Fracking Our Future: Shale Gas Industry Targets College Campuses, K-12 Schools
By Steve Horn
On Sept. 27, the PA House of Representatives—in a 136-62 vote—passed a bill that allows fracking to take place on the campuses of public universities. Its Senate copycat version passed in June in a 46-3 vote and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law as Act 147 on Oct. 8.
The bill is colloquially referred to as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act. It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Don White, one of the state's top recipients of oil and gas industry funding between 2000-April 2012, pulling in $94,150 during that time frame, according to a recent report published by Common Cause PA and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. Corbett has taken more than $1.8 million from the oil and gas industry since his time serving as the state's Attorney General in 2004.
The Corbett Administration has made higher education budget cuts totaling more than $460 million in the past two consecutive PA state budgets. The oil and gas industry has offered fracking as a new fundraising stream at universities starved for cash and looking to fill that massive cash void, as explained by The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Half of the fees and royalties generated by leases of State System of Higher Education lands would be retained by the university where the resources are located. Thirty-five percent would be allocated to other state universities. The remaining 15 percent would be used for tuition assistance at all 14 schools.
Some professors aren't exactly thrilled with this notion.
"I've become extremely concerned, disturbed, and disgusted by the environmental consequences of fracking," a professor at Lock Haven University told Mother Jones in a recent article. "They've had explosions, tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals spilled. And we're going to put this on campus?"
Mother Jones' Sydney Brownstone also explained that Pennsylvania isn't the only state playing this game, writing:
A couple of colleges in West Virginia have leased their land to fracking companies, and Ohio has a similar law to Pennsylvania's. The University of Texas also makes money from natural gas well pads on its land, and even installed one 400 feet away from a daycare center at its Arlington campus.
Yet even these details are merely the tip of the iceberg, as fracking has occured close to K-12 schoolyards for years, with accompanying devastating health consequences.
From Campuses to Schoolyards in TX, NY and CO
As with fracking directly on campus, the gas industry knows no geographical bounds when deciding to extract shale gas close to K-12 schools. Three states serve as case studies.
Perhaps the most tragic state of affairs can be found in Le Roy, New York, a city with roughly 7,600 citizens, at Le Roy Middle School and High School. CNN reported on Le Roy in Feb. 2012:
There are six natural gas wells on school grounds...Two of these wells spilled liquid onto the ground killing trees and vegetation right in the area of the wellheads...It's where every day, students play, do sports, practice their sports, right there on school grounds...This is definitely of concern to experts and parents I've been talking to.
Susan Dominus of The Times wrote:
"Teachers shut their classroom doors when they heard a din of outbursts, one cry triggering another, sending the increasingly familiar sounds ricocheting through the halls. Within a few months, as the camera crews continued to descend, the community barely seemed to recognize itself."
Erin Brockovich, the attorney and movie namesake famous for winning a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for over $300 million in the 1990's for contaminating groundwater with hexavalent chromium - a known carcinogen according to the Centers for Disease Control - has decided to take up this case, as well. "We don't have all the answers, but we are suspicious," she told USA Today. "The community asked us to help and this is what we do."
In Feb. 2011, the gas industry made an offer to put several wells a few blocks away from a school located in the Fort Worth Independent School District. The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods proceeded with a counter-offer of its own, demanding wells stay at least a mile from K-12 schools.
Studies showed "high levels of carbon disulfide found near three FWISD schools," explained a report by CBS Dallas-Fort Worth in Feb. 2011. "Carbon disulfide is a colorless, volatile liquid linked to respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems."
Further, Argyle, TX has approved 36 fracking wells, all of them sitting smack dab in the middle of the tiny city's (population 3,282) elementary school, middle school and high school. Drilling rigs sit right across the street from Cotulla High School in Cotulla, TX and three sit behind the Selwyn School in Denton, TX, right next to a playground.
In a June article, DeSmogBlog described Erie, CO as a key hub of the anti-fracking battle. EnCana Oil and Gas Corporation, we explained, plans to frack for shale gas near three local schools and a childcare center in Erie: Red Hawk Elementary, Erie Elementary, Erie Middle School and Exploring Minds Childcare Center.
Erie has welcomed EnCana with open arms.
"This encroachment of residential areas has really woken up a grassroots revolt of regular Coloradans who are standing up and saying don't come in my backyard," Sam Schabacker, mountain west region director for Food and Water Watch told us in an interview back in June. "And that's really what's going on in Erie. This is Exhibit A of how the gas industry has cavelierly expanded into residential areas against the wishes of local governments and regular Coloradans."
By contrast, explained the Advocates, "it is illegal in Colorado to idle a vehicle for more than five minutes within 1,000 feet of a school—but you can drill for oil and gas, spewing potentially toxic chemicals into the air, as long as you aren't closer than 350 feet."
A University of Colorado School of Public Health study published in March demonstrated the grave risks associated with spending most of one's time near fracking operations, as explained by the Advocates:
People living within a half-mile of oil and gas fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants at a level that is five times higher than the federal hazard standard. Researchers found a number of potentially toxic chemicals in the air near the wells, including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. The chemicals could lead to neurological or respiratory effects that include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing.
These realities, at least thus far, haven't slowed the industry's gas rush nor have they served as a red flag for the Colorado government enabling these activities.
Fracking With "Reckless" Abandon, No Known Boundaries
In an Oct. 15 press release, John Armstrong, statewide grassroots coordinator at Frack Action, stated,
Fracking proponents continue their reckless and irresponsible push to frack even in the face of an overwhelming body of science showing that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment and consensus among experts and government agencies that we need more scientific study on fracking. Our water, air and health are priceless.
Given the state of play across the country for the gas industry, it's hard to disagree.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
By Ute Eberle
In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
Velella velella jellyfish living on the surface of the ocean.<p>But now, they face another — manmade — threat from nets designed to catch trash. A project called <a href="https://theoceancleanup.com/" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a>, run by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has raised millions of dollars in donations and sponsorship to deploy long barriers with nets that will drift across the ocean in open loops to sweep up floating garbage. </p>
Collecting With the Current<p>"Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable," <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/green-entrepreneur-sets-sights-on-great-pacific-garbage-patch/a-38855785" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a> declares on its website.</p><p>But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup's proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.</p><p>One focus of Helm's studies is where these organisms congregate. "There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we're trying to figure out why," says Helm.</p><p>One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. "Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life."</p>
Waste collection in the Pacific Ocean heralded by The Ocean Cleanup.<p>The Ocean Cleanup says Helm's concerns are based on "misguided assumptions."</p><p>"It's true that neustonic organisms will be trapped in the barriers," says Gerhard Herndl, professor of Aquatic Biology at the University of Vienna and one of project's scientific advisors. "But these organisms have dangerous lives. They're adapted to high losses because they get washed ashore in storms and they have high reproductive rates. If they didn't, they'd already be extinct."</p><p>Helm says they just don't know how quickly these creatures reproduce, and in any case recovering from passing storm is very different from surviving The Ocean Clean Up's systems which could be in place for years.</p>
Communication Breakdown<p>The Ocean Cleanup invited Helm to a symposium on the topic in December, where both sides presented their points of views and didn't seem to find much common ground. Since then, direct communication between them has stopped, says Helm. "They're not interested in talking to me anymore."</p><p>Both sides agree that much is still unknown about the neuston. But one thing that has been established is that most of the oceans' fish spend part of their lifecycle in the neuston. "More than 90% of marine fish species produce floating eggs that persist on the surface until hatching," Betti says.</p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has undertaken one of the few studies into this ecosystem, collecting data on the neuston on the relative abundance of neuston and floating plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Ocean during a 2019 expedition to the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where plastic pollution has accumulated on a vast scale. But it is not yet sharing what it has found. The information was being prepared for publication in an as of yet unspecified journal, probably some time next year, an Ocean Cleanup spokesperson said. </p>
Inshore Solution?<p>Helm believes the best way to tackle the marine plastic problem would be to position the barriers closer to land — across river mouths and bays — to catch garbage before it reaches the sea.</p><p>"Stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean is the most cost-effective — and literally effective — way to ensure that it's not entering our environment," she says. </p><p>As for the plastic already floating in open waters, she does not believe it is worth sacrificing parts of neuston and wants to see more research first. </p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has made barriers across rivers a part of its mission. But it is also going ahead with its original vision of pulling trash from the open water. In late 2018, the project deployed a 600-meter, u-shaped prototype net into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Great Pacific Garbage Patch</a>. </p><p>The system ran into difficulties, failing to retain plastic as hoped, and needing to be brought shore for repairs and a design upgrade, after which Ocean Cleanup says it gathered haul of plastic that it will recycle and resell to help fund future operations.</p><p>Over the next two years, the project hopes to deploy up to 60 such barriers to collect drifting flotsam. Helm isn't the only one concerned about these plans.</p><p><span></span>"We should think twice about every action we take in the sea," Betti says. "In nature, nothing is as easy as we think, and often, we've done a lot of damage while trying to do a good thing."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2646992655#/" target="_self"></a></em><em></em></p>
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
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