MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., October 5, 2016 – It is election time and it is hard to miss the usual suspects that come out of the issues and policy woodwork. Most recently, it appears that the American Petroleum Institute (“API” as it is credited in the ads) has renewed its efforts to convince Americans to be “energy voters.”
The API ads usually feature a working class individual, usually a minority or a woman, telling us how energy production (they don’t usually mention oil and gas) creates jobs and helps keep home budgets balanced. On screen and in those newspapers that are left, they all seem to be and apparently are providing a helpful message that they hope will resonate with the voting public.
The sponsoring organization is smart enough to keep the ad credits small, and in video ads, appearing only at the end of the commercial. The API logo is hardly noticeable on a large-screen LCD TV and probably invisible on smaller TVs.
These ads, like all other activities that the API is involved with, have only one purpose: To keep the American public hooked on fossil fuels, mainly petroleum and its derivatives. API can very well afford to saturate any market with these ads as the organization is extremely well funded.
Publicity campaigns by the oil and gas industry have been extremely effective. Probably their biggest triumph has been the elimination of nuclear energy as a clean, cheap and reliable source of energy. The number of people killed or maimed by fossil fuel is orders or magnitude larger than those harmed by nuclear energy.
Currently in the U.S., we are witnessing one of the longest periods of time in which the price of gasoline has been low. Overproduction and political decisions by oil producers have lowered the cost of a barrel of oil to a fraction of its cost just a few years ago. We know what a gasoline price increase can do to a political candidate. One of the reasons Jimmy Carter was defeated in 1980 was the price increase and apparent scarcity of gasoline.
So what is wrong with being an energy voter as API urges us to be?
Even if only 35 percent of the American public currently believes in climate change or that it is even an important issue, the fact is that most scientist are telling us it is real and we should worry about it. Climate change deniers and those who ignore the issue notwithstanding, there are many more reasons why we should be trying to cut our fossil fuel dependence.
The domestic production of oil and gas generates billions of gallons of waste fluids, including hydraulic fracturing waters and waters used in crude oil processing. These fluids are produced when waters with small amounts of chemical additives and sand are injected into the ground in the fracking process. After use, this produces approximately 36,000 oil and gas waste fluid (Class II Disposal) wells, filling at the combined rate of two billion gallons per day.
It is very telling that not even EPA, which is tasked with regulating these wells, has an accurate number to with regard to this process. They indicate there are approximately 180,000 oil and gas related (Class II) wells in the U.S. and approximately 20 percent of them are disposal wells. The truth is that the budget provided to EPA for the Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program is not sufficient for the Agency to perform all its required tasks. The small staff at EPA and at the states that regulate these wells is not adequate, and this is what the industry wants.
The grant provided to the states and the EPA for the operation and enforcement of the UIC Program is approximately $11 million per year. This grant is not only for oil and gas (Class II) wells but for all injection wells. Some, like Class I hazardous waste injection wells, require significant resources due to strict regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Pro Publica has reported on these wells and on their failures. If only half of the failures claimed by Pro Publica are fully substantiated, the amounts of brine and other pollutants that are affecting our underground sources of drinking water are staggering. This doesn’t even take into account the apparent link between Class II disposal wells and earthquakes that has been reported in recent years, especially in Oklahoma.
While most of the water-based hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected, a significant portion is discharged into surface water bodies. These discharges are regulated under the Clean Water Act. But to date, EPA has been too timid (intimidated?) to create real regulations. Discharges, especially of hydraulic fracturing fluids, are apparently flowing into the ocean in some areas with the seeming aquiescence of EPA.
Adding to EPA reluctance to regulate discharges under the Clean Water Act is the fact that oil and gas production and fracturing fluids have been exempted as hazardous waste under RCRA.
The issue becomes even more complicated. EPA, under the SDWA that has authority over underground injection, has agreed not to regulate hydraulic fracturing for the production of gas (popularly known as “fracking”) unless the fluids contained diesel fuel. The decision was first made under the Bush administration and then confirmed under Barack Obama’s administration. Cheap natural gas has never hurt anyone’s political career.
The current problem amounts to a case of too many Goliaths doing and very few Davids looking at what’s being done. Do you think the fossil fuel lobby is powerful? They have definitely covered all the bases with regard to this issue, so don’t go to bat against them.
Are you still an “energy voter”?
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, worked with the UIC program at EPA for over 20 years. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).