fracking | Food & Water Watch - Part 12
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Blog Posts: Fracking

September 27th, 2013

Numbers Don’t Lie: New Food & Water Watch Report Reveals the Social Costs of Fracking

By Katherine Cirullo

social costs of fracking cover

Click to read the report.

Over the past several years, the oil and gas industry has muscled its way into rural America under the promise of providing jobs, boosting the economy and moving the nation into energy independence. The industry has pressured families and farmers into offering up their land in exchange for financial compensation. But, as we now know, this is a troubling trade. The oil and gas industry’s empty promises have left many communities in the dust with a slew of environmental, health and social consequences to deal with as a result of shale gas development. And, these consequences are sometimes irreparable. Attend a town hall meeting in rural Pennsylvania and you will hear the cry of mothers who fear for the safety of their children, or nurses distraught by what they are seeing in the clinic. It is time our nation’s leaders recognize the full extent of the damage that oil and gas development does.

Food & Water Watch conducted an empirical study of communities located in the epicenter of the natural gas boom – the Marcellus Shale – to measure the social effects of fracking. The Social Costs of Fracking: A Pennsylvania Case Study, compares and analyzes ten years of public data from rural Pennsylvania, beginning in the year 2000 when shale gas development was non-existent, and ending in 2010 when thousands of well pads and rigs spattered the landscape. Read the full article…

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September 23rd, 2013

For Democrats Nationwide, Pennsylvania Offers a Lens on the Widening Rift Over Fracking

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

By Wenonah Hauter

The Democratic Party has a few problems. Recently, President Obama has been forced to confront growing discord within his own party over a number of issues, from foreign policy to economics and the nomination of a new Federal Reserve chair. But another fissure between the Obama Administration and rank-and-file Democrats across the country, one that’s been slowly developing for years, has suddenly cracked wide open. It threatens to split the party in two, just as it quite literally splits the bedrock beneath our feet. It is the extreme gas drilling and extraction process know as fracking.

In large, solidly Blue states like California and New York, where Democrats with national responsibilities (or national aspirations) consistently look for inspiration and cash, local grassroots movements against fracking have evolved and expanded into mainstream statewide forces. But perhaps more notably, resistance to fracking among Democrats has also recently flourished in states less reliably liberal, less environmentally inclined, and situated smack in the middle of oil and gas country. States like Pennsylvania. Read the full article…

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September 19th, 2013

Fracking a Flood Plain: How Fracking Can Make a Natural Disaster So Much Worse

By Katherine Cirullo

Fracking rig and wastewater pit

As a former resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, my heart aches for all of those affected by massive flooding that has occurred over the past several days throughout the Colorado Front Range. Friends have updated me with photographs of their submerged backyards and homes, bike paths turned into a roaring rivers and powerful rapids consuming what used to be the quiet “Boulder Creek.” It saddens me that Colorado is dealing with yet another natural disaster  – the state has been plagued by raging wildfires all summer. But, I am also troubled by something that has been substantially under-reported: possible widespread contamination from thousands of flooded oil and gas facilities. Might this be a precedent for more fracking disasters to come?

Weld County, one of several in Colorado inundated by the flood, is also one of the most heavily-fracked counties in Colorado. Photographs show oil and gas tanks toppled over by the surge, submerged well pads and footage of oil slicks floating on the surface of the floodwaters. Fracking Colorado’s flood plains puts the health and safety of local communities, and those downstream, in obvious danger.

At least one oil and gas pipeline and an unknown amount of storage tanks in the flooded area have busted and are leaking toxic, cancer-causing materials into the floodwaters. Furthermore, oil and gas facilitates often use open-air pits to store fracking wastewater laden with toxic chemicals. Hugh MacMillan, Senior Researcher at Food & Water Watch explains that when these pits fill with water, which they have, there is nothing lining the surface to prevent the fracking wastewater from spilling out of the pit and into the floodwaters, eventually reaching rivers and streams. Floodwaters containing toxic fracking chemicals such as benzene and toluene might contaminate the drinking water supply.

In addition, water contamination in the area will also affect wildlife and a vast amount of agricultural land. Weld County is also the largest agricultural county in Colorado. Leakage from oil and gas storage tanks, pits and pipelines is likely to affect crops and livestock. Small and medium sized farmers in the area have suffered consequences of extreme drought all summer while big agribusiness has been able to secure (i.e. buy) their water rights. Now, all ag producers must deal with a flood made worse by fracking.

Colorado has seen two ends of extreme weather in just a four-month time span. Earlier this summer it was severe drought and wildfires, and now, torrential flooding. Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Getche’s Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment said the floods are likely a result of drought-hardened soil unable to absorb heavy rain, sparse vegetation due to wildfires and a warming climate that has produced unusually strong rain clouds. “As the climate warms further, the hydrologic cycle is going to get more intense,” he said.

Not only does the fracking process usurp one of the world’s most precious resources by using millions of gallons of fresh water per frack, but the process is not clean – its emissions exacerbate climate change. Contrary to what industry-sponsored research may claim, fracking emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. The industry is a culprit in the climate change crisis that is devastating Colorado and communities abroad. Read the full article…

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September 17th, 2013

Frackademia Exposed: Federally Funded, Industry Driven

By Katherine Cirullo

Recently, Steve Horn of the DeSmog Blog uncovered shocking information that leaves us shaking our head at our nation’s leaders and our once trusted scholars. Embedded in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is section 999, which describes the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). We knew previously that oil and gas companies and industry executives have funded and advised academic research on fracking, but the U.S. government has a major role in these projects, too. Federal funding of oil and gas industry controlled “frackademia” leaves us concerned for the future of fracking, and for our air, water and public safety.

In May, Food & Water Watch released an extensive review of frackademic projects. Research revealed the projects were insufficiently controlled by universities, lacked peer review and were developed by advisory boards with undue pro-industry agendas.  Ties between research and “Big Oil and Gas” companies have led to the promotion of shale gas development under the guise of credible academic research.

In June, we blogged about a slightly different form of frackademia: Universities have been scrutinized for their intention to lease campus land to the industry for “fracking research” in exchange for lowered tuition rates and research funding. Obvious conflicts of interest in these cases have led student activists and community members to speak up for their school’s academic integrity, as well as for the health and safety of the community. As a result, some project proposals have been put on hold. Read the full article…

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September 16th, 2013

New Industry-Sponsored Study of Fracking’s Impact on Climate Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

By Hugh MacMillan 

A new study on methane emissions, led by researchers from the University of Texas and URS Corporation, Inc. and coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), will be trumpeted by the oil and gas industry today and for months to come. It gives them misleading talking points they can use to deny the problem of methane emissions linked to drilling and fracking for oil and gas, and it distracts from the fact that, even ignoring methane emissions, natural gas (which is mostly methane) is still a fossil fuel and increased dependence on it keeps us on track for catastrophic changes to the climate. 

Read the full article…

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September 10th, 2013

My Visit to Balcolme: Another Community Fighting Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Drilling rig in Balcolme

Yesterday I was at the bucolic village of Balcolme speaking with activists Kathryn McWhirter and Vanessa Vine about the invasion of their community by the oil and gas industry. Kathryn and her husband Charles are wine experts who have lived in the village for 10 years. Vanessa lives four miles outside of the village and until recently was a secretary at the local school. These women, both mothers of grown children, are the backbone of their community. As dedicated activists, they have put their lives on hold, are sacrificing their careers and are putting their hobbies aside to fight for the future of their children and grandchildren.

Balcolme, just over an hour’s train ride south of London, seems too beautiful, too peaceful and too quaint to be the site of fracking or police violence. The train makes it possible for commuters to live in one of the most beautiful and verdant parts of England.

I shared a pot of tea with activists in Kathryn’s sunroom overlooking her very lovely English garden, where a few fancy heirloom chickens delicately paraded for our entertainment. I heard the sad tale of how the local laird, a beneficiary of Britian’s feudal land system (who is also a member of the village council) has betrayed his community. Simon Greenwood, the owner of 120 houses and numerous farms in the area, used his position on the village council to subvert the democratic process. When the paperwork allowing the exploration came up for discussion at the village council meeting, he didn’t bother to disclose that he had leased the land or that he stood to benefit from the deal.

In fact, there was no discussion at all about fracking at the 2010 council meeting where the issue was briefly raised and the paperwork granting permission sailed through. No community input was gathered and the permitting process defies logic and reason. No consideration was given to water resources or the effects of air pollution.

So today, the energy company Cuadrilla is using the dangerous procedure to explore for oil less than a mile from the Victorian era Ouse Valle Viaduct that provides water for 750,000 people. Ninety-two feet high and almost 1,500 feet long, with 37 circular arches, it could certainly be destroyed by seismic activity. The incessant noise from drilling is angering local farmers. Local residents despair of the damage to the endangered species and the countryside.

A peaceful protest camp has lined the road leading to the drilling for the past few months. During some periods, as many as 600 people have camped near the site. A recent march from the village included hundreds of people. Local residents like Kathryn and Vanessa have provided food and water and have often spent time at the camp themselves. The camp kitchen was quite impressive, full of local vegetables, nutritious foods and a fantastic bouquet of flowers.

As I prepared to catch my train back to London and to go onward with my travels, it was obvious that large numbers of police were gathering. This morning, I sadly read the news. A violent eviction of peaceful protesters was taking place.

Kathryn’s statement to BBC says it all: “We are horrified at the treatment of these dedicated people who have been here with our blessing for weeks now, helping us to protect our countryside, our health, our water, our air.

“The council is not acting today on behalf of the majority of residents of our village.”

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August 27th, 2013

On a Trip to Fracking Country, Hearing of Hardships Firsthand

Fracking victim Ray Kemble

By Jill Pape

On a recent road trip to Pennsylvania, I saw a sight that was both familiar and unfamiliar: fracking rigs.  Though I’d been working for the past year with Food & Water Watch and had seen countless images of fracking, it was my first time seeing the drilling process up close and personal. And out there in Pennsylvania, the sight of drilling rigs was hard to miss. Driving down the main road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, we saw well pads every few hundred feet — many just a stone’s throw away from neighborhood homes.

But beyond the familiar drilling rigs, much of what I saw in Dimock was a huge surprise. Where I’d expected to come across outraged citizens and families complaining about tainted water, what I encountered instead was chilling: silence.

Where were all the families I’d seen in Gasland, lighting their tap water on fire and speaking out about their fracking-induced migraines and mystery rashes? As we passed home after home of suspiciously quiet residents, the truth began to surface. Read the full article…

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August 19th, 2013

The Top 7 Things You Can Do to Protect Our Nation’s Treasured Lands

By Mark Schlosberg 

If you’ve been following our blog closely over the past few weeks, you know that the Obama Administration is pursuing plans to drill and frack for oil and natural gas on federal lands. But these lands are our lands, and include many treasured national parks that would be severely affected by nearby fracking activity. Moreover, although President Obama is considering moving ahead with fracking in order to combat climate change, drilling and fracking for oil and gas will actually exacerbate that problem. 

Read the full article…

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Protect the Wayne, Protect our Planet: Say NO to New BLM Fracking Rules

By Heather Cantino fracking for natural gas

My heart breaks when I think of the growing assaults on our commons –– on our air, our water and our public lands. In southeast Ohio, Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only national forest, has been abused for decades. Extensive logging takes place under false pretenses as “ecological management.” The area has been assaulted by “prescribed” burns, which are not even appropriate in eastern forests. ATV trails increasingly riddle the land. Non-native species invade wherever there is a disturbance. 

Recently, the Wayne National Forest faced an imminent gas and oil lease sale of over 3,000 acres, most of it in the Hocking River Valley. Maps of the parcels to be sold revealed all to be riddled with abandoned coalmines. Two cities in the watershed, Nelsonville and Athens, rely on the Hocking River aquifer as their sole-source drinking water supply.  The sale would threaten the drinking water of more than 70,000 people. 

Thanks to legal expertise provided by Nathan Johnson of the Buckeye Forest Council and to public alerts by community activists, dozens of formal protests, including letters from local officials and Ohio University, were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of the sales process, in the final week before the October 7, 2011, public comment period deadline. The sale was canceled.

Despite further legal appeals by the Buckeye Forest Council and its state and national allies and by a dozen regional and national environmental groups, as well as thousands of petition signatures, rallies attended by hundreds of people and voluminous research and visits by community members and leaders, Wayne Supervisor Anne Carey concluded that a future lease sale could be conducted without an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This decision flew in the face of legal arguments that an EIS was necessary to evaluate risks of deep-shale drilling and high-volume horizontal fracturing. No new sale has been scheduled. 

Our region, long a sacrifice zone, was heavily affected by nineteenth and twentieth century coal mining and is just beginning to recover with an attractive university, healthy tourism and a nationally recognized farmers’ market and local food economy. The fate of this newly flourishing community now lies with the BLM and President Obama, putting it in grave danger. 

The BLM’s proposed rules for fracking on federal lands will not protect our water supplies from tens of thousands of pounds of undisclosed toxic chemicals, many of them known carcinogens or neurotoxins, used per frack. Casings inevitably leak, and acidic mine water makes well failure likely sooner rather than later. 

Furthermore, Ohio law permits unlimited water withdrawals from public waterways (each frack job uses as much as 10 million gallons of water). It also permits air emissions of volatile organic compounds, including the known carcinogens benzene and toluene, which average 23 tons per well according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There could be thirteen well pads in the Wayne forest in the next three years, each potentially containing 10 wells. Fracking and drilling there would add six million pounds of toxic pollutants to the air, excluding truck carbon dioxide emissions and methane leakage. 

Read the full article…

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August 16th, 2013

Protect New Mexico’s Cultural Heritage: Ban Fracking on Federal Lands

By Eleanor Bravo

Chaco Canyon Ruins

I’ve been a New Mexican for more than 30 years now. When I first arrived, I realized I found the place of my heart, a land where whatever thrives here holds on for dear life. I also found that the soul of the land dwells in a unique place we call Chaco Canyon or Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It’s a mysterious place once home to thousands between 850 and 1250 AD. The ruins of great houses still stand, showing architectural expertise and masonry techniques unique to their time.

I have visited the park numerous times over the years, and each time, have discovered something new, have seen something different and have felt the presence of past inhabitants. Pueblo descendants say that it was a special gathering place where clans converged for ceremonial purposes. But no one really knows for sure.

What I do know is that the canyon and all of its ruins are a treasure not only for New Mexicans, but for all people on Earth. Those of us who are privileged to walk the Earth today are indebted to these unknown architects for the vision they created in this once thriving center of North American culture, a spiritual place to be honored and respected. A national park today, the canyon is one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, designated in l987 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an example of world cultural patrimony.

Such a remote location, you must travel about 17 miles of bumpy, dusty or muddy road to reach the entrance of the park. Sometimes during a downpour, the road is impassable. The surrounding land is a checkerboard composed of Navajo land, public lands and those managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Leases for oil and gas drilling have already been granted in the area, Several years back, grassroots organizations pressured the then land commissioner to designate a 3-mile buffer zone around Chaco and all other parks in New Mexico, but that has never been formalized. Read the full article…

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