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Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Fri, 2012-03-30 10:50Laurel Whitney
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Oil Industry Lobbyist / Mushroom Farmer Claims Family Farms Need Fracking

Because apparently the only way for small American farmers to sustain themselves is not with crops they produce, but by letting the good 'ole gas man tap the reserves under their land.

“Agriculture and industry go together, if you want prosperity in these little towns, you need balance, that's the story of my family.”

So said Karen Moreau on Fox & Friends, refering to the New York moratorium on fracking. Moreau claims to be from the “last family mushroom farm” in Feura Bush, NY and was on the show to talk about how fracking would be an economic rainbow to many small farms in the state, if only those pesky regulators would stop getting in their way.

The story Moreau neglected to tell on Fox & Friends was that she's the executive director for the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute. Translation: less so “family farmer” and more so “industry lobbyist”.

Moreau is the President and co-founder of The Foundation for Land and Liberty (FLL), a litigation organization formed to “protect private sector legal rights, so that land ownership remains a fundamental right derived from natural law”.

The foundation is mainly a property rights group that formed to provide legal assistance surrounding development issues to land owners in the Adirondacks. Moreau has a background in law, specifically in agriculture and rural economic development. She has been previously caught spinning facts and forgetting pertinent information in her New York Post opinion articles.

Wed, 2012-02-08 12:28Farron Cousins
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The Business of Risk – Insuring Against Climate Change

When it comes to assessing risk, the insurance industry is one of the leaders in the field. Whether it is health insurance, car insurance, or homeowner’s insurance, the industry is forced to analyze every possible scenario for a given person or structure, and impose a fee based on the likelihood of events for the situation. So when an entire industry that bases their profitability on reducing risk starts factoring climate change into their equations, it's probably a good idea to pay attention.

Earlier this month, insurance commissioners in three separate U.S. states began mandating that insurance providers include the risk of climate change disasters in their risk equations, and develop and disclose their plans to deal with climate-related catastrophes. These plans will be laid out in surveys that insurance companies will provide to insurance commissioners in their respective states.

The three states that have made these new rules are California, New York, and Washington State. Previously, many states had only required the largest insurance companies to have climate plans, but the new rules, which could spread across the United States to climate change-vulnerable places like Florida and Texas, require all insurers to adjust for climate change disasters.

The New York Times lays out why the industry is taking on climate change issues:

Sun, 2012-01-29 10:58Laurel Whitney
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New York Looks To Local Bans On Fracking

As the New York moratorium on fracking continues to hang in jeopardy, towns within the state are taking it upon themselves to issue fracking bans locally, what may become a last-ditch effort to keep fracking out if the moratorium is lifted. Over 20 cities, including Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and others in the Finger Lakes regions, have passed bans through the “municipal home rule” to keep fracking outside of their city limits.

The question, though, is whether the state and the courts will uphold the cities' rulings.

The home rule is designed to allow residents to pass laws that protect their health and environment from invading industries like oil and gas development. There is an abundance of evidence that fracking threatens drinking watersheds and wells, releases radiation, causes major sickness and disease, and even could contribute to earthquakes.

New York City's drinking water is protected, with lawmakers vowing to keep drilling operations contained to areas outside the watershed. However, there is still concern that if fracking operations cause major earthquakes, it could shatter the city's antiquated water tunnels that deliver drinking water from upstate.

In order to protect people who live outside the city, where legislators are eager to lift the moratorium and start drilling, local bans may be the only option left.

Mon, 2012-01-23 12:14Laurel Whitney
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EPA Comments On New York's Environmental Impact Assessment: Hey...You Missed A Few Things

On the heels of receiving over 40,000 citizen comments on their environmental impact assessment, it looks like the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also getting flack from the EPA on their fracking proposal.

The EPA's concerns echo those being shouted from the rooftops (or at least outside local town halls) for months from New York and Pennsylvania residents and advocacy groups, who are alarmed about the inherent risks to public health and drinking water that fracking imposes. The other looming question is whether the DEC can handle such a lofty task, seeing that they've experienced budget cuts and layoffs over the past couple of years.

Mainly, there are major concerns over drinking water buffer zones, wastewater treatment plans, those pesky earthquakes that seem to hang out near fracking-related sites, and the radiation hazards that could threaten workers and nearby residents.

Sat, 2012-01-14 13:46Laurel Whitney
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Radionuclides Tied To Shale Gas Fracking Can't Be Ignored As Possible Health Hazard

Comic books tell us that it's cool to be a superhero. Sometimes those superheroes started out as everyday citizens that became irradiated and suddenly transformed into epic, superhuman, ninja-fighting dynamos with abilities and powers that far outweigh regular human abilities, such as remembering anniversaries, calculating your own taxes, being able to answer every Jeopardy question, or tetrachromacy.

However, we know in real life that radiation, especially at dangerous levels, can cause burns, hair loss, ulcers, chromosomal deterioration, weakened immune systems, and cancer in the form of leukemia when it concentrates in the bones. Radiation is more likely to destroy our genetic code than to alter it to give us invisibility superpowers.

So why is radiation not more prevalent in the discussion about fracking? We've learned over the past couple of years about other health impacts from fracking - such as the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals used in the fracking process and the health effects such as lost sense of smell and taste, headaches, respiratory problems, and cancers reported by citizens near oil and gas drilling sites. News coverage of fracking dangers often focuses on the threat of water contamination, the toxic fluids used in fracking operations and how it isn’t always disposed of properly, and the all-time favorite made world-famous by “Gasland”: flaming water.

Yet we don't hear a lot about how oil and gas fracking can concentrate existing radionuclides, presenting the risk of human contact through disposal or handling, posing another possible health risk for the public and workers in the industry.

Sun, 2011-12-11 15:32Steve Horn
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"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Fri, 2011-12-02 13:34Steve Horn
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Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the “Cornell Study.”

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional (“natural”) gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate.”

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred “mom and pop” image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, “Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?“ 

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained “always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel.”

“With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing,” Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Tue, 2011-11-29 15:06Steve Horn
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To Understand What's Happening with Fracking Decisions in New York, Follow the Money

In a November 25 article titled, “Millions Spent in Albany Fight to Drill for Gas,” The New York Times reported:

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year, according to a coming analysis of campaign finance records by Common Cause.

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Back in June, I wrote,

Despite the copiously-documented ecological danger inherent in the unconventional drilling process and in the…gas emissions process, as well as the visible anti-fracking sentiment of the people living in the Marcellus Shale region, Cuomo has decided it's 'go time.' Other than in New York City's watershed, inside a watershed used in the city of Syracuse, in underground water sources deemed important in cities and towns, as well on state lands, spanning from parks and wildlife preserves, 85% of the state's lands are now fair game for fracking, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

It is clear that Cuomo did not have science on the top of his priority list when making his decision to lift the moratorium. 

But as any good reporter knows, possibly one of the most crucial tenets of good jouranlism is to follow the money, which is just what the Times and Common Cause did. 

Mon, 2011-11-28 17:39Laurel Whitney
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Are New York Lawmakers Poised To Throw Upstate Residents Under The Fracking Bus?

Despite last week’s temporary win protecting the Delaware River Basin and its inhabitants from natural gas fracking, the debate rages on in New York State. Lawmakers, industry lobbyists and concerned landowners have debated for over a year about whether or not to open up the state to the Marcellus Shale fracking bonanza.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stated commitment to vote no in the Delaware River Basin vote was promising, but it is offset by the fact that he has assembled a secretive 18-person “fracking panel” which Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter recently alleged is comprised of many “strongly self-interested and industry-biased” individuals. Some environmental groups are concerned that this panel seems rigged to give the green light to fracking in New York.



At previous public hearings, tensions have already run high with both supporters and opponents lining up hours beforehand to ensure their turn to speak out on this highly contentious issue.



Most of the proponents of gas fracking continue to argue the economic mantra of job creation and domestic energy security, even though multiple reviews have debunked the gas industry’s lofty job projections. Food & Water Watch released a report indicating that many of the jobs created would likely be short-term and favor contract workers from outside the state. Other watchdogs of industry rhetoric, including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), point out that the industry's rush to export gas from the fracking boom will lead to much higher gas prices for Americans, contradicting the industry's alleged commitment to domestic energy security.

There are also important questions about just how much gas there is underneath New York to warrant such extreme energy development.  After a recalculation of the resource potential of the area, geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey dropped their estimate of the recoverable gas by a quarter. They determined that the amount of reasonably recoverable gas would only meet US demand for four years instead of sixteen.

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