There’s a collective nervousness in the country about hydraulic fracking a.k.a. “fracking” – the highly controversial natural gas drilling method that should be of concern to anyone who likes their drinking water poison-free and not flammable.
Some Colorado cities are in open rebellion against the state’s pro-fracking Governor and have passed their own fracking moratoriums. In New York, anticipating the same actions by local communities as we await Governor Cuomo’s decision whether to defy John Lennon’s widow and son (among millions of others) and lift the state’s fracking moratorium, “a gas drilling company and an upstate farmer have asked New York’s top court to review a recent decision upholding the right of towns to ban drilling.” In Illinois, a relatively tough (that’s not saying much) fracking regulatory bill allowing fracking within 301 feet of lakes, just passed with some environmental groups caving on their prior moratorium demand, sparking protests by the rest of the environmental community.
One of the concerns in Illinois is that regulated fracking does not work. And here’s a related problem. Despite the best efforts of Hollywood’s Matt Damon and John Krasinski (not to mention Josh Fox), there is still a lot of secrecy surrounding this issue.
For example, in California, “Energy firms are permitted to keep secret the mix of chemicals they use to extract the oil and gas [and] the state is not given explicit notice of when and where fracking is taking place.” This is a state where, according to an newly-released poll,
More than half of voters — 58% — say they favor a moratorium on the process of injecting chemicals deep into the ground to tap oil and natural gas deposits embedded in rock until an independent commission has studied its environmental effects. … Voters' concern about the environmental and safety implications of fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, surfaced repeatedly.
Secrecy results not only from poor regulation and oversight, as in California. It is also a deliberate strategy by companies themselves to keep the public from learning just how badly they are harming families and the land they frack. Writes Bloomberg in a new story called “Drillers Silence Fracking Claims With Sealed Settlements,”
In cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet.
The strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the news media and health researchers, and makes it difficult to challenge the industry’s claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water.
What’s more, “Because the agreements are almost always shrouded by non-disclosure pacts … no one can say for sure how many there are. Some stem from lawsuits, while others result from complaints against the drillers or with regulators that never end up in court. … Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, said [n]on-disclosure agreements 'have interfered with the ability of scientists and public health experts to understand what is at stake here.'”
Said one attorney, “At this point they feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply … Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality.”
Confidential settlements where the public health and safety is involved are never a good thing. And for these companies, silence has proven to be golden.