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America’s Fracking Boom Looks More Like a Blip According to European Study

Energy

By Sharon Kelly

The fracking boom has progressed at breakneck speed across the U.S., with roughly one in 20 Americans now living within a mile of a well drilled since 2000.

So, how much has the economy benefitted from this drilling surge?

Not much, according to a report presented to the European Union Parliament last month, which found "no evidence that shale gas is driving an overall manufacturing renaissance in the U.S.”

Shale basins and potential shale plays in Europe.

The shale boom’s economic contributions are very narrow, inflating local economies in places where drilling is intense but generating little impact on the country’s overall economic growth, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, a French think tank, concluded.

Although natural gas prices have fallen from their highs in 2008, benefitting consumers, those low levels are unlikely to be sustained and the U.S. is still expected to remain heavily reliant on importing crude oil, the researchers found.

Even using very optimistic assumptions, the report said, the industry’s cumulative long term effect on America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be less than one percent. “Despite very low and ultimately unsustainable short-term prices of natural gas, the unconventional oil and gas revolution has had a minimal impact on the U.S. macro-economy,”

That’s not the amount that shale gas will add to the economy each year, the researchers said. Instead, the industry will make up no more than 0.84 percent of total GDP between 2012 and 2035—the years when the shale boom is projected to be at its height. To put that in context, the personal care products industry (hair styling, cosmetics and the like) contributed 1.4 percent of GDP in 2010—nearly double the impact that the EU report found the shale gas rush could have.

Although shale gas promoters have promised a rebirth of American manufacturing thanks to the drilling frenzy, the European analysts found that the benefits have mostly been felt by a small slice of the chemical industry, the petrochemicals industry.

The analysis also threw cold water on the idea that natural gas will help decrease America’s carbon dioxide emissions or help combat climate change. “Absent further policies, the U.S. shale revolution will not lead to a significant, sustained decarbonization of the U.S. energy mix nor will it assure U.S. energy security,” the researchers wrote.

Although projections showed that policy change could potentially drive a shift from coal to natural gas, such a plan also “locks the U.S. in” to a carbon-intensive infrastructure. And if current policies remain in place, emissions will be “stagnant at current levels out to 2040, clearly insufficient for a reasonable U.S. contribution to global climate change mitigation.”

The costs of the drilling boom have been well documented. State regulators have struggled to keep pace with the oil and gas industry, and the country is now dotted with sites where land or water were contaminated by spills and other accidents, where gas wells, trains or pipelines have exploded, or where locals say air and water pollution has left them with a range of health problems.

Even the CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, has objected to the industry’s arrival in his own neighborhood, citing traffic jams and harm to property values.

But the new and woefully under-reported European study undermines the two major upshots that proponents of drilling have put forward—economic gains and a lower carbon footprint.

The European report only focuses on one greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and does not touch on the impacts of a second, more potent greenhouse gas: methane.

Although natural gas produces carbon dioxide when it burns (about 50 to 60 percent as much as coal), scientists have warned that the harm to the climate done when unburned natural gas, which is primarily methane, leaks out into the atmosphere could decimate climate benefits from switching away from other fossil fuels and burning natural gas instead—especially when the effects that will be felt within our lifetimes are concerned, since methane’s global warming effects are at their strongest during the first few decades after it leaks to the atmosphere.

The shale boom’s marginal economic benefits come as little surprise to some analysts. “[D]ue to the size of the U.S. economy, it has always been unrealistic to expect shale gas to move the needle much,” said Bill Powers, energy investor, analyst, and author of the book, Cold, Hungry and in the Dark. “Since so much of our economy is service-related, tech, finance, healthcare and education, I have always been very skeptical of the claims of large economic impact.”

There are profound policy implications if the shale gas rush can generate only small economic benefits. The hope that the fuel could help bring back factory jobs to the U.S. has fed the Obama administration’s support for the shale gas rush. “Businesses plan to invest almost a hundred billion dollars in new factories that use natural gas,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address as he praised shale’s contributions to the economy.

But researchers from the International Monetary Fund say that chemical company investment plans have less to do with the shale gas rush, and more to do with a bounce-back from the 2008 market crash, dropping currency exchange rates and the downwards pressure on American wages. "You had so much slack in the labor market in the recession," Prakash Loungoni, head of commodities research at the IMF told National Geographic. "Work wage demands are pretty moderate in the [United States.]"

In other words, even if shale gas does help bring back some manufacturing jobs, don’t expect those jobs to be high-paying.

Shale industry supporters often cite the sheer number of jobs created by the boom. But the estimates that politicians cite often turn out to be overblown. Gov. Corbett (R-PA) recently found himself in hot water for his claim that drilling has created 200,000 jobs in his state. A recent analysis found that only 30,000 jobs could be directly linked to his state’s Marcellus shale rush, and that despite Gov. Corbett’s drill-baby-drill policies, job growth from Marcellus development has fallen roughly a third between 2010 and 2013.

“The amount of jobs created by the gas boom has been grossly overstated,” explained Powers.

The impacts are even less striking when the ripple effects from drilling are taken into account. “[E]very gas-related job that was created in Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania and other states has probably resulted in a coal-related job that has been lost,” Powers added. “More importantly, the shale gas boom has greatly hampered job growth in the renewable sector.”

Prospects for shale gas in the European Union look even bleaker, the European researchers concluded.

The researchers honed in on the uncertainty surrounding exactly how much shale gas lays beneath European countries, noting that the continent has seen little drilling compared to North America, and so oil and gas companies know relatively little about Europe’s shale formations.

Using middle-of-the-road assumptions, the researchers concluded that shale gas could potentially supply between three and 10 percent of Europe’s natural gas, meaning that the continent would still be heavily dependent on imports.

This means that shale gas will be no panacea for Europe. “To solve its energy, climate and manufacturing competitiveness challenges, the EU thus needs a broad strategy of energy efficiency, innovation, low carbon energy sources and a stronger internal market.”

That may prove to be a much more reliable plan than staking the future on shale gas, whose promised benefits increasingly seem like mostly smoke and mirrors.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

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Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.