Federal Government is Longtime Supporter of Fracking

Friday August 23 marked the end of the public comment period for the Department of Interior’s draft “fracking rule” on public lands. The rule, originally proposed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in May 2013, has three main components: it would require drillers to disclose the chemicals used in fracking on public lands; it would setup standards for well integrity to safeguard against groundwater contamination; and it would require drillers to have a plan in place to deal with flow back.

Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX)

The oil and gas industry have put up stiff resistance with cries that regulation will kill off any hopes of “energy independence.” House Republicans oppose the measure, and as Greenwire reported, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) put forth legislation that would block BLM’s fracking rule. Flores, the former CEO of Phoenix Exploration, an oil and gas company, argued at a subcommittee hearing in July, “[t]he Bill before us today is about empowering local self-government in placing a check on the growth of an out-of-control, one-size-fits-all federal government.” Congressman Flores seemed to have not realized (or more likely willfully ignored) that BLM’s rule applies to federal lands, not state lands.

Despite vociferous rhetoric from Republicans in Congress and the oil and gas industry to the contrary, the federal government has long-been in bed with the industry.

In 2005 President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act into law (then Senator Obama supported the bill) with a provision that specifically exempted fracking activities from certain provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. The provision is known as the “Halliburton loophole” as it was included at the request of then Vice President Dick Cheney. The loophole has successfully removed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate fracking.

Diana DeGette (D-CO)

Some members of Congress have since fought to close the loophole, without success. Rep. Diane DeGette (D-CO) sponsored The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act in 2009 that would have repealed the Halliburton loophole, but it died in committee.

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, there was new hope that the oil and gas industry would no longer receive such favorable treatment. In 2009 the EPA began sampling wells in Pavillion, WY in response to complaints from local residents near drilling sites that their well water appeared to be dark and dirty, and smelled of petroleum. EPA officials ran tests in areas fracked by Encana Oil & Gas in what would become a closely watched study because of its potential impact on future regulation of the industry.

In 2011 the EPA issued a draft report with results from Wyoming that discovered the presence of synthetic chemicals used in the fracking process. It also found benzene in quantities above what is considered safe, as well as high levels of methane. The report was the first significant and official link between fracking and groundwater contamination. The industry disputed the findings, arguing that the report was flawed, but the study was seemingly a watershed moment in the unfolding fracking narrative.

Yet, on June 20, 2013, EPA dropped its investigation and handed it over to the state of Wyoming.

The decision came only five days before President Obama laid out his plan to fight climate change in a major speech at Georgetown University, which relied heavily on natural gas. Environmental groups are outraged over what they see as a calculated political move by the White House, directing the EPA to stop work on the study.

Because natural gas theoretically emits only half of the greenhouse gases compared to coal, President Obama made increased natural gas production a central pillar of his plan, stating, “Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this:  We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

By favoring natural gas, the President seemed to be providing cover for other parts of his climate plan, which may over time force the shutdown of many of the nation’s existing coal plants. He is using natural gas to kill off coal.

This is why, some think, the EPA was pressured into backing off its fracking study, handing over responsibility to the state of Wyoming. The study will be funded by Encana, the company that owns the wells in the area.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Industry supporters cheered, as did Wyoming’s congressional delegation. In a press release, Senator John Barrasso (R) said, “EPA’s decision to not rely on premature conclusions in its 2011 draft report is a positive and wise step.”  Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R) added, “Today they finally recognized that the very best place for their report on fracking in Pavillion is in the dust bin of history.”

The fact that the administration seems to be fully embracing natural gas does not bode well for rigorous regulatory oversight. And for the first time, industry is looking to lease Eastern national forests. While the oil and gas industry may oppose BLM’s proposed fracking rule for fear of burdensome regulation, if history is any guide, they have little reason to worry.

Detroit’s Toxic Legacy – Bankrupt City Faces Environmental Challenges

Packard Plant (Library of Congress)

Sitting silent and decaying in its own polluted waste, The Packard Plant awaits a new future in post-bankruptcy Detroit. It is little more than a home for the homeless, a canvas for graffiti artists and vandals alike.

The Packard Plant  was not always so dirty and dystopic. Once it turned out millions of sedans, coupes, war weapons and paychecks. Founded in 1903, it began manufacturing its high-status cars just as Henry Ford started building mass-market cars in a nearby one-story factory.

The Packard grew to a 35-acre industrial powerhouse, revolutionizing the American economy along with Ford and other auto titans.

But as it did, so it left a legacy of lead, chrome, nickel, PCBs and other pollutants deposited only a few yards from residential neighborhoods. Tastes and economics changed, and in the 1950s The Packard’s auto assembly lines stopped, and the property slowly slid into decay. Continue reading Detroit’s Toxic Legacy – Bankrupt City Faces Environmental Challenges

New York Imports Pennsylvania’s Radioactive Fracking Waste Despite Falsified Water Tests

Hyland Landfill i

ANGELICA, N.Y. — Questions about the integrity of official water tests are stirring the latest controversy over New York State’s embattled policy of allowing imports of radioactive waste from natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania.

The issue arose last month in Casella Waste Systems’ bid to speed up by 49 percent deliveries to its Hyland Landfill in Angelica, about 80 miles south of Rochester. Neighbors of the landfill and the Sierra Club are asking the state to conduct a full environmental review of the case or at least to hold a public hearing on it. So far, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has not responded to those requests. “We are currently reviewing the comments received on the Casella solid waste application, and no decisions have been made,” said Lisa King, a DEC public information officer. Continue reading New York Imports Pennsylvania’s Radioactive Fracking Waste Despite Falsified Water Tests

The Toxic Tycoon

Harold Simmons (Photo credit Dallas Morning News)

Andrews County, TX—Tucked away on the Texas/New Mexico border is a 15,000-acre low-level nuclear waste disposal site run by Waste Control Specialists (WCS), a subsidiary of Valhi, Inc. Only five miles away from the nearest city of Eunice, this site is to be a permanent disposal site for level A, B, and C radioactive waste. WCS sought two licenses that allowed them to accept a total of 60 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from federal and state sources, including nuclear reactors, weapons programs, and hospitals, roughly enough to fill half of Cowboy’s Stadium. The citizens of Andrews County are thrilled to have the disposal site, which provides jobs and revenue to the small town. The town receives 5 percent of WCS’s gross receipts and received their first payment in August, about $620,000. Continue reading The Toxic Tycoon