As the fracking debate just begins to take off in the UK this week, federal and local powers in the US continue to battle it out over the fine points. In the past few months, President Obama has made it clear that he views fracking for natural gas as a vital tool to help lead the nation out of economic recession. However, a lot of local governments are less enthusiastic. In the past week, both state and municipal groups have made headlines challenging the president’s pro-fracking stance.
Protestors in New York to Target Obama Tour
As President Obama makes plans a tour of upstate New York this week, anti-fracking protestors plan to travel with him. The President will visit Buffalo, Syracuse, and Binghamton this week, planning to speak about the importance of affordable college education. While fracking may seem unrelated, activists maintain that the topic is never off subject in their state.
‘We’re going to be present in Binghamton by the hundreds if not the thousands,’ says Walter Hang, with the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting.
While New York fractivists have managed to impose a five year de facto moratorium in the state, they did it by simply delaying legislative processes. As a result, New York still has no fracking regulations on the books. When legislation does happen, it could go either way—initiating fracking permits or enacting an official ban. This uncertainty has caused nervousness among New York activists who say they plan to target Governor Cuomo as well as the president.
Should Cuomo decide to travel with the president this week, New York protestors plan to direct their message to him. Hang said Toxics Targeting hopes to show Governor Cuomo what his 2014 reelection campaign could be like if he continues with his neutral stance towards fracking—“protestors at every stop”.
Obama Visit Raises Conflict between Pennsylvania Democrats
In addition to his New York visits, the president also intends to speak in Scranton on Friday. While Obama again intends to address the issue of higher education, his administration’s pro-natural gas agenda is giving new significance to ongoing conflict within the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
At a state committee meeting back in June, party members first raised the issue when they proposed a resolution to push for a full fracking moratorium to replace current Pennsylvania regulations. In a vote of approval for the resolution, the party was split 115-81 and the debate has escalated from there. Of the seven prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidates, two have spoken out against the moratorium while one is in favor of its application to public lands.
Last month, 19 democratic state representatives collaborated to submit a letter to Democratic Committee Chairman Jim Burns, criticizing the resolution as “shortsighted”. The first letter was followed by a similar one, signed by eight state senators.
‘It says to the industry that Democrats as a whole are opposed to everything that’s going on and that’s not true,’ said Tim Solobay, a Washington County state senator.
The issue will be discussed at the next committee meeting on September 27. In the meantime, party members are concerned about the message the resolution sends in the context of the president’s visit.
‘The party was overstepping its’ place because it puts us at odds with some of our own elected officials,’ said York County Chairman Bob Kefauver. ‘In my mind that’s not why a party organization exists.’
Comment Period Closing on BLM Fracking Bill
The public comment period on a Bureau of Land Management fracking proposal is set to end on Friday of this week. The proposal sets new plans and regulations for BLM land and would allow fracking on 600 million new acres of federal land.
While the bill represents the first major foray into fracking regulation by a federal agency, many environmentalists are still unhappy. Representatives from the National Resources Defense Council have criticized the proposed plan as giving “industry a free pass”. This Thursday, a coalition of environmental groups plan to deliver an anti-fracking petition to BLM headquarters in a rally in Washington, DC.
Colorado Groups Seek to Put Fracking Ban on the Ballot
In Colorado, municipalities and environmental groups continue to clash with state authorities. Several Colorado cities, including Boulder, Fort Collins, and Longmont have attempted fracking bans in the past. However, they have either been mainly symbolic or have been shot down as the state government has threatened to sue municipalities for encroaching on state authority.
As a result, environmental groups are pushing for the addition of a statewide moratorium to the ballot in 2014 elections.
‘It’s clear citizens don’t have any other recourse’, said Sam Schabaker, an organizer with Protect Our Colorado.
However, some local representatives do believe that a complete moratorium is a step too far.
‘Colorado has always been a strong local control state,’ said Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt. ‘I think the solution is to figure out where it is appropriate to drill.’
California Coastal Commission Investigates Offshore Fracking
As fracking moves farther west, California is developing its regulatory framework to cope with the growing industry. Last Thursday, the Coastal Commission initiated an investigation into the practice during a meeting in Santa Cruz.
The decision was prompted by industry reports of offshore rigs using hydraulic fracturing to stimulate production. The topic of offshore fracking also drew unusual interest in the Coastal Committee proceedings, drawing 20 local audience members who expressed concern about fracking in California waters. In light of notorious offshore accidents, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2012, the Commission and citizens alike are anxious about protecting the aquatic environment.
‘We take our obligation to protect the marine environment very seriously and we will be looking at this very carefully,’ said Charles Lester, executive director of the Coastal Commission.
Although the agency has oversight capabilities for offshore drilling, to date they have never held up a project. Nevertheless, this precedent could be subject to change as the investigation continues.
‘We do not yet understand the extent of fracking in federal or state waters, nor fully understand its risks,’ said Coastal Commission Deputy Director Allison Dettmer, who will lead the effort.