The Good, Bad and Ugly in Colorado’s New Fracking Air Emissions Rules
The state of Colorado made national headlines a few weeks ago because it adopted new air emissions rules around drilling and fracking. There’s good, bad and ugly in these new rules, and there’s some new hope for the future.
The Good News
Colorado’s new drilling and fracking air quality regulations will cut Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions as well as methane emissions from oil and gas wells and facilities. VOCs lead to ozone and other air quality problems which cause asthma attacks and other health problems. And methane is a serious greenhouse gas that must be better addressed if our planet has any hope of controlling climate change.
The degree of the cut in both of these pollutants is debatable—somewhere between 20 - 40 percent—because the new regulations don’t require that all drilling companies comply, or that all facilities comply, and allow any company to ask for a waiver if the cost is deemed too onerous. But on the whole, any cut is better than no cut. Coloradans can breathe a little easier, for a little while.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, Colorado’s drilling and fracking landscape is not a zero-sum game because about 2,000 new wells are being drilled every year. These new regulations won’t slow down fracking one single bit and may actually help increase air pollution and climate change emissions. If you cut emissions by ~30 percent and drill more and more wells, pretty soon the total amount of emissions and pollution will come out even with where it is now and will get worse as more wells are drilled.
Colorado currently has 53,000 active wells and the industry predicts 50,000 more will be drilled in the next 30 years in addition to the redrilling and refracking of current active wells. With these new regulations in place, at about 70,000 total wells our air pollution will be the same as it is now; at 100,000 wells, our air pollution will be ~35 percent worse. By cutting emissions, but by not stopping drilling and fracking altogether, these new rules will lead to worse air pollution, increased climate change emissions, as well as our suburban landscapes being swarmed with well pads spewing cancer-causing chemicals in the air and on the ground.
The Ugly News
These new regulations may actually undermine local democracy and the necessary change in policy that needs to happen in Colorado. Over the past 18 months, local democracy has flourished in Colorado as voters supported fracking bans in Longmont, Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield and Fort Collins. In fact, it is these election outcomes that forced industry to the negotiating table to support the new rules.
As one participant from the Environmental Defense Fund stated publicly: “The industry’s social license to do business is under attack in Colorado and the political dynamics made a strong negotiated settlement attractive.” In other words, even though the industry had spent over a million dollars fighting the local elections, they lost and so they cut a deal with the Governor and a few frack-happy environmental groups to try and save their asses.
By supporting this “attractive settlement,” these environmental groups’ efforts have now bolstered the social license of this polluting and climate-destroying industry. If your social license to do business is destroying the planet, shouldn’t that license be revoked? Instead, the deal could derail the ongoing forward movement of authentic, grassroots, political change supported by voters in Colorado cities with more than 400,000 citizens towards banning fracking and switching our economy away from fossil fuels.
In fact, in the past few weeks, a total of 12 statewide ballot initiatives have been proposed to further restrict drilling and fracking in Colorado. The backers of these initiatives run the gamut from local ad-hoc groups to large and influential organizations and individuals. And the war has begun as the oil and gas industry is already spending millions of dollars in Colorado on TV, radio and print advertising in an attempt to sway voters’ minds eight months before the election, and is poised to spend tens-of-millions more in what may become a vicious statewide battle over fracking.
This mad rush to drill and frack in Colorado was initially supported by two assumptions: 1) that natural gas has less greenhouse gas emissions than coal and thus is a “bridge fuel” to fight climate change, and 2) that American oil and gas makes us “energy independent.”
Both of these assumptions have been proven false.
First, Colorado and America is drilling, fracking, mining and producing more oil, gas and coal than ever before, and thus our overall production, burning, and exporting of climate change emitting fossil fuels is at its highest level in history. In fact, in 2013 Colorado produced more oil than at any time in history, and natural gas production is rising every year as fracking races across the landscape. Further, scientific studies about the use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” have now completely undermined that argument—gas appears to be as bad or worse for the climate, and those partially controlled methane leaks are only part of the problem. Let’s face it: even British Petroleum has stated that oil and gas fracking will increase climate change emissions
Second, there’s no such thing as “American” fossil fuel energy and we’re not “energy independent” at all. Oil and gas that is produced in Colorado and the U.S. is wholly owned by international fossil fuel corporations that are borderless, soulless, and driven by one simple thing—short-term profits garnered at any social and environmental cost. When we develop fossil fuels in the U.S., we are simply increasing our dependence on this international predatory industry. Further, the mad rush to drill and frack in Colorado and across the U.S. is accompanied by an equally mad rush to build pipelines to get that oil and gas to the coast so it can be shipped overseas where the international oil and gas corporations can sell it for a higher price. Those corporations don’t fight with missiles and ground troops here in America; they fight with hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying, influencing elections, and polluting our democracy to make sure our 100 percent dependency on their product continues.
A couple environmental groups, the industry, and the Governor referred to Colorado’s new fracking air quality regulations as “ground breaking.” I disagreed because it appeared to me that the only thing breaking the ground will be the sound of 50,000 new drill rigs across our suburban landscapes as our air gets dirtier, our climate changes even more, and our democracy is further polluted.
I do see a path forward here that forges a new alliance so that these new fracking regulations are not bad or ugly, but are an important “first step.” The public and the environmental community in Colorado need to be working toward local and statewide bans and restrictions on the production and burning of fossil fuels as well as supporting a rapid switch toward renewable energy. That can only happen at the ballot box because our legislative and administrative process are completely polluted by oil and gas money.
Whether you’re in Colorado or elsewhere, and whether you’re with a small group or large, start local, get engaged and fight the fossil fuel industry at the ballot box. Win, lose or draw, it’s the right fight at the right moment in history.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental advocate based in Fort Collins. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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