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Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Agencia de Noticias ANDES

Mexico's president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he will end the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, once he enters office on Dec. 1.

"We will no longer use that method to extract petroleum," the populist politician said Tuesday at a press conference, as quoted by the Associated Press.

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By Wenonah Hauter

The new Food & Water Watch report Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water details the deceit and trickery of the bottled water industry. Here's one more angle to consider: The bottled water business is closely tied to fracking.

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President Donald Trump announced Tuesday morning that he is nominating CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as U.S. Secretary of State.

"We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things," Trump said today. The president noted that the Iran nuclear deal was a point of contention, but there were other issues where the two famously clashed, including Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

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Last year, the country was battered by super-charged hurricanes and wildfires, worsened by droughts, which are now making California more susceptible to deadly mudslides. This winter is likewise proving to be chock-full of extreme weather events, including record-breaking summers in Australia and unrelenting cold in much of the U.S., where, in one day in early January, Alaska was warmer than Florida.

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After President Trump's speech last week promoting a dark and dystopian vision—U.S. fossil "energy dominance"— it is no surprise that his visit to Poland centers on promoting U.S. exports of fracked gas. Beyond such bluster, reality tells a different story.

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To the casual observer, we are making tremendous progress moving off fossil fuels and developing a clean, renewable energy system. The good news seems to be everywhere: The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, and legislation passed in the California Senate to mandate 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. After Trump announced he was backing out of the Paris climate agreement, communities across the country pledged to meet its goals. The cost of renewable energy is dropping fast, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) "Electric Power Monthly" seems to show that renewables are surpassing nuclear power.

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A federal judge has reversed last year's unanimous jury decision that awarded $4.2 million to two Dimock, Pennsylvania families who claimed that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp contaminated their water supply during fracking operations near their homes.

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The White House completed its pipeline trifecta Thursday by rubber stamping the Enbridge-Spectra merger after approving the Dakota Access Pipeline and reversing the blocked Keystone XL pipeline.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the deal without requiring the merged firm to divest a single inch of its 38,000-mile oil and gas pipeline network. The company will be able to exert market power to reduce output and raise prices on consumers. As with other industries, this mega-merger only benefits company shareholders, not communities.

The Trump administration is quickly fulfilling the fossil fuel industry's wish list. The American people will pay the price for gargantuan gas giveaways—higher prices, a dirtier environment and climate chaos. Approving this deal is a bad omen for future antitrust enforcement. It seems as though the White House has pulled the cops off the antitrust beat entirely, much to Wall Street's delight.

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pennsylvania, holds a jug of discolored water from his well, contaminated by nearby fracking operations while standing outside of the U.S. EPA building in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Food & Water Watch

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.

Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel said that President-elect Donald Trump and his pro-fossil fuels cabinet should take the EPA report to heart.

"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."

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.

A third genetically-modified (GMO) apple was commercially approved last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Arctic Fuji apple from Okanagan Speciality Fruits, which is engineered to keep from browning, joins the company's two other varieties—the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny.

The company said around 40 percent of apples are wasted because of superficial bruising and browning and created its apples to help keep the popular fruit from being prematurely thrown in the trash while claiming to keep its original texture and flavor. In order to prevent apples from browning, the company said it has "silenced" the enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO) that drives oxidation in apples.

Michael Firko, deputy administrator for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the new status for the Arctic Fuji is the "most scientifically sound and appropriate regulatory decision."

Neal Carter, Okanagan Specialty Fruits' founder and president, said the feedback they have gotten from consumers has been very positive. "The response to Arctic Fuji apples and our overall platform to deliver direct benefits to consumers has been encouraging," Carter said. "We are confident the positive feedback we have received will translate to the marketplace."

However, not everyone agrees.

"Many big apple buyers don't want this. Consumers don't want this. It's not only an unnecessary product, but the risks have not been fully examined," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said.

"Regulators have glossed over the possible unintentional effects of this technology, including the potential economic impacts on farmers, the potential of contamination for non-GMO and organic apple crops and the potential impact of the non-browning gene silencing, which could also weaken plant defenses and plant health."

The USDA appeared to have made the decision in favor of the company despite feedback they received during a 30-day public comment and review on the government's regulation.gov website. Many of the more than 620 commenters said they were opposed not only to the variety, but to all GMO food. Others commented that they were concerned that the GMO apple would deceive consumers and asked for it to be labeled as such.

Carter told Capital Press the company's Arctic Golden variety will be available for test marketing in stores in the western U.S. in the fall and will be labeled as GMO in the nutritional information area of packaging when regulations require it. He also said the company will seek USDA approval for its Arctic Gala next year, hoping for approval in 2017 or 2018.

"Food companies and restaurants, apple growers and growers associations, and consumers don't want GMO apples. Yet this company is introducing them," Ken Roseboro, publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, said.

"And of course they won't be labeled as GMO in the U.S. for at least two years with the weak GMO labeling bill that was recently passed, and even then they may just have a QR code. There are already non-GMO, non-browning apples available, including the Non-GMO Project verified Opal apple and ones developed at Washington State University, but the media ignores those options in favor of so-called 'high tech' GMO apples."

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