Thursday, July 12, 2012

State Disclosure Policies, Oversight of Natural Gas Fracking Are Inadequate Protection for Water Supplies, Public Safety, New Report Finds

In a new report issued on July 9, 2012, OMB Watch finds that state oversight laws requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in natural gas fracking are in need of an overhaul. Disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is spotty and incomplete, and essential safeguards are missing.

Figure_2_horizontal-fracking-process_propublica_450
Image above from OMB and Al Granberg/ProPublica

"Public officials in state government are struggling to find a way to protect water supplies and public health in the wake of the rapid expansion of natural gas drilling and extraction. They haven’t gotten it right yet," said Katherine McFate, president of OMB Watch. "Some of the chemicals used in natural gas fracking have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer and kidney, liver, and neurological damage, so it is imperative that local water supplies be carefully monitored and protected."

The report, The Right to Know, the Responsibility to Protect: State Actions Are Inadequate to Ensure Effective Disclosure of the Chemicals Used in Natural Gas Fracking, examines state disclosure laws and rules and identifies the gap between effective policy and existing practice. The analysis is especially timely given the ongoing boom in natural gas extraction: almost half a million natural gas wells are operating in at least 30 states, and more are planned.

The report asserts that an effective chemical disclosure policy should contain the following elements:

  • Before receiving a drilling permit, the owners and operators of natural gas wells should gather baseline information on nearby water sources and water and air quality. They should disclose the chemicals they intend to use in the fracking process and commit to regularly monitoring the water and air near the gas wells and near wastewater storage facilities for potential contamination for as long as the well is operating and for some period after operations have ceased.
  • Information on the chemicals used in fracking should be collected from drilling companies, well operators, and manufacturers and should include specific information on the unique chemical identification numbers, concentrations, and the quantity of the chemicals used.
  • States should have clear guidelines limiting "trade secrets" exemptions from disclosure laws to prevent companies from invoking this loophole to avoid disclosure.
  • Information about the chemicals used at each individual well where fracking occurs should be posted on a public website in a way that allows users to easily search, sort, and download data by chemicals used, companies involved, and well location.

"Some states, like Colorado, do a better job than others of making chemical information available to the public, but no state is requiring enough upfront collection of baseline data and ongoing monitoring to adequately protect local water supplies and public health. Citizens need to have adequate information to evaluate the potential risks and rewards of allowing natural gas fracking in their communities," said Sean Moulton, Director of Information Policy at OMB Watch and an author of the report.

Because of a major loophole written into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, natural gas fracking activities have been exempt from federal oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, oversight of fracking has shifted to the states.

Over the past three years, 13 of the states with natural gas extraction activities have established rules or laws to require some level of public disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. Seven states with significant amounts of fracking have no public chemical disclosure requirements, even though a few of them do regulate drilling to a certain extent.

"We hope this report will encourage state and local authorities to improve their chemical disclosure standards, especially in those regions of the country most involved in and affected by natural gas fracking," McFate concluded.

The Right to Know, the Responsibility to Protect is available online at www.ombwatch.org/naturalgasfrackingdisclosure.

July 12, 2012 at 07:16 PM in Energy, Environment, Fracking, Water Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 20, 2012

LasVegas, New Mexico, Adopts Community Bill of Rights; Bans Corporations from Fracking for Shale Gas

LvvoteblogphotoPhoto to the right from Drilling Mora County. The three Councilors: Councilman Feldman, Councilwoman Tonita Gurule Giron and Councilman Romero voted in favor of the Ordinance.

"Revolutions always start small—we know that. The Abolitionists started with 12 kids in the 1840s.This one has started small as well with a handful of communities intent on turning the existing system upside down. Hopefully, if we move forward it will make it OK for others to follow in the path. And we must make that path by actually walking it.”
Andrew Feldman, sponsor of "Las Vegas Community Water Rights and Self-Government Ordinance"

(Monday, April 2, 2012- Las Vegas, NM) In front of a standing-room only crowd of residents, by a vote of 3-1, the City Council, Las Vegas New Mexico enacted the Las Vegas Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance, drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which places into law a local Bill of Rights, including the right of all residents, natural communities and ecosystems to water from natural sources, the right of residents to unpolluted water for use in agriculture, the rights of natural ecosystems to exist, and flourish and of residents to protect their environment by enforcing these rights. Also enumerated is the right to a sustainable energy future, and the right to local self-government.

To protect these rights, the ordinance makes it unlawful “for any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons within the City of Las Vegas and its watersheds, for any corporation to engage in the extraction of water from any surface or subsurface source within the City of Las Vegas and its watersheds for use in the extraction of subsurface oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons, to import water or any other substance…used in the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons, into the City of Las Vegas or its watersheds for use in the extraction of subsurface oil, natural gas or other hydrocarbons within the City of Las Vegas and its watersheds.”

It is now also unlawful  “for any corporation…to deposit,store, transport or process waste water, produced water, frack water, brine or other materials, chemicals or by-products used in the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons, into the land, air or waters within the City of Las Vegas,” or to “use a corporation to construct or maintain infrastructure related to the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons within the City of Las Vegas or its watershed.”

The process for adoption of this local law was punctuated by drama. On February 15th Council member Andrew Feldman introduced the bill and the Council voted unanimously to advertise the ordinance and to place it on the agenda for a final hearing and vote on passage at the regularly scheduled March 21st Council meeting.

Mr. Feldman stated: "Along with the City of Pittsburgh, this is how we change federal law, folks. It starts at the bottom. We do this, and other cities do it. It starts a ball rolling that hopefully will not stop. We change our laws in this great country that protect us instead of protecting corporations."

At the hearing, no one spoke in opposition to the proposed law, but numerous voices rose in support. From the 115 community members in attendance, some spoke eloquently of the revolutionary nature of this bill. Local proponent for the ordinance Miguel Pacheco commented “This is a time we have to take a stand. This is not going to be easy, but it is the right thing to do. Our congress is holding us back. Our federal government makes the wrong choices for us in many instances. That's why this ordinance gives rights to nature, to us human beings. It elevates life. It puts corporations down where they should be. This ordinance is protecting innocents, all those who can't speak for themselves. Profit is not what human beings are about.  We need to care for one another, to take care of our environment, future generations and all living life forms."

Lee Einer of Las Vegas stated that “Our minds have been colonized, just as our land has been colonized. We live with in a legal framework that considers corporations to be persons, and Mother Nature to be property. I think that's strange! I think we have it backwards! I think Mother Nature is a person!  I think corporations are property! I think it's time to construct our laws differently."

Las Vegas NM National Wildlife refuge
Photo above: Las Vegas NM National Wildlife Refuge

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz waxed eloquently in favor of the proposed law, saying: “Be serious about what is going on here. We are challenging the establishment, federal laws. If people are looking for profit--money isn't going to mean anything if we have no drinking water. It's not just important to vote for this ordinance, but to follow through and make sure other communities do as well.  If we pass this, we will set a model for the county to pass it easily, for Mora County to pass it easily--and hopefully other counties--we need to emphasize this to the New Mexico Association of Counties and the Municipal League."

However, at the meeting on March 21st, Council and community members were dismayed to learn that the mayor and Alfonso Ortiz and the City attorney, David Romero, decided to omit the question from the agenda, so that a vote could not take place. Residents were told there would be a second hearing and a motion for a second advertisement only.

At that meeting, the mayor, who stands for re-election on April 17th, stated “I feel very comfortable with the ordinance. I just want you to understand it…we’re not against it. We’re in favor of it. You’re dealing with friends. It’s a given we want to do the right thing. I’m already convinced. The ultimate goal is that the ordinance passes.”

Mr. Romero had this to say: “I’m in full favor of working with you to strengthen this ordinance. The administration is not against this ordinance.”

None-the-less, a vote was prevented. There was further discussion and testimony from community members and against the protests of the mayor and city attorney, a unanimous vote by Council scheduled a special meeting for the vote on adoption within two weeks, prior to the upcoming election. And again, the agenda was manipulated and the special meeting scheduled for three weeks out, rather than the two weeks voted upon by Council. Supporters of the ordinance discovered the change and notified the bill’s sponsor, Council Member Andrew Feldman, and the meeting date was corrected to April 2nd.

At the April 2nd meeting, with more than 100 residents in attendance, as well as Karin Forster, attorney and executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the mayor and city attorney exposed their opposition to the ordinance publicly.

Mr. Romero stated that the ordinance “is preempted by state law and it has language which implies if this law is challenged, the city could consider seceding from the union or acting as a sovereign nation. That type of language in any ordinance is inappropriate. I would like to note that does not mean that from what I’ve heard that the average person is against the ordinance… And there is a 2nd part: the Community Bill of Rights… that section is just out of bounds with the laws as we know it…I feel so strongly about this that if it is passed by the council, under my oath as city attorney, I may have to challenge the issue myself as part of my duties to…”

At this point the attorney’s comments became inaudible as the residents shouted “Resign, Resign!”
Mayor Ortiz stated, “I’m concerned about this ordinance because of the significance…If we were to look at this ordinance and look at elements of it, and maybe include some things, exclude some things…I think that the majority of the people are in favor of it, but there’s little flaws, little clues in there that can be readin different ways…”

When the vote came, Councilor Tonita Gurule Giron voted yes, Councilor Vince Howell no, Councilor David Romero voted yes, and Councilor Andrew Feldman voted yes.

After the vote the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s Karin Forster told the city attorney the oil companies would be filing suit against the City of Las Vegas.

As a final “protest” against adoption of the ordinance, the mayor has so far refused to sign it, although he has no legal authority to halt or veto the law.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic local self-governance, and to enact laws which end destructive and rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

April 20, 2012 at 01:06 PM in Corporatism, Fracking, Land Issues, Water Issues | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, February 13, 2012

ACTION ALERT: US Senate Is Considering Legislation That Would Resurrect The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

ACTION ALERT notification from Lora Lucero, contributing writer.

Keystone pipeline pic

Right now, the Senate is considering legislation that would resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. President Obama rejected this toxic disaster-in-the-making last month, and now Big Oil's representatives in Congress are trying to force its approval.

It looks like a deal might be coming together in the next 24 hours. I've just joined a huge effort to blitz the Senate with messages opposing Keystone XL - the entire environmental movement is coming together to send over 500,000 messages to Congress in under 24 hours. Can you join me?

The place to go to send a message is here: act.350.org/sign/kxl/

If you haven't heard of Keystone XL or don't know about the tar sands, here's the short summary: Keystone XL is a proposed 1700 mile pipeline connecting the Alberta tar sands with refineries on the Gulf Coast. The tar sands are North America's largest pool of carbon, and NASA's top scientist James Hansen says that exploiting them means 'essentially game over' for the climate. Keystone will ship tar sands oil across critical water supplies and sensitive ecosystems just so it can be exported to foreign markets from refineries in Texas. The job benefits are way overstated, and overall it is just a scam designed to line Big Oil's pockets at our own expense. 

Thanks a bunch. Lora

February 13, 2012 at 11:10 AM in Action Alerts, Energy, Environment, Fracking, Lora Lucero, Contributing Writer | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline

DemocracyforNewMexico usually does not put up direct press releases from the White House. However, this news is too exciting for many of our readers and for our beautiful earth. Lora Lucero has written about it before here on our blog. Although maybe the language is misguided below at least the damn thing is stopped for now. One win for the planet earth and it's occupants.
Thank you President Obama!

Obama xl

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 2012

Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment.  As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied.  And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.  I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.  Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down.  In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security –including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas.  And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

January 18, 2012 at 03:04 PM in Energy, Environment, Fracking, Obama Administration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Group Says: Fracking is not Healthy for Humans and Other Living Things

FrackingAn international consumer advocacy groups has set its sights on clean water in New Mexico.

Food & Water Watch is concerned about hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" - a process used to extract natural gas from oil shale deposits. It's a practice the New Mexico organizer for the organization will be working to ban in the coming year. The group's state organizer, Eleanor Bravo, says fracking carries with it a host of dangers.

"The fracking fluid, which is injected at high pressure into the oil shale to release the natural gas, is laced with approximately 57 different carcinogens."

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association President Steve Henke acknowledges the use of carcinogens, notably benzene, in the fracking process. However, he expresses confidence that the water table is unaffected by hydraulic fracturing operations.

"Well, I absolutely do. As we drill through the fresh-water-bearing zones, there's at least two protective layers of steel casing and cement in that well bore that separate those fresh-water zones from any fluids coming in and out of the well bore."

Henke says history and monitoring have shown this to be an effective method for preventing commingling and creating protection for the water table during fracturing operations.

Bravo believes that's not enough. She points out that the fracking process is exempt from the Clean Water Act, and says an analysis of the chemicals used shows that as much as 50 to 55 percent of the fracking fluid remains in the strata, with the rest reclaimed as "produced water."

"Municipal water systems can't clean that kind of water."

Bravo adds the big concern is money, not the environment. She does not believe industry statements that the natural gas is simply a "bridge fuel" to tide the nation over until more alternative energy comes online.

"These oil and gas companies are poised to sell this natural gas to foreign countries. They're turning North America into the next Saudi Arabia."

Formerly part of Ralph Nader's group Public Citizen, Food & Water Watch will be opening an office in Albuquerque this month, adds Bravo.

December 10, 2011 at 11:55 AM in Environment, Fracking, Water Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Analyses Show Oil and Gas Industry Is Inflating the Job-Creating Potential of Shale Gas Development

The following study was provided by Food and Water Watch.

Will the oil and gas industry create 1 million new jobs for Americans, as its latest advertisement claims? The American Petroleum Institute and major oil and gas corporations are spending millions to convince Americans that with unrestricted access to natural resources, they can lift us from our economic slump in part by fracking our nation’s shale gas reserves. But Exposing the Oil and Gas Industry's False Jobs Promise for Shale Gas Development, a new set of analyses released today by the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, finds that the oil and gas industry is exaggerating the capacity of shale gas development to generate jobs and economic opportunity for Americans, in one case exaggerating projected job creation by 900 percent.

“The oil and gas industry has tried to stand on three legs, claiming that shale gas is good for the environment, good for American energy security and good for the economy. The first two legs have already been kicked out, and our new analysis kicks out the third,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “They have no legs left to stand on.”

A 2011 report by the Public Policy Institute of New York State (PPINYS) claimed that by 2018, developing 500 new shale gas wells each year in five counties in New York would create 62,620 jobs. Food & Water Watch closely examined the PPINYS report and found it riddled with flaws; in fact, the economic forecasting model that PPINYS used actually only supported a claim of 6,656 jobs. PPINYS inflated the job-creation potential of shale gas development by almost 900 percent. According to Food & Water Watch, even the corrected PPINYS jobs projection is overly optimistic because it fails to account for negative effects that shale gas development would have on other key parts of the economy, such as agriculture and tourism.

Exposing the Oil and Gas Industry's False Jobs Promise for Shale Gas Development examines employment data, revealing that opening up five counties in the southern tier of New York to shale gas development can be expected to generate a net gain in employment of only about 2 jobs per well. This calculation, derived from data on actual employment, is in stark contrast with the forecast of 125 jobs per well in the PPINYS report. According to Food & Water Watch, an employment gain of just 2 jobs per shale gas well does not justify the inevitable costs to public health, public infrastructure and the environment that the industry would bring to New York.

Across the United States, shale gas development has generated a barrage of costly consequences:

  • To date, over 1,000 cases of drinking water contamination have been reported near shale gas development sites around the U.S.
  • In 2008, a fracking wastewater pit in Colorado leaked 1.6 million gallons of fluids, some of which contaminated the Colorado River.
  • In Wise County, Texas, properties with fracking wells have lost 75 percent of their value.
  • In 2009, Pennsylvania regulators ordered the Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation to cease all fracking in Dimock, Pa., after three spills at one well within a week polluted a wetland and endangered fish in a local creek. The spills leaked 8,420 gallons of fluids that contained potential carcinogens. The state fined the company $240,000, and it cost more than $10 million to deliver potable water to the affected homes. A legal battle has now ensued over who should be responsible for providing Dimock residents with clean water.
  • Scientists have found that 25 percent of the hundreds of chemicals used in fracking can cause cancer, 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system and 40 to 50 percent can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
  • Fracking wells in Pennsylvania, a state with many active sites, are expected to create 19 million gallons of wastewater this year, yet many municipal treatment plants lack the capacity to treat fracking wastewater in part because it often contains radioactive elements.

Many of the flaws in the PPINYS report come from a series of studies led by Timothy Considine of the University of Wyoming. His series of studies have informed many evaluations of the economic potential of shale gas development by policymakers, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Subcommittee.

The industry’s jobs projections are used to make the case for deregulation, but the oil and gas companies’ recent record tells a different story. According to a report released in September by Congressman Ed Markey (D-Ma.), ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, all involved in shale gas development, paid their executives a total of nearly $220 million and recorded $73 billion in profits in 2010. However, the Big 5 oil companies reduced their global workforce by a combined 4,400 employees that same year.

“While President Obama’s recent move to delay his decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline is a sign that his administration is attuned to public concern about the negative effects of tar sands, we hope he will not replace it with shale gas development,” said Hauter. “The oil and gas industry has exploited our economic woes to promote shale gas, yet actual employment data shows that it is not a cure-all for our nation’s economic challenges; the money to be made from shale gas development will mostly just benefit oil and gas executives.”

Exposing the Oil and Gas Industry's False Jobs Promise for Shale Gas Development is available here.

November 21, 2011 at 04:35 PM in Energy, Fracking, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)