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How Fracking Destroys the American Dream

Last fall, Resource Media compiled an in-depth media tip sheet to provide journalists with background information and sources about the growing body of evidence linking drilling with widespread impacts on property values, property rights and quality of life in communities across America.

Drilling near Mansfield, TX.

Since we first published Drilling vs. The American Dream, fracking has continued unabated, inching up and into ever more cities, towns and neighborhoods. To keep up with the changes, we updated the guide to include new data and research and new stories from the growing choir of millions of Americans who are now directly affected by oil and gas development:

Drilling vs the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values

There are currently more than 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S., and more than 15 million Americans now live within a mile of the hundreds of thousands that have been drilled since 2000, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Made possible by the advent of fracking, drilling is taking place in shale formations from California to New York and from Wyoming to Texas.

And there’s no indication that this “unprecedented industrialization” shows any signs of slowing. Almost 47,000 new oil and natural gas wells were drilled in 2012, and industry analysts project that pace will only continue.

Drilling rigs now regularly inch up and even into communities that never anticipated having to address problems like round-the-clock noise, storage tanks, drums of toxic chemicals, noxious fumes, near-constant truck traffic and pipelines near homes, schools, playgrounds and parks. For many, the impacts of this kind of large-scale industrial activity are incompatible with quality of life.

Congressman Jared Polis saw this firsthand last fall when a drilling rig went up on property neighboring his small farm in Weld County, CO. Polis, who said he had no notice of the fracking operations, filed a complaint with state regulators and then a lawsuit over concerns “about the impact that fracking has on the health of communities as well as the economic impact as it relates to property value.”

Also look no further than Exxon CEO and board chairman Rex Tillerson, who is suing to stop construction of a water tower that would supply nearby drilling operations because of the nuisance of, among other things, heavy truck traffic, noise and traffic hazards from the fracking operations the tower would support. That’s right, the head of the single largest drilling company in the world, acknowledges the “constant and unbearable nuisance” that would come from having “lights on at all hours of the night … traffic at unreasonable hours … noise from mechanical and electrical equipment.” Tellingly, Tillerson’s lawsuit—filed in 2012 with other plaintiffs, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey—claims the project would do “irreparable harm” to his property values.

At a more macro level, research is staring to show that energy booms such as the current drilling frenzy may not be the economic windfall that boosters make them out to be. After the initial surge in income and jobs that comes with drilling, problems inevitably follow: higher crime rate, decreased educational attainment and over the long run, significant declines in income. The more heavily a community ties itself to the drilling economy, the greater the decline.

“The magnitude of this relationship is substantial,” the study authors are quoted saying in the Washington Post, “decreasing per capita income by as much as $7,000 for a county with high participation in the boom.”

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

For those who own the rights to the oil and gas on their properties, the impacts of drilling can be offset by royalty payments that come from selling them to oil and gas developers. But in most parts of the country, the legal doctrine of split estates allows one party to own the rights to minerals and other resources below the surface while someone else hold the rights to property above ground. With the oil and gas industry showing little self-restraint and drilling encroaching into cities, towns and suburbs, split estates have left millions to deal with problems such as increased truck traffic, chemicals, lights, noise, heavy equipment, noxious air emissions and water—all without any compensation.

There are weak regulatory protections and few legal precedents to protect residents from this kind of industrial activity in their back yards. Regulations on how far drilling must be set back from homes and schools, for example, provide almost no cushion—often only several hundred feet—to mitigate drilling’s impacts on nearby homes and businesses.

Feeling unprotected by weak state and federal regulations, however, more and more communities are starting to fight back by passing local laws restricting or banning fracking within their borders. Pittsburgh became the first to take matters into its own hands with an ordinance in 2010. Since then, many others have followed suit: Dallas, Los Angeles, multiple cities and towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, counties in New Mexico. Last fall in Colorado, voters in four cities passed ballot measures banning or severely restricting fracking, three of them overwhelmingly. And this year, backers are gathering signatures for a 2014 statewide ballot measure that would give Colorado cities and towns local control over drilling-related policy decisions within their borders.

This pushback against drilling and its impacts goes beyond simple NIMBYism. The financial risks posed by drilling are real and substantial enough—as detailed below—that banks and insurers are also now adopting guidelines that forbid mortgage loans or insurance coverage on properties affected by drilling. It’s a battle between oil and gas and the nest egg of countless Americans.

The following examples begin to piece together the ways in which the threats posed by drilling and the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry quite literally hit home. Taken together, they are a call for decision-makers to start quantifying data and asking tough questions about drilling vs. the American Dream.

  • In a 2013 survey of 550 people conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver, a strong majority said they would decline to buy a home near drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent.
  • Realtors in Colorado are taking note as clients become increasingly hesitant about buying homes near drilling sites, with fewer and fewer bids rolling in. “Some don’t want to even look at anything remotely close to any existing or proposed well sites,” Boulder County real estate agent Nanner Fisher told the Colorado Independent. She also told Boulder iJournal that “if there is a well that’s visible when you show a property, [the prospective buyer] will ask to look for something else. A lot of it is the visual effect of the well site,” she said. “And, they think if you can see it, it’s gotta be close enough that it’s not healthy.”
  • An economic analysis by the Headwaters Institute undermines the idea that oil and gas developments fatten the bank accounts of communities and leave them better off than before drilling started. While there may be short-term windfalls, the study of six western states found that over the long-term “oil and gas specialization is observed to have negative effects on change in per capita income, crime rate and education rate.”
  • Denver Realtor Adam Cox wrote in a column in the Colorado Statesman that “potential buyers balk at buying homes near a drilling site, even though that’s often where the discounted homes are” because they are so close to oil and gas activity. Similarly, he said, homeowners near drilling sites “often have to sell at significantly lower prices than when originally purchased due to the oil and gas industry neighbors.”
  • The fumes, lights and deafening noise that came after a neighbor leased adjacent land for fracking became unbearable and forced to move from their Cleveland suburban home. In an interview with Reuters, she said they were able to sell their house for $225,000, only half its appraised value.
  • In the Catskills, fracking fears have already impacted the real estate market even though the state has yet to make a determination on whether to allow drilling. The prospect that the state will open the region to drilling, as the New York Times reported, “has spooked potential buyers” in upstate New York. The Times story also quoted a realtor who shut down her business In Wayne County, PA. Agents there, the woman said, are having trouble selling rural properties “because people don’t want to be anywhere near the drilling.”
  • A study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the risks and potential liabilities of drilling outweigh economic benefits like lease payments and potential economic development in Washington County, PA. Even though lease payments can add overall value to homes with wells drilled on them, the possibility of contaminated water decreases property value by an average of 24 percent. The boost that comes from signing a lease offsets the increases, leaving a net decrease in value of 13 percent.
  • A 2010 study of the Texas real estate market in the heavily drilled suburban-Dallas area near Flower Mound concluded that homes valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a drilling pad or well site saw values decrease by 3 to 14 percent.
  • Faced with a boom in coal-bed methane development in the early 2000s, officials in La Plata County, CO studied the impacts of oil and gas development and found that properties with a well drilled on them saw their value decrease by 22 percent.
  • In a 2005 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that oil and gas production “significantly affect the sale price for rural properties.” The study determined that the presence of oil and gas facilities within 2.5 miles of rural residential properties in Alberta, Canada reduced property values between 4 percent and 8 percent, with the potential for doubling the decrease, depending on the level of industrial activity.
  • In Pavilion, WY, where the EPA has linked groundwater contamination with fracking, Louis Meeks saw the value of his 40-acre alfalfa farm all but disappear completely. In 2006, his land and home were appraised at $239,000. Two years later, as ProPublica reported, “a local realtor sent Meeks a coldly worded letter saying his place was essentially worthless and she could not list his property. ‘Since the problem was well documented … and since no generally-accepted reason for the blowout has been agreed upon,’ she wrote, ‘buyers may feel reluctant to purchase a property with this stigma.’ ”
  • Similar nightmares have befallen residents of Dimock, PA, where fracking problems decimated home values, and the drilling company responsible, Cabot Resources, was ordered to pay impacted fam­i­lies set­tle­ments worth twice their prop­erty val­ues, a total of more than $4 mil­lion.  
  • In North Texas, the Wise County Central Appraisal District Appraisal Review Board knocked down the appraised value of one family’s home and 10-acre ranchette from $257,000 to $75,000—a decrease of more than 70 percent. The board agreed to the extraordinary reduction as a result of numerous environmental problems related to fracking—just one year after the first drilling rig when up on the property.

A well and battery of natural gas storage tanks near homes in Longmont, CO. Photo credit: Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont

Property Rights

  • Unbeknownst to many suburban homeowners, homebuilders are starting to quietly retain mineral rights beneath the subdivisions they build in suburban areas. DR Horton has been perhaps the most notable construction company to employ this new tactic. In 2012, after an investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Real Estate Commission, officials pressured the Texas-based homebuilder to return mineral rights it had retained from beneath about 850 homes. Residents who live in a Florida subdivision built by Horton were equally surprised when they found out that the company also held the rights to prospect for whatever minerals lie beneath 2,500 of their homes near Tampa.
  • As documented by Reuters, homeowners in subdivisions in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and other states have all purchased homes without disclosure about severed mineral rights only to see drilling rigs spring up next door too late for them to do anything about it. “This is a huge case of buyer beware,” University of Colorado-Denver Law Professor Lloyd Burton told reporters. “People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don’t exactly go out of their way to let people know.”
  • Senate and House committees in the Colorado Legislature have passed a measure that, much like disclosures for lead paint, would require sellers to notify prospective homebuyers about separated mineral rights and whether a property may be subject to oil, gas or mineral development. Senate Bill 14-009 is awaiting approval by both chambers to be forwarded to the governor.
  • In at least 39 states, there are laws that compel “holdout landowners” to join gas-leasing agreements with their neighbors, allowing oil and gas companies to drill horizontally to tap into oil and gas reserves that cross property lines—whether the owner of a property wants to allow the drilling or not. Called “mandatory pooling” or “compulsory integration,” these laws basically create eminent domain by private enterprise.
  • Pooling gives the owner an interest in the well, including royalty payments, but as in Colorado, where forced pooling orders were issued by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 48 times in 2010, the law also makes the unwilling owner “liable for the further costs of the operation, as if he had participated in the initial drilling operation.”
  • The intent of forced pooling is to create more orderliness in drilling underground oil and gas reserves, which rarely adhere to the patchwork of surface ownership. Forcing holdout landowners into leasing agreements is supposed to lead to fewer wells drilled and more efficiency in the ones that are. But it’s also frequently used as a threat by landmen looking to cash in on leases.

Mortgages and Fracking

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

Recognizing the numerous ways that drilling and fracking could damage value, the mortgage industry is starting to refuse to take on the financial liabilities and is tightening policies that prohibit lending on properties with wells on them or that are subject to leasing.

  • Following the debacle in North Carolina over severed mineral rights (see above) the State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina officially has decided it will no longer approve mortgage financing for properties where the drilling rights have been sold off to someone else. The credit union, which manages almost $12 billion in residential mortgages, said it considers loans on such land to be riskier than those where the mineral rights remain with the land.
  • According to American Banker, at least three mortgage lending institutions—Tompkins Financial in Ithaca, NY, Spain’s Santander Bank and State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, NC—are now refusing to make mortgages on land where oil or gas rights have been sold to an energy company. The publication quoted the president and CEO of the North Carolina credit union saying that if a landowner allows a drilling rig to go up on his or her their land, “We’d have to tell their neighbors, “We’re sorry, your property value just went down.’ ” (Also quoted in the Motley Fool.)
  • Language in Freddie Mac’s standard mortgage contracts prohibit a “borrower from taking any action that could cause the deterioration, damage or decrease in value of the subject property,” and if the prohibition is broken by say, a landowner signing a drilling lease or entering into a mineral-rights agreement, Freddie Mac has the legal authority to exercise a call on a mortgage’s full amount if a borrower, according to an agency spokesman.
  • According to a white paper prepared for the New York State Bar Association, Wells Fargo, one of the largest home mortgage lender in the U.S. is approaching home loans for properties that have gas drilling leases attached to them with a high degree of caution.
  • In addition to Wells Fargo, Provident Funding, GMAC, FNCB, Fidelity and First Liberty, First Place Bank, Solvay Bank, Tompkins Trust Co., CFCU Community Credit Union are either putting hard-to-meet conditions on mortgages or denying loans altogether on properties with oil and gas leases. (Excellent summary of oil and gas issues related to mortgage lending from a brokerage vice president is available online.)
  • The backgrounder prepared by the NYSBA about gas leasing impacts on homeowners also includes a section on residential mortgages and says the combination of home-ownership and drilling, “creates a perfect storm begging for immediate attention.” Risks include:
    – Homeowners being confronted with uninsurable property damage for activities they cannot control.
    – Banks refusing to provide mortgage loans on homes with gas leases because they don’t meet secondary mortgage market guidelines.
    – Impediments to new construction starts, long a bellwether of economic recovery, since construction loans depend on risk-free property and a purchaser.
    – The possibility of a property owner defaulting on a mortgage by signing a gas lease.
    – Prohibitively expensive appraisals and title searches that are complicated by assessing the value of risks and the arcane paper trail of mineral rights and attached liabilities.




  • A Pennsylvania couple was recently denied a new mortgage on their farm by Quicken Loans because of a drilling site across the street. According to the lender, “gas wells and other structures in nearby lots…can significantly degrade a property’s value” and do not meet underwriting guidelines. Two other lenders also denied the family mortgages.
  • Federal lending and mortgage institutions (FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) all have prohibitions against lending on properties where drilling is taking place or where hazardous materials are stored. A drilling lease on a property financed through one of these agencies would result in a ”technical default.” FHA’s guidelines also don’t allow it to finance mortgages where homes are within 300 feet of an active or planned drilling site. Also see http://bit.ly/1dIen28.

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

Insurance Coverage

Homeowners who think damage to property incurred by drilling accidents is covered by insurance need to think again. Such damages are typically not covered.

  • Last July, Nationwide Insurance spelled out specifically that it would not provide coverage for damage related to fracking. According to an internal memo outlining the company’s policy, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”
  • Often, a driller or well operator’s insurance won’t cover damages, according to the NYSBA summary. Homeowners may have to sue for damages and, even if they win, may not get paid for all damages since drillers admit in their regulatory filings that they may not carry enough insurance.

Other online resources:

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

Now, you can sip that ice cold brew without feeling guilty. The world's largest beer manufacturer, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, has vowed to completely shift from fossil fuels by 2025, including investing in their own renewable energy sources.

The international business owns 35 titles including Budweiser, Budlight, Stella Artois, Natural Light, Busch, Michelobe Ultra, Schock Top and Goose Island. The company claims it was mere coincidence that their announcement came on the same day as President Trump's executive order to dismantle President Obama's climate policies.

"This has no political connotations at all," said CEO Carlos Alves De Brito in a statement. "We just think this is good for our business and the environment."

The shift will require uprooting 6 terawatt-hours—enough to power Spain for a month—and transferring it to wind and solar. They will begin by installing their own solar panels on their facilities worldwide. They are also making plans to power their facility in Mexico by purchasing 490 gigawatt-hours annually from Iberdrola SA, a Spanish electricity company, that is currently in the process of building a 220-megawatt wind farm in Puebla, Mexico.

AB InBev is the largest beer maker to commit to renewable energy in the world.

"Whether you're brewing beer or making cars, embracing clean and renewable energy is the smart thing to do," Jodie Van Horn, director of Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign, said.

"That's why Anheuser-Busch joins a growing coalition of nearly 90 companies and 25 U.S. cities that have committed to go all-in on clean, renewable energy," Van Horn continued. "As the Trump Administration attempts to unravel protections designed to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives, businesses, cities and states throughout the U.S. and across the world will continue to step-up to lead the transition to clean, renewable energy."

President Donald Trump's executive order to wipe out President Barack Obama's climate legacy was met with widespread opposition from, well, just about anyone who cares about clean air and water.

In response to Tuesday's order, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, "Mr. Trump, you cannot run a government by rejecting science. Listen to the scientific community, not the CEOs of the fossil fuel industry."

Sanders—who has one of the strongest records on climate change in the Senate and is one of the new president's harshest critics—also posted a video onto social media calling Trump's "anti-environmental executive orders" a "disaster" and a "threat to the future of this country, and to the future of the world."

Trump's order has rolled back Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan that limits emissions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce harmful carbon emissions and particle pollution that would benefit the climate and provide important public health protections at the same time.

Trump, however, does not seem to care about that. At yesterday's signing ceremony, the president surrounded himself with company executives and coal miners and promised that his sweeping order will create jobs.

"C'mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?" Trump said. "You're going back to work."

But as Sanders' widely viewed video shows, the president's promise to bring back coal jobs is a "flat out lie." U.S. mining jobs have been on the decline for decades whereas the renewable energy sector can create millions of jobs while protecting the climate at the same time.

Indeed, a new Sierra Club analysis of Dept. of Energy 2017 jobs data across the energy sector found that clean energy jobs overwhelm fossil fuels in nearly every state.

"What our job is, is not to expand the use of fossil fuels," Sanders said. "It is to significantly cut back on fossil fuels, move to energy efficiency and sustainable energies like wind, solar and geothermal."

Sanders lamented that the United States is being led by a president who thinks that climate change is a "hoax" created by the Chinese. He believes that Trump's actions threaten "not only this generation" but also "the lives of our kids and our grandchildren," Sanders added. He then vowed to fight the order "every step of the way."

The senator is not alone in his disapproval of the Trump administration's anti-environmental polices.

Jane Goodall called the administration's agenda "depressing," as it could push the United States' pledge to the 2015 Paris climate agreement out of reach.

"I find it immensely depressing because many of us—not just my institute—have been working really hard to create the Paris agreement and global effort to cut carbon emissions," Goodall told reporters before a speech at American University in Washington. "Thinking that the USA isn't going to play its part, such a major industrial country, is really very, very sad and it just means we're going to have to work harder."

The famed primatologist and conservationist went on to say that she's seen the effects of our rapidly warming planet firsthand.

"Because I'm traveling all over the world 300 days a year, I have seen the result of climate change and we know, science has shown, that global temperatures are warming and these so-called greenhouse gases are blanketing the globe," she said.

Goodall then rejected the attitudes of many politicians who actively oppose climate change policies by claiming they do not know the science behind it.

"There's no way we can say climate change isn't happening: it's happened," she said. "The argument that people give is, 'Well, we can't prove that human activities are the main cause of this,' and I just heard the other day that one of the president's people [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt] said, 'Well, we don't think carbon monoxide is the main greenhouse gas.'"

Pruitt notoriously said in an interview with CNBC earlier this month that CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming.

"So being not a scientist in that field, I tend to listen to scientists who do work in that field, like Nicholas Stern, and I would not dream of refuting the science that shows climate change is happening, it's happening everywhere, it's already having devastating effects in many parts of the word and the droughts are getting worse, flooding's getting worse, storms, hurricanes are getting more frequent and more violent. And the main thing is unpredictability: everywhere I go people say well it's not normally like that at this time of year," Goodall said.

Sponsored

Maryland is on track to become the third state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas, after the Senate voted 35-10 on Monday for a measure already approved by the House.

The bill is now headed to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is in favor of a statewide fracking ban.

Hogan, who once said that fracking is " an economic gold mine," stunned many with his complete turnaround at a press conference earlier this month.

"We must take the next step to move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking," the governor said. "The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits."

Once signed into law, Maryland would be the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature.

Don't Frack Maryland, a coalition of more than 140 business, public interest, community, faith, food and climate groups, has campaigned vigorously for a statewide ban through rallies, marches, petition deliveries and phone calls to legislators.

"Today's vote is a result of the work of thousands of Marylanders who came out to town halls, hearings and rallies across the state. The grassroots movement to ban fracking overcame the high-powered lobbyists and deep pockets of the oil and gas industry," said Mitch Jones, Food & Water Watch senior policy advocate. "We worked tirelessly to make sure our legislators and the governor were held accountable to the demands of voters and followed the science. Now we look forward to Governor Hogan signing this bill into law and finally knowing that our water, climate and families will be protected from the dangers of fracking."

Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club, also commended the Maryland General Assembly for this "bipartisan victory."

"Congratulations go to the thousands of people across the state, particularly those in Western Maryland, who stood up for their beliefs, who organized, lobbied and rallied to get this legislation passed," Tulkin said. "This ban is a major step for Maryland's path to a clean energy economy."

Supporters of fracking say it creates jobs and provides energy security.

"Denying Maryland consumers, businesses and job-seekers the benefits that come with in-state energy production through hydraulic fracturing shuts the door on an important share of the American energy renaissance and western Maryland's future economic growth," Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, told the Associated Press after the vote.

But opponents of the drilling process, which involves shooting highly pressurized water and chemicals into underground formations to release oil and gas, cite health and environmental risks such as air and water pollution and earthquakes.

Fracking does not currently take place in Maryland but a moratorium on issuing permits ends in October.

Elisabeth Hoffman of Howard County Climate Action said that alarming research about fracking's harms has emerged during the state moratorium, adding that "voices from fracked states were sounding the alarms as well."

"We are relieved and overjoyed that the state Senate has said NO to fracking," she added.

The implications of the Senate's vote are far reaching, according to Natalie Atherton of Citizen Shale.

"Western Maryland is surrounded by fracking just across our state borders. We have learned from and worked with our neighbors whose health has been compromised for years," Atherton said. "Already Citizen Shale is being approached by communities in other states, hoping to learn how they can ban fracking where they live. This has become a movement of people, and it won't stop with Maryland."

Yesterday's vote was widely applauded by environmental groups especially in light of the Trump administration's apparent assault on environmental regulations.

"Despite Trump's efforts to block climate action and roll back protections for people and the planet, communities in Maryland took matters into their own hands. This is an incredible victory that speaks to the power of grassroots organizing to take on the fossil fuel industry. Fracking is a reckless practice that threatens health and safety while intensifying the climate crisis," 350.org Fracking Campaign coordinator Linda Capato Jr. said.

Capato is urging a similar movement worldwide.

"Maryland is taking a huge step forward, but communities are continuing to suffer as fracking and extreme extraction expands worldwide. This fight is a great reminder that when communities organize, we win," she said. "As more people fight back against this dangerous and dirty industry, elected officials everywhere should follow Maryland and other state's example by banning fracking and putting the health of our communities and climate first."

By Alexandra Rosenmann

President Trump's push for "clean coal," almost makes sense, explained Stephen Colbert.

"I know clean coal sounds like an oxymoron but so does President Trump," the Late Show host noted.

"There's really clean coal," insisted Colbert. "Back in high school, I had a girlfriend in Canada who was a clean coal miner."

Apparently this ex-girlfriend told the host that Canadians "mine the clean coal and put it on that silver-bullet train and then they send it to Narnia where the Keebler Elves use it to power the pump on the fountain of youth. And when you burn clean coal it actually makes the air cleaner. So clean you can just see right through the air, like you can see through [Trump's] lie."

Colbert then pointed out how this aspect of the plan takes America's climate policy back decades, through an updated version of the iconic "Woodsy the Owl."

"Woodsy," famous for his "Give a hoot—don't pollute!" motto, is a national public service icon dating back to 1971.

Except today, Woodsy's message would be "Go Pollute! F*ck the Planet!"

Watch:

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

Sponsored

Amid questions over whether the executive order would end U.S. involvement in the Paris agreement—and with no firm indication from the White House about staying in the agreement—top European Union climate official Miguel Arias Cañete expressed "regret" over Trump's policies Tuesday, promising that the European Union "will stand by Paris, we will defend Paris and we will implement Paris."

China showed it would continue to cement its global leadership on climate, as officials reaffirmed to press the country was still committed to the Paris agreement and adding "China's resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change."

Former United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change leader Christiana Figueres expressed confidence in the agreement's durability, telling Fusion in an interview that the economic benefits of a global clean energy transition make the agreement "unstoppable."

"It's important to understand that no single country, no matter how large or small, can cancel the Paris Climate Agreement," explained Figueres. "The Paris Agreement is a multilateral agreement that has gone into force, and any country has the right to exit the agreement, or in fact to exit the Convention, but that doesn't mean that the multilateral structure is actually canceled."

For a deeper dive:

EU: Washington Post, AP, WSJ, The Guardian China: New York Times, Reuters

Figueres: PRI, Fusion Commentary: The Guardian, Damian Carrington analysis

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

I led a coalition of 23 states, cities and counties in opposing President Trump's executive order today that the administration described as paving the way to eliminating the Clean Power Plan rule.

The coalition—which includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia, as well as the chief legal officers of the cities of Boulder, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, South Miami and Broward County, Florida—issued the following statement today:

"We strongly oppose President Trump's executive order that seeks to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.

"Addressing our country's largest source of carbon pollution—existing fossil fuel-burning power plants—is both required under the Clean Air Act and essential to mitigating climate change's growing harm to our public health, environments and economies.

"We won't hesitate to protect those we serve—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump's actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change."

The Clean Power Plan is the culmination of a decade-long effort by partnering states and cities to require mandatory cuts in the emissions of climate change pollution from fossil fuel-burning power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan, along with the companion rule applicable to new, modified and reconstructed power plants, will control these emissions by setting limits on the amount of climate change pollution that power plants can emit. The rule for existing plants is expected to eliminate as much climate change pollution as is emitted by more than 160 million cars a year—or 70 percent of the nation's passenger cars.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted the Clean Power Plan through a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on the experience of states and utilities in reducing power plant greenhouse gas emissions. A number of states have already taken a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving forward with their own programs. These states recognize that, on such a crucial issue that is already costing taxpayers billions of dollars in storm response and other costs, state action alone will not be enough and strong federal actions like the Clean Power Plan are needed.

In November 2015, a coalition of 25 states, cities and counties, which I led, intervened in defense of the Clean Power Plan against legal challenge in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The court heard oral argument en banc for a full day in late September; a decision is expected soon.

On Dec. 29, 2016, a broad coalition of states and localities called on President-Elect Trump to continue the federal government's defense of the Clean Power Plan in a letter, urging him to reject "misguided advice" from a group of Attorneys General led by West Virginia to discard the Clean Power Plan.

A quick overview of the Trump administration's pro-fossil fuel agenda and its roster of climate-denying oil and gas cronies in cabinet seats could lead anyone to believe that matters of energy policy are more partisan than ever. And indeed, it's clear that at the national level, the Republican Party as a whole is still largely committed to an antiquated and thoroughly dangerous plan to keep the country hooked on fossil fuels indefinitely.

Yet suddenly, the old rules do not apply. Maryland's state legislature has passed a ban on fracking, which, with the blessing of the Republican governor of the state, is expected to be signed into law any day now. This twist shows fracking is not a partisan issue and puts additional pressure on Democratic leaders to actually lead to protect our communities or air and water and our climate—and oppose fracking.

Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had this to say about fracking:

"The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits ... I've decided that we must take the next step and move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking."

It's Not Just Maryland: Florida's Bi-Partisan Ban Bill Moving

Now, for the first time, a Republican governor has listened to the science and popular opinion by declaring opposition to fracking. In so doing, he has not just toppled a wall of partisanship on the issue in the state, but also made it impossible for the undecided Senate Democratic leadership to do anything but pass a ban on fracking.

But Republican support for banning fracking is not just limited to Maryland. In Florida, bills have been introduced in both houses by Republicans with a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors to ban fracking in a state. The Senate bill has already advanced through its first committee by a unanimous vote and support for both bills continue to grow.

Maryland's Ban Another Milestone for the Movement

Maryland's ban on fracking will mark the latest in a series of recent milestones for the anti-fracking movement, each pointing to steadily evolving politics on the issue:

New York

The first milestone came when Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York at the end of 2014. Vermont had banned fracking earlier, in what was an important but largely symbolic political statement given that the state does not have gas reserves. New York, though, with its large swath of rural land sitting above the Marcellus shale formation (which also runs under western Maryland), was very much desired by the fracking industry. In response, Food & Water Watch joined with hundreds of local groups to form a robust statewide coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, that coordinated an unprecedented multi-year grassroots campaign to ban fracking there.

In the end, Gov. Cuomo was compelled to ban fracking not just by a thorough examination of the science and facts on the hazardous practice—which his Department of Health dutifully undertook—but also by the overwhelming grassroots movement that had emerged around the issue. A huge corner had been turned: For the first time in America, fracking was banned in a place where it was otherwise very likely to happen. Additionally, the anti-fracking movement finally had a leader of national prominence willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and say "no."

The 2016 Presidential Race

Another key milestone in the fight against fracking came with the emergence of Sen. Bernie Sanders as a potent political force in the 2016 presidential campaign. Initially dismissed by pundits and party insiders as a fringe candidate, the Sanders campaign steadily rose to become a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton's political machine. Among Sanders' most popular and potent policy planks was his call to ban fracking everywhere.

Sanders' rise was another shot in the arm for the anti-fracking movement. His clear call to ban fracking may have seemed unusually bold to some, but in fact he was simply responding to the will of the people. By early 2016, national polling had clearly swung against fracking, with a majority of all Americans—and an even greater majority of Democrats—opposed to it. Still, despite his advocacy and the overwhelming support for a fracking ban among Democrats, the party establishment still managed to prevent the party platform from embracing a ban on fracking.

Democratic Governors That Still Support Fracking

Gov. Hogan's support of a fracking ban in Maryland draws a stark contrast with several Democratic governors who claim to have green credentials, but have been unwilling to listen to their constituents and stand up to the oil and gas industry.

California: Gov. Brown

California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, for instance has attempted to claim the mantle of environmental leadership in the Trump era, yet he stubbornly defends oil fracking taking place throughout his state, even as his own constituents, county by county, are steadily rejecting the practice.

Fracking is now banned in six California counties and grassroots campaigns are currently underway to ban it in others. Most notably, in November last year, voters in Monterey County took to the polls to ban fracking and further drilling in the county, despite millions being spent by the industry against this grassroots movement. This marked the first county in the country to ban fracking where the industry was already well-established. Not only did Brown not support the community in this case, but he continues to allow dangerous practices like the use of oil wastewater to irrigate crops and the injection of wastewater in to aquifers.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf was elected governor in 2014, promising to bring an outsider reform perspective to a state that has suffered the blight of fracking for years. However, while Wolf has pledged to continue to prevent fracking from being done in the Delaware River Basin, he remains committed to allowing and potentially expanding fracking throughout the rest of state even as residents fall ill and more and more water supplies are contaminated. His current budget proposal calls for a new extraction tax on gas drilling, which would make the state's budget dependent on the continuation of this dirty practice.

And, Gov. Wolf also continues to push additional infrastructure linked to fracking. Just this month his office released a study backing four new ethane cracker plants to support fracking for natural gas liquids in Pennsylvania. The report declared that these developments would also attract "a world-class petrochemical industry" to the state, provided there were sufficient pipelines and storage facilities to enable it. This will ensure continued drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania.

Colorado: Gov. Hickenlooper

Colorado is another state where a Democratic governor has sided with the oil and gas industry over the health and safety of its communities. Gov. Hickenlooper has a long history of supporting fracking and related activities. In 2012, he appeared in industry-sponsored ads proclaiming fracking to be safe. The following year, he sued the city of Longmont after it passed its own local ballot measure banning fracking. He won and the people of Longmont lost.

Most recently, Hickenlooper was an outspoken opponent of the 2016 ballot initiative effort that would have guaranteed local municipalities like Longmont the right to enact moratoriums or bans on fracking and enact a 2,500 foot setback to protect water, health and communities.

Growing the Movement

As it becomes increasingly clear that we need to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, the Maryland ban and positive movement in Florida proves that fracking is a bipartisan issue. But with Republicans nationally denying climate change and several leading Democrats refusing to take meaningful action to leave fossil fuels in the ground, it's critical that we continue to organize and build political power in legislative districts across the country to fight for what we really need for the future of the planet: A ban on fracking, rejection of related infrastructure and a quick transition to 100 percent renewable energy future.

Republican legislators in Florida and the governor in Maryland are far better on oil and gas policy than so called environmental leader Jerry Brown. As a movement, we need to hold all these elected officials accountable—regardless of party affiliation—and highlight those who are taking meaningful action for the survival of our planet.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to begin the process of repealing several Obama-era actions tackling the climate crisis and protecting clean air and water, including steps to begin the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, roll back Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards, rescind National Environmental Policy Act guidance that directs agencies to account for the climate crisis and end efforts to reform the broken federal coal leasing program.

A new Sierra Club analysis of Department of Energy 2017 jobs data across the energy sector makes it clear that the sector Scott Pruitt and Trump will be attacking—clean energy—employs far more American workers than the fossil fuel industry. Coal is declining so rapidly—thanks to grassroots activism and market forces in the U.S. and abroad—and clean energy is growing at such a fast pace that the U.S. is on track to meet its Clean Power Plan goals and the U.S. has a path to meet its goals under the Paris climate agreement.

Pruitt's own agency confirmed that the Clean Power Plan will lower electricity rates while saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives every year. Meanwhile, there are legions of obstacles Trump must overcome to actually dismantle the Clean Power Plan—he can't do it with the stroke of a pen.

Donald Trump's executive order would let dirty power plants spew unlimited pollution into our air while ignoring the climate crisis, unraveling protections that are designed to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. In fact, Trump's sweeping order is the single biggest attack on climate action in U.S. history, period.

The safeguards Trump is trying to throw out protect all families in America by curbing dangerous carbon pollution and reducing other dangerous pollutants like mercury, methane and sulfur dioxide—but unfortunately Trump would rather pad the fossil fuel industry's profits. But it's not just padding their profits with threats to our health, it's also being done with our wallets. Ending the coal leasing moratorium does nothing but sell-out our publicly-owned lands for pennies on the dollar to coal companies.

Worse, Trump's attack ignores reality—not just the reality of the climate crisis, but the reality that the clean energy economy is rapidly growing in both red and blue states, creating jobs and safeguarding our air and water. The best way to protect workers and the environment is to invest in growing the clean energy economy that is already outpacing fossil fuels and ensuring no one is left behind at a time when we can declare independence from dirty fuels by embracing clean energy, this action could only deepen our dependence on fuels that pollute our air, water and climate while making our kids sicker.

Meanwhile, grassroots advocates have helped push coal to its lowest level in history by retiring nearly 250 plants nationwide and cities ranging from Salt Lake City, Utah to Georgetown, Texas are committing to 100 percent clean energy.

Because of strong local action to replace coal and gas with clean energy we are on track to meet the Clean Power Plan's 2030 emissions targets as soon as next year and clean energy growth nationwide will continue unabated. However, the Clean Power Plan is a critical tool that helps every state benefit from the clean energy economy and plan for an orderly and effective transition away from fossil fuels. Sadly, Trump's aggressive pro-polluter action means residents living downwind of the remaining coal- and gas-powered power plants will suffer from dirtier air while missing out on many of the benefits of the fair and just clean energy economy the Clean Power Plan would help create. And kids everywhere face a deeply uncertain future, with a president content to let the climate crisis spiral out of control.

The good news is that the safeguards Trump wants to shred—like the Clean Power Plan—are on a strong legal footing and the public will have the chance to voice its objections as the Trump administration tries to roll them back. Trump can't reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen and we'll fight Trump in the courts, in the streets and at the state and local level across America to protect the health of every community.

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How Fracking Destroys the American Dream

Last fall, Resource Media compiled an in-depth media tip sheet to provide journalists with background information and sources about the growing body of evidence linking drilling with widespread impacts on property values, property rights and quality of life in communities across America.

Drilling near Mansfield, TX.

Since we first published Drilling vs. The American Dream, fracking has continued unabated, inching up and into ever more cities, towns and neighborhoods. To keep up with the changes, we updated the guide to include new data and research and new stories from the growing choir of millions of Americans who are now directly affected by oil and gas development:

Drilling vs the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values

There are currently more than 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S., and more than 15 million Americans now live within a mile of the hundreds of thousands that have been drilled since 2000, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Made possible by the advent of fracking, drilling is taking place in shale formations from California to New York and from Wyoming to Texas.

And there’s no indication that this “unprecedented industrialization” shows any signs of slowing. Almost 47,000 new oil and natural gas wells were drilled in 2012, and industry analysts project that pace will only continue.

Drilling rigs now regularly inch up and even into communities that never anticipated having to address problems like round-the-clock noise, storage tanks, drums of toxic chemicals, noxious fumes, near-constant truck traffic and pipelines near homes, schools, playgrounds and parks. For many, the impacts of this kind of large-scale industrial activity are incompatible with quality of life.

Congressman Jared Polis saw this firsthand last fall when a drilling rig went up on property neighboring his small farm in Weld County, CO. Polis, who said he had no notice of the fracking operations, filed a complaint with state regulators and then a lawsuit over concerns “about the impact that fracking has on the health of communities as well as the economic impact as it relates to property value.”

Also look no further than Exxon CEO and board chairman Rex Tillerson, who is suing to stop construction of a water tower that would supply nearby drilling operations because of the nuisance of, among other things, heavy truck traffic, noise and traffic hazards from the fracking operations the tower would support. That’s right, the head of the single largest drilling company in the world, acknowledges the “constant and unbearable nuisance” that would come from having “lights on at all hours of the night … traffic at unreasonable hours … noise from mechanical and electrical equipment.” Tellingly, Tillerson’s lawsuit—filed in 2012 with other plaintiffs, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey—claims the project would do “irreparable harm” to his property values.

At a more macro level, research is staring to show that energy booms such as the current drilling frenzy may not be the economic windfall that boosters make them out to be. After the initial surge in income and jobs that comes with drilling, problems inevitably follow: higher crime rate, decreased educational attainment and over the long run, significant declines in income. The more heavily a community ties itself to the drilling economy, the greater the decline.

“The magnitude of this relationship is substantial,” the study authors are quoted saying in the Washington Post, “decreasing per capita income by as much as $7,000 for a county with high participation in the boom.”

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

For those who own the rights to the oil and gas on their properties, the impacts of drilling can be offset by royalty payments that come from selling them to oil and gas developers. But in most parts of the country, the legal doctrine of split estates allows one party to own the rights to minerals and other resources below the surface while someone else hold the rights to property above ground. With the oil and gas industry showing little self-restraint and drilling encroaching into cities, towns and suburbs, split estates have left millions to deal with problems such as increased truck traffic, chemicals, lights, noise, heavy equipment, noxious air emissions and water—all without any compensation.

There are weak regulatory protections and few legal precedents to protect residents from this kind of industrial activity in their back yards. Regulations on how far drilling must be set back from homes and schools, for example, provide almost no cushion—often only several hundred feet—to mitigate drilling’s impacts on nearby homes and businesses.

Feeling unprotected by weak state and federal regulations, however, more and more communities are starting to fight back by passing local laws restricting or banning fracking within their borders. Pittsburgh became the first to take matters into its own hands with an ordinance in 2010. Since then, many others have followed suit: Dallas, Los Angeles, multiple cities and towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, counties in New Mexico. Last fall in Colorado, voters in four cities passed ballot measures banning or severely restricting fracking, three of them overwhelmingly. And this year, backers are gathering signatures for a 2014 statewide ballot measure that would give Colorado cities and towns local control over drilling-related policy decisions within their borders.

This pushback against drilling and its impacts goes beyond simple NIMBYism. The financial risks posed by drilling are real and substantial enough—as detailed below—that banks and insurers are also now adopting guidelines that forbid mortgage loans or insurance coverage on properties affected by drilling. It’s a battle between oil and gas and the nest egg of countless Americans.

The following examples begin to piece together the ways in which the threats posed by drilling and the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry quite literally hit home. Taken together, they are a call for decision-makers to start quantifying data and asking tough questions about drilling vs. the American Dream.

  • In a 2013 survey of 550 people conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver, a strong majority said they would decline to buy a home near drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent.
  • Realtors in Colorado are taking note as clients become increasingly hesitant about buying homes near drilling sites, with fewer and fewer bids rolling in. “Some don’t want to even look at anything remotely close to any existing or proposed well sites,” Boulder County real estate agent Nanner Fisher told the Colorado Independent. She also told Boulder iJournal that “if there is a well that’s visible when you show a property, [the prospective buyer] will ask to look for something else. A lot of it is the visual effect of the well site,” she said. “And, they think if you can see it, it’s gotta be close enough that it’s not healthy.”
  • An economic analysis by the Headwaters Institute undermines the idea that oil and gas developments fatten the bank accounts of communities and leave them better off than before drilling started. While there may be short-term windfalls, the study of six western states found that over the long-term “oil and gas specialization is observed to have negative effects on change in per capita income, crime rate and education rate.”
  • Denver Realtor Adam Cox wrote in a column in the Colorado Statesman that “potential buyers balk at buying homes near a drilling site, even though that’s often where the discounted homes are” because they are so close to oil and gas activity. Similarly, he said, homeowners near drilling sites “often have to sell at significantly lower prices than when originally purchased due to the oil and gas industry neighbors.”
  • The fumes, lights and deafening noise that came after a neighbor leased adjacent land for fracking became unbearable and forced to move from their Cleveland suburban home. In an interview with Reuters, she said they were able to sell their house for $225,000, only half its appraised value.
  • In the Catskills, fracking fears have already impacted the real estate market even though the state has yet to make a determination on whether to allow drilling. The prospect that the state will open the region to drilling, as the New York Times reported, “has spooked potential buyers” in upstate New York. The Times story also quoted a realtor who shut down her business In Wayne County, PA. Agents there, the woman said, are having trouble selling rural properties “because people don’t want to be anywhere near the drilling.”
  • A study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the risks and potential liabilities of drilling outweigh economic benefits like lease payments and potential economic development in Washington County, PA. Even though lease payments can add overall value to homes with wells drilled on them, the possibility of contaminated water decreases property value by an average of 24 percent. The boost that comes from signing a lease offsets the increases, leaving a net decrease in value of 13 percent.
  • A 2010 study of the Texas real estate market in the heavily drilled suburban-Dallas area near Flower Mound concluded that homes valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a drilling pad or well site saw values decrease by 3 to 14 percent.
  • Faced with a boom in coal-bed methane development in the early 2000s, officials in La Plata County, CO studied the impacts of oil and gas development and found that properties with a well drilled on them saw their value decrease by 22 percent.
  • In a 2005 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that oil and gas production “significantly affect the sale price for rural properties.” The study determined that the presence of oil and gas facilities within 2.5 miles of rural residential properties in Alberta, Canada reduced property values between 4 percent and 8 percent, with the potential for doubling the decrease, depending on the level of industrial activity.
  • In Pavilion, WY, where the EPA has linked groundwater contamination with fracking, Louis Meeks saw the value of his 40-acre alfalfa farm all but disappear completely. In 2006, his land and home were appraised at $239,000. Two years later, as ProPublica reported, “a local realtor sent Meeks a coldly worded letter saying his place was essentially worthless and she could not list his property. ‘Since the problem was well documented … and since no generally-accepted reason for the blowout has been agreed upon,’ she wrote, ‘buyers may feel reluctant to purchase a property with this stigma.’ ”
  • Similar nightmares have befallen residents of Dimock, PA, where fracking problems decimated home values, and the drilling company responsible, Cabot Resources, was ordered to pay impacted fam­i­lies set­tle­ments worth twice their prop­erty val­ues, a total of more than $4 mil­lion.  
  • In North Texas, the Wise County Central Appraisal District Appraisal Review Board knocked down the appraised value of one family’s home and 10-acre ranchette from $257,000 to $75,000—a decrease of more than 70 percent. The board agreed to the extraordinary reduction as a result of numerous environmental problems related to fracking—just one year after the first drilling rig when up on the property.

A well and battery of natural gas storage tanks near homes in Longmont, CO. Photo credit: Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont

Property Rights

  • Unbeknownst to many suburban homeowners, homebuilders are starting to quietly retain mineral rights beneath the subdivisions they build in suburban areas. DR Horton has been perhaps the most notable construction company to employ this new tactic. In 2012, after an investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Real Estate Commission, officials pressured the Texas-based homebuilder to return mineral rights it had retained from beneath about 850 homes. Residents who live in a Florida subdivision built by Horton were equally surprised when they found out that the company also held the rights to prospect for whatever minerals lie beneath 2,500 of their homes near Tampa.
  • As documented by Reuters, homeowners in subdivisions in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and other states have all purchased homes without disclosure about severed mineral rights only to see drilling rigs spring up next door too late for them to do anything about it. “This is a huge case of buyer beware,” University of Colorado-Denver Law Professor Lloyd Burton told reporters. “People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don’t exactly go out of their way to let people know.”
  • Senate and House committees in the Colorado Legislature have passed a measure that, much like disclosures for lead paint, would require sellers to notify prospective homebuyers about separated mineral rights and whether a property may be subject to oil, gas or mineral development. Senate Bill 14-009 is awaiting approval by both chambers to be forwarded to the governor.
  • In at least 39 states, there are laws that compel “holdout landowners” to join gas-leasing agreements with their neighbors, allowing oil and gas companies to drill horizontally to tap into oil and gas reserves that cross property lines—whether the owner of a property wants to allow the drilling or not. Called “mandatory pooling” or “compulsory integration,” these laws basically create eminent domain by private enterprise.
  • Pooling gives the owner an interest in the well, including royalty payments, but as in Colorado, where forced pooling orders were issued by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 48 times in 2010, the law also makes the unwilling owner “liable for the further costs of the operation, as if he had participated in the initial drilling operation.”
  • The intent of forced pooling is to create more orderliness in drilling underground oil and gas reserves, which rarely adhere to the patchwork of surface ownership. Forcing holdout landowners into leasing agreements is supposed to lead to fewer wells drilled and more efficiency in the ones that are. But it’s also frequently used as a threat by landmen looking to cash in on leases.

Mortgages and Fracking

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

Recognizing the numerous ways that drilling and fracking could damage value, the mortgage industry is starting to refuse to take on the financial liabilities and is tightening policies that prohibit lending on properties with wells on them or that are subject to leasing.

  • Following the debacle in North Carolina over severed mineral rights (see above) the State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina officially has decided it will no longer approve mortgage financing for properties where the drilling rights have been sold off to someone else. The credit union, which manages almost $12 billion in residential mortgages, said it considers loans on such land to be riskier than those where the mineral rights remain with the land.
  • According to American Banker, at least three mortgage lending institutions—Tompkins Financial in Ithaca, NY, Spain’s Santander Bank and State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, NC—are now refusing to make mortgages on land where oil or gas rights have been sold to an energy company. The publication quoted the president and CEO of the North Carolina credit union saying that if a landowner allows a drilling rig to go up on his or her their land, “We’d have to tell their neighbors, “We’re sorry, your property value just went down.’ ” (Also quoted in the Motley Fool.)
  • Language in Freddie Mac’s standard mortgage contracts prohibit a “borrower from taking any action that could cause the deterioration, damage or decrease in value of the subject property,” and if the prohibition is broken by say, a landowner signing a drilling lease or entering into a mineral-rights agreement, Freddie Mac has the legal authority to exercise a call on a mortgage’s full amount if a borrower, according to an agency spokesman.
  • According to a white paper prepared for the New York State Bar Association, Wells Fargo, one of the largest home mortgage lender in the U.S. is approaching home loans for properties that have gas drilling leases attached to them with a high degree of caution.
  • In addition to Wells Fargo, Provident Funding, GMAC, FNCB, Fidelity and First Liberty, First Place Bank, Solvay Bank, Tompkins Trust Co., CFCU Community Credit Union are either putting hard-to-meet conditions on mortgages or denying loans altogether on properties with oil and gas leases. (Excellent summary of oil and gas issues related to mortgage lending from a brokerage vice president is available online.)
  • The backgrounder prepared by the NYSBA about gas leasing impacts on homeowners also includes a section on residential mortgages and says the combination of home-ownership and drilling, “creates a perfect storm begging for immediate attention.” Risks include:
    – Homeowners being confronted with uninsurable property damage for activities they cannot control.
    – Banks refusing to provide mortgage loans on homes with gas leases because they don’t meet secondary mortgage market guidelines.
    – Impediments to new construction starts, long a bellwether of economic recovery, since construction loans depend on risk-free property and a purchaser.
    – The possibility of a property owner defaulting on a mortgage by signing a gas lease.
    – Prohibitively expensive appraisals and title searches that are complicated by assessing the value of risks and the arcane paper trail of mineral rights and attached liabilities.




  • A Pennsylvania couple was recently denied a new mortgage on their farm by Quicken Loans because of a drilling site across the street. According to the lender, “gas wells and other structures in nearby lots…can significantly degrade a property’s value” and do not meet underwriting guidelines. Two other lenders also denied the family mortgages.
  • Federal lending and mortgage institutions (FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) all have prohibitions against lending on properties where drilling is taking place or where hazardous materials are stored. A drilling lease on a property financed through one of these agencies would result in a ”technical default.” FHA’s guidelines also don’t allow it to finance mortgages where homes are within 300 feet of an active or planned drilling site. Also see http://bit.ly/1dIen28.

Drilling next to the Eagle Valley subdivision in Frederick, CO. Photo credit:
Erik Hoffner

Insurance Coverage

Homeowners who think damage to property incurred by drilling accidents is covered by insurance need to think again. Such damages are typically not covered.

  • Last July, Nationwide Insurance spelled out specifically that it would not provide coverage for damage related to fracking. According to an internal memo outlining the company’s policy, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”
  • Often, a driller or well operator’s insurance won’t cover damages, according to the NYSBA summary. Homeowners may have to sue for damages and, even if they win, may not get paid for all damages since drillers admit in their regulatory filings that they may not carry enough insurance.

Other online resources:

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.

If approved, the varieties would be the first new GMO crops authorized for cultivation in the EU since 1998.

However, as Reuters noted, the votes against authorization did not decisively block their entry to the EU because the opposition did not represent a "qualified majority."

A qualified majority is achieved when at least 16 countries, representing at least 65 percent of the European population, vote in favor or against. (Scroll down for the vote breakdown)

The majority of EU governments also voted against renewing the license for another maize, Monsanto's MON810, the only GMO crop currently grown in the EU. The votes against its renewal was not considered decisive either.

MON810 is banned in 17 EU countries and is grown on less than 1 percent of agricultural land, mainly in Spain and Portugal, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

The Brussels-based environmental advocacy group says the fates of the three crops now rests with the European Commission and is calling on Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, to reject the new GMO crops.

"Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops at Jean-Claude Juncker," said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, in a statement. "He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically-modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialization of our countryside."

Greenpeace EU explained that if the three authorizations are approved, they would only be valid in nine out of 28 EU countries, as well as in three regions (England in the UK, Flanders and the Brussels region in Belgium). The remaining 19 EU countries and regions in the UK and Belgium have used the EU's opt-out mechanism to prevent GMO crops from being grown in their territories.

Although GMO crops are grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe. While many scientific reviews have concluded that the crops are safe for human consumption and the environment, there are many others that conclude the opposite. Many EU countries have strict laws against GMOs due to public health and environmental concerns. All 28 EU member countries require GMO labeling.

Friends of the Earth Europe has expressed safety concerns of these GMO crops, "especially whether they unintentionally kill butterflies and moths."

"There is no political or public support for genetically-modified crops; farmers don't even want them. It's time for President Juncker to pull the plug on this failed technology once and for all, and to focus on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to genetically-modified crops and move on," Schimpf added.

Similarly, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg commented that the European Commission should back away from supporting "risky" products.

"When he was elected, Commission President Juncker promised more democratic decision-making. This vote leaves no doubt that approving these GMO crops would break that promise," Achterberg said in a statement. "A majority of governments, parliamentarians and Europeans oppose them, and two thirds of European countries ban GMO cultivation on their lands. Instead of backing risky products peddled by multinational corporations, the commission should support ecological farming and the solutions it provides for rural areas, farmers and the environment."

Katherine Paul, associate director of Organic Consumers Association agrees. "President Juncker has an opportunity to do the right thing, by siding with the majority of EU countries that oppose the introduction of these new GMO crops," she told EcoWatch.

"To do anything less, would send EU leaders and citizens the wrong message—that corporations can buy the approval of crops that farmers and citizens don't want, crops that must be grown using chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment. We hope Mr. Juncker will stand up to corporate pressure, and instead come down in favor of health, safety and organic, regenerative alternatives to chemical agriculture."

Ken Roseboro of the Organic & Non-GMO Report shared the same sentiment. "The European Union has remained steadfast in rejecting GM crops in their member states for nearly 20 years, and these votes reflect that anti-GMO stand," he said. "The European people don't want to eat GM foods, there is not market for them there, and yet the biotech companies continue to try to push their GMOs. Hopefully,Commission President Juncker will side with the wishes of the majority of the European people and reject approval of these GM crops."

Here is Monday's vote breakdown, according to Friends of the Earth Europe:

On renewal of GMO maize MON 810

8 Member States voted in favor, representing 34.45% of the EU population: CZ, EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, SV, UK.

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.26% of the EU population: BE, DE, HR, MT, PT, SK

14 Member states voted to reject, representing 43.29% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, IT, LT 14

On authorisation of GMO maize 1507

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT

On authorisation of GMO maize Bt 11

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT 47,27%

By Fossil Free Penn

At 9 a.m. today, 33 students at the University of Pennsylvania entered College Hall, sleeping bags in tow, to sit in with two demands. These demands were:

1. The immediate divestment of the University's endowment from all companies involved with the extraction of coal and tar sands.

2. The establishment and commencement of a plan for full divestment from all fossil fuel corporations within six months.

The students plan to stay until these demands are met and are prepared to risk potential university disciplinary action.

"The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for the continued exacerbation of climate change, a crisis that disproportionately harms marginalized people and groups," Wharton freshman Megan Kyne said. "The University of Pennsylvania's investment in this financially, logically and morally unsound industry perpetuates practices that endanger all and contradict its own claims of dedication to sustainability and equality."

After more than two years of Fossil Free Penn's campaigning, students sit in out of necessity. In response to a 48-page research document detailing the merits of divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, the board of trustees rejected the proposal with a mere 19-word rebuttal in September 2016. Most recently, in response to an open invitation to engage in a public discussion about divestment, the board of trustees refused.

"We have exhausted every other avenue for appealing to reason and logic, but the administration has been uncooperative. They leave us no choice but to sit in," college senior Peter Thacher said.

Students and faculty support Fossil Free Penn's demands, 87.8 percent of undergraduate students voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment in a February 2015 referendum and a faculty letter of support released in April 2016 has amassed 129 signatures. Thus, Fossil Free Penn demands a plan for full fossil fuel divestment. Immediately, however, Fossil Free Penn calls for divestment from coal and tar sands, an imperative step that peer institutions have already made.

Fossil Free Penn and its allies are prepared to maintain their presence in College Hall indefinitely in hopes of ensuring climate justice.

Climate change is amplifying a jet stream pattern responsible for driving many extreme weather events, new research has found.

The study, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, found that climate change has enhanced a planetary airstream that has influenced many recent extreme, persistent weather events, including the 2010 Russian heat wave and wildfires, the 2011 Texas heat wave and drought and the 2013 European floods. The study is the first of its kind to make such a robust connection.

"Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity," climate scientist Michael Mann, author of the study, told The Guardian.

For a deeper dive:

The Guardian, The Independent, Phys.org

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

By Pam Eaton

The Trump administration is desperate to give another gift to the fossil fuel industry—and using every trick in the book to do it.

Last week, the administration asked a court to stop a rule designed to ensure taxpayers get a fair return from oil, gas and coal sold from mines and wells on public lands by asking for a "stay." The "Valuation Rule" was designed to prevent coal companies from pocketing millions of dollars that rightly should go to the American taxpayers. The Wilderness Society had filed court papers to intervene in the court case to defend the rule when the administration asked the court to put the rule on hold.

The new court filing came on the heels of an earlier action last month to shortchange the public to benefit the fossil fuel industry. At the end of February, the Office of Natural Resource Revenue, the agency that is charged with making sure the public gets what it owed for oil, gas and coal on public lands, unilaterally and unlawfully told companies they didn't have to comply with the rule.

"This is an attack on one of our bedrock minerals and environmental laws, the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires the government to get fair market value when federal fossil fuels like coal are developed," said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society's Bureau of Land Management Action Center. "In abandoning the rule, the Trump administration [was] trying to cloak itself in legal terms like 'stay,'—but the action is still not legal," Culver said.

Having given the fossil fuel companies a break from having to pay, the Trump administration intends to make it permanent by rescinding the rule altogether.

The Valuation Rule is also under attack in both the House and the Senate where bills have been introduced to strike down the rule using the Congressional Review Act. Only used once before this year due to its extreme nature, the Congressional Review Act circumvents normal federal procedures and empowers Congress to pursue its own agenda and undo commonsense agency rules.

The administration is using similar tactics to undo other important safeguards on our public lands. On March 15, the Trump administration asked another court to stop legal proceeding challenging the Hydraulic Fracking Rule so it can get started on rescinding that rule too.

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