As hundreds of California oil and gas wells undergo dangerous hydraulic fracturing without government oversight, environmental advocates went to court today to force the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry to abide by the state’s foremost law that protects public health and the environment.
The lawsuit filed today in Alameda County Superior Court charges that the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has failed to consider or evaluate the risks of fracking, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Although DOGGR is the state agency charged with regulating all oil and gas well activity in California, the agency admits it has not permitted or monitored its impacts and has never formally evaluated the potential environmental and health effects of the practice, even as it continues to approve new permits for oil and gas wells.
“Right now, the people of California don’t know where or when the drillers are fracking, what chemicals they are using, what pollutants they’re releasing into the air and water, and what other risks they are taking. That’s because the state hasn’t required them to disclose any information on fracking activities,” said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. “Public outcry has finally forced the department to take a look at fracking. They’ve held workshops and say they’re considering regulations. But the problem needs attention now before too much damage is done.”
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a controversial procedure used by drillers in California to extract deposits of oil and gas from depleted wells or from geologic formations where conventional drilling is ineffective. Hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water are mixed with toxic chemicals [and silica sand] and injected down each well at high pressure, fracturing the underground rock formation to force the oil or gas to flow to the surface. The Western States Petroleum Association estimates that more than 600 California wells were fracked in 2011 alone. Fracking has been used in California for more than 50 years. Fracking is also associated with large releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
“By turning a blind eye to fracking, California officials are letting oil companies endanger our air, our water and our climate,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “If the oil industry fracks the 14 billion barrels of unconventional oil in the Monterey Shale, they’ll light the fuse on a carbon bomb that will demolish California’s efforts to fight climate change.”
Other parts of the country are in the midst of a fracking-enabled drilling rush. Along with this rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters, earthquakes and explosions.
“Across the United States, concerned citizens have brought to light the health and safety problems from fracking—such as air pollution and water pollution,” said Bill Allayaud, California director of governmental affairs at Environmental Working Group. “It is unacceptable that state regulators have done almost nothing to govern, or even investigate, the risks associated with fracking even though they have been aware of its use for more than five decades.”
California wells have been pumping oil for more than one hundred years. As more easily exploited petroleum deposits have been used up and prices have climbed, oil companies have turned to fracking to increase production. Enticed by claims that more than 14 billion barrels of oil are trapped in the Monterey and Santos shale formations, oil and gas companies have commenced an exploratory drilling and fracking campaign beneath central and southern California. These shale formations span 1,700 square miles across the San Joaquin Valley to the Pacific Ocean, including the Los Angeles basin, a region crisscrossed with active earthquake faults.
“The state is risking California's public health and environment by refusing to apply CEQA to fracking,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks. "Without it, the public is in the dark about fracking’s impacts on our health and environment. It's time for the oil and gas industry, and state regulators, to stop denying fracking’s negative impacts and start working to prevent them."
Under current DOGGR policy, the agency has been rubber stamping oil and gas drilling activity, declaring it exempt from environmental review or issuing “negative declarations” that such activity will have “no significant effect” on the environment, without any study or mention of the potential impacts from fracking.
“Burning fossil fuels has taken its toll on our planet for far too long. Now the desperate search for the last remaining drops of oil has reached a scale that threatens to add even more burden. All the while, the state regulators responsible for oversight have been too slow to respond,” said Jim Metropulos, senior advocate at Sierra Club California.
The California Environmental Quality Act, signed into state law by Governor Reagan, is a cornerstone of environmental protection in the state. The coalition of environmental advocates is asking the court to declare DOGGR in violation of CEQA for its failure to consider, evaluate and mitigate the impacts of fracking when approving permits for oil and gas wells.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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