Tag Archives: Bill McKibben

Has The Fracking Industry Already Won The 2016 Election?

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Has The Fracking Industry Already Won The 2016 Election?

By Farron Cousins, June 27, 2016 – 14:46

 

Image via Breast Cancer Action.

June has been a fantastic month for the fracking industry.

On June 21st, a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department does not have the authority to regulate fracking on federal lands because the agency lacks the overall authority to regulate fracking. The judge said that his decision was based on the fact that Congress had not given the agency that power, and therefore they overstepped their authority in attempting to regulate natural gas fracking activities.

A few days after that court ruling that gave the industry free rein over our federal lands, the Democratic Party handed them an even larger gift. At a DNC platform committee meeting on Friday, June 24th, the committee voted to NOT include a ban on fracking as part of the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 election.

The moratorium on fracking was proposed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben who was selected to join the Party’s platform committee by Senator Bernie Sanders. McKibben also introduced resolutions to support a carbon tax and prohibit new fossil fuel leases offshore and on federal lands, but these items were also nixed by a majority of the committee members.

The decision by the committee to roll over for the fracking industry is not only dangerous for the environment, but it also goes against the will of voters who identify as Democrats.

The most recently available polls on national support for fracking (from March 2016) show that 51% of Americans are opposed to it, versus only 36% who are in favor. In the poll, 13% of respondents had no opinion. Not surprisingly, the poll found that approval for fracking was higher among Republicans than Democrats, with 55% and 25% of each Party approving of the practice, respectively.

In the political world, polls are fairly easy to ignore, and both major parties are guilty of routinely ignoring polling data. But in early June, anticipating a showdown over fracking, environmental groups delivered more than 90,000 petitions to the Democratic National Committee asking for the Party to support a ban on fracking. Laying out fracking as both an environmental and economic disaster, these groups were hoping to head off the fracking fight and put an end to it before it began.

As Anthony Rogers-Wright, the policy director for Environmental Action, explained when the petitions were delivered:

This is the face of fracking in America: Latino, Native, African American and other communities are disproportionately impacted by the toxic effects of fracking and its infrastructure…It’s time for the DNC, a political party that is totally dependent on the participation of People of Color, to show that our health is as important as our votes. Including a fracking ban in the party platform is an essential step to demonstrate this.”

Not only did the leadership of the Democratic Party decide to ignore polls that spelled out the desires of their own Party, but they also completely disregarded direct pleas from their own supporters to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and put an end to the fracking boom in the United States.

As is often the case, the people in the United States lost out because of the influence that money has over our politics. Back in May, Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani with The Intercept pointed out that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell — who is serving as the Chairman of the Host Committee for the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia — wrote a pro-fracking op-ed for the New York Daily News while he was a paid consultant for a firm with investments in fracking companies.

Getting beyond the actual convention, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has been a huge proponent of fracking and has personally taken in more than $7 million from the oil & gas industries for her campaign. Even more troubling, according to reports, during her tenure as Secretary of State, she helped spearhead a global campaign to bring fracking to other parts of the globe.

President Obama’s attitude towards climate and energy has been an “all of the above” approach that has relied on both renewables and fossil fuels (with increased fossil fuel production becoming a hallmark of the administration.) But with climate change accelerating faster than previously predicted, the United States cannot afford another four years of “all of the above,” but it is increasingly looking like that will be the scenario after this year’s election.

If the fracking industry thought that June was a good month, they can expect a lot more good news in the future as long as they keep that corporate campaign funding flowing. The only thing that will suffer will be the future of the planet.

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    NY TIMES: Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

    Repost from the New York Times

    Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

    By John Schwartz, March 19, 2016
    Bill McKibben was arrested during a protest at Seneca Lake near Reading, N.Y., on March 7. He was protesting the proposed expansion of a natural gas storage facility. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

    READING, N.Y. — They came here to get arrested.

    Nearly 60 protesters blocked the driveway of a storage plant for natural gas on March 7. Its owners want to expand the facility, which the opponents say would endanger nearby Seneca Lake. But their concerns were global, as well.

    “There’s a climate emergency happening,” one of the protesters, Coby Schultz, said. “It’s a life-or-death struggle.”

    The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.

    Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.

    Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called “Keystone-ization.”

    As the climate evangelist Bill McKibben put it in a Twitter post after Paris negotiators agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”

    Regulators almost always approve such projects, though often with modifications, said Donald F. Santa Jr., chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, the protests are having some impact. The engineering consultants Black and Veatch recently published a report that said the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”

    Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast.

    In Portland, Ore., where protesters conducted a “kayaktivist” blockade in July to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs from leaving port, the City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion of facilities for the storage and transportation of fossil fuels.

    Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.

    “When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” he said. “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.”

    The movement extends well beyond the United States. In May, a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience, under an umbrella campaign called Break Free 2016, is scheduled around the world to urge governments and fossil fuel companies to “keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.”

    This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”

    The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.

    Speaking to the crowd at Seneca Lake, Mr. McKibben, who had come from his home in Vermont, said, “Our job on behalf of the planet is to slow them down.”

    He added, “If we can hold them off for two or three years, there’s no way any of this stuff can be built again.”

    The demonstration at Seneca Lake earlier this month. Many protesters cheered when sheriff’s vans arrived. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

    But the issues are not so clear cut. The protests aimed at natural gas pipelines, for example, may conflict with policies intended to fight climate change and pollution by reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels.

    “The irony is this,” said Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, whose pipeline projects, including those in New York State, have come under attack. “The shift to additional natural gas use is a key contributor to helping the U.S. reduce energy-related emissions and improve air quality.”

    Those who oppose natural gas pipelines say the science is on their side.

    They note that methane, the chief component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short term, with more than 80 times the effect of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

    The Obama administration is issuing regulations to reduce leaks, but environmental opposition to fracking, and events like the huge methane plume released at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood near Los Angeles, have helped embolden the movement.

    Once new natural gas pipelines and plants are in place, opponents argue, they will operate for decades, blocking the shift to solar and wind power.

    “It’s not a bridge to renewable energy — it’s a competitor,” said Patrick Robbins, co-director of the Sane Energy Project, which protests pipeline development and is based in New York.

    Such logic does not convince Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    “Saying no to gas doesn’t miraculously lead to the substitution of wind and solar — it may lead to the continued operation of coal-fired plants,” he said, noting that when the price of natural gas is not competitive, owners take the plants, which are relatively cheap to build, out of service.

    “There is enormous uncertainty about how quickly you can build out renewable energy systems, about what the cost will be and what the consequences will be for the electricity network,” Mr. Levi said.

    Even some who believe that natural gas has a continuing role to play say that not every gas project makes sense.

    N. Jonathan Peress, an expert on electricity and natural gas markets at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while companies push to add capacity, the long-term need might not materialize.

    “There is a disconnect between the perception of the need for massive amounts of new pipeline capacity and the reality,” he said.

    Market forces, regulatory assumptions and business habits favor the building of new pipelines even though an evolving electrical grid and patterns of power use suggest that the demand for gas will, in many cases, decrease.

    Even now, only 6 percent of gas-fired plants run at greater than 80 percent of their capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and nearly half of such plants run at an average load factor of just 17 percent.

    “The electricity grid is evolving in a way that strongly suggests what’s necessary today won’t be necessary in another 20 years, let alone 10 or 15,” Mr. Peress said.

    Back at Seneca Lake, the protesters cheered when Schuyler County sheriff’s vans showed up. The group had protested before, and so the arrests had the friendly familiarity of a contra dance. As one deputy, A.W. Yessman, placed zip-tie cuffs on Catherine Rossiter, he asked jovially, “Is this three, or four?”

    She beamed. “You remember me!”

    Brad Bacon, a spokesman for the owner of the plant at Seneca Lake, Crestwood Equity Partners, acknowledged that it had become more burdensome to get approval to build energy infrastructure in the Northeast even though regulatory experts have tended not to be persuaded by the protesters’ environmental arguments.

    The protesters, in turn, disagree with the regulators, and forcefully. As he was being handcuffed, Mr. McKibben called the morning “a good scene.”

    The actions against fossil fuels, he said, will continue. “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” he said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”

    A version of this article appears in print on March 20, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Protesters Across U.S. Turn Up Heat on Fossil Fuel. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
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      California Gov. Brown: keep the oil in the ground

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
      [Editor – This report signals a highly significant shift in the discussions surrounding climate change and the oil industry: cut demand … or cut supply?   A must read!  – RS]

      Gov. Brown wants to keep oil in the ground. But whose oil?

      By David R. Baker, July 26, 2015 8:16pm
      California Gov. Jerry Brown, right,  delivers his speech flanked by the head of the pontifical academy of Science, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, during  a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  Dozens of environmentally friendly mayors from around the world are meeting at the Vatican this week to bask in the star power of eco-Pope Francis and commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) Photo: Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press
      California Gov. Jerry Brown, right, delivers his speech during a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

      Even the greenest, most eco-friendly politicians rarely utter the words Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Vatican’s climate change symposium last week.

      To prevent the worst effects of global warming, one-third of the world’s known oil reserves must remain in the ground, Brown told the gathering of government officials from around the world. The same goes for 50 percent of natural gas reserves and 90 percent of coal.

      “Now that is a revolution,” Brown said. “That is going to take a call to arms.”

      It’s an idea widely embraced among environmentalists and climate scientists. Burn all the world’s known fossil fuel supplies — the ones already discovered by energy companies — and the atmosphere would warm to truly catastrophic levels. Never mind hunting for more oil.

      But it’s a concept few politicians will touch. That’s because it raises a question no one wants to answer: Whose oil has to stay put?

      “They’ve all got their own oil,” said environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, who first popularized the issue with a widely read 2012 article in Rolling Stone. “Recognizing that you’ve got to leave your own oil — and not somebody else’s — in the ground is the next step.”

      Take California.

      No state has done more to fight global warming. By 2020, under state law, one-third of California’s electricity must come from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources. Brown wants 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and has called for slashing the state’s oil use in half by the same year.

      But he has shown no interest in cutting the state’s oil production. He has touted the economic potential of California’s vast Monterey Shale formation, whose oil reserves drillers are still trying to tap. And he has steadfastly refused calls from within his own party to ban fracking.

      “If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat,” Brown told “Meet the Press.” “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

      California remains America’s third-largest oil producing state, behind Texas and North Dakota. The industry directly employs 184,100 Californians, helps support an estimated 271,840 other jobs and yields $21.2 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

      ‘Phasing out oil drilling’

      Any governor, no matter how environmentally minded, would have a hard time turning that down. Even if many environmentalists wish Brown would.

      “Just like we have a plan for increasing renewables, we need a plan for phasing out oil drilling in California,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California.

      It’s difficult for politicians to even talk about something as stark as putting limits on pumping oil, he said.

      “Solar and wind and electric cars are really hopeful things, whereas keeping oil in the ground sounds more like doomsday,” Jacobson said.

      And yet, Jacobson, McKibben and now apparently Brown are convinced that most fossil fuel reserves must never be used.

      The percentages Brown cited come from a study published this year in the scientific journal Nature. The researchers calculated that in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above preindustrial levels, the world’s economy can pump no more than 1,100 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere between 2011 and 2050. Burning the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would produce roughly three times that amount, they wrote.

      Most governments pursing climate-change policies have agreed to aim for a 2-degree Celsius warming limit, although many scientists consider that dangerously high. So far, global temperatures have warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times.

      “The unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius,” the study concludes.

      Nonetheless, states, countries and companies with fossil fuel reserves all have an obvious and powerful incentive to keep drilling.

      The market value of oil companies, for example, is based in part on the size of their reserves and their ability to find more. Activist investors warning of a “carbon bubble” in their valuations have pushed the companies to assess how many of those reserves could become stranded assets if they can’t be burned. The companies have resisted.

      President Obama, meanwhile, has made fighting climate change a key focus of his presidency, raising fuel efficiency standards for cars, pumping public financing into renewable power and pushing for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

      Cut demand or cut supply

      But Obama has also boasted about America’s surging oil and natural gas production — and tried to claim credit for it. Last week, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to hunt for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Keeping oil in the ground does not quite square with his “all of the above” energy policy, observers note. At least, not American oil.

      “The same government that is working very hard to get a Clean Power Plan is allowing Shell to go exploring for hydrocarbons in the middle of nowhere, oil that may never be producible,” said climate activist and former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, with audible exasperation.

      He notes that Obama, Brown and other politicians intent on fighting climate change have focused their efforts on cutting the demand for fossil fuels, rather than the supply. Most of the policies that climate activists want to see enacted nationwide — such as placing a price on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — would do the same, ratcheting down demand rather than placing hard limits on fossil fuel production.

      “The political thinking is the market itself will take care of figuring out which fossil fuels have to stay in the ground,” Steyer said.

      Some climate fights, however, have focused on supply. And again, the issue of whose fossil fuels have to stay put has played a part.

      Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, for example, see blocking the project — which would run from Canada to America’s Gulf Coast — as a way to stop or at least slow development of Alberta’s enormous oil sands. James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that fully developing the sands would be “game over for the climate.”

      Obama has delayed a decision on the pipeline for years. Given America’s own rising oil production, rejecting a project that could be a boon for the Canadian economy would be difficult, analysts say.

      “The message would be, ‘We’re not going to help you develop your resources — we’ll essentially raise the cost,’” said UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. He is convinced that Canada will develop the tar sands, regardless.

      “It’s become such a huge symbol that it’s impossible for Obama to make a decision on it,” Borenstein said. “I think he’s just going to run out the clock.”

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