COMPROMISE: Can Fracking Be Made Safe?

 

COMPROMISE ON FRACKING STANDARDS

The following articles address the fundamental question: Can Fracking Be Safe? 

We begin with the inimitable Chip Northrup from his blog: NO FRACKING WAY

Protect Your Town From HVHF Infection

When it comes to HVHF, (high volume hydraulic fracturing) there’s no such thing as “safe fracking.” No “rhythm method.” No “morning after pill.” Once you’re fracked, you’re fracked. When you’re dealing with radioactive substances with half-lives of 1,600 years, there’s no “un-fracking.” No “half fracked”

Since the DEC (New York State’s Orwellian Department of Environmental Conservation) is nothing more than an axuiliary of the gas lobby, abstinence is the only safe way to protect your town.

This is the year to turn that moratorium into a ban and to get control of those town and county boards. You heard it here last. Would not wait on Cuomo to protect your town. Or the Environmental Defense Fund. (Cue laugh track)

You protect your town.

With No Albany Decision, Communities Consider Bans

“Time is ticking on many of the fracking moratoriums put in place by about two dozen communities in Herkimer and Oneida counties. Of 42 towns and cities surveyed, about 62 percent of them have a moratorium or outright ban on fracking. Most, however, are set to expire this year. .

 

Both Sides Agree on Tough New Fracking Standards

By KEVIN BEGOS Associated Press

PITTSBURGH March 20, 2013 (AP)

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/sides-agree-tough-fracking-standards-18773312

Some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast that could lead to a major expansion of drilling.

The program announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its familiar UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet its standards.

In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations. If they are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive the blessing of the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, created by environmentalists and the energy industry.

Many of the new standards appear to be stricter than state and federal regulations.

If the project wins wide acceptance, it could ease or avert some of the ferocious battles over fracking that have been waged in statehouses and city halls. And it could hasten the expansion of fracking by making drilling more acceptable to states and communities that feared the environmental consequences.

Shell Oil Vice President Paul Goodfellow said this is the first time the company and environmental groups have reached agreement to create an entire system for reducing the effects of shale drilling.

Gas Drilling Unlikely Partners

In an unlikely partnership between longtime adversaries, some of the nation’s biggest energy companies and environmental groups announced Wednesday, March 20, 2013 that they have agreed on a voluntary set of standards for gas and oil fracking in the Northeast.

“This is a bit of a unique coming-together of a variety of different interests,” said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia.

In agreeing to the self-policing system, members of the industry said they realized they needed to do more to reassure the public about the safety of fracking. On the other side, environmentalists said they came to the conclusion that the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas underground is going to be extracted one way or another and that working with the industry is the quickest path to making the process safer.

“We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed,” said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, a charitable foundation that has bankrolled anti-fracking efforts. “We think that it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment.”

In addition to Shell and Chevron, the participants include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, EQT Corp., Consol Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the organizers hope to recruit others.

The new standards include limits on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted gas; reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less toxic fracking fluids; and seismic monitoring before drilling begins.

For example, the plan requires companies to recycle 90 percent of their wastewater and to check water supplies around a well for pollution for a year after drilling is completed.

The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio — where a frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and Utica Shale formations — as well as New York and other states in the East that have put a hold on new drilling.

The cooperation between the two longtime adversaries may be part of a trend.

Earlier this month, industry and environmental groups in Illinois announced that they worked together on drilling legislation now pending there. But the Pittsburgh project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, would be voluntary — and would bypass the often turbulent legislative process altogether.

“We believe it does send a signal to the federal government and other states,” said Armand Cohen, director of the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force. “There’s no reason why anyone should be operating at standards less than these.”

Shell said it hopes to be one of the first companies to volunteer to have its operations in Appalachia go through the independent review. Chevron said it expects to apply for certification, too, when the process is ready to start later this year.

Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund, said many oil and gas companies claim to be leaders in protecting the environment, and “this can be one opportunity for them to demonstrate that leadership” by submitting to an audit.

During fracking, large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected into the ground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. In some places, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water.

The Pittsburgh project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent figures, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency chief.

The center’s proposed 2013 budget is $800,000, with the two sides expected to contribute equal amounts, said Andrew Place, the project’s interim leader and director of energy and environmental policy at EQT, an Appalachian energy company.

Mark Frankel, an expert on ethics and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the idea sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if the new standards are a significant improvement over existing laws. He said there are also ethical and policy questions.

“What does it mean to have an independent board? Who’s on it? How do they get on it?” he asked.

George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, one of the participants, said the industry’s involvement makes this different from past debates over fracking.

“Buy-in from them is huge. That provides leadership from within,” Jugovic said. “It’s very different from someone from the outside saying, ‘You can do better.'”

But some critics of fracking weren’t swayed by the new plan.

“Fracking is an inherently dangerous industrial process that takes us away from sustainable energy solutions. Its costs to humans and our environment just aren’t worth it,” said Kathy Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper, which is fighting fracking in New York state.

*          *          *

 Why EDF Is Working On Natural Gas

By Mark Brownstein | Bio | Published: September 10, 2012

http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/2012/09/10/why-edf-is-working-on-natural-gas/

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is often called upon by those opposed to natural gas development to support a ban or moratorium on drilling.  They argue that fighting for tough regulations, as EDF is doing, helps ensure that natural gas development will take place.  Some of our friends in the environmental community have questioned why we are working on natural gas at all.  They suggest that we should simply oppose natural gas development, and focus solely on championing energy efficiency and renewables.  We understand these concerns, and respect the people who share them.  And for that reason, we want to be as clear as we can be as to why EDF is so deeply involved in championing strong regulation of natural gas.

 Our view on natural gas is shaped by three basic facts.  First, hydraulic fracturing is already a common practice in the oil and gas industry.  Over 90 percent of new onshore oil and gas development taking place in the United States today involves some form of hydraulic fracturing, and shale gas accounts for a rapidly increasing percentage of total natural gas production—from 16% in 2009 to more than 30% today.  In short, hydraulic fracturing is not going away any time soon.

Second, this fight is about much more than the role that natural gas may play in the future of electricity supply in the United States.  Natural gas is currently playing an important role in driving out old coal plants, and we are glad to see these coal plants go.  On balance, we think substituting natural gas for coal can provide net environmental value, including a lower greenhouse gas footprint.  We are involved in an ambitious study to measure methane leakage across the value chain, and we’re advocating for leak reduction in order to maximize natural gas’ potential carbon benefit.

We share the community’s concern that we not lose sight of the importance of energy efficiency and renewables, and are working hard to see that these options become preferred alternatives to natural gas over time.

But even if we were able to eliminate demand for natural gas-fired electricity, our economy would still depend heavily on this resource.  Roughly two-thirds of natural gas produced in the U.S. is used as a feedstock for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fertilizer, and for direct heating and cooling.  Natural gas is entrenched in our economy, and championing renewables and energy efficiency alone is not enough to address the environmental impacts associated with producing it.

 

Third, current natural gas production practices impose unacceptable impacts on air, water, landscapes and communities.  These impacts include exposure to toxic chemicals and potential groundwater contamination (due to faulty well construction or unsafe disposal of drilling wastewater), harmful local and regional air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions from unnecessary fugitive methane emissions and negative effects on communities and ecosystems. Whatever economic and environmental benefits natural gas may provide should never take precedence over or compromise the public’s right to clean water and clean air.

 

Our analysis has led us to conclude that there are many ways to eliminate hazards and reduce risks from hydraulic fracturing and related ‘unconventional’ oil and gas production practices.  Strong rules that require these steps to be taken are needed, backed up by effective oversight and enforcement with the necessary financial and human resources to make these efforts real.

We also believe there are certain places where natural gas development should never be allowed, and we fully support the rights of local communities to regulate when and where this intensive industrial activity may take place, much as they would any other commercial or industrial activity in their community.  In states like New York, which have little or no experience in regulating modern oil and gas development, we believe it is important to take the time needed to develop strong regulations with the resources necessary to implement and enforce them before commercial-scale development should be allowed.

 

Since the details of the New York State natural gas plan have not yet been released, EDF has not taken a position on whether New York is ready to regulate hydraulic fracturing properly. 

Among the many things we will be looking for is how deeply the plan honors the principle of local self-determination.

When the plan is made public, our experts will study it and we will make a judgment as to whether the new rulemaking does enough to protect public health, communities and ecosystems.  Only then will we be able to reply to those who have urged us to join calls for a continued New York State moratorium.

Demand for natural gas is not going away, and neither is hydraulic fracturing.  We must be clear-eyed about this, and fight to protect public health and the environment from unacceptable impacts.  We must also work hard to put policies in place that ensure that natural gas serves as an enabler of renewable power generation, not an impediment to it.  We fear that those who oppose all natural gas production everywhere are, in effect, making it harder for the U.S. economy to wean itself from dirty coal.

Natural gas production can never be made entirely safe; like any intensive industrial activity, it involves risks. But having studied the issue closely, we are convinced that if tough rules, oversight and penalties for noncompliance are put in place, these risks become manageable.

Calling for a ban is simply not enough.  Just as we respect those who choose to advocate for a moratorium, we invite our allies to join us in the battle to enact strong rules that protect our air, water, landscapes and communities.  The stakes are high and the opposition is stiff, but we can and will succeed.

*          *          *

New ‘Voluntary Standards’ Don’t Make Fracking Safe

by Mijin Cha

Published on Saturday, March 23, 2013 by Policy Shop / Demos Blog

In the debate over our energy future, I keep coming back to the question of whether or not fracking can be done safely. There is no question that once out of the ground, natural gas burns cleaner than coal but the actual process of fracking to date has documented evidence of water contamination, increased risk of earthquakes in areas not prone to earthquakes, and mysterious health problems in fracking communities. Adding to this, fracking results in significant methane release and because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, there is no net climate benefit to using natural gas that is extracted by fracking.

But, could fracking be regulated and made safe? A new collaboration between environmentalists and oil and gas companies is attempting to set higher performance standards for fracking in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development lists Chevron, Shell, and the Environmental Defense Fund among the 11 partners that have been brought together. So far, the group has released an initial set of 15 performance standards that reduce gas well flaring, develop groundwater protection plans, implement no-leak valves and piping, and recycles 90 percent of the wastewater. There are also some disclosure requirements for the fracking fluids, but still allows for a “trade secret” exclusion that only requires the relevant chemical family name be disclosed.

These standards go beyond what is currently required, but that says more about the lack of adequate regulations than the work of the Center. The Center will certify companies meet their performance standards but there is no requirement that a fracking company must be certified before it can operate in a state. Environmental and community groups have criticized the collaboration because ultimately, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and continued reliance on it will do nothing to stop the climate crisis. In addition, Sandy Buchanan, the director of Ohio Citizen Action said, “This deal in no way represents the interests or agreement of the people being harmed by fracking in Ohio.”

 

While the Center’s efforts are better than nothing, they don’t really change whether fracking can be done safely. What happens to fracking operators that aren’t certified or who violate a performance standard? They would possibly get rebuked by the Center, which has no legal or regulatory enforcement power. This is, in fact, the definition of greenwashing. Oil and gas companies can claim to abide by these higher standards but there is no guarantee or repercussions if they don’t comply.

 The Center’s new standards are not a game changer. They do not change the fact that natural gas is a finite resource. They do not make fracking safer because they are not enforceable. If anything, they provide cover for oil and gas interests that want to derail the transition to a clean economy powered by renewable energy.

The fact remains that we will have to transition to a renewable energy economy and the longer we wait, the harder and more expensive it will be. Instead of putting all these focus and energy into a dead-end fossil fuel, we should be investing that focus and energy into building out a renewable energy economy.

© 2013 Demos

Mijin Cha