Daniel B. Markind, Esq.
Weir and Partners, LLP
The EPA, after five long years of research had to muddle, generalize and redefine “fracking” to say it could impact driving water in “some circumstances.”
On Tuesday, the EPA released its revised report on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. Modifying its previous conclusion that the process does not cause “widespread, systematic” effects, the EPA now claims that fracking for oil and natural gas can contaminate drinking water under “certain circumstances.” This report ends more than five years of research. While not giving a definitive conclusion, according to EPA science advisor Thomas Burke the report offered the most complete scientific analysis on the potential link between fracking and drinking water contamination.
Not surprisingly, the report immediately was hailed by environmental groups as another piece of evidence pointing to a ban on hydraulic fracturing. This is unlikely, given the upcoming change in Administration. It seems more likely that the EPA did everything it could to show links between the process and water contamination, was hampered by the lack of evidence, and could only resort to broad generalizations.
The change in Administration will come with lots of challenges, both internally and externally. In the energy context, most of the discussion has centered around problems in the Middle East and the close relationship between Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Lost in the shuffle, however, may be the most important immediate crisis that will be felt in the energy sector and likely affect the new Trump Administration in its earliest days. The country with the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela, is imploding.
In the last two days, hapless Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has pulled the country’s largest denomination bill, the 100-bolivar, now worth about 3 cents, closed the border with Columbia to prevent “mafia” tactics of the Columbians (who allow Venezuelans to cross the border, convert to dollars and actually buy things) and attempted to crash the talks in Buenos Aires of the South American multi-national trading group Mercosur, from which it was suspended. According to Maduro, the Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez was “thrown to the ground” by Argentine authorities as she attempted to enter the meeting.
Venezuela was suspended this month for its human rights record, but its economy is the real cause for concern. Long held together by sheer force of personality of former President Hugo Chavez, the utterly uninspiring Maduro has found it impossible to replicate the late Chavez. The economy, already reeling under the populist / socialist / redistributionalist policies of Chavez, is now collapsing. Last week, the government confiscated 4,000,000 toys from a toy distributor, claiming that the distributor was attempting to sell the toys at inflated prices during the Christmas season. The government is now known as the “Grinch that stole Christmas”.
At least Maduro now has toys to distribute, which is more that can be said of much of his oil. Suffering under decades of disinvestment and Chaves/Maduro cronyism, the world’s most oil-rich country is now importing from the United States. In 2015, 9% of American oil imports came from Venezuela. Now, Venezuela even is curtailing its oil exports to Cuba, straining ties among the two most left-wing nations in the Hemisphere as Venezuelan production dives to a 13 year low.
If Maduro falls – a distinct possibility – then the economic crisis will be joined by a political crisis. At that point all bets are off. For Americans facing an early polar vortex portending a long, cold winter, the potential loss of much Venezuelan oil, together with continued Middle East instability, Russian adventurism, Chinese militarism and stalled American infrastructure development provide the new Administration with little breathing room as it takes office. If nothing else, the Venezuelan situation should remind us that to the extent we can, maintaining our energy independence is a worthwhile endeavor. While we focus halfway around the globe for problems, we ignore our own back yard at our own peril.
Editor’s Note: Dan gets it exactly correct on the EPA report when he says “It seems more likely that the EPA did everything it could to show links between the process and water contamination, was hampered by the lack of evidence, and could only resort to broad generalizations.” What they did is exactly what all fractivists do; they redefined fracking to include much more than hydraulic fracturing so they wouldn’t have to admit the process hasn’t contaminated drinking water and is no threat. They muddled through, pretending drilling is fracking and fracking is drilling to falsely allude those occasional methane migration and other drilling issues were somehow connected to hydraulic fracturing. It’s the big lie, first perpetrated by Josh Fox with his Gasland flaming faucet. The reality is that those issues are few and far between and there simply aren’t any with respect to hydraulic fracturing. It’s sophistry – pure sophistry to suggest otherwise and its why the public doesn’t trust government.