Halliburton and ALEC Push Industry-Friendly Fracking Legislation in North Carolina
North Carolina senators are taking an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) style approach in their efforts to push through legislation that allows oil companies a loophole in regulations requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.
This week, a state Senate committee approved a version of what is normally an annual environmental “housecleaning bill,” according to the Associated Press. While the House version of the bill was a mere four pages, the Senate version contained 44 pages and language relating to the regulation of the fracking industry.
The Senate’s version allows companies to withhold “trade secret” chemicals used in the drilling process. Similar provisions are seen in model ALEC legislation that has been adopted by states throughout the nation—including Florida and, most recently, Illinois.
The regulations came as a surprise to North Carolinians, as the legislature voted earlier this year to create an Energy and Mining Commission, a body whose purpose is to create regulations for the industry. The commission’s most recent attempts were axed after Halliburton, a leader in the industry, claimed the regulations were too intense.
With fracking poised to begin in the state by 2015, environmental advocates are calling out the most recent Senate move as an attempt by pro-fracking forces to steamroll the process of creating fracking regulations.
Oil companies have already purchased more than 9,000 acres of land for drilling in Chatham, Lee and Moore Counties, according to Environment North Carolina.
North Carolina’s Tug-of-War Over Fracking
Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho is the likely suspect behind the somewhat secretive moves made by the Senate this week. Sen. Rucho is a staunch advocate of the would-be fracking industry in the state.
In June 2012, when debating the issue in the Senate, Rucho was quoted by McClatchy News Service in a debate over the safety of the fracking industry, saying, “The only way you’ll ever know is by actually punching down some wells.”
In February, Rucho co-sponsored SB 76, which set March 2015 as the goal for the issuance of fracking permits, undoing a previously issued moratorium. The bill also set Oct. 1, 2014, as the deadline for the state to come up with a “modern regulatory program for the management of oil and gas exploration and development activities.”
On June 7, the House voted in favor of a version of SB 76 that would also allow permits to be issued by March 1, 2015.
“Nothing will get done if you don’t have a timeline,” Rucho told Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “We believe we have a significant resource here … the upside potential is tremendous.”
In July 2012, Republicans, with the help of one accidental Democratic vote, overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a fracking bill, ushering in the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act. The legislation called for the creation of the Energy and Mining Commission, which would be responsible for coming up with regulations by October 2014.
Those in the state concerned with fracking saw it not as a step in the direction of caution, but one that paves the way for the oil and gas industry to move in without adequate environmental review.
As environmentalists saw it, regulations were not an appropriate substitute for an environmental review.
“Without allocating funding to this effort, the bill directs to develop a massive new oil and gas regulatory infrastructure, but ignores the DENR’s [Department of Energy and Natural Resources] recommendation that more studies are needed to determine if fracking can be done safely in NC [North Carolina], given the state’s unique geology,” Sierra Club’s North Carolina branch said in a statement following the move.
That new regulatory department, the Energy and Mining Commission, has already come under scrutiny by environmental groups for caving to industry pressure.
Minutes from the commission’s March meeting indicate it had already been looking into a chemical disclosure system that allowed for “trade secrets” to be left out. However, it would have required chemicals to be released for each well.
Like other states, the commission was looking at the industry-created FracFocus website, an online platform that allows companies to disclose chemicals used at each well, aside from those deemed trade secrets.
“Committee Chairman (George) Howard stated that the trade secret disclosure rule would require all companies to submit a master chemical family name list of fracturing fluid additives before being permitted for operations,” minutes for the March 2013 meeting state. “Emergency responders and health professionals would be notified within two hours of a request for trade secret information via telephone.”
The commission’s move to potentially institute chemical disclosure rules of any kind were halted when Halliburton, a leader in the fracking industry, flexed its muscles. According to the News Observer, Halliburton told the Commission that the regulations were too strict.
Halliburton runs its own chemical disclosure operation on its website. In 2010, in the midst of a debate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about disclosure regulations, the company launched its own “honesty policy” website, showcasing chemicals used in the states in which it operates.
“While it’s nice to see Halliburton acknowledging that desire, it’s not meaningful or sufficient unless the information is fully disclosed on a site-by-site basis,” Natural Resources Defense Council’s Amy Mall told The New York Times in 2010.
This isn’t the first time Halliburton has influenced fracking politics. The entire oil and gas industry in the U.S. is exempt from the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, thanks to exemptions issued in the 2005 energy bill that were supported by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton.
What’s the Big Deal?
According to a 2009 North Carolina Geological Survey report, the state has two potential areas for commercial oil extraction, and one of them—the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf formation—extends nearly 50 miles into coastal waters.
“The offshore Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf remains prospective and may be tested in the future,” the 2009 report states.
According to McClatchy News Service, the federal government estimates there are 1.7 cubic feet of natural gas in a 150-mile stretch of the Deep River Basin. The estimated extraction potential would provide 5.6 years of use, based on the state’s 2010 consumption rates.
Fracking, which injects water, silica sand and chemicals into the Earth to break up rock formation, allowing oil to be extracted, is a concern for those living near fracking wells. At the top of the list of concerns is groundwater contamination, which can result when the flow of chemicals used makes its way into the groundwater table.
According to Environment North Carolina, the drinking water of more than 2.4 million people who live on the coast and the piedmont—areas where oil has been identified—would be at risk.
There’s debate over how frequently this occurs. A study published this week by North Carolina’s Duke University profiles water contamination in Pennsylvania, a frack-heavy state. The study sampled water from 141 drinking water wells throughout the area.
The report indicates that methane was detected in 82 percent of drinking water samples, with “average concentrations six times higher for homes” less than 1 kilometer from fracking wells. Ethane levels were 23 times higher in homes less than 1 kilometer from fracking wells. Propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within a kilometer of fracking operations.
The North Carolina Senate bill regulations, like those in other ALEC bills, aim to provide a form of transparency, allowing residents access to the chemicals being used in the drilling process.
Yet without full knowledge of chemicals, anti-fracking advocates are claiming the so-called regulations don’t do much good.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. 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Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 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It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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