Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I haven't posted in a year, so it's time to either revive this blog--or bury it. Think I'll bring it back.

Two weeks ago I published a syndicated editorial on fracking through Blue Ridge Press (BRP). I learned a number of startling things while researching the piece--and after it was in print.

I discovered while interviewing Sharon Wilson, a regional coordinator for Earthworks, that the natural gas industry has been exempted from seven major federal environmental regulations. Why haven't I read that before? Why isn't that fact front and center in the debate over the health and environmental safety of fracking?

Those exemptions include a pass on Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. The so-called "Halliburton loophole", pushed through by former Vice-President/former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, exempts corporations from revealing the chemicals used in fracking fluid--some of which are proven carcinogens.

Another loophole leaves hazardous waste, including contaminated soil, water and drilling fluids, unregulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Still another loophole dodges the Superfund law, which requires that polluters remediate for carcinogens like benzene released into the environment.

While researching this story I also learned how much money the natural gas industry throws at Congress to line their re-election coffers--especially those on key energy and environmental committees. Republicans received at least three times more cash than Democrats.

After the 700-word editorial was published in newspapers across the country, with a longer version on 90-some websites and aggregators, I got a peek into the contentiousness of this debate. Editors contacted my BRP editor, Glenn Scherer, shocked by the number of furious letters they'd received. Some people also found my personal email and sent me long-winded, ranting, demeaning letters--some far longer than the editorial itself. Each was rife with misinformation.

You can read the long version of my piece here:
The Fracking Industry Buys Congress

There are so many fronts on this debate, from water usage (in 2011, during the worst drought and biggest wildfires in Texas history, the natural gas industry used more than 13 billion gallons of Texas water in fracking operations). Recent studies in Colorado have shown that methane releases from fracked wells were far higher than estimated, discounting industry's claim of substantial climate change benefit over coal. An article in this issue of Rolling Stone lays out fracking as a ponzi-scheme land grab: The Big Fracking Bubble: The Scam Behind the Gas Boom And then there are the earthquakes in Texas and Missouri and Ohio.

Nationwide, residents living near fracked gas wells have filed over 1,000 complaints of tainted water, severe illnesses, livestock deaths, and fish kills. Complaints sometimes involve hundreds of households. But despite rising debate, there is a veritable gold rush of new natural gas wells being dug across the country, now numbering about 493,000 across 31 states.