Fracking: Pity the poor, overburdened oil companies.
In Europe, fracking is about as popular as the plague. Ireland is the latest country to outlaw the practice, joining France, Germany, and Belgium. Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan told the press after the ban passed both houses of the Irish legislature, “Our current energy policy is nothing less than a complete contradiction, a policy that can only lead to one conclusion — we should keep the petroleum in the ground.”
By Steve Hanley
Sadly, officials in the US at both the federal and state level are in thrall to the oil and gas industry. Here in the good old USA, it’s Drill, Baby, Drill 24/7. Stuff your earthquakes, polluted aquifers, combustible drinking water, and methane leaks. We have to Make America Great Again, even if it kills us.
The sad burden of fracking
The Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Environment Protection Agency, wants to rescind a rule proposed by the Obama administration that seeks to prevent water used in fracking on public lands from leaking into water supplies and making them toxic to humans and animals. The logic, if you can call it that, behind the rescission is that states already have similar laws on the books and the proposed rule “imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs” on the oil and gas companies who are just trying to make an honest buck. So what if a few people have to die? It’s not easy being a great country, you know.
“This administration is sacrificing our public lands and neighboring communities to the oil and gas industry,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at NRDC. “While these rules still fall far short of what’s needed to reduce impacts from fracking, they would have provided some much-needed steps to better safeguard drinking water supplies, public health, and the environment.”
Not so, cry Republicans, who seem to think their job is to protect corporations from having to shoulder responsibility for any environmental damage they cause rather than represent the best interests of actual people. “I applaud Secretary Zinke and his team for their work in returning the department, its sub-agencies and bureaus to their core statutory functions,” said Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House natural resources committee. “Taking this job-killing federal regulatory overreach off the books is an important step in this process.” It would be useless to suggest to Congressman Bishop that not killing his constituents should be his highest priority.
Grant Township, Pennsylvania
Since it is apparent that neither the federal nor state authorities will lift a finger to rein in the fossil fuel oligarchs, the residents of Grant Township in western Pennsylvania have taken matters into their own hands. When Pennsylvania General Energy applied for a permit to pump wastewater from drilling operations into an injection well within the boundaries of the community, the residents protested to the EPA, but the permit was granted anyway.
“We thought they would protect us. They wouldn’t,” says Judy Wanchism, age 74 and a resident of the Grant Township. “We live in an area that doesn’t have public water. We all live off springs and private wells. You ruin our water, our home is no good anymore. Nothing. You have to have water in order to live, to water your plants, to drink, to bathe, everything… I don’t know how else to say it. Water is life, and without water, you don’t have a life.”
Wanchism and her neighbors turned to Chad Nicholson, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. He says that environmental laws are deeply flawed in most cases because they permit some pollution and only limit the time over which the pollution is allowed to take place. “They don’t actually stop the harm from being inflicted on the environment. They regulate the rate or the flow of the harm,” Nicholson says. “Why are we left arguing over the terms of the permit and how much harm we are going to get? Why can’t we just say ‘no’?”
The town drafted laws that prohibit pollution “not based on how many trucks per day, not based on how much impact it’s going to have on the waterway or things like that – but prohibit it as a violation of the rights of the people that live in the community,” says Nicholson. “They have rights to clean air and clean water. They have rights to self-government. They have rights to a sustainable future.”
A federal court struck down the local ordinance, claiming the township’s government has exceeded its authority, as if protecting the health of its citizens was not a proper concern. The residents responded by adopting a home rule charter that asserts “the right to be free from activities which may pose potential risks to clean air, water, and soil.”
Pennsylvania throws locals under the bus
That’s where things get absurd. The Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection is now suing the township, claiming its home rule charter violates state law. “We shouldn’t be fighting the DEP,” says Wanchism. “The DEP should be protecting us and helping us.” The township is suing DEP for failing in its duty to protect the citizens of the state. A hearing in state court is scheduled for this fall.
The Grant Township situation highlights precisely what is wrong with government at all levels today. Corporate interests pay politicians to promulgate laws that protect corporations. The people get bupkis. Chad Nicholson explains it this way. “Sometimes, I talk about it as sustainability actually being illegal. If you try to put into place sustainable energy policies for your community, you can be sued by the industry that would be aggrieved by these sustainable policies.”
Pollution protections law
He claims that laws protecting polluters are not legitimate because they violate the right of citizens to clean air and water. “We draw a distinction between legal and legitimate. If the state or federal government is implementing policies that would allow corporations or other actors to engage in activities that violate rights, then those policies are illegitimate.” His legal argument is similar to the one being presented in federal court by Our Children’s Trust. That case is now inching its way toward a trial early next year.
The residents of Grant Township are not giving up, despite the fact that their own state government is refusing to protect their interests. They are using their bodies to prevent trucks from bringing their deadly cargo of fracking wastewater to the injection well site. “This requires an exhaustive amount of time and energy, mostly on the computer doing research, just trying to figure out who do I call, where do I get help,” says Wanchism. “You have to just keep going.”
Western Pennsylvania is Trump country. But that doesn’t mean the people have to take getting railroaded by their own government lying down. Maybe someday Americans will wake up and realize that a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations is not what the people who wrote the Constitution had in mind. Judy Wanchism and her neighbors are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any more. Good for them!