Nel's New Day

September 7, 2013

House GOP Opposes Fracking Regulations

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:16 PM
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The House of Representatives used to spend its time passing bills to void Obamacare, thus continuing its threat to shut down the country by now raising the debt limit or deal with hungry people in the farm bill. Although the the GOP has scheduled a vote next week for avoiding the government shutdown in 23 days, they don’t have a draft for the bill. Maybe just kick the can down the road for another two or three months, but they don’t know. Right now, none of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the next fiscal year has been enacted, and that’s a lot of work.

The vote on attacking Syria might come to the House week after next, but they haven’t decided on that either. The House GOP leadership has a plan, however: they’re going to work to block new regulations on fracking. Lawmakers in the House will focus in coming weeks on a measure to combat new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) has a bill to force the Interior Department to give up regulation for fracking that already have their own regs. Cantor even has the gall to describe the disastrous bill as environmentally friendly.

Fracking is the form of getting fossil fuel from deep underground that destroys the water supply for the people in the United States, pollutes the water and land with unidentified chemicals, and sickens and kills people and animals with all the air and water pollution. To get an accurate description of fracking, people should watch this short video.

Although fracking has been around for quite a while, it didn’t become profitable until the last few decades. The George W. Bush administration (actually the Dick Cheney dictatorship) gave great latitude to oil companies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 when the Halliburton Loophole exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Act. Chemicals used in fracking fluid were declared a “trade secret”; the public aren’t allowed to know what oil companies inject into land, water, and air. The act also legitimizes nation-wide fracking. Complicating the protection of the country is President Obama’s appointment of Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy, who has worked for oil companies and has appointed others as assistants who have similar resumes.

The U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) is largely owned by oil companies.  Its research is also frequently done by oil company employees who work for higher education. Let’s call them “frackademics” who enrich politicians through “shalesmanship.” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) earned as much as $1 million since 2010 from the company holding mineral rights along the Barnett Shale, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Hall helped write the part of the energy bill allowing oil companies free reign to the countries land, water, and air.

In January 2011, Youngstown (OH) got its first earthquake ever, followed by 108 more in the next year. Studies show that these earthquakes came from fracking

North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania have been overrun with frackers, and California may be the next victim in its Monterey Shale formation running in the state from the north-central to the southern areas. Even worse there, however, is “matrix acidization,” injecting high volumes of hydrofluoric acid (HF), a powerful solvent, into the oil well to dissolve rock deep underground and allow oil to flow up through the well. The system of fracking, using high pressure pumping of water and other chemicals to create rock fissures, doesn’t work as well in low permeable rock.

HF is one of the most dangerous fluids used in oil production and must be trucked into the state and mixed at oilfields. It’s also largely unregulated. Problems include severe burns to skin and eyes, damage to lungs not immediately painful or visible, deep-seated and slow-healing burns and ulcers, and, of course, death. Volatility at low temperatures is also a problem: at 67.1 degrees F, HF boils into a dense vapor cloud that, if released into the open, does not dissipate, hovers near the ground, and travels great distances.

In another problem, the California Coastal Commission recently discovered that its seafloor has been fracked for the past 15 years. Although these drilling operations are under federal jurisdiction, being more than three miles out, the state can reject federal permits in the case of water quality endangerment. New drilling leases in the Santa Barbara Channel’s undersea oil fields are banned, drilling rights at 23 platforms were grandfathered in because California wasn’t aware of these permits.

If the government won’t fight fracking, the people will. The first fractivist organization in northeastern U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, started in 2007. This summer the two major gas companies leasing land there canceled 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

In 2010 and 2011, Greenbrier (AR), a farming town, got more than 1,000 earthquakes. The quakes stopped when Arkansas Oil and Gas commission ordered the fracking shut down. Over a dozen Greenbriarites filed five lawsuits in federal court against Chesapeake Operating, in the first cases that people have sued gas companies for causing natural disasters. Earlier lawsuits focused on health and environmental concerns.

In Kentucky, the Sisters of Loretto are fighting the 1,100-mile Bluegrass Pipeline that would carry natural gas from the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia fracking fields to the Gulf Coast. The nuns refuse to allow company representatives to survey their 800-acre campus and are telling everyone who will listen, sometimes through singing. The Abbey of Gethsemani, with another 2,200 acres, have joined them.

In California, the legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would regulate fracking within the state, despite frantic lobbying from the oil industry to destroy the bill. The U.S. government has a lawsuit against an oil company for contaminating water in Pennsylvania from fracking. The case alledges that XTO Energy allowed flowback fluid and wastewater byproduct to reach water supplies. The Exxon subsidiary had already agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and spend $20 million to improve wastewater management practices. Yet this amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that these companies make from fracking.

A $750,000 settlement for one family to relocate from their fracking-polluted home came with a strange proviso. The couple who owned the house were forbidden to talk about Marcellus Shale, not unusual. But the two children, ages 7 and 10, had the same restrictions against ever talking about their family’s experiences for the rest of their lives. Because of the gag order, there will be no public record of the serious health issues that the family endured. A 2012 Pennsylvania law requires companies to tell doctors the chemical contents of the fracking fluids. The catch is that doctors can’t tell anyone, even the patients who they are treating for fracking-related illnesses.

The drought in the Southwest, primarily Texas and New Mexico, has caused such dire financial problems for farmers that they are selling water to oil companies for fracking. The serious problem is that it’s the water from the aquifer that supplies water to everyone in the region. They can’t sell their primary water source via the irrigation because it’s a government project so they apply for a change of use permit to sell their well water for commercial use. If the entire water supply for the area disappears, the oil companies can just leave the people who live there without sufficient water for even personal use.

The EPA, sometimes at odds with the Interior Department, has tried to conceal the problems with fracking. In May 2012, it declared the water for wells at 61 homes in Dimock (PA) was safe, despite the presence of pollutants. A year later, however, whistleblowers broke news that the EPA had abandoned its investigation after they discovered the pollution was likely caused by pollution.  The EPA also dropped an investigation into water contamination in Texas and postponed another investigation in Wyoming.

When the House comes back, we can look forward to hearing the GOP representatives extol the virtues of contaminated water, polluted land, earthquakes, drought, and illnesses—all to give more money to oil companies. You an expect to hear the term “freedom” a lot. The GOP spends its time talking about leaving a debt-free nation to future generations, but they ignore leaving a country to them.

May 22, 2013

House Passes Another Useless, Destructive Bill

Overturning Obamacare—for the 37th time—was the focus for the House of Representatives last week. This week they have wasted their time with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Today with the help of 19 Democrats, GOP representatives approved a H.R. 3, “The Northern Route Approval Act,” declaring that a cross-border presidential permit was not needed from the president to approve the Canada-to-Nebraska leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

I call the action useless because it has to go through the Senate, where it will most likely fail, and then be signed by the president, who said that he veto it. In a memo yesterday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said that the House bill “conflicts with long-standing Executive branch procedures.”

They did spend time proposing amendments, allowing nine of them to Democrats, some concerned with pipeline safety and clean-up costs for pipeline spills. All of these failed along party lines. And it’s only the seventh time that the House has voted on the bill, wasting fewer millions of dollars than on Obamacare.

The proposed pipeline would carry dangerous tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. That Oklahoma to Texas leg is finished, and TransCanada needs permits to get the oil to Nebraska.

Conservatives are quite insistent about getting the pipeline approved because of all the money that they have taken from the oil industry. Congressional members have taken $56 million from fossil fuel interests, $36 from just oil industry interests. The pipeline supporters have paid almost $400,000. Members opposing the pipeline have received less than $50,000.

Just three weeks ago, the Pegasus oil pipeline that devastated the Arkansas community in Mayflower and surrounding area, again developed a leak, this time in Missouri. Although the leak was small, it shows the problem with pipelines, especially when oil companies claim that they are not responsible for clean-up because of the chemicals added to the tar sands oil. The leak also occurred while the pipeline was closed.

Oil companies have a history of not paying for the damage that they cause. Three years after the epic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that caused 11 deaths, the BP, the responsible company, is lying about the dispersant used for clean-up and refusing to pay for the countless illnesses that workers have suffered.

It’s not as if the company can’t afford to pay: their 2013 first quarter profit was $4.2 billion. In the first three months of this year, BP made enough to almost pay the $4.5 billion fine levied against the corporation. BP put aside $8 billion of medical expenses related to the spill, but the illnesses of people who did the clean-up are not covered by that settlement.

BP has almost $28 billion in cash reserves and paid CEO Bob Dudley $2.7 million last year. The company gave over $400,000 in federal campaign contributions and spent almost $9 million on lobbying.

Perhaps new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz can persuade BP to loosen their purse strings for the people suffering from their toxic chemicals. He did serve on the company’s Technology Advisory Board for six years.

Some of the people on the Keystone pipeline route are beginning to fight back. Residents of Manchester, a Houston neighborhood, now realize that children trying to play in a park playground in the shadow of an oil refinery get sick. People living near there are subject to chronic headaches, nosebleeds, sore throats, and red sores on their skin that don’t heal for month.

When they try to document the problems at the playground, they are told that they cannot photograph the playground where they take their children, but guards video people who go there. An activist teacher, her partner, and a few other young people have set up a community space in the yard of a house with free donated clothing, food, information on air pollution, meetings of local government officials, and trainings in skills like talking to the media and filing pollution complaints with the city.

After a small rally and march last year, two activists from the Gulf Coast locked themselves to trucks entering a the oil refinery and launched a 45-day hunger strike, demanding that the oil refinery divest from the Keystone XL pipeline. People who actually live in the community lack the resources and support to protest like this.

The Keystone XL pipeline is “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” according to former NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Tar sands crude oil is much more toxic than regular crude, and contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, and 5 times more lead. That makes it a threat to everyone who lives along its path.

People who live in the area of the proposed pipeline and think that it is a boon don’t understand that they can lose their land. Several states have granted eminent domain authority to private entities, including oil and gas companies. Thus private companies can force the sale of anyone’s property even if the seller is unwilling to do so.

The Supreme Court cemented this deal in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) when it ruled that the city of New London could take private property and give to a private company for “economic development.” The people were all forced out, the houses knocked down, and the land left lying fallow because the private company never followed through with its “development.”

When North Carolina legalized fracking, it also gave private entities the right to take private property. This law is not restricted to just laying pipelines; the private companies are now designated as “public enterprises,” giving them unlimited rights to anyone’s private property. Pennsylvania and Texas have the same rights to anyone’s property.

We don’t need the pipeline. First, it will provide approximately 3,000 jobs for the first two years and then only 35 jobs for maintenance after that. Second, the oil that is refined will largely be shipped out of the country so that people in the United States don’t benefit from it.

And third, alternative forms of energy exist. In Washington, D.C., where the conservatives in the House voted today to destroy the environment and give away private property, Union Station has started using only wind power for its energy and will continue that for another three years. The nearly 19 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year will come from wind farms, reducing gasoline consumption by 1.4 million gallons.

union station

Wind energy grew 28 percent in 2012. According to the America Wind Energy Association:

“Over 6,700 new wind turbines were erected, which produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes. Overall, America finished the year with 45,100 wind turbines that can power 15.2 million homes.”

This sounds much better than promoting vast desolation of the land and chronic illnesses.


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