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February 02 2012


November 19 2011


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.”

February 25 2011


Natural Gas Industry Rhetoric Versus Reality

As the recent natural gas industry attacks on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland demonstrate, the gas industry is mounting a powerful PR assault against journalists, academics and anyone else who speaks out against the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other threats to public health and the environment from shale gas development. DeSmogBlog has analyzed some of the common talking points the industry and gas proponents use to try to convince the public and lawmakers that fracking is safe despite real concerns raised by residents living near gas drilling sites, whose experiences reveal a much more controversial situation.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the 'safety' of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality. <!--break-->
Natural Gas Rhetoric Vs. Reality

1.    RHETORIC: There has never been a proven instance of drinking water contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.

REALITY: This statement, repeatedly used by industry and pro-drilling groups, is highly misleading. 

There is no doubt that water contamination has resulted from natural gas drilling practices. The actual cause of contamination can vary from case to case, and it is often difficult to conclusively determine the exact cause. Therefore, no natural gas drilling practice, including hydraulic fracturing, can be ruled out categorically.

This is an example of a typical PR trick, where industry uses highly specific language to deliberately mislead the public and to discredit the citizens whose drinking water has been ruined by contamination.
By crafting its argument around hydraulic fracturing specifically and not natural gas drilling more generally, industry is hiding behind technicalities to obscure its documented role in contaminating drinking water supplies.  It is referring only to a precise moment that occurs within a much larger industrial process.

Attributing groundwater contamination to the specific moment of hydraulic fracture is difficult to conclusively ‘prove’ because the process occurs thousands of feet underground, where it is difficult to track the exact migration of the chemicals and gasses involved. 

The Houston Chronicle has noted industry’s use of this tactic, reporting that, “industry officials say few such incidents have been tied conclusively to hydraulic fracturing and that they are more likely isolated accidents involving other parts of drilling operations.” [emphasis added]

In fact, natural gas operations, especially hydraulic fracturing projects in unconventional gas deposits, have been linked to numerous instances of water contamination. For example, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission confirmed that natural gas drilling directly caused the methane contamination of drinking water in Colorado, but could not definitively confirm the contamination was the direct result of hydraulic fracturing. 

There are numerous aspects of drilling which may contribute to drinking water contamination, including spills, accidents, well blowouts, faulty cement jobs, and the improper transport, processing and storage of wastewater and drilling muds. Hydraulic fracturing in unconventional gas deposits requires vast amounts of water, and entails intensive drilling methods, and high-pressure injections – risky processes that increase the probability of accidents that could affect water supplies.

For numerous examples of water contamination related to natural gas drilling see reports from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group, ProPublica, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and the New York Riverkeeper.

2.    RHETORIC: Hydraulic fracturing is a proven method successfully applied in millions of gas wells for over 60 years.

REALITY: Again, this assertion leaves a false impression that industry has used the same fracking technique for six decades, when in fact the current hydraulic fracturing practices used in unconventional gas recovery have evolved greatly from the original methods employed 60 years ago. The reality is that the industry has less than ten years’ experience with high-volume slick water hydraulic fracturing.

According to recent testimony by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a hydraulic fracturing expert from Cornell University, the current fracturing technology is “surprisingly, relatively new. There are four elements of that new technology, and they did not come together in the United States until about eight years ago. So this is not the hydraulic fracturing of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It’s not conventional gas development of that era. It’s a relatively new combined technology. … When industry says that they’ve had vast experience, 60 years of experience, with hydraulic fracturing, what they fail to say is that they’ve had fewer than 10 years of experience on a large scale using these unconventional methods to develop gas from shale.” [emphasis added]

The scope and scale of modern hydraulic fracturing operations in unconventional plays are much greater than the way the technology was used decades ago.

These drastic differences include:

•    Significantly higher amounts of water (and water pressure) used in each fracture, up to 7.8 million gallons per well. This represents 50 to 100 times the amount needed in conventional gas wells. Each well is capable of being fractured multiple times, in some cases, as many as 20 times. Post extraction procedures, such as refining and transport, can use an additional 400 million gallons of water each day.
•    Horizontal drilling is employed in about 90% of unconventional gas wells in the U.S. Horizontal drilling techniques allow lateral access to deposits thousands of feet underground. This recent technological advancement is what has made harvesting unconventional deposits profitable, and accounts for the increase in drilling pressure, up to 13,500 psi.
•   The chemical components of fracturing fluids are constantly evolving and research has shown a number of them to be extremely toxic to human and environmental health. Given the high volumes of water necessary for each fracture job, enormous amounts of chemicals are required, up to 20 tons per 1 million gallons of water used.

3.    RHETORIC: The water contamination featured in Gasland and investigated by journalists from ProPublica are instances of preexisting methane contamination from other sources. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas occurs thousands of feet below water bearing aquifers and could not possibly be their source of contamination.

REALITY: The natural gas industry commonly raises this point to delegitimize concerns of water contamination due to drilling operations. Without baseline testing prior to the commencement of drilling – a critical protection not yet mandatory in any state – industry can continue to claim that contaminants subsequently identified in nearby water wells are “naturally occurring.”
Drilling operations can enable methane to contaminate water through “disturbances of previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults, or by puncturing pressurized biogenic gas pockets and allowing migration through an as-yet un-cemented annulus, or through a faulty cement job.” Faulty cement jobs can allow natural gas, fracturing fluids and contaminated flowback water to travel alongside the wellbore to nearby drinking water aquifers.  

EPA scientists confirmed methane and other contaminants were responsible in a Fort Worth, Texas water contamination incident linked to gas drilling operations. Based on contamination incidents in Garfield County, a report by hydrogeologist Geoffrey Thyne gives an account of how methane migration can and has occurred.

The presence of methane in drinking water is a serious danger.  Methane will evaporate quickly from drinking water and is explosive when trapped in confined structures such as homes. Immediate effects of inhalation are dizziness and headaches. At high enough levels methane can act as an asphyxiant causing suffocation by displacing available oxygen. Instances of oxygen depravity can lead to hypoxia, where there is a lack of oxygen to sustain life, and can lead to nausea, brain damage and eventually death.

The presence of methane does not account for the issue of toxic chemicals from fracturing fluids in drinking water. Baseline testing, which is not yet mandatory in any state, would establish the quality of drinking water before drilling and would prevent operators from falsely claiming that ‘contamination occurred prior to drilling’ in instances where that is not the case.

4.    RHETORIC: The natural gas industry and its use of hydraulic fracturing are - and have always been – “aggressively regulated” by the states.

REALITY: State public health and safety agencies have failed to keep pace with the industry’s aggressive experimentation with new drilling technologies and the rapid expansion of unconventional gas development. 

Existing standards and protections for public health and the environment vary widely from state to state, and have not been reconciled with the rapidly evolving technology. According to Earthworks, reporting requirements are often scant in gas producing states, and companies do not have to report detailed information on drilling chemicals, the amount of fluids remaining in the ground after injection, or whether fractures remain within targeted areas. In some states, companies do not have to monitor water quality when drilling near sources of drinking water.

An Environmental Working Group report describes state officials as largely ‘oblivious’ to what companies are injecting into the ground during hydraulic fracturing operations and at times appearing to misinterpret the Safe Drinking Water Act, particularly concerning the use of diesel.

In fact, a recent congressional investigation into the illegal use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations found that state agencies had little knowledge that companies were using diesel without permits (and in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act). Between 2005 and 2009, over 32 million gallons of diesel and fracturing fluids containing diesel were used illegally in hydraulic fracturing operations, according to the investigation.

In 2010, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) demonstrated that:
•    baseline testing is not always mandatory prior to drilling activities;
•    cement job logs are not always maintained by operators;
•    potential underground migration pathways which could act as a conduit for fluid migration into groundwater, such as abandoned wells, do not have to be identified before drilling in all states;
•    the depth of surface casings when drilling near groundwater do not have to be included in drilling permit applications to ensure groundwater protection;
•    not all states have adequately addressed how information on fracturing chemicals will be made available to medical responders in the event of an emergency;
•    not all operators are required to notify state officials when drilling operations will commence;
•    waste storage and pits do not always undergo inspection or certification.

EPA investigations have faulted state officials for inadequate response to concerns over drinking water contamination due to gas drilling. Public health and safety protections, whether state or federal, are only truly effective with comprehensive monitoring and enforcement before, during, and after drilling operations.

The Council of Scientific Society Presidents has also warned that natural gas derived from hydrofracking shales is “another area where policy has preceeded adequate scientific study.”

A geological engineering expert interviewed by DeSmogBlog cautioned that “it is important to make sure that regulatory agencies can do their jobs independently and are not ‘captured’ by industry or placed under undue political pressure by our elected representatives.”

5.    RHETORIC: Hydraulic fracturing has not been made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act because it was never regulated under it in the first place.

REALITY: Energy In Depth’s suggestion that hydraulic fracturing has not been made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act is erroneous. The exemption of hydraulic fracturing from EPA authority via the “Halliburton Loophole” in the 2005 energy bill is well documented.

The Safe Drinking Water Act has always covered the “subsurface emplacement of fluid” within the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program in order to protect underground sources of drinking water (USDWs). UIC included the processes associated with hydraulic fracturing until language was inserted into the 2005 Energy Policy Act in order to alter the definition of underground injection to mean “the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection” but to exclude “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.”

The Center for American Progress released a report in 2004 accusing the Bush Administration of “altering scientific information to advance an oil and gas development practice known as ‘hydraulic fracturing.’” The report, entitled “Special Interest Takeover: The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards,” details how in 2002 the EPA briefed congressional staff about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, especially concerning benzene contamination in drinking water. The EPA, however, soon revised their position, saying fracturing would not contaminate drinking water with levels of benzene above federal standards.  EPA claimed the change in position was due to information from an ‘industry source.’ As a result, Cheney’s Energy Task Force removed any mention of these concerns from its energy plan.

The oil and gas industry also enjoys numerous other exemptions from federal oversight including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund Act), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Release Inventory and the National Environmental Policy Act.

6.    RHETORIC: The chemicals used in the fracturing process are as common as household cleaning products, cosmetics and processed food ingredients. Companies are voluntarily reporting fracturing chemicals on their websites so the legal disclosure required by the FRAC Act is unnecessary.

REALITY: While natural gas companies have begun to ‘voluntarily’ report some chemicals used in fracturing on their websites, there is a lack of complete disclosure, which leaves the public and health officials in the dark about the potential health risks involved. 

These website "fact sheets" do not reveal all of the chemicals used in the fracturing process, nor do they include Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) identifier numbers which are necessary to identify the toxicity of each chemical component.

Industry only “volunteered” the partial information in an effort to deter the legally binding disclosure proposed in the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), a measure introduced in 2009 that stalled in congressional committee after intense industry lobbying.

The lack of information regarding the chemicals used in the drilling process seriously inhibits the efficacy of contamination investigations because investigators do not know what to test for. In addition, these “fact sheets” often present the few disclosed chemicals in misleading ways, suggesting them as harmless household products, or even as ice cream ingredients.

Some of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process are known to cause cancer and organ damage, and to be disruptive to reproductive, neurological and endocrine systems

A recent investigation revealed the unpermitted injection of more than 32 million gallons of diesel for hydraulic fracturing by numerous natural gas operators between 2004 and 2009. The use of diesel, which contains benzene (a known carcinogen), in hydraulic fracturing is illegal and in direct violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A report by the Environmental Working Group identifies other unregulated petroleum distillates used in hydraulic fracturing which resemble diesel that were found to have 93 times more benzene than diesel.

7.    RHETORIC: The majority of fracture fluids remain underground in the hydraulic fracturing process.

REALITY: Again, this is industry “spin” that fails to account for widespread uncertainty about the true fate of these industrial fluids.

According to Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, “The industry is fond of saying that most of what they pump down stays down. What they fail to talk about is the timeframe in which they’re counting. Typically, the returned fluid, after the fracturing process, is counted as returned fracturing fluid only during about the first week or two of flowback operations. However, all shale gas wells continue to produce fracturing fluid and brine containing heavy metals for the entire life of the well. One has to be very careful. One cannot say that on average, 50% of the fluid comes back. One has to say under what timeframe one is making that measurement. Typically, almost all of the fracturing fluid comes back during the life of the well.”

The returned fluid, once resurfaced, poses unique risks: “once the fluid comes back…it contains not only the chemicals that were put in on the way down but the material that was picked up from the shale…notably, in black shales, shales containing gas, the most dangerous of those are the heavy metals – strontium, barium, uranium, and radium – some of which are also naturally occurring radioactive materials.”

Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) reports that once drilling is complete, produced water continues to surface for the life of the well for 20 to 30 years.

A 2009 Department of Energy report suggested that between 30 and 70 percent of fracking fluids remain underground, however the DOE noted the uncertainty of determining the exact fate of the fluids: “it is not possible to unequivocally state that 100% of the fracturing fluids have been recovered or to differentiate flow back water from natural formation water.”

8.    RHETORIC: In 2004 the EPA’s study on hydraulic fracturing concluded that the process posed no real threat to drinking water. The current EPA studies, the first regarding human health and drinking water due in 2012 and the second considering the lifecycle of natural gas drilling operations due in 2014, are redundant.

REALITY: The 2004 EPA study has been widely discredited by scientists and independent experts (and EPA’s own scientists) for failing to test water in contaminated areas.  The study’s objectivity was compromised by direct industry pressure throughout the course of the study, presenting a clear conflict of interest.

In 2000, the EPA began a study to determine the risks posed to drinking water by hydraulic fracturing.  This controversial study, completed in 2004, concluded that hydraulic fracturing in coalbed methane “poses little or no threat to drinking water.” This study was largely used to justify the “Halliburton Loophole” exemption and is still currently cited by the gas industry to assert the safety of hydraulic fracturing and to deny allegations of water contamination

The study has since been discredited after widespread criticism from independent exerts, as well as internal criticism among EPA scientists who noted the faulty study neglected to test water samples in contaminated areas. Both EPA and independent experts noted the study was compromised due to the involvement of industry groups who were consulted throughout the process, posing a clear conflict of interest. 

The study was also extremely limited in scope, focusing solely on coalbed methane fracturing and the potential for the underground migration of chemicals through rock layers. After the report was released, EPA scientist Weston Wilson cautioned Colorado representatives that "based on available science and literature, EPA’s conclusions are unsupportable."

In late 2009, the EPA was congressionally mandated to launch a new investigation into hydraulic fracturing. In March 2010, the EPA announced that the report was to address more extensively the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing to drinking water and human health.

In June 2010, the EPA Science Advisory Board endorsed additional research into the lifecycle of hydraulic fracturing and the potential impacts on drinking water.  This study will include a focused review of the potential impacts on drinking water, ten in-depth case studies conducted across the U.S., and will include stakeholder participation throughout the research. The proposed research includes an increased scope of study including water acquisition, frac fluid mixing, hydraulic fracturing, post-fracturing, and flowback and wastewater management. The initial results of the study are due in 2012 and the full report is due in 2014.

9.    RHETORIC: Natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels such as oil or coal.

REALITY: Although gas burns cleaner than coal and oil, the extraction, the processing and transport of natural gas emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Methane has a global warming potential 21 times greater than carbon dioxide on a 100-year scale, and 72 times greater than carbon dioxide on a 20-year scale. A recent, ongoing Cornell analysis suggests the footprint of shale gas may be 1.2 to 2.1-fold greater than coal’s on a 20-year timeframe.

Recently the EPA drastically increased estimates of methane leakage from the natural gas industry.  The revised figures estimate emissions from unconventional natural gas operations at 9,000 times higher than previous estimates. Yet, due to inadequate data regarding unconventional natural gas extraction from resources such as shale gas, the EPA maintains that these revised figures likely underestimate the total amounts.

Professor Robert Howarth and colleagues from Cornell University, using EPA estimates of methane leakage from natural gas operations, puts natural gas ahead of coal in terms of GHG emissions. The EPA recently estimated that fugitive methane from the petroleum and natural gas sector equals the annual equivalent of 40 million passenger cars. 

10.     RHETORIC: In some states like Pennsylvania, much of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing is recycled. Where wastewater is not recycled, it is safely injected into underground wells.

REALITY: Wastewater recycling in the U.S. is still in its infancy, and has been plagued with problems. A Halliburton manager Ron Hyden put it succinctly in a newspaper interview: “We're still in the infancy of trying to figure out how to recycle the water."
Standards for “recycling” wastewater vary according to operations and in some states recycling is not practiced at all. Recycling of wastewater usually involves either the reuse of flowback water for additional hydraulic fracturing operations, or treatment where water is separated from contaminants. In the latter case, the remainder is a highly concentrated mixture of hazardous chemicals, salts and in some cases, radioactive materials, which must be disposed of properly.

The reuse of flowback water in hydraulic fracturing operations poses a threat to underground sources of drinking water, in much the same way that injection of waste fluids in disposal wells poses such a threat and is therefore regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (UIC program). In Ohio, for example, wastewater cannot be reinjected for use in hydraulic fracturing due to water contamination concerns.

There are public health concerns that disposal by means of underground injection will result in “creating yet another potential source of extremely toxic chemical contamination.” Some states require companies to demonstrate that the disposal injection will not escape target zones or contaminate fresh water aquifers (e.g. New York). 

A recent report by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel notes that the underground injection of waste can threaten drinking water sources through:
•    the injection of waste above aquifers;
•    leakage between unconfined beds;
•    leakage due to hydraulic fracturing or faults;
•    upward migration of waste along well casings;
•    migration due to cement failures;
•    migration through preexisting pathways such as abandoned wells;
•    migration due to injection pressures or geologic shifts.

Geologists suspect that a recent scourge of earthquakes in Guy, Arkansas may be connected to underground injection of fracking wastewater for disposal.

Additional research and reporting by DeSmogBlog contributors Carol Linnitt and Emma Pullman.
Stay tuned for more of DeSmogBlog's research on fracking and gas industry distortions.


Natural Gas Companies Don’t Like Gasland, Josh Fox, or the Oscars

Natural gas companies have tried bullying to get the documentary removed, to no availThe Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
by Sarah Laskow (reposted with permission)

The natural gas industry is afraid that Josh Fox, director of the muckraking film Gasland, might win an Oscar on Sunday. Earlier this month, an organization called Energy in Depth, backed by the oil and gas industry, sent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a letter in which it argued that Gasland, Fox’s exposé on the natural gas industry, should be removed from consideration for best documentary feature because it contained inaccurate information.

After dealing with the industry for the past couple of years, Fox is not surprised by this tactic. “What this points to is the culture of that industry, which is bullying, which is aggressive, which is outlandish in their tactics, which will stop at nothing,” he told AlterNet.

The film is still up for consideration, and the industry should be worried about the impact its nomination, let alone a victory, could have. Even if the film doesn’t win on Sunday, millions of viewers will see a clip of the film that documents the real threat of environmental devastation that comes along with natural gas drilling and, in particular, with hydrofracking.

Nothing natural about it

The Media Consortium’s Weekly Mulch has been tracking the fight over natural gas drilling. As noted back in September, Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, has called the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” In a more recent dispatch for the magazine, Steingraber reports from an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on fracking, a technique for extracting otherwise hard-to-reach gas from the ground.

In upstate New York, where the hearing was held and where natural gas companies have been buying up drilling rights and properties for the past couple of years, residents are hugely concerned about this issue: four hundred people signed up to speak, for 120 seconds each, as Steingraber reports, over two days. One speaker in particular stuck out to her, though:

An older man rose to speak….And then he let ten seconds of silence fill the theater….After hours of ceaseless, rapid-fire speech, the sudden hush flowed through the overheated room like cool water. Someone giggled nervously. And then, finally, he spoke. That silence, he announced, represented the sounds of migratory birds. And tourists. And professors. And organic farmers. And thus with no words at all he reminded the audience of all the good members of our beloved community who would — if our land filled up with drill rigs, waste ponds, compressor stations, and diesel trucks — disappear, exit the cycle. As in, forever.

At Change.org, Austin Billings has another account of what natural gas drilling is putting at risk—the Bridger-Teton National Forest, miles of “spectacular hills and tall pine forests” that, Billings writes, “just kept going” as he drove through them. A company called Plains Exploration and Production Company is working to sink more than 130 natural gas wells in this area, Billings reports, a project that will strew the area with “pipelines, compressor stations, industrial water wells, truck staging areas, and other industrial features.”

Push Back

If Josh Fox wins an Oscar, however, natural gas projects like this one will face even more opposition. And that opposition matters. Just ask Costco, which caved in this week to a Greenpeace-led campaign against its sales of unsustainable seafood. For months, Greenpeace and its allies have been pushing the chain of wholesale grocery stores to sell only fish that can be captured or farmed in a sustainable way. The chain agreed to remove 12 “red list” species, at the highest risk for extinction, and to take other actions to promote sustainability and ocean conservation.

“It was a long and arduous process,” said Casson Trenor, Greenpeace’s seafood campaigner, said, according to Change.org’s Sarah Parsons. “I’m really happy with where we’ve gotten to, and I think it says a lot about our methods and how effective we can be.”

Guilty pleasures

Of course, fish is not the only food that’s damaging to the environment. So much of what’s available to eat is damaging to the environment. Grist reported last week that Girl Scout cookies are made with palm oil, the production of which is driving deforestation in Indonesia. Earth Island Journal’s Maureen Nandini Mitra follows up by pointing out that Thin Mints aren’t the only sweet that sucks up palm oil: her list includes M&Ms, Snickers, and Twix, as well as Cliff energy bars.

Another point against those treats: They usually don’t come in recyclable packaging. On the other hand, it’s a little bit of a mystery what happens to the recyclable containers tossed into the recycling, especially those with a little food gunk left on them. For those worried about their fate, Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler has done a substantial public service by ferreting the best approaching to cleaning out recyclables. The takeaway: They can be a little bit dirty. “It’s not a giant deal if containers have little food residue on them,” Butler reports, but “the cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth on the recyclables market.”


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets

February 17 2011


‘Energy In Depth’ Was Created By Major Oil and Gas Companies According to Industry Memo

DeSmogBlog has uncovered an industry memo revealing that ‘Energy In Depth’ is hardly comprised of the mom-and-pop “small, independent oil and natural gas producers” it claims to represent.  In fact, the industry memo we found, entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing Under Attack,” shows that Energy In Depth “would not be possible without the early financial commitments” of major oil and gas interests including BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell, XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil), and several other huge oil and gas companies that provided significant funding early on and presumably still fund the group's efforts.

According to the 2009 memo, Energy In Depth was orchestrated as a “major initiative to respond to…attacks” and to devise and circulate “coordinated messages” using “new communications tools that are becoming the pathway of choice in national political campaigns.”

Energy In Depth (EID) is featured in the news a lot these days, chiefly for attacking the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, but also for its extensive efforts to malign the excellent reporting done by ProPublica, the Associated Press and other outlets. EID seems to attack everyone who attempts to investigate the significant problems posed by hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas industry practices that have been shown to threaten public health and water quality across America.
Here is how Energy In Depth describes itself on its ‘Contact Us’ page:

"Energy In Depth is a project of America’s small, independent oil and natural gas producers...”

While EID prefers to project this ‘mom and pop shop’ image, the June 2009 memo authored by Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), reveals the seed funding provided by many of the world's largest oil and gas companies for the creation of Energy In Depth.<!--break-->

The memo states:

“The "Energy In Depth" project would not be possible without the early financial commitments of: El Paso Corporation, XTO Energy, Occidental Petroleum, BP, Anadarko, Marathon, EnCana, Chevron, Talisman, Shell, API, IPAA, Halliburton, Schlumberger and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.”

However, none of these major oil and gas companies, or the industry’s largest trade association - the American Petroleum Institute - are acknowledged on the ‘About Us’ page of Energy In Depth’s website.

Instead, Energy In Depth portrays modest origins, suggesting that its “website and affiliated educational programs were created by" a coalition of state-based oil and gas associations, whose logos are featured on the ‘About Us’ page.  This all seems designed to leave the impression that the EID was launched by small, “independent petroleum producers” rather than by the largest oil and gas companies on the planet.

Additionally, Enegy In Depth fails to acknowledge openly that its website URL was created by Dittus Communications, a Washington DC public relations firm best known for its work for major tobacco and nuclear industry interests. (Dittus is now part of Financial Dynamics, an international communications conglomerate.)

For a group that has accused Gasland director Josh Fox of creating an “alternate history,” and claims to want to “set the record straight” about the motives of anyone who dares to question the natural gas industry’s highly controversial hydrofracking practices, EID seems awfully disingenuous about its own ‘humble’ beginnings and ultimate interests.

The memo reveals the key role that the Independent Petroleum Association of America played in launching Energy In Depth:

“For months, IPAA's government relations and communications teams have been working around-the-clock on a new industry-wide campaign – known as "Energy In Depth" (www.energyindepth.org) – to combat new environmental regulations, especially with regard to hydraulic fracturing.”

Two IPAA staffers, Lee Fuller and Jeff Eshelman, spearheaded the launch. Chris Tucker is also listed as staff on the current ‘Contact Us’ page.  Tucker did double duty in 2009 handling communications for Energy In Depth and the Institute for Energy Research, using the same phone number for both. (IER has received over $300,000 from ExxonMobil and an untold amount from other oil and coal interests to confuse the public about climate change and to attack clean energy sources. For example, IER was busted last year by Danish journalists for financing an infamous anti-wind study.)

Why would Energy In Depth want to hide its high-profile sources of funding? 

Perhaps because these same companies are responsible for some of the worst environmental disasters in history, including last year's BP/Halliburton/Anadarko blowout in the Gulf of Mexico; Shell’s multiple atrocities in Nigeria; Chevron’s court-affirmed destruction of the Amazon rainforest; El Paso Corp’s deadly pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, New Mexico; Occidental’s Piper Alpha explosion - the deadliest oil rig disaster in history; to name just a few incidents among this group. 

Perhaps Energy In Depth thinks it might lose credibility with the media and the public if it revealed such key support from these notoriously reckless companies.

Perhaps it should?

January 26 2011


Industry Groups Fight Dirty Against Oscar-Nominated Hydraulic Fracturing Documentary "Gasland"

In the United States and beyond, governments are praising the "clean, plentiful fuel" that is natural gas, and tout it as a viable alternative to oil and coal.  According to Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica, its advocates are calling natural gas a step toward a greener energy future due to the fact, they assert, that natural gas produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. 

Josh Fox's critically-acclaimed documentary Gasland tells quite a different story about the natural gas industry and its extraction process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  As he journeys across the United States, he discovers the devastating environmental and health impacts of humans and animals in close proximity to gas wells, and realizes that the so-called "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" is causing more pain than it is worth.

After the release of Fox's documentary, an oil and gas lobby group calling itself "Energy In-Depth" launched a public relations offensive against the film (apparently they didn't like the footage of people lighting their tap water on fire).  As it turns out, the website of the lobby group was registered to a Washington, DC public relations firm called FD Americas Public Affairs (formerly FD Dittus Communications) whose clients included oil and gas lobby groups including the American Energy Alliance, run by former Republican staffers Eric Creighton, Kevin Kennedy and Laura Henderson.

Today, when Fox's documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature, a major energy trade association weighed in on Gasland's nomination.  The industry group, the America's Natural Gas Alliance argues on its website that "for our nation's economy" we must make greater use of the "Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas" for the sake of the environment and economy. <!--break-->

The industry group finds the nomination "particularly troubling because natural gas is routinely and safely produced across this country and holds such extraordinary potential to advance our nation's clean energy economy".  ANGA Executive Vice President Tom Amontree went on to argue that natural gas development "can and does exist in harmony with our environment and can play a central role in improving our nation's air quality and solving our energy challenges".

ANGA calls itself "an education and advocacy organization" but represents over 30 North American natural gas exploration and production companies including EnCana, Cabot, Talisman and Apache. According to Andrew Restuccia at The Hill, in an effort to protect the criticism that Gasland mounts against the industry, they've launched a campaign against the documentary, arguing that is exaggerates the side effects of fracking.

They'd better hold their breath though.  According to new findings from the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas isn't as green as these industry and lobby groups have us think.  When you consider the full life cycle of the gas including the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and customers, its environmental footprint skyrockets.  

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates it made as recently as April for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells.  Shockingly, calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent, and worryingly, methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

The "clean energy future" the fracking operations promise hardly add up given these new findings. 

The EPA found that the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year.  Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere, the World Bank estimates, and the EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically.  And let's not forget that methane is far more potent than other greenhouse gases. 

As the margins of advantage narrow, the political arguments of proponents the industry are becoming more unbelievable.  And, as you might imagine, their PR tactics will only continue to get more extravagant. 

Despite lack of scientific proof of the industry's infallibility as a beacon of green, they're redoubling their PR to try to convince the public of the industry's merits. And they're fighting dirty. 

January 25 2011


June 25 2010


Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: Risks of Continued Oil and Gas Extraction Grow, USSF Offers Change

This gas well in Texas sits across the street from a park and a populated residential area.By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people's water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks."

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.


One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out."

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Image credit: Rich Anderson, courtesy Flickr

June 10 2010


Gasland – Revealing the Fracking Truth About Natural Gas Drilling

Filmmaker Josh Fox's Gasland journey began when Natural Gas drilling came to his area of the Catskills/ Poconos region of upstate New York, offering lucrative deals to he and his neighbors for drilling access to the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" that theoretically lay beneath many regions of the U.S.

The old adage "if it sounds too good to be true – it is" motivated Fox to embark on a 24 state journey in an attempt to find out the reality behind the offers of money and assurances that granting access to their land would be safe.

What Fox found  as he visited rural landowners all across the country was shocking: water that can be lit with a match right out of the sink; residents in drilling areas suffering chronic illness with common symptoms across disparate locations across the country; enormous pools of toxic waste killing cattle and vegetation; well blowouts and gas explosions. These are just some of the "absurd and astonishing revelations" Fox consistently found all across the country. A new country called GasLand.

Watch the following videos to get a taste.


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