FOR THE 1.3 MILLION MEMBERS AND ONLINE ACTIVISTS OF THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL
in this issue
Timberwolves © TimFitzharris.com
• Republican Leaders Try to Revive Tar Sands Pipeline • NRDC, Redford Challenge Shell in Court and Online • Fracking Boom Raises Alarm Across U.S. • One Woman’s Fight for Environmental Justice
in the news
NRDC, REDFORD CHALLENGE SHELL
Mercury Controls at Last In a major win for NRDC and our Members, the Obama Administration has issued new, lifesaving standards that will reduce the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollutants released from coalburning power plants. Mercury is a potent neuro toxin that damages developing brains in children and fetuses. But despite the devastating health risks, America’s dirtiest power plants have been dodging mercury controls for years. With the new standards in place, these polluters will finally have to clean up their act. NRDC has waged a decades-long battle to get the government to side with the American people against big mercury polluters.
Cleaner Future for Cars California drivers looking for a cleaner ride will have many more options to choose from, thanks to a landmark decision by the state’s Air Resources Board. In a move long advocated by NRDC, the board recently voted to adopt new clean-car standards that will dramat ically cut the carbon pollution of new cars in half and smog pollution by a whopping 75 percent, while halving gasoline consumption. The board also moved to significantly expand the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle program and to add more than 3 million electric cars to the roads in California and 10 other states that have adopted the same standards by 2025.
s the Interior Department paves the way for Shell to begin exploratory drilling this summer in Alaska’s two Polar Bear Seas, NRDC is fighting back aggressively
in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. We recently joined Earthjustice in a lawsuit to block the oil giant from operating in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, home to more than half of America’s polar bears. The urgent courtroom action follows the Obama Admini-stration’s disappointing decision to approve Shell’s drilling plan, despite the company’s failure to prepare for a worst-case oil spill. We are also locked in a legal battle to stop Shell from drilling in the Beaufort Sea, including a sensitive area off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — the polar bear’s favorite onshore birthing ground in Alaska. Meanwhile, we’ve taken our campaign to stop Shell online with a hard-hitting video, narrated by NRDC Trustee Robert Redford, that calls new attention to the far-reaching risks posed by Shell’s plan. “If the oil industry couldn’t clean up a spill in the Gulf of Mexico, what chance does Shell have in a place with 20-foot surging seas, gale-force winds and
subzero temperatures?” asks Redford. The video has already helped generate more than 100,000 messages to the Interior Department, protesting its misguided plan to open the Polar Bear Seas to oil development and calling on Secretary Ken Salazar to deny Shell the final permits it needs to begin drilling this summer. View Robert Redford’s video at www.stopshell.org
Polar bear © Steven Kazlowski/lefteyepro.com
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Big Oil Won’t Let the Tar Sands Pipeline Die
ust days after President Obama rejected a
giants while threatening the American people with
permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar
poisoned water, contaminated land and an over
sands pipeline, Republican leaders on Capitol
heating planet. Despite oil industry claims to the
Hill made clear that they would do everything in
contrary, most of the tar sands oil would be exported
from the United
to raise this
States, and a
project from the
dead. As we go
to press, they are
could wind up
hold hostage key
killing more jobs
legislation — like
than it creates.
the payroll tax
For the second
relief bill or the
time in two
transportation bill contains a
Clearwater River, Alberta. It winds north through the tar sands, where forests like this are transformed into industrial wasteland.
provision to approve the pipeline. The House has already passed legislation in committee to require approval of the project in 30 days. “It’s no surprise they keep bringing this energy zombie back,” said NRDC president Frances Beinecke. “The lawmakers behind it have collected millions in campaign contributions from Big Oil.”
months, NRDC has been waging a round-the-
clock battle on Capitol Hill to stave off the oil industry’s all-out attempt to resuscitate the Keystone XL. Last December, after President Obama decided not to approve the pipeline, Congress passed a measure forcing the president to decide the project’s fate within 60 days, without the benefit of a full environmental review, and called in the oil lobby’s
The Keystone XL would carry close to a million
biggest PR guns to ratchet up the pressure. Responding
barrels a day of toxic tar sands oil from Alberta,
to a popular outcry, however, President Obama
Canada, to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas.
faced down the oil giants and rejected the pipeline’s
The production of tar sands oil, the world’s dirtiest,
permit. It was a major victory for NRDC Members
spews three times more global warming pollution
and online activists, who for years have fought the
than does the production of conventional oil. The
Keystone XL — a victory that must now be defended
project would deliver billions in profits to the oil
all over again.
Boreal landscape © Garth Lenz/garthlenz.com
— unless it
We must have safeguards in place to make sure tha
A BOOM IN FRACKING THREATENS COMMUNITIES ACRO Alarm Grows Over Health Impacts of Frenzied Oil and Gas Development
Fracking site with triple impoundment pools © Robert Donnan; Dimock fracking site © J. Henry Fair; drinking water poster © Mark Ovaska/ReduxPictures.com; map, courtesy Energy Information Administration
he reports are as ominous as they are wide-ranging: Students at a high school outside Fort Worth begin complaining of nosebleeds, chest pains and a sense of disorientation while at school. A group of mothers in a Denver suburb demand answers after their families are struck with a host of mysterious illnesses ranging from asthma and migraines to nausea and dizziness. The well water of a family in northeastern Pennsylvania suddenly turns brown, and their son develops sores up and down his legs from showering in it. Dozens of alarming stories like these are pouring in from across the country, and they have one thing in common: a controversial and hazardous form of oil and gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A little more than two decades ago, fracking was seldom used within the industry, but today the nation is experiencing a veritable boom in the practice, led by oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chesapeake Energy. The vast majority of the 75,000 wells drilled in the past five years across 30 states were fracked. As companies rush head long to drill even more wells — often
Banner displayed by concerned citizens at a rally in Pennsylvania
confounding local landowners with confusing leases and exploiting woefully inadequate state regulations — all too often they are leaving devastation in their wake. According to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, fracking has been nothing short of “a disaster” for some communities. That’s been especially true in towns like Dimock, Pennsylvania, where
mixed with sand and chemicals, some of which are toxic or known carcinogens. This fracking fluid is injected at extremely high pressure into a well, where it cracks rock formations under ground to release pockets of oil or natural gas. As much as 70 percent of the fracking fluid returns to the surface, not only containing the chemicals but also routinely contaminated with toxic heavy metals, volatile organic com pounds and, in some cases, radioactive elements. This toxic wastewater is often stored in pits that are subject to leaks and ruptures. The process is prone to other accidents as well, such as blowouts. It is common for the flaring of wells
Above: Fracking operation in southwest Pennsylvania Right: Fire at frack tanks in Pennsylvania
gas production using fracking is suspected of poisoning the drinking water of at least 20 families and where, thanks to pressure from NRDC and other advocates, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun investigating possible drinking water contamination in almost 60 more homes. Or Pavillion, Wyoming, where last year the EPA confirmed the presence of toxic chemicals often associated with fracking in the town’s groundwater. The area is home to nearly 170 natural gas wells. Fracking requires the use of massive amounts of water — sometimes more than 7 million gallons per well —
to release dangerous pollutants into the air, and leaks from improperly drilled wells to contaminate drinking water. “The drilling industry and its political allies hide behind the fact that they are extracting natural gas, which is cleaner to burn than other fossil fuels, such as coal,” says Frances Beinecke, NRDC’s president. “But ‘cleanerburning’ by itself isn’t enough. We
at the production of natural gas is not poisoning our water and destroying our communities.
Shale Oil and Gas Plays
Drilling slurry splashes out of a containment pond at a hydro-fracking plant in Dimock, Pennsylvania.
also must have safeguards in place to make sure that the production of natural gas is not poisoning our water and destroying our communities. Until then, we must say no to fracking.” A peer-reviewed study published last year documented two dozen cases in which people, pets or livestock living in close proximity to fracking operations suffered severe health effects, from upper respiratory and gastrointestinal distress to neurological damage. Ranchers reported dramatic increases in the number of stillborn calves from cattle that had been exposed to fracking waste, and in once instance, 17 cows died within an hour after an accidental spill of fracking fluid in their pasture. “This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, especially when it comes to assessing the health risks to people,” says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at NRDC who has been working on our campaign to impose stringent safeguards on fracking. “When an industry is as poorly regulated as the oil and gas industry, there’s a catch-22: The companies aren’t required to provide detailed information about their fracking
operations, so there’s a lack of evidence. Then the industry turns around and says there’s not enough evidence to justify regulation.” It’s an argument that oil and gas lobbyists are making in statehouses across the country and on Capitol Hill as they fight to maintain a status quo in which even the chemical makeup of fracking fluid is often considered proprietary information, a trade secret not subject to public disclosure. This despite a growing number of hazardous spills: In April 2011, a blowout near Canton, Pennsylvania, caused thousands of gallons of toxic fracking fluid to gush into a tributary of the Susquehanna River; in July, some 35,000 gallons of fracking fluid were released after a critical malfunction at a well near Pittsburgh. Two months later, more than 92,000 gallons of fracking fluid spilled after a blowout in North Dakota. Despite news of such serious accidents, most states are lagging in efforts to police the industry. West Virginia, for example, has just 17 oil and gas inspectors to monitor some 60,000 wells.
SHALE PLAYS STACKED PLAYS Current plays Shallowest/youngest Prospective plays Intermediate depth/age Basins Deepest/oldest
“Fracking is wreaking havoc on communities across the country, and unless we get this industry reined in, it’s going to run roughshod over many more,” says Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with NRDC’s New York Urban Program, which has been pressing federal and state officials to address the growing threat posed by fracking. One area imperiled is New York State’s Catskill Park, home to the creeks and rivers that supply drinking water for New York City (see below). For countless families who have had to endure the devastating impacts of fracking, from contaminated drinking water to a host of sudden, inexplicable illnesses, the nightmare has yet to end. As one retired teacher in Pennsylvania, whose family leased its land to gas companies only to discover that methane now bubbles out of the tap, told a local newspaper: “We thought this was a great opportunity, but we gave up our water and our property values — for what?” Tell President Obama to create strong federal rules to protect our clean air and water from fracking. Go to www.frackalarm.org 5
Don’t Frack the Catskills! by John Adams John Adams is the founding director of NRDC. In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his environmental leadership. In 1885, New York State set aside part of the Catskill Mountains to be preserved and left “forever wild.” Sub sequently, it drew a Blue Line around the most critical parts of the Catskills to define the Catskill Park. From that start, and with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the park has grown into a 700,000-acre refuge of public and private lands stretching across four counties in southwestern New York. Today, though, this forested sanctuary of rolling mountains and rushing streams is gravely threatened by the oil and gas industry, which seeks to blast away at the earth and pump toxic chemicals into the ground to produce natural gas from shale through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. We must not allow that to happen. The Catskill Park offers some of the most beautiful vistas and wilderness in the eastern United States. It shelters the headwaters of some of our nation’s cleanest rivers and the source of New York City’s drinking water. It’s a haven for hikers, campers, kayakers and more. But, shockingly, the government of New York State is moving forward with a plan that would allow fracking on private lands in the park. If this is permitted, frackers will erect rigs and derricks, construct large holding ponds and build cluttered drilling pads in the midst of the park’s
Catskill Park, New York
great forests and adjacent to its recreation areas. They will cut through these and other forests to lay new pipelines to transport the gas. Into their wells they will inject water at high pressure laden with industrial and toxic chemicals that can be expected to seep into Catskill Park aquifers. We’ll see roads pockmarked and pulverized by truckloads of water, chemicals and equipment. Hazardous pipelines and waste lagoons will threaten park animals, migratory wildlife and human health. Fracking in the Catskill Park will irreparably mar its celebrated landscape. It is dangerous, damaging and insufficiently regulated. From massive fish kills and sick children to dead livestock and contaminated tap water, fracking has wreaked havoc upon communities nationwide. We must not invite this kind of destruction into our park. Some places simply must be put off limits. If you live in New York State, tell Governor Andrew Cuomo: Don’t frack the Catskills! Go to http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ksinding to learn more about our broad-ranging work to protect New York State’s people and environment from the dangers of fracking.
One Woman, Fighting for Justice, Turns Tragedy Into Inspiration
Sheila Holt-Orsted © Steve Jones
er case has been called the “poster child” of the environmental justice movement. And after a heroic nine-year struggle, Sheila Holt-Orsted has finally prevailed in her fight to secure something most Americans take for granted: a com munity’s access to safe drinking water and protection from toxic well water. Her legal settlement with the city and county of Dickson, Tennessee, capped a long legal battle waged by NRDC and the Holt family. “Before this, I assumed that clean water was available to all,” says Holt-Orsted.
“I hope this case sends the message that it should be.” Holt-Orsted’s crusade began in 2003 with the terrible news that her father, Harry Holt, had been diagnosed with cancer, which was followed a short time later by her own diagnosis. They weren’t alone. A startling number of neighbors in their predominantly African-American community were also suffering from some form of disease. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a highly toxic industrial chemical known to cause cancer, had been dumped for decades in an unlined landfill nearby. Through determination and persistence, and grieving the loss of her father in 2007, Holt-Orsted discovered that
TCE had seeped into her family’s well. Moreover, she learned that government officials had known of the contamination since 1988 but waited more than a decade before switching the family over to municipal water — all the while assuring the Holts that their well water was safe to drink. Other locals were receiving a different message: A number of white residents had been warned of the danger and put on municipal water years earlier. “Sheila proved that one person can change the system,” says Michael Wall, senior attorney with NRDC’s Environmental Justice program. “Thanks to her, the people of Dickson County will not have to fear they will be poisoned when they turn on the tap.”
SWiTCHBOARD Oil Companies Hijack Canadian Energy Decisions Posted by: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director, NRDC International Program
When it comes to the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and tanker traffic, the Canadian federal government has been acting like a mouthpiece for Big Oil — referring to pipeline opponents like NRDC as “radicals” and “foreigners” — instead of listening respectfully to the people of British Columbia who will pay the highest price if there are oil spills from this project. Proposed by energy giant Enbridge, the pipeline would carry tar sands oil west from Alberta across British Columbia for export to Asia and California. It would drive more destruction of the boreal forest, accelerate global warming and threaten British Columbia’s Spirit Bear
The following entry first appeared online at: www.switchboard.nrdc.org
Coast with disastrous oil spills. A govern ment Joint Review Panel started public meetings in January on the proposal in Kitamaat Village — the terminus of the pipeline, where millions of barrels of tar sands oil would be loaded onto some 225 supertankers every year. The native people of some 130 First Nations are strongly opposed to the pipeline, and NRDC is proud they have welcomed us to work with them in their cause. Gerald Amos, former chief of the Haisla Nation and resident of Kitamaat Village, says: “The government’s desperate attempt to change the minds and hearts of the hundreds of thousands of people who oppose this project is driven by greed and desperation. The foreign interest groups Canadians should really be concerned about are the Chinese oil companies investing billions in the tar sands and the multinational oil companies, like Shell
and British Petroleum, that are investing $200 million trying to sell Canadians on this astoundingly stupid idea.” Early last year, Enbridge announced that Sinopec (a state-owned Chinese oil company) had provided it with $10 million to help push Northern Gateway through the regulatory process and conduct public relations. Recently Enbridge finally revealed a handful of other formerly secret backers — including a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which provided another $10 million. It seems that multinational oil companies are hijacking Canadians’ ability to decide their own energy future. But the fact that thousands of Canadians have registered to speak at public meetings shows that caring for our planet is hardly “foreign” or “radical.” It’s time for the Canadian government to let the Canadian people, not the oil giants, drive the decisions on the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and tanker proposal.
he Obama Administration has given the Navy the green light to deploy high-intensity mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar — linked to numerous whale deaths and mass strandings — across hundreds of miles of biologically rich ocean habitat off the Pacific Northwest coast, an area that encompasses the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The move puts thousands of whales and other marine mammals, including critical populations of dozens of protected species, in imminent jeopardy. NRDC is joining Earthjustice and other conservation allies to challenge the administration’s decision in federal court and stop the Navy from proceeding with this unnecessary threat to marine life. The intense sound emitted by MFA sonar can be as loud as 2,000 jet engines, capable of causing potentially fatal disruptions in feeding, migration and other marine mammal behavior. Even so, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charged with safeguarding the country’s ocean wildlife, has rubber-stamped the Navy’s request to conduct training missions using the sonar for five years, with virtually no restrictions, in waters that are
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home to such imperiled species as Southern Resident killer whales, blue whales and humpback whales. “The Navy’s training range in the Pacific Northwest is the size of California, yet NMFS hasn’t even required that one square inch be put off-limits to the most harmful aspects of the sonar blasts,” says Zak Smith, an attorney with NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. On a related front, the Obama Administration has authorized the Navy to deploy MFA sonar in the Gulf of Alaska, a decision that NRDC has signaled it may challenge in court. Over the past decade, we have forced the Navy to abandon or restrict its use of sonar in a variety of ecologically sensitive areas. “The Navy has a history of overreaching when it comes to these requests,” says Smith. “But we also have a history of forcing them back to the drawing board.”
Editor: Stephen Mills Managing Editor: Liz Linke Writers: Jason Best, Claire Morgenstern Designer: Annmarie Dalton Director of Membership: Linda Lopez
Spirit bear © Charlie Russell; humpback whales © James Watt/Animals Animals
NRDC Sues to Protect Whales From New Sonar Deployment
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All of the environmental projects and victories described in Nature’s Voice are made possible through the generous support of Members like y...