An open letter to President Obama on energy
November 8, 2012
Dear Mr. President –
Congratulations again on your reelection. After our discussion yesterday regarding mining, today I’ve got some wisdom for you on energy.
It is clear from your victory speech that you support more drilling in unconventional oil and gas deposits across the country like the Marcellus Shale that underlies significant portions of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
Mr. President, the country cannot afford to continue to ‘drill baby drill’. Here are three reasons why:
ONE: We do not know how to develop unconventional oil and gas safely.
None of the states that currently permitting drilling has performed a comprehensive analysis of the potential public health impacts of drilling. In fact, when petitioned by the public to examine the public health impacts of drilling, the states have refused.
Late last month, we published Gas Patch Roulette, a report that shows a clear pattern of negative health impacts. “Safe” oil and gas extraction means that no harm is done – the industry has not demonstrated that they can protect public health and the environment from the impacts of drilling.
TWO: States are not adequately enforcing the regulations that are necessary to protect the public.
Loopholes in federal environmental laws place the burden to regulate drilling on the states. And they are not doing their job. We surveyed New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York state government data and found that more than 50% of oil and gas wells operate with no annual inspections, violations are rarely penalized, and penalties are woefully inadequate and don’t prevent future violations.
THREE: Experts are sounding the alarm.
At your request, the Department of Energy convened an expert panel “to identify measures that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact and to help assure the safety of shale gas production”. Most of its recommendations declare or imply that more information is needed to determine if safe shale gas production is possible. And the most important recommendation, “to modernize rules and enforcement practices to ensure protection of drinking and surface waters” has not been implemented.
This system is failing. Current state oversight of oil and gas development provides little incentive to operate responsibly. Bad actors can ignore regulations with little fear of meaningful sanction.
Because the system is failing, new oil and gas development shouldn’t be permitted until communities and the environment can be protected.
It would be one thing if there were simply no alternatives to expanded oil and gas development. But there are: renewables and increased energy efficiency. At least as much time, money and resources should be expended on their development as we have historically spent on fossil fuels. But they are not.
Until we have more information, until we can legitimately say that we have tried our best to explore alternatives to polluting gas patch communities – until then, emphasizing unconventional oil and gas development as a solution to our energy problems is equivalent to sacrificing the environment and the health of American communities.
We can be better people than that.
Earthworks Executive Director