100+ March for Ban on Fracking and End to Democratic Governors Taking Dirty Money
Today a coalition led by Americans Against Fracking, 350.org, Democracy for America and Food & Water Watch, among others marched at the Spring Policy Conference of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) calling for a ban on fracking and demanding that the organization “Stop Taking Dirty Money,” citing the more than $3.5 million the DGA has taken from companies in the oil and gas industry since 2008, according to analysis out this week by Food & Water Watch.
The march takes place in the wake of new research released by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press that shows that nationally, only 33 percent of Democrats polled favor the increased use of fracking.
The march is the beginning of a summer-long effort with planned actions at other DGA meetings in Colorado and possibly other cities to pressure five governors in particular— Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn—who are currently facing stark opposition to efforts to frack for oil and gas in their states.
“While it’s not surprising that the oil and gas industry is supporting a political organization, what is surprising is how much their support of the DGA has increased in the past five years—contributions are up more than 140 percent between 2008 and 2012,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “We need to expose their support of this organization, many of whom are presently the key decision makers on whether or not fracking goes forward in their states.”
Maryland Gov. O’Malley, the host of the DGA’s Spring Policy Conference, has attracted criticism from activists for his failure to use science to guide his decision on opening up the state to fracking. Last April, the O’Malley-appointed Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued a draft report warning that fracking could have significant negative impacts in Maryland. Still, O’Malley and other Maryland leaders are pushing forward with drilling as if it is inevitable.
Opponents of fracking believe that through O’Malley’s alliance with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), an industry group led by representatives from CONSOL Energy, Shell, Chevron, EQT Corporation and the Environmental Defense Fund, the governor is promoting the idea of industry-sponsored self-regulation. This week, Americans Against Fracking, Democracy for America and MoveOn.org will deliver to O’Malley more than 3,000 petitions urging him to ban fracking.
"We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that fracking causes environmental destruction that risks the health and safety of entire communities,” said Jim Dean of Democract for America. “A handful of Democratic governors, including DGA Chair Gov. Peter Shumlin, have stepped up and led the charge to ban fracking in their states and they should be applauded. Other democratic governors need to be made aware that the people they're elected to govern want them to stop cozying up to the oil and gas industry and start proactively working to prevent fracking from poisoning drinking water, releasing potentially radioactive elements and jeopardizing our climate future."
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose presidential ambitions are a poorly kept secret, has faced fervent opposition to fracking. He recently deferred a decision on the future of fracking in New York to state health commissioners. Some New Yorkers have expressed concern with the process, stating that any review of the cumulative health impacts of fracking should take place in a transparent manner, not through backroom deals. A Siena College poll released this week found that more New Yorkers oppose fracking than support it, with 41 percent of respondents stating that are against the process.
Mike Hersh of Progressive Democrats of America and MoveOn said, "Democratic Party leaders must realize the base strongly opposes fracking. We need clean, green, 21st century energy. We don't want to trade clean water and air for natural gas."
In Illinois, a coalition of grassroots organizations recently urged Governor Pat Quinn and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to reject a bill that would lay the legal groundwork for fracking in the state, and instead pass a moratorium on the controversial energy extraction process. Although fracking is not currently taking place in Illinois, HB 2615 would bring regulatory certainty to the oil and gas industry and in effect open up the state to fracking. It would also endanger public health by establishing weak standards of operation for the oil and gas industry.
"Fracking raises genuine public health, safety, policy and environmental questions that have been completely pushed aside by energy industry influence. It is disheartening to see our elected officials so eager to take policy guidance from corporate donor interests and less so from the people who elected them. The problems facing America headed towards a 'fracking' future are very real and frightening and they won’t go away just because we put our heads in the sand or pass weak regulations," said Fred Tutman, Riverkeeper and CEO of the Patuxent Riverkeeper.
With 47,000 fracked wells throughout the state, and the oil and gas industry looking to substantially expand that number in the next decade, many consider Colorado the epicenter of fracking in the U.S. Earlier this year, residents of Longmont became the first in the state to ban the process and many other communities are now following suit. Yet, Governor Hickenlooper remains an ardent fan of fracking. Earlier this year, he testified before Congress against rules to regulate fracking on federal lands, opining that the government should leave decisions on the process up to the states.
Momentum against fracking is building on the West Coast too. In April, three bills that would halt the process in California won key votes despite intense pressure from the oil industry. Oil and gas wells have been fracked in at least nine California counties without fracking-specific regulation or even monitoring by state oil and gas officials.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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