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One Pennsylvania Town Shows How to Properly ‘Zone’ Fracking
By Peter Hart
Pennsylvania is home to more than 10,000 fracking wells, which forces communities to live with air pollution, water contamination and an array of health problems linked to drilling.
The frackers want to drill more wells, and the state's Democratic governor is not going to do anything to slow it down. But local communities are finding ways to fight back—and win.
The latest good news comes from Oakmont Borough, a small suburb of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. Residents there have waged a years-long battle against the fracking industry, which has been making a determined push into Allegheny County.
Fracking is a Desperate Industry Looking for New Profits
Here's why these companies are so eager to drill more wells: The fracking industry has problems turning a profit. The only way out for these financially stretched corporations is to double down—and that means moving to areas of the state that aren't as heavily fracked as some parts of western Pennsylvania.
Residents in Allegheny County have seen the havoc that fracking has created elsewhere, and they are determined to fight to keep it away from their schools and homes. Their tool of choice has been municipal zoning codes.
Putting Fracking Under Local Control
Every city or municipality creates a set of rules about what you can build, and where you can build it. Unfortunately, drilling companies often take advantage of the fact that many towns have not developed zoning ordinances that regulate fracking, or have outdated ordinances that do not address the issues facing their municipalities today. But if residents and local leaders get organized, they can put serious limits on the fracking industry before a well is approved.
That's what Food & Water Watch's Municipal Ordinance Project (MOP) is set up to do. We know that local officials in Allegheny County are the ones who should make the decisions about how to protect their own communities, and that safety and environmental concerns are front and center.
Oakmont Stands Up to Surveyors
Here's how it worked in Oakmont. In June 2017, a fracking company called Huntley & Huntley notified the borough that they were about to start 'seismic testing,' a process that involves setting off explosive charges in deep holes to measure the seismic waves, which can help indicate where gas may be trapped.
Oakmont residents didn't like the sound of that, and we worked together to pass an ordinance to regulate this intrusive process. Soon after, Huntley & Huntley reversed course, and announced that they weren't going to conduct the surveys as planned.
But they weren't going away—and resident groups like Citizens to Protect Oakmont were ready to go bigger. They started meeting that summer to craft an updated zoning ordinance that would offer some protection from drilling. By December, they offered a list of suggestions, including a 2,000-foot setback from residential property lines and the removal of fracking from the Light Industrial district of the borough.
The Borough Council, however, considered a weaker set of rules, which could have opened up residential areas to fracking. Local residents weren't having it; they were a force to be reckoned with at Council meetings, and in the end their tireless advocacy paid off: In February, the Council voted in support of the new ordinance.
What This Victory Means—Here and Elsewhere
This win is a testament to what is possible when neighbors come together to fight to protect their community. The fracking industry is desperate to find new places to drilling. If we want to stop them, we have get organized before the fracking starts."
Local leader Ed Grystar said it best: "The vote to approve Oakmont's Oil and Gas zoning ordinance is an example of the power of ordinary citizens organizing to protect the health and safety of their town. From the beginning in May 2017, we worked to change the narrative of what's acceptable by educating and mobilizing our neighbors."Residents in other parts of Pennsylvania are ready to follow Oakmont's lead.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Kravitz
Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.
By Kim Knowlton
A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.
EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.
By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.
At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive: