|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native
Bakken oil boom traffic up on the Fort Berthold Reservation, home of the Three Affiliated Tribes, in western North Dakota.
Bakken, fracking to be focus of film
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor
TORONTO — Native American journalist Jodi Rave’s Nov. 2 launch of an Internet fundraising campaign for a documentary film about the Bakken oil boom on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota topped more than a week of public actions addressing environmental and social impacts of the recent petroleum industry surge enabled by hydrological fracturing.
In Toronto, during an Oct. 30-31 advisory committee meeting of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation, participants called for inclusion of oil-and-gas extraction companies in the U.S. mandatory reporting scheme for disclosing toxic discharges. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., 17 nonprofit organizations filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency demanding that oil-and-gas industry players — including companies engaged in fracking — report their hazardous waste emissions.
“We are in Phase 1 funding to complete the trailer for our documentary, an inside story of the Bakken, the biggest oil boom region in the U.S.A.,” Rave said in announcing the fundraising drive. “The magnitude of this development is rapidly changing the social, cultural, environmental and economic landscape of all people who live in this region: none more so than the Three Affiliated Tribes.”
The tribes, also known as the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation, or MHA Nation for short, are located smack dab in the middle of the largest discovery of contiguous oil pockets in U.S. history. With 7,701 producing wells, the Bakken geological formation underlies northwestern South Dakota, western North Dakota, eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan, Canada.
The publisher of Buffalo’s Fire, Rave commented, “Thousands of oil field workers and scores of oil exploration companies have converged upon the region, bringing instant wealth to the state, families and individuals. The huge influx of people, however, has also brought sociocultural, environmental and economic upheaval to the MHA Nation,” she said.
“This campaign is important because major media outlets — from the New Yorker and PBS to Planet Green — have written or filmed the Bakken oil boom, yet failed to mention the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which is in the midst of all oil activity,” she added, noting that support for the film “will give us an opportunity to include the tribal perspective.”
Among topics addressed by some 70 participants at this year’s public meeting of the North American Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) Project, was that of including mandatory reporting of toxics by the oil-and-gas extraction industry. The measure was recommended by members of working groups of the advisory committee session there, which was taxed with continuing to increase comparability of the hazardous waste data in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
The recommendation came as part of the agenda developed by the staff of the publicly funded trinational Commission for Environmental Cooperation to propose an updated Action Plan to Enhance the Comparability of PRTRs in North America.
Canada requires oil-and-gas extraction companies to report hazardous industrial waste. Mexico lacks rules to compel businesses to reveal their toxic discharges.
In the United States, an exemption industry lobbyists achieved in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, referred to as the Halliburton loophole, prevents the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
However, the agency has authority to make rules requiring additional industrial sectors to report their waste to the Toxics Release Inventory. The EPA added metal and coal mining in 1997, for example. However, it decided to put off further consideration of listing oil-and-gas extraction due to the logistical difficulty of reporting from drilling sites spread out across the land, it said.
New Oct. 15 rules mandate oil-and-gas operators to notify the EPA via email two days in advance of extracting natural gas from a hydraulically fractured or refractured well. This notification requirement is part of EPA’s new Clean Air Act standards, aimed at reducing emissions from volatile organic compounds released during natural gas production by requiring “green completions” after January 2015.
Industry opposes the standards, which resulted from a lawsuit by environmental groups, and industry allies in Congress are working to end EPA’s autonomy in rule-making by passing H.R. 10, or the REINS Act, which would require congressional approval for new rules.
In the process of justifying the new Clean Air Act standards, the agency compiled ample data about fracking, which environmental organizations are using to bolster their argument for forcing oil-and-gas companies to tell the public what they are discharging to the air, water and ground.
The method the companies now are using widely is fracking, or fracturing underground rock formations by injecting a fluid mixture of sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to free the petroleum and force it to the surface. In the industry this method is known as a kind of “unconventional” well development.
The EPA data show they use numerous toxic chemicals and produce tons of hazardous waste, which pose health risks. The agency estimates the industry as a whole emits 127,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, including toluene, naphthalene and benzene (known to cause cancer).
Of the 2,500 products used in fracking, more than 650 contain known carcinogens and other hazardous substances, according to a 2011 congressional report. Meanwhile, proposed Bureau of Land Management fracking fluid rules for Indian reservation and public lands remain to obtain congressional approval.
The General Accounting Office says in a September report that it is imperative for EPA to step in and regulate the new fossil fuel expansion because states lack rules and resources to do so.
“No state is requiring enough upfront collection of baseline data and ongoing monitoring to adequately protect local water supplies and public health,” said OMB Watch Federal Information Policy Director Sean Moulton. “Citizens need adequate information to evaluate the potential risks of allowing fracking in their communities,” he said in a written release. “At the federal level, the EPA should add the oil and gas extraction industry to the Toxics Release Inventory program to help fill the information gap that currently exists.”
OMB Watch is one of the 17 groups petitioning EPA to require public disclosure of oil-and-gas operations’ discharges. The others are: Environmental Integrity Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, CitizenShale, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Elected Officials to Protect New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, PennEnvironment, Powder River Basin Resource Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sierra Club and Texas Campaign for the Environment.
The petition requests the government to publish oil-and-gas operations’ discharges in the Federal Register. “The public needs to know — and has a right to know — what harmful substances these facilities are releasing,” OMB Watch said in a news release accompanying the petition submission on Oct. 24.
EPA Press Officer Latisha Petteway was unavailable to answer Native Sun News’ questions submitted via telephone and email messages about how the agency will respond to the petition.
Here automatic reply at newspaper deadline time on Nov. 5 stated: “I am out of the office until 11/06/2012. Due to Hurricane Sandy, federal offices are closed. I will respond to your email when I return to the office.”
The Toxics Release Inventory program, established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, has been a flagship example of the impact of transparency. Since its inception, companies have reduced the amount of toxins they release by more than half while enjoying the level playing field it provides in the competition for profit shares.
(Contact Talli Nauman at email@example.com)