It was supposed to be all about jobs. When the president announced his intent to abandon the Clean Power Plan this spring and then withdraw from the Paris agreement this summer, one of the biggest reasons cited was to protect the coal jobs sustaining communities in places like Appalachia.
There's just one problem. Whatever the White House says, coal jobs are in a terminal decline and whatever cynics claim, it's not some cabal of heartless environmentalists to blame. It's the power industry itself, driven by advances in technology and simple market forces.
The Rise and Fall of Coal in America https://t.co/euBX9UAsAv @Climate_Rescue @ZeroCarbonWorld @EUClimateAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498297508.0
But the who or what's responsible matter less than the who's left behind as coal communities in Appalachia try to figure out another way forward as jobs disappear. Especially as politicians seem more than happy to invoke them in grandstanding statements without actually doing much for them on the ground.
So as the administration this week announced a new plan that seems designed to prop up failing coal CEOs and companies rather than actually care for the communities they claim to fight for, we ask a simple question the government really should be asking: Can Appalachia thrive without coal?
The answer, we believe, is "Yes."
A Changing Energy Landscape
One of the most important factors in the decline of U.S. coal isn't regulation, but market forces. As renewable energy technologies like solar and wind have become cost competitive with fossil fuels, demand for coal has waned in the power sector. In 2006, coal provided 49 percent of U.S. electricity; just 10 years later, that number had fallen to 30 percent. Beyond collapsing demand, across the last several decades, automated technologies like rock crushers and shovel swings have replaced miners, leading to steady employment declines dating back to the early 1980s. In 1979, there were 250,000 coal miners in the U.S. In 2016, only 53,000 workers held the same position.
"There's almost zero reason to be completely optimistic," Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, told Time earlier this year. "It's a disservice to coal-mining communities to tell them they will have a mighty comeback."
Where Are We Talking About?
The Appalachian region covers nearly 205,000 square miles and includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. It's home to more than 25 million Americans.
And it is a region in crisis. Appalachia is ground zero for the opioid epidemic ravaging the U.S. Poverty is pervasive—South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi all fall in the bottom 10 in per capita income in the U.S. Those same states also fall in the bottom 10 in terms of educational attainment—save for South Carolina, which ranks just outside the bottom 10 at number 39.
These issues coupled with an absence of good-paying jobs has led to an exodus of high-performing students and skilled tradesmen from the region. Those who can leave often do, and they don't come back—a phenomenon often referred to as "brain drain."
So, how do we combat these troubling trends? The answer cannot be found in the region's past and the dirty, dangerous coal that propelled its initial growth. Instead, reinvigorating one of America's most beautiful and misunderstood regions has everything to do with the future, specifically computers and public service.
In some circles, the conversation on how to reinvigorate Appalachia has largely centered on bringing technological innovation to the region.
Excellent coverage on The Daily Show (below) and HBO's Vice News has centered on programs dedicated to retraining former coal miners to code. It's a natural fit: As with coding, mining requires strong problem-solving and decision-making skills, and comfort with technology (albeit a very different kind of technology). Plus, most coding jobs can be performed from almost anywhere, and Appalachia is already home to an enormous pool of talent—as Pikeville, Kentucky-based software development startup Bit Source discovered when it received nearly 1,000 applications for just 10 available positions.
Each year, 600,000 well-paying jobs in the US technology sector go unfilled, and many are eventually sent overseas. But these jobs could be on-shored—if more Americans had the right skills.
In this area, funding for programs that provide training in just those skills has largely come through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), "a federal-state partnership that works with the people of Appalachia to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life." ARC was founded in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "war on poverty."
Last year, in the Obama Administration's final budget, Congress approved a budget of $146 million for the agency—"its highest budget in decades, in order for it to focus on coal-impacted communities." ARC's POWER initiative specifically targets Appalachian communities affected by job losses in coal mining. In addition to supporting technological education, it awards grants for projects that improve highway and sewer systems and community health care access.
ARC programs are expected to create or retain more than 23,670 jobs as well as train and educate more than 49,000 students and workers, Reuters reported.
Unfortunately, earlier this year, the Trump Administration proposed phasing out ARC as part of its "skinny budget."
"We're making sure the Appalachia workforce is prepared for jobs," ARC Communications Director Wendy Wasserman told The Atlantic in March. According to Wasserman, ARC already has invested more than $73 million in projects across the region that include "teaching coal miners how to code, helping develop agricultural activity on former coal land, and training folks who would have been tracked into coal into solar installation or construction."
Government for the People
Vox's Matthew Yglesias made a very compelling argument that "the federal government [should] take the lead in rebalancing America's allocation of population and resources by taking a good hard look at whether so much federal activity needs to be concentrated in Washington, DC, and its suburbs."
He was arguing that this redistribution should focus on the Midwest, in part, because the poorer areas of America like Appalachia lack "the basic infrastructure of prosperity." We'd argue that he should spend some time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee; Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia; Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama; and Asheville, North Carolina, and their suburbs—all of which are well-positioned for growth and could welcome government agencies as comfortably as cities like Detroit, Cleveland or Milwaukee.
Yglesias pointed to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which employs nearly 3,000 people and is located in Gaithersburg, Maryland; the Woodlawn, Maryland-centered Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (4,000 employees); and the National Weather Service, and its 5,000 employees headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, among others, as examples of major government agencies that do not require "routine physical proximity to elected officials" and have already relocated to the DC suburbs.
Bringing these important, high-skilled jobs to Appalachia could do wonders for regional and state economies, and provide their employees with a lower cost of living. And if all those government jobs were brought to Appalachia, they'd have a trickle-down effect that would create even more jobs in the region—after all, those government employees will need doctors and dentists, carpenters, plumbers, masons and child care providers; and each of the professionals mentioned will frequent restaurants, movie theaters and grocery stores.
More jobs means more state tax revenue to fund educational and medical resources and infrastructure that would improve the overall quality of life for the entirety of Appalachia.
And importantly—and contrary to unfortunate, unfair, and plainly false stereotypes—the workforce to fill these high-skilled roles long into the future is ready and waiting in the high schools of the region's mountains and hollers.
Hope in the Hollers
Steven Palmer, an English educator in eastern Kentucky, explained as much during an uplifting 2016 TEDx Talk (below), noting that Appalachia's most valuable resource isn't coal, it's the "young, creative, critical-thinking minds that sit within its classrooms."
"We cannot continue the narrative that Appalachia is a problem without a solution," Palmer lamented. "We need to believe in our students' ability to disrupt the status quo of their homes. This can cause the largest young person-led economic revitalization in American history."
Palmer is right, of course. And it's a status quo that can be disrupted—by young people able to find good employment in their region, and by coal miners retrained to work in a twenty-first century economy, not a nineteenth-century one.
And it's a disruption that could save thousands of lives. Covering the opioid epidemic crippling communities across West Virginia, Vice writer Juliet Escoria noted that the cycle of abuse and relapse eventually has less to do with the appeal of the high itself and is instead "about figuring out how to live life without [it]."
"Relapses don't happen because someone offers you free drugs on a silver platter. They happen when the dumb s**t in life piles up, when you can't find a job or figure out how to feed yourself like a normal human being," Escoria wrote. "They happen because your brain won't stop telling you that you're a piece of s**t."
With that in mind, imagine an Appalachia where people could find well-paying jobs at all skill levels. An Appalachia were citizens knew they were contributing to their country the way they used to—only instead of providing raw materials like coal to keep the lights on, they're facilitating government services to help others and creating the websites, applications, tools and software solutions powering our plugged-in world.
So rather than dangle an unlikely return to former glories in front of the residents of these mountains, disrespecting the dignity and history of a proud people who helped build this country, let's be realistic and do everything we can to start a new chapter.
And for any DC-dweller or Bay Area local worried about what a life outside of the concrete jungle looks like, here's your new morning commute view:
Not bad, huh?
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Climate Reality Project.
Do you have an affinity for vintage travel posters, the bold, graphic kind with silhouetted palm trees and snow capped mountains? Do you enjoy national parks and monuments? I know I do. So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover the Creative Action Network’s (CAN) See America crowdsourced art campaign.
Original See America posters from the New Deal arts project of the 1930’s. Montage credit: The Creative Action Network
The New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was created to lift America out of the Great Depression and get people working. “FDR also strove to raise the nation’s battered pride and spirit. One way to do that was to celebrate the country’s stunning natural wonders—and encourage Americans to visit them,” said Director of the FDR Presidential Library Lynn Bassanese. WPA artists were employed in this campaign, creating stunning posters that promoted America’s natural beauty, including monuments and national parks.
Now, more than 75 years later, and on the verge of the 2016 centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, CAN has partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association to launch a new version of See America to create a second stunning set of posters for a new generation.
To date 180+ artists from all 50 states have submitted 600+ designs. The posters showcase historic, natural and cultural sites across the U.S., which encourage Americans to reconnect with these places and to explore our shared history. Check out the current top 10 selling prints:
“With today’s digital tools, individual artists have the power to create and share their work like never before,” said Max Slavkin, cofounder and CEO of CAN. “That’s why now is the time to pick up where the New Deal left off, and harness America’s creative energy in celebrating the beauty and importance of our natural and cultural landmarks.”
One example of a group of artists approaching this challenge is Daniel Gross’s package design class at the Art Institute of California, Orange County. Gross had each student pick a national park they related to, either through a previous visit or a desire to visit in the future, then research and showcase the park’s uniqueness and history. As Gross puts it: “One visit to a national park can make anyone a believer in designing and living in a more sustainable way.” Check out the class's submissions:
You can contribute your own artwork of your favorite park or natural landmark. See America is not a contest. It is a campaign to showcase America’s beautiful, precious sites. Submissions that meet all guidelines will be displayed and made available for purchase as prints, mugs, greeting cards and tote bags.
Looking for a little inspiration for your See America artwork? Consider these words of President Roosevelt:
There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wild life are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people ...The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle.
This new rendition of See America will be on display through this month at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, with additional exhibitions anticipated across the country.
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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.
[Editor's note: Dr. Sandra Steingraber presented a keynote speech for the New Environmentalism Summit of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, on June 3. The text follows.]
I would like to begin by quoting from comments made yesterday by Angela Knight, a former Conservative MP in Britain.
As a reaction to the recent elections here in Brussels, Ms. Knight said, "We have an opportunity in the energy industry to get fact based, logic based, properly costed and sensible EU policy-making and to encourage a move away from an emotion driven and expensive agenda.”
That statement appears in yesterday’s The Guardian, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Dr. Sandra Steingraber speaking at the New Environmentalism Summit in Brussels, Belgium. Photo credit: HEAL on flickr.
Indeed, that’s exactly what I have come to European Commission to ask for: for the European Union—and for my own union, the United States—a fully cost-accounted energy policy based on facts, logic and science rather than emotion.
But here’s the notable difference: Angela Knight and I are arguing for opposite courses of action.
Ms. Knight is a lobbyist for Energy UK. Her group seeks to mute the EU’s commitments to green energy, stall ongoing efforts to counter climate change and maintain dependency on fossil fuels.
I am a biologist, a science advisor for Americans Against Fracking, and a co-founder of both Concerned Health Professionals of New York and New Yorkers Against Fracking. The groups of which I am part seek an acceleration of the transition to energy policies based on wind, water and solar power and believe that further investments in fossil fuels in general—and shale gas in specific—are irrational, ruinously expensive, unsustainable and immoral.
These two worldviews are fundamentally incompatible. They cannot be reconciled or bridged. They require a bold leadership choice that rejects one and embraces the other.
In New Yorkers Against Fracking, we speak of standing at an energy crossroads. One signpost points to a future powered by digging fossils from the ground and lighting them on fire. The other points to renewable energy. You cannot go in both directions at once. Subsidizing the infrastructure for one creates disincentives for the other.
This is no more true than with fracking, the process by which fresh water is mixed with sand and a cocktail of chemicals and then used as a poisonous club to shatter layers of shale bedrock inside of which are trapped tiny bubbles of natural gas—scattered like a fizz of champagne inside of a chalk board that is buried a mile below the earth’s surface.
In the United States, fracking has created such a temporary abundance of cheap natural gas that it has stunted research and development into renewable energy sources and has further delayed action toward a goal that science tells us that we must urgently meet: namely, to leave 80 percent of the remaining carbon in the ground and to redesign our economy to run almost entirely on renewables by mid-century in order to avoid catastrophic climate tipping points.
We are also running out of places to store all this excess shale gas.
One proposed solution, which is being developed with the encouragement of the European Commission, is to liquefy the excess and give it a passport to Europe. Doing so would require the construction of multi-billion dollar export terminals along our coastlines together with fossil fuel-fired power plants that are needed to run the cryogenic refrigerators that turn natural gas into LNG by super-chilling it to minus 260 degrees F.
You cannot advocate for the construction of multibillion-dollar LNG infrastructure projects that presume a 40-year return on investment and also claim in the same breath that you are building a bridge to renewable energy future. Those two ideas cannot be brought into alignment.
Another proposed solution to excess American shale gas is to bury it in abandoned salt mines.
I have personal experience with this idea because I live near a lake under which lies a gallery of old salt caverns left over from 19th century mining. These caves are now being repurposed for the storage of compressed methane gas along with other liquefied gases that are the byproducts of fracking, namely, propane and butane.
I refer here to Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest lake within New York State. Seneca Lake holds so much water that it creates its own microclimate that is uniquely favorable to growing of grapes. The shores of this lake thus form the heart of New York’s wine region. Indeed, the vineyards that lie over the hillsides where I live are the goose that lays our golden egg: Grapes and wine contribute $4.8 billion to our state’s economy. In particular, the Seneca Lake region is famous for world-class Rieslings.
This is also an intensely lovely place, named by Yahoo Travel as one of the top 10 lake-side destinations in the world, with beauty to rival Italy’s Lake Como and England’s own Lake District.
And now Seneca Lake is slated for mass industrialization, as plans are laid for compressor stations, flare stacks, pipeline, brine pits and other infrastructure required to transform the loveliest lakeside vacation spot in America into a regional hub for the storage and transport of fracked gas.
Absent our intervention, this is the fate of New York’s wine region. Earlier this month, permission was granted by the U.S. federal government to move forward with the first part of this massive industrial project.
But we are intervening. And those of us who do so see ourselves as part of a human rights struggle. Seneca Lake not only allows wine grapes to flourish in this otherwise cold, northern zone, it is also the source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Those who oppose turning the lakeshore into a storage depot for fracking are not just defending grapevines. We are defending water, which is life itself.
I’ve now talked myself into my assigned task: to explore the most critical issues currently facing the planet and help generate ideas that lead to breakthrough solutions.
In fact, there are two critical issues: climate change, which is killing our life-support system, and chemical pollution, which is killing us.
Like a tree with two trunks, these twinned problems have a single root cause: fossil fuels. Whether we shovel them into ovens and light them on fire or turn them into toxic petrochemicals, fossil fuels are the problem.
The ideas that would lead to breakthrough solutions are already here. Their names are green energy and green chemistry, but they are being held hostage by the oil and gas industry.
Their rescue depends on a vigorous new environmentalism that closes the door on fracking.
Fracking is the imposter in the room.
Fracking is the problem that masquerades as a solution.
Fracking is the deadly enabler that keeps the whole fossil fuel party going far past the time of its curfew.
Methane—also known as natural gas—is carbon dioxide’s partner in crime. Indeed, as a greenhouse gas, it is far more powerful. According to the latest estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane is, over a 100-year period, 34 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Over a shorter period, methane is even more potent. The best science tell us that methane is, over 20 years, nearly 100 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
How much methane is actually released between drilling for it and burning it? We don’t exactly know. Those studies are ongoing.
We do know that fugitive methane wafts from every stage of the gas extraction, processing and distribution process—and from all of the ancillary infrastructure along the way, including well casings, condenser valves and pipelines.
The emerging science shows us three things about fracking and climate change:
First, that we have grossly underestimated the amount of methane that leaks from drilling and fracking operations. Second, that we have grossly overestimated the ability of regulations to control those emissions. And third, that the ability of methane to trap heat is far more powerful than we realized in the only remaining time frame available to us to avert catastrophic climate change.
In short, fracking is the ultimate bridge to nowhere. You cannot blast natural gas out of the bedrock and send it into kitchen stoves and basements furnaces across the land without venting massive amounts of climate-killing methane into the atmosphere.
Let’s now look at the chemical pollution of caused by drilling and fracking operations and their attendant infrastructure. This is a problem that has created a public health crisis in the United States where fracking was born and where it has spread relentlessly from sparcely populated western states to the densely populated Northeast.
The evidence for human harm caused by fracking is contained within the medical literature itself. The totality of the science now encompasses hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. All together, these data reveal multiple health problems associated with drilling and fracking operations and expose intractable, irreversible engineering problems.
They also make clear that the relevant risks for harm have neither been fully identified nor adequately assessed and, thus, that no regulatory framework in any U.S. state can be said to adequately protect public health.
Last week, alarmed by growing evidence for harm across the United States in areas where fracking is practiced, more than 250 health organizations and individual physicians, nurses, midwives, scientists and other health professionals sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo that calls for a formal three-to-five moratorium on fracking in New York State. Among the signatories were many researchers who are generating the actual data.
I’ll describe for you now some of the trends that are so concerning to those of us in the scientific and medical community. [All studies referenced below are cited in the May 29 letter to Gov. Cuomo from Concerned Health Professionals of New York and other signatories.]
First, despite ongoing industry denial, evidence linking water contamination to fracking–related activities is indisputable.
Investigations have confirmed water contamination in four states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. These contaminants include methane, radioactive radium, the carcinogen arsenic and multiple hormone-disrupting substances—so called endocrine disruptors. This last discovery is especially worrisome because endocrine disruptors can exert powerful effects on human development at vanishingly low concentrations. There is no safe level of exposure.
To sum up the evidence for the threat to drinking water, I’ll quote from a new review by the Council of Canadian Academies:
A common claim . . . is that hydraulic fracturing has shown no verified impacts on groundwater. Recent peer-reviewed literature refutes this claim and also indicates that the main concerns are for longer term cumulative impacts that would generally not yet be evident and are difficult to predict reliably. . . . The most important questions concerning groundwater contamination from shale gas development are not whether groundwater impacts have or will occur, but where and when they will occur. . .
Why is drinking water contamination inevitable with fracking?
The science shows that there are at least two reasons. The first is based in engineering: cement is not immortal. It can fail. And when it does, the structural integrity of gas wells can fail. These failures are common, unavoidable, and increase over time as wells age and cement and casings deteriorate.
According to the data available to us in the United States, five to seven percent of gas wells leak immediately, and more than half leak after 30 years.
Drilling and fracking itself appear to contribute to loss of well integrity. Drilling creates fractures in the surrounding rock that cement cannot completely fill and so opens pathways for the upward migration of liquids and gases. Also, as cement ages, it shrinks and pulls away from the surrounding rock, reduce the tightness of the seal, thus opening potential portals for contamination. No regulations, no best practices can prevent this problem.
Drinking water can also be contaminated by the disposal of liquid fracking waste. This is the fluid that flows back out of the hole when the high pressure is released after the bedrock is fractured. Fracking waste is contaminated not only with the toxic chemicals that are purposefully added to water to create fracking fluid but also with brine, heavy metals and radioactive substances that it absorbs on it journey down to the center of the earth and back again.
These cannot be filtered out by any known technology. Hauling fracking wastewater to treatment plants has resulted in contamination of U.S. rivers and streams with bromine and radioactive radium. We have good data on this.
Fracking destroys water. With no method to turn poisonous frack waste back into drinkable water, gas companies have resorted to pumping the waste back into the ground via deep-well injection. But this solution—which considered a “best practice”—has triggered earthquakes by stressing geological faults and making them vulnerable to slippage
In the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and Ohio, geologists have also linked fracking itself to earthquakes. Members of the Seismological Society of America warn that geologists do not yet know how to predict the timing or location of such earthquakes, but they do know that they can occur tens of miles away from the wells themselves.
In New York State, both the certainties and the uncertainties about the risk of earthquakes from fracking operations raise serious, unique concerns about the possible consequences to New York City’s drinking water infrastructure from fracking-related activities. No other major U.S. city provides drinking water through aging, 100-mile-long aqueducts that lie directly atop the shale bedrock. Seismic damage to these aqueducts that results in a disruption of supply of potable water to the New York City area would create a catastrophic public health crisis.
Now let’s look at fracking-related air pollution.
Air pollution arises from the gas extraction process itself, as well as the intensive transportation demands of extraction, processing and delivery. And yet, monitoring technologies currently in use underestimate the ongoing risk to exposed people.
Fracking-related air pollutants include carcinogenic silica dust, carcinogenic benzene and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that create ozone. Exposure to ozone—smog—contributes to costly, disabling health problems, including premature death, asthma, stroke, heart attack and low birth weight.
Unplanned toxic air releases from fracking sites in Texas increased by 100 percent since 2009, according to an extensive investigation.
Rural areas with formerly pristine air now top the list of the nation’s 25 most ozone-polluted counties. In these areas, questions about possibly elevated rates of stillbirth and infant deaths in the area have prompted an ongoing investigation.
Finally, community and social impacts of fracking can be widespread, expensive and deadly.
Community and social impacts of drilling and fracking include spikes in crime, sexually transmitted diseases, vehicle accidents and worker deaths and injuries. We know that traffic fatalities more than quadrupled in intensely drilled areas even as they fell throughout the rest of the nation.
Even as evidence of harm continues to emerge across the United States, reviews of the science to date note that investigations necessary to understand long-term public health impacts do not exist.
To explain why science is missing in action, we emphasize in our letter to the governor of New York the obstacles faced by researchers seeking to carry out the needed research. These include industry secrecy on the part of the gas industry which routinely limits the disclosure of information about its operations to researchers and routinely uses non-disclosure agreements as a strategy to keep data from health researchers.
Thus has the anti-fracking movement in the United States sprung up as a human rights movement to reclaim our right to live in a safe environment with clean air and clean water and not be enrolled as unconsenting test subjects in a vast experiment whose risks remain unassessed and unquantified.
In spite of remaining uncertainties, important studies continue to fill research gaps and build a clearer picture of the longer-term and cumulative impacts of fracking. Many such studies currently underway will be published in the upcoming three–to–five year horizon. These include further investigations of hormone-disrupting chemicals in fracking fluid; further studies of birth outcomes among pregnant women living near drilling and fracking operations; further studies of air quality impacts; and further studies of drinking water contamination.
Angela Knight of Energy UK asks for an energy policy that is “properly costed.”
So do I.
And a properly costed energy program must take into account the economic consequence of the resulting health impacts. In the densely populated Northeastern region of the United States where fracking has now penetrated, the medical costs for treating those affected by the resulting water contamination and air pollution have never been tallied.
Doing so would require conducting a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with an economic analysis that monetizes the costs. These costs could be considerable. In the densely populated continent of Europe, the health costs of energy security based on fracking could also be considerable.
Angela Knight of Energy UK asks for an energy policy not based on emotions.
So do I.
And I submit that an energy policy based on gold fever that has oversold the benefits, underpriced the costs and overlooked long-term risks is not emotionless. As described by Bloomberg in a story headlined, “Shale Drillers Feast on Junk Debt to Stay in the Treadmill”:
People lose their discipline. They stop doing the math. They stop doing the accounting. They’re just dreaming the dream, and that’s what’s happening with the shale boom.
Sounds like a highly emotive state to me.
We Americans and Europeans share a common destiny. We each live above bedrocks that are ancient sea floors suffused with bubbles of methane. These bubbles represent the vaporized corpses of sea lilies and squid that lived 400 million years ago. Biologically speaking, our bedrocks are a cemetery of vaporized corpses.
The U.S. plan is to frack them out of the ground, liquefy them and send them over here—all in the name of freeing you from Russian gas. And to encourage you to frack your own bedrock.
If that’s the future you choose, it is not possible to also create a circular economy and attain zero waste, which is the stated goal of the EU Commission’s Green Week, because in this shale are many other hydrocarbon vapors that are liberated along with the methane during fracking. Ethane is one.
In the United States, we have so much excess ethane—a waste product of fracking—that we are planning to build a massive ethane cracker in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania that will turn this waste product into ethylene.
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania is the birthplace of Rachel Carson. It is a county that already suffers from high levels of air pollution and excess rates of cancer. Ethane crackers are notorious air polluters.
By turning ethane into ethylene, this facility will solve a waste problem for the gas industry and create the feedstock for the manufacture of disposable plastic. Ultimately, this plastic will end up in our oceans as nanobits of non-biodegradable petrochemical.
If this is not what you had in mind, if a new, vigorous environmentalism is what you want, I ask to you stand with us in calling for a moratorium on fracking in the EU, just as we have called for a moratorium on fracking in the U.S.
Our future is unfractured.
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In honor of National Parks week last month, NASA created a gallery of satellite images of ten national park lands. These picturesque views remind us why national parks are so special—and why similar places need to be protected.
Take a peek at the awe-inspiring aerial views below, all courtesy of NASA:
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Early last week, it was reported that the U.S. Navy was sending military-trained dolphins to the Black Sea as an additional layer of defense against the Russian Navy, which had reportedly recently taken control of Ukraine’s military-trained marine life, including dolphins.
The U.S. Navy has used sea lions, dolphins and other marine mammals since the 1960s to search for underwater mines, rescue U.S. soldiers, attack enemy soldiers and plant explosives on enemy targets, among other missions. The Navy also studies these animals, hoping to learn how to design better torpedoes, ship hulls, missiles and sonar systems, but the U.S. military’s arguably violent use of the stereotypically friendly animals came as a shock to many.
The U.S. military doesn’t largely promote the program, possibly because animal rights activists have long objected to the use of animals for military purposes. Whether it’s this resistance or other factors, there are reportedly only a handful of places in the world where marine life is taught man’s dirty war tactics—one of which is in San Diego, CA.
Though the Navy initially denied that it was sending its trained dolphins and sea lions to the Black Sea, Tom Lapuzza, spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s San Diego-based marine mammals program, told the International Business Times (IBT) that 20 dolphins and 10 sea lions would be sent to the Black Sea this summer to take part in a NATO drill testing a new anti-radar system.
According to the IBT report, the new system disorients enemy sonars “while sea lions and dolphins are looking for mines and military divers.” Recently developed armor for the dolphins will also be tested during the trial this summer, which is expected to last from one to two weeks.
Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights advocacy group, told MintPress News that she was surprised to hear the Navy was going back to using dolphins after announcing it was cutting back on the marine mammal program in the 1990s, citing a lack of uses for the dolphins due to new technology.
“Why in 2014 are we relying on dolphins for anything in the military, when we have come to an understanding that marine mammals are sophisticated and intelligent?” Guillermo asked. “They don’t belong to us. They are not our weapons, not our toys.”
Guillermo added that since dolphins don’t make war, they shouldn’t have to fight human wars, either.
Even some former naval staff and dolphin trainers agree the program is not in the best interests of the animals. As Navy Lt. Commander Douglas Burnett put it, there could be situations in which no one can tell whether an animal is a potential enemy, which could lead to a mass slaughter of marine life.
But according to James Fallin, a spokesman for Space and Warfare Systems Command Pacific, which oversees the Navy’s marine mammal program, there are some things sea lions and dolphins do better than any technology any human has created.
“Because of the unique capabilities of the marine mammals in the shallow water environment, there are several critical misions (sic) that they perform that cannot be matched by technology or hardware in the near-term,” Fallin said. “While the Navy is working on developing replacement technologies, there is no definitive pathway charged for a full replacement of the operational use of marine marine (sic) mammals.”
While it’s astonishing to learn just how much humans can and have learned from animals, many animal rights activists have expressed concern over use of the animals. They argue that the animals are violently captured in the wild, kept in cramped living quarters and negatively impacted by the tasks they’re asked to perform.
“Sound penetrates an animal’s body when immersed in water. Essentially all of acoustic energy goes into a body immersed in water. This effect, which can cause tissue rupture and hemorrhage, has not been adequately addressed in the Navy’s [environmental impact statement],” the group wrote.
In other words, working with the Navy often causes marine life tissue to rupture and hemorrhage, and microscopic bubbles in their blood, bladders and lungs impede the animals’ ability to breathe and swim.
Due to the private nature of the U.S. military, Guillermo says it can’t be entirely known how dolphins are affected by their military duties, but she says scientists are aware that dolphins are incredibly intelligent and sensitive animals who depend upon connections for their both psychological and physical well-being. When they are separated from their friends and family—which often happens when they are captured—they become depressed, and are then forced to live in unnatural habitats.
When asked whether the military had opted to expand the marine mammal program after decreasing it in the 1990s, or if the military just said it had limited its use of marine life to appease the public, Guillermo said she didn’t know. She also said the military is highly sensitive to public opinion.
“They don’t want to say more than they really have to say,” Guillermo said, while talking about PETA’s efforts to expose the military’s use of goats and pigs in medical training exercises. “My guess is whatever they are actually doing, they will minimize it and sugar coat it and make it sound benign, while keeping the dolphins prisoners and then put them in harms way, while depriving them of everything that makes their life worth living.”
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Two bedrock principles have guided the work and advocacy of American sportsmen for more than a century. First, under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife in the U.S. is considered a public good to be conserved for everyone and accessible to everyone, not a commodity that can be bought and owned by the highest bidder. Second, since President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the first wildlife refuges and national forests, sportsmen have fought to protect wildlife habitat from development and fragmentation to ensure healthy game supplies.
These two principles, however, are coming under growing fire from an aggressive and coordinated campaign funded by the oil and gas industry.
As part of a major effort since 2008 to bolster its lobbying and political power, the oil and gas industry has steadily expanded its contributions and influence over several major conservative sportsmen’s organizations, including Safari Club International (SCI) the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). The first two organizations have assumed an increasingly active and vocal role in advancing energy industry priorities, even when those positions are in apparent conflict with the interests of hunters and anglers who are their rank-and-file members. The third group, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, is also heavily funded by oil and gas interests and plays a key role in providing energy companies, SCI, the NRA, gun manufacturers and other corporate sponsors with direct access to members of Congress.
The growing influence of the oil and gas industry on these powerful groups is reshaping the politics, policies and priorities of American land and wildlife conservation.
In a new report, Center for American Progress identifies three high-profile debates in which the growing influence of the oil and gas industry in SCI, CSF, the NRA and other conservative sportsmen groups could play a decisive role in achieving outcomes that are beneficial to energy companies at the expense of habitat protection, science-based management, and hunter and angler access to wildlife and public lands.
These areas to watch are:
- Endangered and threatened wildlife in oil- and gas-producing regions: The case of the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken
- The backcountry: How the oil and gas industry and its allies are working to undo protections of roadless areas and wilderness study areas
- Public access and ownership: The movement to privatize public lands and wildlife
The oil and gas industry’s growing investment in conservative sportsmen groups is already yielding ever-greater influence over legislation and policy decisions that benefit the industry’s financial interests at the expense of hunters and anglers. Understanding and tracking this powerful lobbying alliance is of increasing importance to those who believe that American sportsmen can and should continue to be the standard-bearers for our nation’s conservation tradition defend the principles that have guided North American land and wildlife stewardship for more than a century.
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Each spring, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation host National Park Week, a presidentially proclaimed celebration of our national heritage. This year National Park Week—technically nine days—is scheduled for April 19-27. Kicking off the week, free admission will be offered to parks nation-wide opening weekend, this Saturday and Sunday (April 19-20).
This year's theme is National Park Week: Go Wild! and everyone is invited to revel in all that America’s National Parks have to offer. Whether you are looking for hiking, history, camping or family fun, with more than 400 National Parks in the U.S., there is something for everyone.
On April 26, parks will invite young visitors to "explore, learn, protect" and be sworn in as junior rangers during National Junior Ranger Day. Browse the event calendar to check for other special programs offered throughout the week. The National Park Foundation is also encouraging guests to share their National Park photos, videos and tips.
The parks are a top tourist attraction, drawing visitors who support more than a quarter-million jobs and spend more than $30 billion in revenue each year, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. While visiting this week, learn about the ways to help support the National Parks all year. Unfortunately, 2013 was the third straight year Congress cut funding to the National Park Service operating budget and the parks remain in perpetual peril of defunding.
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More than 100 leading scientists and economists are calling on the Obama Administration to deny the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because it will trigger massive development of the world’s dirtiest oil, and escalate climate change. They include Nobel Prize winners in physics and economics, and lead authors of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.
“We urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline as a project that will contribute to climate change at a time when we should be doing all we can to put clean energy alternatives in place,” the scientists and economists write in a letter sent today to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. “The Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the energy-intensive strip-mining and drilling of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.”
The letter’s timing is critical. In January, the U.S. State Department released a final Environmental Impact Statement on Keystone XL. Now the administration is formally considering whether the pipeline, aiming to pump tar sands oil from Canada mainly for export through the Gulf of Mexico, is in America’s national interest. A decision could be made in the next couple of months.
In their letter, the scientists and economists commend President Obama and Secretary Kerry for making strong commitments to fighting climate change. They call on them to turn down the proposed Keystone XL project because the incremental emissions alone could boost annual carbon pollution emissions by more than the output of seven coal-fired power plants.
That would worsen climate change, making the project clearly not in the national interest, they write. The total emissions are far greater, and, as they write, are “emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy.”
This is another sign of growing opposition to the project. Recently, more than 2 million comments calling for rejection of Keystone XL were delivered to the State Department. Last week, more than 200 prominent business leaders sent a letter to Obama and Kerry saying that Keystone XL would be a bad business investment that would exacerbate climate change.
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Last fall, Resource Media compiled an in-depth media tip sheet to provide journalists with background information and sources about the growing body of evidence linking drilling with widespread impacts on property values, property rights and quality of life in communities across America.
Since we first published Drilling vs. The American Dream, fracking has continued unabated, inching up and into ever more cities, towns and neighborhoods. To keep up with the changes, we updated the guide to include new data and research and new stories from the growing choir of millions of Americans who are now directly affected by oil and gas development:
Drilling vs the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values
There are currently more than 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S., and more than 15 million Americans now live within a mile of the hundreds of thousands that have been drilled since 2000, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Made possible by the advent of fracking, drilling is taking place in shale formations from California to New York and from Wyoming to Texas.
And there’s no indication that this “unprecedented industrialization” shows any signs of slowing. Almost 47,000 new oil and natural gas wells were drilled in 2012, and industry analysts project that pace will only continue.
Drilling rigs now regularly inch up and even into communities that never anticipated having to address problems like round-the-clock noise, storage tanks, drums of toxic chemicals, noxious fumes, near-constant truck traffic and pipelines near homes, schools, playgrounds and parks. For many, the impacts of this kind of large-scale industrial activity are incompatible with quality of life.
Congressman Jared Polis saw this firsthand last fall when a drilling rig went up on property neighboring his small farm in Weld County, CO. Polis, who said he had no notice of the fracking operations, filed a complaint with state regulators and then a lawsuit over concerns “about the impact that fracking has on the health of communities as well as the economic impact as it relates to property value.”
Also look no further than Exxon CEO and board chairman Rex Tillerson, who is suing to stop construction of a water tower that would supply nearby drilling operations because of the nuisance of, among other things, heavy truck traffic, noise and traffic hazards from the fracking operations the tower would support. That’s right, the head of the single largest drilling company in the world, acknowledges the “constant and unbearable nuisance” that would come from having “lights on at all hours of the night … traffic at unreasonable hours … noise from mechanical and electrical equipment.” Tellingly, Tillerson’s lawsuit—filed in 2012 with other plaintiffs, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey—claims the project would do “irreparable harm” to his property values.
At a more macro level, research is staring to show that energy booms such as the current drilling frenzy may not be the economic windfall that boosters make them out to be. After the initial surge in income and jobs that comes with drilling, problems inevitably follow: higher crime rate, decreased educational attainment and over the long run, significant declines in income. The more heavily a community ties itself to the drilling economy, the greater the decline.
“The magnitude of this relationship is substantial,” the study authors are quoted saying in the Washington Post, “decreasing per capita income by as much as $7,000 for a county with high participation in the boom.”
For those who own the rights to the oil and gas on their properties, the impacts of drilling can be offset by royalty payments that come from selling them to oil and gas developers. But in most parts of the country, the legal doctrine of split estates allows one party to own the rights to minerals and other resources below the surface while someone else hold the rights to property above ground. With the oil and gas industry showing little self-restraint and drilling encroaching into cities, towns and suburbs, split estates have left millions to deal with problems such as increased truck traffic, chemicals, lights, noise, heavy equipment, noxious air emissions and water—all without any compensation.
There are weak regulatory protections and few legal precedents to protect residents from this kind of industrial activity in their back yards. Regulations on how far drilling must be set back from homes and schools, for example, provide almost no cushion—often only several hundred feet—to mitigate drilling’s impacts on nearby homes and businesses.
Feeling unprotected by weak state and federal regulations, however, more and more communities are starting to fight back by passing local laws restricting or banning fracking within their borders. Pittsburgh became the first to take matters into its own hands with an ordinance in 2010. Since then, many others have followed suit: Dallas, Los Angeles, multiple cities and towns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, counties in New Mexico. Last fall in Colorado, voters in four cities passed ballot measures banning or severely restricting fracking, three of them overwhelmingly. And this year, backers are gathering signatures for a 2014 statewide ballot measure that would give Colorado cities and towns local control over drilling-related policy decisions within their borders.
This pushback against drilling and its impacts goes beyond simple NIMBYism. The financial risks posed by drilling are real and substantial enough—as detailed below—that banks and insurers are also now adopting guidelines that forbid mortgage loans or insurance coverage on properties affected by drilling. It’s a battle between oil and gas and the nest egg of countless Americans.
The following examples begin to piece together the ways in which the threats posed by drilling and the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry quite literally hit home. Taken together, they are a call for decision-makers to start quantifying data and asking tough questions about drilling vs. the American Dream.
- In a 2013 survey of 550 people conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver, a strong majority said they would decline to buy a home near drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent.
- Realtors in Colorado are taking note as clients become increasingly hesitant about buying homes near drilling sites, with fewer and fewer bids rolling in. “Some don’t want to even look at anything remotely close to any existing or proposed well sites,” Boulder County real estate agent Nanner Fisher told the Colorado Independent. She also told Boulder iJournal that “if there is a well that’s visible when you show a property, [the prospective buyer] will ask to look for something else. A lot of it is the visual effect of the well site,” she said. “And, they think if you can see it, it’s gotta be close enough that it’s not healthy.”
- An economic analysis by the Headwaters Institute undermines the idea that oil and gas developments fatten the bank accounts of communities and leave them better off than before drilling started. While there may be short-term windfalls, the study of six western states found that over the long-term “oil and gas specialization is observed to have negative effects on change in per capita income, crime rate and education rate.”
- Denver Realtor Adam Cox wrote in a column in the Colorado Statesman that “potential buyers balk at buying homes near a drilling site, even though that’s often where the discounted homes are” because they are so close to oil and gas activity. Similarly, he said, homeowners near drilling sites “often have to sell at significantly lower prices than when originally purchased due to the oil and gas industry neighbors.”
- The fumes, lights and deafening noise that came after a neighbor leased adjacent land for fracking became unbearable and forced to move from their Cleveland suburban home. In an interview with Reuters, she said they were able to sell their house for $225,000, only half its appraised value.
- In the Catskills, fracking fears have already impacted the real estate market even though the state has yet to make a determination on whether to allow drilling. The prospect that the state will open the region to drilling, as the New York Times reported, “has spooked potential buyers” in upstate New York. The Times story also quoted a realtor who shut down her business In Wayne County, PA. Agents there, the woman said, are having trouble selling rural properties “because people don’t want to be anywhere near the drilling.”
- A study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the risks and potential liabilities of drilling outweigh economic benefits like lease payments and potential economic development in Washington County, PA. Even though lease payments can add overall value to homes with wells drilled on them, the possibility of contaminated water decreases property value by an average of 24 percent. The boost that comes from signing a lease offsets the increases, leaving a net decrease in value of 13 percent.
- A 2010 study of the Texas real estate market in the heavily drilled suburban-Dallas area near Flower Mound concluded that homes valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a drilling pad or well site saw values decrease by 3 to 14 percent.
- Faced with a boom in coal-bed methane development in the early 2000s, officials in La Plata County, CO studied the impacts of oil and gas development and found that properties with a well drilled on them saw their value decrease by 22 percent.
- In a 2005 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that oil and gas production “significantly affect the sale price for rural properties.” The study determined that the presence of oil and gas facilities within 2.5 miles of rural residential properties in Alberta, Canada reduced property values between 4 percent and 8 percent, with the potential for doubling the decrease, depending on the level of industrial activity.
- In Pavilion, WY, where the EPA has linked groundwater contamination with fracking, Louis Meeks saw the value of his 40-acre alfalfa farm all but disappear completely. In 2006, his land and home were appraised at $239,000. Two years later, as ProPublica reported, “a local realtor sent Meeks a coldly worded letter saying his place was essentially worthless and she could not list his property. ‘Since the problem was well documented … and since no generally-accepted reason for the blowout has been agreed upon,’ she wrote, ‘buyers may feel reluctant to purchase a property with this stigma.’ ”
- Similar nightmares have befallen residents of Dimock, PA, where fracking problems decimated home values, and the drilling company responsible, Cabot Resources, was ordered to pay impacted families settlements worth twice their property values, a total of more than $4 million.
- In North Texas, the Wise County Central Appraisal District Appraisal Review Board knocked down the appraised value of one family’s home and 10-acre ranchette from $257,000 to $75,000—a decrease of more than 70 percent. The board agreed to the extraordinary reduction as a result of numerous environmental problems related to fracking—just one year after the first drilling rig when up on the property.
- Unbeknownst to many suburban homeowners, homebuilders are starting to quietly retain mineral rights beneath the subdivisions they build in suburban areas. DR Horton has been perhaps the most notable construction company to employ this new tactic. In 2012, after an investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Real Estate Commission, officials pressured the Texas-based homebuilder to return mineral rights it had retained from beneath about 850 homes. Residents who live in a Florida subdivision built by Horton were equally surprised when they found out that the company also held the rights to prospect for whatever minerals lie beneath 2,500 of their homes near Tampa.
- As documented by Reuters, homeowners in subdivisions in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and other states have all purchased homes without disclosure about severed mineral rights only to see drilling rigs spring up next door too late for them to do anything about it. “This is a huge case of buyer beware,” University of Colorado-Denver Law Professor Lloyd Burton told reporters. “People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don’t exactly go out of their way to let people know.”
- Senate and House committees in the Colorado Legislature have passed a measure that, much like disclosures for lead paint, would require sellers to notify prospective homebuyers about separated mineral rights and whether a property may be subject to oil, gas or mineral development. Senate Bill 14-009 is awaiting approval by both chambers to be forwarded to the governor.
- In at least 39 states, there are laws that compel “holdout landowners” to join gas-leasing agreements with their neighbors, allowing oil and gas companies to drill horizontally to tap into oil and gas reserves that cross property lines—whether the owner of a property wants to allow the drilling or not. Called “mandatory pooling” or “compulsory integration,” these laws basically create eminent domain by private enterprise.
- Pooling gives the owner an interest in the well, including royalty payments, but as in Colorado, where forced pooling orders were issued by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 48 times in 2010, the law also makes the unwilling owner “liable for the further costs of the operation, as if he had participated in the initial drilling operation.”
- The intent of forced pooling is to create more orderliness in drilling underground oil and gas reserves, which rarely adhere to the patchwork of surface ownership. Forcing holdout landowners into leasing agreements is supposed to lead to fewer wells drilled and more efficiency in the ones that are. But it’s also frequently used as a threat by landmen looking to cash in on leases.
Mortgages and Fracking
Recognizing the numerous ways that drilling and fracking could damage value, the mortgage industry is starting to refuse to take on the financial liabilities and is tightening policies that prohibit lending on properties with wells on them or that are subject to leasing.
- Following the debacle in North Carolina over severed mineral rights (see above) the State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina officially has decided it will no longer approve mortgage financing for properties where the drilling rights have been sold off to someone else. The credit union, which manages almost $12 billion in residential mortgages, said it considers loans on such land to be riskier than those where the mineral rights remain with the land.
- According to American Banker, at least three mortgage lending institutions—Tompkins Financial in Ithaca, NY, Spain’s Santander Bank and State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, NC—are now refusing to make mortgages on land where oil or gas rights have been sold to an energy company. The publication quoted the president and CEO of the North Carolina credit union saying that if a landowner allows a drilling rig to go up on his or her their land, “We’d have to tell their neighbors, “We’re sorry, your property value just went down.’ ” (Also quoted in the Motley Fool.)
- Language in Freddie Mac’s standard mortgage contracts prohibit a “borrower from taking any action that could cause the deterioration, damage or decrease in value of the subject property,” and if the prohibition is broken by say, a landowner signing a drilling lease or entering into a mineral-rights agreement, Freddie Mac has the legal authority to exercise a call on a mortgage’s full amount if a borrower, according to an agency spokesman.
- According to a white paper prepared for the New York State Bar Association, Wells Fargo, one of the largest home mortgage lender in the U.S. is approaching home loans for properties that have gas drilling leases attached to them with a high degree of caution.
- In addition to Wells Fargo, Provident Funding, GMAC, FNCB, Fidelity and First Liberty, First Place Bank, Solvay Bank, Tompkins Trust Co., CFCU Community Credit Union are either putting hard-to-meet conditions on mortgages or denying loans altogether on properties with oil and gas leases. (Excellent summary of oil and gas issues related to mortgage lending from a brokerage vice president is available online.)
- The backgrounder prepared by the NYSBA about gas leasing impacts on homeowners also includes a section on residential mortgages and says the combination of home-ownership and drilling, “creates a perfect storm begging for immediate attention.” Risks include:
– Homeowners being confronted with uninsurable property damage for activities they cannot control.
– Banks refusing to provide mortgage loans on homes with gas leases because they don’t meet secondary mortgage market guidelines.
– Impediments to new construction starts, long a bellwether of economic recovery, since construction loans depend on risk-free property and a purchaser.
– The possibility of a property owner defaulting on a mortgage by signing a gas lease.
– Prohibitively expensive appraisals and title searches that are complicated by assessing the value of risks and the arcane paper trail of mineral rights and attached liabilities.
- A Pennsylvania couple was recently denied a new mortgage on their farm by Quicken Loans because of a drilling site across the street. According to the lender, “gas wells and other structures in nearby lots…can significantly degrade a property’s value” and do not meet underwriting guidelines. Two other lenders also denied the family mortgages.
- Federal lending and mortgage institutions (FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) all have prohibitions against lending on properties where drilling is taking place or where hazardous materials are stored. A drilling lease on a property financed through one of these agencies would result in a ”technical default.” FHA’s guidelines also don’t allow it to finance mortgages where homes are within 300 feet of an active or planned drilling site. Also see http://bit.ly/1dIen28.
Homeowners who think damage to property incurred by drilling accidents is covered by insurance need to think again. Such damages are typically not covered.
- Last July, Nationwide Insurance spelled out specifically that it would not provide coverage for damage related to fracking. According to an internal memo outlining the company’s policy, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”
- Often, a driller or well operator’s insurance won’t cover damages, according to the NYSBA summary. Homeowners may have to sue for damages and, even if they win, may not get paid for all damages since drillers admit in their regulatory filings that they may not carry enough insurance.
Other online resources:
- Save Colorado from Fracking on how fracking lowers the value of property and real estate.
- The New York Times has compiled hundreds of pages of documents related to drilling and property rights and values that include federal guidelines, emails from realtors and mortgage brokers, memos from bankers etc.
- Reuters investigated the mushrooming issue of split estates and the conflicts between mineral rights and property rights, finding numerous instances across the country of homebuilders and developers holding on to ownership of oil and gas deposits while selling off subdivision lots, while providing little to no information about the issue to buyers.
- And in-depth look by the Colorado Independent at ways the fracking boom is coming into conflict with homeowners.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Today, Oceana released a new report exposing nine of the dirtiest fisheries in the U.S. These nine fisheries combined throw away almost half of what they catch and are responsible for more than 50 percent of all reported bycatch in the U.S., injuring and killing thousands of protected and endangered species every year.
In the report, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, Oceana explains that despite significant progress in the last decade, the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife, or “bycatch,” remains a significant problem in domestic fisheries. In fact, researchers have estimated that approximately 20 percent of the total U.S. catch is thrown away each year.
“Anything can be bycatch,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana. “Whether it’s the thousands of sea turtles that are caught to bring you shrimp or the millions of pounds of cod and halibut that are thrown overboard after fishermen have reached their quota, bycatch is a waste of our ocean’s resources. Bycatch also represents a real economic loss when one fisherman trashes another fisherman’s catch.”
Though some fishing methods are more harmful than others, researchers, fisheries managers and conservationists all agree that bycatch is generally highest in open ocean trawl, longline and gillnet fisheries. These three gear types alone are responsible for the majority of bycatch in the U.S. and are used by these nine dirty fisheries.
Below, is a slideshow featuring some of the National Marine Fisheries Service images of marine life injured and killed in drift gillnets off the coast of California, obtained by Oceana though a Freedom of Information Act request:
“Hundreds of thousands of dolphins, whales, sharks, sea birds, sea turtles and fish needlessly die each year as a result of indiscriminate fishing gear,” said Amanda Keledjian, report author and marine scientist at Oceana. “It’s no wonder that bycatch is such a significant problem, with trawls as wide as football fields, longlines extending up to 50 miles with thousands of baited hooks and gillnets up to two miles long. The good news is that there are solutions—bycatch is avoidable.”
Unfortunately, the bycatch problem in the U.S. is likely much worse than realized, because most fisheries do not have adequate monitoring in place to document exactly what and how much is caught and subsequently discarded. In some fisheries, as few as one in 100 fishing trips carry impartial observers to document catch, while many are not monitored at all, leading to large gaps in knowledge and poor quality data.
Nine Dirty Fisheries (based on data published by the National Marine Fisheries Service):
- Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery (66 percent discarded)—More than 400,000 sharks were captured and discarded in one year
- California Set Gillnet Fishery (65 percent of all animals discarded)—More than 30,000 sharks and rays as well as valuable fish were discarded as waste over three years
- Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery (64 percent discarded)—For every pound of shrimp landed, 1 pound of billfish is discarded; thousands of sea turtles are killed annually
- California Drift Gillnet Fishery (63 percent of all animals discarded)—Almost 550 marine mammals were entangled or killed over five years
- Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery (35 percent discarded)—More than 34 million pounds of fish were thrown overboard in one year, including 2 million pounds of halibut and 5 million pounds of cod
- Northeast Bottom Trawl (35 percent discarded)—More than 50 million pounds of fish are thrown overboard every year
- Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery (33 percent discarded)—Almost 200 marine mammals and 350 sea turtles were captured or killed in one year
- Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline Fishery (23 percent discarded)—More than 75 percent of the wasted fish in this fishery are valuable tuna, swordfish and other billfish targeted by the fishery
- New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery (16 percent discarded)—More than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals were captured in one year
“Reducing bycatch is a win/win for fishermen and conservationists,” said Cano-Stocco. “By eliminating wasteful and harmful fishing practices we can restore and maintain fish populations that are essential to renewed abundance and healthy oceans, while also preventing the deaths of whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles.”
“The solution can be as simple as banning the use of drift gillnets, transitioning to proven cleaner fishing gears, requiring Turtle Excluder Devices in trawls, or avoiding bycatch hotspots,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana. “Proven solutions and innovative management strategies can significantly reduce the unnecessary deaths of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life, while maintaining vibrant fisheries.”
In order to reduce the amount of wasted catch and the number of marine animals killed in U.S. fisheries, Oceana is calling on the federal government to do three things:
1. COUNT everything that is caught in a fishery, including bycatch species.
2. CAP the amount of wasted catch in each fishery using scientifically based limits.
3. CONTROL and avoid bycatch by making improvements such as using cleaner fishing gear and enhanced monitoring.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
By Erin Diaz
From Hawaii to Arizona, national parks are leading the way to protect our two most precious natural resources: our environment and our public water. With the grassroots support of tens of thousands of people across the country—from students to Corporate Accountability International members and people concerned about the environmental impact of bottled-water waste—parks across the country are ending the sale of bottled water, building momentum toward a day when all of our national parks will Think Outside the Bottle.
The environmental impact of bottled water is clear: manufacturing, transporting and disposing of plastic bottles each year leaves a staggering carbon footprint, not to mention the mountains of waste littering our waterways and trails. The National Park Service has a goal of diverting 50 percent of its municipal waste from landfills by 2015, but says that this goal “needs focus.” That’s why we’re working with parks across the system to go bottled water free, eliminating one of the biggest sources of waste in our parks.
To date, at least 14 national parks and units have taken the visionary step to stop selling bottled water—and are being recognized for their work to steward our most pristine places and champion our most essential resource: tap water.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument and Zion National Park have been rewarded by the National Park Service for their leadership in getting rid of bottled water, receiving the prestigious Environment Achievement Award. And on the heels of the Grand Canyon’s landmark victory in bucking the bottle, recently Golden Gate National Recreation Area installed its first hydration station.
Going bottled water free is a part of the National Park Service’s plan to serve as a worldwide model of sustainability. As stated by David Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park: “Eliminating the sale of water in disposable packaging within Grand Canyon National Park is in the best interests of both park resources and park visitors … [and it has] helped clear a trail for fellow parks to follow.”
Here’s just a snapshot of the successes our parks are having: the Grand Canyon and Zion installed refilling stations, worked with their concessionaires to eliminate bottled water and developed public education signage to magnify their impact beyond park borders. Both parks have made significant strides in reducing waste and environmental impact, with Zion keeping an estimated 5,000 pounds of plastic out of the park waste stream each year. And other parks are looking to follow suit.
Nature lovers across the country are celebrating their support of our nation’s most pristine places. Last summer, Corporate Accountability International members led more than 25 bottled-water-free hikes to national parks, from Maine to California, to urge park superintendents to Think Outside the Bottle.
Together, we are making tremendous progress to relegate bottled water to the history books: to protect the environment and safeguard the tap for years to come. Sign the petition calling on the National Park Service to follow the lead of Grand Canyon and others and go bottled water free.
14 of the forward-thinking national parks that have eliminated the sale of bottled water to Think Outside the Bottle:
- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- Zion National Park, UT
- Saguaro National Park, AZ
- Arches National Park, UT
- Canyonlands National Park, UT
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument, UT
- Little Bighorn National Monument, MT
- Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, MT
- El Morro National Monument, Puerto Rico
- El Malpais National Monument, NM
- Dinosaur National Monument, CO
- Big Thicket National Preserve, TX
- Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM
Following a push by the Obama Administration and House Speaker John Bohener to fast-track natural gas exports as leverage against Russia in the growing tensions between the nation and Ukraine, Americans Against Fracking and allied organizations today called on President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. Congress to reject plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) overseas.
As exporting oil and gas overseas will accelerate fracking in the U.S., more than 200 organizations signed on to the letter, urging lawmakers to protect U.S. communities, their economies and their vital resources from fracking.
“ExxonMobil and other oil and gas giants should not be controlling our foreign policy,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “We cannot sacrifice communities here in the U.S. for illusory-short term foreign policy objectives. We strongly urge Congress and the Obama Administration to say ‘no’ to oil and gas exports.”
Exporting oil and gas overseas is expected to lead to an increase in natural gas prices for American consumers and will also accelerate the pace of drilling and fracking, according to analysis by Food & Water Watch. Moreover, building the infrastructure necessary to support natural gas drilling and exportation will require significant economic investment.
But U.S. supplies of tight oil are expected to last seven years, and that's only if the oil and gas industry is granted unfettered access to drill and frack. Food & Water Watch estimates that if U.S. consumption of natural gas stays constant at 2010 rates, U.S. supplies of the resource will only last about 22 years.
Fracking carries significant environmental, economic and public health effects. In addition to polluting water resources, the process also releases methane into the atmosphere. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is at least 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year time frame, and causes between 79 to 105 times the climate forcing of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found that the rate of methane leakage in at least two active gas fields is much higher than the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory’s current estimate.
“Accelerating fracking in order to ship oil and gas overseas will only exacerbate climate change,” said Jesse Bacon of Environmental Action. “Fossil fuels are a short-sited, polluting form of energy. They should have no place in fueling our planet, or our foreign policy.”
The recently released Defense Department Quadrennial Defense Review lists climate change as a significant and growing security threat. The review cites climate change in several places and states: "The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world.”
The report goes on to explain, "These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."
“President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should be looking out for Americans, not the interests of the oil and gas industry,” said Russell Greene of Progressive Democrats of America. “They need to stand strong and not cave to pressures from the oil and gas industry when navigating this delicate diplomatic matter.”