It seems to be a common match up - big corporations versus small communities, and the name of the game this time is drilling for natural gas, using a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A movement against it is gaining steam. But, on November 30 in Washington DC officials with ties to some of these big companies flexed their muscles, trying to make their case for more drilling and no disclosure.
“When it comes to coal, oil and natural gas, of those three, natural gas is American – most of our oil is imported now; over 65% of it it’s clean burning, so it’s cleaner than coal or oil and it’s affordable,” said Lee Fuller, the vice president of government relations with the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
He spoke at an event held at the Heritage Foundation called “The Promise and Perils of Hydraulic Fracturing: Best Answers to the Hardest Questions.” One of Fuller’s goals seemed to be to protect his industry, and its huge profits, from regulation and oversight.
Fuller said public disclosure of the toxic chemicals pumped into the earth will only lead to public misunderstanding and panic.
“People will be scared of chemicals if you give them enough fear they will be responsive to it,” he commented.
Fracking became exempt from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, largely with the help of then Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, a corporation deeply involved in the fracking industry.
While many lawmakers have pushed to have fracking regulated; other lawmakers and lobbyists have stopped it, putting forth fierce opposition in the name of keeping their industry’s secrets hidden.
“To think that someone here in Washington knows better about what needs to be done in Pennsylvania or Colorado or Texas is a real tough sell,” said Mark K. Boling, the executive vice president and general counsel for the Southwestern Energy Company.
Through US media, there are often stories of people now called “Shallionaires,” who have benefitted from these companies paying them to be able to drill for natural gas on their properties.But less has been said about the polluted drinking water affecting hundreds of people, people like Pat Farnelli in Dimock, Pennsylvania.
“This is a catastrophe.We are basically living at ground zero for a catastrophe and everyone is over-looking it because they’re listening to the gas well companies who are saying everything’s fine; this is great. We have such a wonderful opportunity. This is going to bring your depressed area jobs,” said Farnelli.
Instead, many residents there said all they got was a polluted water supply.
In Louisiana several months ago, 17 cows grazing near a drilling site were found dead, after the fracking fluid run-off entered their drinking water. The issue has raised red flags around the country. Some celebrities are even jumping on board to raise awareness of the dangers of fracking, including actor Mark Ruffalo.
“All we’re saying here in New York is you know, wedon’t have to do this here and we can slow down and make sure that we do this right,” Ruffalo told the Natural Resources Defense Council recently.
Ruffalo discovered he's been placed on a terror alert watch list after his actions caught the eye of the Department of Homeland Security.
So, how much power does big business really have? When it’s the oil and gas industry it seems they will allow nothing to stand in the way of their quest for a freer hand and quicker profit.