Once again, in 2015 the oil and gas industry showed us the ludicrous lengths they will go to in order to frack more communities. In the process, they created ample fodder for Comedy Central, and the likes of John Oliver, John Stewart, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore. Here are a few of the worst head-shaking stunts that made the news in 2015:
5. If the ice is melting, can we drill there?
Really, Exxon? Are you serious? Separate investigations by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed this year that ExxonMobil’s own researchers were aware of the devastating climate impact of extracting and burning fossil fuel as far back as 1981. In fact, over twenty years ago, in 1992, Exxon scientists were convinced that “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” for oil in the Arctic.
At least this story is so absurd that there is growing momentum toward opening a full Department of Justice investigation into what Exxon knew and when. There’s no doubt that ExxonMobil spending $31 million since 1998 to fund climate-denier think tanks and politicians would be central to the case. We still have a lot to learn -- who knows what they’re hiding about fracking? Take action, and we may just find out.
4. The Department of Health doesn’t want to hear it
One of Pennsylvania’s state slogans is “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania,” so it is more than ironic that the state’s Department of Health workers have felt silenced on fracking, told to only record but not to respond to complaints from citizens about the gas industry. A list of buzzwords was circulated for identifying complaints that should only be handled by higher-up officials, because the issue was so politically sensitive.
In 2015, Food & Water Watch released an analysis of the sorts of complaints that were being recorded. The logs demonstrate that state residents are regularly reporting alarming health concerns, like breathing difficulty, noxious odors, headaches and nose bleeds, and that state agencies have failed to adequately respond and address these health problems from drilling and fracking.
3. If you pretend to help us, we have a deal
Political influence tells the story of the EPA’s 2015 ”final draft assessment” of fracking’s impacts on drinking water. The 1000-page assessment — with separate 1000-page case studies — is chock full of information gaps, thanks to industry control of data and all the legal loopholes the industry enjoys to skirt concerns about public health.
And yet the Obama Administration closed the book with the misleading top-line: the “assessment shows no widespread, systemic impacts” to drinking water. The scientists reviewing the draft assessment have taken issue with this line. Food & Water Watch will keep focused on this story in 2016, and keep pressuring the EPA to reopen its three high-profile investigations into contamination at gas fields in Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Texas that the agency had abandoned.
It’s absurd that the agency says next to nothing about those cases in its draft assessment, especially given that in Texas, the agency struck a deal with Range Resources. The EPA withdrew an emergency order against the company in exchange for cooperation in the study, but the company never had to come through on its end of the deal, and the whole industry was delighted with the Obama fracking study’s misleading top-line.
2. Shaking things up in Oklahoma
In a surprise “win,” underdog state Oklahoma came in first place in 2015 for having the most earthquakes... in the world. Scientists point to the fluid injection from hydraulic fracturing as the cause for the outrageous increase in the number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and up, going from about 2 per year (pre-fracking boom) to well over 600 in 2015.
Residents are beginning to sue for damages and injuries caused by the quakes, which oil and gas industry representatives find “tragic.” In a memorable quote, Kim Hatfield, president of Crawley Petroleum, says that lawsuits like these could cause oil companies to not want to drill in Oklahoma – in his mind, a decision so devastating it would apparently make ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ “look like a comedy.”
In this case, keep up the good work, guys: every time you sue for injuries or property damages caused by the quakes, which you are very much allowed to do, you’re totally making it harder for companies to drill near your house. Which doesn’t seem “tragic” at all to us.
1. Give us a few more months and we’ll be sure to fix that little leak for you
In Porter Ranch, California, a gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon has been making residents sick since it started leaking – in October. Over a thousand people have had to move; the leak has increased state methane emissions by 25 percent; schools were scheduled to shut down; and in mid-December an official state of emergency was declared. Here’s an idea: instead of shutting down elementary schools, let’s take action to shut down the facility that’s causing the problem.