William C. Rau
The Illinois Fracking Regulatory Bill (SB1715) has been praised as a "national model." It is a model all right—for the oil industry. And the exact opposite for citizens. Here's why.
Article XI of the Illinois State Constitution guarantees a healthful environment and empowers citizens to sue governmental or private parties that sully that right. There's one crucial caveat; the General Assembly can write regulations to supersede Article XI. This is what the fracking bill does; it helps protect oil and gas companies from lawsuits. In industry parlance, it gives them "regulatory certainty." Rather than protect citizens, regulatory certainty provides oil and gas companies with rights to "toxic trespass" on private property.
Would you let a neighbor come up to your property line and throw toxic garbage over your fence? You would not, and neither would anyone, anywhere.
Yet, this bill grants oil and gas companies exactly that right. They can pollute our air, poison our water, contaminate our soil, increase our body's burden of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and destroy the value of our property. Yet, there are substantially reduced chances for compensatory damages if the Illinois constitutional guarantee to unfettered legal proceedings against environmental polluters is compromised by its General Assembly.
Oil and gas companies will be "following the law" when they trespass toxically. They can trespass physically, too, through the forced pooling clause in the Illinois Oil and Gas Act. When the majority of acreage in a designated hydrocarbon pool falls under an oil or gas lease, non-consenting owners are forced into the pool. Access road and well pads can be placed on their land and non-consenting landowners face arrest if they try to prevent physical trespass on their own land. In the Land of Lincoln, oil and gas companies can extirpate citizens' life, liberty and property rights in the U.S. Constitution.
As part of this industry-friendly package, the bill gives legal standing to cost-cutting but unsafe and unhealthful practices. Loopholes allow flaring of natural gas, use of frack pits to store toxic drill cuttings and larger pits to store "unexpected" amounts of toxic flowback water. Setbacks between well pads and homes, schools, churches and public water sources are grossly inadequate. Extreme chemicals, such as 2-butoxyethanol and dibromoacetonitrile, are allowed as frack fluids, and oil or gas brine will not be tested for radioactivity, toxicity or salt content.
The bill contains no worker safety provisions even though the fatality rate among oil and gas field workers is seven times higher than all industries. Workers receive zero protection under this AFL-CIO sponsored legislation.
The bill also sets a new standard for corporate giveaways. There is a "tax holiday" on the first two years of oil and gas production. Fracked wells deplete rapidly with at least half of the oil and gas produced in 24 months. As a result, the Illinois tax rate will be about half North Dakota's even though Illinois oil will be far more profitable: much lighter (premium to WTI benchmark), closer to the surface (reduced drilling costs) and much closer to refineries and big markets, along with existing pipelines (significantly reduced transportation costs). Masters of fiscal irresponsibility, Springfield politicians intend to solve the state's revenue problems with a multibillion dollar corporate welfare scheme.
Another example: well plugging and cleanup bonds are so low that companies will forfeit bonds with taxpayers footing the cleanup costs. The first out-of-state company publicizing its fracking Illinois plans will drill 156 wells. Since bonds are capped at $500,000 per company, and since plugging and cleanup costs for 156 wells will run about $4 million, guess what? The $500,000 will be left as a tightwad's tip on the way out of town. Taxpayers will foot the $4 million tab. Multiply this case by the number of wells drilled in Illinois and we have another multibillion dollar giveaway.
Finally, even if we had faintly decent regulations—rather than a loophole-ridden, oil company giveaway—regulatory agencies in Illinois have been disemboweled. Budget and staff reductions have cut so deep that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources resemble two Humpty Dumpties who have been thrown off a regulatory wall. It will be very difficult to put these agencies back together again—and definitely not in time to assemble enough trained and experienced staff to enforce regulations.
In sum, we get industry-friendly "regulations" that will not even be enforced and a pseudo-revenue bill that rewards wealthy oil companies and penalizes taxpayers while citizens lose a constitutional liberty.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
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