FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drilling the Marcellus Shale Through the Halliburton Loophole

by ADAM FEDERMAN

Of all the threats posed by oil and gas companies seeking to drill in the Marcellus Shale—a geologic formation that stretches from Ohio to New York and may contain the largest supply of natural gas in the United States—hydraulic fracturing has been cited as perhaps the one we should be most worried about. That is understandable. We don’t know enough about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to judge whether the process will contaminate drinking water supplies, harm the environment, and have harmful effects on human health.

The oil and gas industry has been protected from any kind of serious review and claims that the chemicals used in the process are proprietary. A loophole inserted into the 2005 Energy Policy Act—known as the Halliburton Loophole—exempted fracking from regulations and oversight that would otherwise be required under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to Pro Publica, “the exemptions were forced through against objections, without hearings by a Republican majority and eventually tucked into the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Ever since, in the face of intense lobbying, any efforts to address the topic have stalled in committee.”

There is some hope that congress may finally reverse those exemptions. At a House Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on Interior this week, NY-Rep. Maurice Hinchey asked the EPA to review its policy on fracking. EPA head Lisa Jackson said she thinks it’s a good idea. According to the Mid-Hudson News Network, “Jackson told Hinchey that she believed her agency should review the risk that fracturing poses to drinking water in light of various cases across the country that raise questions about the safety.”

So what is hydraulic fracturing? In short, it’s an intensive ( and also very expensive) method of extraction used to open the shale or rock and recover the gas by blasting millions of gallons of water and sand and thousands of gallons of chemicals deep into the ground. Just as drilling was getting under way in Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection made public some of the ingredients used in the process. The River Reporter, a small paper serving the upper Delaware Valley asked The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) to review the list and assess the possible health effects they may have. TEDX found that 16 of the 54 chemicals on the list have wide ranging effects on human health and the environment including birds, fish, and amphibians. Many of the chemicals are water-soluble and would move easily into surface or ground water if contamination occurred.

In New York the issue has raised particular concern because part of the Marcellus Shale lies underneath the city’s drinking water supply, not to mention the contiguous forests of the Catskill Mountains and many upstate counties. Aside from the chemicals used the building of roads, heavy truck traffic, the installation of drill pads, and the massive amounts of water that must be diverted and then stored as waste water after the fracking has been completed also pose threats to the environment.

In February, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and a number of environmental groups issued a call for a ban on drilling in the city’s upstate watershed. They cited numerous cases of contaminated drinking water and contaminated wells that are likely the result of natural gas drilling (though not necessarily from fracking itself).
In what was perhaps the most alarming case—detailed in an article in Newsweek—a woman in Durango, Colorado was literally soaked by a 130-gallon frac-fluid spill. She ended up in the intensive care unit with a swollen liver, fluid in her lungs, and erratic blood counts. Though her life was at risk it took weeks for her doctor to force the company to tell him what was in the fluid and he was made to take a vow that he wouldn’t disclose what they were, even to his patient. At a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a Halliburton Executive defended the industry’s secretive ways by saying, “it is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke.” But at least the soda manufacturer is required to list the ingredients it uses on the side of the can. And the first one is high fructose corn syrup. We know what that can do to human physiology.

The Stringer report details a number of other cases of water contamination from faulty storage and the use of unlined pits. In New Mexico, Governor Richardson issued a moratorium on drilling in the Galisteo Basin after hundreds of cases of water contamination from unlined pits were reported. In Utah, a pit with 150,000 barrels of fracking fluids leaked and the toxic wastewater ended up on a nearby farm. A well in Bulette County, Wyoming was found to have levels of benzene 1,500 times what are considered safe.

James F. Gennaro, Chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee said in February that, “Natural gas drilling in the city’s upstate watershed will not only contaminate our drinking water supply, but it will force the building of a filtration plant costing New York City taxpayers upwards of 20 billion…As a geologist and an activist on NYC watershed issues for almost 20 years, it is my well-informed opinion that this practice is both environmentally and economically unsustainable, and should be ruled out unequivocally by the Paterson Administration and the State Legislature.”

Perhaps now that the EPA has said the agency and congress should review the process as well as existing regulations (or the absence thereof) there’s a better chance that the rush to drill, at least in New York, will be stymied. The oil and gas industry is, however, lobbying hard. They’ve spent millions since 2008. And it may be working. A one time important advocate of tougher regulations, Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., has declined to support the legislation citing concerns that developers may be unduly restricted if the exemption is removed. Or, as an analyst for Trout Unlimited told Pro Publica, “He [Salazar] is from an oil and gas district … that gives him a lot more credibility when working on these issues. … Those moderate Democrats are always the sticking point as to whether or not a bill actually moves.”

ADAM FEDERMAN is a writer in New York and a regular contributor to Earth Island Journal. He can be reached at: adamfederman@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal.He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail