Foes of fracking losing legal and political momentum

Thu, June 25, 2015

In fact, in a development that has caught both sides by surprise, the legal and political momentum these days appears to be running against the anti-fracking cause.

In states where the revolutionary oil- and gas-drilling technique actually is being employed in a significant way, the movement is losing ground. Activists in leading oil and gas producers like California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas have suffered defeats in the last year at the hands of state legislatures, courts and even voters.

Foes of fracking were hit with another setback Tuesday as a federal judge delayed this week’s scheduled implementation of the Obama administration’s tight new fracking rules for federal lands, prompted by a lawsuit challenging the regulations filed by four states.

Mitch Jones, spokesman for Food & Water Watch, part of the three-year-old Americans Against Fracking coalition, agreed that the movement took a hit this year when Oklahoma and Texas legislatures approved bills blocking localities from enacting fracking bans.

The Texas legislation, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, effectively nullified November’s highly publicized fracking ban passed by voters in the town of Denton in May. The Denton city council followed by repealing the ban in order to avoid litigation.

“I’m not going to deny that what happened in Texas and Oklahoma are setbacks, but I think that they’re setbacks that are driven by a certain sense of desperation by the oil and gas industry,” Mr. Jones said. “They’ve shifted the playing field to a place where they feel like they have an advantage, and the reason they’re doing that is that they’ve seen that this movement is growing stronger and is emboldened by what has happened in New York and in Maryland.”

But Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance vice president of government and public affairs, argued that the anti-fracking movement has tanked as lawmakers and voters become more familiar with fracking’s safety record, which leaves them less likely to be swayed by unverified horror stories about fracking’s impact.

“I think most people have gotten beyond the initial scare tactics of the “fracktivists” and now realize that fracking is being done safely,” Ms. Sgamma said. “They also understand that it’s better to produce oil and natural gas here in America, where fracking is regulated with strict environmental controls, than importing it from overseas.”

Her argument was bolstered by an Environmental Protection Agency study released June 4 that concluded that fracking, a three- to five-day process that involves injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to loosen shale, has had no widespread impact on drinking water.

Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said that the anti-fracking camp’s loss of momentum can be traced to a number of factors, including the precipitous drop in price of oil and natural gas, which has resulted in cutbacks in drilling operations.

“Even if it doesn’t affect current production, it changes the atmosphere,” Mr. Ciruli said. “It’s no longer an ever-expanding industry. It’s now one with at least some level of contraction. Even in these small towns, there’s been some impact on the economy. It just sort of reminds everyone that, for all the inconvenience, there is an economic upside.”

Then there’s the political landscape. While Democrats remain committed to combating climate change, that commitment hasn’t translated into a party-wide stance against fracking, even though environmentalists argue that methane emissions from natural gas contribute to global warming.

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