Does 'Powering Forward' Advise Obama to Frack Our Way to a Clean Energy Economy?
In a new 203-page report, Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America, former Democratic Gov. of Colorado Bill Ritter has published his recommendations to President Obama for how to transform our nation into a “clean energy economy” and fight climate change.
Ritter, who heads the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and his colleagues interviewed scores of business leaders, industry professionals and other energy “thought leaders” to come up with the recommendations that were splashed across the media today.
The report is chock full of extraordinary advice to Obama on many non-natural-gas topics related to clean energy (all too numerous to mention here), but unfortunately the major underpinning of the report is still using natural gas as a “transition fuel to a clean energy economy” (read page 87 of the reprot). The most illuminating graph in the whole report is on page 46 where it shows the clear and remarkable trend in the U.S. away from coal and towards natural gas for our energy supply.
Ritter, of course, knows this trend well—it was a key talking point for his 2006 successful run for Governor, and during his only term he championed a “fuel switching” policy which closed down Colorado coal plants and replaced them with natural gas.
A few years later, however, the oil and gas fracking boom across the Denver to Fort Collins Front Range of Colorado has lit off a firestorm of public controversy causing five cities (representing more than 400,000 citizens) to essentially ban fracking and putting Ritter’s policies (and his successor, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s) in the crosshairs of the public conflict.
In the report, Ritter sadly and unfortunately doubles-down on natural gas fracking:
- He calls for state-level regulation of drilling and fracking, as opposed to more federal oversight.
- He calls for more drilling and fracking on public owned lands, including vast stretches of Bureau of Land Management land in Colorado.
- He says there’s a “100-year supply” of natural gas in the U.S. at the same time ironically calling it a “transition fuel.”
- He calls for a large increase in the use of Natural Gas Vehicles, at the same time, ironically, saying we have an “oil addiction” that is accelerating climate change.
And on page 89, the report discusses the “Benefits” of natural gas fracking—a page of information that is simply not true. In fact in Colorado, our air is worse, our health is worse, our gas prices have not dropped dramatically, not enough new jobs have been created to ever justify the exploitation of health and environment, our communities are overrun with fracking impacts, climate change emissions are increasing and the problems with using/wasting/disposing of billions of gallons of toxic water are getting worse and worse.
And even more unfortunately, Ritter buys into the “rhetoric argument”—i.e., that the problem with fracking is that we environmentalists just don’t understand and aren’t educated.
On page 87, the report states:
A key recommendation that emerged from the CNEE stakeholder consultation on natural gas production—perhaps THE key recommendation—had less to do with the public policy and more to do with public discourse. It was the need to build greater trust and a sense of joint mission among government, the natural gas industry, the environmental community, other public-interest stakeholders and the general public.
Seventeen pages of the report are dedicated to “Robust and Responsible Natural Gas Production,” and many other pages and chapters point to how natural gas can help fight climate change. The report also—and perhaps hopefully—tries to point out that we need a “zero emissions policy” on methane leaks so as to address one of the problems with increased climate change emissions from natural gas.
But ultimately this report is underpinned by just more frackaholics from a growing and unsettling trend in frackademia. For god’s sakes, even British Petroleum has now stated that oil and gas fracking will increase climate change emissions, not decrease it. Further yet, the report repeats the now weary statements about how gas fracking will make the U.S. “energy independent,” when in fact the opposite is true.
What we’ve really found in Colorado is that we citizens are now nearly 100 percent dependent on global, predatory, fossil fuel corporations that are hell-bent on destroying our air, water and climate. In fact, during the November 2013 elections—in which I was involved, and in which four cities essentially banned fracking—I was stunned at how the oil and gas industry would pretty much say and do anything to anybody as well as spend nearly $1 million to try and ram cancer-causing fracking chemicals down our throats. Twenty thousand new wells are predicted to be drilled and fracked along the suburban areas of Colorado (adding to the 25,000 already here)—anyone who thinks that is a good idea is completely out of touch or being paid by the oil and gas industry.
Ritter’s report contains a trove of good information on topics unrelated to oil and gas fracking, and if he would have just left out the frackaholism, the report would have been an exceptional step forward. But here’s the real fact about clean energy that former Gov. Ritter should have said: Obama needs to pull our nation's head out of the sand and quit looking for fossil fuels underground, and instead raise our faces to the sky and that shining orb of real, clean energy—the sun.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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