Virginia House Votes to Keep Fracking Chemical Cocktails a Secret
Virginia's House of Delegates voted 59-37 on Monday in favor of a bill that would allow fracking companies to keep their chemical cocktails a secret.
HB 1678 states that "chemical ingredient names, the chemical abstracts number for a chemical ingredient, or the amount or concentration of chemicals or ingredients used to stimulate a well" are exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, while fracking is not heavily used in Virginia, some energy companies have shown interest. Texas energy company Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has acquired about 86,000 acres of gas and oil leases for Virginia's Taylorsville basin.
9,942 Citizen-Reported #Fracking Complaints Reveal 14-Years of Suppressed Data https://t.co/eWg0zo83L4 @MarkRuffalo @joshfoxfilm @FrackActio— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485788342.0
The bill was sponsored by Republican delegate Roxann L. Robinson, who introduced a similar bill last year. During Friday's debate of the bill, she argued that "by protecting that actual recipe, it will foster more efficient and more advancements in the fracking industry."
She claimed that HB1678 has since evolved into a "transparency bill" after it was amended to only cover information about chemical concentrations, not the chemicals themselves, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Robinson has also sponsored HB 1679, a separate bill that "authorizes the Director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (Director) to disclose [chemical names and concentrations] to additional Department staff or state or local officials to assist the Department in responding to an emergency."
Many Virginians, however, have criticized the measures.
"As a physician, I have grave concerns about the dangers this may pose," wrote Kimberly M. Cheek, M.D. of Stuarts Draft in an op-ed. "The director may disclose information in an emergency, but there could be no further dissemination."
"Who determines what constitutes an emergency?" Cheek continued. "What happens to those who slowly develop symptoms caused by leaching of chemicals? I doubt vague and confusing symptoms that appear over time will be considered an 'emergency.' If we can't share information, how do physicians ever identify common symptoms?"
During fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals gets injected into shale deposits under the surface of the Earth to release oil and natural gas.
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a limited but alarming report that found there are nearly 700 chemicals used in the fracking process. Hydrochloric acid, methanol and hydrotreated light petroleum distillates were the most common additives. As EcoWatch noted then, even in low doses, these chemicals are known to cause skin irritation, chemical burns, headaches and blurred vision. At higher concentrations, exposure to these chemicals can cause shortness of breath, blindness and possibly death.
In December, the EPA released its widely anticipated final report on fracking confirming that the controversial drilling process impacts drinking water "under some circumstances." In the report, the EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the fracking water cycle.
The Sierra Club's Virginia chapter is petitioning against HB1678 and its companion bill SB1292, warning that "big polluters want the toxic cocktail of chemicals used in fracking to be kept under wraps—and these bills would make it perfectly legal."
"If fracking is going to happen, residents who could be affected should...know what’s being pumped into the ground." https://t.co/MwQvuY2PJC— Sierra Club Virginia Chapter (@Sierra Club Virginia Chapter)1485792052.0
At a subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Miles Morin, the executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, spoke in favor of Robinson's bill as it protects industry's secrets while maintaining full disclosure to regulators, The Northern Virginian Daily reported.
"With this protection, Virginia would still have one of the strongest chemical disclosure requirements in the country," Morin said.
However, in an editorial from the Free Lance-Star, the editors note that this argument from energy companies "isn't good enough" for residents fearful of fracking contamination:
"The argument from energy companies, using some state legislators as their megaphones, is that disclosure of the chemicals pumped into the ground would give away trade secrets.
"That argument isn't good enough, considering what's at stake in our part of the state. Leaders in King George and Westmoreland counties are trying to get a grip on what could be a major change in the character of one of the state's most pristine areas. They want to be assured that the water supply in a rural region whose residents depend on well water is not going to be endangered. A refusal to reveal exactly what is being pumped into the ground might make one wonder if there isn't a bit of risk involved."
Travis Blankenship of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters explained to The Northern Virginian Daily that "this legislation goes far beyond protecting the competitive trade secrets the legislation attempts to get at and actively prevents landowners from knowing chemicals affecting their drinking water."
Emily Francis of the Southern Environmental Law Center agreed.
"Specifically, we are concerned that localities would not have access to this information ahead of time in order to prepare for any potential accident," Francis said.
The bill would have to be pass the state's Senate before it reaches the desk of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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