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Frack Job

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

To regulate or to prohibit.

That is the question.

Ask people on the ground who are being adversely affected by hydraulic fracturing, and overwhelming they say – prohibit.

They don’t believe that you can frack without harm.

The major environmental groups know this.

That’s why, when major environmental groups join with industry to draft regulations, most of them don’t admit to it – and the drafting of the regulations takes place behind closed doors.

Over the last couple of years, a group of three fracking companies and four major environmental groups have been meeting in secret to draft model laws to regulate the industry at the state level.

Only one company – Southwestern Energy – and one environmental group – the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – have admitted to participating in this effort.

Lisa Wright is a grassroots activist working on shale issues in upstate New York.

“I would like to know who all the groups are and why the secrecy?” Wright asked.

So, we asked EDF’s Scott Anderson – who are all the groups and why all the secrecy?

Anderson said he wouldn’t tell us who the groups are – that’s up to each group to make their involvement public – or not.

“EDF is happy to have our name associated with this,” Anderson told Corporate Crime Reporter last week. “I would observe that the politics surrounding natural gas development are polarized to say the least. This is an effort of people to attempt to work on a consensus basis, to develop well construction rules that are as reasonable as possible. There are no guarantees that the wheels won’t come off. The other groups would just assume not announce their participation until the project is successful.”

Anderson did say that the other three environmental groups are major players with recognizable names.

So, we rang up a couple of the usual suspects – and asked if they were involved.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Jenny Powers responded by saying that “NRDC is not part of a covert effort to draft shale regulations with the gas industry.”

“Several years ago, we were asked if we wanted to be a partner in an effort led by EDF and one gas company, Southwestern Energy, to develop model state regulations that would significantly strengthen oversight of this activity in states in which it is already being undertaken subject to unacceptably weak standards,” Powers said. “We opted not to partner in this effort. We made that choice because the primary focus of our national efforts has been advocating for uniform federal standards, which we view as critical to protecting Americans and their communities from the dangers of fracking.”

“Instead, we said we would provide feedback to the effort because we recognize that oil and gas drilling is currently taking place in over 30 states and, as noted, existing regulations are wholly inadequate to protect public health and the environment.”

Next, we asked Sierra Club – are you part of this covert effort?

“We were invited to the table and have sat in on some conference calls to evaluate the project, but we believe our resources are better used working directly on natural gas regulation at the federal and state levels,” said Sierra Club’s Maggie Kao.

A group of eight – four companies and four environmental groups – originally began meeting in early 2010, Anderson said. One of the companies dropped out last year.

The group of seven now meets regularly – sometimes by phone and sometimes in person. The next meeting will be next month at an undisclosed location.

The group has drafted a model state law – elements of which have been adopted by Arkansas and Montana last year.

An edited copy of one draft, dated January 12, 2012, gives some insight into how the negotiations are working.

One provision of the draft – titled Audit and Enforcement – would have given the state regulator the authority to visit a well site to inspect the facility, cite the operator for violations, and issue a fine. That provision was redlined out of the draft.

Nonetheless, Anderson portrays the covert effort as an attempt to bring violators under control.

“There are far too many instances where oil and gas operations have caused unacceptable problems,” Anderson said.

“We are dedicated to try to find out what the causes have been and to come up with improved regulations and practices to prevent these problems. Road damage from overweight vehicles is one of many problems that oil and gas development poses. Also spills of chemicals – frequently the trucks are hauling wastewater. Sometimes there is intentional midnight dumping. Spills at the surface are the single biggest cause of documented causes of drinking water pollution. That happened a lot in New Mexico. Improper well construction is the second biggest cause of drinking water problems. It is essential that people drill their wells correctly, outfit the wells with the right quality of pipe, have that pipe set at the proper depths, make sure there is an adequate cement job.”

Anderson said the group has agreed to some common principles – we want to work on a collaborative basis.

“We agree that the rules shall be as protective of the environment as reasonably possible.”

Anderson says that just because there have been no proven cases of drinking water being contaminated by the actual fracking process doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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