Nel's New Day

July 10, 2014

Fracking Loses in Court, in Science

Environmental exploitation is a sin, according to Pope Francis. His comment this week reflects earlier statements including the comparison of battling climate change to safeguarding creation.  In the United States, the lust for fuel fracking seems to be waning through new laws, court cases, and research.

Municipalities can ban fracking in New York. That was the good news from the state’s Court of Appeals on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court sent down its Hobby Lobby ruling announcing that corporations have souls. The 5-2 decision confirmed the principle of municipal home rule giving villages and towns the right to manage their affairs without state legislative interference. The 170 anti-fracking measures throughout New York’s municipalities are no longer in limbo and can now take effect.

People in the state are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision regarding the state’s 2008 temporary moratorium on fracking put in place by former governor David Paterson. Cuomo said that he’s waiting for a report from the State Health Department. Any decision may be moot if energy companies leave the state in disgust, which they seem to be doing.

Last spring, a Pennsylvania judge in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas ruled that corporations don’t have the right to privacy under the commonwealth’s constitution. Newspapers had sued to unseal a confidential settlement in which a family was paid $750,000 after gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. Until now, fracking companies have used secrecy agreements to hide environmental and health impacts of gas drilling.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have ruled that corporations are persons, but Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said that corporations and business entities aren’t the same as people under Pennsylvania’s constitution. She wrote:

“There are no men or woman defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities [and are created by the state and subject to laws, unlike people with natural rights].In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” [If businesses had natural rights like people,] “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principles, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”

She added that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution. ” The exact opposite is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

“Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution. The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal ‘[a]ll charters of private corporations’ and any ‘powers, duties or liabilities’ of corporations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, but that’s not the same as a right to personal privacy. “Our Commonwealth’s case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from our laws.”

Looking at case law and rulings from other states, the judge held, “This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in a criminal matter.”

Summing up, she said:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, prune at their pleasure and need.”

Her ruling made fracking companies so desperate that they started offering $50,000 to people who own land in the country to release the corporation from any liability caused by the drilling. Those who take the money cannot sue for health problems, property damage, or other issues such as noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. It also covers not only drilling but also anything that they might do in the future including construction of pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.

Although California’s governor, Jerry Brown, is known for being fracking-friendly, Beverly Hills has decided to ban the practice. The first municipality in the state to deny fracking, the city council unanimously decided that it would not be allowed within city limits. Carson City (CA) had already declared a moratorium on fracking, but only for 45 days.

Texas may be oil country, but last year Dallas banned fracking within “1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well.”  That pretty much covers the entire city.

A jury has awarded a family in Decatur (TX) $2.9 million because of Aruba Petroleum’s irresponsible activities. The Parr family is not the first to suffer nausea, rashes, nosebleeds, and sight and memory impairment, but they are the first to win in court after the jury determined that fracking is dangerous to people’s health. Naturally Aruba is appealing.

New research shows that methane release from drilling operations in southwestern Pennsylvania is 100 to 1,000 times more than federal regulators had estimated. The study contributes to a body of knowledge showing that the EPA has gravely underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels may be the biggest problem with climate change, but methane is about 20 to 30 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere. The U.S. may be producing 50 percent more methane than the EPA has assumed.

Wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a time not previously known for high emissions. The release comes from underbalanced drilling methods with a lower pressure in the well-bore than the surrounding geology that allows the capture of ethane and butane. EPA investigations are less accurate because energy companies restrict access to wells, pipelines, processing plants, and compressor stations. Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas last February.

Another study, published last week in the world’s leading scientific journal Science, has determined that the overwhelming increase in earthquakes throughout Oklahoma is directly connected to fracking and waste-water injection. Before 2008, the state averaged one earthquake of 3.0 or greater each year; in just 2014, the state had more than 230. That’s a 22,900 percent increase after fracking began. Overpressuring a fault system by injecting too much waste water causes tectonic plates in previously stable areas to slip, resulting in not just one earthquake but a number of them because of the distribution of pressures along the entire fault system. Some of these earthquakes may be as far away as 20 miles from the wells that cause the problem. Continued fracking will make the rate of earthquakes much worse.

earthquake increase oklahoma

Earlier this year, Ohio officials linked fracking to a cluster of earthquakes and is imposing new rules. Previously it was thought that earthquakes occurred when water was injected, but these earthquakes were near a site where fracking had begun. If monitors detect an earthquake even as small as 1.0, the state will suspend fracking for an investigation.

In another environmental success, TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline has expired in South Dakota, and Nebraska’s permit is halted by litigation. These two events block the already-complete portions of the pipeline in Montana and Kansas. TransCanada will have to start the South Dakota application process again, this time with more unified resistance. North Dakota’s fracking boom will erase the argument that people in the U.S. need Canadian oil enough to give a company in another country the powers of eminent domain.

Since the pipeline’s proposal, TransCanada has faced huge national protests and small-scale disobedience along the path of its construction. Grassroots groups have organized and politicked all along the pipeline’s proposed route.

People can make a difference if they just keep working to save the world.

 

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1 Comment »

  1. Great blog.

    Like

    Comment by Monica Kirk — July 11, 2014 @ 9:57 AM | Reply


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