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Hauter writes: "Ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The giant energy bill included massive giveaways for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries and provided only token incentives for renewables and improved energy efficiency."

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania on January 9, 2012. (photo: Les Stone/Reuters)
A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania on January 9, 2012. (photo: Les Stone/Reuters)


10 Years Later: Fracking and the Halliburton Loophole

By Wenonah Hauter, EcoWatch

12 August 15

 

his past Saturday, marked a notable 10th anniversary. But it was certainly nothing to celebrate. Ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The giant energy bill included massive giveaways for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries and provided only token incentives for renewables and improved energy efficiency. But the most infamous piece of the law was what is now commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an egregious regulatory exemption that ushered in the disastrous era of widespread oil and gas fracking that currently grips our nation.

Fracking—the extreme oil and gas extraction method that involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals underground at enormous pressures to break apart subterranean rock—has exploded in the last decade. More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states throughout the nation. More than 10 million Americans live within a mile of a fracking site. This means that 10 million Americans—and truly many more—have been placed directly in harm’s way. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have connected fracking to serious human health effects, including cancer, asthma and birth defects.

For this we can thank the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the law that holds the Halliburton Loophole. Named after Dick Cheney and the notorious corporation he led before becoming vice president, the law (championed by Cheney and disgraced Enron founder Kenneth Lay, among others) explicitly exempted fracking operations from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. These exemptions from one of America’s most fundamental environmental protection laws provided the oil and gas industry the immunity it required to develop a highly polluting process on a grand national scale.

One of the most troubling repercussions is how fracking companies hide the contents of their toxic water and chemical solutions pumped into the ground. Contamination of underground drinking water sources from fracking fluids is a glaring threat to public health and safety. Yet even doctors responding to fracking-related health complaints can’t access data on what particular chemicals their patients may have been exposed to.

But the Halliburton Loophole wasn’t the only fracking enabler in the Energy Policy Act. The act granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping new authority to supersede state and local decision-making with regard to the citing of fracked gas pipelines and infrastructure. It also shifted to FERC industry oversight and compliance responsibility for the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, another key law. This was akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

As it stands, FERC is entirely unaccountable to public will. It is unaccountable to Congress and even the White House. Commissioners are appointed to five-year terms and can do as they please. Until a law reigning in FERC is passed, the commission will continue to act as a rubber-stamp for the fossil fuel industry.

Additionally, the Energy Policy Act repealed an important anti-monopoly law, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA). PUHCA safeguarded consumers from the overreach of the oil and gas industry and banks that did business with those companies. It prevented the formation of giant state and regional energy cartels that could manipulate energy costs, engage in profiteering and exert undue influence over political debate. The Energy Policy Act transferred most of this oversight to FERC. Since then, the largest American energy companies have grown significantly more powerful and spent almost a billion dollars on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The 10th anniversary of the Energy Policy Act is indeed a sad occasion, but it provides us with a ripe opportunity to reexamine our nation’s disastrous policy of doubling-down on fossil fuels over the last decade, thanks to the extreme process of fracking. For the sake of countless Americans who are currently suffering health effects caused by fracking and the countless more who will suffer in the future, we must immediately curtail our dependence on oil and gas and turn decisively toward a truly clean, renewable energy future.

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+8 # chapdrum 2015-08-12 17:38
Brings to mind the recent "verdict" rendered against Chevron for "flaring," which is an exhaust function in refineries. The flaring contains mostly methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2). Chevron has to pay $146,000, which equals roughly 1-2 seconds of its hourly profit.
 
 
+5 # Dust 2015-08-12 19:51
Gee, let's fucking pollute a limited, critical resource while producing toxins and greenhouse gases.

Jaybus must be so proud.
 
 
+7 # oakes721 2015-08-13 06:59
This land is being sabotaged ~ much as our military industrial complex has permanently polluted and poisoned other lands ~ all for the blind bankers and cynical profiteers who invent wars to become the suppliers of destruction of all reminders of anything good. Pretended PEACE has been privatized while Harmony with Nature (upon which we are completely dependent) has become illegal.
 
 
+3 # Robbee 2015-08-13 10:28
crony capitalism yields corporate welfare that pollutes our land and corrupts our politics

now there's smoke across the harbors and factories on the shore / and the world is full of greed and will and enterprise of war / this is my home, this is my only home - dave carter
 
 
+5 # ChrisCurrie 2015-08-13 11:26
That billion dollars they paid for lobbying ultimately came from US taxpayer subsidies. So those companies are using money that they essentially got from US taxpayers to bribe legislators to give them even more taxpayer money (often referred to as "tax expenditures"). If I could do that, I would be enormously wealthy too.
 
 
+3 # Kimc 2015-08-13 14:57
Supporting the fossil fuel industry while not supporting renewables is like supporting the buggy whip industry when cars were new. Stupid, regressive, short-sighted, and bound to let someone else become the new leader.
 
 
+2 # angelfish 2015-08-13 15:52
Thank George W. Bush and his ilk. It is THEY who bear the responsibility for the Massive and Criminal Pollution of our Aquifers, ALL done with impunity. NO consequences for ANY of their evil deeds. Perhaps those that approved all this toxic Bull-Puckey should be made to pay for the Clean-Up out of their OWN ill-gotten gains!
 

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