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Cabot's Sneaky Attack on Pennsylvania Cancer Survivor Reveals Dirty Agenda to Silence Environmentalists
By Wenonah Hauter
Cabot Oil & Gas, a company with $765 million in assets in 2017, doesn't like environmental nonprofits meddling in its dirty business in Pennsylvania. And the company is delivering this message by targeting Ray Kemble—a local 63-year old who just survived his fourth cancer surgery—with a $5 million lawsuit for speaking out about Cabot and fracking.
Ever since the dangerous consequences of natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing—popularly known as "fracking"—entered the national consciousness, the small town of Dimock, Pennsylvania has arguably been "ground zero" for water contamination caused by the controversial practice.
Now Cabot Oil & Gas, the massive energy company responsible for numerous fracking wells near Dimock, is suing one of the town's residents for $5 million, claiming that his efforts to "attract media attention" to the pollution of his water well have "harmed" the company. According to the lawsuit, Dimock resident Ray Kemble's actions breached an earlier 2012 settlement that was part of an ongoing federal class action lawsuit over the town's water quality. Kemble has stated that Cabot's fracking turned his groundwater "black, like mud, [with] a strong chemical odor."
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Back in 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a startling announcement, shaking up the battle over fracking in one of the nation's highest-profile cases where drillers were suspected to have caused water contamination.
Water testing results were in for homeowners along Carter Road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, where for years, homeowners reported their water had turned brown, became flammable or started clogging their well with “black greasy feeling sediment” after Cabot Oil and Gas began drilling in the area. The EPA seemed to conclude the water wasn't so bad after all.
“The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said in a press release.
The drilling industry crowed. “The data released today once again confirms the EPA's and DEP's [Department of Environmental Protection] findings that levels of contaminants found do not possess a threat to human health and the environment,” Cabot said in a statement.
“It’s obviously very good news for the folks who actually live there and pretty squarely in line with what we’ve known up there for a while now,” Energy in Depth told POLITICOPro. “It’s not very good news for the out-of-state folks who have sought to use Dimock as a talking point in their efforts to prevent development elsewhere, but I’m sure they’ll be working hard over the weekend to spin it differently, notwithstanding the pretty clear statement made by EPA today.”
The water was not safe to drink after all, the ATSDR concluded, after a lengthy review of the same water testing results that EPA used back in 2012.
“ATSDR found some of the chemicals in the private water wells at this site at levels high enough to affect health (27 private water wells), pose a physical hazard (17 private water wells) or affect general water quality so that it may be unsuitable for drinking,” the ATSDR's health consultation—launched in 2011 and published May 24—concludes.
The new report lists 10 contaminants, including arsenic, lithium and 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether, that are “chemicals of health concern,” at the levels found in Carter Road wells, found that five homes were at “immediate risk of fire or explosion” because of methane in their water and another dozen showed lower, but still worrisome, levels of methane and found that the water was laced with elevated levels of metals, salts and total dissolved solids.
The underlying data isn't new to the residents of Carter Road. The EPA provided it to them individually back in 2012, which is why the EPA's announcement that the water was safe was so baffling at the time.
“I’m sitting here looking at the values I have on my sheet—I’m over the thresholds—and yet they are telling me my water is drinkable,” Nolan Scott Ely, one of the Carter Road homeowners, told ProPublica when EPA made its announcement. “I’m confused about the whole thing … I’m flabbergasted.”
So how could two different agencies look at the exact same data and come to opposite conclusions?
“Although the same data set was used, the EPA as a regulatory agency specifically looked at whether or not it was required to take action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, more commonly known as Superfund, which governs responses to environmental emergencies,” StateImpact, a National Public Radio project, explained. “The 'health consultation' looked at the entire data set from a public health standpoint, assessing whether or not it was safe to drink the water.”
In other words, EPA's findings, which seemed to show that the water was “safe” and which were promoted by drillers as proof that nothing was wrong in Dimock, instead represented a very carefully parsed legal finding that the water did not reach Superfund levels of contamination for the specific substances EPA focused on.
And the EPA's 2012 findings had left out some of the very contaminants that had caused locals the most concern—including the natural gas or methane, itself. “EPA's investigation does not include an evaluation of the risk posed by elevated levels of methane—which continue to exist in some homes in Dimock—and which, at extreme levels and if unaddressed, can lead to explosions,” Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Kate Sinding wrote in a blog post at the time.
The EPA's strained official interpretation of the data perhaps shows why EPA staff remained concerned even after the agency dropped its Dimock investigation in July 2012, just months after its testing results had been announced in March and April.
In 2013, a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that EPA's own staff had disagreed with the agency's public statements that the water shouldn't be considered hazardous. An internal EPA Powerpoint presentation, later obtained and published by DeSmog, showed that agency scientists had concluded that the drilling and fracking process “apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.”
The ATSDR's new report very specifically notes that it does not look at whether the water hazards stem from drilling or pre-date Cabot's arrival in the area. In part, that's because of a lack of pre-drilling testing for gas and other common fracking-related chemicals in the water. “It is important to note that methane was not assessed in residential water wells prior to the initiation of natural gas drilling activities in the Dimock area,” the ATSDR wrote.
Cabot Oil and Gas emphasized their belief that methane in the water was “naturally occurring” and pre-dated their arrival in a statement provided to StateImpact. “This data is consistent with thousands of pages of water data collected by both Cabot and the Pennsylvania DEP and does not indicate that those contaminants detected have any relationship to oil and gas development in Dimock,” Cabot said.
The ATSDR report does often note when substances discovered in the Carter Road water are known to be associated with hydraulic fracturing or drilling industry activities, but does not reach any conclusions about whether the chemicals came from Cabot's operations.
“It's not their job to look at who caused whatever contamination there is,” Bryce Payne, a Pennsylvania environmental scientist, told E&E News. “It's their job to see if there are health implications. They did that and concluded there are health implications.”
The new report is also limited to data from four years ago—and conditions have changed, the ATSDR noted, in part because a state moratorium on fracking along Carter Road was briefly lifted after the EPA dropped its investigation and locals quickly reported more changes to their water, including higher levels of methane.
Cabot Oil Settles
In August 2012—right around the time that EPA abandoned its investigation—Cabot Oil and Gas announced it had settled the vast majority of lawsuits against it by Carter Road residents for an undisclosed amount of money and under terms that barred the plaintiffs from speaking negatively about their experiences with the company.
This March, a federal jury handed down a $4.24 million verdict to the remaining two Carter Road families, concluding that the water was in fact contaminated because of the negligence of the drilling company. Cabot has begun the process of appealing that verdict.
But while the legal filings and agency reports continue to stack up, the problem on Carter Road remains the same as it has for many years now.
While those who settled with Cabot had water treatment systems installed by the company, locals familiar with those systems say that even the treated water seems too contaminated to drink and the water treatment systems break down frequently.
The ATSDR's report provides recommendations that water should have been treated to address dangerous contamination levels—but those recommendations are not binding and the agency noted that while the state government collected samples more recently, the ATSDR did not have access to the newer data.
Community organizers are still calling for the federal government to resume an active role, arguing that the groundwater remains undrinkable.
“We're demanding that they reopen the investigation,” Craig Stevens, a local organizer, told DeSmog after the March verdict was announced, “and also get water to these people.”
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Jury Awards Two Dimock Couples $4.2 Million After Finding Cabot Oil & Gas Negligent in Fracking Contamination Case
A stunning new report from Marketplace and APM Reports reveals that top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials made critical, last-minute changes to the agency's major fracking assessment to soft-pedal clear evidence that the controversial drilling process contaminates the nation's water supplies.
Fracking operations in Dimock, Pennsylvania contaminated local water supplies. Flickr
We've already seen how fracking and drinking water do not mix, and even earlier versions of the EPA assessment said that spills are a problem. But on June 4, 2015, the agency released its executive summary and corresponding press materials with the misleading takeaway that "there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
The EPA's pro-fracking spin baffled many experts and scientists and contradicted what many landowners were seeing in their chemically laden water. Major media outlets also went with headlines that put fracking in the clear, such as the New York Times "Fracking Has Not Had Big Effect on Water Supply, E.P.A. Says While Noting Risks," NPR's "EPA Finds No Widespread Drinking Water Pollution From Fracking" and this CNN screenshot.
Big Oil and Gas, meanwhile, applauded the EPA's report, using it to push for more drilling. Erik Milito, a director at the American Petroleum Institute, told the New York Times that the EPA confirmed that "hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices."
However, it is now evident that Obama administration EPA officials made eleventh hour edits to the report's top-line findings as well as corresponding press materials that clearly played down evidence of water contamination caused by fracking.
As Marketplace and APM Reports explained in their piece:
"It's not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study's release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study's release.
"The authenticity of the documents—before and after the changes—was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.
"In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the '(no) widespread, systemic' language as a 'bizarre conclusion' and 'irresponsible.' Others said they were 'surprised and disappointed' that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out."
The image below shows that the EPA's press release of the study—which condensed the 1,000 page report into the "not widespread, systemic" soundbite—were altered a day before the report was made public.
Draft press releases accompanying the EPA's long-awaited fracking assessment were changed to sound more fracking-friendly before the assessment was released. Marketplace
Conservation groups have long suspected some form of "political meddling" with the fracking contamination report.
"Enough is enough. We've suspected for months that the White House egregiously manipulated the headlines and summary findings of a draft study in order to obfuscate the details buried within—details confirming that fracking has caused numerous cases of water contamination," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in response to the Marketplace report.
"Today's report confirms this political meddling," she added. "It's time for the administration to acknowledge its intervention in the crafting of the draft study, and issue a final version that clearly and conclusively highlights that fracking does indeed cause water contamination."
Hauter is calling on President Obama to meet with communities that are most harmed by fracking and other fossil fuel projects such as the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens to contaminate drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.
“Furthermore, before he leaves office, President Obama should meet with impacted individuals and hear directly their stories of suffering from serious health effects related to fracking," she said. "And he must protect communities directly in the path of future fossil fuel hazards. He must start by protecting the Standing Rock Sioux and taking the Dakota Access pipeline off the table for good."
EPA scientists are currently revising the study and taking comments from the public and the EPA's Science Advisory Board. The final version of the study is planned for release by the end of the year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its widely anticipated final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming that the controversial drilling process indeed impacts drinking water "under some circumstances." Notably, the report also removes the EPA's misleading line that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
"The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances," the agency stated in a media advisory.
This conclusion is a major reversal from the EPA's June 2015 pro-fracking draft report. That specific "widespread, systemic" line baffled many experts, scientists and landowners who—despite the egregious headlines—saw clear evidence of fracking-related contamination in water samples. Conversely, the EPA's top line encouraged Big Oil and Gas to push for more drilling around the globe.
But as it turns out, a damning exposé from Marketplace and APM Reports revealed last month that top EPA officials made critical, last-minute alterations to the agency's draft report and corresponding press materials to soft-pedal clear evidence of fracking's ill effects on the environment and public health.
Thomas Burke, EPA deputy assistant administrator and science advisor, discussed the agency's final report released Tuesday.
“There are instances when hyrdofracking has impacted drinking water resources. That's an important conclusion, an important consideration for moving forward," Burke told reporters today, according to The Hill.
Regarding the EPA's contentious "national, systemic conclusion," Burke said, "that's a different question that this study does not have adequate evidence to really make a conclusive, quantified statement."
In the new report, the authors heeded to the EPA's independent Science Advisory Board's advice to review the "widespread systemic impacts" line from the June 2015 draft study. The final 1,200-page report omits that line.
"Scientists put that language in the draft report, and scientists made the decision not to include it in the final report based on feedback from the Science Advisory Board and their interpretation of the available science," Burke explained.
The Science Advisory Board also took issue with how the draft report inexplicably omitted three critical fracking-contamination cases—Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming.
As Pavillion rancher and affected landowner John Fenton testified last year, "When EPA launched its national study of fracking's drinking water impacts, we thought they'd look first here in Pavillion where they'd already found pollution. But instead they ignored us without explanation. Science means taking the facts as they are. But EPA seems to be intent on finding the facts to support the conclusion they've already reached—'fracking is safe.'"
These specific cases studies are now mentioned in the final report.
In the new report, the EPA has identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle:
- Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
- Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
- Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
- Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
Burke said that the EPA's assessment "provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities."
"This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing," he added.
Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry has criticized the report.
“It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door," American Petroleum Institute Upstream Director Erik Milito told The Hill. "The science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources. Unfortunately, consumers have witnessed five years and millions of dollars expended only to see conclusion based in science changed to a conclusion based in political ambiguity."
The industry-funded group Energy In Depth added that despite change in the central conclusion, the report still “blows apart the anti-fracking campaign's most common claim, namely that hydraulic fracturing is polluting groundwater all across America."
Meanwhile, public health and environmental groups and activists are saying the opposite.
"At last the EPA confirms what independent science has overwhelmingly determined for years, that drilling and fracking contaminate drinking water," said actor and prominent environmentalist Mark Ruffalo on behalf of the national Americans Against Fracking coalition.
"Across the country, Americans have had their lives turned upside down as fracking has poisoned the water coming out of their faucets and has made their families sick. Now all of our federal and state elected officials need to take action to protect Americans by banning fracking. Water is life," Ruffalo said.
Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman agreed. "The EPA's final report on impacts of fracking on groundwater has concluded what too many Americans already know from personal experience: Fracking has caused lasting harm to drinking water sources throughout the country," Coleman said. "The most important findings from this study is that drilling, fracking, and the use of hazardous chemicals necessary to frack have caused groundwater contamination. This puts to rest the widely repeated lie that fracking is 'safe' and has never caused drinking water contamination."
Julia Walsh from Frack Action said, "The EPA has rightly reported that fracking causes water contamination. For all of the Americans living with this tragedy every day, they are finally validated by the federal government."
Similarly, David Braun, Rootskeeper director, said "Kudos to President Obama's EPA for embracing the science about fracking, which clearly demonstrates serious and inherent problems with the practice."
"The EPA could have bowed to pressure from the oil and gas industry and didn't, however, now that the EPA has acknowledged the serious inherent problems with fracking, it is incumbent upon the Obama Administration to stand with the thousands of Americans who have had their water poisoned, and protect them from this dangerous practice," Braun continued.
"By listening to its scientists instead of its political advisors, EPA's fracking study sets an example that we hope, but do not expect, the Trump Administration to follow," Pagel said. "But a Scott Pruitt EPA would have to ignore 5 years of scientific study, and years of community impacts, to do otherwise. Unfortunately for the still suffering citizens of Pavillion, WY, Dimock, PA and Weatherford, TX, their EPA investigations didn't have advisory boards to publicly remind EPA that science trumps politics."
And Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, said that "the EPA has confirmed what we've known all along: fracking can and does contaminate drinking water. We are pleased that the agency has acted on the recommendations of its Science Advisory Board and chosen be frank about the inherent harms and hazards of fracking."
Doctors orders: stop fracking Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Medical Society—the state's largest medical group—is calling for a moratorium on the controversial natural gas extraction method and is urging the state legislature to fund an independent health registry and commission research studies on the health effects of fracking.
Fracking chemicals have been detected in the state's drinking water.
"As physicians of Pennsylvania, we care first and foremost about the health of our community and believe that when an activity raises potential harm to human health, precautionary measures should be taken until cause and effect relationships are fully established scientifically," the resolution states.
Pennsylvania sits on one of the country's most active and notorious fracking regions—nearly 10,000 fracking wells have been drilled in the gas-rich Marcellus shale in the past decade, turning the state into a fracking powerhouse. However, this activity has come at a cost to human and environmental helath.
One study linked Pennsylvania's unconventional natural gas development to migraine headaches, fatigue, and nasal and sinus symptoms. In another study, researchers combed through years of health records from 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania and determined that people who live close to fracking wells have a higher risk of asthma attacks among asthma patients.
Last week, the Yale School of Public Health published a study determining that 55 unique chemicals could be classified as known, probable or possible human carcinogens. They also specifically identified 20 compounds that had evidence of leukemia/lymphoma risk.
Furthermore, the resolution highlights how fracking has been associated with significant environmental harm. It argues that highly toxic fracking chemicals have been making their way into aquifers and contaminating drinking water, that 9 percent of gas wells leak methane directly into the atmosphere contributing to climate change, and that the disposal of fracking fluid in waste injection wells can cause earthquakes.
"Three years ago, the Medical Society turned down a similar resolution calling for a moratorium on gas drilling. However, in the last three years growing evidence has shown its increasing deleterious effects outweighs any economic benefit," said Dr. Walter Tsou, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility/Philadelphia and the author of the resolution.
"We do support a moratorium at this point because of questions that have been raised," Montgomery County doctor and the Pennsylvania Medical Society president Charles Cutler told the Pittsburgh Gazette. "Those questions now point to the need for a registry and more science and research to give us a better understanding about whether fracking is safe and what the risk is."
However, Jeffrey Sheridan, who is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's spokesman, told the newspaper that a statewide moratorium is unlikely.
"The governor understands the importance of the natural gas industry and he wants the industry to succeed while protecting the health of our residents and our environment,'' he said. "Gov. Wolf has proposed methane regulations that are in the process of being implemented, and his administration developed some of the most stringent regulations on unconventional well drilling in the country that were recently finalized.
"The governor will continue to find ways to support the industry while ensuring we are protecting the environment and the health of Pennsylvania residents."
By Americans Against Fracking
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board (SAB) today finalized its review of the EPA's June 2015 draft study of fracking's impacts to drinking water resources. For over a year, a panel of 30 scientists, engineers and industry consultants have reviewed the details of the 1,000-page draft report. The panel has taken particular issue with a finding that seemingly came out of left field: the agency's statement that fracking has not led to "widespread systemic impacts" in the U.S.
Tainted water collected from a private drinking water well in PA near a fracking site.
The EPA dismissed fracking's impacts with this line, without any clear, scientific basis of support, and now the EPA SAB has taken the agency to task. The EPA, and independent peer-reviewed studies, have identified many mechanisms of contamination, such as spills, well cementing failures below ground, and complications with waste disposal. For example, the EPA found there was on the order of 15 spills every day somewhere in the U.S., yet chose to dismiss those daily incidents as not a sign of "widespread, systemic" problems.
Affected individuals, public interests groups, and now the independent EPA Science Advisory Board, comprised of the EPA's own scientists, are calling on the EPA to "clarify" and "quantify" the controversial "widespread, systemic" line, or drop the language altogether. The panelists joined affected individuals and various independent experts who submitted comments in taking issue with how the agency ignored three high-profile contamination cases in its study—notably Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming. The agency's omissions were contentious in part because in each case, the EPA prematurely abandoned investigations. Now, the EPA SAB has recommended that the agency include detailed summaries of these critical cases.
"By choosing politics over science, the EPA failed the public with its misleading and controversial line, dismissing fracking's impacts on drinking water and sacrificing public health and welfare along the way," Hugh MacMillan, senior researcher at Food & Water Watch, said.
"We are calling on the EPA to act quickly on the recommendations from the EPA SAB and be clear about fracking's impacts on drinking water resources. The EPA must prioritize the health and safety of the American people over the political interests of the oil and gas industry and its financiers, who have committed hundreds of billions to drilling and fracking in the coming decades. For climate reasons alone, that's a vision for the future that we can ill-afford."
The release of this final report comes on the heels of a massive March for a Clean Energy Revolution at the Democratic National Convention calling for a nationwide ban on fracking, a March 2016 Gallup poll showing that Americans oppose fracking 51-36 percent, and a July 2016 Johns Hopkins Study showing that fracking is linked to increased asthma attacks in Pennsylvania.
A recent peer-reviewed analysis of the science on unconventional oil and gas extraction, of more than 680 peer-reviewed studies, found that, "The great majority of science contains findings that indicate concerns for public health, air quality and water quality." In October of 2015, a partnership of prominent health organizations encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released a Compendium of more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as numerous government reports and findings, demonstrating the risks of fracking to public health, air and water quality, birth and infant health, the environment and climate change.
Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have found that young fish basically like eating microplastics as much as teenagers like eating fast food.
For the study, published this week the journal Science, European perch embryos and larvae from the Baltic Sea were placed into lab aquariums with varying levels of polystyrene microplastics, including concentrations currently seen in nature.
Alarmingly, the researchers discovered that larval perch living in high concentrations of microplastic particles preferred to eat plastic over plankton, which are their natural food sources.
“This is the first time an animal has been found to preferentially feed on plastic particles, and is cause for concern,” Peter Eklöv, co-author of the study, told the Guardian.
Lead author Dr. Oona Lonnstedt described that the fish were drawn to the plastic over real food.
"They all had access to zooplankton and yet they decided to just eat plastic in that treatment. It seems to be a chemical or physical cue that the plastic has, that triggers a feeding response in fish," Lonnstedt told BBC News.
"They are basically fooled into thinking it's a high-energy resource that they need to eat a lot of. I think of it as unhealthy fast food for teenagers, and they are just stuffing themselves."
Also in the study, the researchers found that young perch living in high concentrations of microplastics were smaller and less active compared to fish reared in average concentrations of microplastic particles. These fish also tended to ignore the chemical signals that would normally warn them of predators.
When predators were introduced into the lab tanks, the perch exposed to microplastics were eaten by pike four times more quickly than their naturally-reared relatives. All of the plastic-exposed fish in the study were dead within 48 hours, the Guardian noted.
According to the study, exposure to microplastics also reduced rates of hatching and development into maturity. About 96 percent of the eggs successfully hatched in environments without microplastics, compared to 81 percent for those exposed to large quantities.
Because plastics are non-biodegradable, when large pieces enter our waterways, they eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces, or microplastics. Incidentally, these tiny pieces of trash make up the bulk of the plastic soup in our waters, with the little pieces found in ice cores, across the seafloor, vertically throughout the ocean and on every beach worldwide. Fish and plankton often mistake these particles for food.
Lönnstedt warned that "if early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound.”
As EcoWatch mentioned previously, microplastics are also very absorbent, meaning they pick up the chemicals it floats in. So we don’t just have to worry about the plastic itself that the fish are eating but all of the contaminants in that plastic as well. That goes for us, too, if we eat a fish that’s eaten plastic particles.
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By Columbia Riverkeeper
A unit train carrying crude oil derailed near Mosier, Oregon, Friday. Mosier schools were evacuated and a large black plume of smoke filled the sky with visible flames.
The train was carrying crude oil on the Union Pacific rail line. The placards on the train said 1267—signifying that the trains were carrying crude oil.
"I never thought I'd see an oil train derail and burn in my community," Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said. "I watched in horror as the red flames and the black plume of smoke filled the air. How many more times will we threaten our schools and neighborhoods with dangerous oil. Enough is enough."
The use of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area as a fossil fuel export corridor is simply unacceptable for our communities. It's unacceptable for any community—and if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. We call on Oregon and Washington to do everything in their power to stop the use of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area as a fossil fuel export corridor.
"This is what happens when we become a fossil fuel corridor," VandenHeuvel continued. "We need more from our states than just cleaning up spills. It's time for a commitment from Governors Brown and Inslee to prohibit the use of any state land or water for fossil fuel export."
This is a tragic moment that has lived in the minds of many community members for a number of years. The escalation of oil trains in the Gorge and throughout the Pacific Northwest has been opposed by many city governments, faith communities, tribal councils and community organizations precisely for the reasons we are experiencing today as a result of the Mosier derailment.
Health and air quality, water contamination risks, fire risks and community safety are all being jeopardized. As we enter the hot summer season, we are also reminded of the reality of climate change and the role that fossil fuels play in endangering the future of all who live and breathe on the planet.
In response to the derailment in Mosier, there was a rally and march in Hood River at the Overlook Memorial Park Saturday calling for an end to dangerous oil trains and asking President Obama to support a ban on high risk oil train shipments through the Columbia Gorge and other U.S. communities. They were also calling on Oregon Governor Brown, Washington state Governor Inslee and federal leaders to deny proposed oil train terminals in the Pacific Northwest, proposals that would dramatically increase dangerous oil trains through the Pacific Northwest.
"The only silver lining is that this dramatic derailment should spell the end of the proposed Tesoro oil terminal in Vancouver," VandenHeuvel concluded. "I can't imagine how anyone could approve that project, and invite more trains, after this terrible derailment."
UPDATE: The City of Mosier passed an emergency motion calling on the Union Pacific Railroad to remove all oil from damaged cars before rail traffic is reopened. Despite the resolution, Union Pacific pushed the derailed and damaged cars, some full of oil, to the side of the tracks and started the rail.
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On Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected the proposal for the Jordan Cove LNG Export Terminal and Pacific Connector Pipeline because its public interest value did not outweigh the project’s adverse effects.
“We find the generalized allegations of need proffered by Pacific Connector do not outweigh the potential for adverse impact on landowners and communities,” FERC said, adding that “the record does not support a finding that the public benefits of the Pacific Connector Pipeline outweigh the adverse effects on landowners.”
This is a huge victory for groups that have been fighting this project, including the Sierra Club, which intervened by filing a formal request calling for the Jordan Cove terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline to be rejected.
“This historic victory is the result of over a decade of hard work by Oregonians and their allies across the environmental movement committed to protecting their communities from this dangerous proposal," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said.
“Allowing dangerous proposals like Jordan Cove to continue will only lead to more drilling and fracking, which in turn will further pollute our air and our water and bring about more climate-fueled weather disasters like the record droughts, wildfires and superstorms we have witnessed in recent years.
“Fossil fuels like gas are not in the public’s interest, and we are thrilled to see FERC make this ruling and take such a strong stance.”
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By Clayton Aldern, Billmoyers.com
Courtrooms usually aren't jovial places, but with 21 youth plaintiffs and two busloads of supporting junior high-school students in tow, the air in the U.S. District Courthouse here on Wednesday felt more field trip than federal court.
The occasion for the youthful energy was a hearing on a complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiffs, aged 8 - 19, by Oregon nonprofit Our Children's Trust. The kids' lawyers assert that their clients and the younger generation as a whole, have been deprived of key rights by their own government. By failing to act on climate change, they argue, the U.S. government—including President Obama and a baker's dozen federal agencies—has valued its own generation more than future generations, who will bear a greater burden with respect to the climate crisis.
The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and Wednesday's hearing had a federal judge considering that motion. The youth plaintiffs' counsel sparred with government lawyers as well as attorneys representing fossil fuel interests. This kind of case might sound, well, juvenile, but trade groups with ties to the oil and gas lobby—the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the National Association of Manufacturers—were concerned enough about it that they joined as co-defendants in November of last year. Now, the Oregon U.S. District Court will decide whether or not the complaint will proceed to trial.
Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, a 15-year-old indigenous activist and a plaintiff on the case, summed up the kids' perspective at a press conference after the hearing. “We are valuing our futures over profits," he said. “We are valuing this planet over corporate greed."
This isn't the first time Our Children's Trust has brought forth a youth climate lawsuit. Indeed, the group has at one time or another filed suit in all 50 states and currently has cases pending in five states. Back in November, in a case brought by a coalition of Seattle teenagers, a Washington judge ruled that the state was constitutionally obligated to protect its natural resources “for the common benefit of the people of the State"—a notable win for the young plaintiffs—but she did not go so far as to rule that the state's carbon emissions-limiting standards in question needed to adhere to the “best available science." A 2011 suit, which the youth plaintiffs ended up losing, also targeted the federal government for failing to keep the atmosphere safe for future generations. It perhaps goes without saying that these types of complaints are incredible long shots.
Julia Olson, a lawyer with Wild Earth Advocates and Our Children's Trust who argued the plaintiffs' case on Wednesday, is optimistic about the outcome of this complaint, though. “I believe in our Constitution and I think it can work to address even the most systemic, intractable problem of our generation," she told me.
The complaint alleges violation of the kids' Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. By failing to act on climate change, it argues, the government discriminates against youth as a class. Without access to a healthy climate, they're deprived of their fundamental rights to life, liberty and property.
The complaint is also built on the public trust doctrine, a carryover from English common law that says a government has the duty to protect certain natural resources and systems on behalf of current and future generations. “It originated with Emperor Justinian in Rome," Alex Loznak, a 19-year-old plaintiff, explained to the press. “It's reflected in the Magna Carta, the writings of Thomas Jefferson and cited in U.S. court decisions dating back to the 1800s."
An important question at hand on Wednesday was whether the public trust doctrine applies to the federal government. The U.S. government and its fossil-fuel industry co-defendants argued that legal precedent only considers it to apply to states. That's a crucial distinction, because it will help determine whether or not the plaintiffs even have standing in the federal court system.
The defendants also contend that if the federal court took on the case, it would amount to an egregious overstep of authority by the judiciary. “This is the type of problem that is designed to be solved by the political branches," argued U.S. counsel Sean C. Duffy at the hearing. He said that denying the U.S. government's motion for dismissal would effectively turn the judicial branch into a “de facto super-agency."
Another core argument of the defense is that all cases addressing constitutional rights must demonstrate that the government, through its actions, has infringed upon these rights or exceeded its authority. Instead, the defense argued, the kids' case alleges a failure to act and you can't require the government to simply “do more." “Our Constitution is one that limits the power of government," argued intervenor counsel Quin Sorenson, who represented industry interests at the hearing.
That's not how Olson sees it, though. “What we have today is not just a failure to act," she told the press after the hearing. “The government is not just sitting by and doing nothing. They are doing everything to cause this problem." Indeed, the complaint calls out the government for its continued actions to “permit, authorize and subsidize fossil fuel extraction, development, consumption and exportation."
Courthouse in Eugene, OR, after the hearing. The banner reads, “Our future is a constitutional right." Photo credit: Clayton Aldern / Grist
It's also not unprecedented for a court to demand that the government meet a specific standard to ensure its citizens' safety, she said. In Brown v. Plata, for example, a 2010 Supreme Court case concerning prison reform, the court required a mandatory limit on prison populations for the sake of health and safety. Summarizing the decision, she said that while the Supreme Court had no scientific standards to apply at the time, it ruled that it could rely on expert evidence. “The Court selected the number—it set the standard—to keep those prisoners safe." And when it comes to determining the safe level of climate pollution in the atmosphere, “we have scientific standards," she said.
pose with Our Children's Trust attorneys Phil Gregory (top left) and Julia Olson
(bottom left). Photo credit: Clayton Aldern / Grist
“The way I hope it will go is that the judicial branch will say, 'You've got to do something,'" said Dr. James Hansen, adjunct professor at Columbia University and former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen's granddaughter is a plaintiff in the case and he's formally listed in the complaint as the legal guardian of “Future Generations." He continued, “Hopefully the court will ask for a plan: How are you going to ensure the rights of young people?"
In a time of gridlock and sorely needed climate action, the case couldn't come soon enough, Hansen said. “It gets harder and harder to stabilize the climate if you go longer and longer without turning the curve."
Addressing climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time and it necessarily causes us to ask some big questions. Is there a constitutional right to be free from climate change? Is there a constitutional right to a safe climate? Is youth a class or simply a mutable trait? If the federal government takes actions that worsen the climate crisis, does that amount to an abuse of its power?
Said Olson: “We are not just in a climate crisis. We will have a significant constitutional crisis and a crisis in our democracy if this doesn't work."
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For the past two years, the 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, drank, cooked and bathed with lead-contaminated water. Rates of lead poisoning—which can impair brain development and cause other serious health ailments—among the area's children have skyrocketed, from 5 percent before the water turned bad to 16 percent today.
Residents have long reported brown, bad-tasting and foul-smelling water and unexplained sicknesses. Almost a year ago, water tests showed dangerous levels of lead. Yet state, local and federal officials did nothing. Worse, they assured residents that the water was safe. In recently released emails, state officials demonstrated indifference and even contempt toward the complaints that came mostly from poor, black residents. Furthermore, according to some witnesses and media reports, state officials diluted water samples or took incomplete “slow drip water samples" to game results and claim that the water was safe.
Flint's man-made water disaster is an outrageous tragedy and a human health crisis. And unfortunately, it's not an isolated case. It's one instance in a pattern of government failures to take water testing seriously and respond to evidence of water pollution.
In 2009, federal data revealed that water being delivered to tens of millions of Americans contained illegal concentrations of dangerous chemicals. That contamination has led to widespread ill-effects such as rashes and elevated risk of various diseases and hundreds of thousands of Clean Water Act violations. At congressional hearings that year, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials pointed to failed political leadership under the Bush administration. President Obama promised to turn a new leaf.
Sadly, there have since been numerous high-profile cases of contamination, such as in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, where agricultural runoff and crumbling infrastructure led to an algal bloom in Lake Erie that made the city's drinking water unsafe. Also in 2014, in West Virginia, a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River, the tap water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. This past August, 3 million gallons of contaminated water were released into the Animas River in Colorado, resulting in lead levels 3,500 times normal and arsenic levels 300 times normal, affecting many communities and farms.
Then there are the horrific, under-reported cases of water contaminated by drilling and fracking for natural gas and oil, another ongoing man-made disaster where politics has trumped providing safe drinking water.
In spite of concrete evidence of water contamination, Obama's politics—support for natural gas and fracking, particularly around his 2012 reelection—have dictated the EPA's actions. Case in point: Three EPA investigations into drinking water contamination since 2010, in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming and Parker County, Texas.
In Parker County, the EPA issued an emergency order—much like one they just issued in Flint—compelling fracking company Range Resources to provide drinking water to affected families. Then, in 2012, the EPA cut a deal with the fracking company to shut down the investigation and withdraw the emergency order in exchange for participating in the EPA's national fracking study. Affected residents were left with nothing but polluted water.
The other cases are equally disturbing. Despite evidence of dangerous water contamination, the EPA dropped investigations and issued rosy news releases that everything was okay. Residents report being told by regional EPA officials, off the record, not to drink their water.
This past year, the EPA released a draft of its national fracking drinking water study with a headline that they did not find evidence of widespread, systemic contamination. Scientists and advocates cried foul, as the substance of the report contradicts that claim and in fact shows many instances and mechanisms of contamination. Now the EPA's independent science advisory body has forcefully echoed that criticism and called for detailed accounting and inclusion of the three investigations.
These cases, along with Flint and many others, demonstrate an epidemic of credibility and trust that is putting people at greater and greater risk.
It's time to acknowledge the national water pollution crisis we face, which will only get worse with climate change wrought by fossil fuels extraction and consumption responsible for fouling so much of our precious water in the first place. Obama should direct his EPA to do its job to help people across the country with water contaminated by drilling and fracking.
Flint must be a clarion call for a new era of routine water testing, full transparency and a commitment to ensuring that all citizens have safe drinking water. Renewed federal investment in our crumbling, lead-ridden drinking water systems is also necessary to help ensure that the tragedy taking place in Flint isn't replicated elsewhere. Residents there and all Americans deserve nothing less.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Post.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board met this week to review the agency’s draft assessment of the impact of fracking on drinking water resources, but the largely academic exercise got a dose of reality from residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas who have fought for years to get U.S. EPA to act.
Inexplicably, their cases of contamination were excluded in the thousands of pages that make up the EPA’s assessment. Given only five minutes each, the residents demanded that the EPA stop ignoring their cases.
Ray Kemble, an affected landowner and former gas industry worker, testified, “In 2008, gas drilling caused my water to become poisoned. The Pennsylvania DEP and the EPA confirmed this contamination, but abandoned us in 2012 and did not even include us in their long-term study. I am here today to demand that EPA recognize us, include our case in this study, and reopen the investigation.”
John Fenton, a rancher and affected landowner in Pavillion also spoke out. “When EPA launched its national study of fracking’s drinking water impacts, we thought they’d look first here in Pavillion where they’d already found pollution. But instead they ignored us without explanation. Science means taking the facts as they are. But EPA seems to be intent on finding the facts to support the conclusion they’ve already reached—‘fracking is safe.’”
Steve Lipsky, an affected homeowner in Weatherford, Texas added that “EPA omitted my case from their national drinking water study,” and then asked, “Is that science? Whose side is EPA on?"
“We have tried for years now to get the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to meet with impacted residents across the country to hear their stories and to come up with ways that the agency can help those being harmed,” said Craig Stevens, 6th generation landowner and member of Pennsylvania Patriots from the Marcellus Shale. “This has still not happened and we deserve better.”
“While the EPA spent years conducting this study only to claim in their press releases that water contamination from fracking ‘is not widespread or systemic,’ I have been receiving calls on a regular basis from people across the state of Pennsylvania whose water and air has been polluted by this industry and who are paying the price with their health," said Ron Gulla, an impacted resident from Hickory, Pennsylvania. “I have been trying to help people who are being poisoned by this industry for years, while our federal agencies who are tasked with protecting these people has failed them.”
It was vital that the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board hear these voices from the front lines, from people who have to deal with their water being poisoned. Not only has the agency been unresponsive, and failed to uphold its own basic mission to protect human health and the environment, the EPA—or perhaps more accurately the Obama Administration—misrepresented its own study when it claimed that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”
Some of the Scientific Advisory Board members are listening, with one member describing the EPA’s topline finding as “out of left field” and a “non sequitur relative to the body of the report.” But at the same time, the oil and gas industry is well represented on the board—several repeatedly used “we” and “industry” interchangeably as they chimed in in defense of fracking.
The EPA has been unresponsive and is failing to uphold its own basic mission to protect human health and the environment. It’s time for the agency to finally step up and serve the people, not the oil and gas industry. They could start by having a face-to-face with Administrator Gina McCarthy and affected individuals, rather than pretending they don’t exist. And the Obama administration must stop greenwashing fracking and acknowledge that it’s a dirty, polluting source of energy that harms our water, our climate, and our communities.
Here's a video of the testimony:
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Varney said he wouldn’t frack his own land in upstate New York because it’s in a "watershed" but promoted, on air, last week (while not letting Sandra Steingraber finish a sentence) that we should frack the rest of New York.
When Fox called him out on the hypocrisy and questioned Varney’s claim that he lit his tap water on fire, Varney became irate and told Josh, “The interview is over. You are outta here young man.”
“If you said to me earlier that you would not want fracking in your own neighborhood, it’s irresponsible for you to say on air that the rest of America should frack," Fox can be heard saying to Varney as he’s being faded out.
Fox was on the program to address untrue headlines most of the mainstream media ran with claiming fracking was safe, following the release of a long-awaited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on the practice.
In the report, the U.S. EPA publicly confirmed for the first time that fracking contaminates groundwater. However, the EPA's press release led with the misleading headline saying that EPA has found no "widespread" evidence of water contamination.
As Fox explains on the show this is not the first time we’ve seen the EPA release a report where the science says one thing and then their PR department slaps on a press release that says something else.
“EPA went into Dimock and said to people 'do not drink your water,' in private letters and then in the press they came out and said well actually this water is safe,” Josh said on the show.
Watch and share as Fox takes on the misleading EPA report, Obama administration’s support of fracking and FOX host NIMBY:
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Don’t be fooled. Headlines in the New York Times and other news media about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) long-awaited study on the impacts of fracking on drinking water are another tragic case of not looking beyond the timid agency’s spin. Despite the lack of new substantive data and the limited scope of the study, the EPA did find instances of water contamination and outlined the areas where this could happen in the fracking process.
Rather than seriously undertaking its mission, the U.S. EPA’s headline and conclusions in the study reflect the agency’s on-going narrative about the safety of fracking. The agency asserted in the report on the study that there were no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” They based this outrageous conclusion on the limited industry controlled data and analysis that was included in the poorly designed research project.
The multi-million dollar study did not answer the fundamental questions about the pollution of water from hydraulic fracturing. The oil and gas industry pressured the agency in the design of the study, narrowing its scope and focusing it on theoretical modeling conducted by researchers that often conduct research favorable to the industry.
In a shocking display of the power of oil and gas interests, they successfully blocked the agency from gathering data from direct monitoring of fracking operations. Rather than demanding that companies like Exxon (the largest fracker in the U.S.) or Chesapeake allow them to monitor water wells near fracking operations, the EPA caved to industry pressure. For the study to be meaningful, the agency needed to conduct baseline water testing at prospective wells that would provide a snapshot of water quality before fracking and that would be retested after a year or more after oil or gas production began.
Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA’s 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the plan for the study, remarked on the failure of its design: “This was supposed to be the gold standard. But they went through a long bureaucratic process of trying to develop a study that is not going to produce a meaningful result.”
Yet even with the study’s poor design and the deceptive headlines, the 600-page document does include concrete examples that fracking does indeed contaminate groundwater resources, a fact already confirmed by numerous studies based on existing scientific data. The study confirmed cases of water contamination with five after-the-fact, or retrospective, case studies, each focused on a community where residents have complained about water problems for years. This embarrassingly limited review of the impacts from spills and releases, water withdrawals, and issues with waste disposal provide proof that fracking negatively impacts our water resources. They included:
- Drinking water monitoring wells had “chemicals or brine” from a blowout that occurred during fracking operations in Killdeer, North Dakota.
- “Up to nine out of 36” wells considered in a Northeastern Pennsylvania case study “are impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.”
- In Southwestern Pennsylvania, wastewater pits and other storage sites caused chloride contamination. Regarding stray hydrocarbon gas found in domestic water wells, the EPA determines it was from shallower gas formations, not the targeted shale formation, but whether nearby drilling through the shallower formations led to such contamination remains unanswered.
- At the same time as hydraulic fracturing operations in Wise County, Texas, two water wells were impacted by increased presence of brines.
This incomplete and inadequate study is an embarrassment for the Obama Administration and the EPA. It falls far short of the level of scrutiny and government oversight needed to protect the health and safety of the many millions of Americans living in watersheds impacted by fracking—nearly ten million within one mile of a fracked well, according to the study.
Unfortunately the study and related media coverage will provide the industry more cover for continuing its poisoning of our nation’s drinking water via widespread drilling and fracking. Oil and gas industry foxes have once again been allowed to call the shots at the EPA’s henhouse, and protect their vision for widespread fracking, with what the EPA now confirms to be more than 25,000 new oil and gas wells each year.
Simply put, the EPA admits that fracking has been found to contaminate water, but its incomplete analysis and false characterization of its findings greatly downplays the severity of the problem. Industry’s pressure on the agency has politicized what is a basic public health concern. Putting a resource as precious and universally important as drinking water at risk is simply unacceptable, and the EPA, which is charged with protecting Americans from environmental risk, should be working to do everything it can to safeguard these vital water resources. This study is fodder to continue our ongoing fight to ban fracking everywhere.
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Pennsylvania has been a hot spot for fracking—and many consequences of this from of gas drilling in the state have come to light, from social to health to environmental costs, as well as controversies, including contaminated drinking water in the town of Dimock, gag orders on doctors and victims, and the state health department's enforced silence on the practice.
While that sounds ominous enough, a new report released by Earthworks, after a year in the making, proves that the rush to drill undermines the protection of Pennsylvanians and the enforcement of regulations. Blackout in the Gas Patch: How Pennsylvania Residents are Left in the Dark on Health and Enforcement for the first time definitively connects health and environmental impacts of fracking with a lack of state oversight on a site-by-site basis.
“Legitimate, well-funded oversight should be a prerequisite for deciding whether to permit fracking, not an afterthought," said Nadia Steinzor, the report's lead author. “Governor Corbett and [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection] DEP Secretary Abruzzo often say that the state has an exemplary regulatory program—but refuse to acknowledge that it's not being implemented properly and that air, water and health are being harmed as a result. DEP's limited resources make it impossible to keep up with required paperwork, let alone enforce the law and hold operators accountable."
Blackout in the Gas Patch looks at the permitting, operational and oversight records of 135 wells and facilities in seven counties and details 25 key findings of associated threats to residents' health and the environment. It also includes seven case studies using detailed timelines and maps, including the experiences of the Judy family from Carmichaels in Greene County.
Pam Judy said of her family's experience with fracking: “The Governor and DEP claim that gas and oil operations are safe and that they have everything under control. I live with it every day, and know that's not true—and this report confirms it."
Based primarily on data and documents from the DEP, Blackout in the Gas Patch has found that Pennsylvania prioritizes development over enforcement; neglects oversight; fails to consider known threats; undermines regulations; and prevents the public from getting information.
The report concludes that the oversight of Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry is occurring with three inherent contradictions at play, which are as follows:
1. DEP is charged with protecting the environment and the public, but is under strong political pressure to advance an industry that harms water, air and health.
2. Steep budget cuts to DEP during a shale gas boom means the agency has to do more with less—which in effect has meant insufficient oversight and enforcement.
3. As the number of people impacted by and concerned about the impacts of gas development grows, public access to information on the activities of both operators and DEP remains limited, inconsistent and restricted.
While the report, which offers many recommendations for the state, is a firm indictment of the current situation in Pennsylvania, as Bruce Baizel, director of Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project, points out: “There's a national crisis in fracking oversight. This report focuses on Pennsylvania, but it easily could have been written about Ohio, or the federal Bureau of Land Management, or Denton, Texas. Blackout illustrates why many residents across the United States have given up on the idea that regulators can manage the oil and gas boom, and are working so hard to stop fracking."
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