Intelligent Energy

There's no fracking way polluters won't be bad actors

There's no fracking way polluters won't be bad actors

Posting in Energy

A lapse of government oversight permitted oil service companies to pump the ground full of diesel fuel during the past decade. Nobody should be surprised about that happening: the foxes were left guarding the hen house.

The U.S. federal government gave its tacit approval to oil and gas service companies to pollute drinking water by failing to regulate hydraulic fracturing mining activities throughout the past decade. It is my belief that nobody will ever be held responsible - in spite of any harm done.

Why should anyone be surprised? The EPA was created for a reason. Disjointed States' rules and inept local officials failed to adequately safeguard the public's interest.

President Richard Nixon had the wisdom to call for "a strong, independent agency" after years of deliberation and study of the nation's environmental problems. Unfortunately, some now view the agency's mission through an ideological lens, eschewing Nixon's pragmatism.

The absence of federal oversight into the activities of hydro-frackers during the Bush era left the door open for the polluters to pollute just as before the creation of the EPA in 1970 and passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

That is evidence that the reasoning behind the EPA's formation was true in the 1970's, and it's just as true now. What alternative is there? The economist Ronald Coase preferred well-defined property rights over regulation, but that is an idealist's viewpoint.

The foxes cannot guard the hen house

Oil service providers have far deeper pockets than mom and pop, or even entire communities. The fight is essentially fixed: the little guy can't match the deep legal bench that massive, international firms have. The federal government can.

It saddens me to see the responsibility of drafting hydro-fracking regulations is frequently being kicked down to the State level, where mining companies can exert more influence. Diesel fuel that contaminates groundwater in Pennsylvania will not stay within Pennsylvania. The boundaries drawn are maps are nothing more than imaginary lines.

I hate to pick on my home state, but Pennsylvania has just recently begun deliberating requiring oil service companies to disclose the chemical mixes that are being pumped into the ground as part of the mining process.

Meanwhile, residents are left with drinking water that's allegedly contaminated by those unknown chemicals. Don't think that it stops there: There are millions of people living downstream, and millions of gallons of fluid was injected into the Earth.

John Heinz, the late Republican Senator that hailed from PA, was instrumental in the creation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed; environmental stewardship was part of his legacy. I recall driving down the PA turnpike seeing roadsigns telling travelers to "report all spills."

The watershed was created expressly for this express purpose: groundwater pollution is not contained by lines drawn on the map. Regulations are created for a reason, but it's easy to forget what that reason was when there's an immediate demand for energy and jobs.

Mining for natural gas is necessary in our energy hungry society, but hydro-fracking companies must be held responsible for any negligence and mine responsibly. Don't hold your breath that the wrongs of the past decade will be set right - the oil service firms got away with it while they could.

Illustration: Energy in Depth

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure