As the BP oil slick grows in the Gulf of Mexico, and it becomes increasingly likely that the disaster could irreversibly devastate the economy and environment of the Gulf Coast, consider that the oversight of onshore drilling is not appreciably better than offshore if at all.
President Obama has (at least temporarily) reinstated the ban on new offshore drilling. But he needs to protect our waters onshore as well, and support the FRAC Act.
The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which has been introduced in the House and Senate, proposes to regulate the practice of hydraulic fracturing and require the full public disclosure of the chemicals used in this risky practice. [Also known as fracking , vertical and horizontal gas wells are fracked to release natural gas from heretofore marginal deposits.]
Onshore, approaching 1 million oil and gas wells are active as of 2008. Spills and leaks are common but precious few oil and gas inspectors in America’s 34 oil and gas producing states have resulted in an industry that is largely self-regulated. While the honor system results in some reports of spill and leaks, the industry fiercely opposes new environmental regulations at the local, state and federal level claiming they are responsible stewards.
Adding insult to injury, in 2005, Halliburton and other companies extracted from Congress yet another exception from a long list of federal environmental laws the industry is exempt from the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund, among others. Now, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Passed in the wake of Earth Day reforms, SDWA was enacted to protect America’s underground sources of drinking water.
50% of America’s drinking water comes from underground sources many of which are threatened today by drilling activities.
Industry claims that there are no documented cases of water contamination from fracturing. They can make this claim because fracking is exempt: companies are not required to disclose harmful drilling chemicals so no water quality monitoring is occurring. And water-testing laboratories have no idea what to test for when a landowner brings in a suspected contaminated water sample.
Offshore, BP has no place to hide. You can see with your own eyes the contamination from their Deepwater Horizon well. Onshore, there’s all sorts of places to hide.
When people bring attention to poor practices and contamination in their communities, companies never claim it’s their fault. The standard line is that contamination is either the fault of the landowner or is naturally occurring. And, even though 9 out of every 10 wells are fractured – which involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and chemical cocktails under enormous pressures – companies say the practice is completely safe and communities have nothing to worry about.
The Gulf spill is not an example of bad things happening to a good company. BP, until called on the carpet in recent days, was trying to force Gulf Coast fishermen into signing legal agreements waiving BP’s liability from any injuries sustained in the cleanup. In southwestern Colorado, where BP is the largest natural gas driller/operator, the company is forcing landowners to sign agreements waiving their rights to Colorado’s new oil and gas regulations, including the Landowner’s Protection Act.
Same company, different place. Same terrible practices. The extent of the Gulf Coast oil spill is clear to see. The extent of spills on the land and extent of underground contamination may never be known. Unfortunately, what we don t see what is out of sight is out of mind. Perhaps our new environmental mantra needs to be, What you can t see will hurt you.
As America struggles to meet its energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, companies need to drop their tired old rhetoric, step up to the plate and Do it right.
Doing it right means that they can t drill everywhere some areas must be off limits to drilling such as offshore, critical watersheds and sensitive and sacred lands. And where drilling is allowed, companies must pursue every avenue of best practices to prevent and minimize their impacts.
In a nutshell, do it right means behave yourself . But as BP has proved, as big oil has proved, time and time again, that simply will not happen without statutory oversight coupled with adequately funded enforcement.
The oil and gas industry’s stranglehold on American politics must give way to a responsible drilling era and, more importantly, a clean and renewable energy future. Industry can afford to do it right and it must do it right now.