An Inside Look at the Fight to Stop Fracking in Michigan
With nothing short of a cultural shift at stake, Michigan’s second Common Ground retreat, held June 1-2, was bittersweet—and everyone knew it. Sixty-some activists representing 40-some groups working to end fracking in Michigan—or, if not calling for an outright ban, then calling to take pause and scrutinize the process using the precautionary principle—took part.
How can a group of chemical engineers, social workers, active and retired teachers, artists, carpenters and lawyers impact an industry that has been expanding its power and writing its own rules since J.D. Rockefeller had his men park abandoned railroad cars on the tracks of his competitors during the first oil boom of the 1800s? After all, Ida Tarbell’s landmark 1904 History of Standard Oil didn’t stop the building of an oil and gas empire. What can a loosely tied but committed group of activists, over a hundred years later, do to stop an industry bent on unconventional and perhaps even more destructive methods?
It may sound overly simplistic, but first and foremost, they can support each other with their commitment and their presence.
It’s no surprise in a state defined by water—Michigan has over 12,000 lakes and an oft quoted saying, “You’re never more than six miles from a lake”—that water was a repeated theme as new grassroots groups, such as Don’t Frack West Michigan and Citizens for Responsible Resource Management, introduced themselves alongside 30-year veterans such as the Kalamazoo River Protection Association and Muskegon’s Save Our Shoreline.
“Because we have the Great Lakes all around and under us, we should be the first ones out there protecting water,” said Misty Shehan of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC). MCWC have made themselves known since they won a case widely known as the “Nestle case,” challenging and eventually limiting water withdrawals made by Nestle’s (formerly Ice Mountain) bottled water operation. Then along came fracking.
Frack wells in Michigan are using eight to 21 million gallons of fresh water per horizontal run, water that frackers are allowed to draw at no cost other than the cost of drilling a water well on the frack well pad. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) assures the public that water withdrawals are monitored by a software tool called the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT), but the WWAT is not a legally binding regulation.
The problem, according to Common Ground’s most experienced water researchers, might be phrased this way: The WWAT doesn’t do squat. Which brings Common Ground to a task their predecessors in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio have learned well: They have some myth busting to do.
“The DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and the DEQ are not the watchdogs the public thinks they are. They facilitate the industry and powerful lobbyists, whether that’s timber or oil and gas," said Joanne Crowley, co-founder of Don’t Frack Michigan. "And they’re making a lot of money off Michigan’s water and resources.”
“We’re not going to let the DEQ keep us trapped in their ‘There’s never been any contamination due to hydraulic fracturing in Michigan’ argument," added JoAnne Beemon, co-founder of Don’t Frack Michigan. "Every time a well is fracked, millions of gallons of water are contaminated and then removed from the Great Lakes hydrological cycle—forever.”
Neither is Common Ground going to be divided by the industry’s or the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s messages that environmental groups working to ban fracking in Michigan are “irresponsible” extremists. The group discussed the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ban effort in depth and affirmed the need to support all strategies—since securing a moratorium or putting restrictions on local truck traffic or providing all-important images and stories from communities affected by fracking are each important steps toward getting the public to support a turn away from fracking and other fossil fuel extraction methods.
In short, Michigan is heeding the warnings they’ve heard about divisiveness.
They heard it from Cal Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, TX, featured in Gasland, when he visited northern Michigan in August 2012 with pictures, maps and confirmation of the industry’s typical density once the shale operations prove productive. “Only the industry benefits if you’re divided,” Tillman told attendees.
They heard it from Kevin Heatley, a Pennsylvania restoration ecologist who lives above the Marcellus shale. “The industry’s right about one thing,” he said in Lansing. “Fracking is going to fundamentally change everything you know and value about your communities, and you’d better be ready.”
Paul Brady, who along with Matt Wandel developed the website respectmyplanet.org, demonstrated the site’s capability. At the February meeting, the site was in the design stages. Now the site functions as a one-stop source for photographs, video clips, oil and gas leasing maps and MDEQ permits for frack well sites around the state.
Aaron Wissner, a middle school computer applications teacher and founder of Local Future, put the work of the second retreat in perspective. “I’m trying to share the things I can do, right here, right now, to make state-wide sharing and communication easier.” By the end of day two, Wissner had helped each of five newly formed work groups organize a web space to do just that: Share research and resources with ease.
As hugs marked the close of another long but mostly productive weekend, Beemon joked, “I wish our signs could say, ‘Save our water.’ ‘Save our air.’ ‘Save our democracy.’”
But, thanks to the support building in the larger group, no single group needs to do or say it all.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.