Environmental reporters can sometimes get too close their subjects to be objective. Sometimes that can be a bad thing. Sometime that can be a really good bad thing.
“You can call me Frackie,” said the smiling platinum blonde bombshell as she held a tray of exotic-looking cocktails. “Is there something I can get you, besides cheap American natural gas and energy independence?”
I knew I was being played for a sucker but the words fell out of my mouth. “Make mine a double,” I croaked transfixed by this toxic vixen.
“My eyes are up here Mr. Reporter Man,” Frackie smiled. “And, no, you can’t have any of my fracking chemical cocktails because you might just get your little journalistic snoot in a snit and go and test it and think you’ve got the scoop of the century. So you be nice and just get a good look.”
Frackie had plenty to look at but had good reason to be secretive: fracking uses around 600 chemicals in various combinations and amounts with water and sand pumped into the ground to force out gas otherwise inaccessible by simply drilling. Frackie drills with pressure.
With roots dating back to the 1860s, hydraulic fracking has been around since 1947 but by 1997, more modern techniques made the practice economical. Nowadays, most fracking occurs between 5,000 to 20,000 feet below ground surface.
The amounts of chemicals used are staggering. Up to 100,000 gallons (US) can be used in a typical well over its lifetime. These chemicals include radioactive tracers like Iodine-131, the much-feared radionuclide the health effects of which can be combated by the much-prized radiation blocker for the thyroid, potassium-iodide.
Fracking uses massive amounts of water mixed in with chemicals like methanol, diesel, xylene, formaldehyde, and sulfuric acid. That kind of goo being drilled and pumped into the substrata would logically be suspect of contaminating groundwater but Frackie’s not too worried about that: she’s exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. That should have said something to the folks around the country who gave in to the temptation of selling off their natural gas rights so big oil companies could frack the land and who now complain that their well water has been poisoned and is unusable.
I mused on all this while getting lost looking at this gorgeous Toxie who seemed to have my number.
“Fracking is a good thing,” Frackie said smiling, “and you look like you could learn a lot about fracking from me. You would come away stimulated with the possibilities that fracking offers. I guarantee it.”
Frackie wasn’t the only new Toxie this year to compete for dishonors. Sodium Hydroxide made her first appearance in her role to relax hair. The chemical is better known by the names caustic soda and lye. This harsh chemical has tormented generations of African American women and men looking to get “long shiny hair floating in the the breeze of the morning, long strokes of brushing and cute ponytails” according to the Toxies website.
Nitrates, with her leg-baring Angela Jolie-style dress, slinked into the competition with her boyfriend Chloropicrin, both veterans of agricultural pollution that harms farm workers and consumers.
Exempt from California regulations, nitrates are found in bacon, cured meat and some cheese products. This is especially troubling since recent studies have found that there is a link between the leggy Toxie and Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, a double dose of really bad if there ever was one.
Chloropicrin got his start in World War I as an especially effective chemical agent used by the Germans to make Allied troops vomit uncontrollably. Today the poison is used as a fumigant for onions, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and tobacco. “PS,” as he is known to his friends, causes agricultural fields to become infertile, the soil equivalent of “numb nuts” he says.
I was stunned but not numb. Fracking Chemical Cocktail stood in front of me, holding a tray of the most delicious-looking cocktails, resplendent in a Deco-style corset, pillbox hat that set off her creamy white decolletage. She looked like she was chiseled out of the bedrock she regularily drills.
Mustering all the control I could, I tried to regain some sort of semblance of professional decorum. That proved to be a good idea because it was time to interview Frackie for the live stream that the event had planned.
“This is Michael Collins of EnviroReporter.com at the Third Annual Toxies Awards for Bad Chemical Actors here at the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood California,” I said, surprised at my stiff upper lip. “Fracking Chemical Cocktail, this is your first appearance on the red carpet, yet we know you have been around for decades. Where have you been hiding yourself all these years?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, it was that documentary film Gasland, that brought me out of hiding,” Frackie said smiling at me and the cameras for the folks watching the live stream. “I had a starring role in that one and people really started paying attention, especially those Mid-Westerners and New Yorkers. Isn’t it amazing what making it to the big screen can do for your popularity!”
“But you have been used in California since the 1950’s,” I noted. “Seems like we would have seen you here before, given all the nasty stuff you are made of.”
“Yes, I’ve had a healthy career in the ‘underground scene,’ if you know what I mean, and I like it that way,” Frackie said in her flirty way. “I give a lot of credit for my success at staying in the background to the California Division of Oil and Gas. With their lack of diligence, it was quite easy. And what do you mean, ‘nasty stuff?’ My over 600 chemicals? Well one community’s nasty is another company’s nice.”
“We understand that the oil and gas industry plans on giving you many more chances to stay on our radar,” I added in an embarrassingly fawning manner. “Is what we are hearing true?”
“I enjoy helping Halliburton, Chevron, and the other multi-national oil and gas companies stay profitable,” Frackie said seeming somewhat peeved. “Look – if you keep up with these questions, I’ll play the trade secret card like I do with some of my chemicals and you won’t get anything more out of me. Sure, I contaminate groundwater, air, destroy the environment and cause earthquakes, but I think that’s fracktastic?”
The shock of interviewing this septic siren was soon supplanted by seeing Trichloroethylene saunter up for his interview. TCE, a carcinegenic rocket engine solvent, was being played by noneother than a wonderful actor I knew from my UCLA days, Holland MacFallister.
“Congratulations on being nominated for a Toxie,” I said beginning the interview. “What would you say is your favorite role?”
“Oh that’s easy,” TCE replied with a creepy smile. “Military and aerospace turn me on. I just love to be sprayed all over those big powerful rockets and inside their engines too. Throw in some tanks and airplanes and I’m in toxic heaven. I’ve contaminated military bases all over the country, from Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendelton. I’m a patriotic poison, you see.”
“You’ve been nominated for Worst Workplace Drama,” I continued. “Why this category?”
“Well, since I’m a solvent and de-greaser, at least half a million workers are exposed to me every year,” TCE said with obvious delight. “I can vaporize underground and up into buildings at many industrial sites, making workers loopy, poisoning them and dramatically increasing the male breast cancer rate. Not to mention the fact that I’m extremely addictive.”
Since I finally had TCE to talk to, I had to clear up something I had discovered writing “What’s in Pepper Spray?” recently for the LA Weekly newspaper. “Can you tell me,” I asked, “what in the heck are you doing in some pepper sprays?”
“I’m cheap and easy,” TCE quipped. “I evaporate quickly and take oils off skin leaving it wide open for the pepper to really hurt. Now, to the great people using pepper spray – Hello! I’m a solvent! I slowly dissolve the rubber seal in the can and leak out! It just takes a little tiny bit of me to give you cancer.”
“Wow, that should be of concern to police,” I said before posing my last question. “Last year, the EPA’s final risk assessment found that you cause kidney and liver cancer, lymphoma and other health problems which could mean reevaluating the federal drinking-water standard for you. How do you feel about that?”
“It doesn’t worry me in the slightest,” TCE said stone-faced. “My representatives in industry will help me out like they always do, saying ‘the science is uncertain’ and that ‘cleaning me up would cost too much’ – not to mention worker’s personal injury claims – so I’ll still be in water at strengths more than sufficient to harm workers, service members, students, communities and more.”
Later in the evening, Frackie took the stage and triumphantly won Worst Perfomance in a Mystery. Ecstatic from her win, Frackie sparkled as she gave her acceptance speech.
“Oh thank you!” the frisky Toxie gushed. “First, I want to thank all the people who don’t like me for helping me get so popular – the movie Gasland and so many celebrities. It’s just so cute when they think they can stop me! All my reps at the multi-national oil and gas companies have to do is say ‘energy independence’ and I get away with anything.”
This earned Frackie boos but that didn’t stop the beautiful blight. She started to quiver and rumbling began shaking the theater and smoke started seeping in from behind the curtain. Someone in the audience yelled “EARTHQUAKE!”
“I’m just so excited because I have so much to offer. Over 600 chemicals and radionuclides, secret formulas. I contaminate water and air and totally moonscape the environment and of course all this talk of me causing earthquakes is…”
The sound of an explosion filled the building as a big blast of smoke filled gusted onstage.
“Oops!” Frackie squealed with delight. “I had a frackcident!”
Peels of laughter later, Frackie slipped into something equally sexy to accompany me to the Los Angeles Press Club’s 54th Southern California Journalism Awards held at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown at the historic and regal Biltmore Hotel.
There Frackie, aka Denise Anne Duffield – editor of EnviroReporter.com – and I won First Place for “Website – News Organization – Exclusive to the Internet” in front of 500 journalists and celebrities.
And if that weren’t enough, later that night, Frackie reappeared at Radiation Station Santa Monica where the offices of EnviroReporter.com are located.
“You didn’t think I forgot about the way you were looking a little bit like a puppy dog staring at me, do you Mr. EnviroReporter?” Frackie asked this stunned journalist who, for once, was at a loss for words. “This is going to be a fracking night to remember!”
Photos by Michael Collins/EnviroReporter.com, Chico Cortinas, G. McCarthy/Gary Leonard Photography & Dale Ramicone/EnviroReporter.com