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Native Sun News: 'Fractivists' making case known on Capitol Hill

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

‘Fractivists’ to invade Capitol Hill July 26
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

WASHINGTON –– A new report about hydraulic fracturing – the oil and gas industries’ preferred extraction technique – is fueling Native American and other communities’ plans for the first National Day of Action on July 28 against the controversial practice that has come to be known as “fracking.”

With improving technology, nine out of 10 gas wells operating in the United States now use hydraulic fracturing to release fuel for the market, the report says. The so-called unconventional process entails blasting large volumes of sand and fluid through well-bore holes under immense pressure to break up petroleum-bearing rock and free the previously inaccessible product.

Today, more than 30 states are experiencing fracking, according to the report entitled “The Right to Know, the Responsibility to Protect: State Actions are Inadequate to Ensure Effective Disclosure of the Chemicals Used in Natural Gas Fracking.”

Released July 9 by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Watch, the report observes: “The task of protecting the health and safety of citizens and regulating natural gas drilling has been left to state and local governments.”

“No state has yet established all of the elements of a chemical disclosure policy strong enough to ensure the quality of the water and the health of communities near gas wells,” it concludes.

Announcing the National Day of Action, Theodora Bird Bear, a member of the Dakota Resource Council from North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation, agreed, saying “We have found that we cannot rely on our local, tribal and state officials to prevent pollution of our air and water and our health.”

“They tell us there will be no impacts, but we can see the impacts and we know they are real,” she said in a joint statement announcing the mobilization on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn, dubbed “Stop the Frack Attack.”

Fort Berthold, reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara tribes, is smack-dab in the middle of the Williston Basin’s Bakken gas and oil field, where advances in fracking technology have made North Dakota the second-largest petroleum producing state in the nation.

“We are asking policymakers in Washington, D.C., to help us protect and honor our connections to the earth,” Bird Bear added.

The U.S. Interior Department helped bring fracking into the limelight with a July 10 deadline for public comments on proposed federal regulation changes for disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

However, critics, such as the umbrella Western Organization of Resource Councils, or WORC, to which Bird Bear’s group belongs, commented that the changes should require much more accountability than the measures proposed.

WORC’s offices in Washington will host participants in a July 26 Stop the Frack Attack Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

“Dirty drilling isn’t a state or regional problem – it’s a national problem,” said John Fenton, a Wyoming rancher who is on the National Day of Action’s Advisory Council. “It’s time for the White House and Congress to stop buying the industry line and start paying attention to the real devastation this industry has caused our communities, air and water.”

Organizations from Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Idaho and Virginia have signed on in support of the Day of Action.

The OMB Watch report traced the history of federal oversight on disclosure of toxic chemicals and on other safety measures related to fracking.

“In 2005, when Congress passed a massive energy bill, a clause was inserted into the law specifically exempting hydraulic fracturing from oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the watchdog group reported.

In the light of weak federal regulation, the report recommends that state disclosure policy should be enhanced to include the following points:

1. Before receiving a drilling permit, the owners and operators of natural gas wells should gather baseline information on nearby water sources and water and air quality. They should disclose the chemicals they intend to use in the fracking process and commit to regularly monitoring the water and air near the gas wells and near wastewater storage facilities for potential contamination for as long as the well is operating and for some period after operations have ceased.

2. Information on the chemicals used in fracking should be collected from drilling companies, well operators, and manufacturers and should include specific information on the unique chemical identification numbers, concentrations and the quantity of the chemicals used. 3. States should have clear guidelines limiting "trade secrets" exemptions from disclosure laws to prevent companies from invoking this loophole to avoid disclosure.

4. Information about the chemicals used at each individual well where fracking occurs should be posted on a public website in a way that allows users to easily search, sort and download data by chemicals used, companies involved and well location.

Some states don’t want fracking at all. Vermont became the first state to ban the practice earlier this year. Fracking is subject to a moratorium in New York. The entire country of France has banned it. Elsewhere, critics simply want to see this fossil fuel extraction method more carefully regulated.

Calling themselves “fractivists”, health and safety advocates are mostly concerned about water consumption and pollution inherent in the method.

In addition to large volumes of water, a variety of chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are used to fracture 35,000 wells in the United States each year. This is approximately the annual water consumption of 40 to 80 cities, each with a population of 50,000. Since then, fracking has increased and it is expected to continue expanding.

“The number of natural gas wells operating in the United States has grown dramatically. Today, almost half a million wells are operating,” OMB Watch states.

Chemicals typically are from 0.5 to 2 percent of the total volume of the fracturing fluid. Up to 85 percent of the fluid may remain underground. The rest must be stored somewhere, and that includes open pits that spill or injection wells that can leak, as documented in EarthworksAction.org’s manual “Hydraulic Fracturing 101.”

Concerns have been steadily mounting to become part of a movement around the world. When television talk-show host David Letterman on July 20 named states that have been “ruined” by fracking and said, “They are poisoning our drinking water: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re screwed,” longtime New York City fractivist Meg Montgomery proclaimed, “The groundswell is now above ground.”

Australian fractivists planning to join the Day of Action arrived in the United States more than a week in advance, broadcasting their visit with a video showing how the water, polluted by methane from fracking, burns when touched with a match in “the land Down Under.”

Among fractivists are celebrities such as Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo, a member of Water Defense in New York's Catskill Mountains, and actress Margot Kidder, who made a YouTube invitation for the public to take part in the Capitol lawn action.

“The problem is not just fracking,” Kidder said in the presentation. “The energy companies, oil and gas in particular, have been given pretty much a free rein to do whatever they want – even if that means destroying people’s lives, their livelihood and the planet as we know it,” she said.

“My grandchildren’s lives are going to be much tougher and much less beautiful than mine was, and so are yours, so join us in trying to save our planet,” pleads Kidder.

Environmental writer and guru of the climate-change group 350.org, Bill McKibben, who made the cover of Rolling Stone on July 20 by effectively linking the record hot, dry, smoky summer of 2012 to global warming, categorized the anti-fracking faction as “part of the much larger battle, which is against carbon in the atmosphere.” He encouraged followers to insist on making a presidential-election issue out of the termination of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News www.nsweekly.com

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