Tag Archives: fracking

Activists Describe Efforts To Stop Atlantic Sunrise Gas Pipeline In Pennsylvania

Months after thousands at Standing Rock stood up against the Dakota Access Pipeline, activists in Pennsylvania are ready to take a stand against a nearly $3 billion pipeline project called Atlantic Sunrise.

First proposed in 2014, it is an extension of the current Transco pipeline that transports natural gas throughout the eastern United States. Williams Partners proposed this nearly 200-mile long project to transfer natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields, one of the richest U.S. gas fields.

Last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates interstate natural gas, accepted comments from the public to determine if Williams should receive a certificate for construction. Despite a vast majority writing against the pipeline, FERC gave its approval on February 3. On the same day, its chairman, Norman Bay, resigned and left the five-seat commission with two people.

While construction may happen this year depending on other permits, activists are not deterred. Shadowproof spoke with four people about their experiences with the project and their current efforts against it.

Skilled Deflectors

Michael Schroeder, Vice President of Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, first heard about the proposal in early 2014 and, along with other Lebanon County residents, met with Williams officials for more details. However, he noted the company’s representatives were “very skilled at deflecting and sort of pretending to listen.”

“Instead [of an open public meeting], they hold what they call open houses, which are sort of like high school science fairs with a bunch of tables spread out in the auditorium,” Schroeder told Shadowproof. “You go from table to table with different aspects of the pipelines and you might get different answers from different tables.”

Schroeder detailed serious concerns with the project, notably with the geology in Lebanon County. The pipeline will cross karst, terrain prone to sinkholes, and might cause pipeline ruptures if Williams has no definitive plan against it.

The company did create a mitigation plan, but Schroeder said it minimized risks. The report cited sources that were “not really relevant to the particular configuration forces.”

Schroeder and his colleagues in the group have used traditional methods to demonstrate against the pipeline, such as op-eds and interviews. They set up a booth at county events to talk with landowners. They even spoken to academics working in opposition to pipelines.

“We’ve been really successful in that regard. Before Lebanon Pipeline Awareness came on the scene, pipelines were not on anyone’s radar screen. People would just shrug their shoulders or be openly hostile,” he said.

While he expects the project will go through anyway, Schroeder noted he will persist in his activism against the project.

“Am I optimistic about the long term? No, but that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting,” he said. “If not for ourselves, then for the next generation.”

Eminent Domain

Eminent domain allows the government to seize private property for public use. Williams is able to use this power from FERC’s certificate that allows them to take advantage of such power. Last month, it filed eminent domain suits against 13 landowners in four Pennsylvania counties.

Kate Rouf, Conservation Chair of the Lancaster Group of the Sierra Club, explained that rural communities in Pennsylvania suffer the brunt of eminent domain suits.

“Land that has been farmed for generations will be taken through eminent domain, some of it from Amish families. The pipeline’s path cuts through communities indiscriminately, with some residents facing pipeline construction that will take place feet from their front doors,” she said.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesperson for Williams, noted that the company’s goal is “to treat all landowners fairly throughout this process.” Eminent domain is used only as a “last resort.”

“With receipt of the FERC certificate Feb. 3, we have reached a critical point in the project schedule where we need to access certain properties so we can wrap up the last remaining environmental surveys in order to maintain the project schedule,” Stockton said.

A number of groups, such as Clean Air Council and Delaware Riverkeeper Network, have requested FERC reconsider its decision to issue a certificate to Williams.

Among its efforts to mobilize citizens against the project, Ruof highlighted the Sierra Club Pennsylvania chapter’s request to FERC to reconsider its certificate, as well as their challenge to a separate certification decision by a state agency.

“Now that the project has been approved, legal strategies will become even more important,” she said.

FERC rarely denies certificates to companies with proposed pipeline plans. Alex Bomstein, senior litigation attorney at Clean Air Council which is also filing a request to FERC, said there exists a “low bar” for the commission when approving pipelines as they are biased for it.

“Pipelines are supposed to only be authorized, certificated they say, if there’s a need for it. But FERC considers any pipeline that has customers to be in the public interest even if that leads to overbuilding,” Bomstein explained.

Necessary Trouble

Malinda Clatterbuck is a founding member of Lancaster Against Pipelines, an organization that recently vowed non-violent direct action against the project. She first heard about the project from a land surveyor that wanted to survey her property for the pipeline.

After researching more about the project, she and other residents created Lancaster Against Pipelines.

“We [are] really concerned about protecting what’s sacred to us in our community. Lancaster county is known for its preserved farmland. We have the most preserved lands here than, I think, anywhere else in the nation,” she said.

Clatterbuck noted the group is involved in legal battles against Williams, but is also preparing other residents and civilians to set up camp near Conestoga River. Some folks preparing for mass action were even involved with Standing Rock in North Dakota.

She told Shadowproof she “lost and sacrificed so much” time and money with no glory given to the organization.

“I’m raising a 14 and 15-year-old whose lives have been changed because I’m constantly in meetings, going to meetings, [and] going to speak engagements. I’m doing this 40 hours per week for the past three years just to find justice for my community. I think it’s really shitty we need to be doing this in our democracy,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said the folks challenging the pipeline are “on the side of justice and we’re doing the right thing.”

“It was amazing how people I never met before, we had over 100 people who came out and spent hours looking or dropped off water and food and money, these people asking how can I help?” she said. “I feel that’s what being human is about.”

Climate Destruction, Pipeline Struggles, And Squandered Opportunities: Interview With Filmmaker Josh Fox

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola are joined by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland” and “How to Let Go of the World and Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change.” He was also part of the Democratic Platform Committee proceedings and a surrogate for the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Fox provides a rundown on the thousands of pipeline leaks and disasters in the United States, which have occurred in recent years. He says we are in a “permanent state of criminal negligence. The pipeline industry operates with an enormous amount of destruction.”

He highlights many of the different struggles over pipeline projects, which are ongoing, and how the country came to be dominated by so many pipelines. He also addresses the confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the EPA’s dereliction of duty up to this moment.

“Let’s just face it. Barack Obama squandered the greatest opportunities that we had in the last ten years to make real progress on the environment,” Fox declares. “He had the hugest environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States with the BP oil spill. He had the largest and fastest new section of the environmental movement in history with the fracktivists and the fracking movement.”

“He had the coal mining explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed dozens of miners. He had the worst nuclear disaster in the world with Fukushima. The man squandered all of these political opportunities he had to gather public opinion and make the push for renewable energy.”

Later in the interview, Fox tells the story of what happened when actress, activist, and friend Susan Sarandon asked him to come on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes with her. He was unsure if MSNBC would allow him to come on the show for a segment that went viral because, since working for Sanders in 2016, he was put on some kind of blacklist and not allowed to be on MSNBC shows anymore.

“I was a regular on MSNBC. I was a regular on Chris Hayes’ show. I would go on every couple weeks,” Fox shares. “This was just part of life as me being able to talk about fracking and pipelines and these kinds of things, and I love that. I love that about my life. I loved being able to go on. I loved to talk to Chris. I loved to talk to Larry O’Donnell and the other people at ‘Morning Joe’ or Alex Wagner that would have me on to talk about these issues. And then all of a sudden I became a Bernie Sanders surrogate and the phone stopped ringing.”

According to Fox, Sarandon had to take a stand to get him on air with her during the segment.

In a separately posted discussion, the show’s hosts talk about President Donald Trump’s pledge to go to war against “low-life leakers” in his administration. They express their frustrations over how the media is positioning itself as radical opponents of Trump, when they’re still the same institutions that cozied up to the Obama administration for access. They also talk about whether a person should be allowed to be a trillionaire and highlight the press conference between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To listen to the interview with Fox, go here. The episode can also be downloaded from iTunes. Or click on the player at the top of the post to listen to the interview.

For the discussion segment, go here.

Photo credit: Josh Fox in an interview with Public Herald. © Joshua B. Pribanic for Public Herald.

EPA Study On Fracking Vindicates Environmental Groups

The Environmental Protection Agency released a final draft of a six-year study on the impact of fracking on drinking water.

The study affirms the scientific reality that fracking contaminates water, and remarkably, the report appears to be mostly free of fossil fuel industry influence that was apparent in an earlier draft of the study.

Environmental groups cheered the study for putting to rest the lie that fracking does not significantly pollute water supplies.

Greenpeace spokesperson Jesse Coleman reacted, “The report only confirms what too many Americans already know from personal experience: That fracking poisons our water and sickens our communities. The final publication of this report, long delayed, is a significant win for the dedicated people who fought to keep this process honest.”

“We’ve known for years that fracking and other oil and gas activities are a threat to drinking water,” said John Noel, coordinator for Clean Water Action’s national oil and gas campaigns. “The final study discards the industry talking points that ignore the fact that fracking has the potential to contaminate water during every step of the process—from water acquisition through disposal.”

Lena Moffitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, declared, “For far too long, communities around the country have faced the daily threat of contaminated water, earthquakes, and an uncertain future due to fracking, all while oil and gas companies peddled the false claim that the process was safe. Today’s report ends this charade. No longer will families be told a lie as their health and safety are threatened.”

However, Moffitt acknowledged the incoming administration appointed by President Donald Trump probably will expand fracking and disregard the science that shows this process can have severe impacts on communities.

The American Petroleum Institute, the trade association which represents all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, blasted the study and accused the EPA of abandoning science. It was a stark admission that in the end the industry failed to unduly influence the final version of the study.

In the executive summary of the study [PDF], the EPA acknowledges that contamination is possible at essentially all stages of the process. Spills can occur “during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources.”

When hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected into wells with “inadequate mechanical integrity,” gases or liquids can move to groundwater. The injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources can have a polluting impact. The discharge of wastewater into surface water and the disposal or storage of wastewater in “unlined pits” can also result in contamination of groundwater.

Marketplace and APM Reports obtained documents showing the EPA downplayed the risk of contamination from fracking and made eleventh hour changes in 2015.

“In the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of ‘widespread systemic impacts’ of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water,” according to journalists Scott Tong and Tom Scheck.

A news release written to accompany the draft study on June 3, 2015, initially contained a line indicating “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water.” However, the final release stated, “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.” Deputy EPA administrator Tom Burke emphasized the lack of evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts” on a conference call with reporters.

As Tong and Scheck pointed out, the EPA identified “more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water sources.” It also found “hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.”

Environmental groups regarded the draft study’s disinformation as “findings” that were designed to appease the oil and gas industry, which was concerned about a study that might impact their corporate profits.

Last year, the EPA was challenged over its failure to regulate fracking and address earthquakes in states like Ohio and Oklahoma that were linked to “underground injection wells.” They also called for “tougher rules to stop disposal of fracking waste in open-air pits” or municipal landfills.

Pressure from activists certainly played a role in ensuring the final study had language that would challenge the oil and gas industry’s environmentally destructive practices.

*

This victory for the climate movement comes a little more than a week after the Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant an easement for Energy Transfer Partners’s Dakota Access Pipeline on land that belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other indigenous Americans. It also comes as the major climate activist group, 350.org, reports the fossil fuel divestment movement has doubled in size since September 2015, with institutions representing $5 trillion committed to divestment.

Trump continues to appoint climate change deniers to cabinet positions. Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson and former Texas Governor were recently appointed to secretary of state and secretary of energy positions.

The climate movement has an arduous struggle ahead with an adversarial administration willing to go so far as to demand Energy Department officials turn over the names of people who have worked on climate change so they can purge career employees from the department. Yet, the climate movement has built power, even though President Barack Obama kept the door open for the oil and gas industry to influence agencies and environmental policy.

Now, Trump will abandon the veneer of government independence and let energy corporations capture government. Oil and gas industry barons will have their way with Earth to maximize their profits.

It will be more difficult for the climate movement to achieve wins, but it is not like it was easy for environmentalists to kill TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project and make other gains.

No matter who is sitting in the White House, the climate movement can still have a positive effect and protect communities from new and old projects that could destroy the environment.

‘Get A Life’: Clinton Bashed Anti-Fracking Activists During Private Labor Meeting

At a private meeting with the Building Trades Council, Hillary Clinton bashed environmentalists who oppose natural gas fracking and insist the United States must keep all fossil fuels in the ground. She said these environmentalists need to “get a life.”

A transcript of a part of the meeting, which took place on September 9, 2015, was published by WikiLeaks. It was attached to an email from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account, which he claims was hacked.

Clinton met with the Building Trades Council, which is part of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). She sought their endorsement, however, she wanted to be clear about what she was willing to support in the way of new pipeline construction. The labor organization is very pro-pipeline because its members work on pipelines.

“Bernie Sanders is getting lots of support from the most radical environmentalists because he’s out there every day bashing the Keystone pipeline,” Clinton stated. “And, you know, I’m not into it for that.”

“My view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking under the right circumstances,” Clinton added. She made it clear she was willing to defend new, modern energy sources.

Then, on environmentalists, Clinton shared, “I’m already at odds with the most organized and wildest. They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”

Clinton said she wants to get the “right balance,” and continued, “Everybody’s not going to get everything they want, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work in a democracy, but everybody needs to listen to each other.”

She advocated for nuclear power. “Nuclear is no greenhouse gas emissions. France has it for nearly 100% of their energy. They’ve never had a problem. We’ve had two problems that people know about: Chernobyl, which was a disaster and [inaudible], and you know Three Mile. Right, those were the problems we had. We’ve come a long way from there.”

Later, Clinton returned to her experience with environmental activists. “I’m having conversations in these town halls and these meetings I’m having with a lot of people who break into my meetings, they hold up posters, they scream at me, and all the rest of that: ‘Stop extracting fossil fuels, stop extracting on public lands, come out against nuclear, coal’ you name it. They are after everything, and I’m just talking through them.”

“And, of course, they go support somebody else. That’s fine, and I don’t particularly care. But I do think I have to say, look, given everything else we have to do in this country, this is not an issue for me that I’m going to say I support. I want to work on other stuff,” Clinton said, making it clear she would not support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Clinton has openly shown her disdain for environmental activists. In late May, she yelled at a Greenpeace activist for asking her to reject “fossil fuel money.” In early April, she declared, “I feel sorry for the young people who believe” the lies Sanders is telling them about money accepted from executives and lobbyists tied to the fossil fuel industry. Young people “don’t do their own research.” Her comment was in response to a Greenpeace activist, whose question actually was based in facts.

On June 18, 2014, at a speech hosted by a promotional company called tinePublic, Clinton claimed “phony environmental groups” are “funded by the Russians.” She said the groups are pushed “to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.”

During the Democratic Platform Committee meetings, Clinton appointees defeated the inclusion of a fracking ban. Carol Browner, a lobbyist for Albright Stonebridge Group, which has a stake in fracking services, misleadingly championed how fracking helps to reduce carbon pollution. Browner ignored the methane pollution from fracking and science that shows methane is far, far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Clinton appointees also defeated the inclusion of language in support of “keeping over 80% of all known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.” Browner again led an effort, which successfully prevented the Democrats from supporting this commitment that could meaningfully address climate change.

Her campaign flagged excerpts of her paid speeches, noting multiple instances where she promoted natural gas fracking. She was proud of innovations, which make it possible to “extract both gas and oil from previously used places that didn’t seem to have much more to offer.” However, those methods are not clean methods that carry minimal environmental risks.

Clinton has been relatively silent on the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, even as indigenous Americans mobilize along with environmental activists to stop the pipeline. The Building Trades Unions mentioned the pipeline in the Dakotas during the September meeting, but she did not say anything about it.

On Clinton’s campaign website, she hammers Donald Trump for suggesting climate change is a “Chinese hoax” and opposing clean energy solutions. However, through her support for fracking, she effectively denies science, which shows the devastating impact this extraction has on the planet.

Democrats Ignore Urgency Of Climate Crisis, Vote Against Adding Fracking Ban To Platform

Democrats appointed to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee by Hillary Clinton and the party’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, defeated a ban on fracking on June 24.

Former U.S. Representative Howard Berman, American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal Employees executive assistant to the president, Paul Booth, former White House Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner, Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece, former State Department official Wendy Sherman, and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden all raised their hands to prevent a moratorium from becoming a part of the platform.

Those who voted against the ban were met with a cry of, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” from the audience.

Bill McKibben, 350.org founder, argues for fracking ban (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)
Bill McKibben, 350.org founder, argues for fracking ban (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)

The moratorium was introduced by 350.org founder and environmental activist, Bill McKibben, who was named to the committee by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

“The logical thing to do going forward is to halt the rapid advance of fracking where it is and not allow it to expand out across the continent endangering people’s homes and lives and endangering even more powerfully than that the atmosphere all around us and the climate on which we depend,” McKibben argued.

Browner and Booth led the opposition against the ban, with Browner misleadingly describing how natural gas had reduced carbon pollution minutes after McKibben noted this may be true but the country’s greenhouse emissions have probably increased. That is because fracked gas leaks huge amounts of methane.

The former White House official also claimed fracking needs to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. She suggested California had chosen to regulate fracking instead of ban fracking and that the state would be able to “ensure the kind of safeguards” necessary.

“We certainly support governors in states that make decisions based on their natural resources, based on their science, to do the kinds of things that Governor Cuomo has decided. But we do not support a national ban on fracking,” Browner declared. (Note: The science does not vary from state-to-state. What happens in California will happen in New York.)

Booth rambled his way through an argument against the ban that invoked jobs. He said the AFL-CIO and many other unions are opposed to a fracking ban. He also made a political argument in defense of allowing the natural gas industry to continue to destroy communities with pollution.

“These jobs are in the most significantly important battleground states that we have to carry in order to win the election that we have coming up,” Booth stated.

While people, like Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Barbara Lee, Deborah Parker, Cornel West, James Zogby, and McKibben, voted for the ban, other self-proclaimed progressives on the committee sided with the natural gas industry against Planet Earth.

McKibben introduced the fracking ban by acknowledging the fact that years ago conventional wisdom suggested natural gas would be promising in the fight against climate change. It was widely believed this would reduce carbon emissions and be a viable replacement for coal. It was embraced as a “bridge fuel.” However, it turns out “each molecule of methane” is “about 86 times more powerful” as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Methane emission rates have soared. McKibben warned the committee that this could mean, even though President Barack Obama’s administration has reduced carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions may have increased in recent years because of fracking pollution.

As Sanders campaign policy adviser Warren Gunnels did when the committee met in Phoenix, McKibben highlighted the moratorium adopted in New York with the support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The health commissioner in New York conducted a thorough six-year study, and said at a press conference, “I asked myself would I allow my family to live near a fracking well, and the answer was no. That being the case, I can’t ask anyone else to do so.”

The seven members of the platform committee, who voted against the ban, were apparently not moved by the actions of New York. In fact, they suggested that states could do what they wanted, as if that was somehow a meaningful concession.

The offer “that we won’t interfere with states’ ability to interfere with us is not much of an offer,” McKibben replied. What it is saying is if you can somehow “use the endless effort to build the movement to overcome the fossil fuel industry and somehow get a ban on fracking,” then “we won’t come in and undercut you.” He added, “That’s not really much of an offer to give to a movement that is now a powerful and proud movement.”

McKibben questioned Booth’s jobs argument and maintained renewable energy would provide more jobs than fracking. He also responded to Browner and Booth, who deceptively described the science.

“It’s very important to pay attention to scientific reality, and in this case, it’s changed the verdict in recent years on fracking. That is why there are so many people who are so impassioned in so many places,” McKibben said.

Browner was apparently livid with McKibben for challenging her, because she made it unnecessarily personal.

“I don’t think anyone here intends to suggest that folks are not committed to these issues. Many of us have fought a very, very long time on these issues,” Browner proclaimed.

Parker, an indigenous woman serving on the committee, pleaded with the committee, “To our indigenous people, water is one of the most sacred elements we have on Earth, and it is something very much worth protecting. If we’re serious about safe and clean drinking water and if we’re serious about clean air and if we’re serious about combating climate change, we need to put an end to fracking all over this country.”

“It’s very important to me as an indigenous person. It’s important to my family and several other indigenous nations across the country support ban on fracking as well,” Parker added.

Dr. Cornel West pleads with Democrats to recognize fierce urgency of now (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)
Dr. Cornel West pleads with Democrats to recognize fierce urgency of now (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)

Democrats have made the pollution of water in Flint, Michigan, a key issue. Why not stand up for people in the United States, who have had their water polluted by the natural gas industry?

As West stated, “It just strikes me that the argument about jobs and the argument about states does not reflect the depth of urgency, impending catastrophe, that was putting forward.”

“I discern a pattern. The pattern is, well, Brother McKibben, you’re speaking truths. We’re so glad you’ve been out there breaking your neck in the movement. But when it comes to these kind of considerations, we’ve got some counter-factors—jobs, states’ activity as opposed to federal activity—and it just doesn’t strike me that your insights are informed by the unbelievable sense of us being on the edge of the abyss as a species vis a vis nature.”

***

Minutes after attempting to add a fracking ban in the platform, McKibben followed that up with an attempt to add the following language:

“Democrats believe that the United States should lead the global community in keeping over 80% of all known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Democrats agree that the next President of the United States should not grant new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters nor renewing existing leases at their expiration.”

“We have roughly five times as much coal, gas, and oil in our known reserves that we could burn and have any hope of keeping the temperature below those 1.5 to 2 degree increase that we guaranteed at Paris. That means 80% of the stuff we know about needs to stay where God put it underground.”

McKibben eloquently stated, “This is not a political problem of the sort that we are used to dealing with. Most political problems yield well to the formula that we’ve kept adopting on thing after thing—compromise, we’ll go halfway, we’ll get part of this done. That’s because most political problems are really between different groups of people. They’re between industry and environmentalists. That is not the case here.”

“The fundamental disagreement is between human beings on the one hand and physics on the other, and physics is a very poor negotiating partner. It does not compromise. It is uninterested in what battleground states are. What it is interested in is how much carbon and how much methane we’re going to pour into the atmosphere, and we know now how much we can do so it is almost an act of vandalism to continue to pour more in than science tells us we can.”

West expanded on previous comments, saying he believed Browner was endorsing reform incrementalism rather than the “fierce urgency of now,” which was a concept promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He suggested Democrats like Browner are in a “different vibe,” even if they agreed with what needed to be done to address the climate crisis.

“When you’re on the edge of the abyss or when you’re on that stove, to use the language of Malcolm X, you don’t use the language of incrementalism. It hurts, and the species is hurting.”

Carol Browner argues she doesn't support incrementalism right before voting against bold action. (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)
Carol Browner argues she doesn’t support incrementalism right before voting against bold action. (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention video stream.)

Browner declared, “Trust me, no one has ever called me incremental when it comes to protecting the environment ever.”

“If the choice is between doing something now or phasing something out over time, that seems to be the almost dictionary definition of incrementalism,” McKibben replied, after Browner insisted she was no “incrementalist.”

The same Democrats, who opposed a fracking ban, opposed a strong measure to keep fossil fuels in the ground to protect the environment. And Browner voted in defense of incrementally phasing out carbon or fossil fuels rather than taking bold action to address climate disruption.

 

Democrats Urged To Reject Fracked Gas As ‘Bridge Fuel’ In Party Platform

One of the most significant tests for the Democratic platform committee is whether it will have the courage or political will to adopt a ban on natural gas fracking.

The current position of the Democratic Party is that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” for reducing carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has embraced natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” President Barack Obama championed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” during his 2014 State of the Union speech.

On June 17, Josh Fox, who directed “Gasland” and “Gasland 2,” testified before the Democratic platform committee, which convened in Phoenix. (Peculiarly, the platform committee chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, introduced Fox without mentioning “Gasland,” which is why Fox is known and why he was giving testimony in the first place.)

Fox informed the committee, “What is most disturbing to me is the language of the Democratic Party that has been taken directly from the natural gas industry, that of the fracked gas bridge fuel.”

Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary, Gasland, speaking to the Democratic Party Platform Committee.
Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary, Gasland, speaking to the Democratic Party Platform Committee.

“A bridge fuel policy means we’re going to switch a huge section of our electricity generation sector to fracked natural gas,” Fox contended. He also said it means there will be 300 fracked gas power plants around the United States, with thousands of miles of pipeline and “probably 2 million new fracking wells.”

“These power plants are financed like most people’s houses for 30 or 40 years. That’s a regime change in American energy to fracking,” Fox declared. “That would be an utter disaster for the climate and would surely push us beyond the stated goals of the Democratic Party.”

Fox noted methane is “86 times more powerful as a heat-trapped gas as carbon dioxide.” Shale gas would actually be worse for the climate.

“If we push 300 new shale gas power plants, pipelines, and other fracking infrastructure, which citizens right now are fighting across the country, it will be catastrophic for the climate and for the Democratic Party. Fracked gas is not a bridge. It is a gang plank to a global warming calamity.”

None of the members of the committee pushed back against Fox. Their questions just did not seem to match the urgency of Fox’s message. Nor did any of the questions asked of Fox confront the issue of Democrats adopting the industry’s own language to promote greater reliance on natural gas in the country’s energy policy.

Paul Booth, executive assistant to the president of AFSCME, who was appointed to the committee by Clinton, asked a question about whether banning fracking would give the oil industry a void, which it could fill. It missed the point of what Fox had just said in his testimony, however, Fox said we have to phase out fossil fuels and “keep those fuels in the ground.”

Fox was asked by Warren Gunnels, the policy director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, if there is any way to regulate fracking so it is safe. Unequivocally, Fox responded, “That’s an impossible task.” The gas industry’s own science indicates its wells will leak, and there is no way to protect underground sources of water.

“We would be repairing a system that we need to phase out any way, from the standpoint of the climate,” Fox added.

Fox also pointed out that the problem with clean power plant strategies currently is that coal is being traded for gas. So, the country needs to retire both coal and natural gas and replace those energy sources with renewable energy.

The 2012 Democratic Platform took the following pro-fracking position:

Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution. We will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected. We support more infrastructure investment to speed the transition to cleaner fuels in the transportation sector. And we are expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.

But, as Gunnels mentioned when questioning Fox, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation concluded, “No amount of regulation, none, can safely guard against the dangers fracking pose to our land—water, air, natural resources, and public health.” (New York officially banned fracking on June 29, 2015.)

Alex Emmons, a journalist for The Intercept, reported in March that Clinton held a $575-per-head fundraising lunch hosted by Alisa Wood, who is a partner at the international private equity firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR). KKR has heavily invested in fracking.

Clinton worked as secretary of state to sell fracking to many parts of the world. She pushed fracking in Bulgaria and Romania in 2012, which specifically benefited Chevron. The Global Shale Gas Initiative was developed in April 2010 to serve the corporate interests of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and ConocoPhillips.

“I know that in some places [it] is controversial,” Clinton said, at a gathering of foreign ministers in 2010, “but natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today.”

Maryland Judge Rules Public Has Right To Information On Dangerous Oil Trains

A Maryland judge ruled on August 14 that the public has a right to information provided to the state’s Department of Transportation by railroad companies about dangerous trains carrying crude oil.

Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill rejected CSX and Norfolk Southern’s arguments that the information needed to be kept secret because it contained “confidential commercial information,” “trade secrets,” or information which could be useful to terrorists. He stayed his decision to give CSX and Norfolk Southern an opportunity to appeal.

On May 7, 2014, as described in the state court’s decision [PDF], the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order requiring “all railroad carriers transporting 1 million gallons or more Bakken crude oil in a single train to provide certain notices to State Emergency Response Commission in each state through which such trains pass.”

“’A pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken,’ including the ‘catastrophic’ accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada on July 6, 2013 that resulted in forty-seven deaths,” are part of the motivation for the DOT order.

What the DOT requested that companies provide are reasonable estimates of the number of trains expected to pass through each state, a description of the petroleum crude oil expected to be transported, applicable emergency response information, and routes which companies plan to use for transportation. All of this is intended to protect the public and environment from “imminent hazards.”

In June 2014, McClatchy Newspapers, which has produced regular coverage on the issue of crude oil transportation, “submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports.” Norfolk Southern and CSX sued to block Maryland agencies from releasing documents.

“This is a significant victory for transparency and for Maryland residents living along the path of oil trains,” declared Anne Havemann, general counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Judge Fletcher-Hill affirmed that communities have a right to know whether dangerous oil trains are running through their backyards. Shedding light on the risks is the first step toward stronger state and local action to safeguard our communities.”

According to the climate action group, this was the first time a railroad company went to court to block disclosure of information.

McClatchy reported in July the DOT warned railroads it must provide appropriate information to states after several states indicated they had not received information “for as long as a year.”

The Federal Railroad Administration, in spite of pressure from oil interests, has stated, “We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible. And we understand the public’s interest in knowing what is traveling through their communities.”

However, in May, McClatchy reported a “disclosure requirement” would be discontinued next year. Information currently provided to states would no longer have to be shared. Emergency responders would have to request details on oil train shipments as disasters happened, and the public would be kept in the dark about potential risks to communities.

The department regulation indicated, “Under this approach, the transportation of crude oil by rail can … avoid the negative security and business implications of widespread public disclosure of routing and volume data.”

Stunningly, part of the justification for this new regulation stems from an investigation by the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives into a reported act of vandalism in South Dakota last December.

“A two-foot section of rail on the state-owned Dakota Southern Railway was blown out with tannerite,” McClatchy reported. But this track in Vivian, South Dakota, is not used for oil trains and has not been used by any train for quite some time.

Energy companies throughout the country have invoked “trade secret” or “security sensitive information” arguments to derail regulations and even environmental impact studies of operations. In Washington, Shell sued in order to stop an impact study from being produced on its proposed oil train unloading facility. A judge later dismissed the lawsuit.

Sierra Club and ForestEthics sued the DOT and challenged the continued use of dangerous oil-by-rail tankers. The lawsuit has stalled.

ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) examined oil train routes and US Census data in a report published in June [PDF]. The report examined the way in which oil trains contribute to environmental racism in California, since people of color are more likely to live nearby oil train blast zones.

Eighty percent of 5.5 million Californians with homes in blast zones live in environmental justice communities, which means more than a quarter of residents are non-white, median household income is less than 65% of the statewide household income, or more than 25% of households have no one above 14 years-old who speaks English.

Attention paid by activists and environmental action groups to potential oil disasters is justified. According to Sightline Daily, there have been ten oil train explosions in the past two years. The most recent disaster occurred in North Dakota on May 6.

The public faces a considerable risk. NBC News reported,”Nearly 450,000 tankers of crude moved through North America last year, up from just 9,500 in 2009.”