Last week, National Public Radio (NPR) took a deeper look into the natural gas boom in the U.S. The special series, The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers, questions what the gas boom is doing to the air and water in communities where fracking has become a household name.
The NPR series explores the question "Are these wells creating harmful pollutants?" and dives deep to identify issues caused from the more than 200,000 wells drilled in the U.S. in just under a decade.
On May 14, Christopher Joyce's report, With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy, honed in on the impacts of drilling in the Pennsylvania Marcellus formation, including the unexpected nuisance of truck traffic, what to do with the toxic wastewater from fracking, water contamination from spills at well sites and groundwater contamination. With more than 5,000 new wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2008, residents are deeply concerned about this "new toxic legacy," and the impact fracking has on human health and the environment.
On May 15, Rob Stein's report, Sick From Fracking? Doctors, Patients Seek Answers, identified the concerns of residents living near fracking sites and their fear of the unknown impacts natural gas drilling will have on the health of their community. From gusts of fumes occupying their airways and buildings to mysterious health-related symptoms, doctors and residents living in fracking war zones expound on their concerns.
Also on May 15, Elizabeth Shogren's report, 'Close Encounters' With Gas Well Pollution, exposed the concerns in Silt, Colorado, where natural gas drilling well pads have taken over the landscape. Here again, concerns for the community's health are revealed as residents experience "itchy eyes, scratchy throats and getting sick to their stomachs." In this extensive report, it becomes clear that it's time to connect the dots and officially identify the true impacts of hydraulic fracturing on communities before more people are put into harms way.
On May 16, Jon Hamilton's report, Medical Records Could Yield Answers on Fracking, explored the health impacts on residents living above the Marcellus Shale formation in northern Pennsylvania that could help resolve the national debate on whether fracking is making people sick. The report begins with a disturbing image of William Reigle, a Pennsylvania resident with fibrosis who is concerned that a nearby fracking well may be aggravating his disease, while he sits in a doctor's office with his nose pinched and blows into a tube testing his airway capacity. The piece focuses on the importance of letting the facts tell the story by evaluating detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of people living near these fracking sites.
Also on May 16, Jon Hamilton's report, Town's Effort to Link Fracking and Illness Falls Short, revealed that scientists are not convinced that the evidence collected blaming health problems on fracking—from nosebleeds to cancer—is the cause. However, it's very clear that the small town of Dish, Texas—population 225 and 35 miles north of Fort Worth—has not been the same since it became the epicenter of the fracking boom.
On May 17, Elizabeth Shogren's report, Fracking's Methane Trail: A Detective Story, followed the work of Gaby Petron, an air pollution investigator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When Petron saw high levels of methane in readings from a NOAA observation tower north of Denver, she had to determine why there was an increase and where it came from. The results of her observations, which were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking at at least twice the rate reported by the industry. The report makes clear that "scientists need to play a much bigger role in measuring air pollution from natural gas production—at well sites and compressor stations, and over entire gas fields."
Also on May 17, Susan Phillips's report, Pennsylvania Doctors Worry Over Fracking 'Gag Rule,' explained the new law in Pennsylvania that "grants physicians access to information about trade-secret chemicals used in natural gas drilling... But the new law also says that doctors can't tell anyone else—not even other doctors—what's in those formulas. It's being called the 'doctor gag rule.'" The piece details a case study in which a boy living near natural gas drilling activity is experiencing nosebleeds, liver damage and has a strange skin lesion. Dr. Amy Pare explains that in order to determine what is causing the problems with her patient, it's critical to know exactly what he has been exposed to. Having access to that information through this new law is great, but it's unclear if doctors can legally share this information with their patients and public health officials.
After reading and listening to this well-researched NPR series on the U.S. fracking boom, it's very clear to me that referring to natural gas as a cheap, homegrown solution to our nation's energy crisis is absurd. The promise of economic recovery, job growth and community wealth is an illusion that the fossil fuel industry's propaganda machine is selling to the American people. Sacrificing human health and the environment in the name of corporate profits is criminal. We need to educate our fellow Americans about the risks associated with continued use of fossil fuels and support policies that will transition our nation to relying on cleaner, renewable sources of energy.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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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.