fracking | Food & Water Watch - Part 4
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Blog Posts: Fracking

July 1st, 2014

Governor Brown: Climate Leader or Climate Loser?

By Adam Scow

California Governor Jerry Brown

When it comes to fighting pollution, global warming and our climate crisis, Governor Jerry Brown is big on talk and weak on action. Governor Brown frequently warns us that climate change is a major threat we must solve, citing the ongoing drought and recent fires as indicators of global warming’s threat to our economy and standard of living. Yet when it comes to governance and real action the Governor is letting the oil and gas industry expand fracking and refineries that pollute our climate with more emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, worsening global warming and our climate crisis.

When asked about the contradiction between his rhetoric and support for fracking, the Governor has made inaccurate statements and blamed Californians for his lack of action.  First, Governor Brown continues to make the inaccurate argument that because Californians drive cars, it is necessary to frack California. In reality, California has long imported and will continue to import most of the oil it uses, a trend confirmed by the Energy Information Administration’s reduced estimate of recoverable oil in California. The EIA, which once projected that over 15 billion barrels of oil reside in California’s Monterey Shale formation, has reduced its estimate to just 600 million barrels—a 96 percent reduction.

The Governor is wrong again when he implies fracking in California will decrease or offset oil imports into California. Despite California using less oil, imports are now increasing into the Golden State via rail and ship, threatening to cause major accidents in transit. California’s 17 refineries, mostly located in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, are processing and exporting more refined oil overseas to China and other markets. To meet the foreign demand refineries are looking to expand their operations to process the growing influx of oil from North Dakota and Canada to then be sold overseas.  

Refinery expansion is strongly opposed by community and environmental organizations, yet Governor Brown is allowing Chevron to expand its enormous Richmond refinery and increase its pollution. A recent lawsuit by Communities for a Better Environment challenging Chevron’s expansion cites increased pollution emissions as undermining California’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the Brown administration, consistent with its “cap and trade” program that allows big polluters to continue polluting in exchange for a small fee, is content to let Chevron pay to increase its pollution and worsen our climate. Governor Brown is also permitting a refinery expansion in Bakersfield, which already suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation. To put the icing on the cake, the Brown administration recently weakened its already weak cap-and-trade program to allow petroleum refiners to receive 100% of their emissions allowances for free until 2017—meaning for the next three years Chevron and others may not pay a dime for their refinery pollution

California’s pollution from carbon emissions has been getting worse, reflected in the California 2012 greenhouse gas inventory released in May by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The total inventory climbed from 2011, which means California went backwards towards reaching its goal of 1990 levels of emissions by 2020. While total California oil and gas production slightly declined in 2012 from 2011 levels, this inventory shows a 4 percent increase in the amount of greenhouse gas pollution released by this sector. Since the Brown administration has yet to determine the true carbon intensity of oil and gas development, this increase is likely underestimated and will rise again for 2013.  

Governor Brown’s support for fracking and refinery expansion is worsening California’s pollution problems and undermining our state’s ability to meet its pollution reduction targets by 2020. While polls continue to show that a majority of Californians oppose fracking outright and nearly 70 percent support an immediate moratorium, the Governor has sided with the oil companies to let them keep fracking under the false pretense of strong regulations, which do nothing to make the practice safer or prevent pollution.

California needs real leadership in the effort to transition from dirty oil to clean energy. If the Governor is sincere about fighting the climate crisis, he can prove it by stopping the fracking and opposing refinery expansion. So far Governor Brown has talked some talk, not walked the walk, and is making our pollution problems worse.  

This blog originally appeared at WilderUtopia.com.

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June 27th, 2014

On Fracked Gas, Same Rhetoric—Different Century

By Geert Decock

Are you familiar with the British comedian Rowan Atkinson? Does Mr. Bean maybe ring a bell? Then maybe you know the sketch comedy piece where Atkinson plays a rather deluded Member of Parliament who makes a nonsensical speech, high on rhetoric, low on substance. I had to think back to Atkinson’s “Sir Marcus Browning MP”, when reading the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks last week that Russia is behind the growing anti-fracking movement in Europe, fomenting opposition to shale gas and even funding anti-fracking groups. Sir Marcus Browning finishes his speech (spoiler alert!) by insisting he doesn’t want to end up like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat… that isn’t there”. By making his comments about Russian support for the European anti-fracking movement, Rasmussen looks exactly like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat … that isn’t there”.

These accusations of Russia’s influence in the anti-fracking movement have repeatedly been made. And until today, without a shred of evidence. Read the full article…

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June 25th, 2014

Washington’s Revolving Door Spins Again

By Sydney Baldwin

 Ban Fracking!

Another one bites the dust.

Former Obama Energy Aide Heather Zichal has been nominated to the board of directors for Cheniere Energy, Inc., one of the leading fracked gas companies in the world. As the White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, Zichal was one of the primary facilitators between the Obama administration and the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, she is now just another government official turned big-business pawn.

Called Obama’s “climate czar,” Zichal regularly met with oil industry lobbyists and worked on legislation regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking on private and public lands. Her history of oil and gas industry oversight is what landed her potential new gig. If she elected to the board of directors, she will be paid $180,000 a year.

Read the full article…

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June 19th, 2014

Big Oil and Gas Sacrifice Local Communities for Profits From LNG Exports

On July 13, Thousands Will Rally to Oppose Cove Point Plant in Maryland

Wenonah Hauter, Executive DirectorBy Wenonah Hauter

On Sunday, July 13, thousands of environmental advocates will gather in downtown Washington, D.C., to oppose Dominion Resources’ Cove Point LNG export facility, a project that is part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) aggressive push to expand fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. FERC will decide this summer whether or not to approve the proposal to build the Cove Point facility within one mile of 360 homes. On July 13, we have one more chance to urge FERC to stop putting the interests of oil and gas companies above public health and local communities.

U.S. citizens have watched the oil and gas industry lobby quickly spread their influence across the nation, from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado in the West to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, North Carolina and Maryland in the East. But even as the industry promises Americans that fracking for shale gas will give consumers an affordable energy future—energy security, they call it—they have been busy carving out plans to export most of it overseas in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Obama administration has made their intentions clear: the U.S. will begin exporting LNG to nations in Asia and Europe, sacrificing the well-being of our communities to the oil and gas industry’s relentless thirst for profits.

Many of the political moves in Maryland meant to ensure fracking becomes a reality within state borders resembles the playbook we’ve seen time and again from the oil and gas industry. When the oil and gas industry discovered shale deposits in Maryland, they immediately exaggerated how much natural gas these deposits were present, promised major economic impacts, and understated how many of the state’s cities will one day have drilling rigs.  While Governor O’Malley and leaders in the state legislature have told Marylanders that fracking wouldn’t be approved until studies proved that it was safe, the governor’s own commission has already begun drafting the prelude to fracking regulations before the completion of three promised public health and economic impact studies.   Read the full article…

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June 5th, 2014

From North Carolina To Illinois, We Must Fight Back Against Big Oil and Gas

For the media: Wenonah Hauter low resolution image.By Wenonah Hauter

BIG oil and gas believe their industry should have no boundaries. They want to frack wherever, whenever and however they please, to build dangerous pipelines anywhere they wish. Their cynical CEOs say it’s all about energy independence, while they push to ship gas and oil across the globe to whomever can pay the highest price. They fight to prevent citizens from suing for fair compensation when deadly accidents and dangerous spills occur, while they push for the right to sue anyone who discloses the names of the chemicals used in fracking.

Does this sound extreme? This is the actual agenda big oil and gas is pushing, as revealed during legislative debates last month. And it is currently unfolding in North Carolina where the legislature just voted to allow the distribution of drilling permits with NO protections or limitations in place.

How did this happen?

Two years ago the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that legalized fracking under controversial circumstances when Republicans blocked Rep. Becky Carney (D) from correcting her obviously miscast vote. But the bill required the drafting of regulations that would be brought back to the legislature in 2015 for them to review before deciding whether fracking could proceed in the state. Despite their promise to learn more about fracking, industry-backed legislators decided it was in their best interest to rush the issuing of drilling permits before all of the dangers and problems could be brought to light.

Last week’s vote to fast track fracking was pushed through by Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, the opponent of incumbent U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. Tillis used the normal rhetoric about energy independence, despite the fact that North Carolina has limited amounts of shale. It appears the real reason for the push is to gain North Carolina’s cooperation in hosting hundreds of miles of pipelines — the framework for LNG exports.

North Carolina’s political climate is extremely challenging in an environment where oil and gas dollars buy public policy. But groups on the ground will continue to organize, hold elected officials accountable, and work to protect communities from becoming sacrifice zones.

While North Carolina’s recent decision is clearly a setback, the progress in Illinois, Colorado, and nationally shows that when concerned citizens organize, we can make real change and beat back the onslaught of greed and political corruption.

In Illinois last week, an effort was made to ram amendments—similar to those in North Carolina—through the legislature, spurring fracking onward. The industry hopes to bypass any debate or discussion of the 35,000 comments submitted as part of the regulatory process. This language was sneakily inserted into a bill on the Friday before Memorial Day and passed out of the House Executive Committee. Only after grassroots organizations mobilized to call out this sham, did legislators—nervous about the consequences—allow it to die in the Assembly. We thank Illinois People’s Action, Shawnee Sentinels, Ban Fracking Chicago, and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, who skipped their holiday plans to stop Rep. John Bradley from fracking Illinois.

Through recent grassroots organizing in Colorado, Food & Water Watch and many allies were able to kill a legislative proposal that would have allowed oil and gas companies to lay pipelines across property, even if landowners objected. Property rights seem to only be important to some legislators when they serve the interests of corporations. This hard-won victory was garnered by the work of thousands of people sending petitions and making hundreds of phone calls from groups across the state.

Industry cynically uses patriotism when it wants to remove barriers to fracking, while their real agenda is to ship their product abroad, especially to Asia where prices are two to three times higher. Many Americans would be horrified to know that the same legislators touting energy independence—a false scenario in a global market—are also pushing legislation in both house of Congress to speed up the approval process for LNG exports.

Many have said that this push on exports cannot be stopped, but if we only work on what is politically expedient today, we will not have the victories we need in the future. In response to this, Food & Water Watch, along with our allies in Americans Against Fracking, mobilized and pushed back hard by generating over 100,000 messages and thousands of phone calls to Congress. We feared that the legislation would be tacked on to a bill on the Senate floor last month, but thanks to the vigilance of thousands of grassroots activists, that did not happen.

This fight is far from over and we need to continue to ramp up pressure and grow the movement. Americans Against Fracking is holding a national conference call on Thursday, June 5 at 8 pm EST, featuring a national overview on the issue of exports and state updates from North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, along with a letter to the editor training centered on exports. Join hundreds of fellow fractivists as we collectively continue to fight for the future we want for our children and grandchildren.

 

 

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May 22nd, 2014

Fracking Shows Its Viral Nature

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Merriam-Webster recently added the word “fracking” to the latest edition of its dictionary. We think you’ll find Food & Water Watch’s definition is more accurate:

Read the full article…

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May 20th, 2014

Leaked Memo: Trade Agreement Would Export Fracked Gas Without Restrictions from U.S. to EU

By Wenonah Hauter

For the media: Wenonah Hauter low resolution image.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

This week, negotiators from the U.S. and the EU began their fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP). Because the negotiations are all happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the content of the discussions. So what, exactly, do we know?

Officially, not much. But this week, an EU negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post. The text is nothing short of a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas, which will lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.

Article C of the document provides that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the U.S. to the EU would be approved “automatically,” no questions asked. It would —even if this would lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and so on. It would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would lock in more business and better quarterly profits for Big Oil & Gas, it is hard to see how this serves the public interest.

The EU’s ideas for free trade in energy with the U.S. would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation,” requiring utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example. Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and also not be “more burdensome than necessary.” With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day to attack any price regulation in the energy sector.

This leak shows that civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what is being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly does not apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it.

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May 12th, 2014

Oil and Gas Spills and BLM Ills: It’s Time for the People’s Lobby Week!

By Katherine Cirullo

On Monday, Mike Soraghan of E&E EnergyWire revealed that in 2013, the number of oil and gas related spills increased by 18 percent, despite the fact that the rate of drilling actually began to level off. In a similar vein, the Associated Press recently reported findings from the new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has failed to inspect a large number of high-risk oil and gas wells on pubic lands. Think regulations are enough to prevent fracking from affecting the environment and the health of American communities? Just in time for the People’s Lobby Week against fracking, it is imperative that you consider the facts and think again.

On one hand, data shows a major increase in oil and gas spills in the top 15 on-shore drilling states. In 2013 there were at least 7,662 spills, averaging slightly over 20 spills per day. The combined volume of spilled oil, fracking fluid, fracking wastewater and other substances surpassed 26 million gallons — that’s 26 million gallons of toxic substances more than our waterways and our communities should be forced to tolerate.

On the other hand, there is data showing grossly inadequate government oversight of oil and gas drilling. In a review of 14 states, the GAO reports findings that for wells drilled from 2009 to 2012, the BLM failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that it had specified as “high-priority” for preventing water contamination and other environmental damage. The BLM, the very agency that is supposed to preserve and protect our public lands (and act as a dependable source of federal oversight), just isn’t pulling through. Read the full article…

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May 9th, 2014

Field Notes: California Rising Up Against Fracking

Posing for a photo after Beverly Hills becomes the first California city to ban fracking, (left to right) Councilmember John A. Mirisch, Councilmember Nancy H. Krasne, Food & Water Watch volunteer Lauren Steiner, Mayor Lili Bosse, FWW Organizer Brenna Norton, Councilmember William W. Brien M.D., Vice Mayor Julian A. Gold M.D.

By Tia Lebherz and Brenna Norton

Since Tia’s blog last week about the campaign to ban fracking in Butte County and other places across California, the movement to ban fracking in the Golden State has experienced much momentum.  

This week, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to enact a ban on fracking and related well stimulation techniques. The ordinance also prohibits these activities from any site outside city limits that would drill and extract oil and gas underneath the city. The City Council first voted unanimously for a ban on April 21st (Earth Day), and on Tuesday night, the final vote put the ban into effect. Food & Water Watch worked closely with superstar fractivist Lauren Steiner on the effort, with the support of Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations.

“This is not a ‘not in my backyard issue’ – it should not be in anyone’s back yard,” said Councilmember John Mirsch. “But this issue goes beyond that. And we also need to think long-term even if our city is not a center of drilling. Injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals at high pressure into the earth can’t be good. Asbestos and smoking was once also considered safe. Fracking is not worth the risk.”

On the other side of L.A. County, on April 22, the City Council of Compton voted to place a moratorium on fracking to protect their community from the threat of Occidental Petroleum and other oil companies invading the community to drill for oil in the Dominguez Hill oil field. Occidental has been hinting about the possibility of drilling in Compton, since they face strong opposition in neighboring Carson to their proposal to drill over 200 new wells.

Santa Barbara County Water Guardians deliver 20,000 signatures to put a fracking ban on the county’s November ballot.

The fight to protect Carson is now in full swing. After the Carson City Council unanimously enacted a 45-day moratorium on all oil and gas development, last week the Council split on whether to extend the moratorium for another 10 months. Two councilmembers voted for the moratorium, two voted against it, and one member abstained. While the vote was disappointing, there are numerous ways to stop the project, and we will continue to work and support the community’s efforts to stopping the project and protecting their community.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles the City Attorney is now drafting a moratorium ordinance as directed by the City Council, which voted unanimously to advance the ordinance. It will return to the full L.A. City Council for a final vote to be ratified in the coming months.

In San Benito County, home of Pinnacles National Park, San Benito Rising successfully submitted over 4,000 signatures to bring a vote to ban fracking to the November ballot. And in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians collected an impressive 20,000 petition signatures in an all-volunteer effort in under four weeks. The Water Guardians are now waiting to see whether the County Board of Supervisors will adopt the measure or place it on the November ballot for voter approval.

Finally, our friends at Frack-Free Butte County launched an indiegogo website complete with a fantastic video documenting their campaign. Stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future!

May 1st, 2014

Butte County, California Inches Closer to a Fracking Ban

By Tia Lebherz 

The Butte County Board of Supervisors in California recently surprised everyone and took a bold step to ban fracking in their community.  That day, many, including some of the top oil and gas lobbyists in California, concentrated in Sacramento as SB1132, the California fracking moratorium bill, passed its first committee hurdle.  

Meanwhile, an hour north of Sacramento, our friends at Frack-Free Butte County were testifying at their Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Originally slated to speak to the Butte County Water Board’s recommendation to regulate the practice, this amazing group of grassroots activists laid out their case for why the Board needed to take action to truly protect the community. Rightfully so, the supervisors listened, and voted 4-1 to ban fracking. In doing so, Butte County is poised to become the first county in California, and the second in the nation to ban fracking.

Frack-Free Butte County has been building this campaign from the ground up over the past year. When I moved home to California last October, they were one of the first local groups I connected with. Their spirit and determination is contagious. Following the success of our friends in Colorado who recently passed five ballot measures to stop fracking, Frack-Free Butte County, along with San Benito Rising and the Santa Barbara Water Guardians, are all in the signature-collecting phase of their campaigns.  The San Benito campaign actually reached its signature goal in the first 14 days of its campaign, so it’s safe to say that it will ultimately surpass its goal. These grassroots, citizen led groups are taking on Big Oil and Gas right in their own communities. 

The victory in Butte County is part of slew of local victories across the nation to stop fracking. Time and again, we see the federal government push off taking action against fracking to the state and local level.  I like to think that on the local level, we see how democracy is meant to work. We see elected officials actually representing their constituents, not blinded and bound by Big Oil’s financial influence.  In the case of Butte County, the Board of Supervisors deserves much praise for stepping up to protect its community. 

Here in California, the movement is growing, and we’re giving the fracking industry a one-two punch. While local communities such as Carson and Los Angeles continue to stop fracking on the front lines, we’re putting tons of pressure on Governor Jerry Brown to stop fracking across the entire state. On the heels of the largest rally to stop fracking this state has ever seen, and with the momentum of a diverse coalition of residents, farmers, chefs and scientists in on this fight, I believe that California has a bright and sustainable future, and that together, we can ban fracking. 

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