Quantcast

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.”

Hi, everyone. My name is Sandra Steingraber, and I inhabit the anti-fracking wing of the climate movement.

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.

Read page 1

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.

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

New Bill Would Ban Fracking Waste in New York City

Colorado Town Sues State, Gov. Hickenlooper and COGA to Protect Right to Ban Fracking

People’s Climate March—Largest Climate March in World History—Launched in Times Square

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less