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A study by seven researchers from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and the UK, The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking, said "Unconventional oil and natural gas extraction enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing [fracking] is driving an economic boom with consequences described from 'revolutionary' to 'disastrous.' The reality lies somewhere in between."
Map credit: U.S. Geological Survey
The studies findings were many, including that fracking "generates income and, done well, can reduce air pollution and even water use compared with other fossil fuels." But it also found it can reduce investment in renewables and when done carelessly, can release toxic chemicals into the environment. It also agreed: fracking causes earthquakes.
In a section headed "Induced Seismicity," the study said, "The reactivation of faults from hydraulic fracturing, wastewater disposal and other processes such as CO2 sequestration occurs by increasing the pore pressure and therefore reducing the effective stress within a fault zone. The increased pressure allows elastic energy stored in rock to be released more easily, much like removing weight from a box to make it easier to slide along the floor. Injecting fracturing fluids or wastewater underground can intersect a fault zone directly or transmit a pulse in fluid pressure that reduces the effective stress on a fault."
Although it says there are only a 'handful" of documented cases of earthquakes caused directly by fracking itself, none with a magnitude of more than 4.0, and that the number is small compared to those induced by mining and dams, many more earthquakes were caused by wastewater injection, an offshoot of fracking. Those earthquakes are not only more numerous but of greater magnitude.
"Between 1967 and 2000, geologists observed a steady background rate of 21 earthquakes of 3.0 Mw or greater in the central United States per year," it said. "Starting in 2001, when shale gas and other unconventional energy sources began to grow, the rate rose steadily to 100 such earthquakes annually, with 188 in 2011 alone; scientists with the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] attributed the increased rate primarily to deep-water injection of wastewater from oil and gas operations in the region."
It found positive links between earthquakes and wastewater injection in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. It says that such earthquakes are uncommon but can reach magnitudes big enough to cause damage and injure people, although "basic safeguards" can prevent that. That's probably small comfort to the two people injured and the owners of the 14 homes destroyed by a wastewater injection-caused earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011.
And it probably little comfort to the citizens of Harrison County in the the Utica Shale region of east central Ohio near Canton. A new study has linked around 400 small earthquakes there to fracking wells. It's the second report this year linking earthquakes to fracking activities in the Utica shale region. The study's lead author, Paul Friberg, told Live Science that "Fracking earthquakes pose no real hazard, because they are so small in the majority of cases."
But Ohio anti-fracking activists aren't convinced. In response to the study, No Frack Ohio posted on its Facebook page, "Yet another study connects earthquakes and fracking, this time in Harrison County, Ohio, in 2013. Most of these were too small to be felt, but the fact that these weren't predicted means that geologists really can't know how large or how damaging future ones could be. Why is the ODNR not halting fracking in Ohio?"
The earthquakes in Harrison County occurred less than a mile below the fracking wells and started a little more than day after fracking started on September 29, 2013. Close to 200 quakes hit on only two days in early October. And the quakes diminished after fracking ended, according to the study.
"We're wondering why there was no mention of these 400 (400!) fracking-related earthquakes from the Kasich administration to the public," said Food and Water Watch Ohio on its Facebook page. "They happened a year ago, and apparently the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources did nothing about it."
And those weren't the first fracking-related quakes to occur in Ohio. A series of quakes hit the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley region after fracking started there, including a magnitude 4.0 quake in December 2011.
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Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."
The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.
Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.
"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."
Maine lobsters are normally brown, but about one in every two million is blue.
Richard Wood / Flickr
Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."
State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)
Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)
Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."
The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.
The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.
While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."
Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.
"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."
Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.
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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.