America’s fracking wars are coming to a head


America’s fracking wars are coming to a head. Increasingly, everyday people are seeing the risks of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale-rock formations to get the oil and natural gas that’s trapped beneath – and they’re deciding they don’t want any part of it. As a result, lawmakers in Washington are taking unprecedented steps to keep angry citizens and aggressive state regulators from challenging the hegemony of Big Oil and Gas.

First, the good news. Public officials and citizens in the state of Colorado – one of several states that have seen a surge on gas drilling and production in recent years – are rising up strongly in opposition to the practice. On Election Day, another four communities in the Centennial State voted to ban the practice as unsafe – amid growing reports of radioactive wastewater dumping, increased air pollution and even links to earthquakes.

On Monday, Colorado  officials took one of the strongest moves against fracking by any state so far:

Colorado proposed new rules Monday to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas operations, the first effort in the country to address emissions of the greenhouse gas that is a byproduct of the domestic fossil fuel boom.

Carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels is the main driver of climate change, but while less methane is emitted overall, it is an even more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon.

Methane emissions in the United States dropped slightly from 2011 to 2012. But such emissions from oil and gas operations have risen in Colorado and other states where energy production is roaring, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The state has rules in place to curb emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, during drilling. The proposed new rules call for detecting and repairing methane leaks throughout a company’s infrastructure once a well is producing: at equipment at the well site, above-ground pipelines and at compressor stations.

As I’ve written in the past, fracking and increased use of natural gas — which burns cleaner than coal or other fossil fuels — could be an acceptible bridge to a future powered by renewable energy, assuming that the process is highly regulated and carried out with utmost care for the environment. We’re a long way from that right now, but stricter controls on methane — a critical greenhouse gas — is a step in the right direction for a change.

Indeed, I believe the rising tide of public opposition is why we’re now seeing a push in Washington by business-friendly lawmakers for some of the most regressive, pro-Big Oil legislation in years. If passed, the proposed bills would cripple efforts to fight and to regulate fracking:

 The federal government would have no authority over hydraulic fracturing in states that have their own fracking laws, if legislation set to be heard by the House this week is passed into law.

On Wednesday, lawmakers will consider HR 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act. Proposed by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would made fracking a states-only game. Unless a state has not passed any laws regarding fracking, the U.S. Department of Interior — the agency responsible for conservation of most federal land and natural resources — would have no say in whether companies disclose chemicals in fracking fluid; whether water that comes back up from fracked wells is polluted; or whether people can request public hearings on fracking permit applications.

Gosh, what could be worse? How about this proposal?

The bill, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), is broad legislation designed to make it much easier for oil and gas companies to obtain permission to drill on public lands. If signed into law, the legislation would automatically approve onshore drilling permits if the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them in 60 days.

If an individual does not like a proposed drilling project and wanted to oppose it, he or she would have to pay a $5,000 fee to file an official protest.

That is, simply put, one of the most outrageous moves against your free speech rights that I’ve seen in roughly 25 years of practicing environmental law. I doubt that these measures will become law — with Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate they had better not — but it does go to show that Big Oil and its cash-laden allies inside the Beltway are running scared. They are desperately afraid of what you have to say about fracking, and they aren’t above changing the rules in order to shut you up. We can not allow this to pass.

Find out more about Colorado’s proposal to regulate methane emissions from fracking at:,0,6584481.story#axzz2l3BTGZ6T

For more on the so-called states rights bill on fracking regulation, please read:

For additional information efforts on proposed levies against citizens fighting fracking, check out:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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