record levels; and oil and gas production is way up thanks to fracking, making the US less dependent on foreign oil. Trump is also probably uplifted by how his own businesses, over which he still has final say, are thriving and how generally the rich, “superior” people like himself, are getting richer. (See Nancy MacLean’s book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, for a richly documented historical analysis of the roots on this Social Darwinist view of how the rich think they deserve their wealth and privilege because, they claim, they are smarter and work hard than the rest of us and because society would collapse without their leadership.) Another point to keep in mind. One cannot fully understand the economy without grasping how the economy and polity are tightly intermingled.

It’s all good news for Trump

In the meantime, Trump is touting the good economic news. In a report published by Newsmax on Friday, August 24, 2018, a few of Trump’s tweets are quoted as follows:

“Our economy is setting records on virtually every front – Probably the best our        country has ever done.”

“Our country is doing phenomenally well.”

And, you betcha, it all has to do with him. According to Newsmax, Trump warned that if the Democrats regain control of Congress and attempt to impeach him, the economy would tank. He is quoted as saying on “Fox and Friends” “…if I ever get impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse” (https://www.newsmax.com/politics/trump-economy-twitter/2018/08/24/id/878512).

Trump and his family reap benefits

 From all indications, the President and his family are doing very well financially. Nomi Prins offers a revealing article at TomDispatch titled “The Empire Expands: Not the American One, But Trump’s” (http://commondreams.org/views/2017/05/02/empire-expands-not-american-one-trumps). She opens her article with these words.

“President Trump, his children and their spouses, aren’t just using the Oval Office to augment their political legacy or secure future riches. Okay, they certainly are doing that, but that’s not the most useful way to think about what’s happening at the moment. Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.

“It turns out that the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump, the patriarch, got a package deal for his whole clan.  That would include, of course, first daughter Ivanka who, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is now a key political adviser to the president of the United States.  Both now have offices in the White House close to him.  They have multiple security clearances, access to high-level leaders whenever they visit the Oval Office or Mar-a-Lago, and the perfect formula for the sort of brand-enhancement that now seems to come with such eminence. President Trump may have an exceedingly “flexible” attitude toward policymaking generally, but in one area count on him to be stalwart and immobile: his urge to run the White House like a business, a family business.”

Along with family members put in key positions in Trump’s administration, Trump seems to have brazenly violated federal laws that forbids a president from being personally involved in his own businesses and investments. On this point, Prins writes: “Faced with the dynasty-crushing possibility of selling his business or even placing it in a blind trust, Donald Trump chose instead to let his two older sons, Eric and Donald Jr., manage it…. While speaking with Forbes in March, Eric indicated that he would provide his father with updates on the Trump Organization “quarterly” — but who truly believes that father and sons won’t discuss the family empire far more frequently than that?” The problem with this arrangement is that it opens the door to profit-making opportunities as foreign officials and those representing various business interests attempt to curry favor with Trump by, for example, loaning his businesses money, buying apartments in his luxury hotels, or clearing the way for the Trump organization to build upscale hotels in their country.

Prins continues, pointing out that Trump’s continuing links to his businesses appears to violate sections of the Code of Federal Regulation, most notably “Title 18 section 208” of the code which covers “acts affecting a personal financial interest.” Specifically, the code is violated when there is a personal financial interest linked to the duties of “an officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States government.” Violations of the code put forth in “section 216 of Title 18” specify that violations of the code can result in “fines or imprisonment or both.” Prins gives a number of examples of how Trump and daughter Ivanka are skirting on the edge of the law, and probably going beyond it.

“What that should mean, legally speaking, for a family occupying the executive office is: Ivanka could not have dinner with the president of China while her business was applying for and receiving provisional approval of pending trademarks from his country, if one of those acts might impact the other. To an outsider, the connection between those acts seems obvious enough and it’s bound to be typical of what’s to come.”

And further:

“The family has already racked up a laundry list of global conflicts of interest that suggest ways in which the White House is likely to become a moneymaking vehicle for the Trump line. There’s Turkey, for instance, where the Trump Organization already has a substantial investment, and where President Trump recently called President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his power-grabbing, anti-democratic victory in a disputed election to change the country’s constitution.  Given Trump business interests globally, you could multiply that call by the world.

“Meanwhile, Ivanka’s brand isn’t just doing business as usual, it’s killing it. Since 2017, according to the Associated Press, “global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have surged.” As a sign of that, the brand’s imports, mostly from China, have more than doubled over the previous year. As for her husband, he remained the CEO of Kushner Companies through January, only then abdicating his management role in that real-estate outfit and 58 other businesses, though remaining the sole primary beneficiary of most of the associated family trusts. His and Ivanka’s children are secondary beneficiaries. That means any policy decision he promotes could, for better or worse, affect the family business and it doesn’t take a genius to know which of those options he’s likely to choose.”

“Despite an already mind-boggling set of existing conflicts of interest, ranging from business affiliations with oligarchs connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the Secret Service and the Pentagon leasing space in Trump Tower (for at least $3 million per year), the Trump family business is now looking to the glorious, long haul. The family is already scouting for a second hotel in Washington. Trump has reportedly used nearly $500,000 from early campaign money raised for his own 2020 presidential bid to bolster the biz. It’s evidently been poured into “Trump-owned restaurants, hotels and golf clubs,” as well as rent at Trump Tower in New York City.”

In an article published in The Guardian, Dominic Rushe reports on a study of how “Trump businesses [are] making millions from political and taxpayer spending.” Rushe’s article reveals how Trump has been enriching himself through his presidency but also even before that during his presidential campaign (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/16/trump-businesses-money-campaign-federal-agencies).

The main source of Rushe’s evidence comes from a report by Public Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit, which “analyzed all the available records of political and federal taxpayer spending on Trump businesses,” although not all the relevant information was accessible. The title of the report is “The Art of the (Self) Deal: Political and Taxpayer Spending on Trump’s Properties.” Public Citizen’s report “finds Trump’s businesses have raked in $15.1millon from political groups and federal agencies in ‘pattern of personal self-enrichment.’” The report concludes that Trump, his campaign and Republican political committees have diverted millions of dollars to the president’s businesses – spending money on his airplanes, at his hotels, golf courses and restaurants, and even buying his Trump-branded bottled water.” Rushe quotes Alan Zibel, research direct of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project and author of the report, as follows:

“One of the most shocking is his shameless self-dealing, as exemplified by the continued spending of campaign money and taxpayer dollars to Trump’s own businesses, which he refused to fully divest. Before Trump, this pattern of personal of self-enrichment was a characteristic of third-world autocrats rather than the president of the United States.”

Rushe reminds the reader that “Trump fought off calls to separate himself from his businesses after his election and has declined to release his tax returns, which would give a better accounting of the money he has made as president.” Meanwhile, with the assistance of compliant economic advisers appointed by the president, he and his family do well financially out of the public eye. (See Wikipedia’s list of Trump’s economic advisers at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_economic_advisers_to_Donald_Trump.)

Trump’s economy good for the rich and mega-corporations, not so good for the majority of Americans

 The U.S. Commerce Department released information on August 29 showing that “corporate profits are soaring to new heights thanks in large part to President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts,” according to Jake Johnson (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/08/30/corporate-profits-reach-new-heights-after-trump-tax-cuts-40-americans-cant-afford). The Commerce Department also found, Johnson reports, that the profits gain during the second quarter ending on June 30 was the largest for this same quarter in six years. The Trump/Republican Party tax cuts reduced the taxes paid by U.S. companies during this quarter by 33 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. The Wall Street banks were the biggest beneficiary, with a record $60 billion in profits, half of it the result of the reduced taxes and some of the rest from deregulatory reforms. What was good for corporate America was not so good for many millions of Americans. Johnson refers to a study by the Urban Institute that “found that nearly half of the American public can’t afford basic necessities like food, healthcare, and housing.” The two reports together provide, Johnson notes, “a striking picture of America’s two-tiered economy, one that has become even more lopsided in favor of the rich since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.”

There is another boost for the corporations in the offing. Naomi Jagoda reports that “Congressional Republicans are rallying behind potential executive action by the Treasury Department to reduce capital gains unilaterally” (http://thehill.com/policy/finance/399802-republicans-happy-to-let-treasury-pursue-100-billion-tax-cut). If implemented, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wants, it would “result in an estimated $100 billion tax cut, mostly for wealthy individuals.” At the same time, in tune with the Trump/Republican Party’s policy of bleeding of the public sector, Trump has issued an order canceling a 2.1 percent across-the-board raise scheduled to take effect in January for most federal workers, according to a report by Darlene Superville for the AP wire service, which was carried by ABC News (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/trump-cancels-pay-raise-due-federal-workers-january-57504058).

Superville reports that Trump’s intent is to freeze wages next year. He ignores, according to J. David Cox Sr, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, as quoted by Superville, “the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade.” Cox’s union represents some 700,000 federal workers. They have already suffered cuts since 2011 of $200 billion. Tony Reardon, national p resident of the National Treasury Employees Union and Cox says, “their paychecks cannot stretch any further as education, health care costs, gas and other goods continue to get more expensive.”

Trump makes it up – whatever makes him feel good

Journalists at The Washington Post have been documenting the “false or misleading claims” of Trump through his presidency. On July 31, 2018, they updated their tally, bringing it up to 4,229 such claims (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?noredirect+on&utm_term=.b846026721dC).

Withal, the Republican base is with him all the way

 Newsmax reports that 51 percent were found to approve of how he is handling the economy, citing an AP-NORC poll conducted August 16-20 (http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Trump-and-the-Trade-Tariffs.aspx). At the same time, there are strong partisan divisions. According to the Newsmax report, the poll found a striking difference on how Republicans and Democrats opine about Trump’s economic performance, with almost 90 percent of Republicans approving but only 23 percent of Democrats. There are also stark divisions over Trump’s trade and tariff policies. “Seventy-five percent of Republicans approve of how Trump is handling trade negotiations with other countries; 90 percent of Democrats disapprove.” And: “…66 percent of Republicans support the president’s decision to impose tariffs, while 62 percent of Democrats oppose it.” If nothing else, Trump must find comfort in the strong support he receives from Republicans on his policies.

 Trump’s “true believers”

Of course, his core grassroots constituencies would most likely support him even if the economic reports were poor. They like his nationalistic rhetoric, his jingoism, xenophobia and talk of a walled-off border, his racist slant and flirtations with white supremacy, his spending on the military, his unqualified support of the National Rifle Association and a no-regulation policy on gun ownership, and his promotion of himself as a “stable genius” who knows more than the experts. On the last point, his rhetoric fits well into a culture in which, for at least 35-40 percent of the population, opinion takes precedence over verifiable evidence. The result is that their adoration of Trump enables them, with the help of right-wing media, to disregard any criticism of him and the unending torrent of lies streaming from Trump’s twitters, rallies, and interviews on Fox News and other right-wing media.

Chauncey DeVega argues that “Trump’s political movement meets the definition of a cult.” He quotes Steven Hassan, “one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject,” as follows:

“Donald Trump fits the stereotypical profile of a cult leader. His followers fit the model as well. Many of them, especially the ones that say, ‘He could do anything and we would still believe him, we would still follow him,’ sound like people who have been indoctrinated into a totalistic mindset.” DeVega continues: “Republicans and other conservatives are increasingly authoritarian and possess a deep disdain for democracy. Research by political scientists and others has revealed that ‘winning at any costs’ – even if that means subverting democracy – is increasingly all that matters for many on the American right” (https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics-heres-how-trump-will-convince-supporters-to-stick-him-even-he-admits-collusion).

THE DARK SIDES OF THE “ECONOMY” – AN OVERVIEW AND SOME EXAMPLES

 This rosy view of the economy from the White House is, however, overshadowed by other evidence that Trump and his supporters do their best to ignore. Most of the economic gains generated by the economy since the Great Recession “officially” ended in 2009 is going to the top 1 percent of the income and wealth distributions. Average wages remain stagnant. Many of the jobs being created do not provide livable wages, security, or benefits. While Americans are buying things, many are accumulating high levels of debt along the way. Particularly disturbing is that the debt situation of college students and graduates, which remains at historic highs. There is also a rising pension crisis, as a growing number of elderly people do not have a pension or savings that give them the financial means ever to retire. Without assistance from their children, most of them will end up working in the temp/gig workforce if they can and being impoverished or close to it whether they find a job or not. In tune with their trickle-down neoliberal ideology of low taxes, deregulation, privatization, and corporate-friendly trade, the Republicans want to make the financial challenges of the elderly worse by partially privatizing Social Security and giving Wall Street brokers the profitable opportunity to charge fees for financial advice.

I’ll elaborate on a few of these problematic situations.

Fleecing the elderly

Following up on the last point, economist Dean Baker had an article on Truthout in which he considers the benefits that Social Security has provided over its 83 years of existence and how it needs to be improved, not privatized (https://truthout.org/articles/retirement-income-in-the-21st-century). The benefits of the system for the elderly have been enormous. Baker points out that it has “lifted tens of millions of retirees out of poverty and provides the bulk of retirement income for most people after they stop working.” Additionally: “It also provides disability insurance to workers unable to work and survivors’ insurance to the families of workers who die at an early age.” The social security system is also “extremely efficient, with administration costs that are just 0.6 percent of the money paid out in benefits each year. By comparison, privatized systems often have costs that are 15-20 percent of annual benefits.” He points out further that it has “a minimal amount of fraud.”

At the same time, “it still does not provide an adequate retirement income” by itself for most elderly beneficiaries. While the benefits from the system keep many people from slipping into poverty, it usually takes additional income from savings, investments, or private pensions sources to maintain a middle-class standard of living. The problem, as mentioned, is that many people enter old age with few savings or investments, and increasingly without pensions related to previous employment. Traditionally defined benefit pensions with guaranteed benefits have increasingly been replaced by401 (k) defined contribution plans that have proven to offer a growing number of retirees little retirement income but lucrative fees for financial advisers.

Baker points an analysis he and his colleagues has done “of data from the Federal Reserve Board,” which “found that savings of all types for the middle quintile of households between the ages of 55 and 64 were just $99,000.” This would only “provide $5,000 to $6,000 a year in retirement. And 41.5% of them have not yet paid of their house mortgages. Baker draws the following conclusion: “The current 401(k) retirement system was designed not to serve workers but rather to give money to the financial industry. Think of it like food stamps for the very rich, but instead of the government handing people $120 a month for their food stamp benefit, they give the financial industry tens of billions each year from workers’ savings.”

Stagnating Wages

Toluse Olorunnipa and Sho Chandra report in an article for Bloomberg on August 28, 2018, “Americans are Making Less Money Despite Trump’s Promises” (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-28/trump-s-promises-to-forgotten-man-undercut-by-wage-stagnation). Trump’s administration promised that tax overhaul would immediately boost wages by $4,000 to $9,000. It is expected that “many Americans” will receive “a boost in take-home pay from the tax cuts, though some ended up paying more in taxes.” Specifically: “About 65 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut in 2018, averaging $2,200 from the news law’s individual provisions, while 6 percent will receive an increase of about $2,800, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center in March.” Note that these are not permanent tax cuts, unlike the various tax reductions for corporations and the rich.

The evidence on wages raises questions about Trump’s upbeat claims. Here the two key findings from Olorunnipa and Chandra. One, “Once the impact of inflation is included, ordinary Americans’ hourly earnings are lower than they were a year ago.” They write: “Inflation-adjusted hourly wages dropped 0.2 percent in July from a year earlier, their worst reading since 2012, according to the Labor Department, amid faster price gains.” Two, a Quinnipiac University poll found that a “majority of voters believe their personal situation has remained the same or gotten worse over the past two years.”

Other evidence on wage stagnation

Here’s what I wrote in an essay sent out in June 2018, titled “What kind of jobs?’ (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2018/06/21/what-kind-of-jobs). Focusing on the lower half of the job supply gives you a glimpse of the how problematic the job situation is. There I quoted from Chuck Collins new book, Is Inequality in America irreversible?

“Half of US jobs pay less than $15 an hour and 41 million workers earn under $12 an hour, or less than $25,000 per year. These workers are disproportionately black and Latino. Most of these low-wage jobs have few or no benefits, including no sick leave, vacation days, childcare, or retirement plans. These are the workers who clean hotel rooms, take care of children and the elderly, serve food, and work at retail counters and as janitors and security guards. This fuels a difficult work-life balancing act for many individuals and working families attempting to survive” (pp. 18-19).

A press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals more generally that “real average hourly earnings” barely increased by 0.3 percent over the previous year, from April 2017 to April 2018 (https://www.bls.gov/news/release/pdf/realer.pdf). The stagnation of wages stretches back to the 1970s. Wages in manufacturing, where the relatively highest nonsupervisory wages can be found, have been stagnant since the 1970s. Robert Kuttner writes: “In January 1979, the average manufacturing wage was $20.83 in inflation-adjusted dollars. In July 2017, it was $20.94” (Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism, p. 191). The percentage of manufacturing jobs in the economy has been declining most years since the 1960s: “Between the 1960s and the current era, US employment in manufacturing declined from over 25 percent of total jobs in 1965 to just under 8 percent by 2016” (Kuttner, p. 191). More recent estimates by the BLS indicate that manufacturing jobs increased from May 2017 to May 2018 by 259,000, or an increase of 2.1 percent (https://www.bls/gov/web/empsit/cehighlights.pdf). We must wait to see whether this trend continues. But there is reason to be skeptical that manufacturing employment will ever climb back to double digits (as a percentage of total employment), let alone to 25 percent. This would require a number of presently unlikely conditions, namely, that corporations like GM, Ford, GE, stop outsourcing their investments abroad, that the US government invest massively in a major infrastructure project, that corporations use the increased billions in revenues from the Trump/Republican Party tax cuts to invest in new or expanded domestic production, that the federal government increase – rather than decrease – support of green technologies, and that government support a National Labor Relations Board that supports the right of workers to join unions and for fair collective bargaining takes a dramatic turn.

 Additional problems with the economy

There are other issues that are dismissed or ignored by Trump and his Republican allies and supporters. The national debt continues to soar, made worse by the Republican tax law that overwhelmingly favors big corporations and the rich, the big increases in the military budget, and the continuing massive, tax-avoiding offshore tax havens where the wealthy and many corporations squirrel away their money. The internationally bestselling book The Panama Papers provides some extensive documentation of the latter point.

The list of the problematic aspects of the economy is long. The health care system is fraught with problems, including high and rising prices for all aspects of the health care system, from primary-care services, emergency care, hospital costs, prescription drugs, nursing homes, medical equipment, plus there are tens of millions of Americans who can’t afford any health insurance, or only insurance with very high deductibles and premiums. Republicans want to privatize and/or cut Medicare and reduce spending on Medicaid, especially for those getting assistance for disabilities. They want to reduce access to Medicaid, food stamps, child care. The country’s infrastructure remains in bad repair. Thousands of cities and towns have lead pipes that transport water laced with lead to residences, schools, restaurants and other businesses. The Trump administration wants to gut spending on public housing and increase the cost to tenants living in such housing. There is concern in many circles that Trump’s tariffs are alienating US allies and leading the country toward economically trade wars that may lead to increases in the prices of many goods and services and the loss of jobs.

The problems are rooted in the system of corporate capitalism

This bad news takes place in an economy dominated by mega-corporations that must continually grow in an unplanned, helter-skelter way, with little or no concern for the many dire or existentially-threatening social and environmental consequences that it spawns.

As discussed, Trump, the Republicans, the corporate community, the rich, Trump’s core grassroots supporters can dismiss or ignore the problematic aspects of the political economy. And, along with the problems already considered, there are other problems that are so serious and fundamental that, if current trends continue, the system will fall into greater chaos, even confront eventual collapse. This is what I have in mind: the increasingly disruptive and catastrophic climate change that stems from the greenhouse gas emissions of our fossil-fuel based energy system, the depletion of vital resources, and the increase in toxic-ridden, degraded environments. These are huge topics, but there is a large body of articles, research, and books that documents them. I considered some of the evidence on climate change in a recent post (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2018/07/30/heating-up-the-planet-an-update). Here I’ll give one example of the problem of environmental degradation that is a consequence of our fossil-fuel dominated energy system.

Fracking for oil and gas and its impacts: a booming but unsustainable part of the economy

Fracking is the name given to a complex technology for extracting oil or gas from shale rocks that are buried deep in the earth. The full name for the process is horizontal hydraulic fracturing. It involves pumping an enormous volume of water, along with silica sand, and chemicals, down through a well bore hole into the earth at high pressure through a vertical and horizontal pipe system. It has enabled mining companies, including some of the largest oil corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron, to tap oil and gas veins that a decade or so ago were inaccessible.

Vince Beiser offers a concise summary of the process:

“By shooting a highly pressurized mix of water, chemicals, and sand into a well bore [hole], drillers shatter the surrounding shale, spider webbing it with tiny cracks through which the hydrocarbons flow. They need the sand to keep the cracks open, holding fast against the pressure of the surrounding rock that wants to close them back up” (The World in a Grain, p. 120).

The fracking process has greatly increased the amount of oil and gas produced domestically. Beiser points out that “American shale gas production totaled 320 billion cubic feet in 2000; in 2016, the number was 15.8 trillion.” North Dakota, one of the centers of U.S. shale production, saw its “annual oil production nearly quintuple” in 2016 from what it was ten years before.

There are major problems associated with fracking.

Recent research finds that there are significant amounts of methane gas leaked from the pipes carrying the fracking fluids to the bore hole. Sharon Kelly, “an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia,” who “has reported for The New York Times, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal and a variety of other publications reports on a peer-reviewed study that was published in the journal Science. The study found that, each year, “oil and gas industry operations in the U.S. are leaking roughly 60 percent more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere than previous estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which relied heavily on self-reporting by the industry” (https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/06/21/methane-leaks-oil-gas-60-higher-epa-estimates-science-study-edf).

Kelly quotes Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell University professor emeritus of engineering and vice president of Earthwork’s board of directors: “This study confirms the growing body of peer-reviewed science indicating oil and gas extraction’s methane pollution makes it as harmful to climate as coal burning’s carbon dioxide pollution.”

Once the oil or gas is released from the shale rock, the pressure in the pipes forces it up the pipes to the surface, bringing with it water contaminated with all sorts of toxic materials.

With respect to this wastewater as well as the high volume of water that is necessary in the fracking process. Sharon Kelly reports on the findings from a Duke University study, namely, that high volumes of water are required in the fracking process and the process produces a massive amount of wastewater (https://truthout.org/articles/fracking-wastewater-spikes-1440-in-half-decade). Her central points are as follows.

“Between 2011 and 2016, fracked oil and gas wells in the US pumped out record-breaking amounts of wastewater, which is laced with toxic and radioactive materials, a new Duke University study concludes. The amount of wastewater from fracking rose 1,440 percent during that period.

“Over the same time, the total amount of water used for fracking rose roughly half as much, 770 percent, according to the paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking,” Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a statement. “After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources.”

“The researchers predict that spike in water use will continue to climb.

“And over the next dozen years, they say the amount of water used could grow up to 50 times higher when fracking for shale gas and 20 times higher when fracking for oil — should prices rise. The paper, titled “The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing,” was based on a study conducted with funding from the National Science Foundation.”

The Duke University paper is based on data collected from “over 12,000 oil and gas wells representing each of the major shale-producing regions in the U.S. Some of the regions are already experiencing declining water sources. Kelly gives the example of the Permian Basic in Texas and New Mexico, “where underground water supplies are already taxed by residential and agricultural demand, and where fights over water use are brewing.” She notes: “On average, a Permian Basin well used 10.3 million gallons of water in 2016, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation earlier this year — more than double the average per-well demand just a few years ago.”

At the same time, the volume of wastewater produced by fracking is soaring. Referring again to Texas and New Mexico, she quotes Ryan Duman, A Wood Mackenzie senior energy analyst, who describes “how in parts of Texas and New Mexico, wells can produce up to 10 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of crude oil.” He says the volume of wastewater being produces is unprecedented. And, to repeat, this wastewater is toxic, containing “high levels of “corrosive salts, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and fracking chemicals whose identities are considered trade secrets and which even the US Environmental Protection Agency can’t list.” Colin Leyden, “senior manager for state regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund,” says “[t]here aren’t water quality standards or even approved analytical methods for most of the chemicals we known are a concern in produced (or waste) water.” A national study by the EPA in 2016 “found that fracking not only generates vast amounts of wastewater but also has polluted drinking water supplies in areas nationwide.”

The wastewater is often injected into deep wells, often in abandoned mining shafts. There it is suspected “of playing a role in causing earthquakes across the U.S., [and] also linked by scientists to the emergence of massive sinkholes in parts of Texas.” The sinkholes are a danger to “residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water.”

The upshot is that fracking is in some ways a boon to the economy, that is, if the only consideration is how it adds to the U.S. production of oil and gas. However, it comes with enormous environmental costs linked to greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly disruptive climate change, an enormous demand for water in places where water scarcity is already a problem, and the creation of toxic wastewater that is disposed in ways the cause additional negative environmental impacts. There is also mounting evidence of fracking’s harmful affects on the health of people, pets, livestock, and food, as analyzed by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald in their book, The Real Cost of Fracking. They interviewed families who “live near industrial fossil fuel operations [fracking] in… Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, North Dakota, Arkansas, and New York.” Further, they interviewed “former employees of the fossil fuel industry and concerned citizens throughout the country referred to us by people whose water and air had become severely affected, whose animals were dying, and whose lives were being turned upside down by the oil and gas industry.” What they heard again and again:

“Water dispensers and water buffaloes have replaced water sources.”

“All of my puppies were born dead.”

“I have no calves this year.”

“My vet can’t figure out what’s happening to my animals.”

“We had to leave our home to escape the bad air.”

“I had no choice but to leave my goats and pigs behind.”

“I leased to keep my land, but I lost my farm.”

“We all have headaches, nosebleeds, and rashes.”

“I’d move out, but I can’t afford it.”

“We are not living; we are merely existing” (p. 11)

What’s the point of this essay? The pursuit of truth

Given the multi-faceted problems with our capitalist economy situation, our responsibility as progressives and leftists is to search out the best, most authoritative evidence to rebut the narratives of the right-wing political forces arrayed around Trump and to hope that such evidence reaches enough Americans to have a political impact. Trump and his right-wing allies focus selectively on the economy in ways that support their narrow economic interests and right-wing ideology. If they are left unchallenged, then we face a future that continues to benefit the few, while creating hardships for the majority and massive environmental – existential-level – devastation. Lee McIntyre concludes his cogent and disturbing analysis of our increasingly “post-truth” society in his book titled Post Truth with these words: “It is our decision how we will react to a world in which someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Truth still matters, as it always has. Whether we realize this in time is up to us” (p. 172).

For further analysis of alternatives, check out: https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2018/06/21/what-kind-of-change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s