ACTION ALERT: Reject BLM’s Call to Frack the Nation

May 20th, 2013 - by admin

– 2013-05-20 00:37:49

ACTION ALERT: Reject BLM’s Call to Frack the Nation
Zack Malitz / CREDO Action from Working Assets

(May 19, 2013) — The Obama administration just released its first major fracking policy — the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules for fracking on 600 million acres of public land. And it’s even worse than we feared.1

In a major concession to the fracking industry and its lobbying efforts, the proposed rules are even weaker than previous drafts of the rules.2 3 And they do nothing to close Dick Cheney’s infamous “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts fracking from key parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.4

Of course, it’s become clear that there is simply no safe way to frack. So even worse than the specific concessions made to industry in the draft regulations is the assumption that fracking should be allowed to continue on federal lands despite overwhelming evidence that it endangers our air, water and climate.

The BLM is accepting public comments on its proposed fracking rules for 30 days. We need to let the administration know that these rules are totally inadequate. The administration needs to ban fracking on public lands – not cave to the industry and endanger our health and safety.

ACTION: Submit a public comment telling the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands. Click here to submit a public comment.

An area of federal land larger than the entire state of Florida is currently under lease for oil and gas extraction, so this is one of the most important fracking policy decisions the Obama administration will make.5

Unfortuanately, every indication is that the White House is still putting the interests of oil and gas companies before the health and safety of American communities. The proposed regulations let the industry keep secret the toxic chemicals it injects underground by designating them as “trade secrets” without oversight from the BLM. The rules allow the industry to store contaminated waste in massive open pits, which can release dangerous air emissions and leak toxins into groundwater. And the rules do nothing to prevent the industry from fracking wells right next to homes and schools.

And of course, the harm fracking does to local communities is compounded by its significant contribution to the climate crisis.6 As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passes 400 parts per million–well beyond what many scientists say is safe–the Obama administration should be working to keep its promise to confront climate change, not encouraging the extraction of vast new reserves of dirty oil and gas.

Thanks for fighting fracking.

The Bureau of Land Management’s draft fracking regulations are a disgrace. It’s clear that the BLM caved to pressure from the fracking industry instead of standing up for Americans’ right to drink clean water, breathe clean air, and live on a planet with a stable climate. Fracking is an inherently toxic practice that no amount of regulation can make safe. Moreover, with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passing 400 parts per million — well beyond what many scientists say is safe–any policy that allows fracking on federal lands to continue is dangerous and unacceptable. We demand an immediate ban on all shale oil and gas fracking on federal lands.

1. Steven Mufson, “Obama administration issues draft fracking regulations,” Washington Post, May 16, 2013
2. Matthew McFeeley, “Obama Administration Caves To Fracking Industry in New Proposed Rules,” NRDC Switchboard, May 16, 2013
3. Mike Soraghan, “White House huddled with industry before changes to BLM fracking rule,” EnergyWire, April 12, 2013
4. Lauren Pagel and Lisa Sumi, “Loopholes for Polluters,” Earthworks, May 16, 2011
5. Amy Mall, “More than six percent of U.S. already leased for oil and gas: new NRDC analysis,” NRDC Switchboard, February 26, 2013
6. Joe Romm, “IEA’s ‘Golden Age of Gas Scenario’ Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change,” ThinkProgress, June 7, 2011

Obama Administration Caves To Fracking Industry in New Proposed Rules
Matthew McFeeley’s Blog / Natural Resources Defense Council

(May 16, 2013) — This afternoon, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released new proposed rules to govern fracking on publicly owned lands managed by the federal government. This includes wild places like National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges. But it also includes places that supply drinking water to millions of Americans – from larger municipal supplies like that of Washington, D.C., to private water wells (in cases where the federal government owns rights to the minerals below the surface of a homeowners’ property).

The new proposed rules are a significant step backwards even from the weak proposal the Administration released in May of 2012, and, if enacted, will allow fracking to continue to pose unacceptable risks to the environment and public health.

The new proposal is weaker than the previous proposal in a number of ways:

• Rather than covering all well stimulation techniques (like, say, flooding a well with massive amounts of acid, which is currently occurring in California), the rule would only cover fracking. This means that rules the Department of the Interior has itself called “outdated” continue to apply to other potentially-dangerous techniques for getting more oil and gas out of a well.

• Rather than requiring companies to submit information that shows that there is enough cement around each well to ensure that drinking water is protected, the proposal would allow companies to submit the results from another well that the company says is similar. And this information can now be submitted after fracking. Meaning the BLM can’t stop the fracking from occurring if it sees problems with the cement test, and it may not even get the results of the cement from the well that’s being fracked.

• It would allow companies to keep information (like what chemicals they’re using near drinking water supplies) confidential by labeling it a “trade secret” without oversight, and without providing the information to the BLM. If adopted, these disclosure rules would be much weaker than the rules in industry-friendly states like Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Both states at least make companies submit trade secret information so that the validity of companies’ claims that information is proprietary can be evaluated. Letting industry decide what’s confidential is like counting on industry to obey an “honor system,” despite reason after reason not to trust them to do so.

• Rather than using a government website to provide information on the chemicals being used, companies could disclose information on, an industry-funded website which restricts access to data and is not subject to federal freedom of information requirements. A Harvard study recently said that the use of FracFocus as a regulatory tool has “serious flaws.”

• The new proposal allows BLM discretion to exempt whole states from the already-limited provisions of the new rules if the BLM determines that a state’s rules are adequate. Unfortunately, states’ enforcement of rules on oil and gas drilling and fracking has often been shown to be lacking, and not a single state has sufficient rules on the books to protect public health and the environment.

Unfortunately, there were already a number of problems with the previous proposal, none of which have been addressed by the Administration in this new rule, including:

• Pre-fracking chemical disclosure: The proposal would only require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking after the fact. But this prevents landowners from testing their groundwater for the chemicals to be used prior to fracking so that they can know whether fracking was a cause of water contamination.

• Putting sensitive areas off-limits: Some places are simply too environmentally sensitive for drilling and fracking, including places like wilderness areas, large sources of drinking water, and others. BLM should put these sensitive lands off limits to drilling and fracking. In addition, BLM should prevent drilling and fracking from occurring in close proximity to places like schools, homes, and water wells, where it poses especially high risks to health.

• Banning dangerous wastewater pits: One of the most serious sources of risks related to fracking are the pits in which frackers store wastewater from the frack job. This waste can contain dangerous fracking chemicals, toxic heavy metals like mercury, and radioactive materials that come up from underground. Pits have often overflowed and leaked—threatening contamination to drinking water supplies, area waterways and more—and also contribute to air pollution. BLM should ban this practice altogether and require closed-loop systems for dealing with wastewater instead.

For more information on the other problems with the original rule, see my colleague Briana Mordick’s blog, here.

The Administration must do better. These proposed rules put the drinking water of millions at risk, allow the industry free reign to keep secrets, and leave outdated well construction rules in place. The American public deserves better than rules that risk our most treasured places, our environment, and our health.

IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change
Joe Romm / ThinkProgress

(June 7, 2011) — The International Energy Agency has just issued a special report titled, “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?” The answer to that question is “yes” only if you are a natural gas producer who doesn’t care much about humanity. For the rest of us, the report makes clear natural gas by itself does nothing to avert catastrophic climate change. Quite the reverse.

The UK Guardian‘s story put it well:

Natural gas is not the “panacea” to solve climate change that fossil fuel industry lobbyists have been claiming, according to new research from the International Energy Agency.

Reliance on gas would lead the world to a 3.5C temperature rise, according to the IEA. At such a level, global warming could run out of control, deserts would take over in southern Africa, Australia and the western US, and sea level rises could engulf small island states.

Not exactly a champagne moment.

UPDATE: I’ve added a featured comment (and link) by Tyler Hamilton, business columnist at The Toronto Star.

Ironically, the IEA report is built around what it calls “The Golden Age of Gas Scenario (GAS Scenario)” — except, of course, the acronym for “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” should be GAG Scenario not GAS Scenario. And GAG is exactly what the planet would do if the dash to gas becomes our primary energy policy, rather than a high and rising price for CO2.

The reason is clear. Absent a high CO2 price, gas displaces as much low-carbon electricity as it does high-carbon coal. That was precisely the point made by Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, at a London press conference:

“While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change.”

The Guardian notes, “The IEA also warned that gas could push out renewables, if governments come under pressure to reduce renewables subsidies and opt for gas instead, as gas companies have been urging.

The report itself makes clear that in the GAG scenario:

Natural gas displaces coal and to a lesser extent oil, driving down emissions, but it also displaces some nuclear power, pushing up emissions…. This puts emissions on a long-term trajectory consistent with stabilising the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 ppm, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°C.

Note that the GAG scenario assumes that not only does oil production peak in 2020 — but so does coal!

Yet we still get 650 ppm and more than 6°F warming even with that incredibly optimistic assumption — and with the additional optimistic assumption that industrial coal consumption (and CO2 emissions) only rises 22% from 2008 to 2020. And assuming we don’t have a lot of that gas leaking into the air (see New study questions shale gas as a bridge fuel and Is natural gas cleaner than coal?).

Oh yes, and then we have the assumption that we can actually stabilize at 650 ppm. In fact, once we go above 450 ppm, the carbon-cycle feedbacks are going to accelerate and shoot us to much higher levels of greenhouse gas concentrations — see “NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100.”

In any case, 650 ppm is probably sufficient to lead to the ultimate disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and many tens of feet of sea level rise — see New study of Greenland under “more realistic forcings” concludes “collapse of the ice-sheet was found to occur between 400 and 560 ppm” of CO2. That SLR is likely to kick in sooner rather than later — see JPL bombshell: Polar ice sheet mass loss is speeding up, on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050.

Finally, back in October, the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a complete literature review, “Drought under global warming: a review,” (See NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path). That study makes clear that Dust-Bowlification may be the impact of human-caused climate change that hits the most people by mid-century, as the figure below suggests (click to enlarge, “a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):

The PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).

The large-scale pattern shown in Figure 11 [of which the figure above is part] appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research notes “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”

For the record, the NCAR study merely models the IPCC’s “moderate” A1B scenario “” atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100, which is pretty darn close to the GAG scenario

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