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How the Obama Administration Is Making Fracking on Public Lands Easier

The rules were written by the drilling industry and will be streamlined into effect by a new intergovernmental task force, established by the president, to promote fracking.

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It was a victory even fracking’s most committed opponents thought slim at the time. The gas industry had spent millions of dollars around the state to ensure it could make good on drilling leases it had already purchased. A Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Working Group  revealed that, in the run-up to the deadline, New York’s DEC deputy commissioner Steven Russo had already sent potential regulations to drilling lobbyists for their approval.

Despite their success in New York, Steingraber and other anti-fracking activists are fighting an uphill battle at the federal level. In a speech at Georgetown University last month, the president touted “clean burning natural gas” as part of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy and vowed to increase drilling in order to tackle the climate crisis and foster energy independence.

“The administration has a stated goal to increase American energy production,” said BLM spokesperson Beverly Winston. “A lot of that’s going to come from public land, whether that’s renewable energy or oil and gas.”

With the public comment period serving essentially as window dressing for an otherwise backdoor process, Steingraber said she isn’t looking at the submission of comments to the BLM as an end in and of itself but rather as a “gauntlet” thrown down. She also called them “a meter of citizen opposition” that activists can point to as they build on-the-ground mobilizations.

The struggle will likely come to a head on August 22, the eve of the comment deadline, when environmental groups in the coalition  Americans Against Fracking will stream into Washington, D.C., to deliver written comments to the BLM. What happens next will be as much a test of the democratic process as the strength of this growing movement.

“The very bedrock of this nation,” says Steingraber “is not for fracturing.”

Peter Rugh is a writer and activist based in Brooklyn, New York.

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