Fracking | Food & Water Watch - Part 10
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Blog Posts: Fracking

April 19th, 2013

Celebrating the Goldman Prize Winners

By Walker Foley

Goldman Prize winner Jonathan Deal, of Treasure Karoo Action Group in South Africa, undertakes a flag exchange with Darcey O’Callaghan of Food & Water Watch on behalf of Americans Against Fracking. Photo courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

 “It’s the Academy Awards of environmentalism,” explained everyone ad nauseam of the Goldman Environmental Prize. I still wasn’t sure what to expect as I took my seat.

The auditorium was at capacity, buzzing with the excitement of activists, researchers and students representing the gamut of environmental issues. A montage of collapsing icebergs played on the big screen center stage, a reminder of the challenges ahead. 

Read the full article…

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March 20th, 2013

Will Your Tax Dollars Subsidize Fracking’s Wasteful Water Use?

By Mary Grant fracking for natural gas

This morning, the Senate is discussing a new bill that, among other things, will give federally subsidized loans to companies that sell water to the oil and gas industry.  

Tagged onto a big water infrastructure bill is the “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013,” often referred to by its acronym WIFIA. This speciously named, industry-backed program will give low-interest loans primarily to large water companies to finance certain projects, including desalination and other water supply activities.

Hidden in the fine print is evidence that the program seeks to use public dollars to finance water projects that benefit the oil and gas industry. In fact, it will give funding preference to those projects. The program has just nine criteria for determining which eligible projects will get financial support, and one of these nine factors is: “the extent to which a project serves regions with significant energy exploration, development, or production areas.”

This means projects that produce more water for fracking will get priority over other water projects outside of oil and gas drilling areas.

Fracking uses millions of gallons of water per well, and the major water companies are salivating at the opportunity to sell water to water-guzzling oil and gas companies. Aqua America, the second largest U.S. investor owned water company, has a whole section of its website describing its efforts to sell water to shale drillers. The company is an associate member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and the company’s CEO seems to act as a gas industry shill.

American Water — the largest U.S. investor owned water company — also sells water to the oil and gas industry. This month in a presentation to investors, the company reported that it made about $3 million in revenue last year from fracking deals and sold more than 430 million gallons to frackers.

Our issue brief “Why the Water Industry Is Promoting Shale Gas Development” delves deeper into the cozy relationship between large water corporations and the oil and gas industry. These two powerful industries held their first ever Global Water: Oil & Gas Summit in Dubai last year to come up with plans for how to mutually benefit from water intensive shale development.

One thing is clear: The federal government should not use our tax dollars to subsidize corporate water sales to the oil and gas industry.  

Act now to tell your Senators to oppose WIFIA and its low-interest loans to large water corporations that sell water for fracking.   

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Don’t Waste Any Time Mourning Maryland’s Fracking Bills. Organize.

By Jorge Aguilar

Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Organizing Director

Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Director

For the second year in a row, the two environmental committees of the Maryland legislature have put politics ahead of leadership on the issue of fracking.   

Last Thursday, the last of three bills that would have required the state General Assembly to take a strong position on fracking died an unceremonious death. Both Delegate Maggie McIntosh and Senator Joan Carter Conway, the chairs of the key committees charged with taking up fracking, made it abundantly clear to anyone that would listen (including their own committee members) that they did not believe any fracking bill should move if it wasn’t coming from the Governor. 

Senator Conway, for instance, repeated multiple times during the legislative session that she believed her committee should wait for the final study from the Governor’s fracking commission before acting on any fracking legislation. Similarly, the Environmental Matters Committee didn’t have a chance to vote on a fracking wastewater bill, which would have made it illegal for Maryland to treat fracking waste coming from outside state boundaries, because Delegate McIntosh killed it before it had a vote. This bill, widely supported by the environmental community in Maryland, was being cosponsored by 10 out of the 23 members of the committee.

At a time when natural gas prices are starting to trend up, Maryland’s own fracking export facility is moving towards completion, and significant recommendations to prohibit the treatment of fracking wastewater were made in a recent study by the University of Maryland (see Chapter 4 Section J – P), Maryland residents should expect a lot more out of Del. McIntosh and Sen. Conway. 

Thankfully, the Baltimore City Council just passed an ordinance that would protect their constituents from the hazards of fracking wastewater, but the rest of the state deserves the protection, too.

The lack of legislative action on fracking in Maryland shows that our elected officials need to be held accountable for leaving us at risk. Each year of delay just brings us one year closer to fracking in Maryland. The only way the oil and gas industry will be stopped is by citizens working to force their elected officials to act. That’s why we are going to redouble our efforts to organize against fracking in Maryland, educating citizens about its hazards and making sure legislators know they can’t let fracking move forward in Maryland.

You can email Senator Conway here, Delegate McIntosh here, and Governor Martin O’Malley here to let them know we don’t want to frack Maryland.

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March 6th, 2013

For the Sake of Women’s (and Men’s) Health, Gloria Steinem Enters the Fracking Fray in New York

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!Perhaps more than anyone in recent history, Gloria Steinem has become synonymous with the protection of women’s health and safety. From her early years at New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine – defending the right to choose and promoting the Equal Rights Amendment – to her subsequent work with race and labor activists like Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez, Steinem has set the benchmark for safety, fairness and equality among not just women, but all residents of the nation.

In more recent years, Steinem has turned her attention to public health threats that are derived from the weakening of environmental protections like the Clean Water Act. So it should come as no surprise that she recently signed a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to halt any consideration of fracking in his state before a collection of long-term statewide and national public health studies on the controversial natural gas drilling method are completed. The letter was also signed by hundreds of doctors, health organizations and environmental and consumer groups from across the nation.

Read the full article…

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February 25th, 2013

Welcome to Frackademia

By: Alison K. Grassfracking for natural gas

Recently, the public got wind of the University of Tennessee’s intentions to open up over 8,000 acres of publicly owned land in the university’s Cumberland Research Forest for a fracking research project. On January 31, 2013, the University requested a 30-day extension to the state panel responsible for approving the research proposal after concerned local residents demanded more information, time and transparency.

Read the full article…

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January 29th, 2013

From Fracking to Cracking—Is This the Next Toxic Practice Some Pennsylvanians May Soon Face?

By: Alison K. Grassfracking for natural gas

Fracking causes many public health and environmental problems and the last thing that Pennsylvanians need is another way for the oil and gas industry to capitalize on the Marcellus Shale at the expense of their health and well-being. But Governor Corbett lured the multinational oil and gas giant, Shell Oil Company into the state to do just that. 

Corbett, who has received $1.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, forced through legislation in February 2012 that would exempt the company from property and corporate income taxes for 15 years if they build a petrochemical ethane cracker plant in the western part of the state.  A cracker plant creates chemicals like ethylene, in this case from Marcellus Shale gas, to manufacture plastics and fertilizer.  Read the full article…

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January 25th, 2013

New York’s Chefs (From Mario Batali to Our Moms) Agree: Fracking Would Cook Up Nothing but Trouble

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!In our work to ban fracking across the United States, we talk quite a bit about the unacceptable dangers the extreme gas drilling process poses to our water. From toxic fracking chemicals leaching into underground drinking water sources to regular leaks and spills polluting surface lakes and streams, “Don’t frack our water” has become a primary rallying cry in the anti-fracking movement.

But an equally urgent plea has been gaining steam in places where fracking threatens to invade: “Don’t frack our food!” And in New York, where Governor Cuomo may decide in the next few weeks whether or not to open the state to fracking, the call to protect our food is coming most recently from a group of professionals who know as much about the subject as anyone: top chefs.

This week, more than 150 prominent New York chefs – including the culinary superstar Mario Batali – sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to ban fracking in their state. In the letter they state that “fracking leaks and spills have stunted and killed crops and livestock and sickened humans…. This is of great concern to our community because agriculture, food and beverage production, restaurants, and tourism are vital, growing, interdependent economic engines that rely on our famously pristine water and farmland for their success.”

Indeed, these top chefs have much to fear and much to lose from fracking in New York. But their letter also speaks to the long chain of food, agriculture and farming professionals throughout upstate New York who have everything to lose as well.

“Those of us who treasure and increasingly rely on locally sourced food and beverages are deeply concerned that fracking will destroy our state’s environment,” says Heather Carlucci, a chef and co-founder of Chefs for the Marcellus, a partner group that helped coordinate the letter delivery. “It could destroy upstate farms, which are celebrated around the world and contributes a huge amount to the state economy.”

Heather’s reading couldn’t be truer. In a new issue analysis from Food & Water Watch, the potential impacts of fracking on New York’s food, agriculture and farms are spelled out, and the facts aren’t pretty. As the report notes, New York is the third-largest dairy state in the nation and the second-largest producer of apples, maple syrup, cabbage and wine production, among many other crops. These products end up not just on the tables of fine restaurants in Manhattan, but in family kitchens across the northeast.

January 24th, 2013

President Obama: Don’t Allow Natural Gas Exports

By Hugh MacMillan

Today, Food & Water Watch joined with the Sierra Club, numerous other organizations, and more than 200,000 Americans in opposition to the oil and gas industry’s plans to export liquefied natural gas, which would make more profitable and thus intensify destructive drilling and fracking all across the country. Tomorrow, thousands of Americans will call the White House with this same message for President Obama to reject policies that promote fracking or the export of natural gas.

We submitted our own brief comments and signed on to additional comments identifying flaws in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) approach to looking at the cumulative economic impacts of expanded LNG exports.

As I blogged in November of last year, the headlines from the economic impacts report gave the oil and gas industry, and its financial backers on Wall Street, a huge gift. Selective reading of the study led many to conclude that LNG exports would be unequivocally good for the U.S. economy. A representative of Dominion Resources, for example, a company which seeks authority to export LNG from a facility in Cove Point, Maryland, was interviewed on E&E’s OnPoint on December 12, 2012 and said: “I told a friend of mine at DOE that there were babies conceived and birthed in the time that it took to get the report out, it’s a beautiful baby. That’s the thing. The delivery was successful and we’re happy with it….the net economics impacts are positive across the economic spectrum in the United States.”

But this could not be further from the truth. The report specifically states that those Americans who rely on income from wages “might not participate in these benefits.” That says it all—how many people do you know that don’t make a living working for wages, but who instead live off of their oil and gas industry investments? Not many? I didn’t think so.

The U.S. DOE will be making an enormous mistake if it allows the oil and gas industry, and its Wall Street backers, to make enormous profits from exporting gas at the public’s expense. LNG exports will intensify drilling and fracking, leaving communities across the country to bear the costs, but these costs are completely neglected in the agency’s assessment of the cumulative economic impacts.

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December 10th, 2012

Fracking Companies Seek Exemption from Democracy

By Scott Edwards

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food & Water Justice project

While the nation was largely focused on the presidential election in the swing state of Colorado, there was another very important vote taking place in the state in Longmont, a city of about 86,000 people located just northeast of Boulder. On the same day Obama carried Colorado, the citizens of Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban the harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a method of extracting local gas deposits in their community. Longmont’s ban of fracking was nothing short of heroic given the undue influence, massive amounts of money and open threats of financial ruin thrown about by the oil and gas industry and the state’s governor leading up to the vote on November 6th

Each day brings new, irrefutable evidence that fracking is poisoning our communities. Data released just last week shows that 17 percent of the over 2000 fracking chemical spills and releases reported in Colorado resulted in groundwater contamination with cancer-causing chemicals like benzene. None of that, of course, gives the industry or its supporters any pause. In fact, groups like Environmental Defense Fund and the fracking companies have once again shamelessly joined hands and are sharing talking points in Colorado in response to this new evidence. They’re jointly calling for a testing protocol to raise “public confidence” in fracking when the only thing the public can be increasingly confident about is that fracking is threatening their communities and clean water. 

The passing of the ban was the latest step in Longmont’s battle to keep the oil and gas industry from polluting their drinking water and poisoning their community. The next fight will be in the courts, where industry will dispatch its high-priced lawyers to ask a judge to quash the rights of tens of thousands of Longmont residents and allow the big gas companies to do what they want, where they want, without regard for the citizens of the state or the democratic process which enacted the ban in the first place.

On one level, this will be a legal battle about fracking and the devastation it brings to our public health and precious resources. The fracking companies like to pretend that fracking is harmless, but the truth is the fracking “debate” ended in 2005 when the industry deployed their lobbyists and got Dick Cheney and Congress to exempt their inherently harmful gas extraction process from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Their need for an exemption from the one federal law that protects our aquifers was an open concession that they couldn’t engage in fracking without poisoning our drinking water supplies. That fact was just proven with the latest Colorado contamination data. The SDWA free pass added to their exemptions to parts of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and virtually any other public health law with the words “safe,” “clean,” “conservation” or “environmental” in it.

But even all these regulatory exemptions aren’t enough for the industry; they’ll be walking into court any day now in Colorado seeking an exemption from democracy, the last great hurdle in their effort to poison and pollute with absolute impunity.  And that’s the other important aspect of this upcoming case – its about the fundamental rights of people in communities in Colorado, and elsewhere, to decide what they want their towns and cities to look like, what kinds of activities they want taking place next to their schools and playgrounds, how safe they want the water they drink and the air they breath to be.

Whether you’re for fracking or against it, whether or not you’re paying attention to study after study which shows that fracking is having detrimental impacts on ground and surface waters, airways, climate, property values and public health, and regardless of whether you think extreme fossil fuel development is worth the price we’ll all have to pay if fracking is allowed to proliferate even more, the one thing we can all agree on is that we live in a country where voting and the democratic process should count for something. All, that is, except for industry and the bought-and-paid-for politicians who are so willing to sacrifice the rights of their citizens for the profits of fracking companies. 

Just as EDF has lost its way in the fight to preserve our environment, Colorado’s governor, John Hickerlooper, has forgotten who elected him when he recently stated that that he would support industry if they sued his own citizens in Longmont over the fracking ban.  Perhaps Hickernlooper should take a lesson from the authors of Colorado’s State Constitution; they understood the rights of local citizens in ways that the governor doesn’t seem to grasp. This document, written in 1876, grants the people of Longmont and everyone else in the state “essential and inalienable rights,” including the right to enjoy and defend their lives and liberties and protect their property, to seek and obtain safety.  They also understood that these inalienable rights can never be eclipsed by the financial interests of industry. Article XV of the Constitution says that the state can never use its powers to “permit corporations to conduct their business in such a manner as to infringe the equal rights of individuals, or the general well-being of the State.”

Once the will of corporations take over the rights of citizens, we lose the power to determine our own future. When industries get to decide how safe our water and air is, we no longer control our own health and safety. And if the fracking companies who seek to profit in Longmont area allowed to undo the November 6th fracking ban, we can no longer pretend to live in a democracy.

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December 7th, 2012

Trickle-Down Benefits from Exporting Fracked Gas? Don’t Bet on It

By Hugh MacMillan

A new report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy and conducted by NERA Economic Consulting, touts the supposed net benefits to the U.S. economy of allowing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The study is incredibly out of touch.

The headline that LNG exports are unequivocally good – the more exports the better! – gives a huge gift to the oil and gas industry, and to its backers on Wall Street, but the devil is the details. Look closer, and you see that the narrow economic analysis does the public a disservice. As our Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter, has put it, “NERA’s report not only sweeps under the rug the public costs of more drilling and fracking, it insults us with the argument that the benefits enjoyed by the oil and gas industry and its financiers will trickle down.”

First, LNG exports will mean higher natural gas prices for American consumers, but the NERA report claims that on average, Americans will benefit because the gains will be so large for the oil and gas industry. This is the old “Bill Gates walks into a bar” illustration of lying with statistics.

In essence, the NERA analysis is that, while 10 million Americans would likely pay $100 each, a couple of oil and gas industry executives and banking executives could pocket a couple billion dollars, so if you take an average over everybody, it works out to everyone getting an extra $100. How the net economic benefit is distributed is completely lost. To its credit, the report does acknowledge that those Americans who rely on income from wages “might not participate in these benefits.” That says it all—how many people do you know that don’t make a living from wages, but who instead live off of their oil and gas industry investments? Not many? I didn’t think so.

Second, the NERA report has an appendix called “Factors That We Did Not Include in the Analysis,” but it needs another appendix. Perhaps it could be called: “Factors That We Did Not Include in the Factors-That-We-Did-Not-Include-in-the-Analysis Appendix.” 

LNG exports also mean more widespread and destructive drilling and fracking, but the costs to local communities exposed to this drilling and fracking – the long terms costs of a legacy of pollution – are ignored in the NERA report. These communities will be worse off when the fracking boom goes bust. They will face long term risks to their public water resources. And all of us will bear the escalating costs of global climate change that will come from giving the oil and gas industry its wish, and allowing it to drill and frack for as much fossil fuel as possible, as fast as it can.

Finally, it’s no surprise that more drilling and fracking would be projected to increase GDP, especially given that all the destructive and costly negative impacts are externalized, foisted on to the public and not included in NERA’s calculations. But increased GDP is not a measure of economic welfare.

The Natural Gas Act mandates the U.S. DOE swiftly authorize applications to export natural gas to countries with which the United States does have a Free Trade Agreement. The unbalanced findings of the NERA Economic Consulting report are being used by the U.S. DOE to evaluate whether LNG exports to countries with which the United States does not have a Free Trade Agreement are actually in the public interest. The potential impact on U.S. energy security is also being considered by the U.S. DOE as it decides whether or not to authorize LNG exports.

Our recent report, U.S. Energy Insecurity: Why Fracking for Oil and Natural Gas is a False Solution, exposes the misconceptions, falsehoods and misleading statements behind the oil and gas industry’s claims that modern drilling and fracking can deliver U.S. energy security. We show that the 100 years of natural gas is a dangerous mirage. There are a lot of threads to the industry’s claims that are unwound in our report, but above all else, the industry’s plans to export shale gas, America’s supposed ticket to energy security, are the most revealing. The only thing the industry seeks to secure is its bottom line. NERA’s report, commissioned by the U.S. DOE, moves them one step closer.

The U.S. DOE will be making an enormous mistake if it adopts the unbalanced and shortsighted conclusions of this study. The agency must not allow the oil and gas industry, and its Wall Street backers, to write federal energy policy to benefit its bottom line at the public’s expense.

The oil and gas industry will simply extract as much natural gas as possible, as fast as possible, for maximum profit, while fighting tooth and nail to prolong America’s destructive dependence on fossil fuels. Then, once U.S. natural gas is gone, the global oil and gas industry will simply convert the export facilities back to import facilities and bring in foreign sources of fracked natural gas to feed the entrenched U.S. dependence.

It is not too late for the United States to avoid going down this self-destructive path. Long-term U.S. energy security and independence can only be achieved by getting off of fossil fuels, but the country needs to act now to deploy existing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, invest in public transportation systems to reduce energy demand, and invest in future technologies that build on these proven solutions.

The U.S. DOE will be considering public comments on the NERA report until mid-January, and Food & Water Watch will be working with allies to urge the agency to reject the unbalanced and shortsighted economic study. Food & Water Watch will also be calling on you in the coming weeks to make your voices heard.

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