Beinecke to Congress: Protect The Public From Fracking

NRDC President Frances Beinecke. (Photo credit: Matt Greenslade/

By Tom Kenworthy

The head of the Natural Resources Defense Council appeared before a Senate committee looking into the implications of the nation’s shale gas revolution yesterday. Frances Beinecke issued a compelling appeal for tougher federal oversight of the oil and gas industry and its drilling practices that have raised widespread concerns about public health and safety.

“I have never seen a single issue that has frightened, antagonized and activated people across this country like the practice of fracking,” NRDC president Beinecke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Referring to the industry practice of stimulating oil and gas production by injecting a mix of chemicals, water and sand into underground rock formations, Beinecke said:

“Families are angered and frustrated by their inability to control fracking in their towns, and sometimes on their own property. They want to know that their water is safe, their air is clean and their lands and farms are protected. They want to know their children are healthy.”

Beinecke’s comments captured a troubling truth for the oil and gas industry, which to a large extent has been caught off guard by the mounting public hostility to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is now used in the vast majority of drilling operations and has opened up vast new domestic reserves of oil and gas previously locked in shale formations. As Beinecke noted, a December Bloomberg poll found that 66 percent of U.S. respondents believe there should be more aggressive government oversight of fracking, a majority that surged by ten points in just the previous three months.

While the industry favors the current patchwork of state regulation, Beinecke said states have neither the technical ability nor the political will to adequately protect the public from ill effects of drilling that can include air and groundwater pollution, hazardous wastes, and carbon pollution from methane leaks.

In addition, as other groups like the Center for American Progress have pointed out, Beinecke said that numerous oil and gas exemptions from bedrock national environmental laws make federal oversight also insufficient. “There is simply no justification for exempting fracking from the basic environmental laws that have applied to other industrial activities for four decades,” she said in written testimony, noting exemptions enjoyed by oil and gas from statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act among others.

She also called on the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on some 700 million acres of federal land and other properties where the federal government controls the mineral rights, to toughen pending fracking rules that now appear to be in the process of getting watered down. The BLM, she said, “may be going in exactly the wrong direction.”

That concern was also raised last week by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate energy panel. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Wyden urged that he ensure a “properly constructed rule with sound requirements for public disclosure, well integrity, and monitoring.”

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

6 Responses to Beinecke to Congress: Protect The Public From Fracking

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s great to see NRDC fight the clear water pollution consequences of fracking, but there isn’t much talk about the GHG emissions consequences.

    The danger is that the gas industry will disclose chemicals and come up with mixtures that are less toxic, or at least good enough to survive regulation. That still leaves the issue of methane leaks in the casings, an unsolvable problem.

    Where does NRDC stand on the growing evidence that gas is just as bad as coal when it comes to GHG’s?

    If NRDC opposes gas powered electricity on emissions grounds, we will know that their reputation of close relationships with fossil fuel and timber industry interests deserves another look.

  2. Mike, I couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that NDRC (and the Center for American Progress public lands team) should include the negative GHG implications when discussing fracking.

    International Energy Agency Finds ‘Safe’ Gas Fracking Would Destroy A Livable Climate

  3. Bridge to Nowhere says:

    If NRDC is serious about protecting communities from fracking and stopping catastrophic climate change, they should be calling for a ban on fracking. I saw Frances was quoted in Politico saying states should put in place stronger chemical disclosure rules to restore the public trust. What a sick joke. There is simply no basis for the demand for regulations or chemical disclosure.

    People living next to gas wells have a 66 percent greater risk of developing cancer, from exposure to toxic air emissions. Over half of all fracked gas wells leak methane into groundwater. Fracking produces huge amounts of toxic radioactive wastewater. In short, it’s a public health nightmare. Even if we could miraculously eliminate all of those consequences, we know that extracting unconventional gas on the scale proposed would shoot us over the climate cliff.

    Demands that so completely and utterly fail to address the problem are not simply ineffective, they are destructive. If NRDC is not calling for the abolition of fracking, they are providing cover for the widespread expansion of fossil fuel extraction. They should not expect our congratulation for doing so.

  4. Tami Kennedy says:

    It should get more attention that Obama has made serious concessions to the carbon industries by opening the door to increased drilling on federal lands. Claiming it as an administration success. Let’s reduce carbon, oh and by the way make more available…

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Big Green organs never bite the corporate hand that feeds them. If they were properly radical, they would be ostracised by the money-power that runs the country, their apparatchiki would fall off the gravy-train (a real dilemma in a country where the drop from the upper echelons of the middle class is precipitous indeed)’contributions’ would dry up, the political stoogocracy would banish them from the halls of power, and the MSM would vilify and demonise them. So you ‘go along to get along’ as they say. The system is quite fool-proof-show some spine, some principles, some intellectual rigour and you are out, and a more compliant figure is found.

  6. John McCormick says:

    Frances: ““I have never seen a single issue that has frightened, antagonized and activated people across this country like the practice of fracking,”

    So, why did you not call for a ban on fracking.

    Manuan Loa will measure 400 ppm early next year. Natural gas has always been a pet rock for NRDC. There was a time when NRDC was pushing hard on ashift from coal to gas in the electric sector.

    Oh, and there was Dave Hawkins calling for more investment in carbon capture and sequestration. Very mainstream.