Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Michigan's Common Ground Against Fracking

Energy

Maryann Lesert

In May of 2012, when more than 108,000 acres of Michigan’s state land went up for bid, including unprecedented offerings of state game and recreation areas for oil and gas leasing, members of the public crowded into a 60-seat room (and lined the hallway outside) as 15 protestors rose from the public seats that rimmed the bidder’s tables, standing to voice their opposition to oil and gas development—particularly to fracking—on state land.

A press conference featuring speakers from several Michigan anti-fracking groups was held on the sidewalk outside the Lansing Center while the auction wound down inside. Photo credit: Jeff Wilkinson

Six months later, when another 193,000 acres went up for bid, 40 of the more than 100 protestors present rose from the public seating area at the back of the Lansing Center’s larger meeting room and proclaimed their opposition to bidders seated at tables up front. Seven protestors—including three who attempted a lock-down to stop the auction—were arrested.

What the Michigan public was waking up to was a quiet leasing frenzy that peaked with the record-setting auction of 2010, when industry speculation over Michigan’s oil and gas rich deep shale layers brought in $178 million dollars—more than $1,500 per acre. By the time protestors began showing up at the Michigan Department of Natural Resource (MDNR) auctions, much of the state’s forest and park lands were going for minimum, unopposed bids of $10 per acre, and the Attorney General’s office was investigating charges of collusion between Chesapeake and Encana.

Protestors at the May 2013 auction, many back for a third time, decided to “voice” their opposition to what they view as the state’s silencing of the public with a visual symbol. Instead of shouting comments about the sacredness of water or the toxicity of flowback, protestors entered the auction room with duct tape stretched across their mouths.

Duct tape protestors. Photo credit: Jeff Wilkinson

Lieutenant Steve Burton, in charge of a dozen armed MDNR conservation officers who lined the public seating area and an additional 12-15 Lansing police officers who stood guard in the hallway or rode bicycles around the Lansing Center, said just before the auction began, “We just want to keep everyone safe. To make sure everyone attending feels safe.”

Protestors, however, seemed united in the feeling that oil and gas industry bidders and their right to extract minerals and water from state land was what the state was protecting.

Nicole Berens-Capizzi, a crisis worker from the Holland, MI area, commented on the now-familiar "No Public Comment Allowed" sign and the ratio of armed guards (25) to members of the public (50 protestors in the auction room) of about 1:2. “Why are we being treated as a threat while conservation officers smile and treat with respect and dignity the representatives from the oil and gas industry, those who pose a real threat to public health and safety?”

As the auctioneer prattled through the first few parcels at 9 a.m., it was clear that speaking out wasn’t what protestors had in mind. Instead, they created a steady barrage of annoyances: cell phones rang for an hour and a duck quack brought a chuckle. Armed conservation officers roamed the seating area, leaning in to locate the offending ring tones and escorting out any noisemakers. By 10 a.m., most of the silent protestors holding “People before Profits” and “What the Frack?” signs had been escorted out.

One tense moment came when a young man videotaping was pulled up from his seat, suspected of possessing a ringing phone. Kathy Roper, a retired teacher from Douglas,MI, reacted verbally, asking the conservation officer, “What are you conserving?” Roper was escorted out, continually asking the officer, “Why can’t you answer my question? What are you conserving?”

At 11 a.m., representatives of several citizen action groups gathered for a press conference. Mariah Urueta of Citizens Against Drilling on Public Land reviewed the group's organization of public comment sessions and protests regarding the MDNR's failure to protect public land.

Dr. Phil Bellfy, a retired Michigan State professor representing the indigenous land rights movement Idle No More, outlined tribal rights associated with the 1836 Land Cessation Treaty, 2007 Inland Consent Decree and 2012 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which together, says Bellfy, grant Upper Great Lakes region tribes the right to "protect the resources" of ceded lands, meaning oil and gas development should not be occurring on most northern Michigan frack well sites without tribal consent.

Ellis Boal of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan gave an overview of the committee's ballot initiative to prohibit horizontal fracking and frack wastes in Michigan, and the all-volunteer effort to collect 258,088 valid signatures by Oct. 1.

Tia Lebherz of Food & Water Watch, Steve Losher of Michigan Land Air Water Defense and Jim Nash, Oakland County Water Resource commissioner also spoke. 

Nash referred to the state’s rush toward fracking as more than backward. “Fracking isn’t a step backwards,” he said, “it’s a U-turn in terms of water use, the chemicals used, the destruction caused by a highly industrialized process.” 

Protestors then moved to the Lansing Public Library for three concurrent workshops.

Deep Water Earth First! facilitated a workshop on direct action, using a “Spectrum of Allies” chart to illustrate how movements for social change don’t suddenly swing supporters from the “actively supportive” end to the “active opponents” at the other end. Movements tend to gain the most momentum where ideological slices of the pie touch—at points of common concern.

Brian Keeley and Stephanie Mabes of Kent County Water Conservation gave attendees an overview of their experiences building relationships with decision makers in the townships north of Grand Rapids, MI, where the Rogue River Recreation area and the banks of the Grand River were auctioned for oil and gas development in October of 2012. They announced some success: with the help of Flow for Water, a Michigan policy team providing townships with example ordinances and resolutions, including Cannon Township that drafted a moratorium on fracking based on a similar moratorium passed by West Bloomfield Township in Oakland county. 

Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition’s Caitlin Richards offered counter points attendees might use when the public is presented, in the typical oil and gas leasing meetings, with “safe fracking” information which she noted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality uses to “minimize of the dangers and the chemicals used.”

As workshop participants convened for a final discussion, Lebherz debunked the industry’s claim (and now, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion too) that people opposed to fracking are “fringe groups” who do not represent the public. “In truth,” she said, “we are a diverse collection of compassionate, intelligent and informed citizens who have deep concerns based on the best available science and the experiences of people living with fracking.”

From May 31 to June 2, Michiganders representing citizen-led organizations around the state will meet for a second time this year to share research, skills and their unique points of effectiveness at Circle Pines, a cooperative peace, justice and environmental education center surrounded by state land that has been leased for oil and gas development. The goal of this second Common Ground Against Fracking retreat is to create a statewide strategic action plan.

“Not to tie anyone’s hands in terms of dictating methods,” says Rachel Zegerius of Circle Pines, “but to strengthen our growing network of support, to map out what each of us is doing and how we can each contribute to protecting our communities” from what she calls an “irresponsible method of gas and oil extraction.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A woman wears a face mask at a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP via Getty Images

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, will start requiring next week that all its stores in the U.S. deny entry to any customer not wearing a mask, as CNN reported. The announcement comes after months of a pandemic that has led to more than 3.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 130,000 deaths nationwide.

Read More Show Less
Agencies in California, Washington and British Columbia are sharing data and strategies to protect forests from wildfires. Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 4.0

Some of the largest wildfires on record have swept across the West in recent years.

Read More Show Less
Start-up ARC Marine has created a plastic-free alternative to help restore marine biodiversity. ARC Marine

By Douglas Broom

Artificial reefs play an important role in protecting offshore installations like wind farms. Unprotected, the turbine masts are exposed to tidal scouring, undermining their foundations.

Read More Show Less
New research shows that there's actually a larger quantity of plastic in the ocean than previously thought. Susan White / USFWS / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with "odd bits and flakes," as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

"It wasn't an eureka moment … I didn't come across a mountain of trash," Moore told Mongabay. "But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could."

Captain Charles Moore looking at a piece of floating plastic in the ocean. Algalita Marine Research and Education

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what's now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger "macroplastics," the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

"That's when we really had the eureka moment," Moore said. "When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, 'Wow, this is a serious situation.'"

Captain Charles Moore holding up a jar of plastic-filled seawater from a research expedition in 2009. Algalita Marine Research and Education

Since Moore's discovery of the plastic-swirling gyres, there's been a growing amount of research to try and understand the scale of the plastic pollution issue, including several studies from 2020. This new research shows that there's actually a larger quantity of plastic in the ocean than previously thought, and that the plastic even enters the atmosphere and blows back onto land with the sea breeze. Recent studies also indicate that plastic is infiltrating our bodies through food and drinking water. The upshot is that plastic is ubiquitous in the ocean, air, food supply, and even in our own bodies. The new picture that is emerging, scientists say, is of a biosphere permeated with plastic particles right down to the very tissues of humans and other living things, with consequences both known and unknown for the lifeforms on our planet.

How Much Is Really in the Ocean?

In the past 70 years, virgin plastic production has increased 200-fold, and has grown at a rate of 4% each year since 2000, according to a 2017 study in Science Advances. Only a small portion of plastics are recycled, and about a third of all plastic waste ends up in nature, another study suggests.

While new research indicates that plastic is leaking into every part of the natural world, the ocean has long been a focal point of the plastic pollution issue. But how much is actually in the sea?

Moore says it's "virtually impossible" to get an accurate estimate because of the ongoing production of plastic, and the tendency for plastic to break down into microplastics.

"This count is constantly increasing, and it's increasing at a very rapid rate," he said. "It's a moving target."

One commonly cited study, for which Moore acted as a co-author, estimated that there are more than 5.25 trillion plastic pieces floating in the ocean, weighing more than 250,000 tons, based on water samples and visual surveys conducted on 24 expeditions in five subtropical gyres. But even at the time of publication in 2014, Moore said he knew "that was an underestimate."

A more recent study published this year, led by researchers at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, indicates that there's a lot more microplastic in the ocean than we previously thought. When taking samples from the ocean, most researchers use nets with a mesh size of 333 microns, which is small enough to catch microplastics, but big enough to avoid clogging. But the team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory used much finer 100-micron nets to sample the surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the English Channel.

"Our nets clogged too, so we used shorter trawls and a specialized technique for removing all the plankton — microscopic plants and biota — from the sample to reveal the microplastics," Matthew Cole, a marine ecologist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and author of the study, told Mongabay in an email. "This process is quite time-consuming, so it'd be challenging for all samples collected to be treated this way."

The research team at Plymouth Marine Laboratory collecting water samples. Matthew Cole

The researchers found there were 2.5 to 10 times more microplastics in their samples compared to samples that used 333-micron nets.

"If this relationship held true throughout the global ocean, we can multiply existing global microplastic concentrations ascertained using 333-micron nets, to predict that globally there are 125 trillion plastics floating in the ocean," Cole said. "However, we know these plastics keep on degrading, and these smaller plastics would be missed by our smaller 100 micron net — so the true number will be far greater."

Another team of researchers delved down to the seafloor in the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Mediterranean to take sediment samples. They found that microplastic accumulated at depths of 600 to 900 meters (about 2,000 to 3,000 feet), and that certain spots in the ocean, termed "microplastic hotspots," could hold up to 1.9 million pieces per square meter — the highest level ever to be recorded on the seafloor. The results of this study were published in Science in June 2020.

"We were shocked by the sheer number of [microplastics]," Ian Kane, the study's lead author, told Mongabay in May. "1.9 million is enormous. Previous studies have documented much smaller numbers, and … just talked about plastic fragments, but it's fibers that are really the more insidious of the microplastics. These are the things that are more readily consumed and absorbed into organisms' flesh."

A water sample containing plastic. Algalita Marine Research and Education

While these studies shine light on the fact that there's definitely more plastic in the ocean than we think, it still doesn't complete the picture, says Steve Allen, a microplastic expert and doctoral candidate at the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. Large quantities of microplastics still appear to be "missing" from the ocean, he said. For instance, one study suggested that 99.8% of oceanic plastic sinks below the ocean surface layer, making it difficult to detect, but Allen says this doesn't fully explain what's happening to all of the plastic that enters the ocean.

"We're finding some of it," Allen told Mongabay. "But we're … trying to explain where the rest of it went."

Allen and his wife, fellow scientist Deonie Allen, also from the University of Strathclyde, have been working to find their answer, or at least part of it, in an unlikely place: up in the sky.

‘Microplastics Are in Our Air’

As the ocean churns and breaks waves, air is trapped in tiny bubbles. When those bubbles break at the sea's surface, water rushes to fill the void, and this causes tiny, micro-sized particles, like flecks of sea salt or bacteria, to burst into the atmosphere. A new study, published in PLOS ONE, suggests that microplastics are entering the air in the same way.

"[Bubbles] act a little bit like velcro," Deonie Allen told Mongabay. "Rather than the bubble going through the plastic soup and coming to the surface and not bringing any of the plastics with it, it actually collects [the plastic] and hangs on to it as it comes up. And when it bursts, the energy from the creation of the jet to fill the hole that's left in the sea … is what gives it the force to eject the plastic up into the atmosphere."

A lot of previous research on plastic pollution in the ocean has assumed that plastic remains in the seawater and sediment, or gets washed ashore. But this study takes a pioneering step to suggest that ocean plastic is entering the atmosphere through the sea breeze.

"This was just the next logical step to see whether what we're putting into the ocean was actually going to stay there, or whether it would come back," Steve Allen said.

A device used to collect air and mist samples to test for microplastics. Steve Allen

To obtain the necessary data for this study, the research team collected air and sea spray samples on the French Atlantic coast, both onshore and offshore. They found that there was a high potential for ocean microplastics to be released into the air, and suggested that each year, 136,000 tons of microplastics were blowing ashore across the world, although Steve Allen said this number was "extremely conservative."

This study specifically looked at microplastics, but the much smaller nanoplastics are likely going into air by the same means, according to the Allens. But detecting nanoplastics in the water or air can be challenging.

While this is the first study to look at the ocean as a source of atmospheric plastics, other research has examined the capacity of land-based plastics to leach into the air. One study, authored by the Allens and other researchers, found that microplastics were present in the air in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, even though the testing site was at least 90 kilometers (56 miles) from any land-based source of plastic, such as a landfill. This suggests that the wind can carry microplastics over long distances.

"We know that microplastics are in our air everywhere, from the looks of it," Deonie Allen said.

More research needs to be done to understand the implications of atmospheric microplastics on human health, but according to the Allens, it can't be good for us.

A "cloud catcher" used to collect data for research on microplastics in the atmosphere. Steve Allen

"Microplastics are really good at picking up the contaminants in the surrounding environment — phthalates, flame retardants, heavy metals," Deonie Allen said. "That will get released into the body, relatively effectively."

Enrique Ortiz, a Washington, D.C.-based ecologist and journalist who writes on the plastic pollution issue, says that this evidence should be a "wake up" call to humanity.

"The oceans are picking up the plastic that we throw in it, and that's what we're breathing," Ortiz told Mongabay "And that's the part that really … amazes me."

"But it's not just happening in coastal cities," he added. "No matter where you go, [even] in the middle of the Arctic … the human imprint is already there."

We're not just inhaling microplastics through the air we breathe — we're also getting it through the water we drink and the food we eat.

‘Our Life Is Plasticized’

Plastic waste isn't just leaking into the ocean; it's also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.

Drinking water, including tap and bottled water, is the largest source of plastic in our diet, with the average person consuming about 1,769 tiny microplastic particles each week, according to a 2019 report supported by WWF. Other primary sources of microplastics include shellfish, beer and salt.

A new study published this year in Environmental Research found that microplastics were even present in common fruits and vegetables. Apples had one of the highest microplastic counts, with an average of 195,500 plastic particles per gram, while broccoli and carrots averaged more than 100,000 particles per gram.

"The possibility of plastics in our fruit and vegetables is extremely alarming," John Hocevar, ocean campaign director for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement. "This should prompt additional studies to assess how much plastic we are consuming through our produce each day and examine how it is impacting our health."

"Decades of plastic use have contaminated our air, water, and soil," Hocevar added. "Eating just a bite of an apple could now mean eating hundreds of thousands of bits of plastic at the same time."

Through normal water and food consumption, it's estimated that the average person consumes about 5 grams of plastic each week, equivalent to the size of a credit card, according to the WWF report.

"Plastic is everywhere," Thava Palanisami, a microplastics researcher at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and contributor to the WWF report, told Mongabay. "We live with plastic and our life is plasticized — that we know. But we don't know what it does to human health. That's the biggest question mark."

While it's not entirely clear how plastic affects human health, research suggests that the inhalation of fibrous microplastics can lead to respiratory tract inflammation. And another study, referenced in the WWF report, shows that fish and other marine animals with high concentrations of microplastics in their respiratory and digestive tracts have much higher mortality rates. Another study, published in 2020, indicates that plastic accumulates in the muscle tissue of fish.

"If you look at what happens, for example, in fish — it [plastic] stays in their muscles," Ortiz said. "It's scary. If you look at the numbers, you're eating something in the order of one kilo of plastic every three years. I wonder, in our lifetime … if a percentage of our weight will be plastic that is still in our muscles."

"The problem is serious," Palanisami said. "We've got to stop using unwanted plastic and manage plastic waste properly, and … work on new plastic alternates."

Stemming the Tide  

Erin Simon, head of plastic waste and business at WWF, and leader of the organization's packaging and material science program, says the key to curbing the plastic pollution issue is making sure that plastic doesn't leak into nature in the first place.

"If you had a leaky faucet, would you bring out the mop first, or would you turn off the water?" Simon told Mongabay. "We're trying to stem that tide of plastic flowing into the ocean and into nature in general … but at the same time, trying to identify the different root causes of that leakage."

While Simon says there are various ways to try and stop plastic from entering the natural world, such as well-managed recycling and composting programs, she also said that large companies can play a critical role in helping to reduce plastic waste. WWF is currently spearheading a new program called ReSource, launched in 2019, that helps analyze companies' plastic footprints in order to work toward sustainable solutions. The program's website says 100 companies could prevent 50 million tons of plastic waste.

"We have three targets that we're looking at when we're partnering with companies," Simon said. "One, get rid of what you don't need. At the end of the day, we do need to reduce our demand for virgin nonrenewable plastic. Once you get rid of that, you think about the stuff that you do need — the things [for which] plastic is the right material choice. Where am I sourcing that from? Am I getting it from recycled content? Am I getting it from a sustainably-sourced bio base, or is it virgin non-renewable [plastic]? And then finally … how are you, as a company … making sure it comes back? Are you designing it in a way that it's technically recyclable into the places that it's ending up?"

Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore. Susan White / USFWS

While recycled plastic may seem like a satisfactory alternative to virgin plastic, a new study, published in July 2020, showed that children's toys made out of recycled plastic contained high levels of toxic chemicals, comparable to levels found in hazardous waste.

Moore, who has been studying plastic pollution since his discovery of the floating debris in the North Pacific Ocean, says he doesn't believe there's an easy fix to this issue, especially when it comes to the businesses that are producing large amounts of plastic.

"There's no change that corporations can make under the current system that will successfully combat plastic pollution," Moore said. "There is no technical fix to the plastic problem. It's not in the corporate portfolio to reduce sales of your products — the corporate portfolio is about increasing sales. The idea that [corporations] can be convinced to reduce their production and sale of the products that they make is a fantasy."

However, Moore says a solution could be found in "radical change," and that this moment of time, with the Black Lives Matter movement spreading across the world, could provide the opportunity for that change.

"Now is the time when a world historical revolution would be possible, when the people of the world could unite to change the system as a whole," Moore said.

"There won't be a techno fix and science won't develop … a new product that will get us out of the problem of plastic pollution," he said. "It will only come with the world as a whole agreeing to charter a new course towards a non-polluting future."

Reposted with permission from Mongabay.

Scientists say that a record-breaking Arctic heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis. PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.

Read More Show Less
Commuters arrive at Grand Central Station with Metro-North during morning rush hour on June 8, 2020 in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP / Getty Images

By Taison Bell

"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal

This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Trump first announces his proposed rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act in January. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced the final rollback of the "Magna Carta" of U.S. environmental laws on Wednesday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less