Today, U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (WI-02) introduced a bill to ban fracking for oil and gas on federally owned, public lands with Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL-09). This is the strongest federal bill against fracking introduced in Congress to date. Along with the introduction of the bill, Food & Water Watch released the results of a national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, which finds that 48 percent of Americans oppose fracking on public lands, while only 41 percent support it. This is consistent with a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month that found the percentage of Americans who support increased fracking overall at 41 percent, down from 52 percent in 2012.
Drilling and fracking comes with many problems, including water contamination, air pollution, earthquakes and massive amounts of methane leakage – something that could have catastrophic impacts on the climate. Workers on fracking sites are also subject to accidents, exposure to toxic chemicals and terrible working conditions. These issues are largely impossible to regulate, as evidenced by a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to inspect more than half of the specified “high priority” wells, which required more attention to prevent water and environmental contamination, drilled from 2009 through 2012.
“Federal lands should be preserved for the public good,” said Representative Mark Pocan. “There are serious safety concerns around fracking and it should not be allowed on our pristine public lands specifically set aside for conservation. As we learn more about fracking’s impact on the environment and people living near fracking wells, one thing is clear, the process can be harmful and the effects are not fully understood. We should not allow short-term economic gain to harm our environment and endanger workers.”
“I share Rep. Pocan’s serious concern about hydraulic fracturing, which has been shown to contaminate water sources, increase methane emissions, and even to cause earthquakes," said Representative Jan Schakowsky. We owe it to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, to ensure the protection of public lands. This bill – in banning fracking on those lands – helps us follow through on that important promise.”
Right now, about 90 percent of federally managed lands are available for oil and gas leasing, while only 10 percent are reserved for conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural heritage. Oil and gas companies already have leased over 36 million acres of public land and have formally expressed an interest in targeting 12 million more acres of public land including areas within national forests and land adjoining national parks.
“The inherently dangerous nature of fracking means that no set of regulations can prevent accidents from happening that impact public health and natural resources,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “In light of the dismal track record that the oil and gas industry has on protecting the environment, the only way that public lands can be protected is by banning fracking. We applaud Congressman Mark Pocan for exhibiting leadership by standing up to protect our public lands for future generations to enjoy.”
In 2013, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed updated rules to regulate fracking on public lands. These rules have now reached the Office of Management and Budget – the last step before they will be finalized. The comment period for these rules generated more than one million public comments, including more than 650,000 comments in support of a ban on fracking on public lands.
"Progressive Democrats of America expresses our deep appreciation to Representative Pocan for his leadership on this important issue,” said Conor Boylan and Andrea Miller, Co-Executive Directors of the Progressive Democrats of America. “We wholeheartedly support his legislation to protect public lands from exploitation, degradation, and eventual destruction. We hope this courageous effort will culminate in strong protections, joining landmark environmental legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts."
This bill is introduced with broad support from the grassroots advocacy, climate, and health movements. Burning the oil from drilling and fracking on federal lands alone amounts to about 20 million tons of carbon dioxide. Burning all of the natural gas extracted from federal lands would add about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide to that number. When accounting for methane leaks, that adds up to at least several hundred million tons more of “carbon dioxide equivalent” emissions.
“The science is clear that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the majority of the world’s fossil fuels have to stay in the ground. There is no better place to start than with America’s public lands. The public owns the lands and owns the carbon,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We commend Rep. Pocan for introducing the Protect Our Public Lands Act,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of National Nurses United. “Nurses understand the dangers to public health of pumping dangerous chemicals into our water supply. Fracking has been linked to miscarriages, infertility and birth defects. Congress should act immediately to ban fracking on federal lands.”
This bill comes before the finalization of the BLM’s proposed fracking rules, expected early in 2015.
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.