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Lofoten Declaration heading

A Declaration of Independence – FracTracker signs the Lofoten Declaration

FracTracker Alliance is proud to be a signatory of the Lofoten Declaration. It is a global call – signed by over 220 organizations from 55 countries – to put an end to exploration and expansion of new fossil fuel reserves and manage the decline of oil, coal, and gas in a just transition to a safer climate future.

It is also a call to prioritize support for communities on the front lines of climate change and fossil fuel extraction, and ideally a helpful tool to rally our global movement around the worldwide grassroots efforts to stop fossil fuel projects.

Wealthy fossil fuel producers like the United States have an obligation and responsibility to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel exploitation. Support for impacted regions is imperative, and frontline communities are the leaders we must look to as we all work together for a safer future.

The recent inundation of southeastern Texas, raging fires in the west, and ravaging hurricanes in the Atlantic underscore the dangers wrought by climate change. We need more action and we need it to be rapid, comprehensive, and systemic. Countries can’t be climate leaders until they tackle fossil fuel production – not just consumption.

The Lofoten Declaration is a new affirmation of independence: a world free from the injustice of extractive energy. It is a bold, righteous pronouncement in step with the courageous and visionary traditions of our nation.

With more than 1.2 million active oil and gas wells and thousands more planned, now is the time for America to change its old, tired habits and flex its might through the virtuous power of example.

Full Declaration and Signatories: LofotenDeclaration.org

Pedal Power for the Planet

We are excited to announce that FracTracker will be the beneficiary of a cross-country cycling expedition! Starting today, Dave Weyant of San Mateo, California will set out on a 4,262 mile cross-country journey on the Transamerica Route from tidewater Virginia to the Oregon Coast. The funds raised through this ride will be used by FracTracker to conduct tours and presentations to college and high school students – to show them first-hand or through compelling maps and imagery the harms that accompany oil and gas development and the better energy options available now. If you’d like to donate, please visit Dave’s Go Fund Me page. We appreciate your contribution for this important purpose.

Interview with Dave Weyant:

We interviewed Dave to learn more about his motivations for the trek and for supporting FracTracker.

When did you start thinking about doing this adventure?

Since 1976, when the Trans Am trip was first done to celebrate the bicentennial; I was 10 years old.

What excites you most about this trip/what are you looking forward to?

The self-reliance aspect of it, the fact that all I have will be on my bike. And all those miles, slowly seeing the US landscape change. I imagine I’ll have to eat a lot, too, and I enjoy eating.

What do you think will be the greatest challenges?

Humidity, bad weather, and a few things to be determined that I hadn’t planned for.

Why are you helping out FracTracker?

I’m concerned about fracking and fossil fuel development, especially the effects on the environment, drinking water, and how all this activity tends to slow or detract from investments in renewable energy. Being a history teacher, I hate the thought of someone looking back on us and saying “what were they thinking?”

What gives you hope that we can save the planet and effectively fight climate change?

Young people who care and are informed.

What was your favorite cycling experience to date?

Cycling down the coast from San Francisco to LA. Beautiful!

Why should others take up cycling? Why is it important to you?

It is a clean source of transportation. It keeps us healthy, removes cars from the road, and takes you back to being a kid pedaling through your neighborhood.


Support Dave’s Endeavor
Donations are tax deductible and benefit FracTracker Alliance

Check back throughout the summer for more articles & info about Dave’s experiences on the road.

Missing from the Conversation - Renewables

Missing from the Conversation

By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

After spending the afternoon travelling to drilling pads and compressor stations for the extraction and processing of unconventional oil and gas in our nearby communities, I travelled to the Niehaus Farm in the beautiful hills of West Virginia to visit with Rich and Felicia Niehaus. As the discussion centered on energy issues, it became evident that there is something crucial missing from the conversation about unconventional oil and gas issues:

energy conservation, energy efficiency, or renewable energy.

Conversations usually cover either fracking or energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables (ECER). It’s the exception for both to be covered in tandem even though they are the two sides of the same coin (Here, and here are examples of that exception). So, how did our conversation at the farm end up turning to ECER? Well, it turns out that this particular farm in West Virginia is entirely solar powered (photo above). Energy for the two barns and a beautiful home comes from rooftop panels installed in May of 2011. After finding funding and rebates to help with the upfront installation costs and participating in a renewable credits program, as of last year the Neihaus family spent $0.00 on utility bills. Their farm even generated a surplus of electricity, which they sold to the utility company as Solar Renewable Energy Credits – or SREC.

Missing from the Conversation

Solar farm tour in Cameron, WV

Missing from the Conversation

Reviewing the energy produced

Missing from the Conversation

Inside the barn

Missing from the Conversation

Discussing renewables with Rich

Perceived Barriers to Renewables

Why don’t more people follow this route? I only have anecdotal answers right now. When discussing fracking or unconventional oil and gas with folks, I ask why they haven’t considered solar as an energy source. Their responses vary but generally look like:

  • It never even entered my mind.
  • I’ve heard about solar and wind but heard they are really expensive.
  • No one sells or installs them around here.
  • Seems like a lot of work and expense.

Unlike the landman from the oil and gas company who calls or visits your home to talk to you about the benefits of selling your mineral rights for fracking or pipelines, no “sunman / windman / efficiencyman” calls or comes to your home to share the benefits of ECERs. There are few billboards or stories in our local or national media telling us how renewables can power the nation and keep the lights on. However, there are few or no print advertisements for solar, no polished TV ads on the clean energy of solar, wind or geothermal.

Basically, while coal, oil and gas are promoted – and receive generous federal incentives – at every turn or click, the benefits of ECER are truly missing from our conversation, locally and nationally.

Dependability

What if we decided to include the benefits of ECER in all of our conversations about fracking and fossilized sources of energy? Here are just a few items to keep in mind when sharing information that would move us to a more positive energy system future.

First, remember that coal, gas and, nuclear plants are highly intermittent over long time periods, such as their operating year or life span, requiring planned and unplanned maintenance and repair. An article in Cleantechnica tells us that as a result of this downtime, nuclear plants only generate electricity 83% of the time; combined cycle natural gas plants, 86% of the time; and coal plants, 88%. “Coupled renewable systems, like wind with solar tied to baseload power like hydropower, geothermal and solar thermal (with molten salt energy storage) are examples of reliable, dependable energy systems. Solar thermal plants are up and running 98% of the time; hydroelectric dams, 95%, and geothermal plants, 91%.1 According to a FracTracker analysis of Ohio wind potential:

If OH were to pursue the additional 900 MW public-private partnership wind proposals currently under review by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), an additional 900,000-1.2 million jobs, $1.3 billion in wages, $3.9 billion in sales, and $102.9 million in revenue would result. If the state were to exploit 10% more of the remaining wind capacity, the numbers would skyrocket into an additional 5.5-7.1 million jobs, $8.1 million in wages, $23.8 billion in sales, and $627.9 million in public revenues.

Enough Energy to Power a Nation

Sustainably harnessing enough power to fuel a nation requires conservation and efficiency. According to a recent analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the US actually wastes 61-86% of the energy it produces. This figure is especially outrageous because the tools and technology needed to save a significant portion of this wasted energy are available right now and would easily fall under President Obama’s “shovel ready” label. For instance, in the past few years, net-zero buildings — those that produce as much (or more) clean energy on site as they use annually — have been gaining momentum. More than 400 such buildings are documented globally, with about one-fourth in the U.S. and Canada.

Knowing the considerable negative impacts of fracking, it is incomprehensible that a targeted national energy conservation and efficiency conversation has yet to take place, and that state policies promoting ECER like those in Ohio are actively being undercut. Energy conservation and efficiency, when coupled with renewables have the capability to power the nation.2

Gas – Nonrenewable, Finite, Declining

Missing from the Conversation: Renewables

Unlike ECER, oil and natural gas are finite resources. Additionally, highly productive, economically recoverable shale wells have very high geological depletion rates and will become more difficult and more expensive to access.3 “The average flow from a shale gas well drops by ~50-75% in the first year, and up to 78% for oil”, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc (a global information company with expertise in energy and economics). In neighboring Ohio, first-year oil and natural gas production declined by 84% (21-48 barrels of oil per day), with respective declines of 27% and 10% in subsequent years, while freshwater usage increases by 3.6 gallons per gallon of oil. Even the United States’ most productive Bakken shale requires 2,500 new wells per year to maintain 1 million BDD, while traditional fields in Iraq require a mere 60 new wells per year. ECERs, on the other hand, are renewable systems with decline rates calculated in the billions-of-years time frame.

Fossilized Energy – Costs Exceed Benefits

Water Pollution Control Permit

Often you will hear that fracking and fossilized energy are “cheap and affordable.” According to a report by Environment America, the reality is that externalized costs of fossilized energy, were they included on the balance sheet, would make gas, oil and coal costly and unaffordable. Alternatively, 53 Fortune 100 Companies report savings of $1.1 billion annually through energy efficiency and renewable energy.4

Some reports indicate that due to the nature of fossil fuel extraction compared to renewables, there are more jobs to be had in renewables.5 There is also the [significantly higher job, tax revenue, and income] multiplier effect associated with renewable energy technologies. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that,

In addition to creating new jobs, increasing our use of renewable energy offers other important economic development benefits. Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners. These revenues can help support vital public services, especially in rural communities where projects are often located.

Along with externalized costs, natural gas also gets a preferred boost from our nation’s R&D funding compared to ECER research. This issue does not even include the de facto subsidies provided by our military escapades, which Joe Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently put at $3 trillion. In Scientific American’s article, Fracking Hammers Clean Energy Research, David Bello looked at the budget of the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) and found that five years in, “the gassy revolution was becoming apparent,” with funding going to natural gas research rather than ECER breakthroughs. Bello is of the opinion:

It is also exactly in times of overreliance on one energy source that funding into alternatives is not only necessary, but required. ARPA–E should continue to focus on transformational energy technologies that can be clean and cheap even if political pressures incline the still young and potentially vulnerable agency to look for a better gas tank.

Also, globally, the UN Environmental Program reports that the world spends six times as much money subsidizing fossilized energy as they do renewables. Despite having less government support, renewables have achieved record growth since 2000. The EIA reports that renewables are the fest-growing power source based on percentages, and in 2018 is estimated to rise to 25% of the global gross power generation. The EIA reports that, “On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source… Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018.” Germany alone generates 27% of its energy demand from renewables.

MailPouch

Climate Change – Sources & Solutions

Recent NOAA research suggests fugitive methane leaking from natural gas activity may be substantial, with leakage rates of 4-9% of the total production. This figure is significantly above the 2% recommended level for potential climate change benefits. Ken Caldeira, atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science recently noted:

We have to decide whether we are in the business of delaying bad outcomes or whether we are in the business of preventing bad outcomes. If we want to prevent bad climate outcomes, we should stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump. If we build these natural gas plants, we reduce incentives to build the near zero emission energy system we really need. It is time to start building the near zero emission energy system of the future. Expansion of natural gas is a delaying tactic, not a solution. A switch to natural gas would have zero effect on global temperatures by the year 2100.

Caldiera and Myhrvold’s paper on transitional energy concludes, “If you take 40 years to switch over entirely to natural gas, you won’t see any substantial decrease in global temperatures for up to 250 years [due to the CO2 inertia effect]. There’s almost no climate value in doing it.”

No Longer Missing

To make a short story long, that is what’s missing from the conversation – the great story of the benefits and solutions of ECER. How can we move towards a more positive and diversified energy future if we continue to bury the lead? The real solutions to our energy challenge cannot be relegated to a sidebar conversation. A disconnect between what is and what can be will keep us on the path to dire economic and public health impacts.

Back to the Niehaus farm…

As we were enjoying the fresh air, the pastoral beauty and soft sounds of nature that evening, I tried to picture what this landscape would look like, smell like, sound like, feel like, if instead of enjoying this farm fueled by solar, we were sitting back at one of the many homes bordering a drilling pad or processing facility that I had visited earlier in the day. I tried to envision what the wildlife, streams and skies would look like, what the children’s legacy would be, wondering if we were perhaps too distracted calculating costs instead of values.

When speaking of his investment in solar and his approach to life, Rich shares with us that he subscribes to the ancient Indian proverb, “We do not Inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we Borrow it from our Children.”

After this “renewed” experience at the farm that evening, I reaffirmed my efforts to not miss any more opportunities to raise the profile of ECERs when people are debating the pros and cons of fracking and fossils. Energy Conservation, Efficiency and Renewables can no longer go missing from our conversations or we allow the myth to flourish that only fossils can “keep the lights on.” With ECERs in the conversation we may actually transition from this “transition fuel,” to a truly transformational future.

As Buckminster Fuller once said:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. 
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.


Additional References

  1. To learn more, go to the Rocky Mountain Institute website.
  2. Mark Jacobson, a founder of The Solutions Project continues to crunch the numbers to demonstrate, How to Power the World without Fossil Fuels.
  3. According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies
  4. report by WWF, Ceres, Calvert Investments and David Gardiner and Associates finds that
  5. Addressing the issue of job creation, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, “Compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.”
There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

Public Perception of Sustainability

By Jill Terner, PA Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against  unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to unconventional drilling. This map shows municipal movements in NY State against the process (06/13/2014)

In the previous two installments of this three part series, I discussed how sustainability provides a common platform for people who support and deny the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from the ground. While these opposing sides may frequently use sustainability in their rhetoric, the term has different connotations depending on which side is presented. The dynamic definition of sustainability makes it a boundary object, or a term that many people can use in shared discourse, all while defining it in different nuanced ways1. This way, the definition of sustainability alters between groups of people, and may also change over time.

First, I wrote about how pro-industry groups tend to focus primarily on the economic angle of sustainability rather than a more holistic understanding when arguing that hydraulic fracturing is the best choice for local and national communities.  In my second post, I discussed how pro-environment groups see sustainability as a multifaceted entity, treating social and environmental sustainability with as much importance as economic. Here, I will focus on what can cause differences in public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as well as what might be done to mitigate potential confusion caused by competing definitions of sustainability.

A Few Explanations for Differing Opinions

A national survey conducted in 2013 found that by and large, people had no opinion of hydraulic fracturing.  This was probably due to the fact that the majority of respondents indicated that they had heard little to nothing about hydraulic fracturing also known as unconventional drilling. Those who did identify as having an opinion either for or against drilling were split nearly evenly*. While survey participants on both sides recognized that there could be several economic benefits related to industrial presence, they also acknowledged that distribution of these benefits might not be equitable. Additionally, recognition of environmental and social threats is correlated with a negative view of industry. The stronger a respondents’ concern is about damaging environmental and social outcomes resulting from drilling activities, the more likely they were to express negative opinions about the industry2.

What is responsible for this difference of opinion? One possible explanation lies in the level of drilling activity a given community is experiencing. In areas where hydraulic fracturing is more prevalent, residents are more likely to have leased their land to drilling companies, so they are more likely to adjust their attitude to reflect their actions. They have made a significant investment by leasing their land, so they are likely to be optimistic about the payoff3.

Relatedly, the length of time that industry has been active in an area might also affect public perceptions. When industry is relatively new, many residents of nearby communities are optimistic about the economic gains that it may bring. However, alongside this optimism, residents may also express trepidation regarding what the influx of new people and wealth might do to community integrity. Over time, though, residents of areas where industry has maintained a continued presence may have adjusted to the changes brought on by industry, or have had their initial fears mitigated3, 4,5.

Geographically speaking, proximity to a major metropolitan area may also play a role in public perception of unconventional drilling.  In counties where there are more metropolitan areas, there is the potential for an increase in negative social side effects. For example, an increase in violent crimes5, 6, uneven distribution of wealth generated by industry4, and loss of community character4, 6, might be offset by the fact that the influx of new workers makes up a smaller proportion of the county population than in less urbanized counties4.

On a broader geographical scale, state-by-state differences in opinion could be largely due to how prohibitive or permissive laws are regarding drilling. In states such as New York, where legislation demonstrates concern for the environment and safety, residents may be more likely to see sustainability as something more than just economic. On the other hand, in states like Pennsylvania where legislation is relatively permissive, residents may be more likely to see economic sustainability as most important due to the political climate4. This view is also known as the chicken/egg phenomenon: does the public’s opinion sway legislation, or does legislation drive public opinion? Either way, the differences across state lines remains.

What can be done to better inform public opinion?

Above, I mentioned a study where researchers found that the vast majority of survey participants held no opinion regarding unconventional drilling, largely due to lack of knowledge about it2. Therefore making unbiased information readily available and understandable to the public will allow them to make informed opinions on the subject. For example, having access to objective literature regarding unconventional drilling provides the opportunity to increase awareness and inform individuals about the practice of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts. In order to have the most impact we must first asses where gaps in public knowledge lie. Engaging in projects such as community based participatory research and then qualitatively assessing the results will reveal common misconceptions or knowledge gaps that need to be addressed through educational programs.

Also, most predictions regarding the unconventional drilling boom are based on a boom-and-bust cycles of past industries4. For example, they look at longitudinal studies where representative groups of residents within communities are followed over time, and they also focus on existing communities affected by industry identifying the social, environmental, and economic outcomes related to industry. This way, any comparisons drawn would be within the same industry, even if they were between two different cities.

Finally, the information gleaned from community based participatory or longitudinal research should be presented by an unbiased party and made easily available. Promoting transparency within biased institutions is equally important. While each entity uses the term “sustainability” to dynamically fit its rhetorical needs, few entities prioritize the same kinds of sustainability. Therefore, it is up to industry, environmental groups, and independent researchers alike to provide a transparent atmosphere of honest information so that individuals can decide which understanding of sustainability they would like to see informing the progress of unconventional drilling in their communities.

About the Author

Jill Terner is an MPH candidate at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a native Pittsburgher. Interning with FracTracker in fall of 2013 has cemented Jill’s interest in combining Environmental Public Health with her passion for Social Justice.  After completing her MPH in May 2015, Jill hopes to find work helping people better understand, interact with, and mitigate threats to their environment – and how their environment impacts their health.

Footnotes

* 13% did not know how much they had heard about drilling, 39% had heard nothing at all, 16% had heard “a little”, 22% had heard “some”, and 9% had heard “a lot.” Of these respondents, 58% did not know/were undecided about whether they supported drilling, 20% were opposed, and 22% were supportive2.

Sources

  1. Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19, 387-420.
  2. Boudet, H., Carke, C., Bugden, D., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Leiserowitz, A. (2013). “fracking” controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public erceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy, 65, 57-67.
  3. Kriesky, J., Goldstein, B. D., Zell, K., & Beach, S. (2013). Differing opinions about natural gas drillingin two adjacent counties with different livels of drilling activity. Energy Policy, 50, 228-236.
  4. Wynveen, B. J. (2011). A thematic analysis of local respondents’ perceptions of barnett shale energy development. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 8-31.
  5. Brasier, K. J., Filteau, M. R., McLaughlin, D. K., Jacquet, J., Stedman, R. C., Kelsey, T. W., & Goetz, S. J. (2011). Residents’ perceptions of community and environmental impacts from development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale: A comparison of Pennsylvania and New York cases. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 32-61.
  6. Korfmacher, K. S., Jones, W. A., Malone, S. L., & Vinci, L. F. (2013). Public Health and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. New Solutions, 23(1) 13-31.

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