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October 20th, 2011:

Environmental Activist Rips Natural Gas Industry

American Energy Coalition - October 20th, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, recently criticized the natural gas industry for resisting public disclosure of information and opposing reasonable regulation. 

Writing for the Huffington Post, Kennedy took natural gas producers to task for attacking the New York Times over a recent string of articles about natural gas drilling. 

"Superb investigative journalism by the New York Times has brought the paper under attack by the natural gas industry," Kennedy wrote. "That campaign of intimidation and obfuscation has been orchestrated by top shelf players like Exxon and Chesapeake aligned with the industry's worst bottom feeders. This coalition has launched an impressive propaganda effort carried by slick PR firms, industry funded front groups and a predictable cabal of right wing industry toadies from cable TV and talk radio. In pitting itself against public disclosure and reasonable regulation, the natural gas industry is once again proving that it is its own worst enemy." 

Calling himself "an early optimist on natural gas," Kennedy wrote that he once thought natural gas could help ease the country's dependence on coal and destructive coal mining practices. "My caveat was that the natural gas industry and government regulators needed to act responsibly to protect the environment, safeguard communities from irresponsible practices and to candidly inform the public about the true risks and benefits of shale extraction gas. The opposite has happened. "The industry's worst actors have successfully battled reasonable regulation, stifled public disclosure while bending compliant government regulators to engineer exceptions to existing environmental rules. Captive agencies and political leaders have obligingly reduced already meager enforcement resources and helped propagate the industry's deceptive economic projections," Kennedy wrote. "As a result, public skepticism toward the industry and its government regulators is at a record high. With an army of over 40,000 highly motivated anti-fracking activists in New York alone, popular mistrust of the industry is presenting a daunting impediment to its expansion." 

Kennedy noted that he sits on New York State's High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, which is developing rules for safe gas drilling. "We spend much of our time sorting truth from the web of myths spun about fracking by fast talking landsmen, smarmy CEOs, and federal regulators," he wrote. 

He cited numerous instances where research has raised doubts about fundamental gas industry presumptions.

  • A study on the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas showed that releases of methane may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions projected to result from substituting gas power for coal.
  • A study by the Centers for Disease Control found that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey has reduced its estimate of the amount of gas in the Marcellus Shale by 80%, raising doubts about all the industry's positive economic projections about jobs, royalties, and revenues. Industry based those projections on resource estimates that the federal government has now jettisoned.

Kennedy also said the New York Times has provided excellent coverage of natural gas, including the following revelations:

  • Sewage treatment plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of natural gas industry wastewater that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating.
  • An EPA study published by The Times shows receiving rivers and streams into which these plants discharge are unable to consistently dilute this kind of highly toxic effluent.
  • Most of the state's drinking water intakes, streams and rivers have not been tested for radioactivity for years - since long before the drilling boom began.
  • Industry is routinely making inflated claims about how much of its wastewater it is actually recycling.
  • EPA, caving to industry lobbyists and high level political interference reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, has narrowed the scope of its national study on hydrofracking despite vocal protests from agency scientists. The EPA had, for example, planned to study in detail the effect on rivers of sending radioactive wastewater through sewage plants, but dropped these plans during the phase when White House-level review was conducted.
  • The Times investigation also explodes the industry's decade old mantra that a "there is not a single documented case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking." The Times investigation of EPA archives exposes this claim as demonstrably false.
  • Many industry experts have reservations over whether the wells produce as much gas as industry is claiming and whether companies may be misleading investors, landowners, and the public about the true costs of shale gas.

To read Kennedy's Huffington Post article, click here

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