You know what natural gas smells like. Or do you? Natural gas is actually odorless. That rotten-egg smell is added for safety reasons. Otherwise, you might not notice a potentially deadly gas leak.
If only we could add a similar smell to the natural gas industry. Too many people—especially politicians—aren't paying attention to the dangers of the current "boom" in natural gas development. Here are three big reasons why we should stop new gas drilling before it starts and replace fossil fuels at every opportunity with clean, renewable energy.
It starts with how we get gas out of the ground. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is problem number one. Frackers inject a toxic chemical cocktail underground under high pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas. A lot of that fluid comes back up the well as waste and, when it does, it's even more toxic than it started out.
People who live in areas where fracking is happening are outraged. They should be. What guarantee do they have that their drinking water won't be affected by fracking? None. How do they know that toxic wastewater from fracking will be disposed of in a way that ensures it won't contaminate aquifers ten, twenty or thirty years from now? They don't.
In fact, a ProPublica investigation has identified more than 1,000 cases of water contamination near drilling sites. The risks don't end when the drilling does, either. The question isn't whether abandoned wells and fracking-waste storage sites can leak, but how many will fail, and how soon it will happen. Yet, incredibly, fracking enjoys exemptions from parts of at least seven major national environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The rush to frack for natural gas has occurred with maximum greed and minimum oversight.
The next time someone tries to tell you that fracking is safe, ask them why, then, the industry spends so much money getting exemptions to our nation's environmental laws. Ask why the gas industry won't fully disclose exactly what's in the billions of gallons of water they are pumping into wells across the country. Ask why the gas industry fights so hard to enforce gag rules on local hospitals so that doctors can't talk about what chemicals are poisoning gas-drilling communities.
The Sierra Club believes no community should be forced to accept the risks of fracking. That's why we're working with local activists to support moratoriums on fracking in New York, Illinois and eight other states, as well as the right of local communities, like Longmont and Fort Collins in Colorado, to declare fracking off-limits within their borders.
That work's paying off, too: The New York State Assembly just last week passed legislation that would extend the moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state until May 2015. That victory is a credit to the passionate advocacy of citizens throughout the state who refuse to accept the premise that New York's countryside must be sacrificed for the sake of dirty-fuel profits. Together, we've also won the first round of a legal challenge to Pennsylvania's ACT 13 legislation, which similarly gives communities control over their own fate.
Moratoriums are important because, as currently practiced, fracking simply can't be considered safe. Take what's happening in Illinois. The Sierra Club and many other grassroots groups are fighting hard to get a moratorium in place because the frackers have not proven the safety of their process. But because of massive gas-industry lobbying, we do not yet have sufficient political support. With no regulations in place, and the frackers lining up, our local chapter joined an effort to develop rules that would prevent the worst abuses of the gas industry. And at one level they were successful—the proposed Illinois rules tighten some of the loopholes found in other states. But here's the thing: Even these improvements do not fully protect the health and safety of the good people of Illinois. In fact, no proposed legislation in any state currently does.
Although problem number one is how we get gas out of the ground, problem number two happens far above ground—in our atmosphere. Natural gas boosters like to claim that it is a climate-friendly energy source, supposedly because it's not as dirty as other fossil fuels. That's like saying it's safer to be attacked with a knife than a gun. If you end up dead, it's a moot point.
It's true that gas doesn't directly create as much carbon pollution as coal when it's burned, but that reality hides a larger story. Natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is an extremely powerful climate-disrupting gas all on its own (more than twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide).
We know that during the drilling and transportation of natural gas, methane leaks, but nobody knows exactly how much, because no comprehensive studies have yet been conducted. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that leakage rates are around 2.4 percent. However, a range of studies in recent years have called that figure into question. One of the most recent, from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research group, measured methane leakage from a Utah gas field (not even shale gas!) up to an astonishing nine percent, and that didn't even include leakage from distribution and transmission. Any leakage rate much greater than the EPA’s 2.4 percent would be enough to make gas worse than coal as a climate disruptor.
But even if drillers could magically eliminate all methane leakage, natural gas would still threaten our climate simply because there's so much of it. If we allow the industry to extract and burn all (or even most) of it, then we're looking at irreversible climate disruption. The International Energy Agency estimates that to have a shot at keeping global warming under 3.6°F (which is a risky target considering the damage we've already incurred with a little more than 1°F of warming), we need to keep two-thirds of our known oil, gas and coal reserves in the ground. That's all the reason we need to go "all-in" on clean energy.
And that points to one of the biggest secrets the gas industry is trying to keep—we don’t actually need all this fracked gas. Despite the industry's well-funded misinformation campaigns, the fact is that clean energy is already cheaper than dirty fuels in many places. At the retail level, installing solar on your home is cheaper than traditional utility power for many homes in 14 states. At the wholesale level, solar panel prices have dropped 80 percent in the past five years, and new solar projects are beating out new gas and coal in places like California and New Mexico. We installed more solar and wind energy last year in the U.S. than new gas, coal and nukes combined. Although clean energy is not yet cheaper than dirty fuels in every part of the country, solar and wind have a nice little side benefit: They don't destabilize our climate. Plus, the cost of clean power continues to drop, while the cost of fossil fuels goes up. We need to build on this progress, not undermine it.
That's going to be even tougher if we don't address problem number three—the burning desire of the industry to export U.S. natural gas to foreign markets in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). That would actually make both of the other two problems worse. Opening up more foreign markets to U.S. natural gas would lock us into long-term contracts that will require us to keep on fracking, regardless of how quickly we move to clean energy at home. And owing to the cooling and pressurizing that are required to make LNG, it would also compound the carbon pollution from natural gas.
Although LNG exports would boost the profits of natural gas producers, they would also mean higher energy prices for American consumers and industries and serious problems for our climate. That's why the Sierra Club Beyond Gas campaign is aggressively challenging permits for new LNG export facilities. Like coal-export terminals, these projects are long-term carbon-pollution disasters waiting to happen.
Fracking, climate and LNG exports are three reasons why we want to keep natural gas in the ground as much as possible, but it's important to note that the Sierra Club is as committed to developing long-term clean-energy solutions as it is to opposing dirty-fuel problems. Instead of replacing one dirty fossil fuel with another, we can move to clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. Together with upgrading our energy efficiency, that's what can free us from fossil fuels. We've already seen tremendous progress in the past four years, thanks to renewable energy standards, falling prices for solar and wind, innovative financing and (early in its first term) critical clean energy support from the Obama administration.
We need to maintain this clean-energy momentum. It's the only way we'll ever achieve "escape velocity" from the fossil fuel planet we've been stuck on for two hundred years. But the "get richer quicker" mentality behind the natural gas boom is trying to slow us down and drag us back to a world that runs almost entirely on dirty fuels.
What's that smell? It's not natural gas—it's greed.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›
A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
- Trump Admin Denies Endangered Species Protections to Pacific ... ›
- Trump Admin Failed to Protect 241 Species From Extinction ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
- 8 Ways to Tell if You Are Vitamin D Deficient - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common ›
Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
- Could the Climate Crisis Spell the End for Maine Lobster? - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Reasons Why Biodiversity Matters - EcoWatch ›
- World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass ... ›
- The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect - EcoWatch ›