Nestlé's grab of a Canadian community's water supply has sparked international outrage and calls to boycott the company and bottled water. More than 150,000 Facebook users are talking about the news on the social media site.
The Council of Canadians is calling on people to sign a declaration on its website to boycott bottled water and Nestlé.
Nestlé Waters Canada, a bottled water operation of the multinational food and drink giant, outbid the Township of Central Wellington in Ontario for water rights to a local well to ensure "future business growth."
The company is already permitted to pull up to 3.6 million liters (roughly 951,000 gallons) of water a day for its bottling operations in nearby Aberfoyle, but decided to swoop up the well near Elora, Ontario in order "to supplement our operations in Aberfoyle."
According to the Globe and Mail, the company bought the well from Middlebrook Water Company last month after having made a conditional offer in 2015.
The reason this issue has blown up is because the Township of Centre Wellington wanted to buy the spring water well for itself in order to safeguard the drinking water supply the growing community, mayor Kelly Linton explained to The Guardian.
The township has a population of about 30,000 but "by 2041, we'll be closer to 50,000 so protecting our water sources is critical to us," he said.
Not only that, much of the province of Ontario is experiencing record drought conditions, with rainfall 100 millimeters below normal in some areas from April to June, the National Post reported in July.
A drought intensity map released by Agriculture Canada on June 17, showing "moderate drought" across eastern Ontario.Agriculture Canada
According to The Guardian, when township authorities learned that Nestlé was trying to buy the well, they scrambled over the summer to come up with a counter-offer.
"We put in more money than they did and we removed all conditions," Linton said. The amount has not been specified.
But Nestlé, which had right of first refusal, was able to match the township's offer and won the well for itself.
"As you can appreciate we aren't going to be outbidding Nestlé," Linton said. "As a small town we're using taxpayer dollars, so we have to be good stewards of that."
Nestlé was reportedly unaware of the township's counter-offer until after the purchase was made. Since securing the well, the company said it has submitted an application to the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to conduct an aquifer pump test to determine if the water source meets the company's internal requirements "as well as ensure it can be operated in a sustainable manner." If the source at the Middlebrook well site meets Nestlé's requirements, the company will seek a permit that allows it to draw water at 300 gallons a minute, Nestlé said.
However, Wellington Water Watchers, a local volunteer group, plans to block the company's plans.
"We are fighting tooth and nail to not allow that pump test to go ahead," Mike Nagy of the group told The Guardian.
The Wellington Water Watchers pointed out in a Facebook post that Nestlé's latest move will vastly increase plastic pollution due to the wastefulness of bottled water.
"Think about the plastic we will stop being produced by saying NO to the Nestle permit renewals and the recent purchase of the Middlebrook Well. 6.4 million liters a day would translate into 12 million plastic packages per day! This is how much water they would have access to if they get the permit in Elora Centre Wellington as they already have 4.7 million liters day. Use the 4th R, REFUSE."
The Council of Canadians is also urging a national boycott of Nestlé. A media release for the boycott states:
"This summer, while many parts of southern Ontario faced drought conditions, Nestlé continued to pump more than 4 million litres of groundwater every day from an aquifer near Guelph. Nestlé pays less than $15 per day for this water, which it then ships out in hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bottles for sale all over North America."
"The water crisis is at our door here in Canada," Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said. "Groundwater resources are finite and are currently taxed by droughts, climate change and over-extraction. At this pace, we will not have enough for our future needs. Wasting our limited groundwater on frivolous and consumptive uses such as bottled water is a recipe for disaster. We must safeguard groundwater reserves for communities and future generations."
Additionally, as Barlow told the Canadian Press, the new Elora well is located near a First Nation's reserve, potentially putting their water supply at risk.
"[The well] sits on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River, 11,000 of whom do not have access to clean running water," Barlow said.
Nestlé's has been making many recent headlines over its bottling operations. Last week, EcoWatch reported that the Swiss conglomerate is now legally permitted to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California on a permit that expired back in 1988.
#Nestlé Can Keep Piping Water Out of Drought-Stricken California Despite Permit Expiring in 1988 via @EcoWatch https://t.co/KT5DkFKdat #Vile— JOYCE HEARD (@JOYCE HEARD)1474556981.0
A federal judge ruled that the corporation can continue its use of a 4-mile pipeline that siphons thousands of gallons of public water a day from the Strawberry Creek watershed and sell it back to the public as bottled water. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.
Early scientific analysis predicted that the risks associated with hazardous waste injection wells would be negligible. Unfortunately, experience has indicated that disposing of hazardous waste deep underground has been linked to water contamination, destroyed ecosystems, toxic leaks and earthquakes.
Now we are learning that there is a difference between scientific analysis and scientific evidence.
In a recent extensive report by ProPublica, John Apps, leading geoscientist, who advises the Department of Energy for Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, said that the science used to go forward with disposal wells was not sound.
"Every statement is based on a collection of experts that offer you their opinions. Then you do a scientific analysis of their opinions and get some probability out of it. This is a wonderful way to go when you don't have any evidence one way or another ... But it really doesn't mean anything scientifically," said Apps.
Perhaps the scientific projections behind the disposal well operations would be sound under ideal conditions: uniform rock structure, stability of toxic materials, predictable reactions and seismic activity. But, scientists say, no amount of speculation can take into account all of the variables of deep underground environments.
"Geology," according to geologist Ronald Reese, "is never what you think it is.”
Only practical data and experimental research can offer any insight into the possible risks of hazardous waste injection wells. And since many disposal wells have gone unmonitored for years, regulators are unable to make informed decisions about their safety.
According to ProPublica, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “has not counted the number of cases of waste migration or contamination in more than 20 years.”
Up until the 1960s, most toxic waste was deposited in lakes and rivers, which led to obvious, unbearable pollution of ecosystems and drinking water in the U.S. As an answer to this pressing problem, oil companies developed hazardous waste injection wells as a solution.
Disposal wells use high-pressure pumps to force toxic and non-toxic waste down cement and steel pipelines to dumping zones about two kilometers deep in the Earth. Wells can be shallower if the waste is less offensive. The waste is then released into the porous rock beneath several layers of Earth.
The idea, according to a recent report in the Scientific American, is that “underground waste is contained by layer after layer of impermeable rock. If one layer leaks, the next blocks the waste from spreading before it reaches groundwater. The laws of physics and fluid dynamics should ensure that the waste can't spread far and is diluted as it goes.”
Each disposal well could deposit more than millions of gallons of waste into the ground using tremendous force. Once the waste is deposited, it is not tracked and scientists have no real idea of how far it can travel.
The ProPublica report points out that, “rock layers aren't always neatly stacked as they appear in engineers' sketches. They often fold and twist over on themselves. Waste injected into such formations is more likely to spread in lopsided, unpredictable ways.”
In light of recent research and evidence of leakage, hydrologist Tom Myers says that more knowledge is needed to understand the implications of deep disposal wells as “natural faults and fractures are more prevalent than commonly understood.”
Scientific projections were unable to foresee the ways that injection wells would impact the environment. The three major ways are:
In many cases, liquid waste has traveled horizontally and migrated up to ground water through abandoned water and oil wells. This unanticipated phenomenon has been linked to hundreds of water contamination cases throughout the U.S. and Canada.
There are currently thousands of unplugged and abandoned wells in the U.S. and Canada. In 1989, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) investigated and concluded that current safeguards aren’t preventing contamination from injected oil and gas wastes. Their report states specifically that “brines from Class II wells can enter drinking water supplies directly, through cracks and leaks in the well casing, or indirectly through nearby wells.”
Canada, too, has had its share of disposal well-related contamination due to insufficient research. The Canadian government blames events like the contamination of groundwater in Lambton Count, Ontario, in 1977 on a “lack of knowledge.” According to Environment Canada, “[d]isposal wells were constructed and waste injected following the regulations and best knowledge at the time. However, it was not realized that waste fluids would migrate to the surface through abandoned oil and groundwater wells, causing a major problem that still exists today.”
Even basic regulations are supposed to include a seismic survey within a two-mile radius of the designated drilling area. Yet, “in 1961, a 12,000-foot well was drilled at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of Denver, [CO], for disposing of waste fluids from the Arsenal's chemical weapons operations. Injection commenced March 1962, and an unusual series of earthquakes erupted in the area shortly after.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, over the course of time that the Rocky Mountain Arsenal waste dumping practice went on, the area sustained a dozen earthquakes.
The earthquakes were prompted by the destabilization of a seismic fault line due to the drilling of the well and the pressure of materials being forced into the ground. The Arsenal stopped injection operations Nov. 26, 1967, after a 5.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the area a few months earlier.
This isn’t an isolated case.
In 2011, A magnitude 5.7 earthquake rocked the area surrounding Prague, OK. Scientists say the "largest earthquake in Oklahoma history was likely triggered by a waste injection well." According to a report in National Geographic, "[a]s pressure builds in these disposal wells, it pushes up against geological faults, sometimes causing them to rupture, setting off an earthquake."
In a report released by the scientific journal Geology earlier this year, "Significant earthquakes are increasingly occurring within the continental interior of the United States." These quakes are being directly linked with injection well operations.
In Texas, many farmers are unable to use their land for farming or livestock due to contamination. Texas is riddled with abandoned and unplugged oil wells, which play a role in the leaks caused by injection wells.
The abandoned wells present a pathway for injected wastes to migrate upward into ground water and onto farmland. If a field is flooded by an injection well leak, the land is not suitable for farming of any kind. The resale value of the land is also affected.
As ProPublica reports, in 2003, "Ed Cowley of the EPA got a call to check out a pool of briny water in a bucolic farm field outside Chico, TX. Nearby, he said, a stand of trees had begun to wither, their leaves turning crispy brown and falling to the ground."
The pool of water was due to a salt-water leak from a nearby injection well. Salt-water brine is used in various oil production techniques [fracking] and is known to contain dangerous chemicals like benzene. "It was frustrating," Crowley said. "If your water goes, what does that do to the value of your land?"
A major contributor to the deficit of knowledge surrounding waste injection wells could be the lack of sufficient monitoring and documentation. And this negligence doesn't appear to be accidental. In the 1980’s, an abundance of leak and water contamination reports brought waste injection well regulations into consideration with federal regulators proposing stricter rules. At the time the oil and gas industry complained they couldn’t afford to uphold such high standards of inspection. The amount of money needed to conduct the inspections would force them to close down they said.
Oil and gas exploration and production waste is now exempt from federal hazardous wastes regulations in the U.S.
According to ProPublica, “[o]perators are required to do so-called 'mechanical integrity' tests at regular intervals, yearly for Class 1 wells and at least once every five years for Class 2 wells. In 2010, the tests led to more than 7,500 violations [in the U.S.], with more than 2,300 wells failing. In Texas, one violation was issued for every three Class 2 wells examined in 2010.”
In some cases, operators aren't required to comply with what regulations do exist. Many operational wells were built before current regulations were put into place. These “grandfathered” wells are not, and will not be, subject to the same regulations as new wells.
Even with new wells, the standards are not being met. According to the GAO, new permits are being issued “without evidence that the pressure tests were conducted.”
Inspection regulations in place are habitually ignored or sidestepped. Perhaps because regulations are, according to some experts, “outdated at this point.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING WASTEWATER page for more related news on this topic.
HOW IS YOUR COMMUNITY'S WATER IS SOURCED?
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July 1 marks Canada Day when many Canadians celebrate the unification of three colonies into their country on the same date in 1867. In Ontario, droves of people head off to their summer cottages and vacation get-a-ways on the shores of the Great Lakes for the holiday weekend. Lake Huron’s sandy beaches and beautiful aquamarine waters attract many visitors from all over the world. But this year, many First Nations were not celebrating the stripping of their sovereignty rights and desecration of their lands.
Those heading to the Saugeen Shores area and the town of Southampton this past weekend were greeted Saturday by the second annual “Walk the Talk” peaceful protest march against not one, but two permanent underground nuclear dumps less than a mile away from Lake Huron.
More than 500 citizens from across North America gathered at the Southampton, Ontario, flagpole on High Street by the lake. They gathered to voice their opposition to nuke dumps on these beautiful shores and to the continued production of this dangerous and deadly waste. They walked several kilometers through the town and along the beach to heighten awareness and bring attention to this diabolical plan, orchestrated largely in secret by local and national authorities and a deceitful industry, to bury low level, intermediate and high level nuclear waste underground and less than a mile away from this important fresh water source. They gathered to push back against a corrupt political leadership from the local level to the upper levels of dirty energy frontman Stephen Harper’s disastrous national government. They marched to say no to an industry that has been lying and deceiving the public about the dangers of nuclear energy and radiation exposure for decades. They walked to promote real renewable wind and solar energy alternatives.
Surely the question that comes to many is why on Earth would anyone in their right mind consider the shores of Lake Huron for the first permanent nuclear dump in North America? Lake Huron sits to the north of Lakes St. Clair, Erie and Ontario and the water of this lake flows southward and eastward, eventually connecting to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Great Lakes account for 21 percent of the world’s fresh water resources, or a little over one fifth, and to many native American cultures and First Nation peoples, the Great Lakes are considered the sacred heart of Turtle Island. So, why would anyone consider dumping radioactive poisons that will remain deathly dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years next to such an integral part of the our Great Lakes ecosystem? The answer begins with the human folly of siting what is now the world’s largest nuclear energy producer in this very same location.
The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station operated by Ontario Power Generation.
The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, with its eight currently operating reactors, is now the largest operating nuclear power plant in the world and fifth largest operating power producer of any kind. When all reactors are operating, it produces 7,276 megawatts a year. It sits directly on the shores of the lake on a sprawling 2300 acre complex that is also home to the Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF), an above ground interim waste storage area for the low level and intermediate level radioactive waste for all 20 of the nuclear reactors operated by Ontario Power Generation.
WWMF stores tons of radioactive wastes in 11 different buildings and has the capacity to burn thousands of pounds of this waste every day. That’s right, much of this low level and intermediate-level waste is actually being incinerated sending deadly cancer-causing radionuclides into the atmosphere while leaving growing piles of radioactive ash in their wake, and this has been going on for decades. Greenpeace has noted that incineration of low and intermediate-level radioactive waste does not destroy metals or reduce radioactivity of wastes. In theory, all but a small fraction of radioactive and metallic emissions from incinerators can be captured with well-maintained, high efficiency filters. However, the small particles that escape are more readily absorbed by living organisms than the larger ones filtered.
The Canadian nuclear industry, like its counterparts in nuclearized countries around the world, was born promoting the myth that nuclear energy is safe, green and too cheap to meter. A visit to Bruce Power Visitor’s Center is an immersion into the contradictions we are faced with regarding our energy choices and their repercussions. To arrive to the center, you must pass fields of wind generators in every direction. One hundred fifteen wind turbines make the surrounding wind project one of the largest in Ontario, but the turbines are owned by Enbridge—the same Enbridge that pumps tar sands from the scorched earth of Alberta through a web of spill prone pipelines to be refined in Sarnia, Detroit, Toledo and other points south. Solar trackers also dot the landscape as farmers invest more and more into the harvesting of renewables.
The center itself is a series of stations and displays extolling the fairy tale of a happy marriage between nukes and the natural world. There are several large murals, one depicts wildlife, first nations, early settlers and the nuclear reactors all harmoniously existing side by side. Another mural shows people boating and fishing in the shadow of the power plant with the words “Radiation is all around us,” sprawled across the top and manipulative phrases meant to lull people into considering the cancerous reality of radiation exposure as harmless. The Canadian nuclear industry promotes its Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors as a safe, accident proof method of boiling water that is as innocuous as a mother producing milk, with no harmful side effects. The visitor center at Bruce Power employs the best propaganda the industry can muster in several interactive stations promoting nuclear as the safest and most reliable form of energy while devaluing the role renewables could play in a much safer energy economy.
The realities of the dangers posed by the CANDU reactors and the inordinate amount of high-level radioactive fuel they produce are outlined in this May 1 interview with Arnie Gunderson of Fairwinds Energy Education and Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility titled “Nuclear Contamination Knows No Borders.” CANDU reactors are constantly releasing the known cancer-causing radionuclide tritium into the environment and the levels of tritium in both Lake Ontario and Lake Huron are on a steady increase. Despite a litany of problems with the CANDU design, the industry has done a good job convincing Canadians that they should have no fear of this "fail-safe" reactor design.
With what is now the world’s largest nuclear power plant steaming away on the shores of Lake Huron and a pile of deadly and poisonous radioactive waste that is decades high and growing, Ontario Power Generation is now pushing to transform Lake Huron into a nuclear sacrifice zone. Their plan is to dig out two, what they call Deep Geological Repositories (DGRs), less than a mile away from the Lake and 680 meters below the surface to bury low level, intermediate-level and high-level radioactive waste permanently in shafts carved out of limestone. This is an experiment that has never been done anywhere else in the world and yet just as the nuclear industry tells us that radiation is harmless, we are to believe that this waste will remain safely out of harms way under the Lake for hundreds of thousands of years to come.
Recently, it has come to light that government officials from local mayors all the way up to the current president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Michael Binder, held secret meetings with an association of nuclear power companies called the Nuclear Waste Management Organization charged with locating a dump site. The meetings were held under the guise of the Deep Geological Repository Community Consultation Advisory Group, which consists of a quorum of eight mayors of communities in Bruce County, from 2005 to the fall of 2012. Many of these meetings took place before the public was even made aware of the possibility of siting a high-level waste dump in Bruce County and while the process for siting the low and intermediate level waste dump was still ongoing.
According to documents uncovered by the local group, Save Our Saugeen Shores, Binder, who is a political appointment of the Harper government and chairs what is supposed to be Canada’s neutral nuclear watchdog, warned participants at a meeting on September 30, 2009, of environmental and anti-nuclear groups who “have the project on their agenda. You haven’t seen anything yet.” It seems that Binder had already made up his mind about the validity of the low and intermediate level waste dump as well, stating he hoped "their next meeting with him would be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the low and intermediate-level waste DGR.”
“Secret meetings between industry, government officials and the nuclear oversight commission are a definite slap in the face to democratic transparency, if not downright illegal,” said Jutta Splettstoesser, a resident and farmer from Kincardine.
“The timing of this discussion is troublesome,” says Cheryl Grace, a spokesperson for Save Our Saugeen Shores, the group which accessed the information. “What’s troubling is the secrecy exhibited by the mayors who were elected to serve the public, not the nuclear industry. We can find no evidence that the mayors, meeting as a county council, felt the need to discuss these issues in a public forum. In our own experience with Saugeen Shores council, the council regularly goes around the table and each councillor reports on their activities between council meetings. Mayor Mike Smith, who attended these meetings with the nuclear industry, never saw fit to inform his council and the public about these discussions and meetings. Either that or he did so in a separate secret forum, making all of this even more troubling for our community.”
Fortunately, ground has not yet been broken on either of these ill conceived nuclear waste dumps and resistance is growing as word gets out despite Ontario Power Generation and the Canadian Nuclear industry’s best efforts to keep a lid on the project. Locally, citizens groups plan on challenging the legality of the secret meetings and the collusion demonstrated between the mayors of Bruce County and the nuclear industry prior to public knowledge of the dump siting process.
Any serious political opposition party with a little clout can use the obvious industry bias exhibited by the chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to further expose the Harper government’s marriage to dirty energy. Harper already faces sinking popularity and credibility, protecting the nuclear industry’s profit motives in this case has international ramifications for the health and sustainability of the entire Great Lakes region. Even in the U.S., with all its problems of transparency and nuclear malfeasance, an uncovering of such industry bias by an NRC commissioner as was exhibited by Michael Binder would end in his forced resignation or removal, coupled with criminal prosecution.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which is an organization of mayors and other elected officials from more than 100 Great Lakes cities and representing over 16 million people, came out in opposition to the DGR 1 for low-level and intermediate level waste in May. Seventy seven percent of these mayors voted to oppose the dump at this time, stating that, “When dealing with a resource as valuable as the freshwater here, why take the risk of putting the site so close to the shore. Whatever the geology might be in the location, it just seems to make much more sense to have the site as far away as possible from such a major source of fresh water” and concluding “the limited time to review the record and prepare comments, the limited outreach to the broader Great Lakes and St. Lawrence community, and the consideration of only one site that is one kilometer from Lake Huron leads us to conclude that the project should not move forward at this time.”
The Michigan State Senate also recently passed a resolution opposing the low and intermediate level nuclear dump and calling for the U.S. congress to intervene to ensure that international agreements are upheld. The resolution also declared that elected officials in Michigan are more engaged in the process to site a dump and that Michigan standards must be adhered to, declaring no dump site of this nature is to be located within ten miles of “Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, the Saint Mary’s River, the Detroit River, the St. Clair River or Lake St. Clair.” Michigan standards also exclude “sites located within a 500-year floodplain, located over a sole source aquifer, or located where the hydrogeology beneath the site discharges groundwater to the land surface within 3,000 feet of the boundaries of the site. We encourage Canada to consider similar siting criteria.” The Macomb County commissioners also passed a resolution opposing the siting of the DGR 1 or any other dump so close to the shores of any Lake in the Great Lakes Basin.
Groups are organizing at the grassroots level and they need your support. The Ontario Power Generation and the Canadian government would like us to think that the DGR 1 for low and intermediate-level waste is a done deal, but it’s not! The time is now to raise your voice on this important issue.
"The only answer to the problem of nuclear waste is to stop producing it, however the nuclear industry is gunning for a deep geological repository as a solution to nuclear waste storage so they can promote nuclear expansion. Activists and residents are working with Indigenous Nations and environmental groups across borders and oceans to call on our governments to stop producing it now," said Zach Ruiter of GE-Hitachi's Uranium Secret in Toronto. No safe, permanent solution has yet been found anywhere in the world for the nuclear waste problem.
A petition by the Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump citizens group is circulating via the internet that can be signed to stop the low and intermediate level dump. The following groups provide more information on how to actively participate in stopping these nuke dumps on the shores of Lake Huron: Save Our Saugeen Shores, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Northwatch and Ontario's Green Future.
Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.
HOW SHOULD THE NUCLEAR REGULATORY AGENCIES DEAL WITH NUCLEAR WASTE WORLDWIDE?
Early this morning, eight individuals blocked construction of a pump station for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Seminole land-by-treaty in Oklahoma by locking on to equipment in the largest action yet by the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. Nine people have been arrested. They managed to shut down the site until a volunteer firefighter reportedly injured one of the lockdowners, who is now in an ambulance. Others participating in the action unlocked out of concerns for their safety.
The group took action today, physically halting the construction process, as a part of an effort to prevent the Great Plains from being poisoned by inherently dangerous tar sands infrastructure, as well as to demonstrate the necessity for direct confrontation with industries that profit off of continued ecological devastation and the poisoning of countless communities from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. This action comes during the first day of a nationwide week of coordinated anti-extraction action under the banner of Fearless Summer.
“As a part of a direct action coalition working and living in an area that has been historically sacrificed for the benefit of petroleum infrastructure and industry, we believe that building a movement that can resist all infrastructure expansion at the point of construction is a necessity. In this country, over half of all pipeline spills happen in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Looking at the mainstream keystone opposition, this fact is invisible—just like the communities affected by toxic refining and toxic extraction,” said Eric Whelan, spokesperson for Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. “We’re through with appealing to a broken political system that has consistently sacrificed human and nonhuman communities for the benefit of industry and capital.”
“The pipelines that poisoned the Kalamazoo River and Mayflower, Arkansas, were not the Keystone XL. Tar sands infrastructure is toxic regardless of the corporation or pipeline. For that reason we are opposed not only to the Keystone XL, but all tar sands infrastructure that threatens the land and her progeny,” said Fitzgerald Scott, who was arrested in April for locking his arm inside a concrete-filled hole on the Keystone XL easement, and is locked to an excavator today. “While KXL [Keystone XL] opponents wait with baited breath for Obama’s final decision regarding this particular pipeline, other corporations, including Enbridge, will be laying several tar sands pipelines across the continent. The Enbridge pipelines will carry the same volumes of the same noxious substance; therefore, Enbridge should get ready for the same resistance.”
The Tar Sands megaproject is the largest industrial project in the history of humankind, destroying an area of pristine boreal forest which, if fully realized, will leave behind a toxic wasteland the size of Florida. The Tar Sands megaproject continues to endanger the health and way of life of the First Nations communities that live nearby by poisoning the waterways on which life in the area depends. This pipeline promises to deliver toxic diluted bitumen to the noxious Valero Refinery at the front door of the fence-line community of Manchester in Houston.
There is staunch resistance to the expansion of tar sands mining and infrastructure growing across the heartland of North America, in areas long considered sacrifice zones. Currently activists are occupying an Enbridge pump station in Ontario, Canada to prevent the reversal of the Line 9 pipeline. The rise of Idle No More in defense of indigenous sovereignty across Turtle Island is in large part to protect lands and waters from toxic industries, and peoples of the Great Sioux Nation and tribal governments across South Dakota are avowing their opposition to the northern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
In February 2010, Tom Jiunta and a small group of residents in northeastern Pennsylvania formed the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC), an environmental organization opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the region. The group sought to appeal to the widest possible audience, and was careful about striking a moderate tone. All members were asked to sign a code of conduct in which they pledged to carry themselves with “professionalism, dignity and kindness” as they worked to protect the environment and their communities. GDAC’s founders acknowledged that gas drilling had become a divisive issue misrepresented by individuals on both sides and agreed to “seek out the truth.”
The group of about 10 professionals—engineers, nurses and teachers—began meeting in the basement of a member’s home. As their numbers grew, they moved to a local church. In an effort to raise public awareness about the risks of hydraulic fracturing or fracking they attended township meetings, zoning and ordinance hearings and gas-drilling forums. They invited speakers from other states affected by gas drilling to talk with Pennsylvania residents. They held house-party style screenings of documentary films.
Since the group had never engaged in any kind of illegal activity or particularly radical forms of protest, it came as a shock when GDAC members learned that their organization had been featured in intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm, The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). Equally shocking was the revelation that the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security had distributed those bulletins to local police chiefs, state, federal and private intelligence agencies, and the security directors of the natural gas companies, as well as industry groups and public relations firms. News of the surveillance broke in September 2010 when the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, James Powers, mistakenly sent an email to an anti-drilling activist he believed was sympathetic to the industry, warning her not to post the bulletins online. The activist was Virginia Cody, a retired Air Force officer. In his email to Cody, Powers wrote:
"We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies."
The tri-weekly bulletins featured a wide range of supposed threats to the state’s infrastructure. It included warnings about Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, pro-life activists and Tea Party protesters. The bulletins also included information about when and where groups like GDAC would be meeting, upcoming protests and anti-fracking activists’ internal strategy. The raw data was followed by a threat assessment—low, moderate, severe or critical—and a brief analysis.
For example, bulletin no. 118, dated July 30, 2010, gave a low to moderate threat rating in reference to public meetings that anti-drilling activists planned to attend, and suggested that an “attack is likely … and might well be executed.” The threat assessment was accompanied by this note:
"The escalating conflict over natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania may define local fault lines and potentially increase area environmentalist activity or eco-terrorism. GDAC communications have cited Northeastern Pennsylvania counties, specifically Wyoming, Lackawanna and Luzerne, as being in real 'need of our help' and as facing a 'drastic situation.'"
Another bulletin referenced an August 2010 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assessment of the growing threat of environmental activism to the energy industry. Because of Pennsylvania’s importance in the production of natural gas, ITRR concluded an uptick in vandalism, criminal activity and extremism was likely.
Although the Pennsylvania scandal caused a brief public outcry, it was quickly brushed aside as an unfortunate mistake. In fact, the episode represents a larger pattern of corporate and police spying on environmental activists fueled in part by the expansion of private intelligence gathering since 9/11.
By 2007, 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget—or about $38 billion annually—was spent on private contractors. Much of this largesse has been directed toward overseas operations. But it is likely that some of that money has been paid to private contractors—hired either by corporations or law enforcement agencies—that are also in the business of spying on American citizens. As early as 2004, in a report titled The Surveillance Industrial Complex, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that the “U.S. security establishment is making a systematic effort to extend its surveillance capacity by pressing the private sector into service to report on the activities of Americans.” At the same time, corporations are boosting their own security operations. Today, overall annual spending on corporate security and intelligence is roughly $100 billion, double what it was a decade ago, according to Brian Ruttenbur, a defense analyst with CRT Capital.
The surveillance of even moderate groups like GDAC comes at a pivotal time for the environmental movement. As greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, opposition to the fossil fuel industry has taken on a more urgent and confrontational tone. Some anti-fracking activists have engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and the protests against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline have involved arrests at the White House. Environmentalists and civil libertarians worry that accusations of terrorism, even if completely unfounded, could undermine peaceful political protest. The mere possibility of surveillance could handicap environmental groups’ ability to achieve their political goals.
“You are painting the political opposition as supporters of terrorism to discredit them and cripple their ability to remain politically viable,” says Mike German, an FBI special agent for 16 years who now works with the ACLU.
The Pennsylvania episode is not an isolated case. The FBI and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a Koch Brothers-backed lobbying group, have both taken an interest in anti-drilling activists in Texas. In the fall of 2011, according to an investigation by The Washington Post, the FBI was digging for information on the leader of Rising Tide North America, a direct action environmental group, because of his opposition to hydraulic fracturing.
Rising Tide has also been active in organizing protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. Ben Kessler, a Texas-based activist, told the Post that the FBI had received an anonymous tip to look into his activities. The agency also showed up at the office of Kessler’s philosophy professor, Adam Briggle, who teaches an ethics course that covers nonviolent civil disobedience and the history of the environmental movement. Briggle, who has been involved in organizing residents to impose tougher regulations on gas drilling in Denton, Texas, told the Post that, “it seemed like a total fishing expedition to me.”
About a month after he was approached by the FBI, Briggle received a notice from his employer, the University of North Texas, asking him to turn over all emails and other written correspondence “pursuant to City of Denton natural gas drilling ordinances and the ‘Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group,’” an organization Briggle founded in July 2011 whose mission is similar to that of GDAC. The university had received a request under the state’s Public Information Act and Briggle was forced to hand over more than 1,300 emails. He was later told that the request had been made by Peggy Venable, Texas Director of AFP.
Rising Tide activists had speculated that the anonymous tip came from one of the gas companies active in the region. Although there was no way to prove a connection between the FBI’s investigation and AFP’s mining of Briggle’s emails, both were viewed within the activist community as acts of intimidation. Briggle says, “The message is, you’re being watched.”
During the last decade, the FBI and, to a lesser extent, corporations have elevated the threat of eco-terrorism to a top priority even as environmentally motivated crimes have declined. In 2005, John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director, said the animal rights and environmental movements were “one of the FBI’s highest domestic terrorism priorities.” In the post-9/11 era, the outsourcing of intelligence gathering to private companies has ballooned, the bar for investigating domestic threats has been lowered and a premium has been placed on information sharing with the private sector.
“What changed after 9/11 was the lowering of the threshold for FBI investigations and the promulgation of these radicalization theories that while specifically written about Muslim extremists—the same theory that people move from ideas to activism to terrorism—justified increased surveillance against activists and against people who were just part of the environmental rights movement but had no association with violence or criminal acts,” says German of the ACLU.
Since 9/11, accusations of eco-terrorism have proliferated and a number of individuals and groups have been prosecuted under new laws, which have profoundly impacted the radical environmental movement. The broad crackdown and subsequent fear and paranoia that swept through activist circles have been referred to as the “Green Scare.”
“The shift was gradual,” Will Potter writes in Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, “slowly merging the rhetoric of industry groups with that of politicians and law enforcement.”
In public, corporations have amplified the threat of eco-terrorism to influence legislation, such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. In private, meanwhile, they have hired firms to spy on environmental groups. About a month after 9/11, for example, the crisis communications firm Nichols Dezenhall (now Dezenhall Resources) registered a website called StopEcoViolence.com (now defunct), which served as a sort of faux watchdog group and source for media outlets including The New York Times. Around the same time, Dezenhall—described by Bill Moyers as the “Mafia of Industry”—was involved in corporate espionage. Along with two other public relations companies, Dezenhall hired a now-defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown International, to spy on environmental activists.
One of the targeted groups was Greenpeace. In 2011, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit charging that Dow Chemical, Sasol (formerly CONDEA Vista), the public relations firms and individuals working for Beckett Brown International (which was founded by former Secret Service officers) stole thousands of documents, intercepted phone call records, trespassed and conducted unlawful surveillance. In a story for Mother Jones, James Ridgeway revealed that the security firm obtained donor lists, detailed financial statements, Social Security numbers of staff members and strategy memos from several groups, and, in turn, “produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.” In February, a Washington, DC, court ruled that the claims of trespass and misappropriation of trade secrets could proceed.
More recently, according to a report in The Nation, the agricultural giant Monsanto contracted with a subsidiary of Blackwater, the private security firm, to gather intelligence on and possibly infiltrate environmental groups in order to protect the company’s brand name.
“This is the new normal,” says Scott Crow, an author and longtime environmental activist who was the subject of FBI and corporate surveillance for close to eight years beginning in 1999.
While the above cases involved corporations hiring private security firms to carry out black-ops against environmental groups, the Pennsylvania scandal may be the first time that a state agency has contracted with a private security firm to gather intelligence on lawful groups for the benefit of a specific industry. Although the ITRR bulletins were produced for the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, they were shared with PR firms, the major Marcellus Shale companies, and industry associations. For members of GDAC and other anti-drilling organizations, the revelations were profoundly troubling. Not only were they being lumped together with groups like Al-Qaeda, but the government agencies tasked with protecting the people of Pennsylvania were, in their view, essentially working for the gas companies. If a moderate group like GDAC wasn’t safe from the surveillance-industrial complex, it seemed nobody was.
“These systems and this type of collection is so rife with inappropriate speculation and error—both intentional and unintentional—that your good behavior doesn’t protect you,” German says.
Tom Jiunta, the founder of GDAC, says the ITRR bulletins had a chilling effect. Attendance at GDAC meetings declined and some members left the group altogether. Organizers assumed that their phones had been tapped and that their emails were being monitored, a common perception among anti-drilling activists. At meetings they would leave their cell phones outside or remove the batteries. Jiunta, who has a podiatry practice in downtown Kingston, began to take different routes to work because he was worried about being followed. “We kind of assume that we’re being watched,” he says. “Even now.”
Indeed, the intelligence gathering continues. Although the state canceled its contract with ITRR, the company still works for the natural gas industry, according to GDAC attorney Paul Rossi. “An employee with one of the gas companies has told me that he is willing to testify that ITRR is still conducting operations for the gas companies and they are focusing in on environmental groups,” Rossi says.
In 2010, GDAC filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ITRR on First Amendment grounds. Because it’s a private company or a “non-state actor,” the judge ruled, claims against ITRR were dismissed. The terms of a settlement with the state have not been reached. (ITRR did not return requests for comment).
Like many of the activists I spoke with, Jiunta underscored the fact that he’s never been drawn to conspiracy theories. GDAC’s code of conduct was designed to weed out those whom Jiunta described as “wackos.” Jiunta admits that he was pretty naïve when he first got involved in anti-drilling activism; he would print out large stacks of information on fracking to bring to state senators, who politely told him not to waste their time. Now, his faith in the role of government has been shattered. “People worried about being on a watch list,” he told me. “It was shocking.”
In the wake of the surveillance scandal, Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director James Powers resigned and the state terminated its $103,000 no-bid contract with ITRR. Then-governor Ed Rendell called the episode “deeply embarrassing” and a one-day Senate inquiry was held. In testimony before the committee, Virginia Cody, the retired Air Force officer who had become a critic of gas drilling, said:
"For the first time in my life, I do not feel secure in my home. I worry that what I say on the phone is being recorded. I wonder if my emails are still being monitored."
The hearing sought to answer questions about how the contract was awarded, why citizen groups exercising their First Amendment rights were included, and, crucially, who received the information. Powers explained that the information was distributed to various chemical, agricultural and transportation companies mentioned in the bulletins. At least 800 individuals were on the distribution list. In the case of gas drilling activism he explained, “It [the bulletins] went to the security directors of the Marcellus Shale companies and DEP [Department of Environmental Protection].”
This is only partially true. A list of the individuals and groups who received the bulletins shows that industry associations and public relations firms that have nothing to do with protecting the state’s infrastructure were also included. For example, one of Powers’s key contacts on Marcellus-related activity was Pam Witmer, then head of the Bravo Group’s energy and environmental practice as well as president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, a business advocacy group. The Bravo Group is a public relations and lobbying firm based in Pennsylvania. Its clients include Chief Oil and Gas, Southwestern Energy and People’s Natural Gas, all of which are deeply invested in Marcellus Shale production.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, was also on the distribution list. In 2010, the coalition signed a $900,000 lobbying contract with Ridge Global, a private security firm founded by Tom Ridge, former head of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. As part of its energy consulting services Ridge Global offers “advisory support for natural gas and other infrastructure security.” Ridge is just one of many former security officials who now have private consulting services. Others include John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff and Richard Clarke.
The blurring of public and private spying is what Dutch scholar Bob Hoogenboom calls “grey intelligence.” In a 2006, paper of the same name, Hoogenboom noted that in addition to well-known spy agencies like Military Intelligence, Section 6 (MI6) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), hundreds of private organizations involved in intelligence gathering have entered the market to meet corporate demand.
“The idea was to do for industry what we had done for the government,” Christopher James, a former MI6 officer who founded Hakluyt, a private intelligence company whose clients have included Shell and BP, told the Financial Times. Many corporations now have their own private intelligence networks, or “para-CIAs,” to gather information on consumers, critics and even their own shareholders. Wal-Mart, for example, has an office of global security headed by a one-time CIA and FBI official with a staff that includes former State Department security experts. As Eveline Lubbers writes in her recent book, Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists, “Because these business firms hire former spies and analysts from the ranks of government, the informal links with government intelligence increase.”
This is a global phenomenon. Corporations in Europe and Canada have also spied on environmental groups. In 2006, French energy giant Électricité de France (EDF), the world’s largest operator of nuclear reactors, hired Kargus Consultants, a private intelligence gathering agency run by a former member of the French secret service, to spy on Greenpeace. Kargus hacked into a lead Greenpeace organizer’s computer and compiled a dossier on the organization’s European campaign strategy. In 2011, a French court fined EDF 1.5 million euros and sent two of its employees to jail on charges of illegal spying.
Although it was not raised at the Pennsylvania Senate hearing, the ITRR bulletins also were shared with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In January, a Montreal paper reported that the RCMP itself has been tracking anti-shale gas activists in Quebec. The Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team, a branch of the RCMP, produced two reports that described the possibility of Canadian activists collaborating with “extremist” groups in the U.S., such as Earth First! and Occupy Well Street—an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street opposed to fracking. According to Jeff Monaghan, a researcher with the Surveillance Studies Center (SSC) at Queen’s University in Ontario, the Canadian government likely shares intelligence with the energy industry. Since at least 2005, the Canadian government has held biannual intelligence briefings to share sensitive information with the private sector. In 2007, Gary Lunn, former Minister of Natural Resources, admitted his agency had helped more than 200 industry representatives obtain high-level security clearances. “This enables us to share information with industry and their associations,” Lunn said at a pipeline security forum.
Similar arrangements have been uncovered in the UK. In 2009, it was revealed that the British police and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform had provided information about Climate Camp demonstrations to E.ON, the company that runs the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. E.ON also hired private security firms like Vericola and Global Open to spy on protesters; both companies are staffed by former intelligence agents.
The specter of environmental extremism has been used to justify information sharing between law enforcement and the private sector. Last year, Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, warned that environmental groups “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”
“It’s the new politics of the petro-state,” says Monaghan, SSC. “Anything that’s remotely linked with direct action or nonviolent civil disobedience is being described as extremism, which is the new code word of security agencies.”
The fossil fuel industry’s targeting of its critics goes beyond mere surveillance. Natural gas drilling companies have also flirted with using the dark arts of psychological warfare, or “psy ops.” In comments recorded by an anti-drilling activist at a 2011 natural gas conference in Houston and leaked to CNBC, Matt Pitzarella, director of corporate communications at Range Resources, said Range had hired “several former psy ops folks” with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania [sic],” Pitzarella said.
At the same conference, Matt Carmichael, a public relations specialist with Anadarko Petroleum, referred to the anti-drilling movement as an “insurgency” and advised industry representatives to download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual. “There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable,” he told his colleagues.
The oil and gas industry has good reason to feel besieged. Opposition to fracking, especially, is on the rise. New York State has in place a moratorium against the drilling technique, and legislators in California are considering a similar ban. A white paper prepared by FTI Consulting, a DC-based public relations firm with ties to the shale gas industry, recently warned:
"Environmental activists are looking to undermine the strategies and operations of energy companies … Adding to the activists’ momentum is the fact that a growing number of mainstream shareholders are supporting their proposals."
But given the absence of any physical attacks against drilling company assets, the industry’s view of its opponents smacks of paranoia. In August 2012, iJET International, a private security firm founded by a former National Security Agency (NSA) operative, issued a risk assessment of anti-drilling protests in New York State. In one of its daily intelligence bulletins distributed to corporate clients the firm observed:
"Protests against hydraulic fracturing have gained considerable momentum over the past few months … While most demonstrations have been peaceful, participants say they are hoping to intensify actions in hopes of disrupting operations at targeted facilities."
The U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual that was offered as suggested reading for shale gas industry representatives includes an appendix on Social Network Analysis, defined as “a tool for understanding the organizational dynamics of an insurgency.” In an age of digital networks and online activism, this often means using data-mining software, cyber surveillance and in some cases outright computer hacking to track opposition groups.
At the 2011 natural gas conference in Houston the CEO of Jurat Software, Aaron Goldwater, gave a presentation on the subject of data mining and stakeholder intelligence. In his presentation he emphasized the importance of knowing the communities you work in, of tracking and mapping relationships, and compiling a sophisticated database that includes all offline and online conversations. He pointed to the military as a model. “If you look at the people who are experts at it, which is the military, the one thing they do is gather intelligence,” he told the audience.
Corporations have already taken advantage of network forensic software to keep tabs on their own employees. The new technology, which allows companies to monitor an employee’s activity down to the keystroke, is one of the fastest growing software markets. There is a fine line, however, between data mining—which is perfectly legal though largely out of view—and cyber surveillance, or hacking.
While it is difficult to prove hacking, many activists are convinced their computers have been tampered with. Kari Matsko, a professional software consultant and director of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative in Ohio, says her computer was hacked after she began to push for tougher regulation of the natural gas industry.
Matsko got involved in environmental activism after hydrogen sulfide gas was released from a well site near her home. In 2008, she started helping a group of citizens who had filed a lawsuit against one of the larger energy companies in Ohio on grounds of nuisance violations and loss of property value. She spent many months doing research and collecting files related to the case, some of which she described as damning.
Because of her profession, Matsko has very strong computer security and says that prior to working on oil and gas issues she had never had problems with malware. But while assisting with the lawsuit Matsko’s computer was attacked by a sophisticated virus. Matsko was able to remove it and everything seemed fine. About a month later, though, she unsuccessfully tried to open the computer folder that contained the sensitive files related to the lawsuit. The files were either missing or corrupted. “I remember I was so terrified by it that I didn’t even tell people unless it was in person,” she says.
Other activists have described similar cyber security-related issues. Around the time the ITRR bulletins were made public, Jiunta told me, members of GDAC experienced persistent problems with their computers. “Everybody was getting suspicious,” he says. “I had computer issues. Some are still having issues.”
John Trallo, a 61-year-old musician and guitar instructor whose communications were also featured in the ITRR bulletins, has been an outspoken critic of shale gas development for several years. In 2007, Chief Oil and Gas offered him a signing bonus of $1,400 to lease his mineral rights. Trallo, who lives in a modest two-story home in northeastern Pennsylvania, refused. He’s been fighting the industry ever since.
“This is something that’s bigger in my life than I ever wanted it to be,” he says. “Five years ago, when I first started getting involved in this and I started talking to people, I would say to myself, ‘these people are a little crazy.’ Five years later, I sound like them.”
Immediately after the intelligence bulletins were made public Trallo’s computer became nearly unusable. Documents were corrupted and irretrievable; photos were disappearing and programs wouldn’t work. A relatively new machine with a high-end operating system, Trallo had it serviced at a Best Buy in nearby Muncy. He was told by the Geek Squad at Best Buy that a highly sensitive program that acts like a Trojan Horse had been installed on his computer. According to Trallo, “They said that the program monitors every key stroke, every email, everything you do on the computer.”
Nearly all of the activists I spoke with said the Pennsylvania Homeland Security revelations, while giving them pause, had not changed their behavior. They continue to speak out, to attend public meetings and to push for greater oversight of the industry. Still, “it leads to some scary possibilities in the future,” says Eric Belcastro, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. “I don’t sit around being paranoid about this stuff. I just try to do what I have to do and get along with my life. But I admit the playing ground is rough and I think people need to be careful.”
Even as corporations expand their surveillance of citizen-activists, they are seeking to obstruct public oversight of their own behavior. It’s a bit like a one-way mirror of democratic transparency—with corporations and law enforcement on one side looking in and activists on the other.
Pennsylvania is a case in point. In early 2012, legislators there passed “Act 13,” a set of amendments to the state’s Oil and Gas Act, which essentially stripped local municipalities of the authority to regulate drilling activity through zoning ordinances and other measures. The law also requires doctors who treat patients exposed to fracking chemicals to sign a confidentially agreement before receiving information about the substances. The gag rule would prevent them from sharing that information with the patient or even other doctors (GDAC’s current president, Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, is challenging this provision).
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania legislature that would make it a felony to videotape farming operations in Pennsylvania—so-called “ag-gag” legislation that has already passed in Utah and Iowa, and has been introduced in several other legislatures. Many of the ag-gag bills draw on language crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” Section D of the ALEC bill defines an animal or ecological terrorist organization in broad terms “as any association, organization, entity, coalition or combination of two or more persons” who seek to “obstruct, impede or deter any person from participating” not only in agricultural activity but also mining, foresting, harvesting and gathering or processing of natural resources. In recent years, ALEC has received considerable support from the natural gas industry
The proposed law has many anti-drilling activists worried. If such language were included in the bill (it is currently in committee and will be revised before it comes to the floor) it would greatly limit the ability of residents to photograph or video well sites, compressor stations, and pipeline development—all of which could be considered part of the “gathering or processing of natural resources.”
“It’s clearly legislation that could be easily expanded in any particular case to include folks like me who do whatever we can to get as close to some of these sites as we are able,” says Wendy Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University who regularly photographs the industrial impacts of gas drilling and then posts them on her Flickr page.
Lee says that among anti-drilling activists there is a sense that 2013 is a do-or-die year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of Act 13. As the drilling boom moves into ever more populated areas, activists are gearing up for more focused organizing and larger nonviolent protests. With tens of thousands of wells yet to be drilled, at least this much is clear: The industry will be watching closely.
Research support for this article was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
By J. Matthew Roney
Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This was a marked slowdown from the previous two years, when new installations averaged 18,000 megawatts annually. Reasons for the drop-off include concerns about project quality and inadequate electricity transmission and grid infrastructure, which prompted the government to approve fewer projects and to restrict lending. Still, all told, China leads the world with 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity: more than a quarter of the world total.
In a country more readily associated with coal-fired electricity and nuclear power ambitions, wind reached some impressive milestones in China’s energy mix in 2012. Wind-generated electricity increased more than coal-fired electricity did for the first time. Even more remarkable, the electricity produced by wind farms over the course of the year exceeded that produced by nuclear power plants. And this is just the beginning: with massive wind projects under development across its northern and eastern provinces, and 19 ultra-high-voltage transmission projects connecting windy rural areas to population centers (all to be completed by 2014), more milestones lie ahead in China. Consulting firms GTM Research and Azure International project that China will reach 140,000 megawatts of wind by 2015 and nearly 250,000 megawatts by 2020.
The U.S. wind industry made headlines too. More new wind electricity generating capacity was added in 2012 than any other generation technology, including natural gas—a record 13,100 megawatts. An incredible 5,200 megawatts, spread among 59 wind farms, came online in December alone as developers raced to qualify for the federal production tax credit before it was set to expire at the end of the year. The U.S. remains second only to China, with 60,000 total megawatts of wind capacity—enough to power more than 14 million U.S. homes.
Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list. In Texas, a further 21,000 megawatts of wind projects are under consideration, much of which could be accommodated by the “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” high-voltage transmission projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. These new lines will connect wind-rich West Texas and the panhandle with high-demand markets to the east. (See data).
Wind farms generated at least 10 percent of the electricity produced in nine states in 2012, up from five states the year before. Iowa and South Dakota got nearly a quarter of their electricity from wind. Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, commissioned in 2012, is North America’s largest. But in Carbon County, Wyoming, a project of up to 3,000 megawatts is under development.
To the north, Canada’s 6,500 megawatts of wind power are sufficient to meet the electricity needs of nearly 2 million households. As Ontario, the country’s most populous province, works to phase out coal-fired power by 2014, its wind generation is growing—in fact, Ontario’s wires carried more electricity from wind than from coal for the first time in 2012.
The European Union (EU) added more megawatts of wind in 2012 than it did natural gas, coal, or nuclear, even as fiscal austerity measures cut renewable energy incentives. Several EU member states lead the world in the share of electricity they get from wind farms. Spain and Portugal typically have a 16 percent wind share. In Germany, whose 30,000 megawatts of wind capacity are the third highest in the world, the national wind share is 11 percent. Four of Germany’s northern states now get roughly half of their electricity from wind.
But it is Denmark that sets the bar for wind’s role in electricity production. The Danish Wind Industry Association reports that wind farms generated 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity in 2012, up from 28 percent in 2011. The government pledged in late 2011 to boost this share to 50 percent by 2020.
Looking eastward, Romania and Poland each added roughly 900 megawatts of wind in 2012, reaching 2,500 and 1,900 megawatts, respectively. Turkey’s goal is to reach 20,000 megawatts of wind in the next 10 years, nearly 10 times its current capacity.
Aside from China, India is the other big Asian wind market. With more than 18,000 megawatts installed, India ranks fifth worldwide in wind capacity. The government plans to spend roughly $8 billion on grid and transmission upgrades by 2017 through its “green energy corridors” plan. This is sorely needed in a country where nearly 300 million people do not have access to electricity.
Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania have enormous wind potential but little actual development thus far. Activity in each of these regions, however, indicates seriousness about harnessing the wind. In Latin America, Mexico more than doubled its wind capacity to almost 1,400 megawatts in 2012. Brazil, where wind installations grew 75 percent in 2012, could add another 1,500 megawatts in 2013 to reach 4,000 megawatts total.
Just 100 megawatts of wind were installed in all of Africa in 2012, split between Ethiopia and Tunisia. Kenya’s long-awaited 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind farm, which could generate more than 10 percent of national electricity, has suffered multiple setbacks but may begin construction in 2013. No new wind projects came online in the Middle East. Jordan is looking to grow its currently negligible wind power to 1,200 megawatts by 2020, however, and plans are also under way in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In Australia, the goal is to get 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Half of the country’s current 2,600 megawatts of wind is in the state of South Australia, where wind farms generated 24 percent of all electricity in 2012. The January 2013 commissioning of the 420-megawatt Macarthur wind farm in the state of Victoria gets the country halfway to its expected 30 percent wind growth for the year.
Most of the world’s installed wind capacity is land-based; just 2 percent—roughly 5,400 megawatts—has been built offshore. Recently, however, offshore development has accelerated, more than tripling over the last five years. Ten of the 12 countries with offshore wind farms are European. The United Kingdom hosts more than half of the world’s offshore capacity and aims for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020; its offshore wind resources are actually estimated to be 16 times larger than its electricity consumption. In Denmark, some 15 percent of electricity is expected to come from offshore wind farms by 2014.
China and Japan are the only offshore wind producers outside of Europe, hosting 390 megawatts and 25 megawatts, respectively. With 130 megawatts installed in 2012 alone, China has quickly amassed the world’s third largest offshore capacity figure; the country’s near-term offshore targets are 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and 30,000 by 2020. In the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan is looking to harness more of its offshore wind, a resource plentiful enough to meet national electricity needs nearly three times over. And in South Korea, numerous offshore projects are under way, as the country’s wind industry aims to reach 23,000 megawatts of wind power by 2030.
According to Navigant Research, new wind installations worldwide will fall to some 40,000 megawatts in 2013. This would be the first instance in at least 17 years when annual additions did not increase year-to-year. Much of this deceleration will likely be the result of a slowdown in U.S. development. Still, the annual market is expected to rebound in 2014 as costs continue to fall, as major players recover, and as newcomers in Africa, the Middle East and the Baltic region begin to realize their wind ambitions. GWEC and Greenpeace International project at least 425,000 megawatts of wind capacity worldwide by 2015—enough to generate electricity for all of Central and South America. The world is starting to realize that wind’s potential is almost without limit.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
Yesterday, in the largest protest in the Northeast against tar sands, hundreds of people from Maine, New England and Canada carried signs and marched across Portland to rally at the Maine State Pier.
The rally and march were held to oppose an emerging proposal to send dirty tar sands oil through the 236-mile long, 62-year-old Exxon/Enbridge pipeline across Canada, Maine and New England. Specifically, participants called on elected officials and the U.S. State Department to require a new Presidential Permit application and full environmental review before the company could reverse the pipeline to carry tar sands. Unless the State Department decides to require a new Presidential Permit, there may not be a permit application, adequate public input or environmental review in store for this line reversal and change to pipe tar sands oil.
Speakers addressed the crowds at the rally on Maine State Pier, against the backdrop of oil tanks and tankers in Casco Bay.
Photo by Erik Hoffner - www.erikhoffner.com
“Reversing the flow of the Portland Pipeline so tar sands oil can be delivered to Portland Harbor would pose some serious environmental risks and I'm going to ask the Obama Administration to do a full environmental review of any attempts to pump tar sands through that pipeline,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME). “Exxon Mobile shouldn't be allowed to go ahead with this risky scheme without a Presidential Permit and I don't believe the facts will support one.”
“With climate change once again at the forefront of our minds, it is crucial that we work together to end our dependence upon on foreign oil and keep our community free of fuels like tar sands,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. “We need to work together to expand the market for renewable energy and eliminate the demand for tar sands and other fuels that are not only a root cause for climate change, but also carry real risks of pollution and spills in our backyard.” Portland City Council members are now considering a measure that would ensure the city does not use fuel made from tar sands oil in its vehicles or buildings.
“I’m so proud to be here today to say ‘no’ to tar sands in Maine. The people of Casco have spoken that tar sands would be a bad deal. There is too much at risk for our town and our welfare.” said Connie Cross, a resident of Casco. Casco was the first Maine town to vote against the pipeline at its town meeting in December 2012. Several other towns are considering similar resolutions.
“Vermont’s largest city wanted to take a stand on tars sands by keeping Burlington and Vermont tar sands free,” said Burlington City Councilor Maxwell Tracy. “We stand with New England, and believe that New England should work together to keep the east tar sands free.” The city of Burlington recently passed a comprehensive anti-tar sands/pipeline resolution.
“People ask me about the scientific imperative to address climate change.” said Unity College President Stephen Mulkey. “Actually science doesn’t tell us what to do—it tells us about some of the disastrous consequences of doing nothing. This is a moral and practical imperative. That we must have this rally and march is evidence that our leaders are having the wrong discussion. This tar sands pipeline should simply be unthinkable at this stage of the climate crisis. We are out of time, and our kids will hold us accountable." Unity College was the first college in the nation to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.
“As a landowner living along the Crooked River and near the pipeline I absolutely oppose sending toxic tar sands through this pipeline,” said Lee Margolin a landowner and business owner in Harrison. “The increased risk of a toxic tar sands spill is a health concern for me and my family first and foremost. I also own a small brewery that depends on clean water—I’m just one of thousands of businesses in the region that depends on a clean environment and clean water.”
“Today people from across Maine and the northeast are sending a clear signal that tar sands doesn’t belong here,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “A tar sands pipeline would be far too dangerous for our waters, our health, our climate, our economy.”
The history of disastrous tar sands pipeline spills and escalating extreme weather disasters from fossil fuel-driven climate change, make tar sands oil especially risky.
The rally was held to demonstrate a wall of opposition to this risky proposal and to call on federal officials to ensure there is a full environmental review of this project—because the threats are too great for the environment and economy of Maine, New England, Canada and the Earth.
Maine is threatened by the emerging proposal to reverse the direction of an ExxonMobil/Enbridge oil pipeline and to start sending tar sands through it instead. The pipeline runs through Ontario, Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to Portland Harbor. In Maine, the pipeline passes next to Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for more than 15 percent of Mainers, crosses the Androscoggin and Crooked Rivers, and ends at Casco Bay, where it could endanger fishing and lobster industries.
Heavy, thick tar sands oil is more toxic, corrosive and dangerous to ship through pipelines, putting the region’s environment, water quality and economy at risk. Tar sands oil is diluted with toxic chemicals like benzene, and per mile of pipe, tar sands pipelines have leaked or spilled at three times the rate of conventional oil pipelines. When tar sands does spill, it causes more damage to the health of people and our environment by sinking into sediments and releasing toxic gases. Tar sands oil spills are also nearly impossible to clean-up, even at enormous expense, as evidenced by the 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. That spill is still being cleaned today, at a cost of more than $725 million and counting. Even in its more refined form of “Synthetic Crude Oil,” tar sands has a massive environmental and climate footprint.
Worrisome signs all point emerging threat of tar sands to Maine and New England:
- In November 2012, Enbridge applied for permission to reverse and expand the portion of the pipeline across Ontario and Quebec ending in Montreal, specifically seeking permission to carry tar sands.
- An oil company affiliated with the Portland Pipe Line has an application pending for a pumping station in Quebec whose sole purpose would be to send oil south through New England.
- Over the last several months, officials with the pipeline company have handed out information touting tar sands oil to towns along the pipeline, while their oil industry allies have sent opinion pieces to Maine newspapers defending tar sands.
- In late 2011 the pipeline company and lobbyists for tar sands met with Maine Governor Paul LePage to promote tar sands oil, according to documents obtained through Maine’s Freedom of Access Law.
- In January 2013 the company publicly opposed a proposed resolution for the City of Portland to avoid purchase of fuels derived from tar sands.
- Research uncovered the fact that the pipeline running through New England—the Portland-Montreal Pipeline—is controlled by ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil has direct interests in the tar sands and a poor environmental track record in pursuit of its massive profits.
"Unless we raise our voices and insist this reckless pipeline project is thoroughly reviewed and then rejected, it will go forward without ever considering the massive potential impacts to Sebago Lake, Casco Bay and our climate,” said Environment Maine director Emily Figdor. “It may take an army of us to go toe-to-toe with ExxonMobil, the biggest of Big Oil, but together we can convince President Obama to stop the project, protect the waterways we love and tackle the climate crisis."
“Landowners in the Western foothills have been partnering with the land trusts protecting the Crooked River watershed for years to conserve precious lands and waters in Western Maine, to protect essential fisheries and to insure clean drinking water for the greater Portland area,” said Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust. “We treasure and depend on a clean environment with public access, for recreation, for family and cultural traditions, and to help support our economy. A tar sands pipeline could place those efforts at risk. We need to keep tar sands out of Maine.”
For more photos from yesterday's event, click here.
Thousands of people from across Ontario, Quebec and New England will assemble in dozens of cities and towns across the region from Jan. 23 to Jan. 26 for the biggest cross-border tar sands protests the region has ever seen. The demonstrators will protest the proposal to send dirty tar sands oil through the 236-mile long, 62-year-old Exxon/Enbridge pipeline across Canada, Maine and the Northeast. The protests will culminate in a major march and demonstration in Portland, Maine on Saturday, Jan. 26.
“We call on the National Energy Board of Canada to deny approval of the Canadian section of this tar sands pipeline, and on the U.S. State Department to conduct a full environmental review which allows complete public input,” said David Stember from 350.org, which is helping to organize the Portland rally along with other national groups including the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, and local groups including Environment Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Given his commitment to tackling climate change, we believe President Obama should deny this project a Presidential Permit,” said Stember.
In addition to Saturday’s Portland, Maine protest, there are dozens of protests scheduled in the region, including a Hands across the Connecticut River demonstration where the tar sands pipeline crosses the Connecticut river in Vermont and New Hampshire, picket lines and marches in front of numerous Exxon Mobil Stations, Flash Mobs in downtown centers, human oil spills and numerous drop in visits to local offices of members of Congress. See the full list of all demonstrations here.
“Maine and the region have everything to lose and nothing to gain from sending toxic tar sands across our state,” said Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Hundreds of people will descend on Portland Saturday to make a point: We cannot afford the risk of tar sands oil oozing across the Northeast in Exxon’s pipeline and we will be calling on the State Department to demand an environmental review of this risky proposal. There is too much at stake.”
On Saturday the Jan. 26, marchers will gather at Monument Square in downtown Portland, Maine at 11:30 a.m. for a speak out with drumming from Native American Idle No More activists. At 12:30 p.m. the group will march through the streets of Portland to the Maine State Pier. The rally at the pier will feature local and regional politicians, and members of many of the groups working to stop this pipeline plan. Speakers will include Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Unity College President Stephen Mulkey and Burlington City Councilman Maxwell Tracy.
The region is threatened by the ExxonMobil/Enbridge tar sands pipeline, which would run through Ontario, Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to Portland Harbor. The pipeline passes next to dozens of pristine waterways, threatens drinking water supplies and ends at Casco Bay where it endangers fishing and lobster industries.
“This pipeline runs across rivers and streams that include world-class aquatic habitat” said Carol Foss, director of conservation at Audubon New Hampshire. “Between the enormous risk to our wildlife and waterways and the lack of benefit to our communities, opposing this pipeline project seems like a no-brainer. We don’t need tar sands spilled in our waters, and we don’t need it’s climate impacts, period.”
Regionally, communities have already started to respond to the threat. Burlington Vermont was recently the first city in New England to adopt a municipal resolution to oppose tar sands. Casco Maine has also passed a resolution opposing tar sands in the region. Meetings held in the three right-of-way states have had packed rooms, with lots of questions about tar sands’ impact locally and on climate change.
People from every New England state and from Canada have already registered for the rally, and numerous buses will be arriving from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The history of tar sands pipeline spills and escalating weather disasters from fossil fuel-driven climate change make tar sands oil especially risky. The rally will demonstrate the major regional opposition to this risky proposal and call on officials to ensure there is a full environmental review of this project—because the threats are too great for the environment and economy of New England, Canada and the Earth.