Michigan Groups Rally to Stop Fracking on Public Lands
Yesterday, organizations and citizens from across Michigan came together for a day of action in opposition to the bi-annual auction of publicly-owned mineral rights to oil and natural gas companies for fracking.
Last October, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) leased more than 190,000 acres of mineral rights from counties across the state. The average parcel sold for around $18 an acre. During the rally, a diverse group of students, elected officials, indigenous peoples, mothers and activists came together to protest the auction and participate in trainings to take back to their local communities as fracking operations continue to expand across the state.
“Fracking threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the communities we love and the climate upon which we all depend," said Tia Lebherz, Michigan organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Today’s actions illustrate the rapidly growing movement of concerned Michiganders who believe long-term stewardship should come before short-term profit.”
Fracking uses high volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals to access natural gas that is bound in deep, tight shale formations. The chemicals used in the process include known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors as well as chemicals known to cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems. In states where fracking and drilling for natural gas and oil are more prevalent, over 1,000 cases of water contamination have been document near fracking sites since 2008.
“Public lands belong to the citizens of Michigan, yet we've been completely shut out of the decision-making process that decides what is done with them,” said Mariah Urueta, co-founder of Citizens Against Drilling on Public Lands. “Instead, the DNR has chosen to constituently ignore pubic outcry and has allowed these mineral rights to be sold to private industry bidders at devastatingly low costs.”
To date, more than 350 municipalities in the U.S. have taken action against fracking. In Michigan, 15 municipalities have passed local legislation to keep fracking out of their communities, including enacting moratoriums. Orangeville Township recently passed an ordinance to regulate the truck traffic associated with the highly intensive drilling practices.
“In the absence of state and federal intervention, local communities including elected officials and citizens must take action to protect our natural resources and our well being,” said Jim Nash, Oakland County water resource commissioner. “In Oakland County, publicly owned mineral rights have been leased in places like Indian Springs. Oil and gas drilling operations are already underway in highly residential areas close to lakes and streams, putting our communities at risk. ”
Michigan Land Air Water Defense (MLAWD), a grassroots group located in Allegan and Barry County was formed in response to these auctions and is currently involved in a lawsuit against the MDNR arguing previous leases by the agency in Allegan and Barry County violate the public trust doctrine.
“This litigation has the potential to be precedent setting, with implications for the entire state,” said Steve Losher, president of MLAWD. “Our ultimate goal is to have all park, game and recreation land designated ‘non-leasable’ and off limits to horizontal hydraulic fracturing on, under or near them.”
Further, Phil Bellfy with Article32.org a project of Idle No More has visited fracking operations across the state to post public notices indicating such sites are a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.
The MDNR is tasked with protecting the state’s treasured resources. Groups contend that the inherent risks associated with fracking including groundwater contamination, air pollution and that the clearing of forests for drilling operations is contrary to what the department has been established to accomplish.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.