72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals.1 That is the amount needed to run the current U.S. gas wells for hydraulic fracturing. This destructive and polluting method of extracting natural gas has been going on since 1998 by giant U.S. energy corporations. How is it possible that such an extreme extraction method has been going on for all these years? In the documentary Gasland, director Josh Fox exposes the corrupt fracking industry and how U.S. politics have played a role in giant energy corporations. He discovers throughout the film that fracking is happening all around the US with devastating effects to the groundwater and communities that depend on it. There are communities shown that are suffering from multiple illnesses due to their water being contaminated with benzene and other hydrocarbons. One scene that stood out was when John was able to light the water on fire because it was so chemically contaminated! Gasland reveals how organizations that were put in place to protect citizens are not living up to their promise, and instead benefiting the financial motives of major corporations. In 2005 the Energy Policy Act passed by the Bush and Cheney administration, exempted oil and gas corporations from dozens of environmental acts including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.2 Various individuals in the U.S. government have used their political power to benefit energy corporations. It wasn’t surprising to me when I learned that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney happened to be the previous CEO of Halliburton, one of the biggest oil field services in the world. Unfortunately this isn’t the first occurrence of U.S. political powers at work, it can also be connected to other historical examples such as the Marshall Plan in the mid-twentieth century and the U.S. refusal of the Kyoto Protocol. The film documentary Surviving Progress also gives insight into the conceptual theory to why we may be repeating these mistakes, known as the “progress trap”. Through these examples, there is a clear link between the issues of environmental pollution and the influential power of major energy corporations in American politics.
The United States government decision on dealing with the Marshall Plan, also know as the European Recovery Program (ERP), is a perfect example of how political power directly benefited American energy corporations and increased pollution in throughout Europe. In the first chapter of Timothy Mitchell’s book Carbon Democracy, he analyzes the influential role the U.S. played in funding Europe to convert their energy system from coal to being largely dependent on oil. An important goal of the conversion to oil was to weaken the power of the coal miners who had the ability to disrupt the flow of energy and go on strike.3 It was shocking to learn that the U.S. was able to use their political power to completely influence another continent’s energy system. Mitchell writes, “The corporatized democracy of postwar Western Europe was to be built on this reorganization of energy” (30). From learning about recent U.S. political moves to benefit from major corporations like the Kyoto Protocol, it wasn’t surprising to learn the about the actions taken by the U.S. government to protect and grow oil profits internationally for their own American energy corporations. It was no coincidence that the largest beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan aid were the US companies supplying the oil. Western Europe never had significant oilfields during the energy reorganization, however not too far away in Saudi Arabia was the establishment of the American Standard Oil Company waiting for funding to increase production.4 Naturally, the long-term effects of the oil economy have lead to an increase of pollution and carbon emissions throughout the region caused by the ERP funding. The US encouraged the building of roads and American vehicles to ERP countries;