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July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 "…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as "the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway" by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

"It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government," Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. "It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it."

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

December 31 2011

21:21

The Year In Dirty Energy: Fracking

The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has taken center stage this year as one of the most important environmental threats facing North America (and increasingly in other parts of the world). Thanks to inadequate state oversight and Dick Cheney's hamstringing of EPA oversight with the Halliburton Loophole, fracking has expanded through the United States incredibly rapidly over the past few years. In 2011, fracking faced much closer scrutiny as scientists, researchers and affected communities continue studying water, air and property impacts reported in areas where the controversial unconventional energy drilling is taking place.

Fracking awareness received a huge boost this year with “Gasland,” a documentary film which earned director Josh Fox an Academy Award nomination. Featuring interviews with landowners and families affected by fracking, the film is helping to bring the issue to the mainstream.

DeSmogBlog has published dozens of posts detailing the latest information available on fracking over the several years. 

In May 2010, DeSmogBlog released an extensive report, Fracking The Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate, delving into many of the health, environmental and climate threats posed by the fracking boom.  


Here is a small sample of important fracking coverage this year from DeSmog and other outlets:

An excerpt from Fracking The Future:

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

ProPublica reported on the link between fracking and infamous “flammable drinking water”:

A new peer-reviewed study from Duke University shows that drinking water in areas within a half-mile of fracking wells can become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane - enough to catch on fire if lit. The report says that the levels of methane in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York are so great that they pose a significant fire and explosion hazard.

Fracking linked to groundwater contamination:

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

More on groundwater contamination:

The tables turned on the gas industry today with the release of a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) connecting the dots between fracking and groundwater contamination in the state of Wyoming, located in the heart of the Niobrara Shale basin.

The report is sure to leave many saying, "Well, duh!" and also asking, "What took them so long?" The perils of fracking for gas in the Niobrara Shale were made famous long ago by Debra Anderson's documenary "Split Estate."

The Wyoming report comes on the heels of a large citizen action involving a water delivery to 12 Dimock, Pennsylvania families, led by "Gasland" Director Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo. The action centered around another case of water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot was delivering clean drinking water since 2008 to the families after it contaminated their water, but recently, the Pennsylvania DEP ordered that Cabot was no longer responsible for transporting water to these families.

Fracking has even been linked to earthquakes in the U.S. and the U.K.:

New reports are surfacing that link fracking to earthquakes that occurred in January in Oklahoma. According to a new study by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [PDF], fracking is linked to 50 mini-earthquakes that occurred on January 18, 2011 in Oklahoma.

The occurrence of so-called “induced seismicity” – seismic activity caused by human actions – in conjunction with fluid injection or extraction operations is a well-documented phenomenon. However, induced earthquakes large enough to be felt at the surface have typically been associated with large scale injection or withdrawal of fluids, such as water injection wells, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas production. It was generally thought that the risk of inducing large earthquakes through hydraulic fracturing was very low, because of the comparatively small volumes of fluid injected and relatively short time-frame over which it occurs. As the controversy over hydraulic fracturing has heated up, however, researchers and the public have become increasingly interested in the potential for fracking to cause large earthquakes.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. Studies show that fracking practices in the 1970s had caused similar seismic activity in Oklahoma, according to E&E News.

So, with all of the health, environmental, climate and even seismic threats posed by fracking, why hasn't the federal government stepped in with a national moratorium until these impacts can be assessed by scientists?

The answer is simple: Dirty Money. DeSmogBlog has followed the industry money trail all year, and here is what we’ve found:

Pennsylvania, a hotbed for fracking activities, has been flooded with dirty energy industry money:

The gas industry spent $3.5 million last year attempting to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers of the benefits of drilling the state’s deposits of unconventional gas. According to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Department of State, the lobbying blitz to influence public policy was orchestrated by a collection of 22 companies, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA).

The increasing lobbying activity in Pennsylvania demonstrates the industry’s continued efforts to expand unconventional drilling, despite growing public concern over the inherent risks of dirty fracked gas. The oil and gas industry is focusing its efforts primarily on confusing the public and influencing politicians, not on making their operations safe for public health and the environment.

New York State was also under attack from a barrage of corporate polluter cash:

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year.

State governments weren’t the only to be influenced by fracking cash – the federal government, all the way up to the top of the Executive Branch, found that companies with a financial interest in fracking can be quite generous:

In an under-reported move on May 5th, the Obama administration announced the members of a government panel created to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health. Unfortunately, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the administration stacked the panel with oil and gas industry insiders.

And:

The panel, handpicked by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, is directed to investigate the safety of shale gas development and to make recommendations for both improvements to the process as well as ‘best practice’ strategies that can act as recommendations to relevant agencies.

Scientists from 22 universities in 13 states voiced their concerns over the partiality of the panel, which they claim is “performing advocacy-based science.” As the letter outlines, 6 of the 7 panel members still have strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry, like the panel chairman John Deutch, who received more than $1.4 million from two leading gas companies, Chinere and Slumberger between 2006 and 2009 alone. Deutch currently sits on the board of directors at Chinere.

As such, the group worries that the panel will in fact “serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice.”

Alternet’s Scott Thill has laid out the financial issues, as well:

Thanks to the United States' morally bankrupt political system and its Supreme Court's reality-defying ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the fracking lobby's power of the purse is greater than it has ever been.

That power was depressingly dissected in Common Cause's recent report, Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets, which explained that earnings junkies like Exxon, Koch and more have paid House and Senate politicians on select energy and commerce committees nearly $750 million over the last decade to smother regulatory oversight of the expanding fracking practice, whose complete chemical components still remain a relative mystery. It was evidently money well spent. During that lobbying stretch, the Environmental Protection Agency scientifically linked fracking with water poisoning in Wyoming, and probably isn't far from siding with the increasing ranks of those who blame fracking for earthquakes from Oklahoma to Ohio to England. And yet beyond manageable fines and stock devaluations, no one from the industry has yet to seriously face the music for groundwater contamination and worse.

For that, you can thank the industry's "Halliburton loophole," so named for former Vice-President Dick Cheney's insistence that his former company's fracking be stripped of EPA regulation. Years and billions later, money still talks and safety still walks in our peak oil century tapping, like veins, what fossil fuel deposits we have left, from natural gas to tar sands. And they do so in a decidedly nonpartisan fashion.

Buying political favors is just what the public knows about – stuff that the industry isn’t trying to hide. It’s the tactics that the public didn’t necessarily know about that really make you cringe.

Excerpt from Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities:

At the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston, Matt Pitzarella, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Range Resources, revealed in his presentation that Range has hired Army and Marine veterans with combat experience in psychological warfare to influence communities in which Range drills for gas.

At that same conference, Matt Carmichael, External Affairs Manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested three things to attendees during his presentation:

“If you are a PR representative in this industry in this room today, I recommend you do three things. These are three things that I’ve read recently that are pretty interesting.

“(1) Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual [audible gasps from the audience], because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.


The Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual [PDF] devotes an entire chapter to PSYOPs, confirming its utility as a major element of a counterinsurgency campaign. The COIN manual is the current U.S. military doctrine in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

PSYOPs is the military short-hand for “psychological operations,” used extensively in U.S. wars abroad, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this work is carried out by Army reserve personnel, who travel from village to village dropping leaflets and offering financial incentives in an attempt to convince residents not to support the insurgency. This often entails using psychological tactics to "win hearts and minds."

Read that full story: Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities

In addition to reporting on the disturbing use of psy-ops by the fracking industry, Brendan DeMelle helped expose the lies of fracking proponents by dissecting the industry talking points on fracking.

There were a few positive stories this year with regards to fracking:

Big news erupted across the Northeast with an announcement that fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a pristine watershed that supplies water to over 15 million people, would be suspended. The Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote on whether or not to permit 20,000 fracking wells in the area on Monday, November 15th. However after enormous citizen backlash, the DRBC realized they did not have the votes to push the practice through.
The U.S. EPA is poised to enact the first ever rules on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a proposal that would allow the agency to regulate the practice under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air route was chosen by the agency, as the U.S. Congress prohibited their attempts to regulate the practice of fracking under the Clean Water Act in 2005.

Once the EPA sets a date for implementation, the gas industry will have 60 days to submit any complaints or input on the new rules. While the date is not currently set, the American Petroleum Institute has already asked the EPA to delay implementation until at least August 2012.

For more on the villains and heroes in this year’s fracking bonanza, check out this report from Food and Water Watch.

The battle to protect our environment and personal health from the harmful impacts of fracking is just beginning. But as long as public awareness continues to grow and communities continue speaking out against dirty reckless fuels, perhaps common sense will prevail and we can turn our sights toward developing a clean energy future.

December 09 2011

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

November 19 2011

00:08

Another Blow To Dirty Energy: Fracking Nixed In The Delaware River Basin

Last night, big news erupted across the Northeast with an announcement that fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a pristine watershed that supplies water to over 15 million people, would be suspended. The Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote on whether or not to permit 20,000 fracking wells in the area on Monday, November 15th. However after enormous citizen backlash, the DRBC realized they did not have the votes to push the practice through.

The Commission is made up of the 4 governors of basin states: New York (Cuomo), New Jersey (Christie), Pennsylvania (Corbett), and Delaware (Markell). The fifth member is from the Army Corps of Engineers, who is there to vote on behalf of the Obama administration.

Earlier in the week, sources indicated that Pennsylvania and New Jersey were set to vote yes, while New York was set to vote no. This left Delaware and the Obama administration up in the air. Advocacy groups and citizens targeted Delaware, knowing that the Obama administration wouldn’t likely leave themselves in the position of tie-breaker.

Knowing of the widespread, devastating health and environmental effects fracking has left in other areas of the nation, many people in the Delaware River Basin are immensely concerned about the prospect of fracking in their watershed. So much so, that when information came out that offices of the members of the Commission were tallying phone calls, people flooded the offices with calls and emails urging each to vote no on allowing fracking into the area, to the point where voicemail boxes were full for days.

After Delaware announced they would vote no at Monday’s meeting, as predicted, the meeting was soon cancelled. Ideally citizens would have liked to see fracking legitimately outlawed, but for now, it’s a temporary victory that will keep gas fracking - which some have dubbed as extreme energy extraction - out of an area that supplies water to millions.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch made the following statement,

This is a victory for the grassroots activists who have passionately rallied to protect our water, communities and health from the potentially devastating effects of this dirty practice. By standing up against big lobbying cash and flashy ads touting the job creating effects of shale gas development, we have won this critical fight.This delay is really a testament to the power of fighting for the what we believe in, not the best we can get. We’ll continue to forge ahead until we have a ban on fracking in the U.S.”

June 29 2011

22:42

New Jersey Senate Passes Fracking Ban

Lawmakers in the New Jersey Senate voted 33-1 today to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking), in a move to protect the Delaware River from potential contamination from the risky unconventional gas drilling practice. The Delaware River supplies drinking water for 15 million people in four states.

NorthJersey.com reports:

The 33-1 vote came after Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) unsuccessfully asked for a five-year moratorium instead of an outright ban.

Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, "represents the greatest threat to New Jersey’s water supply than anything else we face today."

"I don’t think we can wait for five years. I think we need to send a clear signal to the rest of the nation that New Jersey values its water resources," Gordon said.


Prominent environmental groups, such as Food and Water Watch, the Sierra Club and the Delaware Riverkeeper, have pushed for the decision as unconventional gas drilling increasingly encroaches upon the state’s borders.

In March, the NJ House of Representatives unanimously voted to ban fracking in New Jersey due to concerns the process will contaminate drinking water. Although little drilling activity has taken place in New Jersey, the state is home to a corner of the Marcellus Shale, one of the world’s largest shale gas fields, spanning from New York and Pennsylvania to parts of Ohio and West Virginia.

Unconventional gas is heralded as the key to America’s clean energy future. Industry advocates claim that the country’s vast reserves of gas are the solution to our foreign dependence on oil and a warming climate. But the new extraction technology, fracking, is a carbon-intensive operation and an inherently risky process that involves millions of gallons of toxic water that have polluted local sources of drinking water, both above and below ground.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Robert Gordon, suggests that fracking has become a blind hope, and that the rush to produce the nation’s deposits poses unnecessary risks to sources of clean water. “We have to be really concerned  that in addressing an air pollution problem, we don’t create a water pollution problem,” he said.

Jim Walsh, the eastern regional director of Food and Water Watch, feels New Jersey’s decision to ban fracking is significant for the future of fracking in other states.

“New Jersey will be the first state to stand up against the devastating environmental and public health impacts of fracking, which have wreaked havoc on other states across the U.S. We hope that the actions taken by the legislature will give courage to lawmakers in surrounding states to pass bans on fracking,” Walsh told DeSmogBlog.

But the issue of fracking, for Walsh, has also to do with the gas industry’s exercise of power in the political realm.

“The reality is this industry has used influence in Washington to exempt themselves from important regulations that are meant to protect public health, our drinking water and the environment. The industry consistently fights legislation that would bring them into compliance with these important federal laws,” says Walsh, adding that strict enforcement could force companies to discontinue the dangerous practice.

The industry’s exemptions from federal environmental statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act have severely limited state control of unconventional gas drilling. Some groups like Food and Water Watch are convinced that due to the inherent risks of fracking, there is no such thing as safe drilling.

“Even with strong federal regulations, it is doubtful that regulators will be able to provide the aggressive oversight that would be necessary to protect the public and the environment,” says Walsh. “With what we know and don’t know about fracking the only reasonable conclusion we can come to is that the practice should be banned.”

The ban in New Jersey has been called ‘irrelevant’ by Chris Tucker, spokesman for the gas industry front group, Energy in Depth. But while it is true that there is very little gas potential in New Jersey, the state’s decision to prioritize public and environmental health over oil and gas industry drilling may lead to similar moves in the future. There is already mounting pressure on the Delaware River Basin Commission to extend the ban to the waterways in New York and Pennsylvania that feed the Delaware River.

New Jersey’s decision is a significant addition to the growing list of fracking bans throughout jurisdictions in the U.S. However, these bans also demonstrate the urgent need for federal agencies to rein in the gas industry, which in all other situations and states, enjoys relative impunity.

State oversight agencies are simply not doing an effective job protecting the public from the dangers of unconventional gas drillng. Moratoriums and bans have become the soundest measure to limit the industry's reckless practices, but federal action and oversight remain the only real solution.

One unanswered question Walsh has posed to the industry: “If your practice is so safe then why do you fight regulations that would help to ensure important safeguards are in place to protect public health and the environment?”

For more information about fracking, view DeSmogBlog's special report: Fracking The Future

 

June 16 2011

22:15

The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking: Food and Water Watch Report

 

Last month, DeSmogBlog released Fracking the Future, an in-depth report on the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling and the efforts of the gas industry to limit state and federal oversight of the process. A review of independent scientific research showed that under no conditions can unconventional gas drilling be considered safe, nor can the oil and gas industry’s army of PR front groups and apolgists be trusted to give an accurate portrayal of the true risks associated with the fracked gas boom.

The report concluded that current state oversight is inadequate to hold the rapidly growing gas industry accountable and, given the dangers associated with unconventional gas production, an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is necessary and overdue.

In its new report, the nonprofit Food and Water Watch renewed these claims, calling for a reinstatement of federal statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling and, more forcefully, calling for a nationwide fracking ban. 

Entitled The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking, the new report details the rapid growth of the risky unconventional gas fracking frenzy gaining momentum across the U.S. In the four-year span from 2004 to 2008, gas wells in America increased by 41 percent, to over 52,000. This steady increase of drilling across the country is accompanied by an unsettling encroachment of gas wells into residential areas. The report cites Pennsylvania as an example, where over 3000 unconventional wells and future well sites sit within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals. <!--break-->

The report finds that despite industry suggestions to the contrary, fracking is inherently dangerous. The opportunity for irreparable damage to drinking water supplies, air quality and human health presents itself at nearly every stage of the process. 

Food and Water Watch catalogues numerous well-documented instances of air pollution, water contamination and negative effects on human health due to fracking operations. Some of the worst dangers are associated with the heavy chemicals used throughout the process and toxic wastewater, which post-fracking is laced with additional toxic contaminants from the underlying rock. The report details how nearly no water treatment facilities can cope with the billions of gallons of wastes produced in the process.

Compounding the hazards associated with fracking are the underfunded, overextended and often industry-friendly state enforcement agencies. Even where existing laws were updated to more effectively reflect the risks associated with unconventional drilling, there is little to indicate that state regulators are prepared to monitor and enforce these laws adequately. 

States stand to profit too much by maintaining the current backslapping culture of industry appeasement. The report draws on the connection between state revenue and insufficient regulation. In Pennsylvania, for example, where $1.1 billion in gas drilling related revenue accrued between 2006 and 2011, officials are twice as likely to issue warnings than impose fines. Officials often have the conflicted responsibility of both fostering and moderating the industry.

Beyond the state level, there is significant pressure to limit federal oversight. Although a growing consensus is rallying for the restoration of federal environmental statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling, little progress has been made on this issue. The report outlines how industry lobbying has steadily increased, combatting measures to protect public health and safety. The fracking moratorium in New York, for example, has caused a surge of lobbying activity, over $1.2 million dollars worth in 2010 alone.

Despite the reticence of lawmakers on the issue, Food and Water Watch lists ten studies and investigations from the last 18 months, each of which point to the dangers associated with fracking, especially to human health, and the inability of officials to capably monitor the process. While officials levied several injunctions against drilling companies, the report notes that because of weak oversight, nearby communities remain vulnerable.

The rush to produce unconventional gas is putting the public at an unacceptable risk, the report concludes. A nationwide ban on fracking is the only measure that can truly secure public air and water against industry contamination.

Read the full report, The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking

 

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