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[Editor's note: Today, Sandra Steingraber—Illinois native, biologist and acclaimed environmental advocate—and Jeff Biggers—Southern Illinois native and author—will be in Springfield, IL at 1 p.m. today, Wednesday, May 29, for a day of advocacy. They will meet outside Gov. Quinn’s office at the Capitol Building. Stay tuned to EcoWatch for post coverage.]
The world is not just watching the fracking bill debacle unfold at the Illinois state capitol.
As the Illinois General Assembly votes this week on the state's increasingly suspect fracking bill, residents affected by similar operations in Pennsylvania and frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota took the extraordinary step today of releasing unprecedented letters warning of a "public health disaster" in the making, and called on Illinois lawmakers to set aside the flawed bill and "swiftly enact a moratorium."
"We have learned the hard way that regulations—no matter how strict they sound on paper—do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded," states the letter signed by impacted Pennsylvania residents, released publicly this morning, along with links to a eye-opening List of the Harmed health registry of fracking-related afflictions.
As a powerful response to last week's House Executive Committee hearing on fracking bill SB 1715, where every member on the committee made the breathtaking admission of having never visited a fracking site, the letter challenges exaggerated promises of jobs and revenue, and provides a firsthand look at the growing health, workplace and environmental costs of Pennsylvania communities "transformed into toxic industrial zones" over the past five years.
Speaking on behalf of "communities situated atop vast deposits of silica sand, which are a necessary ingredient in the fracking process," neighboring residents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota also underscored the need for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the rushed fracking bill in their separate letter:
We are suffering greatly from the industrial strip-mining and processing of silica sand that has been the direct consequence of the ongoing shale gas boom in this nation. Our communities, our land, and our health are in the process of being literally destroyed by it. We beg you to declare a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, as we are sure that, should you move forward with this regulatory bill and open your state to large-scale fracking, the demand for frac-sand will increase further, along with the price—and thus along with the pressure on our own political leaders to escalate further the devastating practice of frac sand mining and processing.
Key themes: Recklessness and liability.
Especially for Illinois Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan, whose apparent backroom brokering of the fracking regulation bill without scientists or health expert involvement has already triggered statewide outrage and placed the controversial issue of fracking into next year's gubernatorial race—just in time for cash-strapped counties to struggle "with infrastructure maintenance, much less improvements, expansions or hirings needed for schools and services once drillers and others associated with fracking start moving in," according to a recent Chicago Tribune review of fracking tax gain.
Illinois, as the Pennsylvania residents note, is not alone in taking the fracking leap. But given its longer rap sheet, a recent Pennsylvania poll showed overwhelming support for a moratorium. New York awaits a decision, as well.
"A well may end up being poisoned a year from now—and then what?" Gov. Cuomo (D-NY) told reporters last month, as he awaits a state health assessment on fracking. "I don't want the liability, frankly, and I don't have the knowledge."
In an editorial on Sunday, the L.A. Times scolded Gov. Brown's (D-CA) administration and handed over their support for a fracking moratorium as "the prudent course."
That same message was echoed by the Albany Times Union two months ago: "Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense."
Admonishing Illinois lawmakers to "enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study," the besieged Pennsylvania residents didn't pull any punches on their warnings: "If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania.
The full letter is below.
May 28, 2013
Illinois General Assembly Governor Pat Quinn Attorney General Lisa Madigan State House Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, and Members of the Illinois General Assembly,
We write today to urge you not to allow high-volume horizontal fracturing ('fracking') for oil and gas in Illinois. We, the undersigned residents of Pennsylvania, are among the many victims of fracking. Informed by extensive first-hand experience with the oil and gas industry and suffering from the impacts of fracking, we implore you with the greatest sincerity to protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois and swiftly enact a moratorium on fracking. We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded. Also, regulations cannot prevent accidents, and this is an industry prone to accidents of an especially frightening nature and whose effects are not temporary.
The oil and gas industry promises that fracking is safe and that it will create jobs and bring your state riches, but Pennsylvania's experience in the past five years tells a very different story. In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish; only a fraction of the promised jobs and revenue for the state have come to fruition; and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime. What's more, the jobs have made many workers so sick that they can no longer work in the industry.
A week ago, the Scranton Times-Tribune revealed that oil and gas development from fracking damaged the water supplies of at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, as indicated by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records. The Times-Tribune notes that this number is not comprehensive; an exhaustive analysis was made impossible by DEP's lack of transparency, poor record keeping, potentially inadequate testing procedures, and lack of cooperation with the investigation. Regardless, with around 4,000 wells drilled during that four-year timespan, these 161 cases show how common and extensive water contamination is from fracking operations. These numbers are not surprising given the high rate of well casing failures. By the gas industry and the DEP's own data, well casing failure rate in Pennsylvania is 6.2 percent (rising to 8.9 percent in 2012). Failures occur when the layers of cement and steel that encase the well—providing a barrier between the toxic fracking fluid and freshwater aquifers—are damaged or become corroded. Even with the most careful workmanship cement can shrink, crumble and crack as it ages.
Because the chemicals used in fracking operations are highly toxic, water contamination is a very serious problem. Although the industry blocks attempts to know what chemicals and combinations are used, we know that it is a cocktail whose ingredients are selected from a possible menu of around 600 chemicals. Those include many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid and petroleum distillates. In addition to the chemicals used by the industry, the operation releases many hazardous materials from the shale itself, including radium, uranium and radon, arsenic, and mercury. Cows that have consumed water contaminated with used fracking fluid (flowback waste) have quickly died, and land where it has spilled has been scorched.
For us, fracking has been a public health disaster. Victims experience symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, burning eyes, sore throats, rashes, hair loss, severe nose bleeds, nausea, blood poisoning, liver damage, intestinal pain, neurological damage, cancers and many more. Many fracking victims who have suffered these health symptoms sign legal agreements that force them to forfeit all rights to speak about what has happened to them in order to settle with multi-national oil and gas corporations. Although many cases have been hidden from the public eye through these non-disclosure agreements, we have compiled a 'List of the Harmed' that now well exceeds 1,000. Our efforts to create this lay registry of healthy problems in an attempt to compensate for the legally enforced silence of our medical community. After extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13, which, among other things, places a gag order on doctors who deal with victims of fracking and who wish information about the possible chemicals to which their patient may have been exposed.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (an initiative of medical experts) is working with Pennsylvanians affected by fracking and has concluded that health impacts are serious and that we still do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision or to be able to claim that ANY regulations will protect public health.
One major, uncontrollable problem is hazardous air pollutants, which are emitted from wellheads themselves, as well as from flares, dehydration devices, compressor stations, and the thousands of diesel trucks that are needed to service each well. Silica dust—a known cause of lung cancer and silicosis—is also a problem in an around drilling and fracking operations. We live with the knowledge that our children are breathing in hazardous air, and are left to wonder what and how severe the ramifications will be in their future.
Our environment has been transformed seemingly overnight from beautiful countryside and farms into toxic, heavy industrial zones. Commutes that used to take 30 minutes now take two hours because of the truck traffic. Many of our schools and playgrounds are blanketed in carcinogenic silica dust. Towering flares light up the night sky, while health-damaging levels of noise penetrate our homes 24/7. Only a small fraction of the promised jobs and revenue have materialized, with most jobs going to out-of-state workers and most revenue accruing to a only few individuals. Meanwhile the community has had to pay for road and bridge damage, increased accidents and need for more emergency workers, and we've had to live with increased crime rates.
In addition to the water contamination, air pollution, industrialized communities, increased crime rates and ruined farms, we've also experienced countless spills, blowouts and disasters. Communities have been evacuated because of explosions and uncontrolled leaks and fires.
As we have experienced the horrors of fracking firsthand for years, we have also carefully followed the industry in other parts of the country and watched the science that has emerged. We have followed what is happening in Illinois with great dismay. We are certain that your proposed regulations will not protect the health of Illinois residents, your farms, communities, environment, and everything that makes Illinois special. Please, do not make this mistake.
If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. The oil and gas industry cannot and must not be trusted. We implore you to enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study. This is the only responsible course of action, and far too much is at risk to do otherwise. We would be glad to speak with you, and we invite you to our homes and communities to see fracking and its impacts first-hand.
Speaking on behalf of a broad network of communities, sincerely,
Ron Gulla, Hickory, PA
Adam Headley, Smithfield, PA
David Headley, Smithfield, PA
Grant Headley, Smithfield, PA
Linda Headley, Smithfield, PA
Ray Kemble, Dimock, PA
Jenny Lisak, Punxsutawney, PA
Matt Manning, Montrose, PA
Tammy Manning, Montrose, PA
Randy Moyer, Portage, PA
Vera Scroggins, Silver Lake Township, PA
Craig L. Stevens, Silver Lake Township, PA
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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.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
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.