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Frack Waste Investigation Launched by Pennsylvania Congressman
In light of an increasing number of studies showing that fracking produces toxic emissions that have serious human health impacts throughout the entire process, Pennsylvania Congressman Matt Cartwright, a first-term Democrat, has opened an investigation into how toxic wastes from fracking are regulated.
Photo credit: EcoFlight
"Preliminary reports indicate there are big gaps in protections and oversight that the federal government might have to fill," Cartwright told Inside Climate News.
Fracking is big business in Pennsylvania. As a result of its exponential growth in the last decade, the state is now the third largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. after Texas and Louisiana. But among the many questions surrounding such operations is how the wastewater—the mix of water, chemicals and sand used to blast open the shale—is disposed of. The waste has become something of a hot potato, with many states banning its disposal within their borders. Pennsylvania was among the states which tightened up its regulations so much of its waste is trucked to Ohio.
"Waste is like the forgotten stepchild of the fracking boom," said Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator for environmental nonprofit Earthworks. "It's great that Congressman Cartwright is calling out the state of Pennsylvania on this issue."
While Cartwright wants to find out whether Pennsylvania is complying with the Clean Air Act and has written to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), requesting information on whether state policies and monitoring are adequate to do so, the problem is much larger than Pennsylvania. And Cartwright said his investigation is a "first step in a comprehensive nationwide investigation."
Photo credit: EcoFlight
"We don't know very much about what happens to these wastes and what impacts they may have, and it's important for Congress to take a look at this issue that does not get the attention it deserves," Cartwright told InsideClimate News.
That news won't make the gas and oil industry very happy, which doesn't feel it deserves any attention.
Inside Climate News published an investigation earlier this month that found air emissions from oil and gas fracking waste, often dumped in open pits because it's the cheapest way to dispose of it, are under-monitored, under-regulated and under-researched. The roots of that lack of oversight go back to 1988 when the oil and gas industries successfully lobbied to exempt their waste from federal hazardous waste regulations. The exemption was granted despite a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that found that 23 percent of the waste samples collected contained one or more toxic compounds at levels 100 times greater than those considered safe for humans and acknowledged that regulation was uneven, saying there were "valid reasons" for that. In the end, it decided that existing state and federal regulations were adequate, and that delays caused by additional regulation "would be particularly disruptive to the exploration phase of oil and gas development.
In other words, business over human heath impacts.
Cartwright, who made a campaign promise to ensure that fracking didn't cause pollution harmful to human health, has already introduced legislation to repeal the 1988 exemption. He cited a 2011 minority staff report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that found 29 potentially carcinogenic chemicals in fracking waste that are regulated under both the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And he pointed to a report from earlier this year by the Pennsylvania auditor general saying the state's oversight of fracking waste "is not an effective monitoring tool" and "is not proactive in discouraging improper, even illegal, disposal of waste."
Photo credit: EcoFlight
Cartwright's bill, Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion of Regulations Act (CLEANER), would regulate numerous drilling wastes including used fracking fluid. His committee has set a Nov. 12 deadline for answers to more than a dozen questions about how Pennsylvania oversees the handling and disposal of fracking waste.
"If the investigation demonstrates a serious lack of accountability and regulations at the state level, it will only reinforce the necessity of passing the CLEANER Act," he told Inside Climate News.
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The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
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Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
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