Fracking | Food & Water Watch - Part 11
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Blog Posts: Fracking

November 27th, 2012

After Another Hard-Won Delay, No Fracking in New York This Year

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!It’s official: after years of edging steadily towards the decision to open up New York State to the danger and environmental degradation of fracking, Governor Cuomo has finally opened his eyes and ears to the groundswell of opposition to the controversial gas drilling method and put the breaks on the approval process. We’re pleased and encouraged by the fact that there will be no progress toward fracking in New York in 2012.

As we noted in October, intense pressure from the grassroots anti-fracking movement forced Gov. Cuomo to conduct a new health review of his proposed fracking regulations. Cuomo appointed three health professionals to conduct the review, but offered little detail in the way of exactly what their mandate would amount to. More questions were created than answered with the governor’s new twist to the review process. Meanwhile, a procedural deadline of November 29, 2012 still seemed to loom for his administration to approve final fracking regulations or be forced into some re-initiation of the review and regulation process.

Finally, last week, Gov. Cuomo confirmed that his administration would not meet that Nov. 29 deadline, assuring that nothing will be decided on the issue this year. While it seemed just a few months ago that Governor Cuomo was ready to carve a vast fracking sacrifice zone throughout the state’s Southern Tier, the immense pressure placed upon him by a broad coalition of thousands of concerned residents, activists and organizations has forced a rightful second-guessing of fracking by the governor. All of which buys our growing movement more time to energize, strategize, mobilize and activate anew against the still-looming threat that continues to cloud New York’s future.

Additionally, the fight for truth and transparency around fracking in New York enjoyed another victory this month, as a university research institute that had been closely tied to the oil and gas industry was shut down by the school’s president recently. In an era when it has become commonplace for corporate interests to coopt supposedly legitimate academic research institutions with funding, influence and biased engagement, to see such an entity rightly shut down is a win not just for concerned New Yorkers but for science and academics at large.

When the New York State University at Buffalo’s Shale Gas Resources and Society Institute opened last year, it was widely suspected that the institute was receiving financial support from the oil and gas industry. Last May, it released a study that was loaded with misinformation and drew the obviously false conclusion that fracking was a safe procedure that would have no negative effects on surrounding communities. After much criticism and controversy, the fact that the institute has been permanently shuttered should be affirmed and celebrated.

As the eyes of the nation remain on New York State and the prolonged fight to protect countless communities from the ravages of fracking, we can look forward to building our movement and our momentum in 2013. Help keep the pressure on Governor Cuomo by signing our petition and letting him know you won’t tolerate fracking in New York State this year, next year or ever.

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November 20th, 2012

LNG Exports Reveal Industry’s True Motive: Profits

By Hugh MacMillan

Ban Fracking!

Click here to take action to stop the export of fracked gas.

A new report by Food & Water Watch reveals the many flaws in the oil and gas industry’s claims about fracking and U.S. energy security. But nothing is more revealing about the industry’s deceptive energy security rhetoric than its push to export liquefied natural gas overseas. Alongside the industry’s patriotic rhetoric, this push to export LNG is the height of hypocrisy.

As drilling and fracking for shale gas boomed, natural gas was overproduced. By April 2012 the “wellhead price” for natural gas had fallen from over $10 per thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to under $2. In 2010, ExxonMobil bought into the shale gas boom, becoming the largest producer of natural gas in the country with its purchase of XTO Energy, but by June 2012 CEO Rex Tillerson stated that because of low natural gas prices, “We are all losing our shirts today…. We’re making no money [on natural gas]. It’s all in the red.” Natural gas prices were far below those needed for the industry to break even, given the cost of drilling and fracking new shale gas wells.

In exporting natural gas, the industry sees a way out of this bind. As opposed to oil, the supply chain for natural gas is not yet globalized, and natural gas prices in Asia and Europe have remained high. This gives the oil and gas industry an opportunity not just to profit from exporting natural gas, but to avoid falling off of its drilling and fracking “treadmill” – that is, because shale gas production declines so steeply, and because the highest producing wells are the first to get drilled and fracked, the industry must keep increasing the rate of drilling and fracking just to maintain a constant level of shale gas production.

So, to stay on this treadmill, and to keep the shale gas bubble from bursting, the oil and gas industry is beating down the door of the Department of Energy, urging the agency to authorize a flood of liquefied natural gas exports. The 19 LNG export proposals, and counting, could amount to sending the equivalent of over 42 percent of current annual natural gas consumption out of the country each year. That is a lot of natural gas, and a lot of it would be shale gas from fracking.

Representative Ed Markey has introduced two bills in the U.S. House that could foil the industry’s plan. The first bill, H.R. 4024, would keep the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from approving any new LNG export facilities until at least 2025. The second bill, H.R. 4025, would ensure that natural gas extracted from U.S. public lands is not exported, and further that no new pipelines on public lands would transport natural gas for export.

These two incisive bills are important to the larger fight to rein in an industry that, if allowed to write its own policies, will simply extract as much fossil fuel as possible, as fast as possible, for maximum profit, regardless of the long-term costs to local communities or the health of the planet. Without exporting natural gas to create more demand and get prices high enough to justify drilling and fracking, the oil and gas industry may decide it makes more financial sense to leave the natural gas deep underground. That is precisely where experts warn us fossil fuels need to stay if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Take action today to stop the export of fracked gas.


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November 7th, 2012

Organizing CAN Trump Special Interest Money in Elections

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Listen to Wenonah’s post-election town hall meeting

Last night, voters rejected a vision for our country that would have taken our economy, environmental regulations and consumer protections back decades. If there is one overarching lesson this election taught us, it’s that political organizing CAN overcome industry money in elections. But we can’t sit back and assume protections for our essential resources will improve; instead, we need to take lessons from the last four years and redouble our organizing efforts to press the Obama administration, Congress, and state legislatures across the country to keep our food and water safe and keep our essential resources in public hands. 

Two ballot measures Food & Water Watch worked on this cycle illustrate the need and power of organizing, even in the face of entrenched and powerful interests. 

One of the most exciting victories from election night was in Longmont, Colorado where voters passed an historic and precedent setting ballot initiative to ban fracking. We were up against incredible odds in Longmont, with the oil and gas industry spending over half-a-million dollars for TV commercials, full-page ads and multiple mailers to try to scare Longmont citizens. Governor Hickenlooper sued the citizens of Longmont to slow down our efforts and the Denver Post editorialized against this vote to ban fracking, but we were on the ground, knocking on doors, talking to voters and doing the hard work to support a citizen-led effort to protect our health, safety and property, and the citizens of Longmont spoke loud and clear. We won with nearly 60% of the vote!  

We also worked hard in California with many of our allies to pass Proposition 37, which would require labeling for all genetically engineered foods. This popular measure was only narrowly defeated at the polls, due in large part to the massive spending by large chemical and junk food companies (which outspent our side by over $40 million.) Despite this loss, support for GE food labels has never been stronger, and we will continue to build a robust national grassroots campaign to push for mandatory labeling across the country.

These measures prove what we already know: An educated and mobilized citizenry can fight back against the corporate control of our common resources, but our work is far from over. 

If you aren’t already on our mailing list, please join it now to remain informed on an ongoing basis about actions you can take to help build power to protect our food and water. We need your support to keep growing the movement! As the election demonstrated, together we can fight for the food and water protections we all want and deserve.

November 6th, 2012

Oil and Gas Industry Over-Inflates Jobs Projections…Again

By Hugh MacMillianfracking for natural gas

 A recent report from IHS CERA, a firm with a history of reports favorable to the oil and gas industry, claims that unconventional oil and gas activities currently support 1.75 million jobs in the U.S. economy and will support a total of 3.5 million jobs by 2035. This forecast, while good public relations for the oil and gas industry, is misleading at best. 

Let’s ignore for the moment that the study was paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Gas Supply Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute and just address the claims.

Read the full article…

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October 31st, 2012

Aqua America’s Spooky Alliance

By Kate Fried Ban Fracking!

It seems that Aqua America Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis recently got a head start on Halloween, masquerading as…an oil and gas industry spokesperson. Sure, it’s not the most exciting costume around–all the sexy water baron costumes were apparently sold out. According to publicity materials recently released by the company, DeBenedictis said that he supports regulations that would help pave the proverbial road to fuel more cars and trucks with natural gas. Earlier this year, Aqua America even committed to transition many of its vehicles to burn the oil and gas industry’s current favorite fossil fuel.

From where does this fascination with natural gas arise? Has DeBenedictis been watching too many API ads? Does this have anything to do with what he hopes to find in his metaphorical trick or treat sack? It very well could. The fracking required to extract the gas to fuel these vehicles requires water—lots and lots of water and Aqua America wants to tap that market. Earlier this year, Aqua America was instrumental in evicting residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village from their homes so it could build a water withdrawal facility to supply the industry. We can only assume that Aqua America’s upcoming plans to exploit shale gas development are more trick than treat.

DeBenedictis has said that selling water to shale gas operations could comprise 10 percent of Aqua America’s total income in 2015. That means that he expects those water sales to bring in more than $15 million in profit. This year, the company expects to make about $1.5 to 2 million in profit from selling water to the fracking industry via the same pipeline that caused the eviction of residents in the Riverdale Mobile Home Village.

Private water has faced considerable public resistance in recent years as more people realize that water is best controlled and managed by the public. So what’s a corporation to do when its plans to sustain profits are foiled? In this case, the answer appears simple: join forces with another greedy industry.

While there are many, many reasons to oppose fracking, Aqua America’s apparent attempts to cozy up to the oil and gas industry serve as a reminder of some of the darker, possibly more insidious aspects of the fight—while we try to protect our communities and our collective future from fracking, it seems some CEOs just can’t wait to enjoy all their new loot.

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October 23rd, 2012

The Word from Pennsylvania: Fracking Isn’t Worth It

By Seth Gladstone

Within the swirl of propaganda floating around about the supposed benefits of fracking for natural gas, one theme seems to have unfortunately been taken to heart by some folks who are understandably anxious about these economically trying times. The idea, that fracking will bring immediate wealth and prosperity to those who engage with it, is as alluring as it is false.

New Yorkers and others who are currently grappling with the debate over whether to allow the dangerous and destructive drilling process on their lands deserve to know the truth about the hollow promises from the oil and gas industry. And there’s no one better to speak on the topic than real people from Pennsylvania who were sold the industry’s bill of goods themselves and were burned in the end. Now a few of these folks are getting their chance to tell New Yorkers what they’ve learned: that fracking isn’t worth it.

A brand new television ad from Food & Water Watch, featuring Pennsylvanians dealing personally with the horrible effects of fracking, has hit the airwaves in New York’s Southern Tier (the region that Governor Cuomo has threatened to turn into a fracking sacrifice zone.) Watch our new ad here:

Food & Water Watch has been highlighting the false fracking promises of New York’s oil and gas industry for some time. Our report on the matter details the costs of the practice to pubic health, public infrastructure, the environment and existing industries like tourism and agriculture, rebutting the industry’s promises of wealth for New York landowners and jobs for Southern Tier communities. Also, we were up on the airwaves of New York’s Southern Tier earlier this year. Our last ad targeting Governor Cuomo, profiled by The New York Times, highlighted the failure rates of fracking wells over time.

Though we’ll never be able to match the spending power and television might of the oil and gas industry, we know how important it is to make sure the truth about fracking is told to those who would be first and foremost affected by its devastating consequences. And we know that Governor Cuomo is hearing us. Watch our latest ad and make sure Governor Cuomo hears you too.

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October 11th, 2012

Tell the Major Networks to Stop Airing API’s Fracking Lies

By Kate Fried

When we watch the news, we would like to see credible, honest information about critical issues like our energy future — especially during election season. But the American Petroleum Industry (API) has other designs this year, shelling out untold amounts of cash on a misinformation campaign to sell the American public on the so-called wonders of natural gas. We aren’t buying it.

Large companies have always supported TV programming through their advertising dollars. There’s no getting around the fact that networks rely on advertisements to bring us our favorite shows. Yet there’s a distinct difference between a company trying to sell us a new car, and one that gobbles up the airwaves to seduce the public towards its thinly veiled political agenda.

API’s Vote 4 Energy campaign has flooded the airwaves and social media channels over recent months, trying to sell us on the notion that natural gas is clean and abundant, and that supporting its development is as patriotic as civic participation. According to the New York Times, the industry has spent more than $153 million this election year on ads promoting fossil fuels and knocking clean energy.

Why such an expense for an industry bent on making money? Because the oil and gas industry is in trouble. Even its darling, natural gas, is being debunked as just another dirty fossil fuel, and citizens around the world are fighting fracking.

It’s throwing money at its image problem—lots and lots of money, to wage its increasingly difficult public relations campaign. That’s the thing about powerful special interests; when they can’t get their way they try to spend their way out of their problems.

Many Americans are uninformed about the dangers of natural gas extraction, and with television ads on major networks costing a hefty sum, most of the groups seeking to educate the public with these facts can’t afford equal airtime.

That’s why we’re asking ABC, NBC and CBS to stop airing the oil and gas industry’s propaganda during national news broadcasts. We may not be able to match them in dollars, but we have two things on our side: the truth…and you. Are you just as tired of seeing oil and gas industry misinformation on your screen when you tune in to get the news of the day? If so, take action today, and ask the major networks to stop airing API’s fracking lies.

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September 26th, 2012

You Got Down With the Global Frackdown

By Kate Fried

This past Saturday we convened a little event called the Global Frackdown. Maybe you heard about it? Thousands of activists on five continents came together for over 200 events to send one, definitive message—Ban Fracking Now.

The movement to ban fracking is growing nationwide—all because of the hard work of people like you. You and your peers, concerned citizens around the globe from all walks of life united in your desire to preserve the health of your communities, started to catch wind of the public health and environmental risks associated with fracking. You did your research, and even when you saw politicians on the news touting the so-called “benefits” of natural gas, you had your doubts. You talked to your neighbors, formed your own organizations and started speaking out in order to protect the health of future generations.

Then when you noticed the oil and gas industry ramping up its PR offensive, frantically running for its spin machine, you knew they were up to no good. After all, why would any industry so motivated by profits squander a cent on ads if they knew they didn’t have a serious public relations battle on their hands?

Yes, you’ve been fighting fracking for a while now, and the Global Frackdown gave you a chance to take action in concert with thousands of like-minded individuals around the globe. Maybe you were in Brussels, protesting outside the European Parliament; perhaps you said “non” to fracking in Paris or asked your elected officials not to frack with the Karoo in South Africa. Was that you we spotted in Buffalo, once again asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York? Or maybe you were one of the legions of activists who participated virtually.

Regardless of where you were, you joined with thousands of like-minded souls whose voices coalesced into one. You made your message clear—that you don’t want fracking anywhere on earth.

Ultimately, you know and we know that the fight to ban fracking is just getting started. The oil and gas industry has a seemingly endless supply of cash, but we have one thing on our side that they don’t—irrefutable facts, evidence that fracking is destroying our planet and our collective future. We won’t stand for it, and neither will you. And so, the fight continues. Thank you. Of course, we would also like to thank the more than 150 partner organizations around the world for their help in making the Global Frackdown possible.

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September 21st, 2012

Why It’s Time for a Global Frackdown

By Mark Schlosberg

 The oil and gas industry knows it has a fracking problem. Oil and gas companies and their apologists are spending tens of millions of dollars on misleading propaganda touting the supposed benefits of fracking and natural gas as a so-called “bridge fuel.” They are spending millions more lobbying elected officials to open new lands to fracking. They are even trying to convince the public that natural gas is clean energy.

Tomorrow, communities across the world are fighting back with one unified message: our movement is growing, our movement is strong, and we do not accept fracking and its impacts on our water, air, health and communities. It’s time to ban fracking now.

Read the full article…

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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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