By Stephen Goss
Amid widespread fears that the boom in fracking for natural gas poses a growing array of environmental threats, some members of Congress are making a new effort to reverse a 2005 law that exempted the industry from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and four other senators re-introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) in June, matching a companion bill already filed in the House of Representatives.
The exemption from federal regulation designed to protect drinking water sources is one of several such measures that Congress has approved to encourage domestic energy development. These exemptions have received increasing scrutiny in recent years as the expansion of U.S. natural gas production has brought with it a storm of complaints over water and air pollution and intrusive industrial activity in unspoiled or sensitive areas.
The FRAC Act would require drilling companies to obtain permits before they inject fracturing fluids laced with highly toxic chemicals into deeply buried rock formations in order to free trapped gas. The bill also would require the companies to disclose what chemicals and other substances they add to the fluids to help crack open the rock and keep the fissures open. Government agencies would be required to verify the information submitted and release it to the public, with the exception of proprietary chemical formulas.
Fracking is inherently risky by drillers’ own admission. As Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reported, the practice presents clear risks to underground sources of drinking water and potentially endangers public health, particularly as drilling companies increasingly set up operations in or near residential areas.
Despite these risks, lobbying by the drilling industry has stymied most attempts to regulate the technology. This is the third time that the FRAC Act has been introduced in Congress, but it has never made it out of committee. Passage would be a crucial step toward protecting public health and the environment, providing greater transparency and oversight over fracking operations that have profited handsomely at the public’s expense.
Even if Congress reverses the drinking water exemption, however, fracking would still be free of other important environmental protections. Specifically:
- Wastes from oil and gas drilling are exempt from the disclosure and hazardous waste handling requirements of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act.
- Oil and gas companies are exempt from the requirement to report releases of toxic substances under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.
- Oil and gas construction facilities are free of the Clean Water Act’s requirement to obtain storm water runoff permits.
- Oil and gas drilling sites are not grouped together for purposes of the Clean Air Act, which requires other industries to count smaller sources of emissions as a single unit to reflect overall impact on air quality.
- Oil and gas drillers are exempt from the liability and clean-up cost provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
- Certain oil and gas drilling activities do not require an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
EWG believes it is critical that lawmakers act quickly to close the loophole that exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The FRAC Act would provide this crucial fix. But passage of the act by itself won’t prevent drillers from taking advantage of other exemptions and loose regulation. Lawmakers—and the Obama administration as well—must do more to resist the drilling industry’s lobbying power and stand up for public health and the environment.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Jessica Corbett
Water protectors were arrested Thursday after halting construction at a Minnesota worksite for Enbridge's Line 3 project by locking themselves together inside a pipe segment.
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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