Debate over Fracking Regulation Looms Large in the US Senate

October 21, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Recently, I attended a hearing of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources committee on the issue of fracking.The Department of Energy's scientific advisory board wanted to share with the senators their impressions from their initial report describing the need for more regulation of the industry. The distinguished panel of witnesses ultimately concluded that much more measurement is needed to assess what we need to know about how fracking affects drinking water quality.

Senator Tom Udall explores legacy uranium mining on Navajo lands

October 7, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Yesterday I attended a hearing of the Senate's Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Children's Health and Environmental Responsibility. The topic concerned the federal government's work cleaning up the contamination from legacy uranium mining and milling operations. The uranium legacy sites are a lasting reminder of our nation's Cold War efforts to build atomic weapons stockpiles in our arms race against the Soviet Union.

Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM) recalled during his opening statement the tragedy from the Church Rock uranium mill spill in 1979 when a tailings pond breached its dam spilling 1100 tons of radioactive mill waste and 93 million gallons of mine effluent in to the Puerco River. I had never heard of this event. I knew about Three Mile Island that happened the same year. I even remember Chernobyl. But Church Rock, second only to Chernobyl in terms of magnitude, occurred on Navajo lands and has never received the publicity of those other events.

Congressman Grijalva and Senator Tom Udall ask GAO to tell us how much mineral extraction is worth

September 22, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Today, I attended a press conference held by one of the best guys on Capitol Hill, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Representative Grijalva announced that he and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) (another friend of EARTHWORKS) are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to tell us how much the minerals extracted from public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf are worth.

The House entertains deep sea bed mining

September 14, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Yesterday, I attended a hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals. They were reviewing a small package of bills that are part of a broader effort by the House majority to highlight the mining industry’s impact on job creation.

This second installment included a discussion of HR 2803, which is a bill instructing the Interior Department to conduct a study exploring the feasibility of drilling for minerals in the shallow and deep sea beds of the United States. The bill is offered by Delegate Faleomavaega of American Samoa and is intended to potentially facilitate the exploration of mineral resources in places like Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and other American territories.

I am generally in favor of study...

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The oil and gas industry’s victory lap

September 12, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

On Friday, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Minerals and Energy had a hearing on the job creation effect of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

I remember the Energy Policy Act of 2005 as the controversial legislation negotiated behind closed doors with Halliburton on one side and Vice President Cheney on the other. One of the reasons why many of us felt like that law carried the specter of a sweetheart deal for Vice President Cheney’s former employer is Section 390- the provision describing categorical exclusions (CXs). That is, drilling activities that are exempted from the standard environmental review process.

Texas proposes fracking disclosure rules with Texas size loopholes

September 2, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

A couple days ago, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) issued its proposed new rules purporting to regulate the disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project is closely monitoring state and federal efforts to reveal the hazardous ingredients contained in fracking fluids.

The Texas rules are terrible. Let me list the ways:

  1. application
  2. covered chemicals
  3. trade secret loophole.

To begin, these rules have only prospective application. Just last year, the RRC issued 15,466 permits of which 85% use hydraulic fracturing. This means that the roughly 13,000 wells permitted in 2010 do not have to disclose anything. Next, the industry only need disclose chemicals initially and intentionally placed in the fracking fluid. This absolves them from any additional toxic substances absorbed in to the fracking fluid as it travels underground or gets swept up in the flowback. Part of our concern is not just what Halliburton wants to put in the fracking fluid, but how those chemicals react with the hazardous or radioactive elements already in the ground that are disturbed by these high pressure injections.

Wyoming fracking disclosure falls short

August 26, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of Josh Fox s Oscar nominated documentary Gasland . The film describes the public health problems associated with the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and contains powerful images of the spontaneous combustion of household tap water.

The words natural gas belies the hazardous process used to procure it. In fracking, toxic chemicals are injected in to the ground designed to break apart the geological formations and release the gas within. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that can inject hazardous materials in to underground drinking water supplies. This is because they benefit from the Halliburton loophole created by former Vice President Cheney s energy task force that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A number of states have passed disclosure laws requiring these companies to report which chemicals they use. Wyoming, the first state to require disclosure, appears now to be bowing to industry s desire to keep 146 fracking chemicals secret citing their proprietary interests. According to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, regulators have granted disclosure exemptions to 11 different companies that frack in Wyoming.

Green Scissors 2011: Trimming the budget while protecting the environment

August 26, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Lately, those of us who are news and political junkies have been preoccupied with the debate in Washington, D.C. over raising the debt ceiling.

After all the hue and cry, legislators agreed to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for the creation of a super committee that is tasked with reviewing mandatory and discretionary spending as well as potential revenue sources with an eye toward solving our long term debt and deficit problems.

To this end, our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Heartland Institute, Friends of the Earth, and Public Citizen today issued their annual Green Scissors report. Turns out, marrying environmental sustainability and fiscal responsibility is remarkably easy.

I just joined Earthworks a couple weeks ago and I was blown away with all the hand outs, subsidies, tax expenditures, tax breaks, federal loan guarantees, and other mechanisms funded by the public to support polluting industries. Among the worst offenders is the 1872 Mining Law that allows extraction companies to mine our precious metals on public lands for free.