As natural gas exploration expands throughout our energy-starved nation -- from the West and now into the South and Northeast -- many folks living in drilling country are rightfully expressing concern that their groundwater may be susceptible to pollution from the fracking fluids that are central to drilling operations. These are very legitimate fears, as HBO's critically acclaimed documentary Gasland so graphically shows. And yet, to date, the Republican Party has expressed a rather callous "drill first, never ask questions later" attitude -- callous, even for the GOP.
During the Bush years, Republicans managed to legislate an exemption for fracking fluid into the Clean Water Act. Then, Republicans in Congress blocked the proposed FRAC Act, which wouldn't even ban fracking fluid -- it would simply require drilling companies to disclose what's in the fluids they are pumping into the earth near critical groundwater supplies. And now, in perhaps the most extreme step yet, Republicans here in Colorado (a state with one of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world) are demanding the Environmental Protection Agency never regulate fracking, regardless of whether or not the agency discovers that fracking is poisoning people.
As the Colorado Independent reports, you just can't make this up:
Eighteen Republican members of the Colorado State Legislature Monday sent a letter (pdf) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding the federal agency refrain from regulating the natural gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," no matter what a two-year EPA study of the process reveals.
In a coincidence that highlights just how extreme the GOP position is, notice that the GOP letter was sent two days after this disturbing dispatch from the Grand Junction Sentinel:
Energy giant agrees to pay record fine
By Dennis Webb
Friday, July 23, 2010
Williams has agreed to pay a record $423,300 fine to resolve a state investigation into a spring-contamination case in which a De Beque man drank benzene-tainted water...
The fine would be the highest ever imposed by the commission for a single incident. The current record is a $390,000 fine handed down by the commission in April against Oxy USA for another case of spring contamination, also northwest of Parachute.
State regulators should be applauded for this catch, but with state budgets so strapped across the country, they clearly should not be the only regulators on the job. Do we really need more Civil Action-like tragedies to teach us that?
According to Republicans who know about the issue (which, incredibly, does not include one proudly ignorant leading Senate candidate), we do. And that cavalier attitude is both immoral and politically dangerous for the GOP. Though the national media has tended to portray debates over drilling as "liberal environmentalists" versus "pro-business conservatives," the fact is that these issues can cut in very unpredictable ways. As I reported back in 2008 for the New York Times magazine, someone living in drilling company may like the energy industry and be a cultural conservative -- but that person probably doesn't like the thought of being able to light their tap water on fire, and might not want to vote for politicians who do.