Previously on the blog, we've covered a fracking ban in New York, litigation against a fracking protestor in Pennsylvania, and state oversight (or lack thereof) also in Pennsylvania. Now the issue is coming uncomfortably close to the city many coordinators and contributors to this blog call home.
Under a new federal agency plan, fracking will be permitted in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Although the amount of the forest open to fracking has been reduced to less than 20% of the original area proposed — and at least one environmental group praises the limit — the AP reports that:
The federal management plan reverses an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing that the U.S. Forest Service had proposed in 2011 for the 1.1 million-acre forest, which includes the headwaters of the James and Potomac rivers. . . . Environmental groups fear the drilling and its waste could pollute mountain streams that directly provide drinking water to about 260,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley. Another 2.7 million people in Northern Virginia and Washington get part of their drinking water from the forest.
This is unsettling for me on a personal as well as policy level. The AP goes on to reassure us Washingtonians that the risk is theoretical:
This lobbying fight was mostly over principle, since no energy company has wanted to actually drill on the land they're leasing, [Robert] Bonnie [the undersecretary for national resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture] acknowledged. "The economic value of these reserves is very low. We've had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest," Bonnie said.
Still, I'm not entirely reassured. Fracking poses significant risks, and a company could well decide to frack the forest in the future.
You can read the rest of yesterday's AP story about the G.W. National Forest here.
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My paper in Reviews on Environmental Health, “The Conference on Corporate Interference with Science and Health: Fracking, Food and Wireless: genesis, rationale and results”, which is part of the proceedings of the conference I organized and moderated in NYC last year, describes findings reported by scientists that show that the error rates at various stages in the fracking “value” chain make releases and dispersion of neurotoxins and carcinogens inevitable:
Fracking is inherently unsafe. Even if drilling never occurs in the Geo Washington Nat’l forest, fracking waste is sold to de-icing and dust control manufacturers, re-purposed and spread onto the nation’s roads (absent a local ordinance mandating affidavits that show the supplier’s product does not contain it), illegally dumped into bodies of water and often legally dumped into facilities that cannot deal with the radioactive materials dredged from the frack zone and the trihalomethane byproduct released into the treated water.
The fracked gas itself contains radioactive particles that are unregulated and find their way into peoples’ homes when they heat with natural gas. In other words, distance from frack zones does not protect one from exposure to fracking waste. Virginians and Washingtonians would do well to heed this report from Southern California, “3 billions Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Pumped Into Clean California Aquifers” and keep tabs on local laws regulating dumping:
The nation’s most popular yogurt, Chobani, is manufactured near a proposed frack zone and relies on locally sourced ingredients; how will they be able to guarantee that their milk supply is not contaminated if fracking starts in New York? Chobani is in almost every grocery store now. How would you even begin to know what products in your grocery store currently contain ingredients from contaminated farms?
Because the waste has been getting dispersed, it will be hard for people to link an illness with the industry. Those developing neurologic sensitivities may not link their symptoms with the passing of the winter sanding truck, for example. A tort claim will be hard if not impossible to prove. My paper also documents statistical and other games the industry plays to feign compliance with various statutes and then claim that obvious symptoms at the frack zones themselves have nothing to do with their industrial activities.
Last week’s article in Le Point quoting French oncologist Dominique Belpomme describes what is truly at stake with fracking and other industries creating environmental externalities:
Le Point.fr: Ten years ago you launched the Paris Appeal, an international declaration to warn about the dangers of chemical pollution signed notably by [anthropologist] Claude Levi-Strauss, Nobel laureates in Medicine François Jacob, Jean Dausset and Luc Montagnier, [ecologist] Nicolas Hulot… What has changed since then?
Dominique Belpomme: There have been more or less direct positive effects…but it is insufficient to the challenge that we face, especially as the number of victims has increased dramatically. The most dramatic part is that there is an almost complete political denial of the current scientific data. The medical and scientific revolution has been achieved; we now know that most diseases are linked to environmental factors, not only factors related to lifestyle. But the government is not listening to scientists as in the time of Pasteur…
Le Point.fr: What do you expect of this new conference?
Dominique Belpomme: Since politicians have not understood, we have to move on to morality and the law. My goal is to have the International Criminal Court recognize pollution and destruction of nature as crimes of public health.