Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
Commissioned by legendary documentary producer Sheila Nevins for HBO as a solo performance to inspire grassroots action, The Truth Has Changed traces Fox's personal arc from 9/11 to present-day America to tell a story that is both a warning and a prescription to save our democracy — and the planet.
I talked to Fox about this new project and the dark forces working to spread lies and misinformation to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Reynard Loki: Your films have been about the environment, and the fight to save it from climate change, fracking, pipelines, the activists at Standing Rock. How has your previous work led you to your new live performance-based project, The Truth Has Changed?
Josh Fox: That's a great question. It started with an intriguing proposal from HBO. They said, "We know you do theater. We know you've been on the road for 10 years bringing your films to people. And you in a live setting is a part of the show, right? It's not just that people come out to see your films. They come to see you, so how about you do a one-man show that brings that reality to the people?" And that was an assignment from Sheila Nevins when she was at HBO. And I said, "Absolutely; I'll try this." And then I started to really think about it, and at first, it was kind of a reporter's notebook, but to be honest, what I really zeroed in on was the fact that for the last 10 years, the oil and gas industry has made a huge effort to discredit my work and discredit all of the people who spoke about how bad fracking is. And this is very similar to the campaigns of climate denial, which hinge on widespread misinformation and then spreading disinformation and propaganda, smear and lies.
RL: Can you describe the effort to discredit your work?
JF: Big names in conservative smear campaigns were following me all around the country. [Steve] Bannon. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart. Filmmaker Phelim McAleer, whose pro-fracking documentary "FrackNation" attempted to refute my own documentary Gasland. Conservative activist James O'Keefe. GOP media strategist Fred Davis. These high-profile right-wing charlatans clearly did opposition research on me. They collected all this data on me and figured out how to attack me personally. They tried to get inside my psyche to unnerve me. And they did it in a very specific and deliberate kind of way.
RL: What exactly did they do?
JF: They created hate emails specifically designed for my personality. There were tweets threats; there were death threats on Twitter. They highlighted my life in the theater, my hairline, the fact that my family's Jewish; they found out that I had quit smoking several years ago, but they found a picture of me with a cigarette in my hand online from the past, and they ran that as a pro-fracking TV ad in Ohio saying, "This environmentalist is a smoker." They followed me around the country for years. They booked shadow tours of our films. They tapped into ethnic and regional stereotyping. And then they tried to paint me as some kind of rich, intellectual, New York City liberal, which is not the case. They flung all of these stereotypes at me. They gathered all this information about me — my background, my ethnicity, my age, my race, where I live, where I went to school, how much money I made, what I had done in my previous life before the films.
RL: Are you saying that those techniques used against you are similar to the current disinformation campaigns we're seeing today? Could you have been a kind of beta test for this data-based approach to spread propaganda?
JF: Absolutely. Basically, what Steve Bannon did to me from 2010 to 2015, he did to the entire American electorate in 2016. In developing The Truth Has Changed, I made two startling realizations. One was that the people who ran those campaigns against me had a very strong hand in influencing the 2016 election: Steve Bannon, who was running Breitbart when all these attacks were happening against me, took over the Trump campaign and his team profiled the electorate in the exact same way. This connection led me down two trails in my own life. The first looked back to my own personal history as a grandson of Holocaust survivors. I have an intimate knowledge of how white supremacy works, how the Nazi playbook operates, and feel a sense of intergenerational trauma. The second trail looks to the present time and the future, to how the same techniques that were used in a smear campaign against an individual through Google, Facebook, data collection, [and] addressable ad technology, which enables advertisers to selectively segment audiences to serve different ads, are used to influence a massive amount of people. And instead of just following one person around and knowing one person's data — mine — now they know the personal data of tens of millions of people, and they use that information to create highly personalized ads according to different personality types.
RL: How important was big data to Trump's victory in 2016?
JF: During the 2016 election, CNN called political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica "Donald Trump's mind readers" and his "secret weapon." They gathered up to 5,000 data points on more than 220 million Americans. And they used that data to tailor ads specifically toward people's personality types to influence their thinking. The same folks are currently rallying white supremacists all across the world and are making a bid to get Trump reelected in 2020. Their digital campaign created 5.9 million different ad variations in 2016, versus just 66,000 ads created by Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was so key to Trump's victory that Trump's digital campaign manager Brad Parscale is now his campaign manager.
RL: So in "The Truth Is Changed," you're connecting big oil and white supremacy to big data — and how these forces are working together to influence the 2020 election.
JF: Yes, we're talking about Bannon and the white supremacy movement. We're talking about Trump's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, before that, was the head of ExxonMobil and the oil and gas industry, which has brazenly taken over the government. We're talking about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and their collection of the personal data of billions of people around the globe. Together, they have created a situation in which big data, big oil and white supremacists powerfully influence the way the United States government operates. And certainly, in the 2020 election cycle, we're going to have a very hard time figuring out what is true. I think we're going to see the largest smear, misinformation and disinformation campaigns in the history of any election. So in The Truth Has Changed I'm taking a deep dive not only into the smear techniques of big oil and how they work from a new technology perspective, from psychographics to addressable ad technology, but going into how that is now how we run elections in America, and then we've entered the age of misinformation because right now it's very hard for people to tell what's true.
RL: Do disinformation campaigns rely on gullibility?
JF: No, I wouldn't say that at all, not with the state of our education system right now. This entire project starts with a high school girl in the front row of one of my films putting her hand up and asking me, "Josh, how do we know what's true?" She said, "You say all these things about how fracking is bad, and climate change is real, but then we can look online, and we see that people are saying that the opposite of this is true. So how do we know?" She's not gullible. She's trying, but can't figure out the difference between a persuasive argument that is true, and a persuasive argument that is false.
Friends of mine send me fake things all the time because it appeals to them. I've sent fake things out accidentally because they appeal for my sensibility. And it's not only that these ads say things like, vote for Donald Trump, he's a nice guy, or he's a tough guy, or he's a strong guy, or he's a compassionate guy. It's often taking people who are upset with the Democratic Party and funneling them toward, for example, Jill Stein, when they might otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton. And a lot of people will get really mad at me and say, "No, no, no, Jill Stein represents what I believe in." But if you're in Pennsylvania and you're voting against the Democratic platform, which Bill McKibben, Cornel West and I helped write and which has real progress in it, and that vote then gets siphoned away to put Donald Trump in office, then you've been manipulated. These disinformation campaigns often take the most deep-seated things that are really important to you and turn that into their own political gain. People are assuming that there is some kind of standard for truth because there always used to be. But last year, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress and declared that political candidates no longer had to abide by any kind of standards of truth, they abandoned a century's worth of journalistic integrity. And they are arguably the largest news publisher in the world.
RL: In the face of all of this, what can we do to suss out truth from lies?
JF: We always have to check for accuracy. The pursuit of the truth is not something that can be done easily, and it never has been. However, we are now seeing the standard-bearers of journalism consistently undermined, and they themselves also make mistakes and who are also subject to manipulation. The New York Times publishes things directly from State Department press releases constantly; it's maddening. Today, people need to work harder to get to the truth. But beyond that, we must control and own our own data, because if someone knows you really well, it's really easy for them to manipulate you.
Take, for example, the 1988 presidential election that pitted incumbent GOP Vice President George H.W. Bush against Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis. [Those who are old enough] probably remember the Willie Horton ad, a racist ad put out by the Republican campaign against Michael Dukakis, and it obviously caused a huge wave of controversy and anger because it was racist. But it only caused that level of controversy because it was visible to everyone. Now you can run 1,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run 10,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run a Willie Horton ad supposedly put out there by a fake Black Lives Matter page, and no one would ever know. So if you put out a racist ad and only racists can see it, it causes absolutely no controversy, but it's deeply effective in rallying people. And a lot of the times people don't even know that they're racist. So you might have things happening to folks on an unconscious level, on a deep psychological level that they're not aware of. But the internet knows. If you've got 5,000 data points on somebody, you know them on a very intimate level, you know their psychology, you know what they're afraid of, you know their sexual orientation, you know their medical history, their age, their race. So your campaign to win them over becomes very effective.
RL: So, how do we get to a point where owning your personal data is a human right? Is this ever going to happen?
JF: There have to be laws, and those laws have to be in line with the current technology. We're currently working with the New York State Senate to create a new slate of laws. There's a privacy law in California that's just recently been passed, but there's some dispute as to how companies are supposed to comply. And so there have to be laws about data privacy that we can campaign for, but the Democrat campaigns must also address this issue. The New York Times recently reported that the Democrats have no strategy to stop this wave of misinformation. But they need to understand that how they handle misinformation is going to be the difference between tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of votes in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida. So the Democrats have to get really serious about this issue — and they have to address it really fast. I've appealed to the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other campaigns, saying that this is really serious because it's about to happen — and it's going to happen worse than it's ever happened before.
RL: Should we be allowed to sell our data?
JF: That is a fascinating question. I don't know if I have a real clear answer. I mean, it's being collected by your action, right? Everything you buy, everywhere you go, everything you search for, all things you know and all the things you don't know, all that data goes in, and the algorithm learns what you personally crave and what you personally lack and what you really want in life, so that's a digital map of your dreams, your insecurities, your life. And it is sort of like you're on the road, right? It's your digital biography. Do you own your movements in the world? It's a very interesting question. I imagine there are some benefits. So, for example, if you're on Instagram and you're a man, and you're constantly getting ads for feminine hygiene products, they're an annoyance; they're not useful to you. So perhaps you want to get ads that are more tailored to you. And of course, the way the news works these days is the news gives you back things that you agree with and that you want to see and that you want to read because there's so much information out there. This does backfire upon you because, at that point, you end up being manipulated by the fact that now interests that are foreign to you and nefarious to you and harmful to you can start to target you.
RL: How has the truth crisis impacted the climate crisis?
JF: They go hand-in-hand. We get our terrestrial proof from the Earth. The planet is empirical data. Climate change deniers are saying that the empirical data that's coming from the Earth is not true. Where do they say that? Principally, they say that online, which is its own "planet," the cybersphere. It's a planet that doesn't exist on Earth. It exists by its own rules and has its own set of priorities. And if you leave terrestrial Earth, yeah, you can make it wherever you want. So when you're in that cybersphere, it reigns true whenever you feel like on that particular day, for whomever is willing to pay for it.
The tobacco industry originally started doing this. They started to say things like, "Smoking is good for you." And they created all this bogus science and fake reports that said, "These cigarettes are fine." And what they were trying to do is sow confusion in people and stave off regulation. The exact same technique has been used by the oil industry.
RL: Why is the truth crisis such an urgent matter?
JF: It's so important because the further we get away from the terrestrial planet as our source of empirical reality, the closer we come to being evicted from the planet like climate change, and that is those same forces, the oil industry and the conservatives that are forcing us to an unlivable world. This is an emergency because of the climate. It's also an emergency because we're seeing right now the reemergence of white supremacists and Nazis on this planet, and they are taking over. Right-wing authoritarian governments are sweeping elections across the earth, and they're doing so primarily by using Facebook and WhatsApp and by lying directly to the public. Sixty-eight thousand fake Twitter accounts helped push the recent Bolivian coup. In the UK, Boris Johnson's recent election, 88 percent of the conservative parties' advertisements were misleading. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was elected with the help of fake news messages sent via WhatsApp, a messaging app used by 120 million Brazilians, saying that his opponent was a criminal. Obviously, there's Donald Trump, who had 5.9 million ad variations using Cambridge Analytica. There's also Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Narendra Modi in India. There are dozens of examples. So you're seeing right-wing, authoritarian, racist regimes cropping up all over the world. And in 2019, Steve Bannon raised $100 million for his white supremacist project in Europe.
So what is really dangerous about all of this is the two-headed monster of the rise of white supremacy, Nazism and racism on the one hand and on the other hand, climate change denial and the fossil fuel industry. And these are linked, and these are linked in the persona and in many actions by the Trump administration. In 2017, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil turned Secretary of State, created a contract between the State Department and Cambridge Analytica, and their mission was to influence elections all across the world. Big data and big oil running American diplomacy. And that continues to this day.
RL: Why should people see The Truth Has Changed?
JF: Because this is a chance to rally for the truth. It's the chance to rally for a new America. This project concerns itself with the oil industry, the world at war post-9/11, climate change. We've seen the United States get closer to war with Iran. We see Australia on fire, and authorities there must battle misinformation campaigns contending that the fires were caused by arson and not climate change. We know that we're watching the extinction of countless species in real time. We're in an emergency.
At every single performance of The Truth Has Changed there will be activists in the room who are campaigning on these issues, and that's what we need to do. We need to set the record straight. We need to say climate change is real. We need to say fracking is bad, we need to see Donald Trump as a racist and say that is not who we are as a nation. So we have to take our country back, and this is our effort to try to fight back against this wave of lies, smear and misinformation.
The Truth Has Changed opens at New York's Public Theater this January and will tour across the United States. For more information, visit internationalwow.com/tthc.php.
Reynard Loki is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Kelly Hayes
In October of 2016, I wrote a piece called How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective. I had visited the Standing Rock camps twice at that point, at the request of local youth who coordinated skill shares for Water Protectors, and I had written extensively about the movement. About a year later, I was asked to share my thoughts on the documentary, Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock.
But how does one critique a dream? A dream isn't bound by timelines or historical nuance. It's as much feeling as fact, and the lines between the two often blur.
As the name implies, Awake, A Dream of Standing Rock, is a series of images and reflections, unbound by the conventions of documentary storytelling. The film's dream-weaving approach at times works masterfully, capturing sounds and images that should be preserved in crisp, heartbreaking detail. In other moments, the film veers between the poetic and the historic with such ease that I was left wondering whether some viewers would know the difference.
The film's first chapter was directed by Josh Fox, who exposed the environmental toll of fracking in Gasland. The footage expands upon familiar scenes, invoking imagery that elicits every emotion it intends to. Co-writer Floris White Bull's poetic narration is penetrative and well-paced. But poetry does have its limitations. One can hardly complain because, as the title warned, Awake is a dream of Standing Rock, not a hard timeline, or an exploration of the complex lessons it taught.
But hybridizing poetry and history is risky. When a narrator veers between poetic flourish, such as White Bull's characterization of the camp as a place without hate or fear, and factual details, about police attacks and pipelines, edges can blur.
The film's second section is both breathtaking and essential. Without narration, the images and activities of the people being filmed tell their own story, and the footage provides a haunting sense of what it was like to be on the ground in Standing Rock, during that sprawling movement moment.
As someone who was deeply connected to these events but not a long term resident of the camps, I was grateful for the moments captured in Part II. During a sequence where Water Protectors knelt in prayer on Backwater Bridge, I could feel the holiness of the moment, and I could even remember how the cold air felt in my throat as I walked on that bridge.
And when Protectors were attacked on the bridge with water cannons, I relived every emotion I experienced that night, knowing my friends were on that bridge, soaking and battered, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
At that point, I messaged some of my friends who were traumatized by police in Standing Rock to offer a trigger warning.
The film's third and final section was directed by Native filmmaker and activist Myron Dewey, of Digital Smoke Signals. The importance of Dewey's work as a documentarian is inarguable. But as a direct action educator and organizer, I must disagree with his initial commentary in Awake.
In Part III, we are presented with text summaries of some of the legal history at work. Next we hear Dewey's take on events. Dewey's first major assertion is that Morton County Police had initially been friendly to protesters, and only turned violent after the desecration of sacred ground by Energy Transfer Partners.
In truth, police frequently approach protesters respectfully, at first, with tensions mounting as movements grow, threatening the status quo with their potential.
Further, attributing police violence to desecration de-contextualizes Native struggle from the realities of policing and resistance. People who brave the frontlines of liberation struggles are routinely battered in the U.S., whether they are challenging pipelines, police violence, or any other oppressive instrument or practice. Native people are killed by police at a higher rate than any other group, and our movements have always been met with violence and repression. It would be ahistorical to assume that police would have continued to treat Water Protectors gently as the movement grew, if not for the desecration.
The fear of what Water Protectors might accomplish caused law enforcement to show its true character in Standing Rock. From dogs and water cannons to COINTELPRO tactics that aimed to escalate tensions between Protectors, what police unleashed in Standing Rock was an unsurprising culmination of a history of violence toward Natives. No new violation of the sacred was needed to trigger this violence that has recreated itself since first contact.
Police who approached with a smile, and even joined round dances in the early days of the movement, were two-faced foes—always one order away from everything that followed. To deny this not only separates us from history, but from other justice movements in which people have been brutalized when they raised their hopes and voices too high.
To his credit, Dewey does capture the intractable nature of law enforcement in Standing Rock, highlighting the lack of accountability and, ultimately, the impunity with which police harassed and harmed Water Protectors, while criminalizing Protectors for minor or even wholly imagined legal offenses.
As someone who believes in the importance of frontline storytelling, I appreciate Awake for what it uplifts. Despite my narrative disagreements with the film, I think it's an important effort, that should be seen—especially for the film's second section.
It is the hope of any movement moment that it be remembered, and carried by many voices, which will mean the offering of many perspectives. If the viewer understands Awake as a puzzle piece in a much larger picture, in which many complexities go untouched, it will aid in their understanding.
But it is also crucial that the viewer understand the film as a dream, a vision, and a re-remembering, not a historical or social analysis of a movement and its many moving parts.
At their best, the Standing Rock camps were still rife with contradiction and difficulty. They had no uniformity of belief with regard to tactics or strategy. In truth, no such uniformity is possible in such an unprecedented convergence. Native peoples are not exempt from any of the difficulties that the tactic of occupation can bring. Factions form. Conflicts unfold. Participants butt heads over tactics and strategies—and some will invariably confuse the two.
The Standing Rock I knew was not a mystical place with a uniform perspective. It was a complex place—an experiment in love, hope, courage, and solidarity, unlike anything our peoples had experienced. It was full of beauty and catastrophe. It was bitingly human because we are human. And, as is often the case, the magic was in the mess.
At the film's end, the legacy of Standing Rock is addressed, with White Bull telling us that "what started in Standing Rock is now all over the world." A number of struggles and global movements are highlighted, in quick succession, in a narrative that seemingly attributes those movements to the momentum of Standing Rock. In some cases, the participants in those movements actually call themselves "Water Protectors," in the spirit of Standing Rock. But some of those struggles, like the fight against oil companies in the Amazon, substantially predate the Standing Rock encampments. It's important for us to acknowledge this, both out of respect for those movements, and as a challenge to those who viewed Standing Rock as something wholly new or unusual.
The story of Standing Rock—of state violence merging with corporate interests, of human potential and human destruction—is not an original concept. It has many iterations, across history and around the world. Standing Rock is no less special for this. If anything, I hope the unacquainted will take it as an invitation, to study the struggles they may have missed, and to join the fray when called.
Watch the trailer below:
Kelly Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Kelly is a queer Native writer, organizer, and movement photographer. She is also a direct action trainer and a co-founder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is a contributing writer at Truthout and blogs at TransformativeSpaces.org, where this article originally appeared, about U.S. movements and her work as an organizer against state violence.
This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation. Reposted with permission from our media associate Yes! Magazine.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Unsurprisingly, every senator on the list is a Democrat. Meanwhile, we could probably count with two hands the number of Republicans in Congress who think climate change is even real.
"The stakes for protecting the environment and public health have never been higher and the threats have never been greater," the LCV said earlier this year. "We must do more than ever to work with our allies in Congress—and mobilize the public—to fight the Trump administration and the extreme Congressional leadership who want to roll back our bedrock environmental laws and President Obama's incredible progress."
Here are the 10 best senators for the environment:
Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon. Lifetime score: 99%
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat from New Jersey. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin. Lifetime score: 97%
Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat from New Mexico. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island. Lifetime score: 96%
You might be scratching your head wondering why Sen. Bernie Sanders isn't on this list. Well, you might remember that last year he was very busy "running his historic presidential campaign," as Josh Fox pointed out in this blog post, and missed some critical environmental votes.
A new analysis of Texas' oil and gas development underscores how there really are two sides to the energy debate. We know that drilling has brought the state billions in wealth, but its vast impacts on the environment cannot be ignored.
The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST)—the state's top scientific community—has released a comprehensive, peer-reviewed report today analyzing the wide-ranging environmental, economic and social impacts of shale oil and gas production in the Lone Star State.
"This study aims to help us better understand what is and is not known about the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas and it offers recommendations for future research priorities," the report states.
The 204-page Shale Task Force report was compiled by representatives from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry, and state agencies with a focus on six key areas: seismicity, land, air, water, transportation and economic and social impacts.
Citing the report, the Houston Chronicle noted that the shale boom has contributed to the state's economic gains but has also "degraded natural resources, overwhelmed small communities and even boosted the frequency and severity of traffic collisions as workers and equipment rush to oil fields."
The report also reveals that people living in shale communities feel conflicted over the oil and gas industry. They like its benefits to local, regional and state economies but dislike the impacts on traffic, public safety, environmental concerns and noise. For instance, the report calculated that rural crashes involving commercial vehicles have increased more than 75 percent in some drilling regions in Texas. Also, road damage from oil and gas operations in Texas costs an estimated $1.5 to $2 billion a year
Although Texas has not experienced as many human-induced-earthquakes as Oklahoma, according to the report, Texas recorded only two earthquakes a year before 2008. Since then, there have been 12-15 a year. Some of the earthquakes have been linked to wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations.
As for water usage, the report's authors found that while hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses 1-5 million gallons of water per well on average, accounting for less than 1 percent of total statewide water use, it could still account for 90 percent of total water use in some rural counties.
"Even though the overall amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing processes in Texas is low, there are areas within the state where the amount used is much more important and will be of more concern," said Danny Reible, a professor at Texas Tech University and member of the task force.
EcoWatch reached out to Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, author and founding member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, to get her take on the study. She said:
The findings of the exhaustive, 204-page analysis from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science boil down to this: drilling and fracking operations bring temporary prosperity to a few and serious health and safety risks to many. The TAMES report makes clear that in Texas—as everywhere else—wherever fracking goes, it brings along toxic air pollution, depleted and contaminated water sources, earthquakes, traffic accidents, soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. These results corroborate those of peer-reviewed reports from other independent expert groups, including Concerned Health Professionals of New York, of which I'm a member.
And yet, in its recommendations, the TAMES report is overly tame. Perhaps not surprisingly in a state so deeply invested in fossil fuel extraction, the academy's suggestions for further monitoring and data collection fall far short of what's needed to protect communities, wildlife and the climate from ongoing damage. The unstated assumption seems to be that gas and oil extraction is simply an unchangeable fact of life to which we all must accommodate. It's not. And monitoring harm is not the same as preventing it. Rachel Carson said it best, when she reminded us that, when confronted with evidence of senseless and frightening risks, "we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us." That course is 100 percent wind, water and solar power.
Renowned filmmaker Josh Fox also commented on the study. Fox told EcoWatch:
"This study is a typical oil and gas industry greenwash. There is no such thing as a sustainable approach to fracking because the very first thing that we need to do in creating a sustainable future is eliminate fossil fuels. Fracking is inherently contaminating and polluting to air and water and the practice perpetuates the use of climate change inducing fossil fuels.
"The oil and gas industry pours money into this kind of propaganda dog and pony show so that it can appear to be 'responsible' but no amount of PR can clean up the mess they have left in Texas and around the world. The only truly sustainable conclusion for such a report would be to ban fracking and phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible in favor of renewable energy."
Here are some key highlights from the report:
Geology and Earthquake Activity
The majority of known faults present in Texas are stable and are not prone to generating earthquakes. To date, induced earthquakes in Texas have been associated with wastewater disposal wells, not with hydraulic fracturing.
- Earthquakes have increased in Texas. Before 2008, Texas recorded about 2 earthquakes a year. Since then, there have been about 12-15 a year.
- Seismic monitoring stations in Texas will increase from 18 to 43.
Shale oil and gas development activities in Texas have resulted in fragmentation of habitat on the landscape. However, there is a lack of information and scientific data on what the impacts of fragmentation have been and are on landscape—vegetative resources, agriculture and wildlife.
- 95% of Texas lands are privately-owned, which limits data and studies on land impacts.
- Texas is the only major oil and gas producing state without a surface damage act to protect landowners. The state should study the advisability of adopting a surface damage act.
The production of shale oil and gas results in emissions of greenhouse gases, photochemical air pollutants and air toxics. Air emission sources from shale oil and gas development are diverse, have complex behavior and are distributed across a large number of individual sites.
- For most types of oil and gas emission sources, ~5 percent of emitters account for more than 50 percent of emissions.
- Recent federal regulations have reduced emissions.
The most common pathways for contaminating drinking water sources and causing environmental damage are with surface spills and well casing leaks near the surface. The depth and separation between oil-bearing and drinking water-bearing zones make contamination of potential drinking water unlikely.
- Hydraulic fracturing uses 1-5 million gallons of water per well on average.
- Water used for hydraulic fracturing activities accounts for less than 1 percent of total statewide water use, but it could account for the majority of total water use in some rural counties.
Transportation is one of the most far-reaching and consistent impacts of shale oil and gas development. Texas accounts for about half of the drilling activity in the country at any given time, and all of that activity requires a very large number of heavy truckloads, which have far greater impact on roads than typical passenger vehicle traffic.
- Road damage from oil and gas operations in Texas costs an estimated $1.5 to $2 billion a year.
- This damage also impacts the trucking industry in Texas: vehicle damage and lower operating speeds cost the industry an estimated $1.5 to $3.5 billion a year.
Economic and Social
For the most part, shale oil and gas development contributes positively to local, regional and state economies, with some unintended consequences, including impacts to local infrastructure such as roads and increased cost of living and not everyone within a community benefits equally from such developments.
Communities in shale regions:
- LIKE the economic benefits to property values, schools and medical services.
- DISLIKE the impacts on traffic, public safety, environmental concerns and noise.
By Yosola Olorunshola
Whether it's through fashion or protest, Vivienne Westwood is not a woman afraid of making a statement.
On May 23, she rocked up to the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London with a special guest—the Grim Reaper—to issue a strong statement on the Church of England's position on fracking.
The Queen of Punk delivered a report, Whitehall's Fracking Science Failure, which criticizes the Church of England for declaring fracking "morally acceptable," and for its apparent support of the government's stance on the fracking industry.
Fracking is the technique used to extract gas from shale rock by injecting water at high pressure. In October 2016, the government controversially overturned objections to a fracking proposal in Lancashire, and gave the go-ahead for energy company Cuadrilla to explore the potential of fracking in the local area.
Opponents to fracking argue that the process can contaminate water supplies, damage the countryside, trigger Earth tremors and that fundamentally, it perpetuates a dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the world needs to switch to renewable energy.
"Fracking kills, and it poisons the whole land," Westwood told Global Citizen. "The majority of people in England are against fracking."
According to a YouGov poll from October 2016 , she's right. Fracking is deeply unpopular in the UK. Only 37.3 percent of those polled supported shale gas extraction.
Still, the government argues that fracking can be delivered safely and that emissions from shale gas would be lower than coal if conducted within official regulations.
"The position that fracking is cleaner than coal and can help us bridge to a renewable energy future whilst helping us reach our climate change reduction targets is a complete falsehood," the report says, calling for a complete moratorium on fracking in England. Both Scotland and Wales have declared a moratorium on fracking due to concerns about its negative environmental and health consequences.
As the Church owns swathes of land across the country, Westwood warned of its responsibility to prevent environmental degradation. In 2015, the Church of England decided to divest from the two most polluting fossil fuels—thermal coal and tar sands. Yet its recent decision to "tentatively back" fracking has left many disappointed.
End Ecocide. https://t.co/3LZeiYRbnb— Vivienne Westwood (@Vivienne Westwood)1492535772.0
Appearing alongside the Grim Reaper is a dark symbol, but one that captures Westwood's daring spirit—a rebellious attitude that extends from her eye for unconventional frocks on the catwalk to her outspoken defense of the planet and its inhabitants. As well as fighting fracking in the UK, she is a longstanding supporter of Cool Earth, which works with indigenous peoples to halt rainforest destruction.
"We have to save the world from climate change," she said. While campaigning at a political level, Westwood also believes individuals can take immediate practical action to start a climate change revolution from within their own homes.
"In all my time as an activist, I explain the problem and people say what can we do. It's the first time I've found an answer. Switch to green energy. That's something you can do. It will completely undermine the rotten financial system that we've got. It will really bring in the green economy. The green economy will save us. The green economy is the only chance we've got of a paradise."
The Maryland House of Delegates passed a milestone fracking ban bill Friday with unprecedented bipartisan support. House Bill 1325, which passed by a vote of 97 to 40, would ban hydraulic fracturing statewide.
Public opposition to the practice has grown over the past year, as more than a dozen counties and cities across the state have already passed local resolutions and ordinances to ban fracking and more than 1,000 Marylanders marched through the state capitol last week to demand a fracking ban.
Ban #Fracking Now! https://t.co/ioZ16uKIEF @GreenpeaceUK @EUEnvironment— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488794709.0
"We cannot afford to put our health, our ecology or the growing economy of Western Maryland at risk for fracking. That is why a total ban is necessary and supported by the people of Maryland," said Kumar Barve, chairman of the House Environment & Transportation Committee that put forth the bill.
"As a longtime proponent of legislative initiatives to protect Maryland from the dangers of fracking, I commend the Maryland House of Delegates for voting in support of a fracking ban," said Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo who introduced the bill. "Across the country, fracking is polluting the air and water of countless communities and making people sick. The passing of this bill is a huge step forward in securing Maryland as a national leader in combating climate change and protecting our citizens."
Study Links Childhood Leukemia With Living Near Oil and Gas Development https://t.co/japTG9woS6 #fracking @SierraClub @ewg @RobertKennedyJr— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487878676.0
Residents from across the state have sent more than 35,000 petitions and letters in support of a ban to the General Assembly. More than 200 businesses, the majority from Western Maryland, and more than 200 Maryland health professionals sent letters to the General Assembly in support of the bill.
"The passing of the fracking ban bill through the House by a 57 vote margin is truly a watershed moment for Maryland," said Mitch Jones, senior policy advocate at Food & Water Watch. "The current overwhelming support from Maryland delegates shows an understanding that without a ban, public health and local businesses cannot be protected. We applaud this critical step towards preserving the resources and economy of Maryland and call on the Senate to follow the lead of the House."
I was shocked to learn that last week the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gave Sen. Bernie Sanders a score of 6 percent in their 2016 National Environmental Scorecard. LCV claims that Sen. Sanders received such a low score because he missed votes while he was running his historic presidential campaign. But there may be more to the story than we're being told.
Those of you who have seen Gasland I and II know that fracking is very personal for me. One of the reasons I was a proud surrogate of Bernie's is because he was the only candidate to call for a national ban on fracking. So when I see him being treated this way by an organization, whose board of directors is known to support and promote fracking, it's also personal.
The bottom line is LCV's scorecard system is flawed and fails to evaluate lawmakers on their full body of work. That's why, according to their scorecard, pro-fracking senators like Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Corey Gardner (R-CO) actually score higher than Bernie. That's just plain ridiculous.
LOVE THIS! @BernieSanders & @BillNye Defend #Climate Science, Explain How #Renewables Can Power America https://t.co/le5Ru8WJHC @mzjacobson— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488380391.0
It's no secret that LCV, who endorsed Sec. Clinton during last year's primary, have contempt for Bernie. I experienced this firsthand while serving on the Democrat's platform committee fighting for a national ban on fracking to be included as part of the party platform. The pushback I received from LCV Chairwoman Carol Browner, and many others from the Clinton camp, was astonishing. Not to mention the fact that LCV even endorsed candidates known to support the fracking industry and take their money—and 2016 was not the first time. This is antithetical to the organization's mission statement, which includes a commitment to "electing pro-environmental candidates who will champion priority issues." There is nothing pro-environment about fracking, and to say otherwise is nothing short of pronouncing alternative facts.
Bernie had the most ambitious climate platform in presidential history and he has continued his leadership since the campaign—standing up for Native American rights and against the Dakota Access Pipeline, standing up for environmental justice and standing up against President Trump's agenda, which includes rolling back as many environmental regulations as possible and letting fracking run rampant throughout our communities.
Trump Gives Pen to Dow Chemical CEO After Signing Executive Order to Eliminate Regulations https://t.co/xtG9rYLokw @BusinessGreen @CSRwire— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487978703.0
At a time when we all have to come together, we should be standing with proven climate and environmental champions, not throwing them under the bus to score cheap points with the political establishment.
Please join me in telling the LCV to start acting like true environmental leaders and adjust Bernie's score to account for his historic presidential campaign that consistently elevated climate change and environmental justice as national issues. LCV should also make a commitment to the people and its members that they will no longer support pro-fracking candidates and reflect accurate scores for lawmakers who promote or otherwise support this climate-altering practice.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has long been tied to environmental risks such as spills. The frequency of spills, however, has long been murky since states do not release standardized data.
Estimates from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) vary wildly.
"The number of spills nationally could range from approximately 100 to 3,700 spills annually, assuming 25,000 to 30,000 new wells are fractured per year," the agency said in a June 2015 report. Also, the EPA reported only 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012.
But now, a new study suggests that fracking-related spills occur at a much higher rate.
The analysis, published Feb. 21 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed 6,648 spills in four states alone—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—in 10 years.
The researchers determined that up to 16 percent of fracked oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemically laden water, fracking fluids and other substances.
EPA Watered Down Major #Fracking Study to Downplay Water Contamination Risks https://t.co/9HhJdrSZ1R @GreenpeaceUK @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480767012.0
For the study, the researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 fracked wells in the four states between 2005 and 2014.
"On average, that's equivalent to 55 spills per 1,000 wells in any given year," lead author Lauren Patterson, a policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, told ResearchGate.
North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents. Pennsylvania reported 1,293, Colorado reported 476 and New Mexico reported 426. The researchers created an interactive map of spill sites in the four states.
Although North Dakota is rich in oil, the state's higher spill rate can be explained by varying state reporting requirements. North Dakota is required to report any spill larger than 42 gallons whereas requirement in Colorado and New Mexico is 210 gallons.
Patterson points out that the different reporting requirements are a problem.
"Our study concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," she told ResearchGate. "States would benefit from setting reporting requirements that generate actionable information—that is, information regulators and industry can use to identify and respond to risk 'hot spots.' It would also be beneficial to standardize how spills are reported. This would improve accuracy and make the data usable to understand spill risks."
9,442 Citizen-Reported Fracking Complaints Reveal 12-Years of Suppressed Data https://t.co/I8IpPRk6zR @talkfracking @AntiFrackinguk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485858909.0
The reason why the researchers' numbers vastly exceeded the 457 spills estimated by the EPA is because the agency only accounted for spills during the hydraulic fracturing stage itself, rather than the entire process of unconventional oil and gas production.
"Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson explained. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells—not just unconventional ones."
For instance, the researchers found that 50 percent of spills were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines.
"The causes are quite varied," Patterson told BBC. "Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places."
220 'Significant' Pipeline Spills Already This Year Exposes Troubling Safety Record https://t.co/pxhlC3pf06 @PriceofOil @350 @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1477418713.0
For the four states studied, most spills occurred in the the first three years of a well's life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest.
Additionally, a significant portion of spills (26 percent in Colorado, 53 percent in North Dakota) occurred at wells with more than one spill, suggesting that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.
"Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health," said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School's Environmental Policy Initiative in a statement. "Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community."
Earthquakes in Pennsylvania are usually rare but fracking operations triggered a series of small temblors in Lawrence County last year, officials at the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced in a Feb. 17 report.
Human-Induced #Earthquakes on the Rise https://t.co/eMyzTU4yqz @foe_us @SierraClub @FrackAction @DeSmogBlog @350 @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485360857.0
Hilcorp Energy Co., a Texas-based oil and gas company, was fracking a pair of wells in the Utica Shale when seismic monitors detected five earthquakes measuring between 1.8 and 2.3 on the Richter scale between April 25-26, 2016.
"Our analysis after doing the review... is that these events are correlated with the activity of the operator," DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell told Penn Live.
While the tremors were too small to be felt by humans or cause any damage, they are the first quakes in the state to be blamed on fracking. Pennsylvania happens to be the second largest natural gas-producing state in the country.
Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than Reported - EcoWatch: EcoWatchPennsylvania Fracking ... https://t.co/Ev1NoxURhK— PA Against Fracking (@PA Against Fracking)1454601300.0
"At least within Pennsylvania, this is the first time that we have seen that sort of spatial and temporal correlation with [oil and gas] operator activity," Seth Pelepko, chief of well-plugging and subsurface activities for DEP's oil and gas management program, told Allegheny Front, a western Pennsylvania public radio program.
"No faults identified along portions of the well bore where these seismic events were detected," Pelepko continued.
Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace said operations were immediately suspended after learning about the tremors. Fracking and stimulation operations have since been discontinued at the well pad indefinitely.
The DEP said that Hilcorp was using a technique known as "zipper fracturing" at the time, which involves the concurrent fracking of two horizontal wellbores that are parallel and adjacent to each other.
Groundbreaking Study Shows Direct Link Between Fracking and Earthquakes https://t.co/8wzSJhvhEV @FrackAction @Frack_Off— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1479512706.0
So how did the earthquakes happen? As Penn Live explains:
Four wells were drilled to depth of about 7,900 feet in that location.
Evidence indicates that induced earthquakes occur when the separation between Utica Shale and basement rocks is lessened during drilling operations. That means, when someone drills too close to basement rocks, there can be earthquakes.
Pelepko said that seems to have been the case in Lawrence County, where the basement rock is shallow compared to other areas in the state.
The distance between Utica Shale and basement rocks were between 2,500 to 3,000 feet at the fracking site.
The DEP has since given a number of recommendations to Hilcorp, including the discontinuation of zipper fracturing near gas wells in North Beaver, Union and Mahoning Townships where the earthquakes occurred. Additionally, the company must shut down operations and notify the DEP should any earthquake larger than 2.0 or three successive quakes between 1.5 and 1.9 in magnitude occur within a three-mile distance of a wellbore path.
Earthquakes caused by fracking a well are uncommon. However, the notorious spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma, which were caused by the disposal of large quantities of fracking wastewater into underground wells, are rampant. The disposal of wastewater produced from fracking, has led to the alarming increase of earthquakes with magnitude-3 or larger by nearly 300 times, or 30,000 percent in north-central Oklahoma alone. In 2014, more than 5,000 earthquakes were reported.
By Alleen Brown
In Donald Trump's first week as president, text describing two rules regulating the oil and gas industry was removed from an Interior Department website. The rules, limiting hydraulic fracturing and natural gas flaring on public lands, are in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
The changes were noted by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative or EDGI, which has been monitoring changes to federal web sites since Trump's inauguration.
On Jan. 21, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) page, which describes various regulations for how the oil and gas industry should operate on federal land, still included a section on the Methane and Waste Prevention rule. The regulation was part of the Obama administration's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. By Jan. 28, the section was gone.
The rule, which is widely opposed by the oil and gas industry, limits fossil fuel companies' ability to vent and flare gas on public land, which releases methane, a greenhouse gas around 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It was one of the first Obama era regulations to be targeted by a Republican-controlled Congress empowered by Trump. On Feb. 3, at least five days after the site had been updated, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the methane rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 days to eliminate federal regulations legislators don't like. The bill awaits a Senate vote.
New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases https://t.co/WtKItMefJQ @BusinessGreen @GreenCollarGuy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486423817.0
Also removed was text within a section on the Interior Department's hydraulic fracturing rule, Obama's primary attempt to limit the impacts of the controversial oil and gas extraction method. The page still notes that the rule exists but it no longer describes what it does. The deleted text stated that the regulation was meant "to ensure that when operations are undertaken on lands where a BLM permit is required, steps are taken to ensure wellbore integrity, proper waste water management and greater transparency about the process, including information about the composition of fracturing fluids."
Reviled by the industry and by Republicans, the fracking rule was struck down in a federal court last June, when a judge ruled that the Interior Department lacks authority to regulate fracking. The Obama administration had been appealing the decision.
Also removed was text noting "ongoing regulatory efforts" to update old rules that have not kept up with the way oil and gas companies operate today.
A BLM website dedicated to the methane rule is unchanged. "The text was updated because the Venting and Flaring rule was no longer a proposed rule as indicated on the old webpage," said BLM spokesperson Michael Richardson. "The BLM is proceeding to implement the rule now that it has changed from a proposed rule to a final rule until directed otherwise."
Richardson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation over the hydraulic fracturing rule.
"It's hard to tell how significant these changes are, but there's certainly a striking congruence with the attacks on the methane rule under the current administration," said Rebecca Lave, who's leading EDGI's monitoring effort.
The group has also been involved in an effort to extract environmental and climate databases from federal sites and preserve them for researchers, in case the Trump administration takes them down. On Tuesday, the Open White House federal data website ceased functioning. A message at the top of the page read: "Check back soon for new data."
Max Ogden, a programmer for the non-profit Dat Data Project tweeted that he had downloaded the data on inauguration day and would redistribute soon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently moved inspection reports offline that include information about animal abuse at various facilities, which will now only be accessible via notoriously slow Freedom of Information Act requests.
Trump Administration Tells EPA to Cut Climate Change Page From Website https://t.co/TgAwdWDav4 @earthisland @Earthjustice— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485383707.0
So far EDGI hasn't noticed similar removals of entire environmental databases. In addition to changes the group anticipated, such as deletions of references to the previous administration, Lave said, "What we're seeing instead is patterns of changes in wording, we're seeing the removal of links to basic information, we're seeing to some extent the beginnings of reorganizations in federal agencies."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
By Jim Gurley
The Winona County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 22 voted 3-2 to ban the mining, processing or trans-loading of frac sand in the county, which is located in the environmentally delicate and beautiful Mississippi River bluff lands of southeast Minnesota.
Frac sand being transported by barge in the Upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin. Ric Zarwell
Frac sand is an essential ingredient in fracking, which fractures shale deep underground. The frac sand (also known as silica sand) props open those fractures so that bubbles of oil or gas can flow to the surface. Fracking, a type of extreme energy extraction, cannot take place without this special silica sand. (Although there are more expensive alternatives such as imported ceramic beads or resin-coated sand.)
The sand we're familiar with (sand boxes or beach sand) is angular and variable in size, whereas frac sand is almost pure quartz and must be spherical, extremely crush-resistant and uniform in size.
The best type of this valuable sand is found in the Upper Midwest, with Wisconsin holding 75 percent of the nation's frac sand market. But the industry has been somewhat stymied in Minnesota due to intense and organized citizen opposition by such groups as Winona County's Citizens Against Silica Mining (CASM) and Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project which spearheaded the ban campaign.
Frac sand mining from the sky in Wisconsin, October 2013. Ted Auch
This ban applies only to rural areas, not to the city of Winona—which already has a half-dozen operations, including a mine within the city limits. City leaders, working behind the scenes, enabled the industry to get a substantial foothold in Winona in 2011 prior to public discussion, debate or significant local media coverage.
As the central transport hub (rail and barge) for the region, the city of Winona has seen intense controversy and protest. Citizens took direct action in 2012 when they dumped frac sand on the steps of city hall. In 2013, more than 100 people blocked the trucks with their bodies and shut down two large operations simultaneously, resulting in 35 arrests.
Citizens shut down two frac-sand facilities April 29, 2013 in the city of Winona, Minnesota, resulting in 35 arrests. Here citizens block frac-sand trucks from unloading at the city's port on the Mississippi River. Andrew Link / Winona Daily News
Ban supporters cite several concerns. Frac sand is a known carcinogen leading to cancer and silicosis (a fatal and incurable lung disease). Frac-sand trucks emit diesel exhaust, which is linked to lung cancer. Chemicals used in settling ponds are concerning, as are the threats to groundwater from the leaching of heavy metals.
Citizens block trucks carrying frac sand during the 2013 Winona, Minnesota protest by locking arms at the Hemker processing facility.
People near frac sand operations suffer a loss of a sense of place, as entire bluffs are obliterated with mountain-top removal; stress and sickness from the 24/7 bright stadium lights and noise, and the hundreds of 80,000-pound semis that pass their houses daily.
Economically, tourism dollars are jeopardized, property values are often devalued for those who refuse to sell, roads are degraded or destroyed, and taxpayers are burdened with the added costs of monitoring and enforcement. (The industry has often flagrantly ignored regulations.)
When applying for a permit, the industry promises "reclamation" of the land afterwards, sometimes saying it will be better than before for native plants or crops. But experts warn that soil is a living organism that takes many years to form. And extractive industries have a history of declaring bankruptcy once they've taken the resource, leaving the residents to deal with the resulting problem.
The two commissioners who opposed a ban warned of impending lawsuits, saying that regulating the industry made more sense than banning it. They offered an alternative ordinance that would have limited the number of mines. But the county attorney, Karin Sonneman found that such a ban, with proper findings of fact, would be defensible in court.
Ban opponents also cited property rights, saying that taking away the possibility for a landowner to strip-mine constituted a "taking" under the U.S. Constitution, and interfered with interstate commerce. County Attorney Sonneman disagreed.
"I cannot control anyone who wants to sue this board, but I can certainly make darn well sure that the board's decisions are supported by the law and the facts," she said.
An average of 80 percent of citizen comments received on this issue favored a ban. Commissioner Greg Olson said the case is strong. Referring to an industry attorney who threatened a lawsuit, Olson said, "I'd put more weight on the public who has spoken at that podium ... than I do on a letter from an attorney in Minneapolis. We represent the citizens of Winona County as a whole and I think they've been clear."
Johanna Rupprecht, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, reflected on the victory. "I'm really pleased that a majority of the county board listened to the will of the citizens and followed through on passing the ban even in the face of threats and pressure of outside interests," Rupprecht concluded.
A major new report released Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights hydraulic fracturing's threat to California's water supplies. All six factors identified in the EPA report as increasing the risk of fracking-related water pollution apply in California.
Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water https://t.co/HLoCvupJvC— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1481668118.0
"This report shows that Californians are right to be deeply concerned about fracking pollution's threats to our water," said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA identified six risk factors that increase the risk of water contamination and every single one applies in our state. The best way to protect our water from fracking chemicals is to ban this toxic technique."
Oil companies in California frack at shallow depths, very close to groundwater. They also employ fracking fluid with unusually high concentrations of chemicals. The oil industry in the state has been allowed to dispose of vast quantities of oil wastewater into unlined pits that threaten groundwater.
"Percolation pits, in particular, were commonly reported to have been used to manage produced water from stimulated wells in Kern County, California, between 2011 and 2014," the EPA report states. The document also highlights the risks of spills of oil industry wastewater, noting that over a recent five-year period "18 percent of the spills impacted waterways."
The EPA found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. The report identifies certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe.
EPA's six identified factors for increased risk of water pollution, listed below, all occur in California, making fracking in the state particularly dangerous:
Risk factor 1: Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources.
California is experiencing a historic drought. A 2014 report by Ceres noted that 98 percent of fracking occurs in areas of the state experiencing high or extreme water stress.
Risk factor 2: Spills during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources.
Oil companies in California use well-stimulation fluid with a higher concentration of chemicals, according to 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology.
Risk factor 3: Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources.
California's long history of oil production makes it more prone to fluid migration through older wells. The state also has many wells in close proximity to one another (high density) and unmapped wells, which increase this risk even further.
Risk factor 4: Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources.
Groundwater tables and injection zones in California are close together, according to the California Council on Science and Technology, increasing the likelihood that fracking fluid may directly reach a source of groundwater.
Risk factor 5: Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water.
The Cawelo Water District in California's Kern County has been processing water from oil fields in which fracking has occurred and using it for irrigation. Records show that statewide, millions of gallons of wastewater are later discharged to irrigation canals for agricultural use. Wastewater is also sometimes discharged into surface water.
Why Are California Farmers Irrigating Crops With Oil Wastewater? via @EcoWatch https://t.co/iO5GjdBXlr #water #cancer #fracking #health— Green Bean (@Green Bean)1477802840.0
Risk factor 6: Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
California continues to allow the oil industry to use unlined pits for oil wastewater storage and disposal. A survey by the State Water Resources Control Board and regional water boards found hundreds of active unlined pits in the state. While oil officials recently implemented a regulation against discharging flowback fluid from fracked wells into such pits, the state does a poor job of tracking wastewater and existing pits likely have vast quantities of fracking flowback fluid.