Michael Steele’s war cry of “Drill, baby, drill” became the mantra during Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign after the former RNC chair delivered it at the 2008 GOP convention. The slogan changed to “Spill, baby, spill” after the gigantic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and dumped almost 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson at 13 percent as well as failing to bring in donations, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may move to a slogan of “Frack, baby, frack!” In Ohio he called for reversing EPA regulations on fracking and greenhouse emissions, allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, nullifying President Obama’s international climate change accord, and immediately allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be finished.
Rubio’s wish list would dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules, speed up approval of natural-gas export terminals, and stop environmental groups from suing the government. Solar and wind energy would disappear. In returning to total dependence on fossil fuels, he called opponent Hillary Clinton “an outdated leader” whose policies are a misguided attempt at “changing the weather.”
Like changing his views on immigration, Rubio has “evolved,” or perhaps a better term is “regressed” in his positions on fossil fuels. Florida state legislature Speaker Marco Rubio listed clean energy as a priority in 2007. He predicted that greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable and called on Florida to become “an international model of energy efficiency and independence” and the “Silicon Valley” of clean energy. He modified this approach in his party’s rebuttal to the president’s 2013 State of the Union speech by retaining interest in solar and wind energy with a focus on extracting fossil fuels. Now he has entirely dropped clean energy.
More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states, and over 10 million people live within one mile of a fracking site that damages health, water, land, and air. The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking includes over 100 studies showing why areas such as the state of New York were right to ban fracking.
- People living near fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than in other areas (Study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011)
- Cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells.
- Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
- Prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may interrupt hormonal functioning including lower male fertility in adulthood with low sperm count and enlarged testicles.
- Premature births are 40 percent higher among women in areas of intense drilling, and women’s pregnancies are 30 percent more likely to be “high-risk.” Premature births are linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision impairments, neurological disabilities, and infant deaths. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
- People living near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions. (Yale University)
- Higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals are in drinking water near fracking sites. (Texas researchers)
In an effort to stop studies in Oklahoma, billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm tried to persuade the University of Oklahoma to fire scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquake frequency and threatened to get the Oklahoma Geological Survey moved from the school. Hamm served as an adviser on energy policy on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Rubio may not understand the dangers of fracking to life if he follows only publications from the oil and gas industry. Although a new set of research shows that Texas methane emissions are 50 percent higher than estimated, Energy in Depth from the fossil fuel industry said that rising emissions are falling because of the paltry voluntary efforts. Texas claims that it needs to regulations to remedy the problem, but that state is failing while Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming are taking steps toward leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations.
Even the patent holder on a device that measures methane emissions thinks that it could be faulty by underrecording leakage rages. The sampler must be frequently recalibrated as methane levels rise above the capacity of the first sensor on the device.
Perhaps Rubio will agree with the EPA’s study concluding that found no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Data for the poorly designed study came from the oil and gas industry that blocked direct monitoring of fracking operations. No baseline water testing was allowed before the final tests. One study of southwestern Pennsylvania fracking wells last year found that the wells released methane at rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates by the EPA. Methane concentration of residential water wells at Pennsylvania homes one mile from fracking wells was six times higher than in homes located farther away from wells.
Maryland has banned fracking for 30 months while it determines regulations for the practice, but Oklahoma has banned bans on fracking after Texas told cities and towns that they were forced to permit fracking. Campaign donations trump fracking problems in Oklahoma as in Norman where hundreds of thousands of people have potentially tainted drinking water after careless disposal of fracking wastewater. The new law also prevents any city policies to ensure the water is safe.
No one may be protected from unsafe drinking water because of the Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Named after then-Vice-president Dick Cheney’s corporation, the provision exempts fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allows the oil and gas industry to conceal the ways that they pollute on a grand scale. The same law also made the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) able to rubber-stamp federal, state, and local decisions about fossil fuels from accountability to Congress and the White House.
Despite Oklahoma’s bans on bans, the state Supreme Court has determined that people subjected to earthquakes caused by oil and gas operations can sue the company for damages. The industry wanted cases resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) instead of the courts. Oklahoma has a seriously growing problem with fracking earthquakes with an unprecedented average of ten a day. Before fracking started in 2009, the state annually averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude.
Less than a month after the OCC ordered companies to shut down or decrease usage of five saltwater disposal wells near Cushing, an earthquake of 4.5 hit the area a week ago. The day before, an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit just 80 miles away. Thus far, regulators have issued rules for only 23 of the state’s 3,500 wells.
One-fifth of the U.S. commercial crude oil storage capacity is located near this earthquake site, and the 87 million-barrel capacity is almost full because low oil prices are causing the energy industry to hoard the crude. Steve Agee, an economist and Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, said that the supply of crude has outpaced worldwide demand, drastically bringing down oil prices that hover around $50 a barrel up from $37.75 in August. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said that the national inventory of 457.9 million barrels is the highest in almost 80 years.
Oklahoma isn’t alone in earthquake problems: Kansas joined Oklahoma to have 42 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude in one week—17 percent of the earthquakes in the world—up from 1.5 of these quakes each year. The water, sand, and toxic chemicals shot into the bedrock at extremely high pressures destabilizes the bedrock, reactivates long-dormant fault lines, and causes man-made earthquakes. The Oklahoma/Kansas area of Woodford shale sits above the mid-continent rift, a billion-year old fault line buried more than a mile below the surface. As the number of earthquakes grows, the area of occurrence increases, going as far as Oklahoma City which has no main fracking wells. The earthquakes are also becoming more powerful with the potential to provide significant local damage—such as blowing up the 87 million barrels of oil at Cushing.
At the same time, air pollution travels hundreds of miles into states with little or no fracking. Ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Washington, D.C. Maybe Marco Rubio is not as safe as he thinks he is.