I wasn't surprised when Karl Rove's American Crossroads group began pouring massive amounts of money into TV ads to defeat my congressman from rural New York State. American Crossroads has received significant funding from the oil and gas industry, including a $2 million personal donation from Trevor Rees-Jones of Chief Oil & Gas--one of the most active companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, a geological layer that stretches from Kentucky to New York.
Gas companies want to begin using a risky new method of drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas from deep underground in the Marcellus. My congressman, Representative Maurice Hinchey, is at the forefront of the movement to ask questions first, before drilling.
And there are good reasons to wait. Everywhere this practice has been used it's the same story: cancer-causing fumes right next to schools, truck accidents with hazardous liquids or even radioactive materials, explosions at drilling sites or pipelines, and--most famously--severe water contamination. Hydraulic fracturing has been linked across the country to cases where the water is so polluted with gas that you can actually light it on fire.
The fracking process involves pumping millions of gallons of toxic chemicals thousands of feet underground to break up rock formations and release pockets of gas. Gas companies don't have to tell us what chemicals they're using because hydraulic fracturing is specifically exempted from disclosure requirements in the Safe Drinking Water Act through to a provision, nicknamed "the Halliburton Loophole," that was inserted by Dick Cheney into the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Right now, because of the Halliburton Loophole and other exemptions for dirty fossil fuels, the EPA has absolutely no power to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
In response, Hinchey has introduced legislation, called the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, that would close the Halliburton Loophole and restore EPA oversight of hydraulic fracturing. Hinchey also secured funding for a comprehensive EPA study on the link between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water contamination.
The gas industry has not been pleased, so it was no big shock when Hinchey ended up on the list of Democratic representatives targeted by the Rove unlimited-spending machine. With my community in Sullivan County, NY slated for a massive drilling operation as soon as the spring of 2011, I knew I had to stand up Rove and his billionaire donors. So I worked with Frack Action USA PAC to shoot and air a commercial highlighting Hinchey's leadership in protecting the public from dangerous gas drilling.
It's a small step to counter the Rove echo chamber that has dominated the airwaves here, and to communicate to other elected officials around the country that we need them to act now to safeguard the public from this dangerous and unregulated practice. But the fight has just begun, and we're prepared to do what it takes to protect our water, air, and children's future--in communities across the country.
The stakes are high, with many people eager to sign gas leases in the hopes that the new industry will bring riches for landowners and needed jobs for the community. But the experiences of people in Pennsylvania--where hydraulic fracturing has taken off in recent years--contradict the industry's fairy tale of easy money with no downsides.
And it's not just people in rural areas who are affected. Fracking is currently going on along the Colorado River, which supplies water to 30 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson, and is being planned for thousands of sites along the Delaware River, which supplies water to 15 million people in New York City, Philadelphia and most of New Jersey. That amounts to 1 in 6 Americans being at significant risk of exposure to potent toxic chemicals in the drinking water they use every day from spills and runoff from fracking wells.
Five years after the passage of the Halliburton Loophole, the use of hydraulic fracturing shows no signs of slowing down. Major energy corporations are banking on our long term consumption of shale gas. At the same time, politicians in both parties are working overtime to sell us on the idea that natural gas is a panacea for climate change and our foreign oil addiction.
That's why we have to stand up for the leaders who are taking a common-sense approach and advocating that we use caution instead of gambling with our most precious resources. Stay tuned for future dispatches from this battle. This issue is not going away anytime soon, and neither am I.