By Brett Wilkins
Accusing California regulators of "reckless disregard" for public "health and safety," the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Thomas H. Goebel
The way companies drill for oil and gas and dispose of wastewater can trigger earthquakes, at times in unexpected places.
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; Oklahoma Geological Survey Get the data
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND. Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; U.S. Geological Survey Get the data
Satellite data shows the ground rising as much as 1.5 centimeters per year in parts of the San Ardo oil field. The line-of-sight velocity (LOS-VEL), as viewed from the satellite, shows how rapidly the ground surface is rising. Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis
The stresses from injecting water can trigger earthquakes several miles from the well itself. The blue triangles scale with each well's injection rate. Thomas Goebel/University of Memphis / CC BY-ND
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Bringing your own reusable grocery bags when you go shopping is one of the easiest ways to cut down on your plastic consumption — according to the UN Environment Program, up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used globally each year.The most sustainable option is to use a bag you already have, whether it's an old tote or a laundry basket (thank TikTok for that idea). You can also make your own reusable grocery bags out of T-shirts. But if you'd rather purchase designated reusable grocery bags, here are our recommendations.
ChicoBag<p>Standard reusable grocery bags — foldable cloth "green bags" that typically have company logos on them — are bulky, can't be machine washed, and tend to break down after a number of uses. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/ChicoBag-Original-Reusable-Shopping-Grocery/dp/B006WA9LRA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ChicoBag reusable grocery bags</a> solve these problems and more. They hold up to 25 pounds each, can be tossed in the wash, and stuff down into a tiny attached pouch that you can easily keep in your purse or the center console of your car until you need them.</p><p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 4.8 out of 5 stars with over 1,000 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why buy: </strong>Machine washable; Certified B Corp; Climate Neutral Certified; Supports 1% For the Planet; Fair Labor Association member
Lotus Sustainables<p>If you prefer bigger reusable grocery bags that add convenience to your shopping experience, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Trolley-COOLER-Reusable-Grocery-Eco-friendly/dp/B07WTLWF4Z?th=1" target="_blank">Lotus Trolley Bags</a> may be perfect for you. These bags fold flat and nestle in your cart so that you can sort items while you shop. There's a large insulated cooler bag, as well as two standard reusable shopping bags and a bag with pockets for wine bottles and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/brown-eggs-healthier-than-white-eggs-2314254330.html" target="_self">egg cartons</a>. Each can hold up to 50 pounds and has double-stitched seams for added durability.</p><p><strong>Customer rating: </strong>4.6 out of 5 stars with over 3,000 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why buy:</strong> Machine washable; Removable rod for non-cart use; Supports 1% for the Planet
BAGGU<p>For another versatile option, try the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N4D829J?tag=ecowatch-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Baggu Standard Reusable Shopping Bag</a>. This product is modeled after a conventional <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/thailand-plastic-bag-ban-2643538829.html" target="_self">plastic grocery bag</a> but is made with 40% recycled ripstop fabric. Baggu reusable bags can carry up to 50 pounds but stuff down into a five-inch internal pocket for carrying.</p><p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 4.7 out of 5 stars with over 50 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why buy:</strong> Machine washable; Made with 40% recycled materials; Ethically manufactured; Packaging made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified material
Ecodunia<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Ecodunia-Canvas-Tote-Women-Eco-Conscious/dp/B08LY82NYW/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Ecodunia&qid=1613051665&sr=8-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ecodunia's reusable bags</a> have a sturdier feel than most products on this list. The canvas used to make each bag is produced from 100% renewable resources and natural cotton, plus they have long handles for comfortable carrying over your shoulder. Ecodunia's fun prints will likely make you want to use these bags for more than carting groceries, but they're great for a weekend trip to the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/farmers-markets-coronavirus-safety-2645581711.html" target="_self">farmers market</a>.</p><p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 5 out of 5 stars with under 5 Amazon reviews</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>Made from natural cotton; Machine washable; Handmade; Provides dignified work for communities in Kenya </p>
Simple Ecology<p>Another canvas bag option comes from <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Ecology-Reusable-Shopping-Certified/dp/B086Z7XQ79?ref_=ast_sto_dp" target="_blank">Simple Ecology</a>. This brand's eco-friendly grocery bags are made with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton and feature pop-out sleeves for more fragile goods and double-stitched seams for extra reinforcement. The large size has about the same capacity as a grocer's paper bag. Simple Ecology also has a reusable bag <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6AUMBG/ref=sspa_dk_detail_2?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B01N6AUMBG&pd_rd_w=MA3ZS&pf_rd_p=cbc856ed-1371-4f23-b89d-d3fb30edf66d&pd_rd_wg=hVunQ&pf_rd_r=G6RTQ1Z5DKEY325MAJZ9&pd_rd_r=5d298b3a-1be7-4ebd-a9e1-d5d672a40497&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUExMzc4RVAxWjNLOTdCJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwNTc0NTAwMzBDMjFYOVJPTUpWSCZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwNjYyOTM4M0s4Vk81SVBPS1NFSyZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2RldGFpbF90aGVtYXRpYyZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=" target="_blank">starter kit</a> that comes with a tote and several reusable produce bags.</p> <p><strong>Customer Rating: </strong>4.6 out of 5 stars with over 900 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why Buy:</strong> GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable; Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified packaging when purchased from manufacturer
BagPodz<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/BagPodz-Reusable-Bag-Storage-System/dp/B00QJ9PBBY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">BagPodz Reusable Shopping Bags</a> are all about convenience. You can get a pack of five or 10 bags, all of which fit in a low-profile "pod" that can be stored for use on the go. When at the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/vancouvers-grocery-store-plastic-bags-2638807121.html" target="_self">grocery store</a>, the pod clips to your cart and has an easy-dispense pocket for when it's time to check out. After use, just stuff them back into the pod. BagPodz reusable bags are made with Bluesign® certified materials, which means they're manufactured sustainably.</p> <p><strong>Customer Rating:</strong> 4.8 out of 5 stars with over 2,000 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why Buy: </strong>Machine washable; Made with Bluesign certified material
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By Emily Pontecorvo and Naveena Sadasivam
On a spring weekend morning a few weeks ago, Judy Kelly stepped outside of her house in Broomfield, Colorado, to grab the newspaper when her nose perked up. It smelled like something was burning.
An excerpt from an email sent to the city by a resident concerned about the Livingston fracking site.
Broomfield vs. Extraction<p>The unsettling bind that the stay-at-home order put many residents in was not lost on Laurie Anderson, a Broomfield city councilwoman who lives just half a mile from the fracking site in another neighborhood called Anthem Highlands. The night Governor Polis' order came down, a special meeting of the city council was scheduled to <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/10m9nX3vilG4IEOl0zJdfMsKIZz68jte8/view" target="_blank">discuss</a> the potential dangers of work continuing at the Livingston site during the pandemic. The council decided to draft a proposal ordering Extraction to postpone flowback — a process where the chemical-laden water used to fracture open the shale flows back to the surface and must be collected, treated, and disposed of — until the stay-at-home order was lifted.</p><p>"The thought was to protect these residents, to delay flowback, understanding that it has to happen because they've already fracked these wells," said Anderson, who is also an organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a national advocacy group that fights polluters. "It was only going to delay them for a couple weeks."</p><p>Of particular concern was Anthem Ranch, where the median age is 70 years old. The city's public health staff drafted up an order and included <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vLyFee6vdXi_uaZliyDRYTkdKP1wmHoE/view" target="_blank">data</a> showing that people over 65 are more susceptible to COVID-19 complications, that the top symptom reported by older Broomfield residents in the city's <a href="https://broomfield.org/2842/File-an-Immediate-Concern" target="_blank">oil and gas complaint system</a> was "anxiety/stress," and that stress and anxiety are linked to poor health outcomes in general.</p><p>But two days later, before the council could discuss the draft proposal, Extraction headed them off at the pass. The company secured a temporary restraining order from the Seventeenth Judicial District Court in Colorado, which prohibited the city from halting or delaying its operations. According to court documents, Extraction alleged that the city was acting in bad faith, trying to "shut down Extraction's operations not because they pose any real health risk, but because they are unpopular." Then, on March 30, the company filed an official complaint with the district court against the city, seeking damages for a breach of contract.</p><p>It's true that this was far from the first time Broomfield had tried to interfere with Extraction's … extraction. The city has battled the company at every stage of the drilling process in response to complaints from residents about odors, health symptoms, and <a href="https://www.kunc.org/post/broomfield-tried-limiting-oil-and-gas-noise-now-company-pushing-back-0#stream/0" target="_blank">noise</a>.</p>
An excerpt from an email sent to the city by a resident concerned about the Livingston fracking site.
‘Why Didn’t You Protect Us?’<p>Leading up to that final vote, the city council was flooded with emails begging them to forge ahead with the public health order. After it decided to drop the issue, community members were on edge. Kelly said she understands why the city did what it did. But others are incredibly frustrated with the outcome. "I get so many calls from people that say, 'why didn't you protect us?'" she said. "They're so concerned about their health that they would have rather seen us in court."</p><p>One concern is what residents will do in case there is an emergency, like a major emissions release or an explosion like the one in Weld County. The Broomfield police department has told families that live within a half-mile of the site to keep a bag packed in case an evacuation is necessary. But Elizabeth Lario is not sure where her family would go. Under normal circumstances, the city's emergency shelter is its recreation center, but as long as social distancing is necessary, that no longer feels like a safe option. "The evacuation plan is to wait and hear what the evacuation plan is," Lario said.</p>
An excerpt from an email sent to the city by a resident concerned about the Livingston fracking site.<p>On April 13, the Broomfield Office of Emergency Management held a telephone town hall to present evacuation instructions. Residents told Grist that instructions on where they should go were not very clear, and that the evacuation plan was fluid depending on the scale of emergency and the status of the pandemic. "It was a plan left in chaos, in my opinion, that fortunately hasn't had to be used," said Anderson.</p><p>The Broomfield police department told Grist that it uses a cell phone alert system for emergency notification. An "Emergency Management Update" powerpoint created by the department instructs residents to "follow the instructions you receive" and monitor the situation on the city's social media accounts. In the case of an evacuation, it says to go to the home of a family member or friend — and to go to the recreation center only if needed. The department advises that residents who do elect to evacuate to the recreation center remain in their cars "if quarantined/isolated."</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
As calls for a People's Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country's Big Oil companies "stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout" thanks to the Federal Reserve's plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.
The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
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by Andrea Germanos
The Trump administration on Friday released a new land use plan for southwestern Colorado that community and conservation advocacy groups warn is a "dangerous" pathway towards increased fossil fuel extraction that makes no "climate, ecological, or economic sense."
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By Tara Lohan
A sign at the north end of Kanab, Utah, proclaims the town of 4,300 to be "The Greatest Earth on Show."
Kanab, UT is a popular tourist destination. Tara Lohan<p>There, a company called <a href="https://www.srsands.com/" target="_blank">Southern Red Sands LLC</a> had announced plans to build a facility to mine and process massive amounts of sand for use by oil and gas companies conducting hydraulic fracturing. The sand is a lesser-known but substantial aspect of the fracking process. Round grains of silica sand serve as a "proppant" to keep underground fissures in the shale open as oil and gas are pumped out. Fracking a single well can require thousands of tons of sand.</p><p>"I really wanted to keep an open mind, but the more I learned about the project, the more concerned I got," Hand told The Revelator when I visited Kanab in September.</p><p>She had reason to be worried. The first decade of the fracking boom relied heavily on so-called "frac sand" sourced mostly from Midwest states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where mining reduced verdant green hills to piles of dust.</p>
Frac sand in Wisconsin. Tara Lohan<p>But mining in the Midwest has its limits. Sand is expensive to ship across the country, so as fracking has taken off in Utah, Texas and New Mexico, companies have looked to find more local sources to trim costs.</p><p>That's when the proposed mine in Kanab entered the story.</p><p>Southern Red Sands, a two-person start-up backed by Utah real-estate developer Kem Gardner, hoped to establish the region's next frac sand mine in a scenic area of state-owned lands outside Kanab called Red Knoll.</p><p>City and county officials quickly gave their blessing — and a combined 1,200 acre-feet of water rights a year — after only cursory consideration.</p><p>But residents became concerned about impacts to scenic beauty, water resources and local businesses. They teamed up to fight back, forming a community group called <a href="https://keepkanabunspoiled.org/" target="_blank">Keep Kanab Unspoiled</a>.</p><p>It was beginning to feel like a familiar story.</p><p>The struggle between extractive industries and environmental protection is not a new one in Utah. A fight is still raging nearby over the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of which <a href="https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2019/08/23/new-grand-staircase-plans/" target="_blank">President Trump slashed</a> in order to increase drilling and mining opportunities.</p><p>Despite public pushback and some legal challenges, though, the frac sand mine seemed to be cruising toward approval as recently as October. It still needed an environmental impact assessment from the Bureau of Land Management, and the two water transfers needed approval from the state engineer. The project definitely wasn't a done deal, but in industry-friendly Utah, it had a good shot.</p><p>So it may have come as a surprise to a number of residents when Southern Red Sands announced at the beginning of January that it was abandoning the proposed project.</p><p>What happened? And are there any lessons that other communities fighting extraction threats can learn?</p><p>"Speak out, pull together like-minded neighbors, organize and don't give up," Hand told me after hearing the news. "But also, try to be nice."</p><p>Surprisingly, it's that last bit that may have made a big difference — along with a good hard look at the economics of the endeavor.</p>
The Threats<p>Von Del Chamberlain is a white-haired, soft-spoken Kanab resident. Born in 1934, he spent his youth exploring the red rock and his career studying the stars. The astronomer and former director of Salt Lake City's Hansen (now Clark) Planetarium retired to his hometown 15 years ago and hoped to start a public observatory.</p><p>He realized that Kanab's prized dark-night skies would be threatened by a 24-7 mining operation. But that wasn't even his biggest concern with the project.</p><p>"The beauty here is the thing that will sustain this area economically for as far in the future as we can possibly see," he said.</p><p>Opponents like Chamberlain usually cited two big concerns: environmental impacts, particularly the threat to water resources, and the local economy. But in Kanab it's hard to separate the two.</p><p>"It doesn't matter what kind of an economy you want to develop here," said Hand. "Even if you have an industrial economy or an extractive economy — if you don't have water, you're out."</p><p>The water supply, which draws on underground aquifers, currently supports the town's tourist-driven economy, ranching, and the county's biggest employer — <a href="https://bestfriends.org/" target="_blank">Best Friends Animal Society</a>, known worldwide through the <em>Dogtown</em> TV series on the National Geographic Channel. The nonprofit owns a 3,700-acre sanctuary, the country's largest no-kill animal shelter, and would have been the mine's closest neighbor.</p><p>Best Friends, which employs 400 locals and draws 35,000 out-of-town visitors a year to its sanctuary, came to see the proposed mine as an existential threat. Their property relies on wells, seeps and springs that come from the same aquifer the project's two wells would tap.</p>
Groundwater seeps to the surface at the Best Friends animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Tara Lohan<p>Last July Kanab's city council approved a 50-year contract for 600 acre-feet a year of water rights for the project and Kane County Water Conservancy District, which oversees water servicing for the unincorporated areas of the county, agreed to provide an additional 600 acre-feet of water. That combined amount equals about 740 gallons per minute, although Southern Red Sands contended it would use only about a third of that.</p><p>Many local residents were shocked by the water-rights transfer. A <a href="https://lpputah.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2016-Water-Needs-Assessment.pdf" target="_blank">2016 water needs assessment</a> found that Kane County Water Conservancy District's reliable supply would be in deficit by 2035. And the district's executive director, former state representative Mike Noel, has been a <a href="https://www.sltrib.com/news/2018/03/17/in-new-complaint-group-says-utah-rep-mike-noel-hid-potential-conflicts-as-he-sought-lake-powell-pipeline-water-for-land-he-owns/" target="_blank">vocal advocate</a> for a pricy proposed pipeline to send Lake Powell water to southern Utah communities, including near Kanab, under the premise that the region is already running short on water.</p><p>"We knew that it would damage our seeps and our springs, and we weren't sure yet the full impact besides some drawdown to our groundwater, but we were really concerned," Bart Battista, an environmental engineer responsible for facilities management at Best Friends' Kanab sanctuary, told me. "It boggles my mind that the city wasn't as concerned."</p><p>But documents unearthed by local radio station KUER showed that officials at nearby Zion National Park already <a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6558286-191002-ZionNationalPark-LetterOfConcern.html" target="_blank"><em>were</em> concerned</a> that the project could reduce flows into the East Fork of the Virgin River, which flows through the park, by reducing the amount of water from underground seeps and springs that feed the river.</p><p>Wanting to learn more about how the project could affect the region's water, Best Friends <a href="https://www.waterrights.utah.gov/docImport/0618/06184902.PDF" target="_blank">commissioned a study</a> from hydrogeologist Kenneth Kolm of Hydrologic Systems Analysis, a firm that's completed water studies for other Utah towns.</p><p>Kolm found that the mine posed the potential for decline in productivity to wells owned by both Best Friends and the city's water supply. The project could also decrease flows into nearby Kanab Creek and dry up perennial streams and springs, including one that feeds an area of habitat that's home to the Kanab ambersnail — currently federally protected as endangered.</p><p>The amount of water being withdrawn wasn't the only issue. The proposed project site and its sandy soil are also vitally important to local hydrology.</p><p>"The sand is the first ticket to collecting water," said Hand. It captures rain and holds it in place long enough for it to sink into the water table and not run off. But the sand is exactly what would be removed from the site, further threatening the region's water supply.</p><p>"I realized for the first time how small and vulnerable our watershed actually is," she added.</p><p>Southern Red Sands hoped to start digging on 640 acres of land around Red Knoll, an aptly name rise of coral-colored rock and sand. The area is managed as part of Utah's School and International Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), where state-owned property can be leased (often for resource extraction), with revenue being funneled to education.</p><p>The operation would have started by bulldozing all the trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs, then scraped up to 30 feet of the earth from the exposed surface. The sand would then be processed — washed with water and chemicals, then dried and sorted — in a facility with up to six 120-foot-tall silos. After that it would be loaded into trucks and hauled out.</p><p>A small fraction of the remaining sediment — mostly the fine silts and clays — would be put back on the land. But that change in geology could mean a big change for the aquifer. How big would depend on the scope of the project, though.</p><p>In addition to the SITLA land, Southern Red Sands had acquired placer claims — mineral exploration rights — for 12,000 surrounding acres managed by the BLM. And although the company said it planned to mine only 700,000 tons a year from the SITLA property, the facility would have had the capacity and water rights to accommodate much more.</p><p>"If they're building a plant with a capacity of 3 million tons a year, that's presumably because they expect to be able to produce that," Dean Baker, a Kanab resident and opponent of the project told me in December. "They may never do that, but you don't build extra capacity without the idea that you might use it."</p>
The Resistance<p>Water issues are paramount in arid Utah, but the mine was likely to come with some other potential problems.</p><p>If Southern Red Sands did build out to end of their claims, they'd be within 10 miles of Zion National Park and workers at Best Friends would be looking over their fence line at the operation — not to mention potentially breathing its dust.</p><p>Mining, processing and trucking frac sand can release tiny particles of crystalline silica into the air. Inhaling those particles regularly can cause lung disease, including cancer and silicosis, a chronic disease that, like "black lung" for coal miners, can be deadly.</p>
Dust in the air at a frac sand processing facility in Wisconsin. Tara Lohan<p>The facility would likely run with lights and noise 24-7, which could be <a href="https://therevelator.org/fracking-wildlife/" target="_blank">detrimental to wildlife</a>. And adding more diesel-spewing, slow-stopping big rigs hauling 50,000 pounds of sand down the town's one main road concerned residents, too.</p><p>With so much at risk, opponents employed a number of tactics to try to fight the mine.</p><p>Keep Kanab Unspoiled held community meetings. They invited Kolm, the geologist who did the independent study, to report his findings, and started <a href="https://www.change.org/p/gardner-company-stop-the-zion-kanab-frac-sand-mine" target="_blank">an online petition</a> to discourage the company from moving forward.</p><p>Best Friends — an established national nonprofit with considerably more financial resources — took the lead role in mounting legal challenges. The organization filed an appeal of a conditional use permit approved by the county and formally objected to the water transfers, which needed to be approved by the state engineer.</p><p>But during the fall, Best Friends decided to shift tactics. Lawsuits could just lead to years of legal battles, something beyond the organization's longstanding mission.</p><p>"We might alienate our donors and members," Battista explained. "The appeal of Best Friends crosses party boundaries — animal welfare is something everybody can support." Apparently environmental action is not.</p><p>They decided the best approach was to sit down and talk with the company and its backers.</p><p>Battista couldn't disclose details of the negotiations — which went on for months — but on Jan. 9 Best Friends and Southern Red Sands released a <a href="https://therevelator.org/joint-statement-from-southern-red-sands-and-best-friends-animal-society/" target="_blank">joint statement</a> saying that the company "had decided not to pursue its business ventures in Kane County."</p><p>The members of Keep Kanab Unspoiled were elated by the news.</p><p>"It's so heartening how so many people from our community came together to amplify a voice that is seldom acknowledged by our elected representatives and institutions," Hand tells me. "I'm relieved that an area I love won't be sacrificed on the altar of fossil fuel consumption. I'm grateful that this threat to our travel and tourism economy is diminished."</p><p>It would be comforting to think that the driving force behind the decision boiled down to preserving the scenic beauty or the region's groundwater resources, but it's more likely it had to do with money.</p><p>"Economics played some role," Battista said. "The market for frac sand has changed and [Best Friends] had financial viability assessments of the project to show that the mine wouldn't be a good idea. Economically it just didn't make sense to any of us. I think that our studies corroborated that."</p><p>This was a main talking point of Keep Kanab Unspoiled, bolstered by research done by Baker, who also happens to be <a href="http://cepr.net/about-us/staff/dean-baker" target="_blank">an economist and cofounder</a> of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.</p><p>The frac sand industry — and the larger fracking industry — is volatile. The number of rigs drilling for oil tends to fall when prices get low. Rigs plunged with falling prices from 2014 to 2016 and last year saw <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-rigs-baker-hughes/u-s-drillers-cut-oil-rigs-for-record-11th-month-baker-hughes-idUSL2N27A0L0" target="_blank">record declines</a> in rig numbers. In addition, fracking costs more than traditional drilling — and the industry has also been overspending to keep the fracking boom from going bust.</p><p>A research organization in Norway found that the amount of money being spent to drill for oil by 40 U.S. shale oil companies outpaced the money being made by selling that oil. That deficit cost companies almost $5 billion in just the first quarter of 2019, <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/08/08/bleak-financial-outlook-us-fracking-industry" target="_blank">DeSmog reported</a> in August.</p><p>It's a scenario that's happened before.</p><p>With oil prices now around $60 a barrel, the industry is hanging on. If prices dip much lower, it could be trouble. A decade into the fracking frenzy, investors are worried that the best spots have been drilled and many debts won't be paid.</p><p>There's even more uncertainty when it comes to producing and selling the sand. Companies used to rely almost exclusively on Midwest sand, but now more areas are getting in on the game.</p><p>The consequences of failures in the fracking business model are real.</p><p>Falling oil prices and a shifting market for frac sand recently took down Emerge Energy Services — owner of eight frac sand facilities in Wisconsin — which <a href="https://www.wpr.org/frac-sand-producer-wisconsin-declares-bankruptcy" target="_blank">filed for bankruptcy</a> last summer and left behind unsafe levels of <a href="https://www.wpr.org/arsenic-levels-bankrupt-frac-sand-mine-7-times-higher-state-cleanup-standards" target="_blank">arsenic and heavy metal contamination</a> for the community to clean up.</p><p>That's a scenario that Baker worried could happen in Kanab. Southern Red Sands said their intended market was in Utah's Uintah Basin 350 miles north, but a new frac sand mine just opened in the basin. "It's almost inconceivable they'd be able to compete with them because the biggest cost with frac sand is the shipping," said Baker. "There are some operations in the San Juan basin [in New Mexico and Colorado] but it's not clear to me that they could beat those out either."</p><p>Even though economics played a role in halting the project, he believes community efforts were important, too.</p><p>"The fact they faced serious legal obstacles at every step in their path had to be a factor," he said. "It is a nice, and unfortunately rare, victory for the environment."</p><p>Best Friends worked to ensure the hard-earned victory wasn't short-lived, either. It also purchased Southern Red Sands' 12,000 acres of mineral rights.</p><p>"We want to make sure that no one else comes in here in two years if the market's better and tries to put in another sand mine, we just don't think that it's the right thing for this area," said Battista. "We want to make sure that in perpetuity, there's not a threat to the sanctuary."</p><p>As for Hand, she's now looking at the bigger picture. She saw the fight over frac sand in Kanab as a microcosm of the global fight over fossil fuels and climate change.</p><p>"While we can embrace a sense of triumph, it's likely to be brief," she said. "When it comes to protecting wild places and using our resources carefully, our work will never be done. The next development project is already bubbling. I do feel more hopeful for each success, but climate change marches on."</p>
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In over their heads with debt, U.S. shale oil and gas firms are now moving from a boom in fracking to a boom in bankruptcies. This trend of failing finances has the potential for the U.S. public, both at the state and federal levels, to be left on the hook for paying to properly shut down and clean up even more drilling sites.
A graphic showing the water cycle during hydraulic fracturing. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2016
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Donald Trump's scheduled visit to a fracking industry gathering in Pittsburgh this week is a hugely symbolic moment for the 2020 election campaign, as well as the urgent battle to contain climate catastrophe.
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Susan Vineyard / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Justin Mikulka
Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.
A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)