Closed Process Highlights Need For Meaningful State Environmental Review, Public Involvement

With the recent discovery of natural gas in southwest Idaho many residents are concerned about their local watersheds.  They should be, fracking is an ugly business :

Before 2005, regulation of fracking took place under the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA was responsible for regulating the Benzene, diesel, and other ingredient chemicals that could potentially be pumped into/through an aquifer and contaminate communities’ water supplies. As it stands, communities don’t even have a right to know what chemicals are used in fracking cocktails pumped into their aquifers – those recipes are proprietary.

Even so, when EPA was involved, part of the process for permitting fracking in a community involved a real public process that allowed for public comment – and potentially citizen-brought court challenge (i.e. public enforcement) – should citizens be put at undue risk. Unfortunately, then president George Bush exempted natural gas fracking from regulation by the EPA and handed it to states should they develop their own regulation (or lack thereof) and permitting processes for natural gas companies seeking to impact local communities’ water supplies.

Now, given the new found natural gas potential in Idaho, Governor “Butch” Otter and Idaho lawmakers are looking to craft Idaho state regulations to avoid EPA oversight.

Southwest Idahoans wary of companies that want to drill for natural gas nearby Rocky Barker – Idaho Statesman

Unfortunately, Idaho state is a closed system. The all Republican State Board of Land Commissioners which consists of the governor himself, the Secretary of State, the Superintendent of Schools, the Attorney General, the Control and the State Forester don’t  have a background in Oil & Gas, yet they serve as the Oil and Gas Commission that regulates the exploration, drilling and production of oil and gas.  In effect, the state of Idaho has replaced technical competency with right-wing political ideology in determining who serves on the Oil and Gas Commission.  And it shows.

In response to concern about toxic fracking mixtures introducing carcinogens into Idahoans’ water supply, one of the commissioners stated:

“I think even Twinkies could be carcinogenic, if you eat enough of them.”

Nothing like that Idaho Land Board to reassure the citizens of Idaho that everything is under control.

To make things worse:

Idaho has just one person working on gas issues in the Department of Lands — and he does it part time. Eric Wilson, who is leading the rulemaking, said he and state attorneys will recommend statutory changes to meet the needs.

But will Eric Wilson and state attorneys draft piecemeal statutory changes that protect Idahoans’ water supply ?  Will he consider all alternatives to the politicians’ industry-friendly preferred course of action ?  Will his process be open to the public and disclose all science considered ?  Will he be obliged to consider all relevant science that members of the public introduce to him ?

Unlike Washington state to the west or Montana to the east, both of which have state environmental review statutes (SEPAMEPA, respectively) loosely modeled after the federal National Environmental Policy Act – Idaho has no over-arching law which recognizes citizens’ right to informed decisions and a state government that “looks before it leaps” – we don’t have a State Environmental Policy Act.

Is it enough to allow conservationists, clean water advocates, and Idaho citizens the opportunity to ‘ask please‘ before green-lighting a largely unregulated industry’s ability to pump their proprietary cocktails into our drinking water supplies ?

Our state has seen a myriad of environmental issues in recent times (see: Megaloads, free-for-all Wind development, an explosion in unrestrained feedlot development etc.) but in Idaho there is no comprehensive statute that ensures full environmental review –  meaningful public involvement/disclosure – let alone a process to seek impartial adjudication ensuring enforcement of such a review.  Such a process would similarly provide law-makers and administrative decision-makers a standardized, fully-informed document with which to make important decisions that effect the health and well-being of citizens.

This blaring shortcoming in Idaho’s existing law could not be more relevant than in a failure to protect Idaho citizens’ drinking-water supply.

Idaho citizens deserve a meaningful voice in these processes, decision-makers deserve reliable assurances that best-science will be available to guide their decisions, a law that ensures full consideration – and disclosure – of an Idaho decision’s potential impacts to its people and its environment, consideration of all reasonable alternatives, and a process that recognizes the value of citizens’ independent input and competencies enough to give them the ability to contest government actions – in an impartial court of law – should agencies fail to ‘look before they leap’.  Particulary when such decisions are so likely to impact our health – our water supply – our human environment.

Idaho should take a look at what our neighbors have already accomplished.  Idahoans deserve a State Environmental Policy Act.

 

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Brian Ertz

Brian Ertz serves as Leader of the Sierra Club's National Grazing Team and as Conservation Chair of the Sawtooth Group, Sierra Club. All Posts by Brian Ertz | Facebook | Email

9 Responses to Frackers about to have their way with SW Idaho water supply

  1. avatar Nancy says:

    60 Minutes did an episode on this last night. And like the oil boom a few decades ago, its hard for some to get past those $million dollar payoffs, for the others that have to live with their decisions like “fire on the water” its tragic, considering how many forms of clean energy (and clean energy jobs) are out there if politicians would just wean themselves from the fossil fuels tit.

  2. avatar JimT says:

    I saw it. Was hoping they would interview the guy from Wyoming who was featured in ProPublica and then High Country News. Leslie Stahl always seems to get these pieces, and she asks such softball questions it must make Tim Russert roll over in his grave. The guy from Chesapeake Energy reminds me of snake oil salesmen from the carny days, or a carpetbagger..roll into town, take the money, and leave a disaster behind them.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these “snake oil salesmen” coming calling in areas that are the most depressed and totally ignorant of the facts when it comes to the immediate and long term effects of the latest, dirty energy phrase known as “fracking for dollars”

  3. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Tell the Idaho activists to march a clone of Wyoming’s new fracking formula disclosure over to the statehouse. it isn’t perfect and it still has some industry hide-and-seek provisions, but it’s a lot better than anything federal since Dick Cheney for that clean water exclusion bestowed on his oil industry buddies back in 2005, on behalf of Halliburton, which does the dragon’s share of frackking it appears.

    One of the great Sioux Chiefs was paraphrased as saying about 1875 that ” gold is the yellow metal that makes white men crazy ” or something like that . I would update that to say crude oil, coal, and methane are the stuff that make modern white men crazier….

  4. Except for the racial demographics, Idaho is very much like Mississippi.

  5. avatar Tom Page says:

    I believe that the O&G Commission in Idaho had not met for something like twenty years, before the recent flurry of activity. So, it’s not surprising that there’s only one staffer and a lack of regulatory/administrative structure.

    Clean drinking water might be the most powerful environmental issue there is, at least when it comes to what people care about, so hopefully we’ll see a bit more action on this than we’ve seen on other things in Idaho. Success here might lead to more pushback against the enormous power of the CAFOs and the dairies in Southcentral ID – the rulers of this little corner of the universe when it comes to water quality regs(or lack thereof).

    • avatar CodyCoyote says:

      Cripes. here in Wyoming , the state Oil and Gas Commission is the 4th branch of our state government. But in all fairness, it’s a halftime position. The other half of the time, the Wyoming Stockgrowers sit in that sacrosanct seat.

      They’re all in bed together anyway . Gay marriage is old news here . We’re the Equality State…industry lobbyists sleep with government officials almost every night, and cowboys come and go on weekends

    • avatar Elk275 says:

      Thirty years ago when I worked for Arco Oil and Gas in the Northwest I had to meet with the Idaho Oil and gas people (one person) in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the office was a small log cabin tucked away someplace, somewhere in Coeur d’Alene. It was a one man office. I doubt that manager had seen anybody in his office in years.

      I hardly doubt that that office is capable of regulating any fracking in Idaho.

  6. avatar Daniel Berg says:

    Texas actually just passed a law requiring frackers to publicly disclose the chemicals they are using, as well as the amounts.

    http://www.newser.com/story/121499/texas-passes-first-anti-fracking-law-requires-drillers-to-disclose-chemical-use.html

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