Anti-Fracking Activists Don’t Support Regulations They Ask For

It’s interesting to see anti-fracking activist groups clamor for more regulation based on safety concerns, because they never seem to be satisfied when they get what they ask for.  A great example of this is the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) recently proposed rules on hydraulic fracturing.

A number of activist groups have been traveling around the state arguing for more disclosure on everything from the additives in the fracturing fluid to public notice prior to operations.  Although many of these things were already done in practice, the activists wanted it further codified.  In response, DEQ proposed a straightforward way to address their issues and concerns.

One would think that the activists would claim victory.  Instead, we have responses such as those given by the Michigan Director of Clean Water Action, Nic Clark:

“The proposed rules are a drop in the bucket when you think about the potential risks associated with fracking.” (emphasis added)

Clean Water Action, on the other hand, advocates for a package of bills introduced by a group of anti-fracking Democrats in the State House.  Ironically, many of the concerns addressed in the package of bills are covered by the proposed rules.

For instance, HB 4903 requires the use of the state Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool.  Ironically, the DEQ has required this since 2011 under their Instruction 1-2011 and it is also included in their proposed regulations. Some of the other bills, such as HB 4904, give local government control of whether to allow hydraulic fracturing.  HB 4905 prohibits the use of flowback water as a dust suppressor on dirt roads, even though the practice is already prohibited by DEQ.  HB 4906 increases the setback from drilling in residential areas, and HB 4901 requires an additional study to the Integrated Assessment currently being undertaken by the University of Michigan.  HB 4902 creates a presumption of liability if hydraulic fracturing fluid is found in groundwater, even though there have been no cases of this happening either in Michigan or anywhere else in the country.  Lastly, HB 4900 requires that the chemicals, which make up around 0.5% of the hydraulic fracturing fluid (the other 99.5% is water and sand), be disclosed to the public even though this is already the industry practice through the use of FracFocus and is part of the new regulations proposed by the DEQ.

However, one has to wonder: if this package of bills were enacted into law, would Clean Water Action be satisfied? It’s doubtful. Clean Water Action would likely claim the bills were insufficient to protect the people and the environment.

So the proverbial “drop in the bucket” really is code for something else: We just moved the goalposts, because we are never going to support the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Don’t believe us? Let’s review Clean Water Action’s own website:

“We are also working in Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to promote moratoriums on new drilling until there are safeguards in place to protect our water and air.” (emphasis added)

Although they claim that a moratorium is needed until “safeguards” can be put in place, one has to wonder whether there are any “safeguards” that would be acceptable to them to support the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Actually, we know the answer to that question, because Clean Water Action also has a page on its website that reads: “Put an End to Fracking.” Does that sound like a group interested in “getting the regulations right,” as they say when reporters are listening?

Clean Water Action is by no means the only group in this category.  In fact, in a press release addressing the package of bills, Nancy Shiffler of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club had this to say:

“This is a first, important step toward addressing a range of threats to Michigan’s waters posed by risky, loosely regulated drilling.” (emphasis added)

However, in the same press release, Sierra Club was already arguing that:

“…lawmakers must go beyond the proposals announced today and stop all fracking activity until comprehensive regulations and other measures are adopted to protect Michigan’s air, water and public health.  Michigan citizens and communities are currently vulnerable to serious injury from fracking activities that now take place in Michigan.” (emphasis added)

While praising the package of bills, Sierra Club infers that even after the passage of these bills the people of the state will still be “vulnerable to serious injury” from the development of oil and gas.  Like Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club (also known for its “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign to end the development and use of natural gas) is simply exploring creative ways to reach a ban.

On the other hand, there are groups like Food and Water Watch who – despite being among the activist organizations that blatantly deny science on hydraulic fracturing – are actually open about their ultimate goals.  On their website they claim there is no amount of regulation that would ever be acceptable.

“Can’t Better Regulations Make Fracking Safer?  No. Fracking is inherently unsafe and we cannot rely on regulation to protect communities’ water, air and public health.”

They’re wrong, as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell confirmed yet again last week, but at least they’re forthright.

There’s also a group called Let’s Ban Fracking (creative, huh?), which also believes that no amount of regulation will be sufficient. LBF claims that regulations don’t protect people, and any support is unacceptable:

“Regulations do not ‘protect’ people from fracking. Only a ban protects us by preventing harm in the first place. To accept ‘regulated fracking,’ even if the regulation is strict and the regulators are conscientious, accepts the entire fracking industry and all its components.”

Furthermore, given the group’s contempt for the regulatory process, it should be no surprise to anyone that LBF claims DEQ’s assurances of the safe use of hydraulic fracturing is nothing short of a lie:

“Why does the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality keep saying fracking’s been done for 60 years and there have been no incidents in Michigan? Shouldn’t we believe them? Unfortunately you can’t believe the DEQ on this.” (emphasis added).

What is puzzling is that you don’t see groups such as these claiming that President Obama and his administration are lying to the American people.  Even though as has been repeatedly addressed here, the Obama Administration, including the current and past Administrators of the EPA and Department of Interior, have indicated that hydraulic fracturing is “fundamentally safe.”

So if the process is fundamentally safe, why the continued call for moratoriums and more regulation?  Other than Let’s Ban Fracking, do these activists believe that state regulators – whose job is to protect the public – would allow an “inherently unsafe” practice to continue? The seemingly endless calls for a moratoriums and more regulation are nothing more than a pretext to ultimately ban hydraulic fracturing.

In the end, all of these groups have been and will always be against the development of oil and gas. It’s time for more people to call them out on it.


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