Weakness in state regulations governing hazardous oil-and-gas waste have allowed the leftovers to be disposed of with little regard to the dangers they pose to human health and the environment, according to a recent study by the environmental organization Earthworks.
The report says states disregard the risks because of a decades-old federal regulation that allows oil-and-gas waste to be handled as non-hazardous material. Those rules, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988, exempted the waste from the stricter disposal requirements required of hazardous substances and allowed the states to establish their own disposal standards.
In its report, "Wasting Away: Four states' failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale," Earthworks studied rules governing disposal of the often toxic waste––and the gaps in those regulations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
The organization, which is often criticized by the industry as being consistently biased, concludes the EPA was wrong when it applied the non-hazardous label to oil-and-gas waste.
"Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both," said Bruce Baizel, co-author of the report and Earthworks' energy program director.
"Their current 'see no evil' approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn't and treat it and track it like the problem it is."
Disposal of oil-and-gas waste has generated little attention, yet it puts people at risk of exposure to chemicals including benzene, which can cause cancer. It has escaped scrutiny as a factor in air and water pollution and a possible contributor to the acceleration of climate change.
With more and more companies abandoning the American Legislative Exchange Council over its refusal to act on climate change, the prominent conservative organization finds itself in a bind: eager to stanch the exodus of high-profile members, yet at risk of alienating the powerful fossil fuel interests that make up its core membership.
"What they're wanting to do is speak out of both sides of their mouth," said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group that focuses on corporate influence on public policy.
The departure of Google last fall over ALEC's position on global warming prompted the group to publicly refute allegations that it denies climate change. "ALEC recognizes that climate change is an important issue," and "no ALEC model policy denies climate change," it said. This month ALEC sent cease-and-desist letters to two progressive advocacy organizations demanding they retract statements that ALEC denies global warming.
But as recently as December, an ALEC summit brought together state legislators to develop a model bill for their home states that would dismantle federal environmental and carbon policy, and featured a speaker who said, "Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a benefit. It is the very elixir of life."
"Basically [ALEC is] saying, 'We've turned a new leaf and it's a new day and we're not living in the past,' said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, a Virginia-based watchdog group. "Yet there's not been one model bill they've generated that is a solution to climate change. All of them are to block current pathways—from renewables to EPA regulation. Their whole slate of work is actively anti-climate."
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.––As top-notch experts met at Harvard University to discuss global warming impacts and solutions Monday, dozens of Harvard students and alumni held protests encouraging the university to divest from fossil fuels.
The two events––one organized by Harvard's Office of the President, the other by students, alumni and environmental activists––share a common concern, but they highlight a rift over how the university should address climate change.
The Presidential Panel on Climate Change brought scientific and public policy leaders to a sold-out event at Harvard's 1,000-seat Sanders Theater. For more than an hour, the speakers, moderated by broadcaster Charlie Rose, discussed climate science, policies and solutions.
Meanwhile, divestment activists continued various sit-ins on campus to pressure the administration to shed its oil, gas and coal assets. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust has repeatedly said the university will not divest.
The panelists began by summarizing the urgency of the climate crisis and describing what needs to be done.
While plenty of people found humor in the recent news that officials in Florida and Wisconsin are censoring state workers' ability to talk about, much less work on, climate change, other states are not necessarily laughing. In fact, several political and environmental experts told InsideClimate News they could use it as a model to imitate.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott became the leader of this potential trend last month when news emerged that he had ordered environmental staffers not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in communications or reports. Wisconsin established a similar policy last week, voting to ban staffers who manage thousands of acres of forests from working on or talking about global warming.
Experts now say that conservative lawmakers and public officials were far from embarrassed by the censorship revelations; they were emboldened by them. It could lead to a bevy of Republican lawmakers enacting similar policies in other states.
The National Press Foundation has honored the collaborative investigative project "Big Oil + Bad Air," by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, with its Thomas L. Stokes award for energy writing.
The award, the latest in a string of recognition for the project, was announced Monday in Washington, D.C.
NPF judges called the series, "First-rate investigative work with a human pulse. The collaborative project blended hard facts with a powerful narrative of real people that made you care. The description of fracking consequences in Texas is now playing out elsewhere, in the Bakken and Utica shales. The project triggered meaningful impact, forcing concessions from state regulators."
"Big Oil + Bad Air" was the result of an eight-month investigation into the hydraulic fracturing boom in south Texas, revealing the toxic chemicals released into the air by oil and gas production and the widespread impact on public health. It exposes how little the Texas government knows about such pollution in its own state and shows that the Texas legislature is intent on keeping it that way.
Update: The Maryland house passed the two-year moratorium bill on Friday, Apr. 10, by a vote of 102-34, a veto-proof margin.
A Maryland bill calling for a two-year fracking moratorium in the state is expected to land on Gov. Larry Hogan's desk in the coming days.
The state Senate voted in favor of the bill 45-2 Monday evening. Now the measure—which requires the state to adopt new fracking rules by Oct. 1, 2016, and prohibit fracking permits until October 2017—heads to a vote in the House. The governor's position on the bill is unknown, but the Senate passed the bill with a veto-proof majority and there's a good chance the House will, too.
If Maryland passes this bill, it will become the first state to temporarily ban fracking twice. The move would also underscore the growing pushback against fracking nationwide.
Last December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in his state. His decision was based on a state-sponsored study that found unacceptable human health, environmental and climate change risks associated with fracking. Dozens of towns and counties across the country have likewise passed local bans.
Although hailed by environmentalists and lawmakers for delaying the controversial energy extraction process in the state, the bill falls short of the expectations of many legislators. An earlier version of the bill that passed in the House with overwhelming support called for a three-year ban and a study on fracking's public health risks. The Senate bill calls for no such study.
Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Democrat from Montgomery County and supporter of the bill, said she is pleased something passed but "did not like the fact that we didn't pay enough attention to possible health effects" of fracking.
Since Pennsylvania's fracking boom began in 2004, there have been increased levels of radon, a radioactive gas and a trigger of lung cancer, recorded in homes, according to a new study.
The recent analysis out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also shows that indoor radon levels were higher in counties with more drilling. The study was published online Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Even before drilling took off in Pennsylvania, which has some of the largest frackable oil-and-gas reserves in the nation, the state had a radon problem. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania has one of the highest radon levels in the nation. That’s why researchers were interested in studying the state; for this investigation, they took advantage of a large state-run database of home radon test results dating back to the mid-1980s.
The United States could run almost entirely on clean energy by 2050, with a larger economy, $5 trillion in savings––and no acts of Congress. That's a vision of the future as seen by Amory Lovins, a sustainability expert who talked about how to reach that goal in a presentation Tuesday at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Electric vehicles, retrofits, the sharing economy and the rise of clean energy in Europe and China—all these technologies and trends show how a transition from oil, coal and nuclear power is possible, he said.
Lovins is chairman and chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think tank and consulting firm that supports renewables and energy efficiency. His talk was based on his 2011 book "Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era," and a 2012 TED Talk (a global ideas conference) where he presented the book's findings.
"Long ago, fire made us human, and then fossil fuels made us modern," Lovins said. "But now we need a new fire that makes us safe, secure, healthy and durable, and that turns out to be feasible, and in fact, to be cheaper than what we are doing."
The lecture was part of a series of events at Harvard Climate Week. Other speakers will address issues such as climate change and public health, and the role of corporations in climate action.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is donating $30 million to bolster the Sierra Club’s 13-year-old campaign to end America’s reliance on coal, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases. The grant will bring the former New York City mayor's support for the program to $80 million since 2011.
In reporting the gift Wednesday, the Sierra Club said it obtained a matching $30 million in combined donations from more than a dozen additional funders. They include the Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Yellow Chair Foundation, the Grantham Foundation and the Sandler Family Foundation.
The Environmental Defense Fund is one of the nation's most venerable environmental organizations, and many consider it one of the most effective. But its industry-collaborative approach to the study of methane leaks in natural gas drilling has drawn scrutiny from other environmental groups, who worry EDF has strayed into a gray area where science and the fossil fuel industry collide.
Those concerns stem from an ambitious project EDF embarked on in 2011, as an oil and gas boom swept the U.S. While environmentalists have increasingly called for an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, amid concerns that it pollutes the air and water, stifles growth of renewable energy, and might accelerate rather than slow climate change, EDF decided to probe the industry's climate impacts. And it did so by collaborating with natural gas companies, which agreed to partially fund the research and give EDF access to gas sites for taking crucial measurements.
EDF set out to study how much methane, the main component of natural gas, leaks into the atmosphere at every stage of gas production, development, transportation and consumption. Methane is dozens of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and earlier research suggested that as natural gas displaces coal, methane leaks would erase the climate benefits of reduced coal-burning.
Environmental groups almost never take on scientific research efforts. Investigations on this scale are normally organized by the federal government or the National Academy of Sciences. Coordinating what's become an $18 million series of 16 studies by more than 100 researchers has turned EDF into a heavyweight on the science of methane pollution. The project's findings will influence government policy concerning the $292 billion-a-year U.S. oil and gas extraction industry and the regulation of fracking.
"What EDF is trying to do is put filters on cigarettes," said Sandra Steingraber, a prominent activist, biologist and scholar-in-residence at New York's Ithaca College. "There's no way we can frack our way to climate stability. There's no scientific evidence for that."