FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drilling the Marcellus Shale Through the Halliburton Loophole

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.

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail