What the Frack Is Happening? Hailing the Major Activist Victories in the Anti-Fracking Movement
The nation's first federal regulations on fracking, unveiled by the Obama administration last week, sparked immediate criticism from leading anti-fracking activists.
Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of 250 environmental and liberal groups that includes Greenpeace, 350.org, MoveOn.org, CREDO, Food & Water Watch, Rainforest Action Network and Friends of the Earth, issued a statement characterizing the new rules—meant chiefly to reduce the threat of fracking-related water contamination—as "toothless."
Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, who serves on the Americans Against Fracking advisory board, said that Obama's fracking regulations "are nothing more than a giveaway to the oil and gas industry." The group's goal is a complete fracking ban on federal land, where as many as 100,00 oil and gas wells have been drilled.
The new rules apply only to oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which represent about 25 percent of the national fossil fuel output and only some 10 percent of the nation's fracking. The rules don't apply to drilling on private or state-owned land. Currently, fracking occurs in 22 states.
Since states are responsible for regulating most of the fracking in the U.S., the anti-fracking battlefield—a patchwork of communities around the nation taking a stand to protect their air, water and soil–is understandably a bit fractured. With that in mind, here's a brief look around the country at some recent fracktivist highlights at the state and local level.
February 6. Over 8,000 activists gathered in Oakland for the March for Real Climate Leadership, the largest anti-fracking demonstration in U.S. history.
February 24. Bolstered by an admission by California state regulators that oil companies are disposing toxic waste into protected aquifers in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, more than 150 environmental and community groups filed a legal petition urging the governor to use his emergency powers to place a moratorium on fracking.
March 20. California state Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and other lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to "stop illegal injection into non-exempt aquifers" to protect the state's water from oil waste.
February 24. Coloradans Against Fracking activists crashed a state oil and gas task force meeting, launching a campaign for a statewide fracking ban. "Our primary goal is to convince Governor Hickenlooper to ban fracking," said Karen Dike, a member of the new coalition. He can do that with an executive order."
March 18. WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal to halt plans by the Bureau of Land Management to open up 36,000 acres of public lands along the Front Range of Colorado to fracking.
"Climate denial at the Interior Department is fueling a fracking rush on our public lands and undermining our nation's efforts to rein in carbon pollution," said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians.
March 24. Maryland's House of Delegates passed a bill to ban fracking for three years by a veto-proof 94 to 45. However, it's unclear whether HB 449, currently under review in the state's Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs, has enough support in the Senate to become a law.
March 24. The Senate voted 29 to 17 in favor of a bill holding energy companies financially liable for injury, death or property laws caused by their fracking activities.
Together these measures mark the legislature's most aggressive action to curb fracking in the state.
December 30. The BLM announced it was deferring the issuance of five Navajo allotment parcels for fracking near Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage site, in response to a protest filed by a coalition of environmentalists and watchdog groups demanding a suspension of fracking on public lands in the northwest region of the state.
"Deferring these parcels was the right, and indeed, only legally defensible decision," said Kyle Tisdel, a program director for Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). "Necessary safeguards and analysis must be completed before any further leasing and development of the areas treasured landscapes can continue in compliance with the law."
March 11. A coalition of environmental groups including WELC, WildEarth Guardians and the Navajo organization Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (DinÃ© CARE) filed suit against the BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior to prevent fracking from harming Chaco Canyon, the site of numerous ancestral Puebloan ruins and Navajo communities.
December 17. About a month after his re-election, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a statewide ban on fracking, citing health risks. The announcement made New York the second state in the country after Vermont to ban fracking. The decision, which ended years of debate in the Empire State, was by most accounts the biggest environmental story in the United States in 2014, and puts pressure on other states to consider similar bans.
"I've never had anyone say to me, I believe fracking is great," said Cuomo. "Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, I have no alternative but fracking."
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the move "a vindication for communities around the country that have been hit hard by unconventional natural gas production."
March 17. On the first day natural gas drilling permits could have been legally accepted in North Carolina, a group of anti-fracking state legislators called for a moratorium.
"We’ve been promised over the last five years that North Carolina would have the nation’s toughest fracking rules, and here we are at zero hour, and we do not have those rules," said Senator Mike Woodard (D-Durham). "The rules are simply insufficient for us to move forward with the issuing of permits."
March 18. In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Ohio's normally polarized House of Representatives voted unanimously to ban fracking in state parks. While activists applauded the move, Ohio Sierra Club director Jen Miller said her group "will continue to work tirelessly to defend all state lands from industrial activities like fracking until they are set aside for generations to come, which starts with repealing bills like HB 133 altogether."
March 12. The Oregon Community Rights Network (OCRN) launched a campaign to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot that will affirm the right to local self-government in a move that would help anti-fracking activists in the state. If ratified, the amendment would grant legal rights to communities and even natural environments that can be violated.
The initiative is joins a growing local-rights movement around the country that is frustrating oil and gas companies. Mary Geddry, a representative with OCRN, noted that more than 200 communities across the U.S. have passed ordinances protecting local rights. "Only nine have been challenged in court," she said.
January 29. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf fulfilled a campaign promise and signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on fracking in the state's public lands, protecting about a million acres that sit on the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.
December 25. Anti-fracking activist Cathy McMullen, who started the nonprofit Denton Drilling Awareness Group that launched a petition to enact a citywide fracking ban, was named a finalist for the 2014 Texan of the Year Award by Dallas Morning News. This followed an Election Day in which voters passed a ballot initiative making Denton, located near the birthplace of fracking, the first city in Texas to pass a fracking ban.
March 23. Documentary filmmaker and Denton resident Garrett Graham released a new trailer for Don't Frack with Denton, his forthcoming film that tells the story of "how one tenacious Texas town managed to upstage the oil and gas industry with the power of music and community organizing."
March 18. WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal challenging BLM's plan to auction off more than 15,000 acres of public land in southern Utah to fracking companies. A 2014 report by WildEarth Guardians found that the carbon emission cost from oil and gas produced from public lands could exceed $50 billion.
While local fracking battles continue to rage around the nation, there has been interesting activity on the federal level, beyond the recent announcement from the White House.
House bill H.R. 5844, the Protect Our Public Lands Act seeks to amend the Mineral Leasing Act to prohibit a lessee from conducting any activity under the lease for fracking purposes. It was introduced in early December by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) during the last session of Congress and there are plans to reintroduce the bill in the current session.
On March 18, representatives Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the so-called Frack Pack, a set of five bills that aim to close loopholes in environmental laws that have been used by oil and gas companies to frack without proper oversight.
While state and local anti-fracking measures and federal bills to curb fracking have been making headlines, for fracktivists the big enchilada is a national ban.
"Communities that have already suffered from fracking, like Longmont, Colorado, are rising up to pass local bans," said Miranda Carter, a spokesperson at Food & Water Watch. "But we need to protect every community in the country by calling for a national ban on fracking: to slow or stop the process where it's already happening, and elsewhere, to prevent it before it starts."