Before I start, I want to make a quick comment on behalf of the TerraPass Footprint (because weve gotten a lot of comments over the past few weeks, and I think theres 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 doesnt 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 wont be issuing a statement on fracking; thats 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) – were really neither of those. Were just a few wonky environmentalists who have a few opinions to say, and are helping to keep others out there like us informed of whats going on.
So, with that said – look, were human! We dont 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 dont 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 Julias opinion on todays 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. Its 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, its clear that something is not right. That is to say, peoples houses should not explode and burn down because there was too much natural gas in their water pipes. People shouldnt 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, whats fundamentally the most important thing at stake, is that there are people in the US – notably, people who are economically disadvantaged and who dont have the resources to fight back – who are losing access to clean drinking water. If fracking isnt the problem per se, then maybe we should re-focus on the problem. But the fact of the matter is that currently, there isnt 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. Heres 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 thats because an Ohioan knows whats 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 wont 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 nations public drinking supply. When a persons health and livelihood is involved, the matter should not be left to the states. And when waterways flow beyond state boundaries, its not just your land; its 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, dont 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 DOEs 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.