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Fracking Oversight

[see update below]

I just read the news coverage of the criticism of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) by environmentalists for releasing revised draft fracking regulations.

As I wrote previously, these regulations are likely to be approved at the November 21 DRBC meeting, to be held at Trenton’s War Memorial (an apt venue, given the thousands of protesters likely to converge on the hearing).

But it seems to me that the news coverage – and the ENGO’s arguments – are misfocused and missing the two essential points, which are:

1) approval of the DRBC regulations would lift the current moratorium on fracking in the Delaware watershed and open the floodgates to 20,000 gas wells; and

2) the current MORATORIUM on fracking is not some tree hugger’s dream, it was imposed by the DRBC itself, and for good reasons: i.e.

  • federal environmental laws were riddled with “Haliburton loopholes” and could not protect the DRBC four state region from water and air pollution impacts
  • existing DRBC and state level gas drilling, land use, and water resource regulations could not protect critical resources from the huge planned expansion of an unknown and unproven new fracking technology; and
  • the science concerning the risks posed by the new fracking technology and required to support sound regional planning, environmental regulation, and best management practices was not available or keeping pace with industry expansion.

Those are the issues that must be front and center in this debate and all these issues were ignored!

It’s the moratorium, stupid!

EPA is currently conducting scientific research on the risks of fracking technology to drinking water and other environmental and public health features and evaluating the adequacy of current regulatory frameworks at state, regional and nation levels (including cumulative impacts and inter-state issues).

That scientific and engineering research and those technology and regulatory assessments will not be completed and ready to support policy, regional planning, and regulatory decisions for several years.

On that basis alone, the current moratorium must be extended.

Congress has yet to close the “Haliburton loopholes” that exempt fracking form major federal environmental laws, like the Safe Drinking Water Act. State laws are not adequate due to: a) inter-state issues; b) States lack expertise and resources; c) States are captured by the oil & gas industry economics; and d) global warming and energy policies of national significance.

On that basis alone, the current moratorium must remain in place.

The DRBC compact States (NY, NJ, Pa, and De.) have not yet adopted protective state level regulations and their reckless policy in support of fracking is being driven by short term economic considerations and industry lobying.

On that basis alone, the current moratorium must remain in place.

ENGO’s and activists opposing fracking should be highlighting the current moratorium and demanding that the current moratorium remain in place until the above 3 fatal flaws are resolved.

I suspect that this would take 4-6 years, at a minimum.

So, here’s some strategic advice from a guy who’s been there and done that:

focus on extending the moratorium until science and safeguards are in place – don’t waste your bullets in the weeds on the technical and process issues.

[Update: Ah, I should have known better. Fracking disgusting.

Why is it that even Josh Fox (Gasland filmmaker) and 350.Org action alert don’t seem to know of our focus on the DRBC moratorium either?

Could it be that they too simply don’t know about it? Or do they think it is not important to emphasize? And if so, why?

On a related issue, I’m getting bombarded with “huge victory” emails.

So could Bill McKibben and leaders of 350.Org really feel they won a victory in President Obama’s cynical political decision to postpone the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election?

I understand the need to keep activists positive, pumped up, and motivated, but am not willing to bend the truth or pull punches to do so.(e.g. falsely praise politicians and/or deny what we’re up against:

This is the true purpose of the gathering: providing a forum for die-hard denialists to collect the rhetorical baseball bats with which they will club environmentalists and climate scientists in the weeks and months to come. The talking points first tested here will jam the comment sections beneath every article and YouTube video that contains the phrase “climate change” or “global warming”.

I sense that that a similar dynamic is at play in fracking and Keystone activism – i.e. a dysfunctional combination of denial, false praise of politicians, low expectations and an inflated sense of accomplishments accompanied by a deflated assessment of the ideological nature, political power, and raw persistence of the opposition).

Or, more clearly, as Naomi Kline argues:

Half of the problem is that progressives, their hands full with soaring unemployment and multiple wars tend to assume that the big green groups have the climate issue covered. The other half is that many of those big green groups have avoided, with phobic precision, any serious debate on the blindingly obvious roots of the climate crisis: globalization, deregulation and contemporary capitalism’s quest for perpetual growth (the same forces that are responsible for the destruction of the rest of the economy). The result is that those taking on the failures of capitalism and those fighting for climate action remain two solitudes, with the small but valiant climate justice movement drawing the connections between racism, inequality and environmental vulnerability stringing up a few swaying bridges between them.

So, my sense is that failure to focus on the DRBC moratorium wasn’t inadvertent – for similar reasons that the Keystone decision delay was praised.

You see, the big national beltway enviro’s didn’t want to put too much pressure on their friend President Obama (see “Obama Backs the Frack“) (or a Democratic Congress) or make real aggressive demands, like a national moratorium on EPA permits and closing the numerous regulatory loopholes before any more federal permits are approved.

So they merely asked for an Executive Order!

(for many of the same reasons I outline above).

Ah, the terror of diminishing and low expectations!

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