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Blog Posts: Fracking

September 17th, 2012

Memo to Fracking Apologists: You’re Hurting Renewables (and You’re Greenwashing, Too)

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Here’s a memo to the technocrats, pundits, environmental organizations and foundations that believe corporate collaborations and market-based solutions are the key to solving the critical environmental problems facing us. Why are you so afraid of fighting for what we really want—a future based on renewable energy and energy efficiency?

Any position short of a ban on fracking is hurting the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions in the long term, saddling us with 50 years of infrastructure to continue fracking for gas that will be exported around the world. It’s also helping to pave the way for a new phase of geopolitical dynamics (like we saw at Rio+20) where corporations are jostling to promote the market as the ultimate arbiter for the environment and corporations as the last hope for saving the planet.

Here are some of the arguments that are often used to greenwash fracking at the expense of a truly sustainable future:

Argument #1: Natural gas is a bridge to renewables

Let’s talk first about gas as a bridge fuel. Thanks to shale gas drilling, natural gas is cheap — so cheap that it’s taken investment away from renewables. NextEra Energy Inc. cancelled plans for new wind power projects thanks to cheap gas, according to Greenwire, and the U.S. government has said that the low price of natural gas is one of the threats to the future of wind energy.

Wind power comprised approximately 42 percent of the added electricity capacity in the United States in 2008 and 2009, and this declined to 25 percent in 2010 and 32 percent in 2011. Funding for clean energy overall plummeted in the first quarter of 2012 to just $27 billion — down 28 percent from the previous quarter.

So instead of creating a “bridge” to renewables, what shale gas has done is allow us to substitute one dirty fuel (coal) for another (fracked gas), likely making climate change even more costly and destructive in the coming decades.

Meanwhile, renewables have proven that they can forge ahead when policies are in place to support them. Germany is a renewable energy leader, getting 10 percent of the country’s power from renewables. It reached a record this year when on one day 50 percent of the country’s midday energy needs came from solar energy alone. Texas leads the United States in installed wind capacity and had days in 2012 where wind was responsible for a quarter of the state’s power. Likewise, wind energy delivered 20 percent of the Iowa’s energy from January through April 2011.

But it’s like none of these statistics even exist for those who tout natural gas as a fait accompli. Some, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are supporting the development of fracking, saying that it’s better than coal and that renewables aren’t viable. Not only is the renewables revolution happening, particularly in regions where strong policies support their development, but, as comedian Bill Maher recently noted on his show, stating that wind and solar aren’t viable is like saying 100 years ago that cars aren’t going to replace horses.

Argument #2: Fracking for natural gas is not going away

What about the argument that fracking for natural gas isn’t going away, so we must work to make sure it’s well regulated? That ship has sailed. Thanks to the “Halliburton loophole” that Dick Cheney negotiated with Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from several key pieces of federal environmental legislation. Piecemeal legislation at the state level will not address the devastating environmental problems that are well documented in states from Pennsylvania to Wyoming and Texas. Passing weak legislation that purports to solve the problem will make it more difficult to take action at the federal level. The following proposed regulatory changes Environmental Defense Fund is promoting don’t solve the problems:

  • Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process: Trade-secrets are typically exempted in disclosure bills, but even naming the chemicals will not prevent them from doing damage. Further, many of the harmful contaminants in fracking wastewater are natural contaminants that normally stay deep underground — including heavy metals and radioactive material — which are brought up to the surface during the process.
  • Optimizing rules for well construction and operation: This could reduce failure rates of new wells a few percentage points, and lead most aging wells to fail after 30 years, instead of 20 years. But well casings will fail over time as the concrete degrades and pollutants will leak into the ecosystem. 
  • Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater: Fracking takes large amounts of water. “Solutions” to this such as injecting highly flammable propane gel instead of water into wells creates more problems then it solves. Recycling the water that flows out of wells does not address the issue, because depending on the geologic formation, 30 to 70 percent of fracking water stays underground indefinitely. If wastewater is injected deep below ground, the long-term flow of fracking fluids and any displaced brines is beyond human control (not to mention that this practice is associated with small earthquakes). Finally, conventional wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to handle the contaminants in fracking wastewater, and treatment facilities that can handle these contaminants simply turn it into a solid waste disposal problem. These disposal methods all present an unacceptable long-term risk to vital underground sources of drinking water.
  • Improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas: Leaking methane is a huge problem, and it happens at every stage from drilling and fracking to the end-use of the natural gas. But even if methane emissions were completely eliminated (and they won’t be) the carbon dioxide emissions from using natural gas are significant enough that massive investments to transition from coal to natural gas will do little to address global climate change. The problem isn’t the lack of air pollution controls; the problem is that drilling and fracking brings massive amounts of air pollutants to the surface that must be captured. And, even if efficiently captured, these pollutants will need to be disposed of safely as solid wastes.
  • Reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities: The process of developing fracking sites, drilling and hauling wastewater requires over 1,000 truckloads per well — damaging roads and other infrastructure. Fracking makes rural communities into industrial sites — farms into factories. And once the industry leaves town, communities will be left with the legacy of pollution.  

Argument #3: Natural gas is beneficial to the environment

And for those who still insist in cloaking their positions behind the possible environmental benefits of gas over coal, these arguments don’t account for the fact that scientists now say that shale gas is actually as bad as coal, if not worse, in terms of driving global climate change.

Fracking in context: Profiting off of polluted water

Finally, let’s put fracking in a larger context. There is a whole other global industry surfacing to take advantage of the pollution and water scarcity that fracking will bring. I recently attended the Global Water: Oil and Gas Summit in Dubai, an industry shindig that essentially celebrated fracking’s boon of polluted water as a profit-making opportunity.

In fact, the water industry has declared fracking to be the single largest sector for profiting — a potential multi-billion dollar market. Companies can make money on both ends: by selling water to drillers and then by treating the toxic wastewater. Even the financial services industry wants to get in on the action of trading water — even polluted water. These schemes are promoted as the so-called Green Economy. But really, they are mere greenwash  (just like natural gas).

Grassroots activists all around the country are hungry to fight for the world they want, not the best that can be negotiated by groups that believe close collaboration with corporations is the way to transform policy. The policy dispute over fracking is part of this much larger difference of strategy about over how we can actually save our planet.

It’s time to stop inside deals and join together and create a movement

We are at a tipping point for so many environmental problems, and in order to go up against the most powerful companies in the world, we have to build a movement with the political power to hold elected officials accountable. Working for a ban is inspiring activists to do just that — to become strong enough to turn back the tide of greed and self-interest that is destroying our children’s futures.

So, for those wringing their hands and saying gas is the best we have and it’s not going away, I have a message: Join us and our voices will grow stronger. Together, we’ll force our decision makers to forge policies that support a vision for a true clean energy future, not one that’s bought and sold by the oil and gas industry.

Together, we can demand policies that prioritize renewable energy sources, not provide billions of dollars of tax loopholes to oil companies. We can ask for a ban on fracking, not help pave the way for it.

As long as environmental organizations like Environmental Defense Fund keep giving the oil and gas industry cover to keep doing what they are doing — sucking fossil fuels out of the ground — it will be harder for the grassroots to demand true, clean energy sources. Anything short of that is working within a system that wants to keep fossil fuels as the status quo — one that is happy to pay lip service to renewables and efficiency while essentially snuffing them out.

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Video: Global Frackdown, September 22, 2012

By Mark Schlosberg

The Global Frackdown will unite people on five continents in over 100 events on September 22 to call for a ban on fracking in their communities, and to advocate for the development of clean, sustainable energy solutions. Initiated by Food & Water Watch, over 150 consumer, environmental and public health organizations including CREDO Action, Environment America, Democracy for America, Friends of the Earth and 350.org are taking part in the Global Frackdown.

To find an event in your area, click here.

To endorse the Global Frackdown, click here.

Don’t forget to check out the frackdown on Facebook and Twitter.

September 5th, 2012

Memo to Governor Cuomo: We’ll Remember in 2016

By Wenonah Hauter

This ad will appear in the news section of tomorrow’s print edition of the Charlotte Observer. For the full-sized ad, click on the image above.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

True leaders help us forge solutions to difficult problems. And nowhere are new solutions needed more than in our energy sector, because we are currently using dirty fossil fuels at an unsustainable pace. Oil and gas extraction uses and abuses our precious freshwater resources, which are becoming scarcer and more polluted, thanks in large part to our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s a vicious cycle, and we need true solutions.  

But instead, Governor Cuomo, you seem poised to issue regulations that would pave the way for even more dirty energy development—the development of shale gas reserves in New York State through hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Opening up New York to fracking won’t happen without a fight—one that might cost you the White House in 2016.

When you arrive in Charlotte tomorrow for the Democratic National Convention, you’ll see we took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer to remind you that your decision on fracking will have repercussions way beyond New York, way beyond tomorrow. And we aren’t the only ones that think so. Over 100 grassroots, environmental and community groups nationwide endorsed our ad, all of them telling you that there is no safe fracking, and that the road to the White House is not lined with drilling rigs.

Governor Cuomo, Democrats in your own state have said that drilling could harm your presidential ambitions. Now, at the convention, you’re hearing from progressives around the country that this is an election issue. What will it take for you to listen to your base instead of the oil and gas industry?

People are angry that your administration shared the draft regulations with the oil and gas industry weeks before they were made public. This will remind voters of the time Dick Cheney met with energy officials in 2005, where they developed the so-called Halliburton Loophole, which exempts the oil and gas industry from key federal environmental legislation like the Safe Drinking Water Act and provisions of the Clean Air Act. Backroom deals with the oil and gas industry will not serve you in your pursuit of higher office.

Now, billionaire Michael Bloomberg has given his tacit endorsement of your rumored plan to sacrifice the Southern Tier of New York to the oil and gas industry, so long as New York City isn’t affected. His foundation also gave the Environmental Defense Fund $6 million dollars to pave the way for the development of so-called “safe” fracking, even though we know there is no such thing.

Why is Bloomberg supporting fracking? He says we need to move away from coal, and that wind and solar aren’t viable. This is a classic industry talking point, and it’s a cop-out. As Bill Maher recently said on his show, stating that wind and solar aren’t viable is like saying 100 years ago that cars aren’t going to replace horses.

It might be tempting to take cover behind prominent individuals and groups who have given in to the oil and gas industry’s tired refrain that shale gas development is inevitable. But true leaders look past the naysayers and those who have long since compromised their ideals to work within the game as defined by entrenched political interests. True leaders find real solutions.

So, Governor Cuomo, should you go forward with fracking, Wall Street billionaires and industry-funded non-profits will not provide you the political cover you’ll need to withstand the ire of committed grassroots groups who are fighting the oil and gas industry profiteers. We need leaders who can make the tough decisions that would forge the cleaner energy alternatives we need. Groups across the country are looking at New York to see whether you will provide that leadership or whether you will open New York to fracking. .

Fracking is an issue that is not only widely felt; it is deeply felt. Governor Cuomo, if you frack New York, we will remember in 2016.

August 27th, 2012

Environmental Defense Fund: Stop Your Sell-Out to the Gas Industry

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

By Wenonah Hauter

Updated 9/2/12*

I have news for the Environmental Defense Fund: the fracking activist community is shocked that you received $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to advocate for fracking regulations. And we aren’t going to stand for it.

EDF says that they’ll be working for “responsible” regulation in 14 states. Of course, this is just double speak that means swooping into states where there is a strong grassroots movement against fracking and shilling for the oil and gas industry. They will claim to represent environmentalists while they promote regulation that is so weak even the gas industry can live with it.

Of course, everyone in the environmental movement knows that this is EDF’s modus operandi. In fact, for years, public interest advocates have rolled their eyes and complained to one another in private about how EDF undercuts their work time and time again. But, everyone is afraid to speak out because they might upset funders, who are turned off by disagreements among environmentalists.

Read the full article…

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August 21st, 2012

There’s No “Safe” Fracking, Governor Cuomo

By Alex Beauchamp

Update: Check out coverage of our commercial in The New York Times here.

If you’ve seen our commercial (above) running in New York State, you know that 6 percent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells fail immediately, and 50 percent—yes, that’s half—fail over 30 years. That means if Governor Cuomo proceeds with his proposal to open up five counties in New York State to fracking, our water will be contaminated by this dirty process within a single generation.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Josh Fox, Oscar-nominated director of Gasland, on this ad running on network and cable TV stations in the Southern Tier—which will cover the five counties that the Governor is considering handing over to the oil and gas industry as sacrifice zones. The ad urges New Yorkers to call Governor Cuomo and tell him that there is no such thing as “safe fracking.”

Read the full article…

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August 15th, 2012

As a Yogurt Craze Boosts New York’s Dairy Industry, Fracking Could Can It

By Seth Gladstone 

Some things just don’t mix well. Like drinking and driving. Or rain and parades. So as Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks to encourage and expand dairy production in New York State to meet a growing demand for yogurt, he’d do well to avoid things that might hamper those efforts – things that don’t mix well with dairy production. Things like fracking.

At the Capitol today, Gov. Cuomo brought together hundreds of dairy industry professionals for what he has billed as a “Yogurt Summit,” an opportunity to discuss ways to bolster New York’s yogurt production as nationwide demand for the creamy treat – particularly Greek-style yogurt – grows.

Gov. Cuomo is right to be looking at ways to help New York’s dairy farmers and the struggling upstate economy with solutions based on agricultural sustainability and smart land use. But wouldn’t common sense dictate that he also consider factors that could hamper the very business he’s looking to promote? Cuomo’s foolhardy push to open his state to the dangers of fracking is directly at odds with his quest to increase dairy production in New York.

Read the full article…

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August 7th, 2012

A Texas City Resorts to Building a Water Reclamation Plant; Meanwhile, Oil and Gas Companies Get a Free Pass to Groundwater

Ban Fracking!In Big Spring, Texas, residents will soon recycle their wastewater into drinking water, thanks to a new $12 million water reclamation project. Treating what is essentially sewage, the so-called “toilet to tap” method faces publicity challenges. Not only will the water from this plant recirculate to Big Spring, after extensive treatment, water will supply the nearby oil towns of Midland and Odessa. Built by the Colorado River Municipal Water District (CRMWD), the plant will only supply 1.5 to 2 million gallons of water per day (compared to the 36 million that the district uses daily). To me, this seems to show just how scarce water resources are in the district, which includes the phrase “Think Before You Waste!” in its press release logo.

Read the full article…

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Are You Down With the Global Frackdown?

By Mark Schlosberg

On September 22, people across the world will be coming together for a day of action — a Global Frackdown — to call for a ban on fracking to protect our communities. Will you join us?

Drilling and fracking for natural gas and oil poses a direct and immediate threat to our drinking water, air, health and communities. Over the past couple of years as our movement has grown, the oil and gas industry has been ramping up its massive multi-million dollar PR campaign to convince the public and elected officials that its dirty energy is clean. Its time to fight back with a Global Frackdown!

As a movement to ban fracking, we have collectively achieved a tremendous amount. Working together just in the past year, we have: passed over 200 local measures across the United States to ban fracking, stopped fracking in Bulgaria, France and the state of Vermont, pushed for moratoriums in multiple regions in Europe, obtained a moratorium on fracking in South Africa, defeated state legislation that would have expanded fracking (like stopping plans to open the Delaware River Basin to fracking) and worked to stop pipelines and facilities to export fracked gas from coast to coast.

This fall, the oil and gas industry will be escalating its pro-fracking propaganda even further and our elected officials — some of whom are running scared — need to hear the truth in a powerful way from their constituents. It’s time to expose the oil and gas industry’s propaganda for what it is. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. It’s time for a Global Frackdown!

Communities are already coming together to organize actions as part of the Global Frackdown. From New Mexico to North Carolina and California to New York, events are being organized across the United States. In Europe, actions are already being planned in France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden and Belgium. They’ll include flash mobs, rallies, human signs calling for a ban on fracking and screenings of Gasland. In the coming weeks, these events will be put on a map at www.globalfrackdown.org, but in the meantime, you can go here to sign up an event in your community.

The Global Frackdown is supported by Food & Water Watch, Environment America, Democracy for America, 350.org, Friends of the Earth US, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace USA, Global Exchange, Ecologistas en Acción, Council of Canadians, Josh Fox (whose film Gasland has fueled the movement), and a host of other organizations across the world. Organizations large and small can add their name to the growing list of partners here.

Building on the powerful Stop the Frack Attack action in Washington, D.C. last weekend, three major events are happening in the U.S. over the next two months. From August 25-27, people will gather in New York to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to not allow fracking in New York. On September 20 and 21, our friends at Protecting our Waters are organizing Shale Gas Outrage to protest a major industry conference in Philadelphia. And the Global Frackdown will follow on September 22.

Our opponents get their power from their deep financial resources and their ability to divide us. We have the power of our voices, our communities and our collective action. The next couple of months promise to be a powerful, unifying and exciting time for our movement against fracking. Add your voice to this effort and Get Down with the Frackdown — take action to ban fracking on September 22.

August 3rd, 2012

Water in Colorado Still Going to the Highest Bidder (Hint: It’s Not Your Local Farmer)

By Katherine Boehrer 

Join the Movement to Ban FrackingBack in April, the Associated Press reported on the competition between farmers and the natural gas industry in an auction of unallocated water resources. Even then, climatologists calculated that 98 percent of Colorado was in a drought, as low snowpack and warm temperatures persisted. Water users across the state, including farmers, scrambled to secure adequate resources for the coming summer. 

Increasingly, farmers are competing with oil and gas companies as more water intensive drilling practices are used for unconventional drilling and fracking. This year “companies that provide water for hydraulic fracturing at well sites were top bidders on supplies once claimed exclusively by farmers.” Though the industry still uses only a small fraction of the water used for agriculture in the state, many are concerned about a power shift in which drilling companies are more likely to be able to pay for water than farmers. The auction has already seen a rise in average prices, as bidders become more willing to pay extra for the water they need. Read the full article…

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July 30th, 2012

National Rally on Fracking Hones In on Governor Cuomo

By Wenonah Hauter

John Fenton from Pavilion, Wyo. and Josh Fox tell Governor Cuomo: Don’t Frack NY (at the Stop the Frack Attack Rally, July 28, 2012.)

Last Saturday at the Stop the Frack Attack rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you could easily have convinced yourself you were at an anti-fracking rally in Albany. There were so many signs urging people to call Governor Andrew Cuomo that it is clear concerned citizens across the country have their eyes on New York. And it wasn’t only New Yorkers at the rally saying that if Governor Cuomo allows fracking in New York he will never be president. Folks from across the country are looking to Governor Cuomo as our best chance to stop the spread of fracking.

D.C. may be four hours from New York, but in some ways it wasn’t surprising that so many activists from other states are concerned about what Governor Cuomo will do. Fracking is a drilling process that pumps millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals into the ground to obtain oil and natural gas. By now many across the country are familiar with the risks fracking poses to our drinking water, our air and our quality of life. Further, many have seen the disturbing images from Pennsylvania of people who can light their tap water on fire.

It’s no secret to activists from all over that New York is our best chance to make a real stand against the oil and gas companies. Unlike Pennsylvania or Ohio, New York isn’t controlled by extreme right-wing politicians. Perhaps more importantly, the oil and gas companies are not yet completely entrenched in all layers of government in the state like they are in so many other parts of the country. Given all this, it should make banning fracking in New York a pretty simple proposition.

There’s just one problem. Governor Cuomo has presidential aspirations in 2016. If there is one thing we all know about running for president, it’s that it takes a lot of money. The governor thus finds himself in a classic dilemma. On the one hand he doesn’t want to go against the oil and gas companies because he will need their money to run a viable presidential campaign. On the other hand, he can’t afford to completely alienate his base and still win the nomination.

The message in D.C. this weekend was clear. The progressive base in New York, and across America, is adamantly opposed to fracking. It’s time for Governor Cuomo to realize that some things are more important than money. He may think he can’t afford to anger the oil and gas companies just four years before he runs for president, but the reality is he can’t afford to enrage the progressive base by accepting fracking. Governor Cuomo must not allow fracking in any part of New York. 

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