The United States is experiencing a natural gas rush. Natural gas development in the Rocky Mountains region, in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale deposit, and in other parts of the country is skyrocketing.
With an increase in domestic production and massive corporate investment backing the industry, natural gas is quickly becoming a larger component of America's energy portfolio.
The champions of natural gas promote it as a clean energy alternative, but natural gas development leaves extensive environmental degradation in its wake. From well site preparation, to drilling and production, and finally to the disposal of wastes, the industry pollutes soil, air, and water, and leaves scars on the landscape that last for decades.
Natural gas is not a permanent solution to our energy crisis and brings with it the same baggage as other fossil fuels: pollution and environmental destruction. That's why Earthjustice promotes clean, renewable energy sources—such as wind and solar—that can eventually replace fossil fuels. We are working at the state level to guide public utility commissions along a path to a clean energy future. This work entails prioritizing alternative energy sources, removing barriers to clean energy, and investing in energy storage infrastructure.
What is "Fracking"?
"Fracking" is a term used to refer to oil and gas development, generally. Technically, "fracking" is short for "hydraulic fracturing," a process used in 90 percent of the wells, whereby fluid is injected underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release oil or gas trapped inside the formation. Fracking fluid—which is laced with toxic chemicals that have not been fully tested or disclosed to the public—may be released into the environment through inadequate waste disposal, leaks, spills, and other accidents, presenting serious risks to public health and the environment.
Defending the Biological Integrity of the Rocky Mountain Region
We are working to protect ecologically important landscapes in the Rocky Mountain region from fracking. In June, we were victorious in federal district court on our challenge to the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to lease all of Colorado’s Roan Plateau to gas drilling companies. The judge set aside BLM’s plans and told the agency that it
We also are working with communities in the Roaring Fork Valley to protect the Thompson Divide. And in Utah, we are challenging six BLM Resource Management Plans that open 9 million acres of federal lands to fracking, including 3 million acres with wilderness characteristics. Finally, we are working to save Utah's San Rafael desert and critical sage grouse habitat in Wyoming from natural gas development.
Improving Fracking Rules in Colorado
The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission recently adopted a new rule on fracking, requiring full reporting of the substances used in the controversial drilling process. Fracking fluids—millions of gallons of which are pumped into wells—can contain toxic chemicals, and suspected links between fracking and groundwater contamination are being examined by EPA. Earthjustice was instrumental in shaping the new rule, which is among the strongest in the country.
Combatting Reckless Gas Development in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale Deposit
Our work addressing the harms of natural gas development in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale deposit is aimed at protecting the environment and the communities in the region. In New York, we are working to forestall natural gas development until appropriate safeguards are in place.
In 2011, we submitted comments to the state, outlining our concerns about proposed fracking regulations. In addition, we have been helping local communities to defend zoning amendments that ban gas development within municipal borders.
Right to Know: Fracking Chemicals
In August 2011, we petitioned EPA to issue rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requiring disclosure and testing of all chemical substances and mixtures used in both drilling and fracturing. EPA agreed in November 2011 to begin a rulemaking that would expand reporting of fracking chemical information and require submission of health and environmental studies.
Protecting Air Quality
Thanks to Earthjustice advocacy and litigation, EPA updated air quality rules for the oil and gas industry in April 2012, making them the first federal safeguards aimed at curbing air pollution from drilling and fracking. The rules promise hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution reductions from a range of operations. Smog-forming volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing toxic pollutants, and methane (a potent greenhouse gas) will all be reduced.
Safeguarding the Monongahela River
We challenged an agreement that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretly entered into with a wastewater treatment plant operator. The agreement unlawfully allowed the facility, which sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, to discharge contaminants into the river. The suit persuaded DEP and the company to enter negotiations to ensure the plant properly treats natural gas waste. In June 2012, DEP published its final permit amendment, which now incorporates virtually all the health protections we demanded.