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Blog Posts: Fracking

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.

1504_FBHL_PubLandsBillDrop-C1[1]

 

May 5th, 2015

How One Photographer Is Protecting Colorado from Fracking

John-credit-Gary-Soles-WEBBy Sandra Lupien

Colorado is a headwaters state: the Colorado, Platte, Rio Grande and Arkansas Rivers all start here and wiggle and weave their sparkling ways through the Rocky Mountain State before reaching their far-flung mouths at far lower elevations. John Fielder was just a teenager when he visited Colorado on a school science trip in the 1960s, but he knew it would one day be his home. He could not have known that as a renowned nature photographer, Colorado’s expansive public lands would become his muse – one he would be compelled to protect from threats like fracking. I recently spoke to Fielder about his art, his love of Colorado and what moved him to join Food & Water Watch’s “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign to keep fracking out of the Mile High City and the public lands that form its watershed.

Sandra Lupien: How did your strong connection to nature develop?
John Fielder: I had an inspiring middle school science teacher who, each summer, would pack seven kids in a station wagon and take us on trips across the United States. We visited public lands like national parks, and learned hands-on about geology and biology. That experience planted the seeds for an appreciation of science and nature. In college, I had a chance to explore Colorado working for my uncle in the geology department of his industrial company.

SL: How did you find your way to photography?
JF: In high school I was inspired by an art teacher who helped me be creative with paintbrushes. Then, in 1973, I first saw the work of Eliot Porter, a contemporary of Ansel Adams, but he shot in color. Like Adams, Porter was both an artist and an advocate for the preservation of the landscapes he captured so sublimely. The very next day I rented a 35mm camera and started taking pictures with Kodachrome.

SL: Did you study art or science in college?
JF: I studied accounting! And after college I had a well-paying career in department store management in Colorado, but I quit after eight years to pursue a career as a nature photographer.

South-Park,-Colorado-4-WEB

SL: What’s your favorite spot in Colorado?
JF: I’m a nature egalitarian. It’s all good, especially in the right light. But, at heart, I’m a mountain guy. Colorado has 28 mountain ranges, and as far as I’m concerned this is the most beautiful place on Earth. Right now, I’m sitting in my second floor home office in Summit County looking at the Gore Range. I see, at 13,560 feet, the peak of Mount Powell climbed first by John Wesley Powell in 1869. It’s got to be my favorite place in Colorado – the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

SL: What has changed about the Colorado landscape since you started shooting it?
JF: Let’s go from high to low. Up high – between 10,000 and 14,000 feet elevation – not a lot has changed. The hard rock mining industry effectively went out of business in 1893 when the price of silver crashed, and many of these places are now protected American wilderness. But lower, from 10,000 feet down to 3,300 feet [the lowest elevation in Colorado] there’s been a lot of impact from oil and gas, and human development. When I moved here in 1972, Colorado had 2.3 million residents; now there are 5.4 million. In addition to the homes, we see oil and gas infrastructure in those very backyards, as well as on America’s public lands.

SL: Why are you concerned about fracking in and around Denver?
JF: Most of the exploration is north of Denver in Weld County, but it’s all along the Front Range, and Denver’s in the middle of it. To me, the single greatest travesty of oil and gas exploration is having a well in your backyard. One’s sense of sight, smell and hearing is violated when you drive up and down the Front Range. To the north of me in Summit County, one of the West’s most beautiful mountain basins known as North Park has oil and gas infrastructure. I spent a week in that area photographing cattle ranches; all night I listened to the sound of a new well being drilled. Closer to Denver is South Park – the South Platte River Basin – comprising 280,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which is being considered by BLM for oil and gas exploration. That watershed provides drinking water for Denver and its suburbs.

SL: What’s your big picture view of oil and gas extraction in Colorado?
JF: I don’t want the “extractive” to destroy the “attractive,” and by that I mean Colorado and most Western America states are beautiful, biologically diverse places. Oil and gas exploration and fracking do nothing but damage everything that we sense: sublime mountain views, the sound of gurgling creeks, the smell of clean air and the taste of clean water and the touch of powdery aspen tree bark. The problem is that two of our four public land management agencies, BLM and Forest Service, have a legal mandate to manage those lands for multiple uses. That means they are obligated by law to both protect the land, and to allow – if not promote – the leasing of public lands for mineral exploration. The latter is antithetical to the grand “picture,” which is that people are healthier, happier and more economically prosperous in societies that protect nature, not destroy it.

South-Park,-Colorado-WEB

SL: What’s your bottom line?
JF: My degree is in accounting and my background is in merchandising, and I’m an environmentalist! I believe that ecology and economy – with the same Greek root, “eco,” meaning “house” – are symbiotic. History shows that societies that protect their forests and their water sources last longer than those that destroy nature and biodiversity. My belief that the oil and gas industry has no place in Colorado is based as much on economic science as it is on ecological science. Oil and gas industry jobs are short-term jobs, lasting only as long as the oil remains. The death of hard rock mining in the West economically stranded millions of people for decades. Tourism and recreation saved the day, and those jobs can last as long as we preserve nature. I would like to think that people appreciate the morality of protecting four billion years of the evolution of life on Earth, but some don’t. I hope for everyone’s sake they will consider just the economics and realize that states like Colorado are far better off basing their economies on the “attractive” than the “extractive.”

You can help protect our most beautiful natural places from fracking. Check out our public lands map to view threatened spots in Colorado and beyond. Tell your members of Congress to ban fracking on public lands. 

April 30th, 2015

Mapping Out Fracking’s Dangers

By Briana Kerensky

It feels like spring only just arrived, but as of tomorrow we’re less than a month away from the official start of summer: Memorial Day. National parks and forests across the country will welcome millions of hikers, campers, photographers “picnic-ers,” and others this summer: people looking to leave home for a while and enjoy America’s natural beauty.

But oil and gas corporations want to visit the United States’ public lands for a very different reason: to profit off their oil and gas reserves via fracking.

Send an email to your members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the bill to ban fracking on public lands.

TAKE ACTION

Did you know that about 20 percent of U.S. oil and gas reserves and resources are beneath federal public lands? Some of these public lands are next to our most beautiful national parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana, or national forests like George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia and Shawnee National Forest in Illinois, to name a few.

But it can be hard to visualize the scope of the danger that fracking poses to our public lands. That’s why Food & Water Watch created a map to help illustrate the vast span of public lands across America, and illuminate where Big Oil and Gas corporations aim to drill and frack through it. Explore the map.

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Explore the map and see where fracking can harm public lands.

The yellow areas are U.S. federal lands. The red areas in the map are where — given inconsistent data — there are oil and gas deposits. Lands in red are where there’s already been a wave of drilling and fracking for oil and gas, or where companies envision fracking before long. The overlapping orange areas are public lands that are either being fracked now, or could be soon. Check out the blue pins to learn about specific public lands and how they’re at risk from fracking.

Fracking on public lands such as these is dangerous on many levels: it introduces toxic chemicals to water; it disrupts the habitats of millions of animals, including endangered species; it poses serious risks to human health, such as breast cancer; and it spurs on climate change. The production of oil and natural gas 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. 

No amount of regulation will protect our public lands, health, drinking water and climate from the impacts of fracking. About 90 percent of federally managed lands are available for oil and gas leasing, while only 10 percent are reserved for conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural heritage.

If we want to preserve our nation’s natural heritage for future generations, we must act. The Protect Our Public Lands Act was recently introduced to Congress, and is the strongest piece of federal legislation against fracking to date. No amount of regulation will protect our public lands or communities from the impacts of this dangerous practice. Tell Congress to pass the Protect Our Public Lands Act and ban fracking on public lands now and forever.

April 29th, 2015

California Drought: Will Governor Brown Stop the Biggest Water Abusers?

By Wenonah Hauter and Adam Scow

1504_CA-Drought-BlogThumbBy now, the whole nation is aware that its fruit and vegetable basket, California, is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. One NASA scientist recently projected that the state may only have roughly a year’s supply of water left in its reserves. While that number is not entirely cut and dry (pardon the pun), it’s clear that California’s water crisis is real and that solutions are late in coming. For the first time in the Golden State’s history, its Governor, Jerry Brown, has placed mandatory water restrictions on residents and municipalities.

We can all agree that individual water conservation – efficient toilets and washing machines, shorter showers and smarter landscaping – should be expanded and embedded in our culture. But restrictions on households are not enough to dig us out of our water woes. Given that residential and municipal uses account for less than fifteen percent of California’s annual water use, we must ask: who is guzzling California’s water and what should Governor Brown do to rein in these users?

Below we identify some of California’s most egregious water abusers and offer some commonsense steps for Governor Brown’s consideration.

Big Agriculture

The Almond
On the desert-like west side of the San Joaquin Valley, almond orchards stretch as far as the eye can see. But this nut empire is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood: in the past five years, skyrocketing global demand for the cash crop has enabled it to double in size and become the second-biggest water consuming crop in California. The arid climate and selenium-laced soils in this region make it a kind of madness to grow this thirsty crop here, where it takes more than double the water to grow almonds than in Northern California. Agribusiness giants like Beverly Hills-based billionaire Stewart Resnick are raking in profits from these crops, about seventy percent of which are exported overseas. The Westlands Water District, where many of these orchards are based, has pumped more than one-million acre feet of groundwater in the past two years – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco combined use in a whole year – to produce these nuts, threatening the region’s water supply, and causing the ground to sink as much as a foot per year in some places. What’s more, most of this crop is exported abroad—meaning, effectively, the water is exported along with it.

Factory Farms
Industrialized animal agriculture is notoriously water-intensive. For example, Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 150 million gallons of water a day to maintain the dairy cows on California’s mega-dairies. That calculation does not include the large quantities of water needed to raise the feed for dairy cows in California or to move manure into storage systems; it is just the water given to cows to drink and used to wash cows and buildings. A lack of available numbers tallying the meat industry’s water use in California presents a problem as the State seeks to tackle the drought crisis.

Alfalfa
Of all crops grown in California, alfalfa uses the single largest share of agricultural water, so it clearly deserves attention. Like almonds, alfalfa is exported overseas, but is also used to feed dairy cows in California. Alfalfa is grown in some of the state’s hottest and driest areas, including the Imperial Valley, and is exported to feed livestock. Interestingly, though, acreage devoted to growing alfalfa in California is expected to shrink 11 percent this year, according to Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie in this recent Mother Jones piece, as the agricultural industry increases production of cash crops like almonds and other “pricey nuts.”

Big Oil

It’s estimated that each year, the oil industry in California uses eighty-two billion gallons of water – enough to supply both San Diego and San Francisco for a year. While agriculture dwarfs the oil industry in terms of overall water use in California – where more than one million people lack access to safe drinking water – it’s well-documented that the industry’s dirty practices like fracking, acidizing and cyclic steam injection are permanently contaminating and destroying water California can’t afford to lose. What’s more, recent reports have brought to light that this industry has been illegally injecting billions of gallons of its wastewater into protected drinking water aquifers.

Bottled Water

California is home to over 100 bottled water facilities that every year bottle millions of gallons of water for private profit. In Sacramento it is estimated that each year, the notorious multinational water hog, Nestlé, pumps around fifty million gallons of local groundwater to be bottled and sold for 1,000 times the cost of tap water. Nestlé pays just shy of $1.00 per 748 gallons of water it taps from Sacramento’s municipal water supply, then resells it for thousands of times more in environmentally damaging plastic bottles. While Food & Water Watch has always opposed bottled water, during a historic drought the moral imperative for ending this practice is crystal clear.

Solutions

As he calls on California’s 38 million residents to conserve, Governor Brown must also take bold action to rein in uses by these corporate water abusers. The Governor oversees the State Water Board, which is empowered under the California constitution to manage water for the public good. To serve that imperative, Governor Brown should quickly take the following first steps:

  1. Align California agricultural production with the realities of the State’s water supply. The State routinely promises water users, including industrial agricultural users, five times more surface water than it can provide. The State must reduce demands to meet the reality of California’s water supply.
  2. Manage groundwater as a public resource to prevent depletion. The State, albeit poorly, manages surface water for the public good, but groundwater – the State’s water savings account for future generations – is largely managed privately. The State should start with immediate, sensible restrictions on groundwater pumping. In the long-term, the State should retire from production the toxic, arid lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that we do not have the water to support and compensate producers fairly for their losses.
  3. Place an immediate moratorium on fracking and the bottling of California’s water for private profit.

It’s Californians’ job to exercise their democratic rights, starting with signing this petition urging the Governor to take these bold actions. While some have suggested that people boycott almonds or make other changes in their diet, the realities of the global food system are such that corporate agribusiness will continue to abuse our water and simply export the crops we wouldn’t be buying. In other words, we can’t shop our way out of the crisis.

It’s time for Jerry Brown to exercise courageous leadership that fixes the long-time mismanagement and corporate abuse of water that threatens the future of California’s economy and agriculture. There are no easy shortcuts: the governor must govern.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, and Adam Scow is the organization’s California Director. 

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