The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides financial and other incentives for companies to expand domestic energy production of various kinds. The law contains a provision often called the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts the natural gas industry from certain requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. Because of trade secret laws, the industry does not have to disclose the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing.
These laws, coupled with advances in industry engineering practices, have led to a breakneck acceleration of gas drilling in the last decade, especially in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
In Harm’s Way
The environmental, social and economic costs of the natural gas boom are becoming more apparent by the day. A growing body of scientific research shows not only contamination of groundwater and drinking water supplies associated with fracking, but also substantial depletion of freshwater aquifers.
Air pollution near drilling sites is a growing health concern, as are emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, property values in communities near fracking sites are taking a hit, and researchers are also finding correlations between fracking and earthquakes.
Public health concerns were a key factor in Gov. Cuomo’s decision in December that New York’s moratorium on fracking will remain in place.
A Dangerous Distraction
Natural gas is viewed by some as a “bridge fuel” to help shift the United States from a coal-dominated electric system to a sustainable system using more solar, wind and energy efficiency. While natural gas can play a role in that transition, the question is, how long should that bridge be? Experts say we can’t afford to continue expanding natural gas production at the current rate if we hope to keep climate change in check.
But the natural gas industry is going full tilt in a “Drill, baby, drill” frenzy. In North Carolina, an industry-friendly government lifted the state’s long-standing moratorium on drilling and moved quickly to establish drilling regulations so that permits can now be issued. And three massive pipelines being proposed in our region (two in West Virginia and Virgina, and the third running through West Virginia, Virgina and North Carolina) would dramatically expand markets for fracked gas. The costs of the new fracking infrastructure and pipelines would run into the billions of dollars, including the public funds needed to support the industrial growth — locking us into a half-century or more of burning fossil fuels.
That’s money that won’t be invested in energy efficiency programs, or solar or wind capacity, or other cleaner, more sustainable sources. And North Carolina and Virginia are both failing to fully realize the multiple benefits of growing their clean energy economies, ranking 24 and 27 respectively in 2014, according to the annual “Clean Tech Leadership Index.”
We are working closely with citizens in North Carolina and Virginia, and with partner organizations at the state and federal levels to highlight the problems of further expanding natural gas. Additionally, we have signed onto a letter urging congressional passage of the CLEANER Act (Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion of Regulations).