‘I see a bad moon rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightning
I see hard times today’
John Fogerty, Bad Moon Rising (1969). John Fogerty’s classic rock song ‘Bad Moon Rising’, from the 1960s, could be the foreboding soundtrack for what is rumbling in America’s Midwest today.
Earthquakes have now become a daily occurrence in Oklahoma and other Midwest states. In the past, a baseline incidence of quakes was two or so a year. Now, the region is experiencing over 500 a year, according to official seismological records. So far, there hasn’t been “a big one”.
Most of the quakes have registered around 3 to 5 on the Richter Scale. But it seems only a matter of time before the Earth lashes back with deadly force.
A report this week in the Washington Post tells of widespread structural damage and personal injuries from the “swarm of earthquakes” that residents in Oklahoma are having to endure. With trepidation, ordinary people are fearing that a final calamity is crescendoing.
“The earthquakes come nearly every day now, cracking drywall, popping floor tiles and rattling kitchen cabinets. On Monday, three quakes hit this historic land-rush town [Guthrie] in 24 hours, booming and rumbling like the end of the world,” reports Lori Montgomery for the Post.
“After a while, you can’t even tell what’s a pre-shock or an after-shock. The ground just keeps moving,” says one resident. “People are so frustrated and scared.”
The oil and gas industry will, of course, deny any link between the new geological phenomenon and its increased drilling activity. But self-serving capitalists are hardly a reliable source. They claim that the surge in seismological tremors across America’s Midwest is just part of a “natural cycle” of more frequent quakes.
That’s not much comfort to millions of people living in dense cities and towns, with their homes mortgaged to the hilt, or their workplaces nestled in high-rise buildings.
No matter what the industry capitalists and their bribed politicians may say, there seems little doubt that the Earth is quaking from the so-called enhanced recovery techniques of hydraulic fracturing. This is where chemical fluids are injected under extremely high pressure into subterranean wells to break up shale rock layers and release untapped reserves of natural gas or oil.
The injection-wells can penetrate the earth to a depth of 10,000 ft (3 kilometers) and the high-pressure fracking fluid contains hundreds of organic chemicals to punch out the raw fuel from the rock fissures. Hydrocarbons and profits may be gushing anew for the American industry, but it is humans and the environment that are subsidizing the system by bearing the huge costs of collateral damage.
Fracking has become the new El Dorado for the oil and gas industry, promising lucrative profits and a revival of flagging economies. The US is a world leader in the practice, where rejuvenation of the oil and gas industry is touted as the savior of a stagnant capitalist economy and as a strategic lever for American global power.
The crisis in Ukraine, for example, is very much predicated on American ambitions to displace Russia as the main energy supplier to Europe. Fracking is thus the holy grail for Washington’s global ambitions.
But as with many best-laid plans, there is a snag. Actually, several potentially fatal snags. Not only is the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing in the US unleashing seismological spasms; the industrial activity is creating massive contamination of groundwater.
Fracking fluid can contain up to 600 chemicals, such as mercury and ethylene glycol, some of which are known carcinogens.
Millions of barrels of chemical fluid have to be pumped into the Earth in order to retrieve the same number of barrels of gas or oil equivalent. These chemicals are seeping into freshwater aquifers and thence into drinking-water infrastructure.
Also, the natural methane gas released from the fracking process is not always recovered by the industry. Instead, it finds its way into unintended fissures and eventually home water supplies, to the point where some households in America’s Midwest can now ignite water coming out of their kitchen taps.
There are now reckoned to be 500,000 of these injection-wells operating across the US, mainly in the Midwest states of Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and Arkansas. So far, the oil and gas industry has enjoyed a boom in profits and stock market exuberance; and certainly several states have gained revenues and jobs as a result.
But the steep human and environmental costs are looming, and, increasingly, are no longer hidden. Millions of people living in quaking homes and offices is a harbinger of even bigger “costs.”
That’s capitalism for you. The pursuit of private financial profit is the only objective that over-rules all other considerations. Poisoning water and people, destroying the Earth and natural ecosystems are all irrelevant where capitalism is concerned. Profit is the only decision-maker, no matter how absurd, unjust or calamitous.
The state of Oklahoma was reportedly hit with over 550 quakes in the past year. In the 1930s, the red-dirt state was clobbered with another ecological crisis, known as the “dust bowl era.”
Millions of families were uprooted, dispossessed and displaced because new intensive farming practices in preceding years had ruined the soil structure, making it blow away in huge waves of dust.
Farms were shuttered by banks foreclosing on bankrupt families. Industrial agriculture and the reckless pursuit of capitalist profit was the primary cause of the Dust Bowl.
In his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck wrote about the anguish and suffering of the droves of people from Oklahoma and other Midwest states, who during the Great Depression had to migrate to California to eke out a living as farm laborers.
They endured heartrending poverty, sickness, hunger, death, and brutality from truncheon-wielding cops along the way.
Eight decades on, America still hasn’t learnt anything. Capitalism is killing the Earth and its people, again and again. How many calamities must be endured under this barbaric, irrational system? When will we finish with it, before it finishes us?
And it’s not just about oil and gas, or agriculture. Capitalism mandates imperialism, which in turn mandates conflict and war. Anyone must see that America’s collision course with Russia over the trumped-up Ukraine crisis is a direct function of US imperialism and its European vassals.
Ultimately, this capitalist logic, unchecked, could lead to nuclear war, just as American imperialist-capitalist logic was behind the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Part of the reason for subjugating Eastern Ukraine is to make way for oil and gas fracking in Novorossiya by the company Burisma, whose executive board members include Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, the US vice president.
So there you have the complete circle. Killing people at home and around the world, and all for the making of tacky bits of paper called dollars. Surely human beings can do better than that.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism.