Thursday, April 26, 2012

The fight to control fracking: State vs. Local

Salon just ran an interesting piece by David Sirota. He claims that the science has demonstrated conclusively that fracking is harmful. He then goes on to argue that if states wrest control away from municipalities, the science will be moot: big oil and gas corporations will just buy political influence at the state level to get their way. Curious, though, I don't know why he thinks that somehow (even if "the science" is settled, which it is not...there is no such thing as "the" science) local government will be more science-based than state government.

I agree local governments ought to retain as much power, or more, than they currently have over shale gas development. But I don't think this is because they have "the" scientific answer - rather, as Sirota also notes, it is because they more directly represent the will of the people impacted by the industrial activities associated with getting gas out of the ground and to market.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pittsburgh's Ban on Fracking

This happened in 2010, but it is news to me and may be to many readers of the blog. Here is a story about Pittsburgh's ban on natural gas drilling within its city limits. The relevant chapter (618) of the municipal code can be found here. Here is the introduction:

"The City Council of Pittsburgh finds that the commercial extraction of natural gas in the urban environment of Pittsburgh poses a significant threat to the health, safety, and welfare of residents and neighborhoods within the City. Moreover, widespread environmental and human health impacts have resulted from commercial gas extraction in other areas. Regulating the activity of commercial gas extraction automatically means allowing commercial gas extraction to occur within the City, thus allowing the deposition of toxins into the air, soil, water, environment, and the bodies of residents within our City.

Meaningful regulatory limitations and prohibitions concerning Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, along with zoning and land use provisions, are barred because they conflict with certain legal powers claimed by resource extraction corporations. The City Council recognizes that environmental and economic sustainability cannot be achieved if the rights of municipal majorities are routinely overridden by corporate minorities claiming certain legal powers.

The City Council believes that the protection of residents, neighborhoods, and the natural environment constitutes the highest and best use of the police powers that this municipality possesses. The City Council also believes that local legislation that embodies the interests of the community is mandated by the doctrine of the consent of the governed, and the right to local, community self-government. Thus, the City Council hereby adopts this Chapter, which bans commercial extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas within the City of Pittsburgh, creates a Bill of Rights for the residents and communities of the City, and removes certain legal powers from gas extraction corporations operating within the City of Pittsburgh."

Oppenheim, La Point Issue Minority Report from Drilling Task Force

Vick Oppenheim and Tom La Point just issued this minority report in their capacity as members of Denton's official Drilling Task Force. They call on the city to put more emphasis on air and water quality and other issues of community concern.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Roden Calls Out Ireland on Double-speak

District 1 City Council Member Kevin Roden just called attention to Ed Ireland's double-speak when it comes to the new EPA requirements for green completions. Dr. Ireland said that the technique is already standard practice on the Barnett Shale, but he voted against it when it was an action item for the Denton Drilling Task Force. The industry is all in favor of green completions when it "makes sense" - that is, when it is more profitible than letting the gas vent. So, they want industry to make that call on a case by case basis rather than having it be a requirement by law. This is a classic case where "best available technology" is a contested term: what does the criterion of "best" mean? - max profit or max emissions capture? I think the general idea is that in this case the answer will usually be "both." But, if so, why did Dr. Ireland vote against it and why all the loopholes in the EPA rules? We will need to make sure the requirement applies to Denton wells....and, if not, we need to write green completions into our ordinance.

Friday, April 20, 2012

EPA Issues New Air Quality Regulations for Fracking

The EPA has issued new rules controlling the release of air toxics and other air pollutants from natural gas wells. Mother Jones and Star-Telegram articles on the rules. 

Here is text from the EPA Press Release:

On April 17, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued cost-effective regulations, required by the Clean Air Act, to reduce harmful air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry while allowing continued, responsible growth in U.S. oil and natural gas production. The final rules include the first federal air standards for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured, along with requirements for several other sources of pollution in the oil and gas industry that currently are not regulated at the federal level.  Based on public comment, EPA made a number of changes to the proposed rules to increase compliance flexibility while maintaining comparable environmental benefits, streamline notification, recordkeeping and reporting requirements, and strengthen accountability.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Drilling and Earthquakes

ThinkProgress has this story about the growing scientific consensus that drilling-related activities are responsible for big increases in earthquakes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mother Jones on "Third Worldification" of U.S.

Michael Klare has an intriguing piece in Mother Jones arguing that we are in a battle now to determine whether the U.S. will be turned into something like the global south, where environmental regulations are lax and democratic institutions are weak - all in order to facilitate the corporate exploitation of fossil resources. Will we increasingly see the evisceration of health and environmental standards to make production of extreme energy sources as cheap and profitable as possible? This is part of the story of Denton- we are now in a discussion about just how to balance safety standards with our need for gas (and thus our need for corporations to get the stuff out of the ground).