5 Fatal Flaws in California's New Fracking Regulations
Proposed regulations meant to govern fracking in California would do little to protect the state's environment, wildlife, climate and public health, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Fracking—currently unmonitored in California—uses huge volumes of water mixed with dangerous chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas. Hundreds of wells have been fracked in California in recent years. Today's draft proposal by California's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources was supposed to be the first step in explicitly regulating this controversial practice.
“The Department of Conservation's draft fracking rules do almost nothing to protect our air, water and climate,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. “California faces huge environmental risks unless state officials halt this dangerous fracking boom.”
Among the biggest flaws in California's draft fracking regulations:
1. Little regulatory protection for air, water and climate: The state's draft regulations do nothing to protect people living near fracked wells from air pollutants that increase risks of cancer and respiratory illness. They do not protect residents from exposure to and contamination by the large volume of toxic wastewater fracking produces. They do not require well operators to use devices to capture methane—a potent greenhouse gas. The regulations utterly ignore seismic risks, which science increasingly suggests are linked to fracking. Operators are even given five days to report an unauthorized release of chemical-laden fracking fluids.
2. No requirement to collect and disclose baseline data needed for effective regulation: Well operators would not be required to collect basic air quality and water quality data prior to fracking that is needed to effectively verify no damages occur from fracking.
3. Huge “Trade Secrets” loophole allows well operators to avoid disclosing use of dangerous fracking chemicals: Oil and gas companies could avoid disclosure merely by claiming that maintaining the secrecy of their chemical formulas gives them a competitive advantage. Health professionals would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement before obtaining the information to treat patients harmed by fracking chemicals.
4. No direct notification to people with homes or drinking water wells next to fracking wells: Oil and gas companies need only give state regulators 10 days notice of their fracking plans, and regulators need only give the public three days notice that fracking will occur by posting information to its website.
5. Public notification to occur on industry-linked website: California's draft regulations require well operators to report fracking on FracFocus.org, a website with ties to the oil and gas industry that does not provide real transparency and accountability.
“These draft regulations would keep California's fracking shrouded in secrecy and do little to contain the many threats posed by fracking,” Siegel said. “These regulations are going to have to be completely rewritten if the goal is to provide real protection for our air, water, and communities.”
Current California law already sets forth permitting requirements for subsurface injection that, if enforced, would preclude fracking, but the new regulations would remove fracking from this program.
“Because fracking is not allowed under the current but unenforced regulations, this proposal is worse than nothing,” said Siegel.
Fracking has been tied to water and air pollution in other states, and it releases huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. More than 600 wells in at least nine California counties were fracked in 2011 alone, and recent advances in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale, a geological formation holding an estimated 14 billion barrels of oil.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Click here to sign a petition to tell the Bureau of Land Management to issue strong rules for federal fracking leases on public lands.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.