Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sierra Club Spurns $30 Million Gift as Fracking Turns Toxic by Mark Drajem

Nomac Drilling Corp. floorman Matthew Brown, right, steadies a section of drill pipe as floorman Richard Lane cleans the connection during natural gas drilling operations for Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, U.S. 

Environmental and health groups are calling for tougher U.S. regulation of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, turning on a one-time donor to their causes: Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK)

The Sierra Club, the largest U.S. environmental group, is rethinking early support of natural-gas development after activists and scientists linked the drilling to tainted water and increased air emissions, Executive Director Michael Brune said yesterday in an interview. The group turned down $30 million from Chesapeake after he took over in 2010, he said. 

“Five years ago most environmental groups thought of gas as a clean but flawed alternative” to coal, Brune said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast with reporters and editors in Washington. “The more we heard from people” with water issues “the more we realized that there were more problems with gas than we thought.”

The American Lung Association, which like the Sierra Club got donations from Chesapeake, is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to force gas drillers to cut down on methane emissions, calling for tougher rules even as industry asks to weaken the standards. Those EPA rules are now being reviewed by the White House.

Taken together, the calls show that fracking is becoming toxic for Washington-focused environmental groups, which once backed cheap natural gas as a way to push out coal-fired power plants and cut the carbon-dioxide emissions scientists blame for causing climate change

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