by Alexander Lotorto
Powershift attendees on the steps of the Sierra Club office in Washington DC this year, demanding that the Sierra Club change their national position on natural gas to oppose fracking.
As a resident of rural Pennsylvania, in a household that greatly relies on the tourism industry here, in a house that I've improved with my own hands, in a township where I will raise a family one day, in a community that prides itself by the Pocono mountains and rural character, I'm challenging you, if you consider yourself a part of the environmental movement, to be my true ally and make a commitment to stopping fracking for natural gas, forever.
Many of you have made that commitment already, and I am very grateful for your help. However, for some, that is a lot to ask, especially those who have supported natural gas as a substitute for coal and oil in the past or believe that fracking can be "safe".
First of all, I'm not trying to make enemies among friends and I by no means charge every single member of these groups with being guilty of pro-drilling positions. In fact, I support the strategic choices of groups to work for temporary moratoriums, better regulations, more studies, and safer drilling. However, I need the struggle for reforms of the gas industry to be framed as a path towards ending fracking as fast as possible, not "fracking as a bridge to clean energy." More simply, I want to ban fracking, and I need your help to win this fight.
I simply want to trust, that as the campaign against fracking escalates towards direct action in rural Pennsylvania communities like mine, where people are preparing to spend time in jail to protect themselves, that large environmental groups are not talking from both sides of their mouth.
As the late Judy Bonds once said about the struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining, "if you sit on that fence long enough you're gonna get splinters in your ass."
In substance, the stance of "responsible" or "safe" drilling through better regulations is a pro-drilling stance. In substance, it is the same stance as the gas industry.
Politically, it may be expedient in this coming election year for environmentalists to support natural gas drilling. From state officials all the way up to President Obama, natural gas drilling is on the table for Democrats. However, it is disrespectful of affected communities and an abuse of privilege to engage in horse trading, supporting fracking in my community in order to get action on oil and coal.
I promise, President Obama will lose in Pennsylvania if he keeps supporting fracking and we are not going to be silent at campaign stops.
And finally, as the coal mine unions used to sing and what I once asked a director of a statewide green group here, "Which side are you on? Are you for, or against fracking?"
He snidely replied, "We're against the pollution."
Coming from the labor movement, where unions routinely join each other's picket lines and refuse to cross them, I'm shocked that environmental groups wouldn't stand strong with the demands of rural Pennsylvanians to ban or stop fracking, forever.
What's required? To oppose the extraction and use of natural gas, many groups, including the national Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Environment America, Greenpeace, Center for American Progress (which runs Campusprogress.org) and National Resources Defense Council will have to take action including,
- publicly change their official positions to anti-gas, anti-fracking,
- make defeating natural gas an equal priority as stopping oil and coal (including the allocation of staff, media, and funding),
- farm their websites and delete pro-gas posts and reports,
- and make some public apologies to victims of gas drilling and those of us that live in the gas patch.
Some groups have, for years, pitched natural gas as "a bridge fuel for a clean energy future" and a "cleaner solution to coal and oil" alongside gas industry lobbyists like T. Boone Pickens and Chesapeake Energy CEO, Aubrey McClendon.
From T. Boone Pickens' website:
"John Podesta, the president of [Center for American Progress], has appeared alongside T. Boone Pickens, the oil baron who funded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and who is promoting wind energy and natural gas. Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club, has made the rounds on Capitol Hill with the head of the Chesapeake Energy Company, Aubrey McClendon"
Here's a quote from the Sierra Club's website on fracking:
"As we move to a clean energy future, the Sierra Club is generally not opposed to continued production from existing gas fields"
Greenpeace has this statement on their site quitcoal.org:
What is Greenpeace’s position on Natural Gas?
Greenpeace views natural gas as the “least worst” option among fossil fuels that can be used as a temporary bridging technology while we make the transition to clean renewable energy like wind and solar.
Natural gas development must not displace the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Greenpeace opposes all subsidies to the natural gas sector as they inevitably take place at the expense of energy conservation and efficiency, and most importantly at the expense of renewables.
Hydraulic fracture methods (“fracking”) are associated with a range of environmental impacts, some of which are not fully understood. It’s possible that the carbon footprint of shale gas may be significantly greater than for conventional gas. Greenpeace is opposed to fracking until the environmental impacts are understood, regulated and mitigated.
The Sierra Club national policy on natural gas fracking (PDF) outlines all the ways that regulations should make fracking safe and does not take a firm stance against it, supporting "best management practices" instead. While Sierra Club chapters throughout the country are taking a strong position against fracking, many are still lagging behind.
In Sierra Club Executive Director's Michael Brune's last blog post about natural gas over a year ago, titled "The Word Obama Forgot to Say," he makes the case that drilling should be done "responsibly" immediately after citing the tragic experience of Dimock, PA residents who lost their water after Cabot Oil and Gas fracked a well nearby. Mr. Brune is perpetuating an industry lie that drilling can be done "safe" or in a "responsible" manner.
In an earlier post, Brune says,
Yes, we need to use natural gas as our country makes the transition from the dirtiest energy sources (coal and oil) to clean and renewable sources like wind and solar. And yes, if we want that gas, we will have to drill for it.
On 8/11/10, Brune says,
I am cautiously hopeful, however, that strong regulation and government oversight will make drilling safe, because we sure could use the help of natural gas as we push quickly and aggressively toward a truly clean energy future powered by wind, solar, and other renewable resources.
Here is Michael Brune's appearance on CNBC's Mad Money, again pitching natural gas as a bridge fuel.
We see through it. Natural gas is not a "bridge to a clean energy future." Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale does more to aggravate climate change than coal, according to a Cornell study published in the May issue of Climatic Change Letters.
There are trillions of dollars of public and private investment, not to mention thousands of good people working, in natural gas drilling and infrastructure.
Every egg that's put in the baskets of gas companies from college endowments, pension funds, governments' budgets, and others is an egg that is not used to put Americans to work on green construction, manufacturing, and dismantling the infrastructure that causes harm.
Fracking can't be done "safely." An obvious point, is there will always be the danger of a geologic pathway in the well bore or a a well casing failure leeching gas into the drinking water aquifers of residents nearby, even when everything goes as planned. A recent Duke University study illustrates this risk. Also, if you have followed the issue, there are many, many other risks, including,
- Hazardous chemical manufacturing, transportation, and storage,
- Pipeline explosions and leaks,
- Legal drilling waste disposal and storage,
- Illegal dumping of hazardous waste by the industry,
- Traffic accidents, and
- Wildlife impacts (PDF)
Economically, the externalities of this industry and devastation to rural economies have not been considered. Inherently, the gas drilling occupies rural land that is traditionally an asset for agriculture, tourism, and real estate industries.
Agriculture and tourism occupy the large revenue streams and are being displaced as PA turns into an industrial wasteland pock marked with 10 to 15 acre heavy industrial sites, trucks, processing facilities, and scarred pipeline right of ways.
The Marcellus industry will devastate Pennsylvania's economy in the long run, especially when it picks up and leaves like so many industries before it. To believe that "safe" drilling is the solution for Pennsylvania, is a compromised, pro-drilling stance unless it is partnered with a strategy to stop the drilling altogether.
Here are some of OSHA reported workplace casualties that have happened, just this year, in the oil and gas industry. If you're talking about "safe" drilling, you're going to have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to the workplace hazards you're asking Pennsylvanians to take.
A dossier and memo I prepared on emergency management of gas operations is included here.
If after reading all this, I haven't compelled you to straighten out yourself, your environmental groups, and other environmentalists on the fracking issue, I have to say, you're going to be left in the dust as the people who take a strong stand against fracking out-organize and out-shine you.