Dan has an interesting post at FDL about using the regulatory process to stop the fracking industry:
The fight against fracking in Ohio comes at a time when the state is approving new wells at a rapid pace. Local activists are organizing in an environment where the ground is constantly shifting under their feet – sometimes literally.
Anti-fracking activism has been influenced by developments both inside the state and beyond. At a recent public anti-fracking meeting a representative from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) described the experience of activists in western Pennsylvania several years ago.
Residents there began seeing lots of drilling sites, processing plants and other fracking infrastructure pop up. Neighborhood opposition responded through the regulatory process. Drillers needed permits, so locals educated themselves on permit writing. They enjoyed some early victories as improperly written permits were thrown out.
The wins were only temporary though. Drillers came back weeks or months later with rewritten permits that fixed the problems in the earlier ones. The new permits passed regulatory muster and the frackers moved in. At one point counsel for the companies jokingly thanked a CELDF representative for its help in putting together a bulletproof permit-writing process. As you might imagine, this was not the intended outcome.
The regulatory process may not be a suitable one for anti-fracking activists for other reasons as well. For one, regulations are not ultimately about protecting citizens; they are about legalizing harm. Regulation on, say, arsenic in drinking water is not based on the maximum amount that humans may safely consume, but on the maximum amount the industry can get legislators to allow. If they allow an amount that is unhealthy for humans or animals, those who suffer as a result have no legal recourse. The harm was permitted.
If you do not want the fracking to occur at all – if you think it is too unregulated, too opaque, and generally too hazardous – then fighting over regulation is a sucker’s game. You are not fighting over whether or not your community will expose itself to the tender mercies of the oil and gas industry, but over how much damage the industry will be allowed to do to it; and since the oil and gas industry is flooding the statehouse with lobbyists how do you think that fight will go?
… So if regulation was not a losing proposition going into the anti-fracking effort, the sellout to lobbyists in the capitol and virtual elimination of home rule seals the deal. What does that leave local activists? Trying for complete bans instead of tweaking around the edges. It may sound absurdly lofty for a one light town to adopt a bill of rights for its residents, but that may be the last (and best) ground to fight on. Don’t bother with processes that postulate harm and try to negotiate how much. Don’t fight neutered regulatory agencies or politicians in the pocket of the industry. (Or ex-politicians who have become industry shills, for that matter.)Go big instead. Say that you simply want no part of it. Insist on the right to self determination. The fracking industry has already rigged the system; trying to get it to build safely, drill responsibly or disclose its hazards plays to its strengths. But what about a document that declares the rights of citizens to have full and final say on the most pressing quality of life issues that face their communities?
Would industry lawyers be eager to go into a courtroom and essentially say, “we know you don’t want us here but we’re forcing our way in anyway”? It doesn’t seem like a winning position. Trying to get a court to overturn such a fundamental declaration would probably be wildly unpopular. While a sympathetic judge might well go along with them – and that’s a whole other post – the process itself would smoke out the industry’s cold indifference to the communities it is endangering. That prospect might just get the industry to back off. And in any event, what else have we got? As one citizen put it: “The federal government has failed us. The state government has failed us. You are our last resort.”
From Pro Publica:
When Chesapeake Energy lost control of a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania on April 19, an emergency response team from Texas was called in to stop the leak. By the time the team arrived more than 13 hours later, brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids from the well had spewed across nearby fields and into a creek.
Some excellent fracking-related resources in their story sidebar, too. As I noted in an earlier Quick Hit, A Fracking Well Exploded in PA, No News at 11, reporting on this accident was almost non-existent and only a non-US news source bothered to actually report out the full story. Despite some massive amount of toxic liquid, contents unknown and legally not required to be known, spilling over farm fields and into the Susquehanna River.
Also, this story comes from clicking some of the link on the right column which I’ve updated to (hopefully) be a source of Quick Hits, as well as make it easy to follow some of these issues.
[BTW, anyone else notice Exxon is running TV ads promoting fracking and shale oil extraction as positive energy policy? And totally ignoring the reality of pollution, excessive energy required to extract shale oil relative to other energy options (e.g. conservation)? The ads remind me of the feel good WalMart ads after they had bad publicity a few years ago: they beg to be refuted and parodied.]
Got another Democracy for America email this afternoon, this time about an explosion of a fracking well in Canton, Pennsylvania four days ago. Naturally I visited Google News to read coverage. There’s 1 (yes, one) major news outlet with a story, the Frenchies at AFP:
Crews in Pennsylvania gained control Friday of a natural gas well that blew out and spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laden drilling fluid into the environment over two days.
But the incident has drawn attention to concerns over a controversial drilling process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which is seen as having enormous potential for capturing natural gas but has environmental risks.
The operator of the well, Chesapeake Energy, has suspended operations at its wells in Pennsylvania pending its investigation into the causes of the spill.
The environmental damage from the spill is unclear. The exact amount of fluid that spilled from the well was not disclosed, and it was not clear exactly what the fluid contains.
From a Democracy for America email:
Did you know that the NY Times reports that companies like Halliburton illegally injected over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel underground last year while using the controversial drilling technique known as fracking?
Halliburton and other fracking companies spend millions of dollars every year on fake studies and public relations campaigns to cover up facts like this. But thanks to an amazing new documentary, the truth is starting to come out about fracking.
Josh Fox was working as a filmmaker in Oklahoma when a gas company offered to lease his land to build a natural gas well. Instead of accepting their offer, he traveled the country recording the stories of people who’s lives had been ruined by this dangerous new method of drilling. The result was the Academy Award nominated HBO documentary ‘Gasland’ which has helped spark a movement to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
DFA has teamed up with director Josh Fox to organize Gasland screenings all across the country next Sunday April 17th. Click here to find one near you or host your own.
And then this bit:
Thanks to Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force in 2005, the EPA is prohibited from regulating natural gas drilling under the Clean Water Act. Since then, natural gas drilling has increased exponentially — leaving millions of people at risk for contamination.
The good news is that Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced the FRAC Act which would close the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” and give the EPA the power to regulate these poison toxins and protect America’s drinking water.
DFA members across the country are already gathering signatures in support of the bill both online and offline to deliver early this summer. The oil and gas industry will be fighting us every step of the way to protect their record profits, but the facts are on our side. If we can get the truth about the dangers of fracking then we will win.
FWIW, I could not find the New York Times article mentioned above (maybe someone can find it?). However, while the details might be sketchy, clearing fracking (injecting chemicals into the earth to force out natural gas) has massive potential to pollute and destroy the environment. This looks to be a good way to get educated and to meet like-minded people and activists. If you’re interested, use their screening sign up page.