An Open Letter to President Obama from Gasland Director Josh Fox
Dear President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Moniz, Heather Zichal and Valerie Jarrett,
I write to request a meeting with you and families directly impacted by oil and gas drilling and fracking—as documented in Gasland Part II—together with a small group of scientists and engineers who are also featured in the film. We would like to discuss health and economic impacts felt by communities located near the oil and gas fields, share our first-hand stories, and provide you with evidence on rates of well leakage, water contamination, air pollution and methane emissions.
We are aware that your administration has met with the natural gas industry and their representatives and lobbyists many times. We now ask you to meet with us: representatives of those suffering from unconventional drilling and fracking, and members of the scientific community who wish to inform you of the perils of this unprecedented push to drill.
We believe that the natural gas industry has not been forthcoming with your administration about the real effects of drilling and fracking on our water, air, land, climate, public health and safety—and on democracy itself. As such, we seek to discuss with you the dark side of fracking, a perspective that has not yet been presented to you with adequate weight or emphasis.
In 2008, when I was offered a gas lease on my land in the upper Delaware River watershed in Pennsylvania, I decided to investigate the effects of drilling and fracking around the nation. That investigation became the documentary Gasland. While filming, I discovered widespread water contamination, air pollution, methane leakage, land scarring and massive industrialization of previously rural, suburban or urban areas. Most disturbingly of all, I discovered in the gasfields of America people who had lost control of their lives, their communities and their human and civil rights.
Although I had never before made a documentary, Gasland was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, picked up by HBO, nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary and received four Emmy nominations—winning one for my direction. The film has been aired on television in over 30 countries to an estimated audience of 50 million people.
I have now made a second film, Gasland Part II, which covers a new form of contamination—the capture of our regulatory agencies by the oil and gas industry. I document industry’s undue influence on your administration as well as on state and local regulators whose job is to protect the public health and safety. A striking pattern emerges: Time and again, regulators investigating citizens’ concerns determine the gas development operation nearby is a clear cause of water contamination, only to walk away after protest from industry reaches an uncomfortable pitch. The film’s portrayal of the exclusion of “we the people” from the dialogue about the future of energy in the United States should concern you. Gasland Part II premieres July 8, on HBO.
We thus respectfully request a meeting with you. More specifically, I wish to introduce you to members of seven families from disparate regions across the nation who have all had their lives ruined by drilling and fracking operations. These families are emblematic. They represent thousands of people who have had their basic rights trampled by drilling on nearby properties and by the attendant gas refining and delivery infrastructure. These citizens include—
- The Lipsky family in Texas, whose water was contaminated and made flammable by Range Resources;
- The Gee family in Pennsylvania, who, after four generations, were forced off their land by a six-well horizontal drill pad built by Shell on a neighboring property;
- The Fenton family in Wyoming, who have been battling Canadian drilling giant Encana and who are now suffering health problems from the air and water contamination around their house;
- The Tillman family of Dish, Texas, who were forced by polluted air to move from the town that Mr. Tillman was serving as mayor;
- The Switzer and Ely familes of Dimock, Pennsylvania, whose water was shown to be contaminated by both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection—only to receive a roller coaster ride of broken promises by both agencies; and
- The Bevins family from West Virginia, whose son CJ was killed on a drilling pad in New York as a result of an unsafe drilling site, and whose campaign has helped alert the country that workers in the oil and gas industry are seven times more likely to die on the job than workers in other industries.
In addition, I would like you to meet with the scientists in the film: Dr. Tony Ingraffea, Dr. Robert Howarth and Professor Mark Z. Jacobson.
Dr. Ingraffea from Cornell University, a former oil and gas industry researcher, will explain how the industry is incapable of ensuring the integrity of wells being drilled and how the industry's own science shows that wells are leaking at high rates, contaminating our country's precious groundwater. Dr. Howarth, also of Cornell, will describe how the release of methane, one of our most potent greenhouse gases, into the air from fracking and natural gas production render the use of fracked gas even more deleterious to the climate than burning coal. Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program, will explain that there is a way forward for America that is free of fossil fuels. As he and his colleagues have documented in a groundbreaking study, wind, water and solar resources available to us right now make it possible for our nation to claim true energy independence and protect the health and safety of the generations to come.
America has been forever changed by the sense of grassroots collective drive that your election in 2008 instilled in us as a nation. The grassroots movement that has sprung up across the country and across the world against fracking has all the enthusiasm, positivity, sense of history, endurance and resolve as the one that elected you our President. When speaking to your grassroots campaign staff in 2012, you reminded them that the only way to fight the enormous influence of corporate cash and power in the election was the strength of "neighbor talking to neighbor," of communities coming together to fight for what is right. That is exactly what the grassroots movement against fracking is made of: people fighting for their communities locally, with an eye on the bigger global challenges ahead. Above all, we are a movement of people, not corporations; we are a movement of neighbors who care deeply about the places we live and about this country as a whole. We believe that it is your desire to put the people's interests at the forefront of your political message and it is in this spirit that we ask you to meet with us.
President Obama, we support you. We support your earnest desire to fight climate change, but the science shows that your embrace of natural gas will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish in your plan. And the violation of health and property rights that inexorably accompany drilling and fracking operations undermines any claim of energy independence.
We urge you to meet with us as you have met with the gas industry. We are on your side. We do not wish to see your legacy inscribed by fracking chemicals in the ground, high levels of emissions and pollution in the air, ruined families, broken shards of the American dream and the terror felt by millions as the drilling industry descends on lands in 34 states. Do not let your legacy be a switch from coal to gas, a Pyrrhic victory, an exchange of one form of climate-killing pollution for another that, over its entire lifecycle, is just as calamitous. Instead, ground your energy policy in careful science and let your legacy include hearing the people out.
In the name of fairness and democracy, we implore that you meet with us, as you have met with the oil and gas industry.
We look forward to your reply. Thank you for considering this request.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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