The failure of the Denton city council to pass a fracking ban in Denton, Texas, after a meeting that went on for over eight hours last night, was no surprise to Cathy McMullen, Denton resident and president of Denton Drilling Awareness Group.
Denton, a college town, sits on top of the natural gas-rich Barnett Shale. Within the city limits, there are fracking sites less then 300 feet from people's homes.
Dozens of residents who spoke at the meeting told city council how fracking has destroyed the quality of life for those who live near the frack sites. The meeting was attended by over 500 people who heard first-hand testimony of health issues, noise, traffic problems and reports of diminishing property values.
McMullen's group gathered close to 2,000 signatures for an initiative to ban new fracking within Denton's city limits. With all signatures verified, the initiative was presented to the city council resulting in last night’s mandatory council vote.
New York's highest state court ruled today that local governments have the legal authority to use zoning to bar oil and gas drilling, fracking and other heavy industrial sites within their borders. In a 5-2 decision, affirming the rulings of three lower courts, the justices dismissed challenges to fracking bans created by two towns, Middlefield and Dryden.
The case has been closely watched by the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus region and nationwide. Over 170 towns, villages and cities in New York state have crafted local moratoria or bans on fracking. Dozens more towns are expected to enact moratoria in the wake of this ruling, according to Earthworks, one of the public interest groups whose attorneys worked on the case.
Nationwide, nearly 500 local governments have enacted measures against fracking, according to Food and Water Watch which tracks local control actions, including towns in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California, each of which have been the focus of recent shale rushes.
The oil and gas industry had argued that allowing local control over fracking risked creating a patchwork of rules in different municipalities. Environmental groups countered that the rights of local communities to control development within their borders trumped those concerns, and that local governments had the clear legal authority to decide how development could proceed.
“On the one hand, you're saying yes, we should have a comprehensive strategy to deal with such an important issue to our state – energy,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman explained when the cases were argued before the court on June 3. “And on the other hand, municipalities believe (they can) determine how they're going to live. They want some voice in how they live.”
Today, less than a month later, the court's majority decided in favor of local control. “The towns both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately-cultivated, small-town character of their communities,” the New York Court of Appeals wrote in its majority ruling.
A second vote on California's fracking moratorium bill—SB 1132—fell short in the State Senate today, just twenty-four hours after it was first defeated by a margin of 18-16, three votes shy of the majority it needed to pass. We're still awaiting the official word on how today's vote shook out exactly.
But many Californians are not waiting for the State Senate to take action, anyway.
Last week, Santa Cruz County's Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to pass the state's first-ever permanent ban on fracking. Earlier this month, the city council of Beverly Hills passed its own fracking ban with another unanimous vote. Several other counties and cities are scheduled to hold votes of their own on similar measures in the near future.
These local efforts to win fracking bans and moratoria are undoubtedly a response to the tremendous popular support for a halt to poorly understood but increasingly more common practices like fracking and acidization, which eats away at rock.
A poll commissioned by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that more than two-thirds of Californians want a moratorium on fracking until its impacts to the environment and human health have been studied more closely by the scientific community. A poll by USC and the LA Times had similar results, finding that more than 70% of Californians favored banning or heavily regulating fracking.
While environmental groups have been organizing support for SB 1132, some of the fiercest opposition has come from groups just as concerned with health, safety, and justice as with the environment. And they are certainly not backing down, even after SB 1132 was voted down for a second time.
“It's disappointing to see our leaders in Sacramento fail to pass a moratorium on fracking, siding with the powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of our families and climate,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest Latino online organizing group in the nation. “Latinos will bear the brunt of the worst effects of fracking in California–from poisoned water to asthma, and are in the areas worst affected by climate change across the nation.”
Polls have shown wide support for a moratorium among Latinos in California. In fact, the USC/LA Times poll found that Latinos favored an outright ban or at least a moratorium on fracking by substantially larger margins than whites, perhaps due to the fact that Latinos are far more likely to live in communities suffering the adverse impacts of fracking operations.
“We will remember who stood with us today, and who chose to poison our families for the sake of corporate profits,” Carmona says. “Shame on every member of the California Senate today who voted to throw Latino families under the bus.”
While many countries, including France, Germany and South Africa, have banned or delayed their embrace of fracking, one country is taking a full-steam-ahead approach to the unconventional drilling technology: Argentina.
The country is welcoming foreign shale companies with open arms in the hope that oil and gas drilling will help combat one of the world’s highest currency inflation rates. But the government there is also facing violent clashes over fracking in arid regions of the Andes mountains and allegations from locals of water contamination and health problems.
Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale formation — estimated to hold an amount of oil and gas nearly equal to the reserves of the world’s largest oil company, Exxon Mobil — has already attracted billions in investment from the major oil and gas company Chevron.
In April, the government drew global attention when it announced plans to auction off more acreage. “Chevron, Exxon, Shell have shown interest in Vaca Muerta. They will compete for sure,” Neuquen province Energy Minister Guillermo Coco told potential investors on a road show in Houston on April 30th.
Argentina, which the EIAestimates could hold even more shale gas than the U.S., already has over 150 shale wells in production, more than any country in the world aside from the U.S. and China. California-based Chevron, in partnership with Argentina’s state-owned oil company YPF, invested $1.24 billion in a pilot program last year. Last month, Chevron announced an additional $1.6 billion effort for 2014, part of Chevron's overall investment plan that could top $15 billion. The company is hoping that this plan will allow it to extract 50,000 barrels a day of shale oil plus 100 million cubic feet of shale gas per day from the country’s Andes mountain region.
American drillers have talked up Argentine shale as the next big thing. “Vaca Muerta is going to be an elephant compared to Eagle Ford,” Mark Papa, CEO of EOG Resources told the Argentine press in 2012, referring to a major oil-producing shale formation in Texas.
For years, the shale industry has touted the economic benefits it can provide. An overflowing supply of domestic natural gas will help keep heating and electric bills low for American consumers, they argue, while drilling jobs and astounding royalty windfalls for landowners will reinvigorate local economies. These tantalizing promises have caught the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C. who argue that the rewards of relying on shale gas outweigh the risks, especially because harm can be minimized by the industry or by regulators.
But across the U.S., communities where drilling has taken place have found that the process brings along higher costs than advertised. Even when properly done, drilling carries with it major impacts — including air pollution, truck traffic, and plunging property values — and when drillers make mistakes, water contamination has left residents without drinking water or cleaning up from disastrous well blow-outs.
And as the shale drilling boom moves into its 12th year, the most crucial benefit claimed by drillers — cheap and abundant domestic fuel supplies — has come increasingly into question. The gas is there, no doubt, but most of it costs more to get it out than the gas is worth.
A new report from New York state, where a de facto shale drilling moratorium has persisted since 2008, concludes that unless natural gas prices double, much of the shale gas in the state cannot be profitably accessed by oil and gas companies.
Fracking for oil and gas will not be happening in Los Angeles any time soon after City Council members unanimously voted to ban the practice within city limits today. The vote passes the motion to the City Attorney's office where it will be rewritten as a zoning ordinance before returning to City Council for a final vote.
L.A. is now the largest city in the U.S. to refuse the dangerous extraction process. Local bans have become an effective protective measure against fracking, and are in place in numerous jurisdictions worldwide including Vermont, Hawaii, areas of New York State, Quebec, and France among many others.
The Los Angeles ordinance prevents the use of fracking until effective governmental oversight and regulation is in place at the local, state and federal levels.
“I think we can all agree unregulated fracking is crazy,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, co-author of the motion.
California is in the midst of a devastating drought, raising concerns over access to fresh water supplies. Fracking uses approximately 5 million gallons of water per frack job.
A four-year moratorium, scheduled to expire today, began after Shell drilled three test wells in the area, igniting protest and blockades throughout the region and at Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in The Hague. In 2004, Shell was awarded a 400,000 hectare tenure in the Sacred Headwaters, the point of origin of the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine rivers which are among the province's most important salmon-bearing waterways.
According to the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Shell's plans involved the construction of nearly 300 kilometers of road and over 4000 wells, as well as pipeline infrastructure and compressor stations.
“Shell has backed away from a project only a handful of times. The powerful, relentless movement led by the courageous Tahltan and supported by nearly 100,000 people from around the world has not only stopped Shell, but persuaded the BC government to permanently protect the region from any further gas development,” said Karen Tam Wu, ForestEthics Advocacy senior conservation campaigner.
“It’s an inspiring day when communities in northern B.C. can stand up to one of the largest oil companies in the world and win. Congratulations to the Tahltan, and to the citizens and government of British Columbia.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that, in making the decision on whether to allow horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, he wants to rely on “science, and not emotion.” He is relying on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give him that science - but an array of documents suggest the Governor is being badly served.
Some of the most important conversations revealed in those pages have little to do with debate over the science of fracking’s environmental footprint – and everything to do with the politics of ending New York’s temporary moratorium and allowing shale gas fracking to move forward in the state.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to present the course his state will take with regards to fracking as the opposite of Pennsylvania’s drill-baby-drill approach, which has left regulators scrambling to keep up and allowed a growing list of problems to emerge. By contrast, New York will make an incremental, guarded entry into fracking, Cuomo alleges. And his regulators will take an approach that rises above the fray of conflicts between industry and environmentalists.
“We have a process. Let’s get the facts,” Governor Cuomo said last year, with regards to ending the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking. “Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”
But it’s increasingly clear that the process has actually been based on anything but science. Politics, legal considerations and economic concerns have instead predominated. Most tellingly, documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives allowed access to drafts of the state’s permit plans, and used that information to lobby hard against testing for radioactivity in wastewater, for example.
But the documents also show a regular pattern of behind-the-scenes communication between the industry and regulators, at the same time as environmental advocates and others were struggling to be heard through public comments and similar official channels.
Two recent court decisions in New York state upheld the right of towns to use zoning laws to limit or even ban fracking within their borders. Other states and cities such as Dallas, Maryland, and North Carolina, are still trying to figure out whether, and if so how, to proceed with new drilling.
But the big decision that concerned citizens are watching is the one to be made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his state’s moratorium. New York received more than 40,000 public comments on fracking and is plowing through them now.
The state has yet to publish those documents on the web, but DeSmogBlog has obtained many of them. Here is our initial shortlist of comments that offer the most important warnings and useful insights.
A Hidden Threat?
One of the most overlooked but potentially dangerous public health issues relating to unconventional gas drilling is radon. This odorless and radioactive gas comes up from the wells mixed with the gas that gets piped to consumers. Highly carcinogenic, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind cigarette smoking, according to the EPA.
In his comments, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, director of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, concludes that radon levels in the gas that will come from Marcellus and likely be delivered to nearly 12 million New York residents will be far higher than current levels. As a result, “the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448” he writes.
The unconventional gas industry's latest rush in the United States will land it in the state of Ohio, but a recent poll shows that the state's residents are not rolling out the red carpet for an industry famous for threatening drinking water supplies, causing earthquakes, noise and air pollution and trying to proliferate global addiction to fossil fuels.
Results from a Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that 59 percent of those polled have heard of or read about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the complex and risky process that enables unconventional gas drilling. A whopping 72 percent of Ohioans familiar with fracking support a moratorium on the process until it is studied further.
The other 41-percent of citizens are likely to follow suit once they discover what is headed their way, and how little this industry will help them from a financial point of view in the long run.
Ohio recently found itself with the fracking shakes, as magnitude 4.0-level earthquakes struck near Youngstown on New Year's Eve. Scientists suspect the earthquakes resulted from a wastewater injection well disposing of fracking brine from Pennsylvania. The Christian Science Monitorexplained in a story that the “quake triggered shaking reportedly felt as as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto.”
These fracking-related earthquakes are not an aberation, but rather a repeated occurence linked to fracking in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, as well as abroad in the U.K., in the city Blackpool. Al Jazeera English recently ran a story on the Ohio fracking-induced earthquakes. Watch:
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.