Fracking Role for Environmental Defense Fund Splits Green Groups

A coalition of 67 grassroots groups criticized the Environmental Defense Fund for its ties to natural gas drillers in setting voluntary standards for hydraulic fracturing, a process opposed by many green advocates.

The activist groups, many in communities where natural gas production is booming or in New York where it could start soon, said EDF is offering “greenwashing” for companies such as Chevron Corp. by joining them on a set of standards for fracking.

“There is a better way to protect the public -- it’s called regulation,” according to a letter prepared for 67 groups by the Civil Society Institute and Earthworks and sent to EDF President Fred Krupp today. “These are fossil fuels, and their extraction and consumption will inevitably degrade our environment and contribute to climate change.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground to break apart rock and free trapped natural gas or oil, along with horizontal drilling has spurred a boom in production in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado. Fracking’s effect on the environment has been mixed.

Natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide as coal when burned to generate electricity, and its increased use has led to a fall in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. At the same time, many rural residents near fracking operations complain of contaminated groundwater, fouled air, clogged roads with truck traffic and round-the-clock noise during the fracking process.

Protections Lacking

“What we’re feeling is the lack of any protections,” Vivian Stockman, project coordinator of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said today on a conference call. She said West Virginia residents fear the same fouling of the land they experienced from coal mining, among the state’s biggest industries.

Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based group that helped organize the coalition of businesses and environmentalists that failed to get cap-and-trade legislation through Congress in 2009 and 2010, said it supports the same kind of regulation as many of the grassroots groups, and is pushing for that in many states, said Eric Pooley, an EDF vice president. The voluntary effort in Pennsylvania, which was unveiled in March, is a way to help encourage further regulation by expanding the use of best practices, he said.


In many states, “we’ve been fighting hard, going toe-to-toe with industry lobbyists in favor of strong regulations and compliance,” Pooley said in an interview. “We’ve never said that voluntary is the end of the story. Where we differ is we think voluntary is a step in the right direction.”

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which was formed in March, will provide independent evaluations of gas producers that join the effort. The center’s standards will limit flaring, encourage maximum water recycling and reduce the toxicity of the fracking fluid.

Domestic production of natural gas has boosted the U.S. economy by lowering the cost of the fuel used in manufacturing. The Marcellus Shale, which runs along the Appalachian Mountains from New York to Virginia, is the nation’s largest-producing gas field, according to energy company Range Resources Corp.