War on Science: Fracking is contaminating our water and hurting our kids. Thanks, Jeff Sessions!
As Emily Atkin writes in her latest piece about current EPA nominee Bill Wehrum, who failed to be confirmed by the Senate in 2006, Trump and Pruitt have shown thus far that they are following in the George W. Bush’s anti-science footsteps. While we’re far from knowing the full consequences of the current administration’s pro-polluter agenda, the legacy of the Halliburton Loophole sets a disturbing precedent of what can happen when an industry-captured EPA puts polluter well-being before public health.
Named for the former VP Dick Cheney’s company, due to his perceived influence and their exploitation of the rule, it exempts frackers from Clean Water Act requirements regarding disclosing the chemical composition of fluids pumped underground. As two stories in NPR’s Marketplace and a feature at InsideClimate News show, the health impacts of fracking’s use of the loophole are only beginning to rear their ugly head. And it is ugly.
Congress enshrined this loophole into law in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, using an EPA study claiming there’s no evidence of health risks from fracking as justification.
But as Neela Banerjee at InsideClimate News describes in painful detail, that Bush-led EPA study was hardly reliable. In fact, the study was so significantly changed by Bush’s EPA, including erasing its original conclusion pointing to some potential health risks, that the contractors who wrote it removed their names, as the only form of protest they had available.
The fracking exemption effort began with a 1999 bill by Senators Jeff Sessions and James Inhofe, looking to do a favor for their fossil fuel friends. Sessions and Inhofe’s move soon spurred new research at the EPA into fracking’s health risks, to determine if the exemption would pose too great a risk to public health and drinking water.
According to Banerjee’s reporting, the study originally suggested that fracking poses a potential threat to drinking water, so further research and monitoring was needed. But Bush’s EPA didn’t like that, and edited the report to claim there wasn’t evidence of health risks from fracking. It was this altered conclusion that eventually justified the 2005 Energy Policy Act’s Halliburton Loophole that allows frackers to keep their chemical cocktails secret.
The result of this shifty change? Folks like Bryan Latkanich, who is profiled by both Banerjee and Marketplace Radio’s Scott Tong, pay the price. After allowing fracking on his land, Latkanich’s son suffered a severe rash after a bath, and has since been diagnosed with asthma and incontinence. Bryan now suffers from nerve damage so severe that, as he tells Marketplace, “My son came to me last week and he says, ‘Dad, you cry in your sleep.’”
Shortly before Obama left office, his administration released a new report that found fracking has, in some cases, contaminated drinking water. As ICN notes, this time the contractor who wrote the study kept their name on it.
But it’s up to Congress to close the loophole.
Hopefully they do soon. Before we have more cases like that of Rebecca Bowen of Clarington, Ohio, who told Marketplace that after being exposed to the smoke from a fire at a nearby drilling site, “They told me my daughter’s esophagus was melted.”
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(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)