“The Sky Is Pink,” and how big oil and gas companies get to drill first, answer questions later


I read a lot of environmental headlines every day, but this one really caught my eye. It said, “After six decades of fracking, regulation considered.” The story was out of California, but its essence captured what’s going on from New York to Oklahoma and beyond. From coast to coast, government officials are allowing the big oil and gas companies to drill first, while asking questions later…much later.

As in this particular case:

In a remote Ventura County field, hydraulic fracturing has chipped away at underground rock, helping release more than 80 million barrels of oil since drilling began in the 1890s.

Above ground, three creeks snake from the adjacent Los Padres National Forest and overhead California condors fly, their protected refuge just behind the oil wells.

Now, some 60 years after hydraulic fracturing began at Sespe field in Fillmore, state officials are trying to decide whether to tighten rules on the “fracking” operation, as it is known, and dozens of others like it in the state.

I’d say that’s unbelievable, except if you’ve followed the progress of the gas-drilling boom in this country over the last couple of years, it’s actually not unbelievable at all. The experience in the state of Pennsylvania has been typical: A rural countryside dotted with rigs, neighbors complaining of well contamination, possible sicknesses, and tap water that lights on fire. Millions of gallons of wastewater dumped in sewage plants with little regard or understanding of the consequences. Now Pennsylvania’s neighbors to the north in New York State are debating how much fracking to allow. So far, news reports suggest the process is rigged in favor of industry. What a surprise (OK, that was sarcasm):

Documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show that bureaucrats within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) granted the oil and gas industry premature access to highly controversial draft regulations for shale gas fracking in the state. New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas in order to evaluate the science on the risks posed to drinking water, air quality and the health of New York’s citizens and the environment.

The documents, obtained by EWG through New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the fracking industry received an unfair advantage thanks to DEC officials who provided detailed summaries of their proposed rules exclusively to oil and gas industry representatives. This allowed industry a six-week head start to lobby state officials to weaken the proposed standards before the public was granted access to the plan.

Of particular concern, a lobbyist for scandal-ridden gas giant Chesapeake Energy used the exclusive access to the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) to attempt to weaken the proposed rules restricting discharges of radioactive wastewater.

This is terrible, because New York is the battleground for those of us trying to place some sensible controls on fracking, and stop the out-of-control pollution that is associated with it. The state’s recent moratorium on fracking, combined with the progressive bent of New Yorkers, gives us a chance to sharply curtail fracking until — unlike what’s happened out in California — we know exactly what we’re doing. To make that happen, we need allies. And there’s none better than the environmental filmmaker Josh Fox. His documentary “Gasland,” which was nominated for an Academy Award, is what put the fracking issue on the map. And I’m happy to see that he’s back on the case.

Target: New York:

Sadly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a far-from-uncritical backer of the practice, failed to heed the film’s essential message that there’s no such thing as safe fracking. His proposal to permit fracking in counties in the southwest portion of the state, bordering Pennsylvania—Broome, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties—and only then in towns which agree to allow fracking—while banning the practice outright in Catskill Park, in aquifer areas, and in national designated historic districts, sounds, at first blush, like a compromise, but it actually puts New York State’s poorest and most vulnerable communities in the most peril and gives the gas industry much of what it wants.

Fox’s follow-up to Gasland, The Sky Is Pink, directly takes on Cuomo and shows exactly why his proposal is so regressive and dangerous. Called the “best 18-minute video ever made,” by Greenpeace’s Kevin Grandia, the new mini-doc reveals a slew of industry documents detailing serious concerns about well safety and water contamination and accessibly unpacks the increasing body of research, from both academics and intergovernmental agencies, that convincingly demontrates that expanding the use of natural gas will do nothing to prevent climate change.

Now this is great news. The truth is that all of us should be speaking out on fracking — but some of us, like Josh Fox, have an even bigger megaphone. I’m glad that he’s using it. It’s time that the politicians listen to the people. We’re sick of unsafe fracking.

To learn about unregulated fracking in California, please read: http://www.healthycal.org/archives/9069

To read about the corruption within the fracking regulations now being drafted in New York, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-demelle/fracking-industry-dec-access_b_1633872.html?utm_hp_ref=new-york&ir=New%20York

For a preview of Josh Fox’s new documentary “The Sky Is Pink,” check out: http://www.thenation.com/blog/168607/josh-fox-skewers-gov-cuomos-fracking-proposal#

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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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