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Call for mandatory toxics disclosure on public lands welcome, but should apply nationwide

Statement of Earthworks' Executive Director Jennifer Krill

“In tonight’s State of the Union speech, President Obama promoted increased, environmentally safe natural gas production to meet our nation’s energy needs.  President Obama is right that we don’t have trade energy production for the environment, but only if we wait for the science necessary to make informed decisions about how, where and whether to drill. 

But his statement tonight made no mention of a growing body of evidence that drilling has serious known consequences, and much of those impacts have yet to be studied. Promoting gas production in the face of such evidence effectively prioritizes the profits of the oil and gas industry over the communities’ health, their drinking water, and the environment. 

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study that tentatively confirms hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater and drinking water wells.  The gas industry has argued the opposite, putting communities and the environment at risk.

In November, the President’s own Shale Gas Advisory Panel advised that “…. if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country – perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades – there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences…”

In November, the Scientific American – the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States and 2011 National Magazine Award winner — editorialized that “drilling for natural gas has gotten ahead of the science needed to prove it safe”.

The President should be putting communities first.  But by promoting increased gas drilling when his own advisors and the scientific establishment tell him that we have neither the science nor the oversight to ensure safe drilling, he is not.

We need answers before action.  The sensible path forward is not putting our fate in the hands of the drilling industry, but investing in renewables and efficiency.

While the President’s call for mandatory disclosure of drilling toxics on public lands is welcome, it is bittersweet.  The reason his call is necessary is special loopholes in the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air, and Clean Water Acts allow drillers to hide their toxics in the first place.  If the President wanted to inform all Americans, he would have required toxics disclosure nationwide by closing these loopholes.”  

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