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Blog Posts: Fracking

August 10th, 2015

Ten Years Later, the “Halliburton Loophole” and America’s Dirty Fracking Boom

By Wenonah Hauter

This past Saturday, Aug. 8 marked a notable 10th anniversary. But it was certainly nothing to celebrate. Ten years ago, President George W.  Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The giant energy bill included massive giveaways for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries, and provided only token incentives for renewables and improved energy efficiency. But the most infamous piece of the law was what is now commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an egregious regulatory exemption that ushered in the disastrous era of widespread oil and gas fracking that currently grips our nation.

Fracking – the extreme oil and gas extraction method that involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals underground at enormous pressures to break apart subterranean rock – has exploded in the last decade. More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states throughout the nation. More than 10 million Americans live within a mile of a fracking site. This means that 10 million Americans – and truly many more – have been placed directly in harm’s way. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have connected fracking to serious human health effects, including cancer, asthma and birth defects.

For this we can thank the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the law that holds the Halliburton Loophole. Named after Dick Cheney and the notorious corporation he led before becoming vice president, the law (championed by Cheney and disgraced Enron founder Kenneth Lay, among others) explicitly exempted fracking operations from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. These exemptions from one of America’s most fundamental environmental protection laws provided the oil and gas industry the immunity it required to develop a highly polluting process on a grand national scale.

One of the most troubling repercussions is how fracking companies hide the contents of their toxic water and chemical solutions pumped into the ground. Contamination of underground drinking water sources from fracking fluids is a glaring threat to public health and safety. Yet even doctors responding to fracking-related health complaints can’t access data on what particular chemicals their patients may have been exposed to.

But the Halliburton Loophole wasn’t the only fracking enabler in the Energy Policy Act. The act granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping new authority to supersede state and local decision-making with regard to the citing of fracked gas pipelines and infrastructure. It also shifted to FERC industry oversight and compliance responsibility for the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, another key law. This was akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

As it stands, FERC is entirely unaccountable to public will. It is unaccountable to Congress and even the White House. Commissioners are appointed to five-year terms and can do as they please. Until a law reigning in FERC is passed, the commission will continue to act as a rubber-stamp for the fossil fuel industry.

Additionally, the Energy Policy Act repealed an important anti-monopoly law, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA). PUHCA safeguarded consumers from the overreach of the oil and gas industry, and banks that did business with those companies. It prevented the formation of giant state and regional energy cartels that could manipulate energy costs, engage in profiteering and exert undue influence over political debate. The Energy Policy Act transferred most of this oversight to FERC. Since then, the largest American energy companies have grown significantly more powerful, and spent almost a billion dollars on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The 10th anniversary of the Energy Policy Act is indeed a sad occasion, but it provides us with a ripe opportunity to reexamine our nation’s disastrous policy of doubling-down on fossil fuels over the last decade, thanks to the extreme process of fracking. For the sake of countless Americans who are currently suffering health effects caused by fracking, and the countless more who will suffer in the future, we must immediately curtail our dependence on oil and gas, and turn decisively toward a truly clean, renewable energy future.

 

July 27th, 2015

Three Ways The Energy Policy Act Ushered In The Frackopoly

By Wenonah HauterBlogThumb_Wenonah2

This is a good week to reflect on Dick Cheney’s role in facilitating fracking. Early in the George W. Bush administration, he put together a task force made up of energy industry CEO’s and lobbyists, known as EPACT 2005, which rewrote energy policy.The damage this legislation did is much broader than is usually discussed.

This has become increasingly apparent to me as I researched and wrote my new book, Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment (to be released next spring). The tremendous political power of the energy industry unleashed the tragic policy decisions in EPACT 2005. In fact, their increasing pwer over the past hundred years has locked us in to dependence on fossil fuels and other dirty energy sources. Federal funding was key in developing the technologies that are used for fracking today. Removal of federal oversight of natural gas pricing and changes in the rules around the transportation of natural gas in pipes also helped eventually drive the shale gas boom. Decisions in the 1990’s concerning the deregulation of the electric industry – how electricity is generated, sold on the wholesale market and delivered to consumers – also drove the use of natural gas-fired generation.

But one of the biggest oil and gas industry giveaways happened 10 years ago this week, when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

This giant energy bill had massive handouts and incentives for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries, with minimal incentives for renewables and energy efficiency. This bill was largely written by the lobbyists of the oil and gas industry and other dirty energy interests. The long forgotten shyster Kenneth Lay, of Enron fame (or infamy) was one of the leading lobbyists for deregulation of the electric industry and the giveaways to the energy industry in EPACT 2005. Lay and other Enron officials lobbied the Clinton and Bush Administrations for significant deregulation of energy markets that paved the way for fracking—and many of the policies were signed into law by President Bush on August 8, 2005.

Here are three specific ways the Energy Policy Act promoted fracking.

  1. The Halliburton Loophole

This may be the most familiar tool the Energy Policy Act wielded in helping necessitate the fracking boom. Named for the company where Dick Cheney had been CEO before becoming Vice President, the Halliburton Loophole famously exempted fracking from chemical disclosure rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). As a result, we don’t even know the full range of chemicals used in the cocktail of fluids injected underground in the process of releasing natural gas from deep beneath the earth’s surface.

The loophole clouded the otherwise clear lines of liability for companies that contaminated water. It also makes it a nightmare for health professionals treating victims of fracking-related injuries, because they can’t get the information they need to provide proper care.

  1. FERC granted power of imminent domain in siting new gas infrastructure

The Energy Policy Act gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping new powers to overrule local and state governments in the siting of new pipelines for gas and new transmission lines for electricity – even when there are conflicts with other federal laws. The agency was given the power of eminent domain so that it can swoop in and take property for building this intrusive and often unnecessary infrastructure.

FERC was given the authority to approve the siting, construction, expansion and operation of LNG terminals. It was also authorized to be the lead agency coordinating compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, one of the nation’s most important laws for protecting the environment.

Combined with the powers granted to FERC when it was created, and the fact that it is an independent agency unresponsive to politics, EPACT 2005 made certain that affected communities would be virtually powerless to fight against this unneeded infrastructure.

  1. Repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act

The Energy Policy Act repealed anti-monopoly legislation – the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, or PUCHA – that safeguarded consumers from the overreach of the oil and gas industry and banks in the utility industry. As M. Elizabeth Sanders writes in The Regulation of Natural Gas: Policy and Politics, 1938-1978, UCHA restricted the size and geographic reach of gas and electric utilities. It also restricted parent companies of utilities from cheating ratepayers by charging high fees for services to their affiliate utility subsidiaries and from speculating in risky businesses with ratepayers’ money.

Among the key consumer and investor protections in PUHCA, it prohibited non-utilities (such as oil companies or investment banks) from ownership of gas or electric utilities, and empowered the SEC to oversee the business dealings of utilities to prevent the reappearance of the huge multistate utility cartels that had previously ripped off customers and ruined investors. Utilities were required to provide the SEC with detailed financial information and to have financial transactions approved—from issuing securities to reorganizing.

PUCHA’s strong regulatory authority was replaced by giving FERC the authority to review electric utility mergers and acquisitions.

And as could have been predicted, FERC did not prevent the consolidation of the electric utility industry. The repeal of PUHCA unleashed energy market speculation and created extremely large energy companies with outsized influence on our political system. According to OpenSecrets.org, since 1998 the top 10 electric utilities, listed below, have spent $581 million on lobbying the federal government. One of the little-recognized benefits of PUHCA was in preventing corporate utilities from becoming political powerhouses. Their increased size and profits have enabled them to influence policy on a much broader scale.

Today, a handful of giant companies operate subsidiaries that provide electricity and half of them are involved in trading energy on Wall Street. Deregulatory measures have incentivized them to sell as much electricity as possible, much of it generated by natural gas. They are:

  1. Exelon Corp
  2. Duke Energy
  3. Southern Company
  4. NextEra
  5. Dominion
  6. Xcel Energy
  7. PPL Corp
  8. PG&E Corp.
  9. Public Service Electric & Gas
  10. American Electric Power

The chilling effect that Enron and the other proponents of deregulation has had on sound energy policy – by letting the market make decisions about energy choices – cannot be overstated. Energy use, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, is continuing to increase at a time when conservation policies and energy efficiency solutions must be prioritized. As a result of years of lobbying and campaign contributions form the oil and gas industry, policymakers instead declared natural gas, and ultimately fracking, as the best solution for addressing climate change, with bogus cost-benefit analyses.

The 10th anniversary of the Energy Policy Act is a good reminder that it is long past time for a paradigm shift. We need localized, efficient and clean energy systems now to meet our energy needs and safely power our communities.

July 9th, 2015

Climate Ride: Inspiration for You; Support for Food & Water Watch

Imagine riding a bicycle 300 miles with 150 other inspired people to raise funds for a cause that matters to you. Whether the emotions trigged by that thought fall closer to the terror end of the scale (totally normal!) or near elation, we encourage you to join our Midwest or Northeast Food & Water Watch team for our first year as a beneficiary of the Climate Ride. You don’t have to be a bike racer or own a stitch of stretchy cycling togs to join Food & Water Watch for these wonderful September rides that support solutions to climate change, like our work to ban fracking. All you need is enthusiasm, a willingness to challenge yourself and a desire to have fun making a difference. Take it from Jo, Sandra and Aliya, members of our staff who loved their experiences on Climate Ride and have great stories and tips to share.

 

Jo Miles, Digital Program Director
NYC to DC Climate Ride, May 2012

Jo Miles completes the 2012 NYC to DC Climate Ride at the U.S. Capitol

Jo Miles completes the 2012 NYC to DC Climate Ride at the U.S. Capitol

Were you an experienced cyclist before you signed up?
If I survived Climate Ride, then anyone who can ride a bike can do it. I was badly out of practice at cycling when I signed up. I knew how to ride in traffic to commute, but I don’t think I’d ever ridden more than ten miles in a day before that, and certainly no multi-day tours. I knew it would be a huge challenge for me.

What stood out to you about the ride?
The route was outstanding. I live in Maryland, but never knew how beautiful the mid-Atlantic countryside is. The ride was incredibly well organized, from training and fundraising support to taking care of riders’ needs on the road. And everything was bound together by the theme of climate. My fellow riders were fun and accomplished and passionate about the environment, so there was great company the entire time, and it was very cool to hear what everyone was working on.

What was your most inspiring moment on the ride?
It’s hard to pick just one, of course, but arriving in DC, riding through the town where I live and then down the Capital Crescent Trail (where I trained many times) and finally riding en masse down Constitution Ave. to the Capitol… that’s hard to beat!

What’s your best fundraising tip?
Ask literally everyone you know, and ask them individually. Tell them what you’re up to, and you’ll be surprised who steps up to support you.

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
Definitely the training. I was pretty worried about whether I’d actually make it through. Early on I wondered if signing up was a big mistake. But Climate Ride gives you training tips, and I followed their guide and worked up to longer and longer rides in the weeks before the event. I rode to work multiple times a week and did at least one long ride every weekend; by the time the ride started, I was ready.

What is one takeaway from the ride?
I left with an incredible feeling of accomplishment and a host of new friends. It was a truly fantastic experience.

 

Sandra Lupien, Western Region Communications Manager
California Climate Ride, October 2011

Sandra Lupien at the finish of the 2011 California Climate Ride at San Francisco City Hall. PHOTO: KIP PIERSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Sandra Lupien at the finish of the 2011 California Climate Ride at San Francisco City Hall. PHOTO: KIP PIERSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Why did you sign up?
I am deeply motivated to be a part of efforts that amplify and help solve the climate crisis. When I learned about the Climate Ride, I signed up my (former) employer as a beneficiary and volunteered to be our team captain (even though I was super-intimidated by the mileage).

Describe your cycling experience before you signed up.
I’d been an avid bicycle commuter for many years, obsessed with using my bike to haul everything from groceries to lumber. But, I had never done a long recreational ride. Like Jo, I followed the Climate Ride’s great training plan to get ready.

What stood out to you about the ride?
Haha! The rain! The Climate Ride calls the 2011 California participants “The Storm Riders” because we rode and camped in uncharacteristically wet conditions for about half or our ride. It was truly awesome because everyone was in it together and the staff took great care of us. Beyond the rain, what stood out was solid organizing, terrific people from age 18 – 75, stunning scenery and plenty of good food.

What was your most inspiring moment on the ride?
On the last day, we woke up early to clear weather. The staff had rigged a tarp to cover the breakfast area. As the ride leader, Blake, started reviewing the day’s route, a torrential downpour broke. Someone started chanting, “More! More! More!” and we all joined in solidarity. By the time we reached Stinson Beach (in Marin County), the sun broke through the clouds. The support team turned the van’s radio to a disco station and we all did The Hustle in the parking lot. Then we rode over Mount Tamalpais, across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco City Hall in glorious sunlight. I won’t deny that I shed a lot of happy tears. Unforgettable.

How much money did you raise?
I raised about $5,500 using email and Facebook. I asked many times and thanked people immediately and publicly for their gifts. The results on Facebook surprised me – people I hadn’t spoken with since junior high or high school supported my campaign. It was so cool!

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
My mind. Both before and during the ride, I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the miles or do the hills. But, I did it! Well, I did jump in the van to go over the biggest hill and I walked my bike on parts of others, but it still counts!

Best advice?
Before you start training, go to a quality bike shop and have your bike professionally fit. Trust me. Also: bike shorts. Again, trust me.

 

Aliya Mejias, Development Associate
NYC to DC Climate Ride, September 2013
2015 Midwest Ride Food & Water Watch Team Captain

Aliya Mejias, right, completes the 2013 NYC to DC Climate Ride

Aliya Mejias, right, completes the 2013 NYC to DC Climate Ride.

Why did you sign up?
My life is dedicated to protecting our environment and I felt it was time to really show how serious climate change is. I grew up in New York and now live in DC, and I thought that committing myself to raising $3,000 by biking 300 miles from one home to the other would be a great way to get people’s attention.

Describe your cycling experience before you signed up.
I finally gained the confidence to navigate the DC streets my sophomore year in college. I never did long rides, barely knew the surrounding trails and just commuted about ten miles a day as a way to avoid a reliance on fossil fuels. But Climate Ride isn’t about being the most elite biker or seeing who can get to the end first. It’s about building the movement toward a truly sustainable and healthy future.

What stood out to you about the ride?
Because the route connected my home cities, it felt personal to me. I had driven between New York and DC countless times and never imagined I could bike it while raising money and awareness for climate issues. Also, riders ending in DC got to meet with elected representatives to share their reasons for riding 300 miles – I knew I had to do it too.

Describe your favorite/best/most inspiring moment on the ride.
If I had to pick just one, I’ll say it was meeting with my representative to share my story and ask him to take a hard stance on protecting our environment and health. It was really nerve-racking since I’d never met with a representative, but Climate Ride provided us with training so we would be confident.

How much money did you raise?
I raised $3,225 — thanks to the 126 people who supported me! I was so grateful – I thanked every person as soon as I received their donation. On social media, I tagged each donor in a thank-you post and also provided updates on my fundraising and training. I found that seeing that others were giving and reading my progress updates encouraged others to donate.

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
Fundraising. My development resume consisted of a Trick-or-Treat fundraiser and a smaller event earlier that year that raised $200. Thankfully, Climate Ride provided a lot of helpful resources such as email samples, tips and tricks of the trade and awesome fundraising ideas.

Why are you doing the ride again?
I’m riding again because it’s Food & Water Watch’s first year as a beneficiary! I rode away from the 2013 ride with confidence that we can and will make real change. Climate Ride also taught me to challenge myself – that’s why my personal fundraising goal is $5,000 this year. The climate movement has had some victories in the two years since my ride —a fracking ban in New York State and a moratorium on fracking in Maryland, for example. And we still have a lot of work to do. Riding for Food & Water Watch will help build the grassroots power to win lasting policy changes that promise us safe, sustainable and affordable food and water.

Sounds like fun, right? Why not join Team Food & Water Watch for the Northeast or Midwest Climate Ride this September? Aliya, along with 2015 participating staff members Jessica, Matt, Alison and Lily (watch for a blog introducing them next week) are building some great team spirit and they’d love to cheer you on along the way. Plus, our team members get a custom Food & Water Watch jersey and t-shirt, abundant appreciation and the satisfaction of knowing that they’re helping Food & Water Watch protect our food, water and climate. For more information, contact Aliya at amejias[at]@fwwatch[dot]org. Are you in for Climate Ride 2015? Register today!

June 30th, 2015

Help Obama See The Marfa Lights: Stop the Trans-Pecos Pipeline

by Hugh MacMillan

Opposition is mounting against the Trans-Pecos pipeline, a project proposed to move natural gas across the vast Big Bend region of Texas. If built, the pipeline would be a monument to corporate gain at the expense of the public.

The United States – guided not just by the oil and gas industry, but also by big investment banks (see here and here) – is looking to “integrate” oil and gas extraction and distribution activities throughout North America, in coordination with Canada and Mexico. Extracting as much unconventional oil and natural gas as possible, through widespread drilling and fracking, is central to the collective vision.

Energy Transfer Partners, in collaboration with and supported by Morgan Stanley, aims to cash in by exporting natural gas from several facilities in Texas. Specifically, among ETP’s projects is the three-and-a-half-foot in diameter Trans-Pecos pipeline planned for transporting dangerous and explosive natural gas across the Big Bend region of Texas into Mexico.

The path of the Trans-Pecos pipeline, plotted with existing oil and gas industry infrastructure, illustrates the open space and unspoiled nature unique to the Big Bend region. MAP COURTESY OF U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION / EIA.GOV (Click image to enlarge)

The path of the Trans-Pecos pipeline, plotted with existing oil and gas industry infrastructure, illustrates the open space and unspoiled nature unique to the Big Bend region. MAP COURTESY OF U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION / EIA.GOV (Click image to enlarge)

Kelcy Warren, the billionaire at the helm of Energy Transfer Partners, aims to pump as much as two billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, to feed into pipelines planned in Mexico, owned by Carlos “Slim” Helu, nearly the richest if not the richest person in the world.

With the Obama administration’s recent whitewash of an assessment on the impacts of drilling and fracking on drinking water resources, the stage is set for these billionaires to win big – at the expense of public health and safety, and of the environment. Widespread drilling and fracking would be required to access the volumes of gas needed to fill their pipelines. In addition, the pipeline could pave the way for fracking to spread to Mexico: After running its course in Texas, the direction of flow through the pipeline could just be reversed, allowing their profits to continue to flow.

Thankfully, those banking billions of dollars on natural gas exports to Mexico through the Trans-Pecos pipeline in the coming years are not unopposed. Many Texans along the proposed path do not want a high-pressure pipeline on their land, and do not want it near their homes.

Several recent pipeline failures have led to massive destruction and even loss of life (see here and here). In the U.S., more than 11,000 pipeline incidents have occurred from 1994 to 2014, and the incidents have caused $6.5 billion in property damage.[i] These incidents make it clear why many landowners are reluctant to have pipelines on their property.

Energy Transfer Partners, Morgan Stanley, and those, such as President Obama, who are pushing the grand vision behind the Trans-Pecos project also face another obstacle.

The Big Bend region, home to the mysterious Marfa Lights, is remote and unique. Many Texans, while not directly in the path of the pipeline, cherish its vast wide-open space and the darkness, all unmarred by the legacy of the state’s oil and gas industry footprint. The Trans-Pecos pipeline, as the first pipeline to dissect the region, would change that.

The Big Bend Conservation Alliance is working to defend the region by urging President Obama to put the brakes on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. You can follow these steps to add your voice, and your comments will be received. Tell President Obama that it is time for the too-big-to-fail banks to stop building out reckless fossil fuel infrastructure, all for private gain at the public’s expense.

It is time to recognize the true costs and the true solutions.

True energy security comes from local energy system independence, not continental scale efforts to increase and intensify fossil fuel production. It’s time for Obama to see the Marfa Lights, and stop putting corporate trade interests on a pedestal while sweeping health and safety of Americans under the rug.

Hugh MacMillan is Senior Researcher on the Food & Water Watch water team.

Texas-sized Hypocrisy Served Up in Denton Over Fracking Ban

By Scott Edwards

BlogThumb_GovAbbott

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Last February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivered his first State of the State and made some promising proclamations. “It’s time for property owners – not government – to truly own their property,” he stated. He also made ethics reforms pledges, “prohibiting lawmakers from voting on legislation from which they could profit and more disclosure of campaign finance information.”

Abbott’s commitment to giving citizens a real say in their property uses and taking on legislative influence-peddling couldn’t have come at a better time for the people of Denton, Texas. In November of 2014, the Dentonians voted overwhelmingly to protect their property, their children and their communities from the many adverse impacts of fracking, an irresponsible and largely unregulated method of gas extraction. Abbott’s promises presumably meant that under his watch, government would never be allowed to strip away the democratic rights of Denton’s local citizens at the behest of industry.

But then in May Abbott signed into law HB40, a bill reportedly scripted by the oil and gas industry, thereby stripping away the property and local voting rights of the citizens of the city of Denton and every other town and city in Texas. Industry’s lawyers wasted no time running into court to bully Denton’s City Council into dropping its ban under the threat of attorney’s fees.

Abbott, like so many others who take up the mantle of political life in Texas and elsewhere quickly embraced the “talk is cheap, but campaigns are expensive” mindset that permeates our political system – his oil and gas buddies had funded his gubernatorial election to the tune of over $1.5 million, more than any industry in the state.

If Abbott is so concerned with ethics reform, perhaps he needs to start with himself.

Of course, there are plenty of other places for him to start, too. One of the primary Republican sponsors of HB40, Senator Troy Fraser, has received $215,850 in campaign contributions from oil and gas. The other Republican primary sponsors of HB40, Representatives Drew Darby, James Keefer and Phil King, reaped benefits in the amounts of $143,865, $340,183 and $113,000 respectively from the industry.

Political sellout in Texas, though, is not a partisan problem; the Democratic primary sponsors of HB40, Rep. Senfronia Thompson and Rep. Rene Oliviera also feed from the oil and gas trough; they’re just satisfied with much smaller portions. Thompson and Oliviera only got a paltry $55,401 and $69,600 in campaign money from the industry.

It gets even uglier: When Denton passed its fracking ban, it was sued by two entities, one of which was the Texas Oil and Gas Association, or TxOGA. It was one of TxOGA’s lawyers who reportedly helped write HB40. In 2014, TxOGA wrote Abbott a check for $30,000 to add to the $70,000 they’ve given him over the years. That same year, TxOGA gave Darby, who introduced HB40, $2,500, while giving bill sponsor Fraser $20,000 in 2012. Keffer, another bill sponsor, has been paid $28,500 by TxOGA over past years. TxOGA has also given money to both Thompson and Oliviera in past years. You can only imagine what TxOGA’s “contributions” to each of these politicians will be in 2015.

This goes beyond a company giving money to a candidate of its choice – this is an active litigant in court giving money to a group of legislators to pass a bill that they need to win the case, while bankrolling the governor who needs to sign the bill even though doing so directly conflicts with the promises he made to his own constituents.

The hypocrisy is stunning. The only winners in this whole mess are the oil and gas industry. But the citizens of Denton and grassroots activists will continue to fight the undue influence the industry has over democracy in Texas.

June 22nd, 2015

John Butler Trio, Bonnie Raitt and More Stand Against Fracking

BlogThumb_BTFAcoverThis past March, Food & Water Watch announced its support of “Buy This Fracking Album,” a musical effort to shed light on the dangers of hydro-fracking across America. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, the Indigo Girls, Michael Franti, John Butler Trio and more lent their voices to the effort…and now the album is here!

Join our New York office tomorrow night at the Brooklyn Bowl to help celebrate the launch of launch with our executive director, Wenonah Hauter, and some of the artists featured on the album.

“Buy This Fracking Album” contains a combination of original recordings, previous releases, and live renditions of older songs, including:

  • Pete Seeger’s first album appearance since his passing – a never before released live rendition of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your Land;”
  • “Hell to Pay” by Bonnie Raitt;
  • Original recordings from Meshell Ndegeocello (“Never Still Water”), Marco Benevento and Dave Dreiwtiz (“Freakin Frack”), and more.

“I feel that one of the most critical environmental issues of our time is banning fracking everywhere because it destroys our water, our communities and our planet,” Raitt said.

The two-disc benefit compilation’s proceeds will benefit Marcellus Protest, a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania, and other grassroots organizations around the country working to ban fracking. Album beneficiary Food & Water Watch is donating its share of the proceeds into a fund that album producers will distribute to grassroots organizations. Many of the artists who have contributed songs to the album have openly voiced their opposition to fracking, with arguments ranging from the desire to champion community health, combat the corporate hold on American democracy, or – in the words of singer Kristen Graves — “I want future generations to have an example of what it looks like to live humbly, respectfully, and well with the earth.”

Preorder a hard copy of the album or download a digital version to support the project.

June 17th, 2015

Fracking: The Latest Fossil Fuel Industry Assault on Communities of Color

By Mike Roque, Guest Blogger

When the oil and gas industry wants to set up shop, it targets areas that, due to economic and social factors, have little political power. This trend has been well documented in California, where 79 percent of the more than 350,000 children who live within a mile of an oil and gas well are non-white. Fracking has become the latest chapter in the sad, epic tale of decades of environmental injustices committed by the fossil fuel industry in low-income communities of color.

FB_1506_DFD_MikeRoque-quote-V1It’s a story that is also playing out in my home state. With over 53,000 active wells in Colorado, the fracking fiasco has spread far and wide in our state, including into the Mile High City of Denver. Two-thirds of the residents of the Northeast Denver neighborhoods at risk of being fracked are African American or Latino. These are the families who will suffer the worst impacts – including health problems and loss of property value – if decision-makers allow fracking in Denver. What effort will leaders make to ensure the concerns of these communities inform decision making?

Probably not much, if things play out in Denver as they have in Greeley, Colorado – the epicenter of the fracking explosion – where Mexican and Somali refugee communities have not had a voice in the fracking debate. These communities have traditionally been neglected and have the least political power in Weld County.

These families are the reason that Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC) has been actively engaged in the fight to ban fracking in the Rocky Mountain State. CPC is a membership-led organization composed of low-income people of color – the exact community threatened by fracking in Denver and affected disproportionately by this dangerous oil and gas extraction process across the country.

CPC, along with Food & Water Watch and a broad range of other groups, is a proud founding member of Coloradans Against Fracking, which we helped create to protect our health, safety, clean air, water and property values. Colorado should be a national leader in transforming our economy from one that relies on fossil fuels to one that thrives on renewable energy. We are endowed with over 300 days of sunshine each year here and an ample supply of wind. But we know that the energy landscape won’t change overnight. It takes political will – and that means holding elected leaders accountable to constituents.

With Food & Water Watch and other partners in Coloradans Against Fracking, we’ve held rallies, hosted peaceful actions, bird-dogged our elected officials and have been working to help build a grassroots movement to ban fracking. CPC prefers to let our members decide their futures rather than leaving matters in the hands of corporations that only care about making money at the expense of our environment, neighborhoods, health, and our children’s schools.

The growing number of residents lining up to defend their communities from fracking is proof that the tide is turning. It’s time for Governor John Hickenlooper and our state officials to retire their drill-baby-drill rally cry. It’s time to transform our economy, save our environment, create thousands of new and quality jobs, and protect the health and future of our children and grandchildren. Together, we know this is a fight we can win.

Mike Roque is the Executive Director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

June 10th, 2015

How The Release of The EPA’s Draft Assessment on Drinking Water Impacts Was Spun

By Hugh MacMillan

1The subtitle of the EPA’s press release announcing the assessment — presented by the Obama Administration as the topline finding — read as follows (emphasis added):

“Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Media reports ran with this framing of the assessment, and a barrage of headlines whitewashed fracking as safe. This outcome, which has delighted both the oil and gas industry and the financial elites who are banking on decades of fracking, was the result of multiple levels of EPA and Obama Administration spin.

Although still deeply problematic, the framing of the major findings in the actual text of the nearly 1000-page assessment was very different than the topline of the press release. The actual assessment states (again, emphasis added):

“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. … We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. … This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors.” (p. ES-23)

That is, for the EPA’s press release, the major finding of the assessment was changed from “we did not find evidence” to the “Assessment shows” there is no evidence.

In reality, what the assessment shows is that, at almost every turn, the efforts of EPA to evaluate the impacts due to the “above and below ground mechanisms” were thwarted. At times, the agency was thwarted by circumstances out of its control, but in many other cases the agency’s own timidity is to blame.

The Spin Within The Assessment

The conclusive use of the phrases “widespread, systemic” and “rarity of effects” in the actual draft assessment is what enabled the Obama Administration to whitewash fracking with a small but enormously consequential change in the phrasing for the press release.

The implication is that, for the EPA and the Obama Administration, only problems that are deemed “widespread, systemic” warrant proactive concern about the current direction of energy policy.

To this point, the lead caveat in the summary of the assessment’s findings is:

“In particular, data limitations preclude a determination of the frequency of impacts with any certainty.” (p. ES-22)

The nearly 1000-page assessment is littered with additional caveats specific to each of the “mechanisms” identified as “having the potential to impact drinking water resources.” For example, the EPA’s assessment of impacts from 457 spills identified as related to hydraulic fracturing contains the following caveat:

“Of the volume of spilled flowback and produced water, 16% was recovered for on-site use or disposal, 76% was reported as unrecovered, and 8% was unknown. The potential impact of the unknown and unrecovered volume on drinking water resources is unknown.” (p. 7-33)

On the question of contamination of underground sources of drinking water due to the migration of shale gas, the assessment states:

“In most cases, the methane in the [water] wells likely originated from intermediate formations between the production zone and the surface; however, in some cases, the methane appears to have originated from deeper layers such as those where the Marcellus Shale is found.” (p. 6-17)

The assessment goes on to conclude:

“Evidence shows that the quality of drinking water resource may have been affected by hydraulic fracturing fluids escaping the wellbore and surrounding formation in certain areas, although conclusive evidence is currently limited.” (p. 6-57)

But with with the conclusions clouded by “data limitations and uncertainties” — including of its own making — the Obama Administration has succeeded in dismissing the impacts to drinking water resources from fracking as not “widespread” and “systemic.”

Limitations of Federal Government’s Own Making

The Obama Administration has not only slanted the narrative around the pollution documented in the study, it has failed to ensure that the EPA gather adequate data.

This failure is not just due to the fact that oil and gas companies — riding a legacy of decades of political influence peddling — enjoy exemptions from key statutes in all the major environmental laws. Rather than compel companies to cooperate, the EPA’s assessment is hamstrung by the vagaries of relying on the voluntary cooperation and disclosures by industry.

For example, because after-the-fact studies of contamination are difficult, the EPA had planned prospective studies, which would include baseline data on water quality and elaborate monitoring over time, from drilling and fracking the well to production. But the agency was not able to come to terms with any companies over site access or plans for monitoring and oversight.

Importantly, to see precisely why and how contaminants are leaking from some fracked wells, the EPA would likely needed to have monitored hundreds of individual wells as closely as technologically possible. Nonetheless, oil and gas companies would not accept the spotlight and close regulatory scrutiny on their fracking operations even once.

This is remarkable given that, according to the EPA’s own Inspector General, a primary reason that the agency withdrew its emergency order against Range Resources, regarding a case of contamination in Parker County, Texas, was that the company had agreed to participate in the assessment. The EPA’s failure to complete that investigation adds to the agency’s failure to carry out investigations, after the fact, of contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Ban Fracking

The Obama Administration has chalked up the experiences of those who have been living with contamination as nothing more than collateral damage, and as the result of rare effects. The assessment is nonetheless clear that such collateral damage to water resources, both recognized and unrecognized, will continue to mount as a result of both accidents and routine operations.

Among the uncertainties acknowledged in the assessment is that more contamination may be yet to come:

“Given the surge in the number of modern high-pressure hydraulic fracturing operations dating from the early 2000s, evidence of any fracturing-related fluid migration affecting a drinking water resource (as well as the information necessary to connect specific well operation practices to a drinking water impact) could take years to discover.” (p. 6-56)

This amounts to unacceptable risks to vital drinking water resources.

In dismissing concerns about such impacts on drinking water resources, including those made clear in the assessment, the Obama Administration has upheld its vision for the country: decades more widespread and systematic drilling and fracking, to maximize the extraction of unconventional oil and natural gas.

The oil and gas industry and the financial industry share this vision. Together these bastions of political influence continue to sink billions of dollars in infrastructure to build out demand for unconventional oil and gas.

The bitter irony is that decades more climate pollution, locked in by such sunk costs, will bring impacts on drinking water resources that are certain to be widespread and systemic.

Take action today to tell EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to correct the misleading press release about the study.

June 5th, 2015

The EPA’s Fracking Study, Explained

By Wenonah Hauter
BLOGthumb_1506_EPAphotoDon’t be fooled. Headlines in the New York Times and other news media about the EPA’s long-awaited study on the impacts of fracking on drinking water are another tragic case of not looking beyond the timid agency’s spin. Despite the lack of new substantive data and the limited scope of the study, the EPA did find instances of water contamination and outlined the areas where this could happen in the fracking process.

Rather than seriously undertaking its mission, the EPA’s headline and conclusions in the study reflect the agency’s on-going narrative about the safety of fracking. The agency asserted in the report on the study that there were no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” They based this outrageous conclusion on the limited industry controlled data and analysis that was included in the poorly designed research project.

The multi-million dollar study did not answer the fundamental questions about the pollution of water from hydraulic fracturing. The oil and gas industry pressured the agency in the design of the study, narrowing its scope and focusing it on theoretical modeling conducted by researchers that often conduct research favorable to the industry.

In a shocking display of the power of oil and gas interests, they successfully blocked the agency from gathering data from direct monitoring of fracking operations. Rather than demanding that companies like Exxon (the largest fracker in the U.S.) or Chesapeake allow them to monitor water wells near fracking operations, the EPA caved to industry pressure. For the study to be meaningful, the agency needed to conduct baseline water testing at prospective wells that would provide a snapshot of water quality before fracking and that would be retested after a year or more after oil or gas production began.

Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA’s 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the plan for the study, remarked on the failure of its design: “This was supposed to be the gold standard. But they went through a long bureaucratic process of trying to develop a study that is not going to produce a meaningful result.”

Yet even with the study’s poor design and the deceptive headlines, the 600-page document does include concrete examples that fracking does indeed contaminate groundwater resources, a fact already confirmed by numerous studies based on existing scientific data. The study confirmed cases of water contamination with five after-the-fact, or retrospective, case studies, each focused on a community where residents have complained about water problems for years. This embarrassingly limited review of the impacts from spills and releases, water withdrawals, and issues with waste disposal provide proof that fracking negatively impacts our water resources. They included:

  • Drinking water monitoring wells had “chemicals or brine” from a blowout that occurred during fracking operations in Killdeer, ND.
  • “Up to nine out of 36” wells considered in a Northeastern Pennsylvania case study “are impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.”
  • In Southwestern PA, wastewater pits and other storage sites caused chloride contamination. Regarding stray hydrocarbon gas found in domestic water wells, the EPA determines it was from shallower gas formations, not the targeted shale formation, but whether nearby drilling through the shallower formations led to such contamination remains unanswered.
  • At the same time as hydraulic fracturing operations in Wise County, TX, two water wells were impacted by increased presence of brines.

This incomplete and inadequate study is an embarrassment for the Obama Administration and the EPA. It falls far short of the level of scrutiny and government oversight needed to protect the health and safety of the many millions of Americans living in watersheds impacted by fracking — nearly ten million within one mile of a fracked well, according to the study.

Unfortunately the study and related media coverage will provide the industry more cover for continuing its poisoning of our nation’s drinking water via widespread drilling and fracking. Oil and gas industry foxes have once again been allowed to call the shots at the EPA’s henhouse, and protect their vision for widespread fracking, with what the EPA now confirms to be over 25,000 new oil and gas wells each year.

Simply put, the EPA admits that fracking has been found to contaminate water, but its incomplete analysis and false characterization of its findings greatly downplays the severity of the problem. Industry’s pressure on the agency has politicized what is a basic public health concern. Putting a resource as precious and universally important as drinking water at risk is simply unacceptable, and the EPA, which is charged with protecting Americans from environmental risk, should be working to do everything it can to safeguard these vital water resources. This study is fodder to continue our ongoing fight to ban fracking everywhere.

May 13th, 2015

How Fracking Could Ruin Your Vacation

By Hugh MacMillan

preview FB_1505_PubLandsNJ-FBLink-C1As the start of summer draws ever closer, Americans and international tourists will begin to flock to U.S. National Parks, Forests, and other public lands for summer vacations, recreation and appreciation of our natural heritage. But there is something threatening the future of these lands and the communities that surround our national parks. Fracking.

President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management finalized thin, new rules for regulating fracking on public lands back in March. When these rules were proposed in 2013, more than 650,000 public comments were delivered demanding an outright ban on the practice instead. By the end of 2014, oil and gas companies had leases on over 34 million acres of U.S. public land. Over 200 million more acres – about a third of all federal land – can be targeted with drilling and fracking.

Here are a few more key statistics taken from Food & Water Watch’s new fact sheet that was released today:

  • About 20 percent of U.S. oil and gas reserves and resources are beneath federal public lands;
  • In 2014, companies drilled 2,544 new onshore oil and gas wells on federal land;
  • Almost 90 percent of wells on federal lands are fracked, and regulators are inspecting less than half of the wells they identify as having high-risk of environmental impacts;
  • More than 2 billion gallons of water — about 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth — is mixed with chemicals and injected beneath public lands each year;
  • Likely about 100,000 gallons — or over 18 truckloads full, assuming 130-barrel tanks — of liquid wastes spilled onto public lands each year;
  • Production of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids (e.g., propane, butane, etc.) in 2013 from federal public lands led to more than 292 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, or about what 61 million cars emit in a year; and
  • Counties with larger amounts of federal lands protected from oil and gas extraction had significantly higher per capita incomes, with about $1,000 extra in each person’s pocket for every 25,000 acres protected.

The figures on public lands and fracking are alarming, but there is hope to protect these cherished places and to stop the climate pollution from such extraction from happening. On Earth Day, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), members of the Safe Climate Caucus, introduced the Protect Our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902. The legislation is the strongest anti-fracking bill introduced in Congress to date and would ban fracking on federal public lands.

Tell your member of Congress to cosponsor the Protect Our Public Lands Act, and stand up for our beloved national treasures.

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