Inside how deregulation works for the fracking industry.
The Bush/Cheney Administration deregulated Hydraulic Fracking from the purview of the federal government with passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This act exempted hydraulic fracturing operations from federal laws and gave jurisdiction and authority over hydraulic fracturing to the states, municipalities, and individual property owners. Ever since, the fracking industry has mushroomed across the land from Pennsylvania to Wyoming to Texas, growing at a 50% annualized rate. Correspondingly, and following directly in the footsteps of fracking operators, the numbers of cases of poisoned drinking water, dead farm animals, deformed house pets, fire-flaming water faucets, skin rashes & recurring boils, burned throats & noses, asthma, impaired breathing of house pets, emaciated cattle, loss of hair, diarrhea, and trucking of bottled water have grown at an alarming rate.
It is reasonable to assume there are already thousands of householders in the United States who cannot use their tap water because of fracking. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject hazardous materials -unchecked- directly into, or adjacent to, underground drinking water supplies. If you are already horrified, mystified, and sickened about how and why this industry got off the hook under the Bush Administration, stop reading now… this story gets worse!
According to an investigative report conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, hydraulic fracking uses 750 compounds of which 650 of these products contain chemicals that are known, or possible, human carcinogens; fracking companies blast these chemicals 1-2-3 miles underground to extract oil and gas. What if these chemicals get into our water supply? This is already happening!
Fracking is exempt from:
1) Safe Drinking Water Act
2) Clean Water Act
3) Clean Air Act
4) CERCLA (Superfund Act)
5) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (Hazardous Wastc)
6) Environmental Policy Act.
How is it possible that fracking companies, under 1950s style federal regulations, are allowed, in the year 2012, to pressurize known poisonous substances into mother earth? AND doesn’t this have an absolutely crazed ring to it…. “Allowing poisonous substances to be pressurized into mother earth.” This may be the biggest disconnect in the history of mankind… Ever!
Here is how it came about:
Fracking is decades old as a limited-use tool for the drilling industry, but it ignited like a moon shot post 2005 when President Bush’s administration managed to exempt fracking from federal regulation, the newly christened deregulated industry took off like there is no tomorrow. It was 2001 when a special task force on energy policy convened by Vice President Dick Cheney recommended that Congress exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. What followed was: The Energy Policy Act of 2005, based upon a ‘suspect’ 2004 EPA study on coal hydraulic fracturing to justify the passing of the exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, is known as the Halliburton Loophole.
The review board for the EPA study consisted of seven independently appointed professionals, including (1) Morris Bell of Amoco, (2) David Hill, Mgr. of Emerging Resources- Gas Technology Institute, (3) Buddy McDaniel of Halliburton, (4) Jon Olson of Exxon, and (5) Ian Palmer of BP. Yes, you read that correctly… five of the seven ‘deciders’ came directly from the ranks of the oil & gas industry itself! Their recommendations to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act were subsequently panned by EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson (EPA, Environmental Engineer), who wrote a letter in protest, sent October 8, 2004 addressed to: Honorable Wayne Allard (Senator), Honorable Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Senator), and Honorable Diana DeGette (Representative) and copied to: U.S. House Representatives: Bob Beauprez, Joel Hefley, Marilyn Musgrave, Scott McInnis, Thomas Tancredo, Mark Udall, and the EPA Office of the Inspector General with an Enclosure stating: “EPA Allows Hazardous Fluids to be Injected into Ground Water. A report on EPA’s failure to protect America’s ground water from the impacts of oil and gas production, Weston.Wilson, October.7,.2004, 18-pages.” (copy of Wilson letter.) Evidently the U.S. Senators and U.S. House Members did not take Mr. Wilson seriously; however, as of today, a ‘Draft Weston Wilson’ for the presidency of the United States of America might not be a bad idea.
Additionally, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project academically criticized the same EPA study, concluding the EPA study selectively ignored crucial facts not supportive of the study’s results. The Oil and Gas Accountability analysis states: “We found that EPA removed information from earlier drafts that suggested unregulated fracturing poses a threat to human health, and that the Agency did not include information that suggests fracturing fluids may pose a threat to drinking water….” (“Our Drinking Water at Risk: What EPA and the Oil and Gas Industry Don’t Want us to Know About Hydraulic Fracturing,” Oil and Gas Accountability Project, April, 2005. Lisa Sumi, M.S. Physical Geography, Research Director, 1612 K St. Washington, DC 20006 www.ogap.org)
All above aside, there may be some relief in site because the now-debauched fracking industry behemoths like Halliburton and Baker Hughes are working on “green fracking” formulations, but this is yet to stand the test of a newly awakened populace to the risks inherent in massively pressuring sand, water, and chemicals into very tight formations deep within mother earth, possibly prompting earthquakes as experienced in both Ohio and Oklahoma, and possibly releasing radioactive material picked up from deep within the earth in wastewater from fracking, appearing downstream in drinking water supplies, as reported by the New York Times in early 2011.
Fracking is the energy industry’s new holy grail, the answer to energy independence, cleaner energy locked into humongous formations deep within the earth under states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, North Dakota and twenty others. However, one mistake, one miscalculation, as tens of thousands of drill bits explore one, two, three miles underground, setting off powerful explosions of water, sand and chemicals to loosen tight rock formations to release oil and gas, and massive contamination of chemicals into the wrong channel may result in the poisoning of the nation’s precious water aquifers. This has already happened in Wyoming where the residents of Pavilion, Wyoming have been warned by the EPA to use ventilation when showering in order to air out potentially dangerous chemicals, and to drink and cook from bottled water. In December 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency announced detection of gas-fracking chemicals in a drinking-water aquifer in west-central Wyoming (one has to wonder how close this is to Dick Cheney’s Wyoming residence?) Imagine, for a moment, yourself as a resident of Pavilion. What would you do? More alarming yet, the fracking industry is growing like a weed ever since the Bush administration exempted fracking from regulations under the U.S. Clean Water Act in 2005, the fastest segment, at 50% per annum growth, in the energy industry.
Now, granted there is no way one poisoned aquifer in a remote area of west-central Wyoming will stop fracking, but consider the following: fracking is a discordant industry with numerous competitors at each other’s throats, vying for land positions and protective of their secret chemical formulas in order to best their competitors in the prodigiously disruptive release (maybe the cause of earthquakes in Ohio and in Oklahoma) of deep underground energy locked in extraordinarily tight formations. And, it is precisely because of the brutal competitive nature of the industry that risks are heightened, greatly heightened, replete with hundreds and thousands of individual testimonials (actual testimonials about drinking water issues) of spoiled or poisoned or unusable drinking water where fracking operations are close by, but these individual complaints have no recourse because, you see, the fracking companies, like Haliburton, have managed to legally protect the identities of the chemicals they utilize in individual wells, as trade secrets.
So, there is no way for a governmental regulatory agency or an individual property owner to match the poisonous chemicals in water with the perpetrator. Only recently has the EPA finally figured this out, example: Pavilion, Wyoming. Nevertheless, from Pennsylvania-to-Montana-to Texas the number of legal settlements between landowners with poisoned water and the energy fracking companies is immeasurable, each case involving a monetary settlement for the harmed party (who usually no longer has potable water, e.g., according to the February 12th edition of the Montreal Gazette, federal regulators are considering trucking fresh water to Dimock, Pennsylvania after city residents supplied the EPA hundreds of pages of data linking water contamination in the city to fracking) and an agreement that the legal documents are to be sealed, not available to the public. Case closed! How in hell’s creation did we, as a nation, allow this concoction to come about?
As of today, the fracking story, good and bad, is well oiled, exposed in an Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, covered by every eco-conscious magazine and web site on the planet, and critiqued by major mainstream news, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and the butt end of jokes on Letterman, but/and it remains a very popular solution to our country’s energy needs, supported by President Obama, although he is proposing new regulatory controls and trumpeted by the energy industry, e.g., Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp. claims water contamination in northeast Pennsylvania is due to the region’s “very unusual surface geology,” not seen elsewhere in the country, and David P. Poole, Sr. VP and General Counsel for Range Resources Corp. said, “it is physically impossible for you to frack a Marcellus well… and have any impact on groundwater.”. If only NASA had such no risk tolerance assurances, we’d never have to worry about losing a space shot! According to Texas Governor Rick Perry, when confronted on the campaign trail about fracking problems: “We have been using hydraulic fracturing in my home state for years and this is a fear tactic that the left is using and the environmental community is using that absolutely, excuse the pun, does not hold water.”
Governor Perry needs to telephone and check in with some of his county commissioners before making such statements, like J.D. Johnson, a Tarrant County Commissioner, who lives in the Barnett shale area; he reported groundwater contamination immediately after two gas wells on his property were fracked. Texas County Commissioner Johnson’s water turned a dark gold color and has sand in it. Alternatively, Governor Perry could telephone the Executive Director of the Upper Trinity River Groundwater Conservation District in North Texas who has stated the district “gets regular reports from property owners who said that ‘since a particular [gas] well had been fracked, they’ve had problems with their water wells, such as sand in them, saltier water or reduced water output….’”
What the future holds for the merits, or demerits, of hydraulic fracking and for the viability of our underground drinking water may hinge upon how potable water actually flows and how channels of water connect underground and/or how much fracking fluid returns to surface. According to a NY Times investigative study: Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling. One of the foremost experts on fracking chemicals, Dr. Theo Colborn, President of Endocrine Disruption Exchange, claims the industry uses 944 chemicals of which we know nothing about 43% of the chemicals, legally classified as trade secrets by the oil and gas industry.
Further, Dr. Colborn claims that 30%-70% of the chemicals forced underground return to the surface. Nobody knows how much stays underground because we do not understand the underground geology, and gas produced from wells does not come to surface dry; it comes to surface wet, carrying with it fracking chemicals. She warns against potential outbreaks of endocrine malaises like cancer should the chemicals resurface or get into drinking water underground, but that will be another story for another day because the surge in fracking is still very young; endocrine problems take years to show up.
There is no central reporting source for groundwater contamination from fracking, but according to www.waterdefense.org, across the country state regulators have documented over 1,000 (over one thousand) incidents of groundwater contamination related to fracking. Fracking utilizes prodigious quantities of fresh water, approximately 4-to-9 million gallons are injected with every frack; this is equivalent to the daily fresh water usage by 60,000 U.S. householders, and a single well can be fracked up to twelve times, meaning over a lifetime, a well can use up 100 million gallons of freshwater equivalent to 1,200,000 householder’s daily usage of freshwater, and to think there are people out there talking about potential fresh water shortages someday, claiming water will be worth more than oil someday. In the Delaware River Basin in New York and Pennsylvania, the gas industry estimates it will use over 10 billion gallons of water the next 10 years, withdrawing from the same sources that supplies the public.
What happens to all of the underground fracking fluids? Much of it stays underground, but nobody has a device that measures what happens to the fluids. Industry simply has not mastered a technique to look 1-2-3 miles underground. It is believed, by some outside of the energy industry, like www.waterdefense.org, that it is possible the fractures created by fracking may intersect with existing cracks in the ground, allowing the chemicals and gas to ‘catch a ride on underground streams’ on the way to drinking water sources. Of course this is pure hypothesis because nobody can see what is really happening… the only way we’ll ever know is if the drilling chemicals show up in aquifers, similar to the recent Pavilion, Wyoming case, and the operative question then becomes: How do we reverse poisoned aquifers?
Meanwhile, by America returning to the mores and standards of the rugged individualists regulation of affairs of the West, circa 19th century, when men carried firearms, when gold was panned in California, and before crude automobiles chugged along muddy pathways, fracking is moving ahead at breakneck speed and making a lot of people very rich and some people very sick and potentially putting to risk the future of America’s underground water. Who knows where the hundreds of millions of gallons, more likely billions of gallons, of chemically laced fluids will end up one day, maybe in your children or grandchildren’s water supply. Then what?
France’s Parliament has outright banned fracking over environmental concerns. The New Jersey legislature passed a ban on fracking.
In conclusion, this story begs a monumental question, which is this: If the EPA-sponsored studies in 2004 under the Bush Administration clearly demonstrated no harmful concerns from hydraulic fracking, then why exempt it from the Safe Water Drinking Act?
No harm, no foul… why exempt?
Written by Robert Hunziker
Email Robert with questions and comments at email@example.com