Fracking Gave Me the Clap (Honest, honey..)

October 28, 2013

Bright lights, small cities. Flares from fracking and oil shale fields in North Dakota are visible from space.

Windbaggers – when you told your wife that your herpes came from wind turbines – did she buy it?

I was once a first responder in my small midwest American town where a big company had come and started building a nuclear plant.
What a lot of folks didn’t get when they saw the utility slide show about jobs, jobs, jobs, – is that, invariably, while a certain number of local workers get hired, some of the demands of these projects invariably mean the local talent pools are quickly exhausted, particularly in a small town.  There’s a need for itinerant workers,  people with a fairly specialized skill set – boomers, who move from job to job, state to state, working these kinds of projects.
One of the first things local authorities noticed was a rise in the general level of chaos when the community became host to a large number of rootless, mostly male newcomers, who had money, and needed something to do on saturday night.

Ah, I remember it fondly.


Fracking rigs have popped up in at least 17 states including California, Texas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Eighty-two thousand frack wells have been drilled since 2005, according to a report this month by the advocacy group Environment America. Seen in satellite images from space, parts of the Great Plains grow nearly bright as New York City with the light of drilling rigs and gas flares.

The rapid industrialization of North America’s countryside has brought a litany of big city problems to rural America. While critics accuse frackers of fouling air, drinking water, and farmland with swamp gas and carcinogens; prostitution, methamphetamine, and sexual crime have stalked drilling operations.

“There’s like 80 guys for every woman,” said an industry veteran who has watched a rising sprawl of trailer parks, dive bars, and strip clubs consume the North Dakota prairie in recent years. “A friend of mine brought his wife here with him. If he turns his back on her at Walmart, there are guys talking to her when he returns.”

To fill the gap in available housing for a surging transient workforce, company-housing units—known as “man camps”—have sprung up on the outskirts of once meager population centers. It’s work hard, play hard. You are 7.6 times more likely to die working on an oil or gas rig than in any other industry, so it’s understandable that when payday comes, these guys want to burn off steam. Unfortunately for many small towns around the country, a fracking worker’s idea of fun can be a bit debauched.

“Hookers go for $300 a pop,” said the oil worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But if you see a woman in a store or on the street, they get nervous when you simply say ‘howdy.’ Some go into panic mode because of the crude guys around here. ”

Critics of fracking have compared it to raping the Earth, but where drilling has spread literal rape has followed. Violence against woman in fracking boomtowns in North Dakota and Montana has increased so sharply that the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced in June that it plans to spend half a million dollars investigating the correlation. In soliciting grants from researchers the DoJ speculated that “oil industry camps may be impacting domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the direct and surrounding communities in which they reside.”

A separate study from the environmental group Food and Water Watch (FWW) released in September notes that cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia have gone up too, increasing 32.4 percent in heavily fracked counties in Pennsylvania. The study collects statistical data from five years before and five years after congress changed the Safe Drinking Water Act to exempt frackers from disclosing the chemicals used in the drilling process—spawning America’s fracking boom. FWW also draws on press reports from around the country that point to the pervasiveness of the trend.

“We’ve found that fracking brought a host of social costs to communities where drilling has begun,” said FWW’s Program Director Emily Wurth. “These are the real costs of fracking that are never discussed.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Like gold prospectors bound for California in 1849 and their Dust Bowl descendants who followed during the Depression, or waves of rural, Southern blacks flocking northward to industrial Chicago and Detroit after World War II, today’s modern migration is epic.

But it’s also different. Klefstad and his ilk aren’t packing up their families to escape tough times and search out new opportunity. They’re part of a swinging-door, here-today, home-next-month turnstile migration.

And amid the back-and-forth lurching, Andrew Klefstad is grappling with a hard truth: This modern-day gold rush comes with golden handcuffs.

Like so many fortune seekers out here, the recession left him scrambling to find work five years ago. His father couldn’t afford to pay him back on the dairy farm. Business had dried up for the industrial cleanup company he worked for in Cannon Falls, Minn.

So he lit out to North Dakota. Halliburton, the global energy industry giant, put him right to work. Now, at only 28 with no college degree, he’s earning more than $100,000 a year as the general manager of Mirror Image Environmental Services. He’s cleaning up spills and washing tons of sludge off the countless trucks pounding down the red-clay roads that connect the drilling rigs, nodding wells, railheads and gas flares that riddle western North Dakota.

Klefstad spends three weeks working sunup to sundown, then gets back on the train for a week with Tiffany, Kelvin and daughter Avery back in western Wisconsin. The brutal-but-profitable lifestyle leaves legions of workers juggling split lives of long hours and dislocating separation.

On the other hand, we could change the way we think about energy, and ask ourselves if it might make more sense to have electric utilities be providers of energy services, rather than just kilowatts.  In  other words, I want to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, I want a hot shower and a cold beer – those are energy services. I don’t care how many watts or joules are involved.

It might then make sense for a utility to consider whether building the new gas-turbine power plant is necessary, or could the services be supplied, for instance, by upgrading houses in the service area, or providing incentives for ratepayers to buy new, more efficient appliances.
These kind of initiatives boost the economy too, but in a softer way. The benefits don’t just land on one community among thousands, they are distributed evenly among many communities. And the jobs created tend to be jobs that can employ entry level, as well as experienced craftsmen and women – anyone who can dig a hole, pound a nail, or bend metal.
Since new techniques and technology are constantly coming around, and older houses always need updating, the jobs created tend to be community based, secure, and continuous, rather than a boom and bust cyclical.

And aren’t these the kind of goals and values that we can all agree on?

Just a thought.

15 Responses to “Fracking Gave Me the Clap (Honest, honey..)”

  1. Wow. One form of rape begets another.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Working men, far from home, in the great outdoors aren’t likely to be on their best behavior.

      For every girl who’s been promised a good fracking, there’s likely another who’s been offered a memorable ride to the top of a turbine.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        except that wind turbines create most of their jobs at stable manufacturing facilities based in one community for a long term.

  2. Tor Bertin Says:

    Last year, there was a popular teacher in Montana who was kidnapped and murdered by a pair of temporary oilfield workers in North Dakota. Apparently, they were drugged out of their mind, and decided that it would be fun to engage in kidnapping.

  3. Providing “energy services” runs into problems of ownership.  Take apartment and tenant-occupied commercial buildings.  These are built to rent for a certain price, which includes paying the mortgage.  Capital cost is a huge factor for the owner, but operating cost (including utilities) is usually the tenant’s responsibility.  The owner has every incentive to put in the minimum insulation, the cheapest HVAC gear, and the least expensive water heater.  This may well increase the net cost to the tenant well above what an optimal effort would have produced, but the owner has to pay the mortgage even if the building is empty so it’s very hard to get there.

    There are probably market niches where you can get around this.  Perhaps a utility will strike a deal with an appliance maker to produce a line of ice-storage refrigerators which rent for $X per month, power included, all added to the monthly bill.  These fridges would run their compressors at night to freeze a block of ice, then melt that ice during the day to keep the box cold.  This would allow the utility to shift most of that power demand to off-peak hours and give the consumer a chance to have a nice new refrigerator without the cash outlay.  The appliance maker gets sales, and a chance to market efficiency to the utility bean counters instead of consumers.  Could that be an all-win scenario?

  4. jimbills Says:

    Peter, how would you measure ‘energy services’? Say one guy wants to be warm in the winter in a home with thin walls, zero weatherstripping, have his thermostat at 80 degrees, and walk around in his skivvies. Say another guy likes to wear sweaters all day, has a home with double-paned windows and low square footage, and he prefers to keep his thermostat at 68.

    Do they pay the same rate for the service? If they do, then wouldn’t overall trends favor the lifestyle of the first guy? If they don’t, wouldn’t it just be another system of metering?

    The only realistic way to get people to use less energy (and thus, frack less and emit less) is for: 1) prices to get more expensive (and I think they should be much, much more expensive) and 2) for total bills to reflect the level of consumption (i.e. metering). You use more energy, you pay more.

    An ‘energy services’ plan strikes me at first as just a subsidization for poor habits. But I’m open to hear the idea in full.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      your first guy will be paying a lot more to stay comfortable. If he can’t afford it, he might apply for heating assistance.

      a simple example would be that households that qualify for this kind of energy bill assistance would be targeted by the utility itself for weatherization upgrades, which would increase the value of the property, lower monthly bills, provide local jobs and tax base, and reduce demands for fossil fuels going forward, while making the resident more comfortable, whatever their lifestyle choice.

  5. Rooftop solar IS an energy services business, if it lowers your costs and consumption. There are local entrepreneurs who offer other energy services, like furnace maintenance, energy audits, etc. The sole entity failing to benefit is the energy producer, the utility, if it only profits from increased production. These two forces are at odds. Any service that lowers your bill, rather than requires you to pay more to use more, by inference, is an energy service, not just an energy provider, at least in the lexicon we are using those terms. This is the strange economic area we find ourselves in, when we discover that efficiency may be cheaper than consumption. Rooftop solar providers are finding ways of having a steady income over long periods by providing power for less than conventional grid power. This is beneficial to everyone including the utility (less generation, and distribution cost). The problem is that generators and distribution are extremely capital intensive and utilities have relied on long term steadily increasing demand and low fuel costs to allow large thermal PP to maintain profitability. Falling demand is disastrous for them. Classically, utilities should promote consumption, not conservation. On the other hand, they could invest in local generation and micro grids, just like their customers are. They could profit from energy services like audits. Problem is, it kills their old business. They are the old business, at least, thats how they think. See, there is a problem with sustainability. It looks like a recession to a classic economist. There is no growth. Classically, it is a recession. The dilemma is imbued in the growth demands of capitalism and that is where the real revolution must happen. I am not sure how that with turn out, but like all things economic, there is risk in betting on one way or another. Currently, high electric consumption is a risky economic bet. The cognitive dissonance in our minds is that we cannot resolve the conflict between old school “produce more, sell more” and new school “conserve more, save more” thought. The question is, how can conservation or alternatives work economically. Solar providers are doing it. The answer is staring right at us. Its what the old school is trying to desperately, avoid, delay, and deny. It is not even a problem that needs solving. It is already being solved. Just not in a way that utilities like. For now, the economic need for growth is being satisfied by growth in services rather than consumption. Eventually, the underpinnings of growth based economics must be considered and evolved to allow a future of sustainability.

  6. andrewfez Says:

    Well, being conservative about energy/resources has sort of ruined my dating life:

    I log onto the dating website to see what’s happening. I click on a profile. The lady says she sells women’s clothes here in LA and in NYC. 12 months per year she takes round trips between these two places. She lists international travel and other high consumption, energy intensive behaviors as her favorite things to do. The entire idea of women constantly updating their wardrobe for the ‘new spring look’ or the ‘new fall look’, &c. in a perpetual state of over-consumption makes me mad. I log off, disheartened.

    The overwhelming majority of folks in Los Angeles that describe themselves as ‘environmentalists’ on their dating profile also list themselves as ‘avid world travelers’ or the like. In other words, ‘Lord give me chastity, but just not yet’. Who said that? St. Augustine? Or more like, ‘Other people should do something about that’.

    Then I loath the arguments about how cold it is in my place in the winter or how hot it is in the summer. I don’t use heat in the winter. I have my A/C set at like 82 or 84 in the summer and use fans (I actually cut my summer energy use by 30% just cutting down my A/C use). I use around 3000 KWh per year in electricity, and probably a bit less than such this year, if I don’t do anything crazy these next few months.

    Dating, in general, just feels like a medium that encourages hyper-consumption.

    • jimbills Says:

      “Dating, in general, just feels like a medium that encourages hyper-consumption.”

      You’re absolutely right, and this is why I give us a very low probability of pro-actively addressing climate change. Humans are thinking animals. Most (a likely understatement) of their comparatively significant cognitive ability is bent on the pursuit and justification of their animal desires.

      Besides the immediate needs of basic food and shelter, biologically we are driven to procreate (shown in the desire for sex). Females in the human world choose males just as any animal would – they compare attributes amongst the males in their vicinity (this goes the other way, of course, too). Besides physical attractiveness and similar superficial interests (same political views, for instance), a woman generally looks for social and material fitness in a man. On a general basis, a guy who owns 3 cars, is popular and respected, and has a great job is going to rank far higher than the guy who walks to work and keeps his A/C off.

      In response, most males act as any animal would – they compete amongst each other for status and rank. This process feeds and amplifies a culture that places high value on material consumption. Every day, we’re constantly bombarded with ads and other cues to buy, buy, buy. (There are of course sub-cultures in the West and other cultures that define rank in other ways besides just material accumulation).

      What you’re doing, Andrew, is seeing problems outside of yourself and battling your own desires in response. It’s entirely noble, in my view, and I wish you the best. I want to give you hope that you will find a like-minded woman. They are out there, although probably in as low a number as people like yourself. Best wishes – I always enjoy reading your thoughts and several others on this site.

      • You are on the verge of a discovery. The underlying causes of our dilemma are not merely abstract economic, technological, or biological. They are psychological and sociological. We are a product of our environment, slaves to mass marketing designed to keep us consuming, while the factories are humming and overproducing, creating profits for the 1%, and ravaging our resources with no consciousness of the consequences. It is all driven by an economic system predicated on compound interest and exponential growth. Factories must expand and create ever cheaper goods. Consumers must buy them. We are in the Matrix and we have no idea why we continue to consume, consume, consume.–Century-of-the-Self-
        We are conditioned to expect, demand, and love growth. Our garages are stuffed with objects we never use and we still go shopping for more. If we do not, the GNP has less growth than expected and we are laid off. So we are psychologically conditioned by fear and fettered by our untamed egos. The thought of restrained consumption shatters our security and challenges our cherished belief systems.
        We must keep up with the Joneses. We must show others our superior consumption. We must raise our children to go to the best schools so they can continue the same consumption pattern. More is better. Or maybe not.

      • andrewfez Says:

        Thanks Jim, for the kind words – good insights, too. Certainly, the companies that produce all this stuff exploit these social dynamics in order to sell more stuff:

        – I saw an internet banner ad the other day for a text book store that presented an attractive woman in two frames: on the first, she had a horrid, unsettled look on her face and the copy read: ‘Cheap date – BAD!’; and on the second, she had a satisfied look, whilst the copy read: ‘Cheap text books – GOOD!’.

        – Or flowers: The whole point of flowers, traditionally, was that the man had to walk out into the field, pick the flowers, and it was this time sacrifice that sealed the sentiment. These days you click a few buttons on the internet and flowers picked in some warm environment are shipped to a local arranger, who then adds a bunch of plastic embellishments to make the arrangement look nice, then ships it out to the target audience. Commercials and media continue to promote this to sell flowers.


        Then there are the ‘social cues’ pop media provides: every once in a while there are particular male characters on the 30 minute, TV shows that are obsessed with their cars, further worshiping ‘(horse)power’, ‘torq’, and ‘performance’; such being a side effect of years of car commercials using those same descriptors to sell their products. All this does is promote the social acceptability of these hot-rods; I’ve heard many a conversation when I was a kid, about such and such Ferrari getting 0-60mph in x amount of seconds.

        Or even commercials that subconsciously promote mass consumption: say a commercial about Disneyland, where we have a couple and their two kids in the first segment pulling out of a large suburban home in a Land Rover or other SUV, on their way to Disneyland. Or a credit card commercial showing that normal, middle-class people can have world travel adventures using their credit card. Or there’s always some commercial talking about ‘savings’: they portray their product as being cheap, allowing you to ‘save’ money when buying it, but then they follow up with the hook: ‘that money you saved – you can use it to buy even more stuff you like!’

        See ya

  7. Sir Charles Says:

    More news about the shale gas situation in Europe, Ireland and the world => Shale Gas Bulletin Ireland

  8. […] jobs being promised as part of America’s oil boom, and the proposed Keystone pipeline, are boom and bust jobs. They are not consistent with strong, steady economies, with cohesive communities, with healthy […]

  9. […] possibility of turning central California into a sewer of toxic air, poisoned water, dried up wells, squalid boomtowns, overcrowded man camps, bursting jails and sex slavery.  It’s their version of the future for most of […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your 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

%d bloggers like this: