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Frances Beinecke’s Blog

Calling for National Fracking Standards and Empowering Local Communities

Frances Beinecke

Posted August 30, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Yesterday I returned from several days in western Pennsylvania seeing and hearing about the impacts of fracking first hand from local activists, homeowners, and scientists. People in the region fear their water is contaminated with toxic substances from fracking operations. They worry the air pollution coming from compressor stations or well pads is harming their families. And they believe their property values are forever compromised.

Their fears were heightened by reports—featured on NPR this week—that the  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed methane from improperly constructed gas wells  has contaminated people’s drinking water in Northern Pennsylvania—and created a risk of fire or explosion in people’s homes and water wells.

We experienced two instances of flammable water, one in a field, another in a jug of drinking water. We don’t know what caused them, and sadly the state doesn’t seem to have investigated to determine the causes, but we could see how disturbing it was for homeowners to have flaming water. Every single person we spoke with had stories of contaminated water and air.

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Photo credit: Melanie Blanding

There were many aspects to the trip that were very troubling. First, was the high potential for exposure to contaminants with little to no information on what compounds people may be exposed to. Second was the consistent story of how little response and assistance people were getting from state or local governments.  

That is why NRDC is focused on protecting communities from the hazards of fracking. We oppose expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place. The health and environmental threats posed by fracking are simply too high to let the oil and gas industry run amok in our towns and cities.

In the past five years alone, ExxonMobil, Shell, and other energy companies have drilled more than 200,000 new wells across the United States—many in the backyards of people’s homes, schools, and parks.

These operations can turn rural towns and peaceful suburbs into industrial zones. Gas production and diesel engines emit hazardous levels of air pollution. Millions of gallons of wastewater laced with carcinogens are dumped in open-air reservoirs that can leak and contaminate drinking water. Some people living nearby say they suffer from migraines, dizziness, nausea, asthma, burning eyes, and fainting. 

When something goes wrong at one of these well pads, nearby residents have very little recourse. Thanks to the so-called Halliburton Loophole, fracking operations are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other bedrock environmental measures.

State governments, meanwhile, have a patchwork of often ineffective rules. Only half the states where fracking occurs have even taken the simple step of requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking fluid. And in eight of those states, companies can withhold any information they decide is confidential. And state enforcement of existing rules is woefully inadequate.

NRDC is committed to changing this. We are pushing for strong national safeguards for fracking, and helping empower local communities to restrict or ban dangerous fracking as they so choose. We want to ensure that reckless fracking operations no longer endanger people’s health and well being.

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Comments

Peter MontagueAug 30 2012 06:00 PM

Where can we find the details of the "strong national standards" you advocate, plus the detailed enforcement mechanisms that would make them work (including funding and whistleblower protections, monitoring, remedial action, and assignment of liability), plus your plan for getting the whole package enacted? Thanks!

Diane PAug 30 2012 10:48 PM

WV is on the front end of what has already happened in places such as Hickory, PA, and Bradford County areas.

Researchers need to come to WV quickly and get those critical baseline water and health assessments they never got in PA.

Grassroots efforts in these communities will be the key to helping provide ways in which researchers can determine if fracking is safe.

A program to provide that opportunity is the WV Host Farms Program. Residents on or near drill sites provide access to their private properties on or near drill sites to do their research.

Annie MAug 31 2012 08:15 AM

I live in SW PA where we too need base line research. Could you please tell me more about WV Host Farms Program?

Don D.Sep 1 2012 10:34 AM

I had the opportunity recently to talk to a DEP field employee that was walking his dog past my house. (He saw my anti-fracking sign in the front lawn.) He told me that in the past that they had the authority to shut down the wells on the spot if they were found to be in violation He told me that now when violations are found, the companies get a slap on the wrist (violation notice) and are not even fined. DEP leader Krancer went as far as saying that any violations must be approved by him. With Gov. Corbett in bed with the energy companies (large campaign contributions and who knows what else) nothing is going to be done. Without the backing of the state DEP, how is anything going to happen? There is no enforcement. Gov. Corbett even made Pennsylvania the only state that does not charge the drillers with an extraction fee leaving the taxpayers (us) on the hook for infrastructure and environmental damages. A federal overview or national fracking regulations may help but the fed is so far removed that I don't think it would do a lot of good. The energy companies have us by the short hairs and without government intervention, Pennsylvania is going to become an industrial wasteland. I am a SW Pennsylvania resident and have seen these damages firsthand.

IstaSep 1 2012 05:04 PM

"helping empower local communities to restrict or ban dangerous fracking as they so choose".
I want help with this for my county government, who has already gone on record as saying they are for a ban, but have been told by our state that they do not have the authority.
How can you help us?

ebecca CasstevensSep 1 2012 06:02 PM

NRDC's representation on the NYS fracking advisory panel has been VERY disappointing, declining--for some strange reason-- to sign on to the moratorium which true environmentalists wholeheartedly support, and continuing to say that regulations can prevent the absolutely inevitable contamination! goldstein, silding and kennedy (on the panel) are giving cuomo exactly what he wants: cover by these so-called environmentalists to go ahead with the preposterous fracking "demonstration project" in 5 counties (i live in one of them) of ny's southern tier. i no longer have faith in NRDC.

G. KourySep 1 2012 11:04 PM

The NRDC is one of those organizations that does their best to play both sides of the fence. You've all seen this before. Its just like a politician who talks out of both sides of his mouth, all the time saying.

The truth is that the vast majority of New Yorkers want nothing short of a state-wide ban on fracking.

How can an industry that consistently lies to the public be trusted? If you look to every single state where tracking is practiced, you will see illnesses on the rise, infrastructure damaged with local towns left paying for all damages, land, water and air being poisoned.

The NRDC and other organizations like it should stay out of this issue and stick to what it does best, fundraising.

New Yorkers are not going to roll over and play dead for the gas industry.

We don't need any bogus regulations, we need an all out state-wide ban on tracking and investment in our real future, renewable energy and the great industry it will being to New York.

jill obrigSep 2 2012 12:13 AM

There is no safe way to frack. The states don't have enough money to hire enough inspectors, gas companies cut costs to boost profits and then there's the old human error.

Ellen OsunaSep 2 2012 04:57 AM

Even if there was a huge increase, somehow, in funds, staff, and energy around "enforcement" of "regulations", the fact remains that once rock is blasted at high pressure, pathways of migration into aquifers result. Regulations will not change that. Well casings, even according to the gas industry's own literature, are very likely to leak. Those who believe that fracking can be done safely should consider that the gas industry uses the same public relations firm that represented the tobacco companies in the 50's, Hill and Knowlton. Experts at twisting truth, the industry defines "fracking" as the moment the rock is blasted / fractured, and not the entire process which includes release of climate changing methane, water and air contamination, massive wastewater, etc, etc, etc ... That is how they repeat ad naseum how fracking has been done for decades without a single case of contamination. (The techniques used now are vastly more powerful and toxic than in the past, but they still technically say that "fracking" has been done for decades.) The NRDC seems to (sometimes) understand the deception and pollution of the "natural?" gas industry ... yet, tragically, not enough to use their place at the table to advocate for the real truth - there is no way regulations can make fracking safe, emitting less carbon dioxide but more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is not a way to fight climate change, and facilitating a practice that is inherently, unavoidably seriously polluting to earth, water, air, and our bodies is not a way to defend natural resources.

In many areas, I do speak for compromise. But fracking is an extreme energy extraction which simply cannot be done safely. If the financial, political, and mental energy spent on fossil fuel subsidies, infrastructure, and cooperation with environmental groups giving their blessing to something unequivocally poisonous was spent on collaborating, backing, and strongly advocating for clean renewable energy and conservation, we would be much closer to the type of planet the NRDC claims to want ...
Please, take 18 minutes and watch this film ... and / or, look on the many links on this site for mountains of science on the dangers of fracking.
http://www.filmsforaction.org/Watch/THE_SKY_IS_PINK_2012/

Sue RappSep 2 2012 07:57 AM

As NYS residents fight fracking on the ground, I would really like to see NRDC come out against fracking in a clear, straightforward way. Saying they want more regs, etc etc is not what we need and it won't save any town or any person from the devastation Ms. Beinecke finds so disheartening and uncomfortable when she tours Pa. There is no reason to expect any difference in NYS from what she sees in Pa. There is no room for the gas industry in our backyards and neighborhoods; this is so obvious it hardly needs saying--but apparently it does.

Sheila CohenSep 2 2012 11:00 AM

I am delighted to see that Frances Beinicke has finally observed what many activists have been aware of for several years. Fracking is taking a toll on communities throughout the country. It is destroying the health and welfare of people everywhere. It is dividing communities.

So called, good regulations and the best enforcement will do little to make fracking safe. Fracking is by its very nature unsafe and dirty!


Joanne CoreySep 2 2012 03:19 PM

No amount of regulation - local, state, federal - will make fracking safe. The initial failure rate of wells has been consistently at 5-6% for decades, with more failing over time. What we really need for NRDC to do is demand that unconventional fossil fuel extraction stop entirely. Then, we need to pour our resources into scaling up renewables as quickly as possible. The planet can't take more fossil carbon being spewed into the atmosphere and Big Fossil Fuel can't extract increasingly difficult stores of coal, oil, and gas without polluting our environment and endangering our health. Stronger regulations are not going to truly protect us or the planet.

cynthia carestioSep 5 2012 09:43 PM

It is unfortunate that seemingly well meaning people and organizations fail to mention the obvious "elephant in the living room" when advocating tougher regulations for unconventional gas extraction (fracking) even when this glaring omission is staring them right in the face: we are in the midst of an unprecedented global water crisis. A typical frack uses between 1.2 and 3.5 million US gallons (4.5 and 13 Ml) of fluid per well, with large projects using up to 5 million US gallons (19 Ml). Additional fluid is used when wells are refractured and this may be done several times. This water can NEVER be returned to the hydrological cycle in any meaningful way ever again. Ever.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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