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Towns Across America Receiving Legal Support Against Fracking From Oil & Gas Companies

If you don’t know what fracking is, it means it’s not happening anywhere near you, but it might! Fracking is a highly controversial and toxic process of extracting natural gas and oil deposits from mining sites that were inaccessible only a few decades ago.

Image from The Watchers: Watching The World Evolve And Transform.

Fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, is the process of forcing a mixture of freshwater and toxic chemicals under higher pressure into a well, enlarging the rock fracture and increasing the extraction rate of gas or oil.

Source Watch, a publication for The Center for Media and Democracy, explains that, “chemical additives many include hydrochloric acid (typically pumped before the job to clean up the formation), additional friction reducers, clay controls, weighting agents, and gel breakers.”

Source Watch adds that although no complete list exists of the chemicals used in the process, “information obtained from environmental clean-up sites demonstrates that known toxins are routinely being used, including hydrochloric acid, diesel fuel (which contains benzene, tuolene, and xylene) as well as formaldehyde, polyacrylimides, arsenic, and chromates.”

In June, the preservation group American Rivers reported that, “Injecting diesel underground is problematic because of the toxic chemicals it contains, especially the ‘BTEX’ compound. BTEX refers to benzene, tuolene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. These chemicals are linked to numerous adverse health effects including cancer, kidney and liver problems, and nervous system damage.”

“They are toxic at very low levels and are soluble in water, which is of particular concern when injecting them into the ground in proximity to underground sources of drinking water,” added American Rivers.

A few weeks ago, in an ongoing effort to address such problems, The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) announced the creation of its ‘Community Fracking Defense Project’ to provide legal and policy assistance to towns and local governments across the nation who are seeking to add controls or protections from fracking in their communities.

The new project will launch in five states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina – with projects varying from state-to-state based on differences in fracking activities and regulatory protections.

The new projects will include:

  • Assisting in drafting local laws and land use plans within vulnerable communities to control the extent of fracking within their borders and/or limit the harmful effects of fracking.
  • Working to re-assert communities’ rights to protect themselves under state laws.
  • Defending relevant zoning provisions and other local laws that get challenged in court.

These new projects will be out growths of current NRDC programs going on in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

In New York, the NRDC advises towns upstate on creating fracking bans that can withstand litigation.

Currently, over 100 municipalities across New York State have enacted bans or moratoria on fracking, with the City of Buffalo having led the way, according to the advocacy group New Yorkers Against Fracking.

The Village of Wilson in upstate New York is the most recent in the state to enact an anti-fracking ban, which will also prevent the importing and treating of toxic wastewater produced from fracking.

New Yorkers Against Fracking says that, “Threats to the region also include lack of watershed protection from drilling operations.”

Graphic courtesy of Earth Trade Water Inc.

In New York State, the NRDC is advising towns on how to create fracking bans that can withstand legal challenges, as well as assisting towns in challenging industry-sponsored pro-fracking resolutions that have been improperly adopted.

Also in New York State, the NRDC is representing environmental and conservation groups on two amicus (friend of the court) briefs to uphold the rights of the towns of Dryden and Middleton to ban fracking with their borders. Industry proponents are currently appealing the court decisions supporting the towns’ rights against fracking.

In Pennsylvania, the NRDC is also representing a group of municipalities in several counties – including the townships of Bethlehem, Murrysville, Monroeville, Tinnicum, Wilkins, East Finley, and Bell Acres – in filing an amicus brief supporting a recent lower court decision upholding the municipalities’ rights to determine whether and where fracking can occur within their boundaries.

In Ohio, the NRDC is lobbying regulators to give citizens more real input in the state’s rule-making processes and practices, including having access to information and the ability to comment on rules and regulations.

The NRDC is also lobbying in Ohio for citizens to have the right to appeal issuances of permits, and for local governments to have more power in issues of land use and zoning protections relating to oil and gas extractions in their jurisdictions.

The NRDC says that through its Community Fracking Defense Project, it will both expand on work in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, as well as reach out to communities in Illinois and North Carolina “in order to provide similar kinds of assistance to protect public health and environmental quality in advance of fracking drills breaking ground.”

It’ll be a major uphill fight against the industry’s deep pockets and lobbying power at the federal level. Source Watch says that as of 2012, fracking is exempt from several major federal regulations, including:

  • The Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, due to the Halliburton loophole that was pushed through by former vice president/former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, exempting corporations from having to reveal the chemicals used in fracking fluids.
  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which exempts fracking from federal regulations pertaining to hazardous waste, except for when diesel fuel is used.
  • The Superfund law, which requires that polluters remediate for carcinogens like benzene released into the environment, except if they come from oil or gas.
  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • The Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

The Obama Administration has proposed rules requiring companies to disclose chemicals used during their fracking process, but only after operations are finished, not before. Also, the regulations would only account for natural gas and oil deposits located on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, which Source Watch says is only “a sliver of the total lands where fracking occurs.”

In its own public relations effort to soften views of fracking, the oil and gas industry has introduced a website called FracFocus, which provides information including: how the fracking process works, what chemicals are generally used in the fracking process, and a mapping application so you can find out where well are in your state.

FracFocus has a lot of factual information, but it’s presented in a very soft-sell format, avoiding any admissions to the potential health risks to people, animals, or the environment.


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