When I talk to people who live near fracking operations, they often ask me the same question: “What is this doing to my drinking water?” Homeowners have shown me jugs of water from their kitchen sinks that look like rusty mud. One man said he could light his tap water on fire after energy companies put a drill pad in his neighborhood. Others tell me they worry their water is causing health problems for their families.
People across the country share these concerns. From Pennsylvania to Texas to Colorado, residents see wastewater pits leak, smell chemicals in the air, or read the scientific research showing that fracking can contaminate water supplies and pose a host of other threats. No one should have to live with these dangers: we all want to keep our drinking water safe from dangerous chemicals and reckless industrial activity.
And yet the federal government just released draft rules for fracking that fail to protect people from harm. Instead the rules protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong public health and environmental standards.
There is a lot at stake here. The Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules would cover fracking on public lands, including millions of acres of wild landscapes and private property where the federal government owns mineral rights. An enormous amount of land is involved, but also water. The weak rules in the draft need to do more to protect the water supplies for millions of Americans. Residents of Denver, Washington, DC, and Santa Barbara, for instance, live downstream of public lands where fracking could or already does occur.
Would you want your tap to run brown? Would you want to serve toxic water to your family?
Ordinary citizens have a hard time forcing energy companies to keep our water and air clean. We count on the government to do that job. Yet when it comes to fracking, states have proven ill equipped for the job. Only about half of the 30 states with fracking, for instance, require companies to report which chemicals they use in fracking fluids. And in most of the states with disclosure rules, companies can withhold information they deem confidential without any justification or oversight.
The federal government hasn’t been much better. The oil and gas industry has won exemptions from critical sections of our nation’s most basic environmental laws – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Now the Bureau of Land Management has issued woefully inadequate rules for fracking on public lands. The current draft rules are even weaker than a previous draft leaked several months ago, and they read like an industry wish list.
They could exempt huge tracts of state and tribal lands from the safeguards. They offer only weak chemical disclosure requirements that would make it hard for homeowners or medical professionals to find out all the chemicals being used in fracking operations. And they ignore key areas of health and environmental concern like the huge wastewater pits have been known to leak toxic and radioactive materials.
Surely America can do a better job of holding industry accountable for its actions. Fracking is already moving full steam ahead on our public lands. Now is the time to enact strong standards, not issue giveaways to oil and gas companies.
The Obama Administration should be a leader in establishing safeguards that protect public health and the environment. And the industry—which is drilling in our backyards, near our schools, and in our natural treasures—should accept these stronger safeguards. Americans deserve to know their water is safe from fracking chemicals.
Photo credit: Melanie Blanding