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What the Anti-Fracking Movement Brings to the Climate Movement
These are my prepared remarks for a speech I gave at the Boston stop of the People’s Climate March tour, “Building a Movement of Movements: Towards the People’s Climate March in NYC.”
Only a few years ago, that sentence would have sounded strange, even to me, because the fight against fracking has its roots in another place.
Those who oppose natural gas extraction via fracking first came together because we didn’t want to be poisoned.
In New York state, we sought to halt fracking before it started because of what we saw across the border in the gaslands of Pennsylvania: families with nose bleeds and rashes. Sick pets. Horses and livestock with mysterious ailments. Devastated landscapes
We had concerns about exploding pipelines, leaking waste pits and about our children’s school buses sharing icy roads with tanker trucks hauling toxic fracking fluid.
Most of all, we came together to protect our drinking water, and, now that the science is beginning catch up to the speed at which fracking is rolling across the nation, an ever-expanding collection of empirical data shows that our concerns were well founded.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the shale gas boom.
It turns out that the same unfixable engineering problem that sets the table for contaminating our water also contaminates the atmosphere with climate-killing methane.
The problem is that fracked wells are fragile wells. Too often, they leak. The brutal actions of fracking itself, which uses a slurry of highly pressurized water, chemicals and sand as a club to shatter the shale in order to free the oil or gas—can sometimes deform or crack the cement gasket around the wellbore. That’s how fracked wells can lose their integrity. That’s how they leak. And once they start leaking, you can’t turn them off.
That leakage can include natural gas itself—methane—which wafts from the wellhead, or from the compressor station, or from pipelines and flarestacks, into our atmosphere.
In short, each wellhead is an inextinguishable methane cigarette in the Earth. And there are no non-smoking sections.
This is a big problem for the climate because methane is highly potent greenhouse gas—86 times more powerful at trapping heat over a 20-year period than its more famous big brother, carbon dioxide. The only good news about methane is that it doesn’t last as long as its sibling. It lives fast and dies young. At the end of 20 years, methane is pretty much gone.
The bad news is that it’s so late in the climate change story that we don’t have much longer than twenty years to alter the outcome of the narrative. Hence, methane matters. It matters a lot.
Methane matters when it creates giant sinkholes in Siberia. Methane matters when it wafts up from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. And methane matters when it leaks from hundreds of thousands of gas and oil wells.
Hence, a protracted debate about whether burning natural gas via fracking is incrementally worse for the climate or incrementally better for the climate than burning coal is like arguing whether it’s more or less harmful to drink a six-pack of beer every night for 40 years or six shots of whiskey.
Methane may come in smaller glasses, but it’s a higher proof greenhouse gas.
Clearly, what’s needed now, at this late hour, before the ecosystem equivalent of end-stage liver failure sets in, is Fossils Fuels Anonymous.
It’s time for some sobriety.
So, out of an awareness that methane leakage from gas wells and fracking-related infrastructure is swinging a wrecking ball at the climate, the anti-fracking movement is pleased to join the movement for climate justice.
Here’s what we bring to this movement of movements.
First, we bring a science-based message to the President and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Over at Americans Against Fracking headquarters, we are big on science.
President Obama, the science shows that we can’t frack our way to climate stability. If you issue a warrant for the arrest of carbon dioxide and let its partner in crime run free and incentivize its use, you’ll create not a bridge to salvation but a treadmill that leaves us standing on the near bank of a troubled land.
Any plan to combat climate change by swapping one fossil fuel for another—phasing out coal and ramping up gas—is not a good start. It’s no start at all. It’s only the illusion of a start that leaves us paralyzed and defeated.
And, second, we bring to all of you, to this larger climate justice movement, a never-surrender, battle-tested spirit. America’s fractivists have been fighting for our lives in the gas fields. Now we are ready to fight for life itself.
In June, I saw that spirit in eyes of a tiny, old women in eastern Romania last June. She wore a headscarf and pink coat as she walked unsteadily but without fear toward a line of military police who had closed the road of her village to all but Chevron’s fracking trucks.
And I saw it in upstate New York when I watched a man named Jeremy Alderson respectfully turned down a judge’s offer of community service and accept instead a 15-day jail sentence, saying quietly, “Your Honor, my act of community service was accomplished when I chained myself to the compressor station gate.”
This happened just two nights ago in a village near my own home. In lieu of reading a statement, the defendant asked only that he be allowed, while incarcerated, a kosher vegetarian diet.
Friends, it is Friday night, the sun has set, and Jeremy is observing the Sabbath. Tonight, we are the Shabbat candles for Jeremy, who sits alone in a cell in Watkins Glen, New York for a peaceful act of civil disobedience at a fracking infrastructure site. Our words here tonight illuminate and honor his efforts to stop a desecration.
On Sept. 21, may the light we shine in New York City illuminate for the whole world our call for climate justice.
My team, New Yorkers Against Fracking, which has sustained a statewide moratorium on fracking for six years and against all odds, is honored to serve as your welcoming party in the unfractured streets of Manhattan.
We are playing to win.
We will meet you there. We will meet you there. Amen, brother Jeremy. We will meet you there.
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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.