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Pink breast cancer awareness oil and gas drill is not a disgraceful hoax

One of the world's largest oilfield service companies pulls employee who lost his mom to breast cancer into 'pinkwashing' trickery

MIAMI – Even though Bill Debo said his mom died of breast cancer when he was a teenager, the scene looked like a rosy lie.

On Sunday, Debo posed for a picture with Norm Bowling and an over-sized $100,000 check from his employer. Bowling is Susan G. Komen's chief revenue and marketing officer. Debo is an executive for Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest oilfield services companies.

Both men wore pink ties, and were posing for a picture in front of an audience at the Pittsburgh Steelers game. The donation also moved the company to splash the breast cancer awareness ribbon on industrial oil and gas drill bits. 

"This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide," the company website said. "The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures for this disease."

The lie was so obvious that it appeared to be a hoax at first, but it wasn't. It was the perfect example of Breast Cancer Action's Think Before You Pink campaign. It was "pinkwashing" at its worst, protesters said on social media.

The steel bit is usually sold in gold. This one was washed in bright commercial Estee Lauder pink and delivered in a pink box with educational pamphlets. The donation was miniscule considering the oil field services company recently reported a $375 million profit and a record $6.25 million revenue.

But that was not why there was outrage through the entire month of October over the very cute and girly drill bits. The company engages in hydraulic fracking, a drilling technique that is also known as hydro-fracturing.

"Fracking is a toxic process – at least 25 percent of the more than 700 chemicals used in fracking are linked to cancer,"  the organization's executive director Karuna Jaggar said in a statement. "This 'pinkwashing' partnership makes Komen complicit in a practice that endangers women's health."

Acid fracking has been used in Florida to loosen limestone. What the technology is doing to the aquifer, Florida's main source of water, remains unknown.

Susan G. Komen reports that over the past three decades, breast cancer rates have increased by about 20 percent in the U.S.

"During this time, the number of synthetic chemicals have also increased," the organization's website warns. "Understanding the links between environmental pollutants and breast cancer is critical, as it may help prevent the disease in some people."

Baker Hughes, which runs operations around the world, hasn't been very helpful on this mission. And Debo hasn't been passionate about it either. Sandra Steingraber has. She is a bladder cancer survivor and biologist, who served in President Bill Clinton's National Action Plan on Breast Cancer.

Drilling -- even with Baker Hughes pink ribbon drill -- can introduce cancer risks into communities. The drilling can liberate and mobilize toxic materials and even radioactivity trapped inside shale bedrock, Steingraber said in a 2012 Breast Cancer Action article.

"The chemicals necessary to frack the rock are themselves toxic," she said. "Our drinking water aquifers lie above the rocks we are shattering ... thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals are added to the millions of gallons of fracking water."

Steinberg highlighted two years ago that in Texas "breast cancer rates are higher among women living in six counties with the most intensive gas drilling," because drilling operations "involve releases of known and suspected breast carcinogens."

But Baker Hughes Inc. claims it is fighting against a disease that has affected even their own employees. It has been a "proud sponsor" of Komen Houston Race for the Cure, a 5-K in downtown Houston. They also support the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life events in Houston.

But are they involved in helping to monitor programs with veterinarians and biochemists looking to study the impacts of fracking on animals and humans? No, they have not. And will Susan G. Komen use the $100,000 to support studies on carcinogens involved in the fracking process? That is highly doubtful.

Susan G. Komen listed the company that engages in "fracking" on their website as one of the "businesses that are helping end breast cancer forever." They list it next to a healthy woman with long hair running. You can bet Steingraber is not clapping.

The marketing and the lie feels like an insult to the scientist's intelligence. And she is not alone.  Among the organizations protesting the donation and endorsement were Credo Action, Oil Change International and Food & Water Watch.

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