By Sharon Guynup
A growing boom in natural gas drilling near homes and schools prompted the city of Longmont, Colorado to vote last July to bar new oil and gas permits in residential neighborhoods.
The state quickly overturned the ordinance. Gov. John Hickenlooper said that letting it stand would “stir-up a hornet’s nest,” encouraging other Colorado towns to pass their own drilling rules. Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs argued that communities have the right to restrict heavy industry in residential zones—including oil and gas drilling.
The natural gas “gold rush” underway in 31 states is indeed “stirring up a hornet’s nest,” sparking push back from communities that see themselves as the last line of defense protecting citizens against state and federal failures to regulate fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technology that blasts millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand underground to release oil and gas from shale bedrock.
“The U.S. faces a crisis in the enforcement of rules governing the oil and gas industry,” states a new report by Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. Their study, which analyzed government data from six heavily-fracked states, discovered that each of them failed to enforce existing drilling regulations. Between 53 and 91 percent of active wells in those states go uninspected—175,000 to 300,000 wells in all, with not enough inspectors nor the funding to pay for them or their equipment. As a result, many violations go unrecorded, with few penalties and many repeat offenders.
With just 17 inspectors for 60,000 wells in West Virginia, municipalities and environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on drilling until various safeguards and monitoring criteria are met. North Carolina’s controversial moratorium on natural gas drilling runs until 2014, when the legislature will vote on as-yet-unwritten regulations. But Raleigh, NC, Morgantown, WV, and other communities aren’t waiting for state action. They’ve preemptively passed local drilling bans or strict zoning rules.
New York State’s contentious 2010 moratorium on natural gas drilling currently remains in place, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo launching a new health study, and the state Supreme Court upholding municipalities’ rights to ban drilling within their borders. At least a dozen New York communities, including Buffalo, have passed such bans.
Next door, in Pennsylvania, the legislature passed a 2012 law forbidding towns from regulating fracking, which was then overturned by the courts. Five Delaware Valley towns quickly asserted their “home rule” rights and prohibited fracking.
In Texas, the towns of Flower Mound, Grapevine and Southlake chose to regulate fracking within their city limits after the industry had heavily impacted their towns. Those ordinances include buffer zones that distance wells from homes, schools, churches and hospitals, as well as a Southlake ban on summertime fracking due to the industry’s competition for drinking water.
Meanwhile, back in Colorado, more than 80 county commissioners, mayors, and city council members statewide have asked Gov. Hickenlooper to withdraw his lawsuit against Longmont’s fracking ban, saying that, “Local governments have both the right and responsibility to take action to protect the public heath and well being of our citizens as well as the environment.”
Across the nation, this local opposition is occurring within a vacuum. The federal government does not regulate hydraulic fracturing, and the industry—unlike any in America—is exempted from seven major environmental regulations. On the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, fracking gets a pass, along with exemptions from the Clean Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Superfund law and hazardous waste disposal regulations.
Only four states have significant regulations, which seem to go largely unenforced.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conclusively proven that fracking contaminated an aquifer in Pavilion, Wyoming, refuting longstanding industry claims that the process doesn’t pollute drinking water. Across the state line, a Colorado School of Public Health study released earlier this year found high levels of airborne petroleum hydrocarbons near drilling sites in Garfield County, levels that could cause acute or chronic respiratory and neurological problems.
Municipalities are increasingly concerned over health and economic impacts from frack water and air pollution. Drillers transform quiet rural communities into industrial zones with wells, waste ponds, smog, roaring compressors and heavy truck traffic. Environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. estimates that it takes more than 4,200 truck trips to carry freshwater in and contaminated frackwater out of each well site.
In Ohio, a grassroots “limited home rule” campaign seeks to regulate drilling by drafting community noise limits, designating operating hours, and limiting truck routes and drilling waste shipments. The strategy would, in theory, supersede Ohio Department of Natural Resources' authority over drilling, passing it back to municipalities.
In Broadview Heights, Ohio—an upscale city dotted with 90 wells—a “charter amendment” on the November ballot would ban future drilling, citing citizens’ rights to clean air, clean water, clean soil and a sustainable energy future. At least 30 Ohio communities have passed statutes to regulate or ban fracking.
Not one state, nor the federal government, currently requires drillers to disclose “proprietary” drilling formulas, which contain chemicals known to cause cancer or disrupt hormones that regulate basic body functions, including benzene, toluene, diesel and formaldehyde, to name a few. Oil and gas companies pumped 780 million gallons of fracturing products underground from 2005-2009 containing about 750 different chemicals.
Of the 353 chemicals identified by researchers in a recent study, about half could harm the nervous system, the cardiovascular system and blood, 40 percent could disrupt immune function, about a third could affect endocrine organs and a quarter could cause cancer.
A new Pennsylvania law demonstrates how states favor drillers: companies there are now required to reveal “trade secret” chemicals to physicians, but doctors must first sign a confidentiality agreement. Ohio’s new fracking rules include a similar provision.
In August, Wilkes-Barre physician Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the PA frack “gag rule” violates his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, preventing communication with “patients, colleagues, medical researchers and the public regarding the identity and amount of chemicals, and the health hazards they present to the community.”
The root of the regulatory breakdown lies with elected officials who take hefty campaign contributions from frackers—then pass industry-friendly rules. The oil and gas industry has already handed at least $30 million in 2012 campaign contributions to members of Congress and fossil fuel political action committees. A current flag-waving “Vote 4 Energy” TV ad boasts job creation, though most frack jobs are short-term and go to out-of-state, transient workers—often attracting drugs, prostitution and crime to communities.
But it also goes one step deeper. The underpinning that allows fracking to go nearly unregulated across America is a century-old, Industrial Revolution-era legal framework that favors limitless economic growth, even if it harms human health or the environment or tramples the rights of citizens or communities—and it’s up to those harmed to prove damages, notes legal scholar Joseph Guth.
The European REACH system stands in stark contrast to the U.S. model, placing the burden of proof on companies—not governments—to show that the chemicals they produce or use are safe.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans want clean energy, but federal and state officials have done little to shift towards renewables. In the meantime, more and more communities are moving to protect their citizens against the “fracking gold rush.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Sharon Guynup’s writing has appeared in Smithsonian, The New York Times Syndicate, Scientific American, The Boston Globe and nationalgeographic.com. © Blue Ridge Press 2012 [email protected]
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›