Policies & Politics

Published on May 27th, 2013 | by Don Lieber

Obama's Fracking Frenzy: Caving In To Industry, "Giving Polluters A Free Ride"

On May 16, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued new draft rules for fracking (“natural” gas drilling)* on public lands. By most accounts, it represents a wholesale sell-out of public health, safety, and climate concerns, in favor of the interests of the natural gas and oil industries.

The new rules come after a first set of regulations proposed by the Obama administration in early 2012 were criticized by the industry as too burdensome and costly.*  Read the entire BLM proposal here.

The criticism of these new rules was immediate, and harsh, from a wide range of organizations, scientists, lawyers, public health advocates, and environmental experts.

“Comparing today’s rule governing fracking on public lands with the one proposed a year earlier, it is clear what happened: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) caved to the wealthy and powerful oil and gas industry and left the public to fend for itself,” says Jessica Ennis of legal firm Earthjustice.

The National Parks Conservation Association said: “The revised draft rule…simply does not do enough to ensure that National parks are protected from the impacts of oil and gas development…the rapid increase in the extraction of oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) could seriously harm our nation’s most treasured places.”

The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, added: “We believe the administration is putting the American public’s health and well-being at risk, while continuing to give polluters a free ride.  The draft BLM rules ignore the recommendations of the president’s own shale gas advisory committee, which called for transparency, full public chemical disclosure, environmental safeguards, and pollution monitoring.”

The proposed new laws:

  • Contain no requirements for how close drilling sites can be to homes and schools
  • Contain no requirements to disclose chemicals before they are pumped into the ground
  • Exempt companies from revealing “trade-secret” chemicals even after they are used
  • Contain no requirement that nearby water supplies be tested either before or after drilling
  • Allow the industry to test a single cement barrier in one well, and use that result to report on the safety of ALL similar wells ie, the vast majority of cement barriers will never, ever be tested.  (Cement barriers are the only thing that separates toxic fracking chemicals from the groundwater which people drink).

Ed Markey, the ranking member (MA) on the US House of Representatives Natural Resources committee, said: “This rule essentially says to oil companies that they can frack first and ask questions later.” 

Indeed, the new laws were adopted directly from model regulations drafted by EXXON MOBIL, through the Congressional lobbying organization it funds — the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).

This, in addition to the exemption from national clean water and air regulations already in place — granted specifically to the gas industry to in 2004 by the Bush administration (known as the “Halliburton Loophole“) — and maintained under President Obama.

In essence — big oil and gas said “jump” and President Obama’s BLM said “how high?”   Oh — those exemptions from chemical disclosure include the following known carcinogens used in the fracking process:

Three of the known carcinogens used in fracking.  Info box Courtesy Skytruth.org

Three of the known carcinogens used in fracking. Info box Courtesy Skytruth.org

And in too many places — it’s already too late.

Reports of environmental damage — including contaminated drinking water, increases in cancers and other illness — are increasingly linked to fracking. (The industry — following in the highly unethical footsteps of the asbestos and cigarette companies of earlier times — fights hard to prevent such knowledge from becoming public: the New England Journal of Medicine this year cited the natural gas industry for ‘infringing upon the physician-patient relationship’ for seeking to ‘gag’ doctors from discussing the health risks associated with fracking. Read more on this here.)

The industry cares little about public health, safety and the environment which we will leave our descendants. It seeks nothing but continued ‘growth’ and now has designs on key areas of the United States — including the following sources of drinking water for millions of people:

• White River National Forest–Located in Colorado, White River is the most visited national forest in the nation. Its streams also provide drinking water to nearby communities, and feeds the Colorado River.

• Delaware River basin–The basin spans New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, is home to three national park areas, and provides drinking water to 15 million people.

• Wayne National Forest in Ohio:  Leasing for gas drilling is already planned near the sole drinking water source for 70,000 people.

• George Washington National Forest–this area provides the drinking water for millions of people in the metro D.C. area.

President Obama as a strong environmental President?  His rhetoric may be green, but his actions and loyalties to a most unhealthy industry speak otherwise.

(Authors note:  Some perspective about the ‘burden’ faced by the industry, due to environmental regulations, is in order. The initial 2012 fracking regulations would have cost the industry about $40 million to comply to.   This year’s regulations cut the ‘burden’ in half – the industry would now have to pay about  $20 million – spread across dozens of companies involved.  Burdensome?  The top 5 integrated oil/gas companies earned nearly $120 billion in profits last year alone.)

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on human rights, war and disarmament, and environmental issues. His work has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, DeSmog Blog, and many others. He also plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey" and scrubs surgeries.

  • sherrie

    And I was disappointed when I learned that our president, for whom we had such high hopes, had played golf with oil execs. I guess keeping hope alive is sometimes a misplaced sentiment.

  • sherrie

    And I was disappointed when I learned that our president, for whom we had such high hopes, had played golf with oil execs. I guess keeping hope alive is sometimes a misplaced sentiment.

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