Category Archives: Injection wells

Can the U.S. really go frack-free? Sanders, Clinton take aim at hydraulic fracturing

Repost from the San Diego Union-Tribune

Can the U.S. really go frack-free? Sanders, Clinton take aim at hydraulic fracturing

By Rob Nikolewski, March 19, 2016 5 p.m. 
Workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation in western Colorado. Fracking came up in a recent debate between Democratic Party presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation in western Colorado. Fracking came up in a recent debate between Democratic Party presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. — Associated Press

Earlier this month, both candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for president took shots at “fracking” — hydraulic fracturing, the process that extracts oil and natural gas by using high-pressure liquids to break through shale rock formations.

In a March 6 debate, Hillary Clinton said, “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”

“My answer is a lot shorter,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, said. “I do not support fracking.”

All three Republican candidates for president support hydraulic fracturing.

The presidential race amplifies a debate that’s more complex than the typical struggle between industry and the environment.

On a warming planet, does fracking keep the nation’s energy mix chained to fossil fuels and further delay a future where clean energy sources dominate? Critics say it does.

However, the fracking boom also is largely responsible for utilities’ accelerating shift from coal-fired power plants to cleaner-burning natural gas generators. Meanwhile, there’s fierce debate about potential threats to ground water and methane leaking into the atmosphere.

Less controversial is the energy industry’s economic and geopolitical importance. In less than 10 years, hydraulic fracturing – along with the technology of horizontal drilling – has dramatically increased oil and gas production, making the United States an energy power that has rivaled, and by some measures surpassed, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia.

A ban on fracking “would be great for for the Middle East and terrible for the U.S.,” said Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, communications director for the California Independent Petroleum Association. “Hydraulic fracturing has given the U.S. an affordable, reliable energy resource.”

But Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, said a growing renewable energy market makes the prospect of going frack-free seem not so far-fetched.

“If someone said we’re not there yet, I’d say the science seems to indicate and reports indicate that we are there,” Jacobson said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated on Tuesday that production from hydraulically fractured wells made up about half of total U.S. crude oil production.

Renewable energy may be growing but the same agency last year projected that 62 percent of U.S. energy consumption will come from a combination of oil and natural gas in 2040.

And while the Obama administration has sought stricter regulations for fracking on federal lands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year released a study saying it did not find evidence that fracking “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has promoted an “all of the above” energy program that includes natural gas as a bridge fuel to help the U.S. reduce its reliance on coal and boost clean energy sources.

“If the wells are drilled and treated appropriately, we know how to do that part of it,” said DOE undersecretary Franklin Orr, who was in San Diego earlier this week, talking to clean energy business leaders.

“If the formation is a deep one and the hydraulic fracturing can be kept in the zone where it’s supposed to be, I don’t think there’s any question that it can be done in a way that it can be operated safely and do so in the long term,” Orr said.

But a number of environmental groups insist taking fracking off the table is a realistic, near-term scenario.

“We couldn’t do it tomorrow but by 2030, 2040, 2050 we could be meeting our energy needs, and we could be moving our transportation system off of fossil fuels,” Jacobson said in a telephone interview from his office in Sacramento. “It’s certainly possible. The question is, do we have the political will to get it done?”

Jacobson points to Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal to get California to derive 50 percent of all its electric power from clean energy sources by 2030, just 14 years from now.

“California’s got (nearly) 40 million people,” Jacobson said. By 2030 “that’s going to be like 20 million people getting 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources … So all we need is for the other states to adopt programs that are similar to California’s and we can easily get there.”

But others dismissed the comments by Sanders and Clinton.

“I’m hoping that’s just political, rhetorical arguments,” said Octávio Simões, president of the Sempra LNG & Midstream unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, which has made considerable investments in natural gas infrastructure in North America.

Calling the comments “irresponsible,” Simões said hydraulic fracturing has saved consumers money at the gas pump, reduced heating and cooling costs through low natural gas prices, and helped the U.S. reduce CO2 emissions.

“Ultimately, the customers are seeing the impact, and no politician likes to be tied to the impacts of one, higher carbon emissions, two, higher costs of energy and, three, more dependency on foreign oil and foreign gas,” Simões said. “Come on, it just doesn’t seem right.”

In theory, California’s Monterey Shale formation in the central San Joaquin Valley holds nearly 14 billion barrels of oil, making it the nation’s largest reserve. But 96 percent of its oil and gas isn’t recoverable using current technology, EIA analysts said in 2014, and the cratering price of oil have blunted efforts to improve its prospects.

According to the California Department of Conservation, hydraulic fracturing occurred in California 1,004 times between Jan. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015, almost exclusively in Kern County.

Polls indicate a majority of Californians want stricter rules or a moratorium on fracking.

Although the well responsible for the massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch in Los Angeles that led to the displacement of residents of nearly 3,400 households was tapping an underground storage formation (and not fracked), the incident has fueled more complaints about natural gas production.

Two states have banned fracking — Sanders’ home state of Vermont, which has no natural gas or oil reserves, and New York, where Clinton served as a U.S. senator.

Brown has resisted calls from environmentalists to ban fracking, but regulations passed in 2013 require California producers to apply for permits, disclose what chemicals they use, notify neighbors before drilling and monitor ground water and air quality.

“The industry is essentially regulated on a state-by-state basis,” said Nicole Decker, equity sector analyst at UBS Wealth Management Research. “It’s not really left to the federal government.”

A president committed to getting rid of hydraulic fracturing would have considerable political hurdles to clear, including getting both houses of Congress, currently with Republican majorities, to agree to a ban.

However, the chief executive could make life difficult for the oil and gas industry by issuing executive orders and prompting the EPA to adopt stricter regulations.

Some have brought up concerns that an outright ban could, ironically, lead to the country using more coal.

Natural gas produces about 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal, and the conversion of coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired facilities has been attributed to helping the nation reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP.

“In the present legislative and regulatory environment, any severe curtailing of natural-gas fracking would just lead to a bounce back of coal, not an expansion of renewables,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, told the decidedly left-of-center magazine Mother Jones.

Fracking critics point to the technique’s association with leaks of methane, a gas that has an impact on climate change more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the EPA.

It’s been estimated that 107,000 tons of methane leaked at Porter Ranch, the greenhouse gas equivalent of the output of 572,000 cars in a year.

A recent study suggested the EPA has not been properly calculating how much methane released during fracking affects the nation’s greenhouse-gas footprint.

Another paper presented to the Committee on Climate Change says fracking has produced such high emissions of methane that natural gas is worse for the environment than coal.

But last week, a study released by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research attributed higher levels of methane in the atmosphere since 2007 to agricultural practices, not fossil fuel production.

“Our data indicate that the source of the increase was methane produced by bacteria, of which the most likely sources are natural, such as wetlands or agricultural, for example from rice paddies or livestock,” atmospheric scientist Hinrich Schaefer said in a NIWA news release.

Despite its critics, fracking has more than its share of supporters.

Combined with horizontal drilling technology, hydraulic fracturing has been attributed to an energy renaissance in North America that has swelled domestic production and made the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil.

For example, U.S. oil production in 2000 — before fracking was widely used — was about 5.8 million barrels a day. By 2015, it averaged 9.4 million barrels a day.

“I don’t see us taking that massive leap backwards and having the plug pulled, especially given that over the past several years the growth in the oil and gas industry (and) what is has done for our economy,” Decker of UBS said.

“I would certainly not support a doctrinaire, ‘no fracking, period’ (policy),” DOE undersecretary Orr said Monday.

But Jacobson of Environment California says time is on the side of fracking’s opponents.

“I was working on bills when they said California couldn’t get 20 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources like wind and solar and the lobbyists from the utilities said, ‘we can’t do it,’ ” Jacobson said. “We’ve always been told on the clean energy side we can’t do it and yet everyday we keep proving that we can do it.”

SF CHRONICLE: Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: Significant quote: “The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.”  – RS]

Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Dumped oil, gas byproduct hazardous, watchdog says
By Peter Fimrite, March 7, 2016
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP

Hundreds of open pits containing toxic waste produced by oil and gas drilling are threatening groundwater in California, and regulators have failed to protect drinking and irrigation water supplies from the danger, an environmental watchdog group concludes in a report set to be released Monday.

Oil industry leaders deny that the pits, which are primarily in the Central Valley, have contaminated any groundwater. But the report by Clean Water Action argues that oversight of the waste is so flimsy that the state should immediately prohibit disposal of wastewater in the evaporation pits.

“The oil and gas industry continues to dump toxic wastewater into open waste pits, and that’s threatening, and potentially polluting, groundwater,” said the report’s author, Andrew Grinberg, the special projects coordinator for Clean Water Action, an Oakland nonprofit.

‘Highest standards’

“It’s appalling that the wealthiest industry in the history of civilization can’t deal with its wastewater in a more responsible way,” he said. “State regulators should prohibit this disposal method.”

The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the report’s findings were “simply false.”

She said water disposal practices are monitored and tested by multiple state and local agencies, including the State Department of Conservation, the State Water Resources Control Board and local water quality boards.

“California’s energy producers operate under the nation’s most rigorous laws and regulations, which ensure transparency, accountability and the highest standards,” Reheis-Boyd said. “We outright reject these allegations and rely upon scientific data and our safety record to demonstrate the safe manner in which we operate every day.”

Disposal of oil and gas drilling wastewater is a big issue in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, where most of California’s petroleum production takes place. Kern County is the top oil-producing area in the state, but disposal of waste is also a concern in parts of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, which have been major oil producers since the early 1900s, when the demand for gasoline began growing.

Oil drillers suck up 15 barrels of water for every barrel of oil they reap. If the water is clean enough, it can be treated and used for irrigation, but most of it contains salt, boron, petroleum and other toxic substances that can poison groundwater and kill birds.

The recommended way to get rid of it is to inject it into the ground, preferably into the oil-bearing formation or deep enough so that it won’t seep into an aquifer. For many years, though, standard practice was to dump the water into a pit so that it would evaporate or percolate into the ground. Grinberg said many permits were issued for the pits in the 1950s and 1960s.

No toxic substances found

The report highlighted contamination near disposal facilities known as Racetrack Hills and Fee 34 east of Bakersfield, with a plume of wastewater spreading into an aquifer that supplies irrigation wells and flows into a tributary of the Kern River, a source of drinking water. However, toxic substances have not been detected in drinking water or in wells.

Air monitoring around a western Kern County pond known as the McKittrick Pit detected elevated levels of methane and the compounds benzene and hexanone, according to the report.

“Every year since 1990 it was monitored and inspectors saw it was in violation, but there was no enforcement action,” Grinberg said of McKittrick, adding that the California Air Resources Board is developing plans to monitor air emissions around open pits.

Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Fresno, said operators of both the Racetrack and McKittrick pits have been ordered to expand their monitoring.

“We’re looking at it closely to evaluate whether that series of pits is appropriate,” Rodgers said, explaining that evaporation ponds have gone out of favor in the past two decades. “A lot of these pits have closed down, and now most of the water is disposed of through underground injection.”

In a 2014 report, Clean Water Action presented evidence that the pit technique threatened groundwater and air quality. The state and regional water quality control boards have since stepped up research and enforcement, which the new report noted.

California lawmakers have passed legislation in recent years compelling operators to monitor their wastewater pits and report their findings to the state. Open-pit disposal was also prohibited in hydraulic fracturing operations, known as fracking.

Inaction charged

Grinberg said that while progress has been made, the regional water quality boards are still allowing discharges that threaten groundwater. The Central Valley board has failed to close facilities with open pits or punish companies with no permits, he said.

The report being released Monday also says no studies have been done on 2,074 inactive pits dating back to 1990 that the state has in its inventory, and that the records on these pits are incomplete. Over the past year, Grinberg said, 50 previously undocumented pits have been identified.

“The more they look, the more they are finding,” he said. “This is one negative aspect of oil production. Putting groundwater at additional risk is potentially catastrophic. These polluting activities we don’t believe are worth it, especially during a drought.”

Josh Fox: What We Have to Do to Prevent Climate Apocalypse

Repost from Alternet

The ‘Gasland’ director talks to AlterNet about the dangers of fracking, his new film and how you can be a part of the solution.

By Reynard Loki / AlterNet January 22, 2016
Photo Credit: KYTan/Shutterstock

The so-called fracking revolution has transformed America’s energy landscape. With more than 100,000 oil and gas wells drilled and fracked since 2005, the nation has secured cheap and plentiful energy, forcing a drop in natural gas prices. The oil giant BP believes that with this surging production of shale oil and gas, the U.S. could become energy self-sufficient by 2030, escaping the grip of OPEC, the Saudi-led oil cartel that currently accounts for 35 percent of American oil imports.

But as advocates hail fracking as a savior that can unlock the nation’s energy independence, opponents have raised the alarms about this method of extracting natural gas for its harmful effects on public health and the environment. Fracktivists have also warned that the focus on fracking has derailed the ultimate goal of moving to a low-carbon economy powered primarily by renewable energy. The anti-fracking movement has steadily grown, bringing together environmentalists, public health advocates, supporters of renewable energy and local communities across the country that have felt the negative impacts of fracking projects.

One of the early mobilizers of the nationwide anti-fracking movement was the 2010 Emmy Award-winning documentary Gasland, written and directed by Josh Fox, whose journey into fracking started in May 2008, when he received a letter from a natural gas company offering to lease his family’s land in Pennsylvania for $100,000 to drill for gas. In his new film, How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), which premieres this month at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Fox travels to 12 countries on six continents to examine climate change through a fresh lens and uncover personal stories of hope.

I had a chance to ask Fox some questions about the current state of fracking, the grassroots anti-fracking movement, his new film and his thoughts on the future.

Reynard Loki: On a scale of 1 to 10, how you would grade COP21, the international climate talks held in Paris last month?

Josh Fox: I’d give it both a 10 and a 1. As far as what governments have pledged and said that they were capable of doing, in a lot of ways, it’s the best we could hope for. Having said that, government’s approach to this question for the past 25 years has been so lame, so problematic, so full of undue influence by the fossil fuel industry and not heeding or listening to the science — we’re in such bad shape. In many ways, this agreement is a step backwards from the 2009 debaclein Copenhagen, which pointed the world toward the idea that we were going to limit climate change to 2° of warming. The INDCs — the “intended nationally determined contributions” — to the current agreement are leading us down a path of between 3.5-3.7°.

That’s apocalyptic. It’s nowhere near sufficient.

RL: How much of the problem is politics?

JF: The agreement points to the wide gulf between what science and nature are telling us we have to do, and what politics at that level is willing to do. It’s simply ineffective. These are not legally binding agreements, let’s not forget that. These are aspirational. The idea that somehow this agreement is going to lead us down the path of a 2° warmed world, or a 1.5° warmed world, is completely nonsensical. It is one of the most expensive diplomatic agreements in the history of humankind and is very strong-worded in terms of its language, but it doesn’t actually make this problem stop.

We know that the Republican Party will not take serious action on climate change. If the Paris agreement had to be ratified by Congress, it would fail. Congress is so stuck on stupid, and so completely out of touch with the rest of the world, that we know that’s not going to happen. We have to get serious in this country about actually stopping fracked gas, stopping all of the other fossil fuels and making the transition toward 100 percent renewable energy.

RL: How dangerous is climate denialism?

JF: The fossil fuel industry has led us down the path of denial of the very thing that runs our entire civilization, which is science. Our civilization runs on science. It doesn’t necessarily run on fossil fuels, but it definitely runs on science. When you have the fossil fuel giants creating an atmosphere that is so damning of the very building blocks of civilization, it signals that these people have to go. That system has to be changed, and those proponents are not only both fiscally and environmentally responsible, but I would argue, have a degree of criminal negligence.

If these people know that what they’re doing is destroying the planet, and they continue to do it, I would say that that’s a case for criminal negligence, as it was with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as it is with all of these fossil fuel disasters that happen on the ground, this is a fossil fuel disaster that’s happening in the sky. We have to understand that these people continue to be responsible as they continue to campaign that climate change doesn’t exist.

RL: Were you surprised that the Paris accord agreed to the 1.5° mark?

JF: I thought that was a surprise, but I don’t think it is a surprise if you know the strength of the environmental indigenous network that made that goal such a prominent part of the Paris talks. It was the indigenous people from the Pacific Islands and the Amazon who were saying, “Listen, two degrees is a crazy idea.” A 2° warmer world is so dangerous and such a problem that you simply cannot aspire to a 2° warmer world, because 2° is not a limit. It’s an average.

RL: What does a 2° warmer world mean?

JF: A 2° warmer world on average means that Africa is going to warm by three or four degrees. Desmond Tutu came out and said if you agree to two degrees, you agree to cooking the continent. Similarly, our coastal cities in the United States would suffer a six-meter rise in sea level. That’s the end as we know it for New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami, Washington DC. You’re talking about an East Coast that no longer has a stable coastline. That’s unimaginable, even just for the United States, let alone thinking about the Marshall Islands, or Tuvalu or Samoa or Fiji — all of these places across the southern Pacific.

Here’s the problem, though: We already have warmed the earth by about a degree right now. Carbon dioxide sits in the atmosphere for 30 or 40 years or longer. We already have enough CO2 in the atmosphere right now to get us to 1.5°. A 1.5° limit means shut off all emissions right now. That’s not happening.

RL: What’s the alternative?

JF: There is one way to start to get toward that 1.5° goal. That’s by radically reducing methane emissions. Methane emissions warm the earth faster, and it sticks around for less time. If you cut methane emissions, it’s your fastest way toward cooling the planet back down. Unfortunately, the United States is in the process of making a wholesale transition from coal to natural gas. What we should be doing is making a transition from coal and natural gas to renewable energy immediately.

RL: Can natural gas act as a lower carbon bridge from coal to renewable energy, as President Obama and others have suggested?

JF: You’ve got 300 new gas power plants being proposed in the United States alone. This is a disaster. It is a total contradiction to the Obama administration’s stated goal of keeping the planet well below 2°. John Kerry was a big part of saying, “We need to keep the planet well below 2°.” We can’t do that and build 300 new fracking power plants. We can’t do that and frack two million more wells for natural gas and build hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines, compressor stations and LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals — and lift the oil export ban.

All of these things the United States is doing are in direct contradiction with its aspirational goals stated in Paris. We should be phasing out natural gas—period. Not planning for its future. We cannot possibly keep using fossil fuels if we want to keep our major cities on the East Coast from going underwater. Period. That story has been written.

We know how much methane will go into the atmosphere. We’re already at 1.5 degrees. We have no budget left for carbon at all. Even if you stopped all the methane, you’re still talking about half the carbon of coal. Even if you stopped and you built those power plants, you’re still talking about huge emissions of carbon dioxide. There’s simply no way around it. You have to start to convert immediately to 100 percent renewable energy and do that on a very fast time scale.

RL: So what has to happen?

JF: Actual participatory democracy in the streets. Right now all of those power plants, pipelines, compressor stations and LNG terminals have really significant opposition at the local level. People in upstate New York are fighting theConstitution pipeline. In Massachusetts they’re fighting the NED pipeline. InSeattle and Portland and across the Gulf Coast, they’re fighting LNG terminals. In Denton, Texas, the birthplace of fracking, they’re fighting fracked gas power plants. These local fights have to be invested in and supported by the elements that support the fracking fight, by the people who are supporting the climate change fight.

RL: Who should be financing the movement?

JF: There are millionaires and billionaires and ordinary people who are putting tons and tons of money out there to try to create this movement against climate change, and movement for global environmental justice. Those fights at the local level in the United States have to be supported. We’re talking about hundreds of groups across the United States that are fighting these fights at an individual level. It’s like Keystone XL times 100. It’s like Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg and all those powerful people who believe that climate change is a bad thing. They need to start talking to the activists because fracked gas running the show in the United States for the next 40 years definitely means we’re going underwater here in New York. We’re going underwater in Philadelphia. We’re going underwater in Miami. That’s what it means.

You’re signing the death warrant for those cities unless you realize that fracked gas is the worst possible fuel for climate.

RL: Is natural gas really cleaner than coal?

JF: Fracked gas at the power plant burns cleaner in terms of less CO2 and has less particulate matter than coal. However, methane itself, natural gas, fracked gas, is according to IPCC, 86 times more potent a global warming agent than CO2 is in the atmosphere. That means that if you’re leaking significant portions of natural gas directly into the atmosphere rather than having it all burned, then the leaked methane plus burned CO2 adds up to a worse greenhouse gas emission profile than coal. What we’re seeing out there in the field is huge amounts of natural gas, fracked gas, are leaking out of the process at every stage. Gas lines leak, the compressor stations leak, the fracked gas drilling process itself liberates and vents methane directly into the atmosphere. It’s something that we reported on in Gasland 2. Scientists at Cornell estimated several years ago that between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of all the gas harvested through fracking and shale gas, leaked into the atmosphere at methane. That means that when you combine the total emissions profile for fracked gas, with respect to climate change, you’re actually doing worse than coal. Fracked gas is substantially worse than our worse fuel.

Look at what’s happening right now in Porter Ranch in California — a methane geyser that has erupted out of a natural gas storage facility that currently is the largest single climate emissions source in the world. It is emitting 25 percent of California’s methane every single day. That is one facility that went awry. There are hundreds of thousands of these facilities across America right now with antiquated equipment.

RL: But coal isn’t better than natural gas.

JF: I’m not campaigning for coal. I think coal is a disaster. We have to phase out coal. Unfortunately, however, 10, 15 years ago, the natural gas industry’s propaganda was so pervasive and insidious that they were able to misinform the world that they were cleaner than coal in terms of climate change emissions. It is absolutely 100 percent not true. That is a myth that the natural gas, the fracked gas industry, propagated out into the world to get people to buy into the idea that natural gas, or fracked gas, is clean. Fracked gas is anything but clean. It pollutes the groundwater when you do the fracking. It pollutes the air in the sites all around it and causes health problems.

We know now that so much of this process leaks, that we’re talking about something that’s worse than coal, especially if you’re talking about expanding it. Methane’s not even a part of the Paris agreement, okay? That’s a huge problem. It’s all about carbon. Right now, we’re talking about a huge, huge upswing in methane emissions in the United States that will only get worse if we permit these frack gas power plants, these frack gas pipelines, and these LNG terminals.

RL: How close are we to getting the entire nation powered by renewable energy?

JF: Very far away. I think it’s something like less than 10 percent. But when Americans have had our backs up against a wall, we’ve done the impossible over and over again. When JFK said we’re going to put a man on the moon, we did it, and we did it really fast. We did it inside of a decade. When the Nazis were militarizing in Europe, FDR went to the automobile industry and said, Okay, we’re going to build the largest war machine the world has ever seen because we need to defeat fascism in Europe.

The car industry went back to FDR and they said, Well, we’re going to try our best, but it’s going to be pretty hard to do that at the same time as we make all these cars. FDR said, No, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. We’re going to ban the sale of private automobiles in this country.

In seven years, they built the largest war machine that the world has ever seen and defeated the Nazis in Europe. We did that in six years. We can do this.

RL: Let’s talk about China for a moment. According to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for the first time ever, developing countries account for the majority of global clean energy investment. Over the last year, China alone outpaced renewable energy investment in the U.S., U.K. and France combined.

JF: China’s decision to close down 1,000 coal mines and not open any new coal mines — that’s really significant. If America did the same thing, and said we’re going to stop doing coal, and we’re going to stop doing our fracked gas, our new infatuation with fracked gas, then we’re talking about something that could really be meaningful. The Chinese just committed last year to building one terawatt of renewable energy by 2030. One terawatt of renewable energy by 2030 is about 20 percent of Chinese electricity generation. In the United States, that’s 100 percent. If the Chinese can build one terawatt in 15 years, why can’t we build it in 10? There’s no reason. It’s simply the political will on the ground.

We’ve seen these types of transformations sweep through our society time and time again. Fifteen years ago, no one had a cellphone. Now it’s unimaginable that you don’t have a supercomputer in your pocket. Don’t tell me it’s not possible to do. However, it’s certainly impossible if we build these fracked gas power plants.

RL: In your new film, How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), you travel to 12 countries on six continents. On your website, you say that “the film acknowledges that it may be too late to stop some of the worst consequences and asks, what is it that climate change can’t destroy? What is so deep within us that no calamity can take it away?”

Are you hopeful or pessimistic about the future?

JF: That’s a day-to-day question. In the new film, I go through the whole gamut of emotions, from deepest despair to dancing in the street, literally. This film is about the answer. I think when you really encounter the depths of the problem, there’s nothing but despair and sorrow and grief, that it has to take you over. However, the depths of that emotional responsibility led me to meeting some of the most inspiring, positive, innovative, creative, willful and resilient people on the planet.

The film takes you to the Amazon, where you’re with the indigenous environmental monitors who are trying to get the story out about oil spills that are poisoning the fish in their villages and jungles. We take you to the Pacific Climate Warriors blockading the Port of Newcastle against the largest coal export facility in the world. These people are indomitable. People fighting for human rights in China. People fighting for stopping the fracking and tar sands expansion in America. The stories are incredibly emotionally powerful, and so it’s a rollercoaster ride.

RL: What’s the film’s central message?

JF: The idea is how to let go of the world. Well, we’ve got to let go of the world of greed and competition. We’ve got to let go of that world to give birth to another one. Climate change is going to claim a lot of places. It’s going to create a lot of suffering. It’s going to create a lot of havoc. What are all the things that climate can’t change? Well, those are community, love, resilience, human rights, democracy, basic decency and generosity. These are the things that we have to pull upon.

When you look in the depths of your heart and the depths of your soul, what are the things that make life worth living? Those are the things that climate can’t change.

RL: Those are all great ideals, but isn’t the reality on the ground different in terms of people who are busy dealing with their everyday lives and own struggles?

JF: What we’re saying to people is, don’t fool yourself right now. This is not going to be an easy task. This is something that you’re going to have to sacrifice for, and this is something that you’re going to have to actually work for. That means one to two hours a week as a volunteer at your local organization. That means one to two hours a week … It might mean missing your kid’s Thursday night soccer game once in awhile. Well, if that’s what it means, fine. It means creating a stronger, and a safer, and a more healthy planet for their future. That’s what is required and nothing less. At the same time, this is really just an invitation to a party. The movement is culture. The movement is music. The movement is film. It’s having your neighbors over for dinner. That’s what this is.

RL: What would you say to someone who’s concerned about climate, but hasn’t yet made the personal leap to become active in the climate movement?

JF: What did other movements do in the history of movements? Look at the civil rights movement. Look at the suffragettes. Look at feminism. Look at the movement to get children out of the workforce in the coal mines. What did those movements do? The answer is everything. They had songs. They had stories. They had plays. They had movies. They had marches. They had civil disobedience. They had conversations around your coffee table. This is what it means to be a participant in democratic civilization. This is what it means to be a citizen, and this is the biggest challenge that democracy and human organization has ever faced.

Of course it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some willingness, but the good part of that is, that’s going to be a meaningful experience. It’s going to be a fun experience. It’s going to be something that brings us closer to what makes life worth living.

Watch the trailer for How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change):

Reynard Loki is AlterNet’s environment and food editor. Follow him on Twitter@reynardloki. Email him at

California shuts dozens of oil wells to stop wastewater injection

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

State shuts 33 wells injecting oil wastewater into aquifers

By David R. Baker, October 16, 2015
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

California regulators on Thursday closed 33 oil company wells that had injected wastewater into potentially drinkable aquifers protected by federal law.

The new closures bring to 56 the number of oil-field wastewater injection wells shut down by the state after officials realized they were pumping oil-tainted water into aquifers that potentially could be used for drinking or irrigation.

All but two of the latest closures are in Kern County, in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. One lies in Ventura County, another in northern Los Angeles County. Officials with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources spent Friday verifying that they had, in fact, closed. Of the 33, only 21 had been actively injecting wastewater before Thursday.

“This is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that California’s groundwater resources are protected as oil and gas production take place,” said Steven Bohlen, the division’s supervisor.

California’s oil fields contain large amounts of salty water that comes to the surface mixed with the oil. It must be separated from the petroleum and disposed of, often by injecting it back underground. Much of the water is pumped back into the same geologic formation it came from. But enough left-over water remains that companies must find other places to put it.

Fears of contamination

The division, part of California’s Department of Conservation, for years issued oil companies permits to inject their left-over water into aquifers that were supposed to be off-limits, protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The problem, detailed in a Chronicle investigation earlier this year, raised fears of water contamination in a state struggling through a historic, four-year drought.

So far, however, no drinking water supplies have been found to be tainted by the injections.

Still, some environmentalists expressed outrage that so few wells had been closed.

The division has identified 178 wells that were injecting into legally protected aquifers with relatively high water quality, defined as those with a maximum of 3,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. More than 2,000 other wells inject into aquifers that would be harder to use for drinking water, either because they are too salty or because they also contain oil.

“This is too little, too late to protect our water,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With each passing day the oil industry is polluting more and more of our precious water.”

The division reported Friday, however, that not all 178 wells required closure. Some had already been shut down by their operators, while others had been converted into wells for extracting oil — not dumping wastewater.

An oil industry trade group noted that all of the wells closed Thursday had received state permits, even if the state now acknowledges that those permits should never have been issued.

“Both regulators and producers are committed to protecting underground water supplies, and today’s announcement reinforces the seriousness of that commitment,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

Safeguarding water supplies

“California’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to operating their wells in a manner that continues to safeguard public water supplies,” she said.

Revelations that the division allowed injections into relatively fresh groundwater supplies touched off a political firestorm, triggered lawsuits, and led Bohlen to launch a reorganization of his staff.

More well closures will likely follow. Under regulations adopted this year, wells injecting into aquifers with water quality between 3,000 and 10,000 total dissolved solids must cease injections by Feb. 15, 2017, unless granted an exemption from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.