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Memo to Bloomberg and EDF: No Amount of Money will Make Fracking Safe

J. Mijin Cha

Barnett Shale drilling in North Central Texas. www.edf.orgI’m not sure what’s worse: the toxic influence of money in politics and policy or blatant full-out hypocrisy. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has given us both. On the one hand, the Mayor very clearly came out against fracking in the Marcellus Shale stating:

“The portions of the Marcellus Shale where the City's watershed lies must be treated differently and the Department of Environmental Conservation's decision today recognizes that crucial fact. We firmly believe, based on the best available science and current industry and technological practices, that drilling cannot be permitted in the City's watershed. We are confident that the additional reviews now required for any drilling proposal in the watershed will lead the State to that same conclusion.”

Not only is Bloomberg saying there shouldn’t be drilling now in the Marcellus Shale, but there should never be drilling as any additional review would continue to show the danger posed to New York City’s drinking water from fracking. Fast forward less than two years and the Mayor has had a complete change of heart, even going so far as to defend the practice in a Washington Post op-ed. In it, Bloomberg stated:

“The production of shale gas through fracking is the most significant development in the U.S. energy sector in generations, and it affords four major benefits that people on both sides of the debate should welcome.”

Bloomberg later clarified that fracking shouldn’t be done near watersheds but, “other than that, I don’t see anything wrong with it.” So, it’s okay to poison land and communities, just as long as it’s not done by watersheds. By saying that fracking should stay away from watersheds, Bloomberg is admitting the dangers of the practice. But, in his view,as long as someone else bears the environmental and health burdens, he doesn’t see a problem. In other words, we can sacrifice the health and environment of some communities to feed our energy addiction as long as it’s not ours.

To complete his about face, Bloomberg supplements his position as Mayor through his role as a wealthy philanthropist. Bloomberg Philanthropy recruited the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to provide its “green” stamp of approval for fracking by awarding it $6 million over three years to work to ensure stronger state regulations in five areas:

  • Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, as well as chemicals used in drilling and operating wells, and requiring measurement and reporting of air emissions and the content of waste water;
  • Optimizing rules for well construction and operation;
  • Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater;
  • Improving air pollution controls, including capturing fugitive methane, a potent greenhouse gas;
  • Reducing impacts to communities and ecosystems.

Of course, the punchline is that no amount of regulation will make fracking safe and the best way to reduce impacts to communities and ecosystems is to ban fracking. Those that are on the frontline fighting against fracking have strongly criticized EDF's grant. They rightly note that fracking is the wrong path to energy independence and the fact remains that it is a dangerous practice. We have highlighted the dangers of fracking many times: it poisons water supplies and communities, increases earthquake risks, and makes tap water flammable. And, as we’ve stated, these are not hypothetical dangers, they are what has been imposed on communities from existing fracking operations.

This isn’t the first time a major environmental organization has taken money to provide green cover to polluting industries. The Sierra Club took millions from Chesapeake Energy to promote natural gas exploration, even though their state chapters had been aggressively fighting against the industry. Big money uses environmental organizations as their first line of greenwashing and the Bloomberg/EDF partnership is just the latest example. Money doesn’t just buy politics, it buys any potential opposition.

If EDF really lived up to its name and defended the environment, it would come back with a report saying that after spending $6 million, it was clear that there could be no safe fracking and the only way to minimize harm to communities and the environment was to redirect all this money to renewable energy production. This will never happen, which is why EDF should take a deep look inward to see whose interests they are really protecting because it’s certainly not the environment's.