Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fracking the shale and Corporate Concealment

by Wenonah Hauter

In addition to poisoning our water, homes, and bodies, fracking is eroding the quality of rural life.
Flames exploding from kitchen taps. Livestock dropping dead from tainted water. People in small towns noticing an unusual stench, experiencing acute headaches, and blacking out.

These aren't scenes from a horror movie. They're the increasingly common results of natural gas drilling throughout the United States.

In the US, fracking is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Many state and federal lawmakers see natural gas as the answer to our nation's need for new energy sources. Yet extracting gas through a process called hydraulic fracturing — more commonly referred to as "fracking" — poses unacceptable risks to the American public. Fracking requires large quantities of water and a cocktail of toxic chemicals that have been shown to poison water resources in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

To date, at least 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented near drilling sites around the country. In some cases, residents can no longer drink from their taps, and in at least one instance, a home near a fracking site exploded after a gas well leaked methane into its tap water.

Fracking can also compromise air quality. People in Dish, Texas, located near 11 natural gas compression stations, know this from firsthand experience. Residents there complained of headaches and blackouts, a strange odor in the air, and a sudden rash of blindness among their livestock. A private environmental consultant sampled air from Dish and found that it contained high levels of neurotoxins and carcinogens, including benzene.

The correlation between fracking and serious public health problems is further reinforced by studies conducted by the Endocrine Disruption Network, which found that 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, and 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems.

In addition to poisoning our water, homes, and bodies, fracking is eroding the quality of life in rural America. New wells bring fleets of noisy, polluting trucks to small towns. Scenic vistas are replaced by fracking wells, harming tourism and recreation industries. In Wise County, Texas, properties with gas wells have lost 75 percent of their value. While companies promise minimal impacts, the process often devastates farming operations when fracking fluids poison water supplies, sometimes even killing livestock.

Yet despite these problems, the United States is currently experiencing a boom in natural gas production, drilling into rock that is only now accessible thanks to so-called innovations within the industry. Between 2000 and 2010, fracked shale gas increased from 1 percent to 20 percent of the domestically drilled natural gas supply.

The natural gas industry's influence has fueled much of this growth. Between 2005 and 2010, the largest natural gas producers and two trade associations spent more than $370 million lobbying on behalf of industry interests.

Such unchecked influence has allowed the natural gas industry to expand while doing little to protect consumers from its effects. Fracking is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and companies are not legally required to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations, claiming them as proprietary "trade secrets."

In the absence of strong federal leadership, it's up to state and local governments to protect their residents. Last year, New York State passed a six-month moratorium on fracking. In late May, Eric Schneiderman, the state's Attorney General, launched a lawsuit against the federal government for not fully assessing the environmental impacts of proposed fracking operations along the Delaware River, which supplies drinking water for 15 million Americans. To date, at least 44 municipalities across the country have passed measures to ban fracking.

Such developments point to a public backlash against this dirty, polluting process, but federal government involvement is essential too. The federal should institute a national ban on natural gas fracking. Doing so would protect public health and our essential resources, sending the message that our communities are more important than the interests of the big oil and gas companies.

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch whose report, The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking, is available from the link below.

Federal Fracking Panel Heavy With Industry Influence, Critics Charge

The Huffington Post
by Tom Zeller, Jr.

An environmental group is seeking records from the Department of Energy as part of an effort to uncover the process behind last month's creation of a 7-member panel to review the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial natural gas development technique.

The Environmental Working Group filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all correspondence and communications relating to the creation of the panel, which the group characterized as being stacked with industry representatives and devoid of representation of citizens in communities affected by gas drilling.

"We want to see how the panel was put together," Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for EWG, told The Huffington Post. "Did the department consider people from other agencies? Did they consider people from communities? Did they get pressure from industry groups?"

The Department of Energy announced last month that it had established a panel of "environmental, industry and state regulatory experts" at the behest of President Obama to examine the safety of modern natural gas development practices.

"America's vast natural gas resources can generate many new jobs and provide significant environmental benefits, but we need to ensure we harness these resources safely," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement issued at the time. "I am looking forward to hearing from this diverse, respected group of experts on best practices for safe and responsible natural gas production."

Among other things, the panel was charged with providing an outline of "any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing" within 90 days of the panel's first meeting, according to the Energy Department's initial announcement.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up and prop open layers of rock to ease the release of natural gas deposits. The industry claims that when done correctly, it is essentially safe.

But critics charge that too few regulations are in place to ensure that companies deploy the proper safeguards to prevent methane or chemicals from migrating out of the well-bore and into surrounding drinking water supplies.

A wide array of other critics worry that there are no safeguards that could provide reasonable enough protections.

Over the following six months, the DOE panel is expected to provide advice to federal agencies "on practices for shale extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment," according to DOE.
The members of the panel include John Deutch, a professor at M.I.T. who serves as chair; Stephen Holditch, head of the department of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Susan Tierney, managing principal for financial consulting firm Analysis Group; Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University.

EWG immediately took issue with the makeup of the group, arguing shortly after its formation that at least 6 of the 7 members have heavy ties to the natural gas industry:

From profiles of the various panel members compiled by E.W.G. in a May 10 report:
  • Panel chair John Deutch, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a Houston-based liquified natural gas company that, according to Forbes Magazine online, paid Deutch about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. During a stint on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, Deutch received about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007, according to Forbes.
  • Stephen Holditch, head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M University and a leader in the field of hydraulic fracturing designs, first at Shell Oil, later as head of his own firm, acquired by Schlumberger in 1997. Today, he is engineering committee chairman at Matador Resources, a Dallas oil and gas exploration company.
  • Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford and senior advisor to Baker Hughes, Inc., a Houston-based oilfield services company engaged in hydraulic fracturing. Zoback is chair of GeoMechanics International, a consulting firm that advises on various oil and gas drilling problems and that was acquired by Baker Hughes in 2008.
  • Kathleen McGinty, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now senior vice president of Weston Solutions, Inc., which consults for the oil and gas industry, including leading natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy, and a director of NRG Energy, a Princeton, N.J., wholesale power generation company whose assets include more than two dozen natural gas power companies.
  • Susan Tierney, assistant secretary of the Energy department under President Clinton, now managing principal of Analysis Group, which consults for utilities that use natural gas and for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the natural gas pipeline industry association.
  • Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Prize, a 1991 book about the oil industry, and co-founder, chairman and executive vice president of IHS CERA, originally called Cambridge Energy Research Associates, acquired in 2004 by IHS, an international consulting firm whose clients include the oil, natural gas, coal, power and clean energy communities.
Although the panel does include Fred Krupp, the president of the reputable, New York City-based Environmental Defense Fund, EWG questioned Krupp's objectivity as well, suggesting that his group's chief spokesman on issues relating to hydraulic fracturing, Scott Anderson, had conflicts of his own:
The panel’s environmental representative is Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that focuses on environmental issues. Scott Anderson, EDF’s senior policy advisor for energy and spokesman on hydraulic fracturing is a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which opposes extending the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to hydraulic fracturing. The commission website asserts that fracking “needs no further study." Anderson is a former executive vice president and general counsel for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.
In response to an email query, Anderson said that "hydraulic fracturing absolutely does need more study -- and it needs tighter regulatory oversight as well," adding that the oil and gas commission to which EWG refers "doesn't speak for me or for EDF."

DOE spokeswoman Tiffany Edwards said the agency had considered a wide range of interested parties and independent experts in selecting members for the subcommittee.

"The subcommitee is balanced with respect to experience and expertise and each member is well qualified when it comes to technical and practical knowledge," Edwards said. "Some have said that the panel is too weighted toward industry while others say it is too weighted toward environmentalists. We think we got it just right, and having a diversity of perspectives will only strengthen the final product.”

Among the Environmental Working Group's concerns is that the DOE's panel seems to be working on a parallel track to efforts already underway at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in the midst of a multiyear study of hydraulic fracturing.

Horwitt says his group suspects that one of the unspoken goals of the DOE panel might be to preempt EPA's more deliberative analysis with a 90-day gloss of t

"We were surprised that this panel was created at all, especially with the EPA study already going on," Horwitt said. "So we're concerned that this panel will come out with findings in 90 days -- that's essentially early August at this point -- that some people could hold up as the Obama administration's definitive view on the issue."

EWG is urging the Energy Department, among other things, to put a neutral expert without direct financial ties to the industry in charge of the panel and include "citizens who have been affected by hydraulic fracturing" among its membership.

This report has been updated to include comment from the Department of Energy.

Republican Lt. Governor, Cawley: No evidence of pollution from fracking 

Lt. Gov. Cawley
David Garrett Staff Photograph
Lt. Governor and local native Jim Cawley was the keynote speaker Friday at annual meeting and Strong Kids fundraising campaign celebration at Lower Bucks Family YMCA
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley on Friday said that there was no documented evidence of water being affected by the fracking process used in the mining of Marcellus shale natural gas.

Yet his comments come in sharp contrast with recent violations reported by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The former Bucks County commissioner and recently appointed chairman of the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission said natural gas mining had the potential to create as many as 250,000 long-term jobs in state by 2020.

“It’s not enough that we discover the gas here and harvest the gas here,” Cawley told members of the Bucks County Transportation Management Association. “It’s critical that we use the gas here.

“There has never been a documented case of water being affected by fracking for Marcellus shale,” Cawley said. “Yes, there are sections of this state where you can turn on the tap and light your water on fire. Methane is in the water. That is caused by irresponsible drilling 50 and 60 years ago.

On May 17, the DEP fined Chesapeake Energy $1 million for violations related to natural gas drilling in Bradford County. The DEP said it investigated private water well complaints at various times in 2010 from residents living near drilling operations. Improper well casing and cementing was blamed for gas contamination of 16 families’ drinking water supplies, the agency said.


Please read also: 
The Environment: Corporate America’s Sacrificial Lamb

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