Fracking Our Way into Oblivion, One Ecological Disaster at a Time – IV
The huge Halliburton fracking fire and fish kill in Ohio this past July was likely prolonged, and the ensuing damage greatly exacerbated, by a legally-enforced information vacuum that prevented first responders, the EPA and government officials at all levels from learning the content of the chemical spill as they struggled to contain the fire and keep residents safe. In the aftermath, attorney Nathan Johnson of the Ohio Environmental Council explained that the Ohio fracking disclosure law not only prohibits anyone other than the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) or “doctors treating a specific patient” from accessing this “trade secret” information about fracking chemicals, it also prevents ODNR and physicians-in-the-know from sharing this vital information with emergency responders or other public officials! “We sorely need changes to Ohio law to protect the public and get this essential information to officials in order to protect public health. Water authorities need secret chemical information immediately… [or else] our drinking water is at risk,” says Johnson.
Of course they need the information, as do officials in other states where the energy companies have managed to ensure that their proprietary information is protected while the population in harm’s way can pretty much go to hell. However, this particular environmental debacle may be bringing to light some crucial but heretofore rarely disclosed information about fracking. For instance, did you know that fracking is exempt from many federal environmental regulations? Yes, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains what is known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an exemption from the underground injection control (UIC) requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act granted just for gas drilling and extraction (a/k/a fracking). There are also other fracking exemptions in the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. As if that isn’t bad enough, fracking is also exempt from individual state water use regulations, despite the fact that it consumes and fouls between two and five million gallons of local fresh water for each fracking well. Who, exactly, is in charge of the asylum?
Given all of this, would it really surprise anyone to learn that many energy companies that engage in fracking also have a history or failing to act in good faith? A Congressional investigation uncovered that over 30 million gallons of diesel fuel, the only chemical regulated by the UIC program under the Halliburton Loophole, was used illegally at fracking sites in 19 states between 2005 and 2009. Five years later, diesel fuel was also detected in the recent Clarington, Ohio spill. Still, the industry insists that fracking is safe, all the while hiding behind its legislative pass on disclosing these so-called “safe” chemicals. We’ll ponder the likelihood of meaningful legislative reform as it pertains to the fracking industry in the conclusion to this series.