April 29, 2004 | Back Issues « previous | next »
Driller vs. Community Conflicts Rising As Bush Opens Rocky Mountain Lands

A recent accident at a natural gas well near the Colorado River released levels of the carcinogen benzene nearly 80 times federal safety limits into a Colorado River tributary, and brought renewed attention to an obscure provision in the stalled national energy bill that was included to benefit Halliburton Corp., Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer.

The benzene was detected after a local landowner in Silt, CO, noticed bubbles of methane gas in a section of Divide Creek that runs through his property. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the gas seep was caused by the improper use of a controversial natural gas drilling technique, known as "hydraulic fracturing" that was pioneered by Halliburton.

"We cited some rules we believe were violated, rules that prevent contamination of fresh water by natural gas," Brian Macke, COGCC deputy director, told the Rocky Mountain News.[1]

After the gas and benzene leak was detected, residents of the area were asked to stop drinking from their water wells, and the gas company shut down all its drilling operations in a two-mile radius. Residents are reportedly receiving bottled water while the gas company monitors levels of contaminants in area water supplies.

"This level of benzene indicates a serious problem," Sarah Johnson, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment's Water Quality Division, told the Glenwood Springs Post.[2]

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracing," involves pumping a mixture of chemicals, often including benzene or other toxics, into the ground to release gas that is trapped in rock formations. Halliburton pioneered the technique in the 1990's, and was fracing wells in the Silt area when the accident occurred. According to COGCC officials, EnCana Corp., the general contractor for the natural gas development, may not have properly constructed the gas wells in the area to prevent the benzene contamination and ongoing gas seep that is bubbling up in the creek. EnCana hired Halliburton to conduct fracing operations on its wells.

While the benzene in Divide Creek appears to have abated, the controversy over fracing has not. In 2001, Halliburton successfully lobbied the White House and Congress to insert a provision in the Cheney task force's national energy bill that would exempt oil and gas companies from federal court rulings that require controls on hydraulic fracturing -- operations identical to the one that contaminated Divide Creek.

In interviews last fall, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said they were "not enthusiastic about" the bill's exemptions for fracing.[3]

"When they lobbied to exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the oil and gas industry told Congress that what happened in Silt could never happen," says Erik Olson, a senior water quality attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. http://www.nrdc.org "This is one more example of why Congress should dump the energy bill."

Silt, a small community on the banks of the Colorado River roughly 150 miles west of Denver, is in the heart of a major natural gas boom being fueled partially by White House policies that loosen public health and environmental rules for gas drilling operations. As the drilling rigs creep ever closer to residential areas, conflicts between drillers and local Rocky Mountain communities are on the rise.

In late March, EnCana sued the small Colorado town of Firestone for trying to restrict gas well development in a residential area. In early April, a blowout at a natural gas well in the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico, forced the evacuation of nearly 1,200 residents for four days. Wastewater from coalbed methane development in Wyoming and Montana is fueling fears of a breakout of West Nile virus in that area. And in Wyoming's Green River basin, severe air pollution from a giant gas drilling operation has prompted the Department of Interior to consider closing a broad swath of public lands to public access.

Until last spring, EnCana employees in Silt flew pirate flags atop many of the company's drilling rigs, but took them down when area residents complained that it only added to their sense of invasion.

Tell your Senators you oppose the energy bill and voice your concern about hydraulic fracturing through NRDC.


[1] "EnCana liable for gas leak," Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 27, 2004.
[2] "Gas found bubbling up in Divide Creek," Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, Apr. 9, 2004.
[3] "Provisions Benefiting Industry Folded Into Bill," Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2003.


Protect Canada's boreal forest

We urgently need your help to protect one of the most pristine regions in Canada's Heart of the Boreal BioGem.

Please go to
and send a message urging Manitoba's minister of conservation to extend protections that will keep industrial development out of the Poplar/Nanowin Rivers Protected Area.

The Poplar/Nanowin Rivers Protected Area's two million acres of boreal evergreen forests, granite outcroppings and pristine rivers contain rich songbird breeding grounds and prime caribou and wolf habitat. This spectacular ecosystem has also sustained its first inhabitants, the Poplar River First Nation, since time immemorial.

The current status of the Poplar/Nanowin Rivers area forbids industrial development on these sensitive lands. But this vital protection is due to expire soon, and the Manitoba government will decide in the coming weeks whether to extend the interim protection or allow it to expire. Without legal protection, this region will once again be open to development, with potentially dire consequences for its native people and wildlife.

Right now, the Poplar River First Nation is preparing a land management plan to help permanently protect this ecosystem for future generations. But if interim protection is not extended while the Poplar River First Nation completes its work, it may be too late to save this area from logging, roadbuilding and other development.

Go to
and send your message today urging the Manitoba government to extend protection for this environmentally and culturally rich piece of the Heart of the Boreal.

Thank you.


John H. Adams
Natural Resources Defense Council


April 30, 2004

Childhood asthma, already at record highs, is expected to grow even worse in the coming years due to a potent mix of air pollution, higher levels of pollen and changes in the types of molds spurred by global warming. Because the Bush administration has backed away from solutions to the growing problem of global climate change, the situation is not expected to improve any time soon.

A report released yesterday states that millions of poor and minority children in America's cities are likely to suffer the consequences of pollution generated by emissions from cars, trucks and buses, plus a spate of new molds being spawned by global warming.[1]

The report, "Inside the Greenhouse: The Impacts of CO2 and Climate Change on Public Health in the Inner City," http://www.resultsforamerica.org/calendar/files/Bigreportwithpics.pdf was released by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, at a Washington, D.C. press conference co-sponsored by the American Public Health Association and Results for America, a project of the Civil Society Institute.

"This is a real wake-up call for people who mistakenly think global warming is only going to be a problem way off in the future or that it has no impact on their lives," said Christine Rogers, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The problem is here today for these children and it is only going to get worse."

The problem is multi-dimensional, Rogers said. Asthma among pre-school children is at an all-time high: It grew 160 percent between 1980-1994, with the highest incidence found among poor and minority children in urban centers. These children are at greatest risk for suffering increased health problems as a result of the CO2-generated increase in allergenic pollen.

Cities also have higher concentrations of air pollution, such as soot and ozone, caused by fossil fuel emissions. On top of that, global warming has led to an increasingly earlier pollen season in the spring. The result? "These children get hit with a powerful one-two punch," said Rogers.

Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. had committed to an international treaty to reduce the emissions causing global climate change. But President Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto protocol and backed out of his own campaign promise to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change.

"In the absence of action from Washington, it is incumbent on local communities and states to take the best of the available solutions to reduce fossil fuel consumption, and promote cleaner energy and more efficient technologies," said Pam Solo, president of the Civil Society Institute. "This kind of change will not take place unless citizens inform themselves about the problem, the best solutions and start working for change where they live."

[1] Results for America press release, Apr. 29, 2004.


Getting in Bush's Faith

Christian leaders challenge Bush's environmental policy

by Amanda Griscom

28 Apr 2004

Almighty God, your word of creation caused the water to be filled with many kinds of living beings and the air to be filled with birds ... Thank you for seeds and soil, green stem and air. For fruit on the vine, then falling fruit rotting on the moist ground, then new seed again ... We pray for your wisdom for all who live on this earth that we may wisely manage and not destroy what you have made for us.

So spake a reverend at Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., last weekend at an Earth Day Sunday service attended by Muckraker -- one of tens of thousands of similar services that took place nationwide as part of a growing effort in America's church community to stimulate environmental activism.

Even enviros of a decidedly secular bent who might normally blanch at such creationist sentiments will appreciate the call for wise management of natural resources. Indeed, when they discover that in the past week Christian leaders have delivered this plea not just to millions in their congregations, but also to our very own God-fearing commander in chief, they may cry "hallelujah!"

On Earth Day last week, more than 100 reverends, ministers, and bishops representing more than 2 million American churchgoers sent a letter to the White House condemning President Bush's environmental record. There were no rabbis or imams among the signatories, but not because the National Council of Churches, which organized the letter signing, doesn't value interfaith efforts. Rather, according to Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs at the NCC, "This was a Christian-to-Christian letter. We have a president who aligns himself with the Christian community, but as Christians we feel he needs to take a good hard look at the Bible and begin abiding by its principles."

"The book of Genesis records that God beholds creation as 'very good' (Genesis 3:1) and commands us to 'till and tend the garden' (Genesis 2:15)," reads the letter. "[W]e believe that the administration's energy, clean-air, and climate-change programs prolong our dependence on fossil fuels, which are depleting Earth's resources, poisoning its climate, punishing the poor, constricting sustainable economic growth, and jeopardizing global security and peace."

The missive takes aim in particular at the Bush administration's politics on air pollution. "[W]e feel called to express grave moral concern about your 'Clear Skies' initiative -- which we believe is [part of] the administration's continuous effort to weaken critical environmental standards that protect God's creation," says the letter, which goes on to criticize Bush's efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act's new-source review provisions and his failure to institute mandatory controls for greenhouse-gas emissions.

Citing the Bible's directive to "defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and the needy (Psalms 82:3)," the letter sings the gospel of environmental justice, noting that clean-air policy changes have the greatest impact on "those least able to defend themselves" -- namely, "[p]oor people, who have limited access to health care; senior citizens, who may have compromised immune systems; and children, who pound for pound breathe 50 percent more air pollution than adults."

What's notable about the effort is not just its attention to policy detail, but its direct assault on what Bush's supporters (and Bush himself) frequently cite as his core strength: an unswerving moral rectitude derived from Christian faith.

NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar put it this way: "President Bush has said that moral values are the cornerstone of his administration. But as a person of faith, I question whether the president fully understands his moral commitment. I'm concerned that he is failing to protect God's children."

Edgar, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1987, was the first Democrat in over a century elected from the heavily Republican seventh district of Pennsylvania. "I was elected largely by fiscally conservative Republican men that were supportive of the environment," he told Muckraker, adding that these same pro-environment Republicans are "horrified when they see what the Bush administration is doing to environmental protections."

While Muckraker sat among the families gathered in their Earth Day Sunday best at Cumberland Presbyterian -- as parents and grandparents beamed at dozens of children scurrying through the aisles with azalea blossoms in hand -- two words came to mind (besides amen and hallelujah): swing voters.

There was no overt Bush-bashing during the service, but it wasn't hard to connect the dots between a divine mandate for good environmental stewardship and growing evidence that the Bush administration has fallen from grace.

Consider this: The National Council of Churches has 36 member denominations in more than 100,000 congregations nationwide -- that adds up to a whopping 45 million faithful. This collaboration of mainline Protestant churches isn't part of the religious right, which Bush has worked so hard to court, but it might be called the religious middle -- a constituency the president would like to have in his camp this election season. If so, he's got some convincing to do.

"Our community holds the president, as a Christian, to the kind of moral standards that we live by," Carmichael said. "But more and more members are seeing a disconnect [between their beliefs and the president's policies]; they're becoming alarmed and raising their voices. They're coming to terms with the fact that they can't in good faith ignore what this administration is doing to God's earth."

The letter puts it this way: "We do not come to these positions casually, nor are we alone in our views. A growing number of religious Americans have come to recognize a solemn obligation to measure environmental policies against biblically mandated standards for stewardship and justice."

If the political force of Christian environmentalism continues to spread in areas once thought solid Bush demographics, his campaign may be doing some praying of its own come November -- their own Judgment Day.

Source: http://www.gristmagazine.com/muck/muck042804.asp?source=daily

Informant: NHNE

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