Wednesday, March 24, 2010

EPA to throw cold water on natural-gas industry pollution

EPA To Throw Cold Water on Natural Gas Industry

Ever since a documentary filmmaker's drinking watercaught fire as a result of contamination from a nearby natural gas extraction operation — in which millions of gallons of water, sand and top-secret chemicals are injected deep into deposits of shale to free the natural gas trapped within — the industry behind this innovation has had a PR problem.
And well it should: While the industry loves to cite a 2004 study conducted by the EPA that declared hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" for short, safe for drinking water supplies, the EPA now says that study was wholly inadequate to address the orgy of fracking now occurring in the United States. Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals deep into the earth — and potentially into watersheds — to force natural gas to flow into shafts to be excavated. The EPA has announced that it will conduct a new study to re-evaluate the safety of the practice. But you can imagine how that's going over in an industry that has literally exploded in the past ten years, spewing so much natural gas into U.S. supplies that it has, all by itself, chopped the price of natural gas in half.
But if you thought the debate over the health care bill was dirty, you haven't begun to conceive of the fights between water, energy and the environment that will play out in the 21st century, as supplies of conventional oil dwindle and reserves of conventional natural gas (Canada is currently our largest supplier) continue to shrink. Fracking has the potential to become the U.S.'s tar sands.
Aside from the fact that exploiting remote stores of natural gas means a whole new reserve of carbon for us to send into the atmosphere, there are other parallels with the climate policy debate: Waxman and Markey are involved, and fracking has friends on the Hill, just like countless other carbon-intensive, fossil fuel-centric industries.
The bottom line is that as oil becomes scarce, and funding for our domestic renewable energy industry continues to languish for lack of a strong and consistent signal from Washington, the U.S. is left with a lousy choice: burn more coal or burn more natural gas. Fracking gets us more of the latter, which is easier on the climate, BTU for BTU, but could destroy our dwindling supplies of fresh water in the process. The debate is already getting personal for citizens of America's most populous city: New York's water comes from natural reservoirs within protected watersheds, upstate, which is precisely where oil and gas companies propose to launch yet another bacchanal of fracking.
The gas isn't going away, and neither is our need for cheap energy. Whether that will beat out our desire to have uncontaminated wells is precisely what the upcoming EPA study is designed to address. Yet, if things play out as they have in the climate arena, the science will matter only to the defenders of the environment, while industry and its cronies act to preserve their own short-term interests.
Photo credit: Todbaker
Tlaspycbrvjulpn-30x30-croppedChristopher Mims is a Florida-based journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired, Popular Science, Technology Review, Discover magazine and others.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ask Congress to restore Clean Water Act now

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March 22, 2010
keep our nation's waters are protected under the Clean Water Act
Take Action 
Dear Aubrey,
If you think the Clean Water Act protects your drinking water from pollution, think again. Please take action today to ensure fundamental safeguards for clean water in our streams, rivers, and lakes.
A confusing 2006 Supreme Court decision on the Clean Water Act has left the fate of 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles -– that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans –- in legal limbo. As a result, as reported in The New York Times, polluters are now claiming complete exemptions from reporting what they dump into local streams.
Congress can resolve this problem by passing legislation to restore full federal protection for all our waters. Help us ensure that all of our nation’s waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. Urge your representative to support introducing and passing the Clean Water Restoration Act today.
Thank you for your support.
Katherine Baer Signature
Katherine Baer
Senior Director, Clean Water Program

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I would like to express grave concern over the loss of protection for many of our small streams that provide clean drinking water for 117 million Americans in communities across the country. Supreme Court decisions in the Rapanos and Carabell cases have made it confusing and burdensome for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect small streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

As a result, enforcement actions against polluters have declined sharply the EPA estimates that over 1,000 cases have been shelved or dropped altogether. More recently it has become clear that some polluters are using the decisions as a justification to avoid any permitting and reporting requirements for discharging pollutants into our waters.

For the Clean Water Act to fulfill its goal of restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters, all waters must receive protection corresponding with Congress' original intent when passing this landmark law. Upstream waters must be protected from pollution and destruction if we expect downstream waters to be fit for swimming, drinking, and fish and wildlife, and downstream communities to be safe from flooding.

I urge you to act in the interest of preserving clean water for healthy communities and wildlife. Please support introduction and passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would clarify the definition of waters to eliminate uncertainty and ensure clean water in accordance with the goals of the Clean Water Act.

Thank you for your consideration.