Obama’s halfway measures on fracking aren’t enough


President Obama gave an extensive interview late last week to the Huffington Post, and to the president’s credit he brought up one of the most pressing problems facing America and mankind: Climate change. Increasingly, the Obama White House has taken a tougher stance on the issue, insisting that the administration is willing to act to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change — with or without support from a recalcitrant, GOP-controlled Congress.

Obama told the Huffington Post: “By hook or by crook, we’re going to make sure that when I leave this office, that the country is more prosperous, more people have opportunity, kids have a better education, we’re more competitive, climate change is being taken more seriously than it was, and we are actually trying to do something about it. Those are going to be the measures by which I look back and say whether I’ve been successful as president.”

But at the end of the day, Obama remains a Great Compromiser. Even now, in his final two years in office, understanding both the dire risks of climate change and the bitter determination of Republican obstructionism, the White House offers only halfway measures, satisfying no one and leaving important work undone.

Take fracking. With each passing week, evidence mounts that hydraulic fracturing is making a mess of our environment, stealing clean water from drought stricken areas, injecting dirty water back into the ground,  triggering earthquakes with haphazard disposal practices and releasing methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases around — into our atmosphere. For several years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been working on rules to cover fracking on federally controlled lands — which is just a fraction of the unconventional oil-and-gas drilling that has made America one of the world’s top oil and gas producers.

Although there were a few last minute changes to make the rules a bit more friendly to the environment, they still don’t go far enough. Here’s some reaction from leading environmentalists:

“Our Public Lands are too precious to spoil with fracking, said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. “The BLM regulations are a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure that public lands are protected and preserved for future generations. We will continue to work to completely ban fracking on public lands.”

Americans Against Fracking represents more than 250 organizations from across the country who support banning fracking. The group delivered 650,000 public comments to the BLM last year in response to the proposed rule, urging the BLM to protect public lands from drilling and fracking.

“This fracking rule is merely a continuation of Obama’s harmful all-of-the-above energy policy that emphasizes natural gas development over protection of public health and the environment,” said Kate DeAngelis, climate and energy campaigner of Friends of the Earth. “This country needs real climate leadership from President Obama, not weak regulations that do nothing to stop the devastating impacts of climate disruption. President Obama should use his authority to keep fossil fuels in the ground by placing a ban on federal fossil fuel leasing.”

“Our precious public lands have been sacrificed by the Obama administration for the short-term profit of the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “We now have an exciting path forward for protecting millions of acres of land that are in many cases located adjacent to our national parks. Americans believe that preserving the environmental integrity of these areas for generations to come is a critically important policy goal, especially in light of new evidence about fracking-related harm to natural resources.”

The activists are right on target with these criticisms. The truth is that studies have shown the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t done an adequate job inspecting the fracking rigs that are currently on public land, so there’s no reason to assume they’ll do a better job going forward with tougher standards. What’s more, the move does nothing to affect the thousands of rigs that aren’t on federal land, and which in most cases still aren’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking, or to use proper containers to prevent wastewater from leeching into the environment. President Obama has 22 more months in office to work to reign in all of the abuses from fracking, not just those occurring on federal lands. Otherwise, his eloquent words on climate change will ring hollow.

To read more about what’s wrong with fracking, check out my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

Check out the full transcript of President Obama’s interview with the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/21/obama-huffpost-interview-transcript_n_6905450.html

Read Think Progress on the Bureau of Land Management’s new fracking rules: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/03/20/3637106/republicans-freaking-on-fracking-rules/

Here’s a statement from top environmentalists about the fracking rules: http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2015-03-obama-admin-releases-toothless-fracking-rules-giveaway-to-industry

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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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