Fracking news: weekly summary

-Colorado fracking regulations: municipalities battle it out with state government-

Aspen fracking protest

Anti-fracking rally challenges Colorado regulations.

Across the nation, and across the world, current fracking regulations are coming under fire from all directions.  In Colorado, municipalities are fighting for fracking regulatory power.

Although hydraulic fracturing is legally regulated and allowable according to state rules, several municipalities including Fort Collins, Longmont, and Boulder have attempted to enact complete, local fracking bans.  The latest on the local power front is the approval of a measure proposing a 5 year fracking moratorium within Boulder city limits.  In a meeting on Tuesday, the Boulder City Council unanimously approved the measure to appear on the upcoming November ballot.  Because gas drilling is not common in the Boulder area, the moratorium would be largely symbolic.  However, a ban would be another weight on the balance between state and local power.

Adding stress to the current situation was an anti-fracking protest staged in the city of Aspen last Saturday.  The protest involved over 100 participants and was directed at state governor John Hickenlooper and other legislators who had gathered in the city for the Democratic Governors Association meeting.  Protestors were angered by Hickenlooper’s approval of a lawsuit filed by drilling companies in order to override a local fracking ban established in the city of Longmont last year.

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Pennsylvania fraktivists call for “independence from fracking”

pennsylvania anti-fracking protestLate last week, anti-fracking activists , or fraktivists, gathered in Brockway, Pennsylvania outside several state senators’ offices.  The protest was targeted at Senator Joe Scarnati, along with other legislators who continue to oppose the implementation of a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The rally was organized by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air and attended by numerous environmental groups as well as by private citizens.  Participating environmental groups included PennEnvironment, the Mountain Watershed Association, and Protecting Our Waters.  Participants hoped to capitalize on an opportunity presented by legislation proposed by state Senator Jim Ferlo.  The legislation, introduced in late April, was a response to the submission of an anti-fracking petition submitted by environmental groups and proposes to a halt to hydraulic fracturing permitting in the state.  The proposal has already garnered the approval of several Democratic legislators, and last week’s protest was meant to increase momentum for support.

‘Pennsylvania’s approach to fracking is ‘permit first’ and ‘figure the rest out later’,’ said Melissa Troutman, Mountain Watershed Association outreach coordinator. ‘From water withdrawals to waste disposal, fracking in Pennsylvania is nothing more than an experiment. That is neither good policy nor planning for the Commonwealth’s future.’

Interestingly, Pennsylvania’s regulations on fracking are actually comprehensive and multi-layered.  In fact, they are some of the most well developed in the nation.  While many concerns may be based on misinformation, the anti-fracking movement and its effect on legislation still bears watching.  Across the nation, anti-fracking fronts have seen unprecedented success—not the least of which is the prolonged moratorium dragging on in neighboring New York.

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As Delaware River Basin moratorium continues, drilling companies begin to vacate

drilling rig in fairfield township, pennsylvaniaWhile to Pennsylvania fraktivists, the grass may seem greener, residents of the Delaware River Basin are feeling the economic drawbacks of an extended fracking moratorium.  To learn more about the effective moratorium established by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), see Frackwire’s article on Pennsylvania fracking regulations.

As the DRBC enters its third year without issuing drilling permits, companies are beginning to cut their losses and pull out of lease agreements with landowners.  Recently, landowners with oil and gas leases received letters from Hess Corporation and Newfield Exploration Corporation, notifying them that those leases were no longer in effect.  According to Newfield Exploration, profitable gas drilling in the area does not appear to be an imminent future prospect.

‘Ours was a business decision,’ said Newfield spokesman Keith Schmidt.

The decisions by Hess and Newfield terminate a mass lease between the North Wayne Property Owners Alliance and the two drilling companies, negotiated several years previously.  The lease was valued at $3,000 per acre—some to be paid upfront and the rest to be delivered after profitable production began.

Due to the block on production resultant of DRBC legislative hold ups, outraged citizens are blaming the Commission for the loss of an estimated $187 million. While no official action has been taken to date, landowners report consideration of a lawsuit against the DRBC, similar to the JLCNY suit currently being undertaken in New York.

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Interior Chief defends proposed federal fracking regulations

Sally Jewell defends federal fracking regulations

Interior Chief Sally Jewell defends federal fracking regulations.

Due to historical oil and gas exemptions from federal laws, drilling and fracking regulation has become heavily concentrated at the state level.  In a contrasting move, the US Department of the Interior recently released proposed new legislation that would govern fracking on federal lands at the federal level.  The proposal would allow state regulations deemed “stricter” than federal ones to take precedence, but would establish a standard for drilling on national land that would apply in less regulated states.

However, the proposal must go through a public vetting process—including open commentary periods—before it can be approved.  And since its release, the proposal has drawn outspoken criticism from environmental groups and the anti-fracking movement, calling for stricter chemical disclosure requirements.  Judging from precedents set by the legislative delays in New York and the Delaware River Basin, this criticism could prove extremely powerful.

In attempt to quell environmental fears, Sally Jewell, recently appointed Interior Chief and former oil and gas career woman, explained that the proposal was an attempt to keep pace with drilling technology in order to adequately supervise an industry critical to the nation’s economic future.

‘I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop,’ said Jewell,  ‘That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy and will be done for decades to come.’

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Fracking art installation raises debate in the UK

fracking art installation

Dramatic art installation by French duo hopes to stir emotional response to fracking.

While hydraulic fracturing and the ensuing debate have become established fixtures of the US energy landscape, both are still emerging issues in the UK.  As recent studies report significant shale gas reserves on British land, investment in drilling—particularly in the Blackpool area—is on the rise.

Accordingly, hydraulic fracturing regulation is sure to be a future hot topic.  Stepping into this environment is Paris based art duo Heiko Hansen and Helen Evans.  This week, the two debuted an art installation intended to simulate the experience of visiting a fracking rig at Liverpool’s FACT gallery.  The installation is a miniature fracking rig, capable of producing sounds, flames, and motion.

The noise hits you hard, a pounding rhythmic bass sending vibrations right through you. Suddenly the red rig lights up and the drill rotates down through the rubble-strewn floor. The noise crescendoes, like a jet taking off, and metallic hammering accompanies the sinister smoke rising out of the drill hole. And then, as quickly as it started, it all stops. Forlorn bird cries ring out across a pool of effluent, and random methane flares hit you with a dry wall of heat.

While the display is certainly dramatized, the accuracy of the installation may be beside the point.

‘We want to create an emotionally engaging experience,’ said Hansen.

And his instinct may be right on point.  In the US, the anti-fracking movement has certainly seen success with effective use of emotional and visual appeals.  As fracking in the UK unfolds, similar appeals may be capable of playing a similar role.

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