Pocan aims to protect public lands from fracking

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Fracking generates enough dirty wastewater a year to flood Washington, D.C., turning the U.S. capital into a toxic lagoon 22 feet deep.

On Earth Day in the capital, Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan of Madison and Jan Schakowsky of Chicago celebrated the planetwide holiday with the introduction of the Protect Our Public Lands Act, a measure intended to bar the oil and gas industry from fracking on federal land.

“Our national parks, forests and public lands are some of our most treasured places and need to be protected for future generations,” said Pocan.

Schakowsky said, “Our public lands have been preserved and protected by the federal government for over 100 years. We owe it to future generations to maintain their natural beauty and rich biodiversity. I believe the only way to do that is to enact the Protect Our Public Lands Act and I will continue to fight to see that happen.”

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, according to Pocan’s office.

Oil and gas companies already possess leases for fracking operations on 36 million acres of public lands and have expressed interest in fracking 12 million more acres of public parks and forests.

Reports have shown that fracking wells on those public lands aren’t adequately inspected, creating greater potential for disaster.

“We’ve seen fracking contaminate our drinking water, put our families’ health at risk and turn treasured open spaces into industrial zones,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s “Stop Drilling Program.”

Richardson said fracking has wrought widespread environmental damage, polluting waterways, increasing air pollution and disrupting wildlife. The process generates millions of gallons of toxic wastewater laced with benzene, caustic salts and radioactive material.

In early April, after years of skepticism, authorities confirmed that fracking can be linked to seismic activity in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

“It is clear fracking has a detrimental impact on the environment and there are serious safety concerns associated with these type of wells,” said Pocan. “Until we fully understand the effects, the only way to avoid these risks is to halt fracking entirely. We should not allow short-term economic gain to harm our public lands, damage our communities or endanger workers.”

The Protect our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902 would prohibit fracking, the use of fracking fluid and acidization for the extraction of oil and gas on public lands for any lease issued, renewed or readjusted.

The Food and Water Watch, the American Sustainable Business Council, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity and Progressive Democrats of America endorsed the bill, H.R. 1902.

“Our public lands are a shared national heritage and shouldn’t be polluted, destroyed and fracked to enrich the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch. “Congress must follow Congressman Pocan and Congresswoman Schakowsky’s bold leadership and ban fracking on these lands so that future generations can enjoy these special places.”