Environmentalists Continue to Call for Tighter Controls on Fracking

Companies greenwash the process of frackingDevelopment of the technology and techniques used in hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as fracking – has directly resulted in a vast expansion of the United States oil and natural gas industry. This new method of reaching previously unreachable reserves of fossil fuels should mean a large energy supply for the country for years to come.

It’s also billed as being environmentally safe. But is it?

Many accuse companies that use fracking to be “greenwashing” the public, convincing them that the process of fracking is safe in order to keep money flowing in the multi-million industry. A growing number of people are beginning to protest the use of the process.

It was even the subject of the 2012 film Promised Land starring Matt Damon that centered around a company that tries to bring fracking to a small town.

How hydraulic fracturing works

There are large reserves of oil and natural gas buried deep within the earth, much of it trapped in places that can’t be reached through conventional drilling. Deposits within shale are called “tight oil” or “tight gas” and in the past have been impossible to reach.

Through the process of fracking, fissures within the earth are widened by injecting water, chemicals and sand into the ground at high pressure. One of the first places the process was used was in north Texas, although most now associate fracking with North Dakota, where fracking is used in the vast Bakken shale formation that stretches west to Montana and north into Canada.

China, New Zealand and Canada have also started using fracking to reach shale oil and gas deposits in their respective countries.

Issues with fracking

But fracking has its opponents who claim the process is harmful to the environment.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit international environmental group, opposes the expansion of fracking until more safeguards are put into place. According to the NRDC website, fracturing is suspected of causing groundwater damage in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

On its website, the NRDC accuses fracking of contaminating water supplies, polluting the air, destroying waterways and leaving behind “devastated landscape.”

Methods of making fracking safer for the environment

Some of the steps the NRDC and other environmental groups would like to see happen to make fracking safer include:

  • Placing sensitive lands, particularly those with watersheds, off limits to fracking.
  • Setting new clean air standards for fracking that require the release of methane be kept to 1 percent of total emissions.
  • Setting higher standards for the equipment used in fracking.
  • Requiring disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking as well as having strong rules regarding inspections of fracking sites.
  • Allowing local communities to keep companies from fracking near their homes by allowing them to set strong planning and zoning rules.

Lawsuit in Canada

Many fracking opponents have focused on one case in particular. A scientist in Canada has sued Alberta, government regulators and Encana, one of Canada’s largest shale drillers. She claims fracking has caused a fracturing in the aquifer that supplies the rural town of Rosebud, Alberta, with drinking water.

The case is now expected to come before the Canadian Supreme Court. Jessica Ernst, who filed the lawsuit, has a blog about the case.


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Renewable Energy Credits: Greenwashing Scam or Sustainable Savior?

There is an argument brewing among renewable energy advocates that question whether Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are a greenwashing scam or a sustainable savior. At first, many believe the argument is political, showing yet another divide among left and right wing beliefs, however that is not necessarily the case. In fact, recent criticism has come from all fronts, especially after a 2012 investigation that found fraud within the EPA’s program, perpetuated by lax rules in the program and three cunning companies selling bogus RECs. The decision is really yours, so let’s explore further and see where the facts take you?

Renewable Energy Credits: Scam or legit? It depends.Understanding the basics of Renewable Energy Credits

The premise behind RECs is sound, as it provides flexibility for organizations to support the development of renewable energy and protect the environment when green energy isn’t available locally. This means the credits are purchased separately from physical electricity associated to the renewable energy.  The EPA argues that RECs provide the needed accounting for attributes of renewable-based energy production. Thus, one renewable energy credit is created for per 1 megawatt-hour of electricity produced by renewable energy and placed on the grid.

Renewable energy generation provides a positive impact on the environment from reduced carbon footprints and reduces fossil-fuel usage.  The thought is that companies purchasing the credits are helping provide renewable energy into the overall grid, while not necessarily using that particular energy themselves. This continued investment, ultimately leads to greater usage as a whole.

The potential for a greenwashing scam

The EPA even clearly states that, “since RECs can be sold separately from the underlying electricity, the possibility for fraud can exist unless the RECs are tracked from their point of creation to their final point of use.”  This has proven difficult and in some cases has been taken advantage of. There is a case where a Texas man sold over $42 million in counterfeit credits, ultimately buying a private jet and Bentley with that money. I guess the fraud is bad enough, but at least he could have purchased economical cars like a hybrid.

Joking aside, the New York Times reported that over $100 million in fraudulent credits have been identified since 2009 specifically in the refining industry. That accounts for nearly 5 percent of the total production from that industry alone.

Outside of fraud, the other concerns from those questioning the viability of these credits cite that the energy would have been produced regardless of the credits. Thus, buying these credits are not incentivizing the build out of greater capacity, instead it is removing the consumer demand from the local market. Increased demand is what typically drives the U.S. markets, thus opponents argue we should invest in building capacity where demand exists, rather than purchasing credits that allow continued usage of dirty energy.

You decide: friend or foe?

Renewable energy credits are meant to help improve the adoption of renewable energy in America or at least help improve the energy efficiency of our current grid. However, opponents have valid points that the actual implementation may be throwing money out the window that could be producing greater production strength. So this leaves the decision to you…. Are renewable energy credits a friend or foe to the green energy movement?

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Drawing a Line in the Fracking Sand

New Yorkers come together in song, celebration and defiance against  fracking

No Fracking in New York!The documentary film “Dear Governor Cuomo” tells the story of fracking in New York State. The film focuses on a single night in May 2012 in which a group of musicians, scientists and activists and thousands of supporters gathered for a concert outside the capital building in Albany to demand that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo not lift the state’s moratorium on fracking.

Billed as a cross between “The Last Waltz” and “Inconvenient Truth,” the film features musical luminaries such as Natalie Merchant, Joan Osborne, Dan Zanes, the Felice Brothers, Citizen Cope, Medeski Martin and Wood, and a host of others. Heading up the “Inconvenient Truth” portion of the evening is actor Mark Ruffalo, a passionate activist against fracking, and Melissa Leo and actress whose poignant reading of an Ohio woman’s losing health battle due to poisoned water from a neighboring drilling operation served as a chilling reminder of the very real consequences of  fracking. Helping to clarify those consequences is environment biologist Sandra Steingraber, whose experiecne with toxins in the environment is not only scientific, but also very personal. The film was written and directed by Jon Bowermaster.

The explosion of fracking has altered the energy landscape in the United States, making for a mad dash to unlock the oil and gas bound up in shale formations throughout the country.  Landowners are coaxed into signing deals for short-term profits on the promise that allowing fracking on their property has about the same impact as drilling for water. In the process communities are torn apart and lives are shattered.

Often touted as a “bridge fuel” from coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, to a clean energy economy, the fracking boom has no intention of letting up until nothing is left, leaving behind poisoned water, leaked methane and human misery.If fracking can be done responsibly and with restraint, there is little evidence that it will. It is a bridge to nowhere, a double-down promising not a clean energy economy, but the start of the third carbon age.

Thus far, the New York moratorium on fracking remains in place, but Governor Cuomo could change that with a stroke of a pen. Hopefully the efforts of thousands of New Yorkers, some of whom gathered in Albany on a spring night in 2012 to share music and a common passion to stop fracking in its tracks, can prevail.

Dear Governor Cuomo is available through FilmBuff.com