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July 04 2013

22:23

The New Front Lines of the Fight Against Fracking

The fight against fracking at a Manhattan protestThe front lines of the fight over hydraulic fracturing -or “fracking” – are being drawn at the lowest political levels. Fracking involves detonating explosions deep underground and then pumping large volumes of chemical laced water at high pressure into these wells. More than 1,000 chemicals have already been identified as those commonly used in the drilling process.

According to a Scientific American Report, as of June 2012, there were more than 680,000 fracking wells throughout the country. The International Energy Agency reports that by 2018, North America’s daily supply of oil will be 3.9 million barrels higher than it was in 2012.

Polarized Debate

Attitudes towards fracking for natural gas are highly polarized in the U.S. On the one side, there are scientists and the environmentally concerned and on the other, there are business groups and the oil industry. Those who support fracking point to the economic and employment benefits as well as the issue of energy independence.

Those who resist fracking say the limited benefits it offers are trumped by the civilization-ending threat posed by climate change. In addition to methane, fracking releases radioactivity and generates toxic fracturing fluids known as BTEX, which are found to have harmful effects on the nervous system as well as cause birth defects and cancer.

In essence, the debate boils down to job creation and economic growth versus pollution and environmental risk. A large and growing pool of research makes the point that fracking is not clean energy, it is in fact a major environmental problem, in addition to putting significant quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, it contaminates huge amounts of increasingly scarce ground water resources. Due in large part to fracking, the U.S. is emerging as a global fossil leader which has important deleterious implications.

Fracking is also known to cause earthquakes. A British company official admitted that fracking in the UK has caused “a number of minor seismic events,” The U.S. Geological Survey has also made the connection between fracking and seismic events in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

Economics

Natural gas is a large and growing part of American exports with many states reaping significant financial gains, this includes states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. All across America, economic benefits are driving what can only be described as a fracking frenzy.

While some states have outlawed fracking (eg New York, Vermont), other states like Illinois have enacted legislation welcoming the industry into their state.

EPA and the Federal Government

Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no jurisdiction when it comes to fracking, thanks to a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act known as the Haiburton Loophole—named after the first company licensed to practice fracking. Although previously cleared, in 2010, the EPA reopened its investigation into fracking.

The EPA has pushed its timeline for release of its study assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing from 2014 to 2016. This study was initiated by Congress in 2010 and was meant to provide guidance for states. Now that this research is off the table for the next few years, states will have to draw their own conclusions about the safety of fracking.

This means that by the time EPA rules, there will be massive amounts of fracking chemicals in America’s groundwater and vast quantities of global warming causing methane emissions in our atmosphere.

President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama sees fracking as a bridge fuel. While Obama does support fracking for natural gas, he has indicated that he wants to reduce the industry environmental impacts. While the Obama administration suggested that it would force oil companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the drilling process they are not required to reveal chemicals that are considered “trade secrets.” This is a glaring weakness that must be remedied with full disclosure.

The President’s Climate Action Plan clearly states that, “Curbing methane emissions is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.” However, his support for fracking does not acknowledge that methane is the chief GHG released into the atmosphere by fracking.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” the President said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.” The President said.

While we may some some minor regulatory oversight, leadership on fracking will not be forthcoming from the federal government in the next few years. Independent of the political wrangling at the federal level, the fight against fracking will continue.

State Governments

In the absence of the President’s leadership and ahead of the EPA’s study in 2016, State governments are charged with the responsibility of regulating the fracking industry.

The EPA has stepped back and allowed state government to assume oversight right across the country including Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA.

Wyoming’s state government illustrates the problems associated with charging the states to regulate fracking.  Wyoming appears to be whitewashing its investigating of fracking impacts in a development near Pavillion, WY. The state’s Republican governor Matt Mead has been accused of collusion with Encana, the company doing the drilling in that area.

The California State Assembly rejected a bill that would have banned oil and natural gas fracking in the state

A growing number of people are getting involved and taking to the streets to protest against fracking. In New York, more than 3,000 people recently came together to send a message to Gov. Cuomo and state legislators demanding that they reject fracking and lead the nation in renewable energy.

However, as demonstrated by Wyoming, state governments may not be the best place to combat fracking.

Regional and Municipal Politics

In the absence of federal and state leadership, the fight over fracking is increasingly taking place at the regional and municipal levels.

Even at the municipal level, fracking is a highly divisive issue. Boulder County in Colorado has enacted a new moratorium on fracking for 18 months and Dryden, New York, also upheld a ban.

However, some municipalities are so hungry for jobs that they ignore environmental impacts. One such community is Youngstown, Ohio. which is a city that has been hit hard by the collapse of the steel industry. Even two earthquakes which measured 2.7 and 4.0 on the Richter scale did not deter voters from rejecting a proposal to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city. In Illinois Governor Quinn signed into law a statewide pro-fracking bill (SB1715).

Despite the early mixed results at the local level, it is positive that the discussion about fracking is expanding. Being engaged in the discussion at the local level inspires people to get involved and encourages them to be better informed about the issues.

One of the major roadblocks to local decision making on fracking is the fact that in many states, towns do not have the adequate legal authority to deny oil and gas companies. However, environmental lawyers, Helen and David Slottje, have figured out a way that towns might be able to use zoning rules to stop fracking. A May lawsuit in New York state upholds municipalities’ rights to decide zoning rules as they relate to fracking.

New Data

Every day we are seeing more data pointing to the destructive impacts of fracking. NOAA studies show that methane emissions from natural gas development are much higher than commonly assumed. A recent report by U.S. military advisors also questions the value of fossil fuels including natural gas.

A recent report from environmental consultant Jessica Ernst reviewed the contamination of North America’s groundwater sources resulting from  fracking. Food & Water Europe and NGSFacts.com have also provided information revealing the dangers associated with fracking.

While an ORC International survey, indicates that most Americans support domestic energy production, they are unwilling to sacrifice clean water, increased energy efficiency, and expanded power from renewable energy.

It may be that the President is deferring federal action on fracking due to the political climate. In fairness, the President`s new Climate Action Plan does emphasize significant reductions in GHGs and strong support for renewable energy and efficiency. The President must choose his battles if he want to see them succeed.

As the old cliche goes, “Rome was not built in a day” and this is particularly true if we are building for an enduring future and a truly sustainable economy.

Even with the blight of fracking, President Obama`s action plan is moving the U.S. in the right direction.

With the federal government abdicating its responsibilities, the fight against fracking is being waged at the municipal and state levels. To succeed in efforts to minimize fracking, we must not lose hope that the war will be won.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said,

”The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

We will bring an end to fracking one town at a time.

——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Adrian Kinloch, courtesy flickr

 

The post The New Front Lines of the Fight Against Fracking appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 01 2013

20:17

August 31 2012

21:20

Video Friday: No Worries, Keep Driving – Post Carbon Institute on Fossil Fools and Fracking


A dose of energy reality from the Post Carbon Institute

This video from the Post Carbon Institute discusses the reality of our current energy economy and why leaders from both parties have bought into the recent hype that reliance on natural gas fracking and unconventional sources of oil – “tight” oil and tar sands – can stabilize our economy without destabilizing the climate. Narrated and written by PCI fellow Richard Heinberg.

August 29 2012

17:32

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Organize Artists Against Fracking

Artists Against Fracking, a new coalition organized by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, will spread its message through social media.

August 22 2012

23:50

Hundreds of Concerned Citizens Protest Governor Andrew Cuomo's Plans To Frack New York

Over 350 concerned citizens turned up at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy summit today to protest his risky plan to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York. The state has had a moratorium on the dangerous shale gas drilling technique since 2008, but Governor Cuomo is expected to announce the green lighting of fracking in sections of New York in the coming weeks.

New Yorkers concerned about threats to their drinking water and public health showed up en masse to deliver their message to Cuomo in person at a summit geared toward exploring a possible 2016 run for the White House. The gathering drew several Clinton administration veterans.

CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking organized the protest "to send a clear message to Gov. Cuomo that if he hopes to count on the support of New Yorkers and environmentalists for a future presidential run, he must say no to fracking New York."
 

Gov. Cuomo, don't frack New York,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager of CREDO Action. “We have a moratorium against fracking in place now, and Gov. Cuomo lifts it at great peril to his political future. If Cuomo wants the support of New Yorkers who care about clean water, their health and the environment when he runs for president in 2016, he should abandon his plan to frack New York.”


David Braun of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of over 160 organizations across New York that supports a ban on fracking, says that "Governor Cuomo has a choice between dirty fracking and safe renewable energy. We are here on behalf of millions of New Yorkers who want Cuomo to represent the interests of our communities and not those of the oil and gas industry."

Huffington Post New York reporter Inae Oh has more quotes from folks who attended the gathering.

Below are some photos of the protest, courtesy of Credo. View more at http://www.flickr.com/photos/credopolicysummit/


  

August 18 2012

14:00

Drought, Fracking, Coal and Nukes Wreak Havoc on Fresh Water Supplies

This is a guest post by EcoWatch, republished with permission.

For the last few months EcoWatch has been covering what's become the worst drought in the U.S. in more than half a century. More than 3,200 daily high temperature records were set or tied in June, and July is in the books as the warmest month ever recorded in the lower 48 states, according to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

Besides the discomfort of relentless heat and unmitigated sunshine, the drought has forced us to rethink several issues commonly taken for granted—namely, abundant and affordable food, secure livelihoods for farmers, safety from natural disasters, practical public policy regarding the delegation of crops for food and biofuels, and most importantly, the value of water.

The value of water is inestimable. Without it, as the drought has shown us, uncertainty and chaos quickly enter the picture, throwing superpower economies off kilter and quite literally, imperiling lives.

But that's not all.

The drought of 2012 has more to teach us about the value of water as it lurches on, including the issues surrounding water as an integral component of conventional energy generation.

The undisputed champion of the current U.S. energy debate is hydraulic fracturing or fracking. As conventional oil and gas resources become more difficult to come by, energy companies now have to dig deeper than ever to unearth the rich deposits of fossil fuels still available. In order to fracture shale formations that often exist thousands of feet below the surface, drillers use anywhere from 1 to 8 million gallons of water per frack. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. The water, usually drawn from natural resources such as lakes and rivers, is unrecoverable once it's blasted into the earth, and out of the water cycle for good.

Even if there wasn't a problem with water contamination, deforestation, and noise and air pollution from fracking, the pro-drilling agenda would still be hit hard with an insurmountable roadblock—access to abundant water.

On June 28, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended 37 separately approved water withdrawals for fracking due to localized streamflow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna Basin in Pennsylvania and New York.

In Kansas, oil and gas drillers are running out of options due to the tenth driest July on record. Companies with dwindling access to water resources are resorting to paying farmers for what water they have left, or more, drilling their own water wells, digging ponds next to streams or trucking in water from places as far way as Pennsylvania, according to CNN Money.

Jeff Gordon, the CEO of Texas Coastal Energy Co. said, "That can cripple a drilling company, as lack of water can basically suspend operations."

Fracking isn't the only dirty energy industry that relies on water for its operations. On Aug. 12, Unit 2 of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut—which provides half of Connecticut's power and 12 percent of New England's—was shut down because the seawater used to cool the plant was too warm, according to the Hartford Courant.

In its 37-year history of operation, Unit 2 of the Millstone Power Station has never shut down due to excessively warm water. The power station, which draws its water from Long Island Sound, must cool its reactors with water no warmer than 75 degrees F, but following the hottest July on record, the water has been averaging 1.7 degrees F above the limit, according to the Hartford Courant.

According to a River Network report in June, electricity production by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants is the fastest-growing use of freshwater in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all fresh, surface water withdrawals from rivers. This is more than any other economic sector, including agriculture, and occurs in an era when all other use sectors are reducing water withdrawals.

According to the report, more than a quarter of the water withdrawn by fossil-fuel power plants to cool their generators goes up in steam—the remainder carries pollutants and excess heat into rivers and waterways, causing fish kills and algae blooms.

Put in perspective, for every gallon of water used in an average household, five times more water (40,000 gallons each month) is used to provide that home with electricity via hydropower turbines and fossil fuel power plants.

Creating a sustainable relationship with the world's freshwater resources is the most vital environmental issue facing us today. While scientists continue to work on creative uses of wastewater to stretch our resources farther—such as substitution, regeneration and reduction—a prevailing shift in attitude that values water over profits will ultimately be required to ensure the world's population will have access to safe drinking water.

To better understand the world's water crisis, see the documentary Last Call at the Oasis, which provides insights from well-known experts including rebel consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick, author Robert Glennon, hydrologist James S. Famiglietti and biologist Tyrone Hayes, who studies the effects and pervasiveness of the herbicide Atrazine.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER page for more related news on this topic.

August 16 2012

19:31

Fracking Industry Paying Off Scientists For "Unbiased" Safety Studies

As a whole, Americans have an unfortunate tendency to distrust scientists. The number of those who distrust science and scientists is skewed heavily by ideology, with self-identified “conservatives” overwhelmingly saying that they don’t trust science. DeSmogBlog’s own Chris Mooney has spent an enormous amount of time and energy devoted to finding out why science has become so controversial, and has compiled a great new book explaining why certain sectors of the U.S. population are more prone to denying many scientific findings.

And while most of the distrust that Americans have for scientists and science in general is completely without warrant, there are times when it is reasonable and often necessary to question the findings of scientists. Especially when the money trail funding certain science leads us right back to the oil and gas industry.

Five years ago, Exxon Mobil began offering large cash incentives to scientists willing to put their conscience aside to undermine studies that were coming out regarding climate change. The dirty energy industry knew that these studies would put their well-being at risk because they were responsible for so much of the global warming emissions, so they had to open their wallets to scientists who were more concerned with their finances than the well being of the planet.

A similar scenario played out in the months following BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. BP arranged meetings with scientists and academics all along the Gulf Coast, offering them $250 an hour to report on the oil spill, as long as the reports weren’t negative. This also would have allowed the oil giant an advantage in future litigation, by creating a conflict of interest for scientists that might otherwise testify against the company.

And then we have the media’s role in all of this, with 'experts for hire' like Pat Michaels allowed to pollute the public conversation with disinformation.

For years, Michaels has taken to the pages of “reputable” papers like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal in an attempt to paint climate change as fraudulent and uncertain, without the public realizing that his primary source of funding was the dirty energy industry and their front groups. One of his most recent crusades has been to convince the American public that fracking is perfectly safe, and we should all be singing the industry’s praises for providing us with cheap natural gas.

But Michaels isn’t the only one trying to convince us that fracking is safe and harmless – The industry itself has decided to jump on the science-buying bandwagon. NewsInferno has the story, based on an initial report by WIRED.com:

As the debate continues and local municipalities look to block fracking expansion in many areas, the energy industries have constantly countered, either mounting their own legal battles or now through influencing researchers to produce studies focusing on fracking’s benefits and safety.

WIRED reports that last week, the provost at University of Texas said it would have to “re-examine” a recent university report from one of its professors that declared fracking was safe on groundwater supplies when it was revealed that professor had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single gas developer in the state.

Nationwide, Americans are being influenced by seemingly unbiased research but not being told who is influencing the authors of these studies. Case in point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also recently published a report, according to WIRED, entitled “Shale Works for US” that was directed at Ohioans caught in the crosshairs of the fracking safety debate.

One of the authors of the study, Robert Chase, has been identified as one person who’s been greatly influenced by the energy industries and was even employed as a consultant for companies like Halliburton and Cabot, leaders in the fracking industry. His influence was likely part of a Penn State University study that also found fracking to be safe and ultimately led state lawmakers there to allow some of the most unchecked fracking drilling in the U.S.
 

Just as the Exxon story made international headlines, so too should this story. Credible, honest studies have already been made public that show that there is nothing safe about the process of unconventional gas development. DeSmogBlog’s “Fracking The Future” report is a great source of information on the dangers that fracking and other risky industry practices pose to the health of human beings as well as the environment.

But this is hardly the first time that the industry has been on the wrong side of science. In May of this year, I reported on how the fracking industry was trying to keep doctors in the dark about the chemicals being injected into the ground, and also attempting to get gag orders on doctors to prevent them from speaking with patients and the public about drilling-related illnesses.

The only thing currently holding back a wave of new fracking wells in America is public opinion and opposition from elected officials. But even with those hurdles in place, the industry continues to operate with almost no oversight, and drilling activities are still expanding. If scientists are willing to tell the American public and our elected leaders that fracking is safe, that could easily be enough to expand this dirty practice to areas that, at least for now, have been off limits to the industry.

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

May 04 2012

11:39

Wastewater Jitters in New York

A proposal to allow fracking in New York State has focused attention on the wastewater generated by conventional natural gas drilling as well.

April 30 2012

14:11

Will Oil Extraction Harm Western Parks?

The government is considering whether to open roughly 2.3 million acres of land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to two controversial types of energy development.

April 15 2012

16:00

More on the Link Between Earthquakes and Fracking

Next week, the United States Geological Survey will present a report on the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma and Arkansas related to the natural gas industry, but it will identify more than one technique as the likely cause.

April 13 2012

17:05

A New Oversight Panel on Fracking

President Obama calls for the creation of an interagency task force to ensure the "safe and responsible development" of natural gas drilling even though hydraulic fracturing is regulated at the state level.

April 01 2012

23:22

March 23 2012

11:12

March 21 2012

19:30

Documents Reveal USDA Risking Lawsuits by Ignoring Own Staff On Fracking Mortgages Review

A major storm is brewing over the USDA’s sudden about-face on fracking and environmental laws. On Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled a 180-degree U-turn and decided to reverse the call made by his staff specialists, who advised that the agency immediately stop giving special exemptions from environmental laws to people applying for federal mortgages on properties with oil and gas leases.

Now, environmentalists, members of Congress, and transparency groups are saying that something seems amiss and they are looking for answers.

It all started on Monday when The New York Times ran a story with emails showing that the USDA planned to tell its $165 billion dollar mortgage program to stop financing properties with drilling leases until an environmental review of the impact of drilling and fracking on homes backed by the agency could be completed.

The proposal by the Agriculture Department, which has signaled its intention in e-mails to Congress and landowners, reflects a growing concern that lending to owners of properties with drilling leases might violate the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires environmental reviews before federal money is spent. Because that law covers all federal agencies, the department’s move raises questions about litigation risks for other agencies, legal experts said,” the Times story explained.

DeSmogBlog has obtained many of the emails and they make very clear that the staff specialists, whose job it is to interpret laws like NEPA, believe that environmental reviews are legally required and that the agency is vulnerable to litigation if it gives these mortgages a pass, called a “categorical exclusion.”

read more

March 09 2012

22:44

Fracking: Ohio Establishes Tough Regulations After Disposal Wells Cause 12 Earthquakes

State officials have determined that at least 12 earthquakes that occurred in Ohio last December were caused by the injection of brine into hydraulic fracturing disposal wells.  As a result of its findings [pdf], the state has established the nation's "toughest regulations" for the fracking disposal wells.

Brine is a toxic by-product of the fracking process.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the safest way to dispose of it is to store it in underground wells.  However, as residents of Youngstown, Ohio discovered, this technique can cause seismic shifts — the largest of the 12 earthquakes registered 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Geologists were skeptical the earthquakes were caused by the drilling of disposal wells and the subsequent injection of brine; but after in-depth research concluded this process did indeed facilitate the quakes: 

"After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced. Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault."

So, the state has decided to adopt strict regulations in regards to brine disposal wells. Today, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced a set of regulations which it believes will eliminate any future occurrence of fracking induced earthquakes. 

read more

March 06 2012

15:34

Experts Air Serious Concerns Before New York Fracking Decision

Two recent court decisions  in New York state upheld the right of towns to use zoning laws to limit or even ban fracking within their borders. Other states and cities such as DallasMaryland, and North Carolina, are still trying to figure out whether, and if so how, to proceed with new drilling.

But the big decision that concerned citizens are watching is the one to be made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his state’s moratorium. New York received more than 40,000 public comments on fracking and is plowing through them now.

The state has yet to publish those documents on the web, but DeSmogBlog has obtained many of them. Here is our initial shortlist of comments that offer the most important warnings and useful insights.

A Hidden Threat?

One of the most overlooked but potentially dangerous public health issues relating to unconventional gas drilling is radon. This odorless and radioactive gas comes up from the wells mixed with the gas that gets piped to consumers. Highly carcinogenic, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind cigarette smoking, according to the EPA.

In his comments, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, director of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, concludes that radon levels in the gas that will come from Marcellus and likely be delivered to nearly 12 million New York residents will be far higher than current levels. As a result, “the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448” he writes.

read more

February 07 2012

15:12

On Our Radar: Quake in the Philippines

At least 88 people are dead and/or missing. The country has tried to upgrade its disaster-response capability in recent years but is regularly stretched by such catastrophes.

February 02 2012

00:56

January 27 2012

22:39

New York's Fracking Deliberations Inch Along

A meeting with an advisory panel is deferred, suggesting that the decision-making process will not be rushed in coming months.
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