This land was made for you and me

Before I start, I want to make a quick comment on behalf of the TerraPass Footprint (because we’ve gotten a lot of comments over the past few weeks, and I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding of what the purpose of this blog is). The following content is MY opinion, and my opinion alone. While this blog is managed by TerraPass staff (and yes, we consider ourselves to be fairly informed on the issues that we write about), this blog doesn’t state “TerraPass” opinions about a topic, like hydraulic fracturing. If we were to formally publish our opinions, we would actually issue a formal statement.

And frankly, we won’t be issuing a statement on fracking; that’s just not what we do. There are other great organizations who publish really awesome, detailed research (think NRDC) and others who report on news stories (think Grist) – we’re really neither of those. We’re just a few wonky environmentalists who have a few opinions to say, and are helping to keep others out there like us informed of what’s going on.

So, with that said – look, we’re human! We don’t know everything there is to know about everything, and it really does help us out when you provide commentary to tell us if we missed something. So please do so. But please don’t call TerraPass “stupid” – TerraPass and the work that we do is separate from our blog, which has always been intended to be a less formal way for our community to share information with one another and engage in debate and dialogue. Debate is great! Calling TerraPass stupid is, well, hurtful.

Moving on to Julia’s opinion on today’s topic…

I have a confession to make. I finally watched Gasland – the Josh Fox documentary about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – last week.

I wanted to watch it sooner, I meant to, but never got around to it. Like so many people, while I strive to lead a life that is conscientious and informed, there are times when I get a bit complacent. This is a great film to jolt you from that mindset. It’s worth a watch.

I found the stories and footage quite compelling. Even if the scientific evidence for fracking dangers is still inconclusive – technically speaking, there currently has not been a conclusive study on the dangers associated with the fracking process. The main EPA study (.pdf) from 2004, which concluded that there were “minimal” dangers posed, has been called into question for its focus on injection of fracking fluids, without consideration of disposal of fluids and other issues of environmental quality.

In any case, it’s clear that something is not right. That is to say, people’s houses should not explode and burn down because there was too much natural gas in their water pipes. People shouldn’t be able to light faucets or streams on fire (the Cuyahoga River, which “caught on fire”, is a large reason for why Nixon formed the EPA in the first place). Animals (and children) should not be losing their hair and getting sick. And to me, what’s fundamentally the most important thing at stake, is that there are people in the US – notably, people who are economically disadvantaged and who don’t have the resources to fight back – who are losing access to clean drinking water. If fracking isn’t the problem per se, then maybe we should re-focus on the problem. But the fact of the matter is that currently, there isn’t a way for regulators to get to the heart of the problem because of the Halliburton Loophole and other sidesteps that exempt the fracking process from protective environmental and human health regulations.

Amidst these issues, a question has been posed (as a possible solution to the fracking debacle) on whether states should regulate fracking independent of federal mandates. Here’s one opinion from Politico who says yes, of course. And their reasoning? Because Ohio regulators will be “better”, i.e., more knowledgeable about their own state, at regulating than say, the EPA. And that’s because an Ohioan knows what’s best for their towns/cities/state.

There is a strong history of states’ rights in our country, and there is a reason why the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) is part of the original 10 in the Bill of Rights. I won’t digress too far into a US History Lesson (sorry, old habits of a former political science major)… states’ rights are fundamental to the way our nation is governed, and I believe in its importance. I also believe there are times when the federal government has to step in and regulate. This is one of those instances.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 gave the EPA the power to regulate discharges of pollutants into the waterways. The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 regulates the nation’s public drinking supply. When a person’s health and livelihood is involved, the matter should not be left to the states. And when waterways flow beyond state boundaries, it’s not just your land; it’s my land too.

At a minimum, the loopholes in the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempt the fracking industry from underground fluid injection standards, need to be removed. This exemption was enacted as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and handcuffs the EPA from overseeing the interactions between injection of fracking chemicals and changes in nearby drinking water.

There are real people with real lives who are being deeply affected. They are not being offered protection from their states, who have always had the option to intervene on their behalf.

I agree that we need to do more research before we can make better conclusions on the effects of fracking. And maybe there really is only a small number of people being affected… and maybe even they are only affected when fracking goes wrong. But to dismiss that part of the population – by citing the enormous potential for natural gas production as a solution to our energy crisis – is a catastrophic mistake. It takes away credibility from calling ourselves a “progressive” nation. Progressive countries do not deny their people the right to clean water, a right that the UN has determined is a basic human right. And seriously, don’t get me started on the fact that if you take away clean water, then the plastic bottle industry will have won…

So to all of those out there who point out that these are just a “one-in-a-million” example, that there are always opportunity costs and trade-offs that have to be made, that we have to look at the “big picture”, I refuse to accept that putting human lives at risk is an acceptable policy.

This is not to say that we should give up on developing our own clean energy supply; but “booms” like the current shale gas extraction can have dangerous, unintended consequences if done without enough planning. The latest from the DOE’s SEAB (Secretary of Energy Advisory Board) Subcommittee on Shale Gas Production reports that it is in the best interest of the federal government to take immediate action. It hardly seems fitting to me that decentralizing this decision to the 50 states (or the 36 most affected) would be a more efficient means to solving such a difficult problem.

Up for more reading? Check out these documents uncovered by the New York Times.

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5 Comments

  1. Ron Schaeffer - November 18, 2011

    Thanks for an objective comment on fracking. Yes, we can always use more research, but we also recognize the side effects from this technology (I don’t think one in a million quite catches the scope of the problem). But you identified the core of the issue – who is impacted. The poor simply do not have the resources, and you can be certain that in a State regulated situation, they lose.
    You are going to get called names for speaking out, even with a completely neutral commentary like this one by those with power. There’s a right-wing extremism in this country, which has grown in voice through money, and getting others to call you names is part of their strategy. For them, it is not the message, it’s the accusation, it’s the noise, it’s the distraction. Today in this country, commercial interests out weigh people interests, particularly where those people are a small and weak part of society. Speak up!

  2. Goaglen - November 18, 2011

    Represent the small people? I doubt it.
    I am a small people with poverty income. I know that the regulations on gas drilling are fair and enforceable. More importantly, the industry, if allowed to drill in the Rocky River basin, NC, will provide jobs for us small people, a reliable fuel supply, and a heating fuel not offered within state boundaries.
    Our county has lost 5000 jobs in ten years. How are the small people protected by further regulation of gas drilling in this?
    The regulatory issue on “fraccing” (correctly spelled) is on treatment and disposal of the fluid stored on the surface, not the drill casing, pressurization or extraction methods thousands of feet below the surface waters.
    Regulations governing this treatment and handling are best done by states with EPA guidelines.
    To say that scientific measurements and observations have been abandoned demonstrates a lack of research. Plenty of study and science has been used since the 1940’s on pressurized gas drilling with fluids.
    “Gasland” video of burning water fraudulently represents the gas to be from “fraccing” when it is from other sources.
    Federal Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Act are enforceable, as well as the UIC (underground injection control), as class II wells.
    BTW, one known formula of fraccing fluid passed the RCRA levels of carcinogens for drinking water. RCRA was the only exemption for the drilling industry. Dimethyl formamide and gluteraldehyde were both fine according to the CDC limits.
    To all “fraccing” protestors, do your research before putting foot in mouth.

    • Ann H Csonka - May 11, 2012

      There are cases in which contaminated water supplies have been exaggerated,
      Here is some more research for you. Download the PDF file: http://www.desmogblog.com/fracking-the-future/

      I hope you will actually read it instead of just parroting the Oil and Gas industry hype. Of course there are extremes on the “other side” also.
      You have certainly done your research, but you do not mention that there are existing SAFER OPTIONS for wellheads that reduce methane escape….and the entire process would be improved by using propane gel, which enables extraction of more product, with less pollution problems of all types. WHY is this not used? Well, of course the industry wants to “keep it cheap”. But that is a false economy.

  3. Dean Battaglini - November 18, 2011

    All the concerns about fracking have been blown out of proportion. Yes, there are safety concerns, as there were with the inventions of the automobile, microwave oven, and nuclear energy. Regulatory controls are definitely necessary. Fracking has been going on since 1949 and no water supplies have been compromised to date.
    The needs for natural gas energy are overwhelming. Thousands of jobs, lower fuel prices, and freedom from the middle east control of our energy supplies.

  4. Granmarie - November 18, 2011

    Concerns have not been blown out of the water. The fracking done in the 40s, 50s, etc. is not the hydrofracturing that is being carried on today. New York must protect all it’s citizens, and those who own land with contracts from the Gas company must not be allowed to prevail when the environment and water can be damaged irreparably.

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