Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Two Visions for Our Future: “Water is Life” vs. “Water Drives Fracking”

by Patricia DeMarco

November 15, 2019

Water Keepers Demonstration October 23, 2019 photo credit to Kirsi Jansa

Fresh water lies at the nexus of the existential crises of our time- global warming and global pollution. Two mutually exclusive visions for the future played out on the streets of Pittsburgh this October. The Shale Insight Conference at the David Lawrence Convention Center gathered gas and petrochemical industry corporations, workers, and supporters to share development plans and hear President Trump present his vision for this area as “the energy hub of America.” Throughout the day, three protests organized by Bend the Arc, the Indigenous People Water Protectors, and the Women’s Climate March demonstrated against the petrochemical build-out plans calling for protection of the water. A week later, Mayor Peduto speaking at the P4 Climate Summit decried the petrochemical build-out in Western Pennsylvania as a backwards looking development and painted a vision for a more resilient and sustainable future for the region. The two messages define the great divide that is pulling America apart, but within the controversy, elements of common ground have the potential to unite all of us in common purpose – to secure the future for our children.

Two points of contrast emerge from this dichotomy: What do we value? Who profits and who pays? We may find common ground when we consider What is our legacy?

What do we value?

Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers whose waters flow together to form the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River. We are part of the great Mississippi River drainage that serves nearly one third of the American mainland. This geographic distinction held this place we call Pittsburgh as a center for commerce, trade and civilization from ancient times forward, long before the French and British battled for dominance here at the Point. 

For the Indigenous Peoples gathered here to celebrate the life-force of fresh water, unity with the land, the earth, the sky and the water is essential for all life. Preserving these elements of Nature is a sacred trust handed from one generation to the next for seven generations. As the water blessing ceremony began, Cheryl Angel spoke most passionately in her own Lakota tongue of the unifying force of water. “Water is Life. Without it we cannot live, so it is our sacred duty to protect the water, to keep it running free and pure for our time, and for our children and their grandchildren.”  The concept of connection to the water, the air, the land is embedded in the civilization of the Standing Rock Sioux, as expressed by Guy Jones, “The drums share the heartbeat of the Earth, our provider. Peace is our goal, at all costs, but we have no peace from the invasion of pollution, from the poison of industries and mining. We have no peace from the taking of the water and the taking of our land.” As the ceremony unfolded to the drumming and chanting and dancing of the tribal leaders, water samples brought for sharing were arranged in a circle, co-mingled and blessed, then poured into the rivers’ confluence as a symbolic unity with the waters of the entire Mississippi system. We who stood here in solidarity with this ancient ritual are moved with the solemnity and the significance of this tradition – holding sacred the priceless gifts of the living Earth: fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the many species that constitute the interconnected web of life.

For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Seminole, the Algonquin, the Tribes of the Iroquois Nation, humans are essentially part of nature, not dominant over nature. The sufficiency of all in the community depends on the interdependence of each person. Each contributes for the benefit of the whole, and the community is celebrated as a unit. Decisions honor the ways of the past, recorded in the wisdom of Elders, and consider the implications for seven generations forward. The obligation to protect the water, the land, the resources of Earth is a sacred duty. They speak for all of the people who rely on fresh water as a critical need for life. They speak for all of us and the yet to be born children of the 21stcentury.

By contrast, the Shale Gas Industry sees water as a component of production, taken for free from the surface waters at a tremendous rate. Each event of hydraulic fracturing in a deep shale well takes 500,000 gallons of fresh water. The coexistence of abundant water resources with the deep shale seams of the Marcellus and Utica gas deposits makes the Western Pennsylvania corridor attractive for this industry.  

As the increase in frequency and severity of storms in the Gulf Coast has damaged or destroyed infrastructure for petrochemical production, the industry scans north and east to this region for the resources it needs to produce gas, and plastic. The federal and state rules that strive to protect water- The Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and several others, were suspended for hydraulic fracturing industries by the “Haliburton Loophole” in the National Energy Act of 2005. This permits the process of slick-water hydraulic fracturing to inject water laced heavily with salt (1,300 times more concentrated salt than sea water) and a cocktail of chemicals and fine sand that make it possible to extract gas from deep underground. Water that comes up to the surface with the gas becomes heavily contaminated not only with the chemicals introduced but also with materials extracted from the deep shale formations, including radioactive Boron, hydrocarbons, and minerals. 

To the petrochemical industry, the water has value as a cheap production element to be used and discarded with minimum concern for the by-products. The methane (natural gas) produced from fracking is used for heating and cooking, and large amounts are liquefied and set for export to other countries. The liquids (ethane and other components of “wet gas”) are destined for the petrochemical industry, a much more lucrative undertaking that makes polypropylene plastic pellets, the precursors to many products such as food packaging, film, trash bags, diapers, toys, crates, drums, bottles, food containers and housewares.

As of 2019, the gas production from fracking fails to return sufficient profits to continue the capital-intensive process, but, the expectation for producing plastic from the hydrocarbon liquids produced with the gas keeps this industry rolling forward.[1] In addition to the 17,000 wells already drilled in Pennsylvania, the industry expects to need 1,000 fully producing wells annually to serve the contemplated plastics production enterprise they plan for a petrochemical hub in Western PA, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia. The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility under construction in Mercer County will produce 2.2 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, emissions of greater than major facility thresholds for emissions of 100 tons per year of NOx, 100 tons per year of particulates, and 50 tons per year of volatile organic compounds such as benzene.[2] The company plans to buy carbon offsets to abate its emissions, so sees no problem in producing so much greenhouse gas from the plant. The plant will produce 1.6 million metric tons per year of polyethylene plastic pellets, much of it destined for discard within 24 hours of first use.  There is no plan for recapturing or recycling any of this material. “Where we are coming from is that plastic, in most of its forms, is good and it serves to be good for humanity,” according to Hilary Mercer, who is overseeing the construction project for Shell.[3]

Who Profits and Who Pays?

The fossil industries profit. Certainly, the petrochemical companies that are investing in this enterprise have stacked the cards in their own favor as much as possible to produce profits for their corporations and shareholders.  Three principal tools have generated the profits to the fossil industries: direct and indirect federal subsidies extending back as far as 1837, state and local tax incentives, and abatement of environmental regulations at both the federal and state levels.

According to the Office of Management and Budget report of Subsides to Oil, Gas and Coal Industry, in 2018 taxpayers paid $20.5 Billion/year in direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction.[4] Permanent Investment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal of $7.4 Billion/year are included in the federal budget. This is compared to $1.3 billion in Investment Tax Credits for renewables, which need to be specifically reauthorized every five years. Oil and gas companies also receive indirect subsidies such as drilling cost deductions for oil and gas, valued at $2.3 billion per year, and other accounting advantages such as:

•Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)

•Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)

•Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)

•Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)

•Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[5]

In 2015, the U.S. spent $649 billion on direct and indirect fossil industry subsidies, more than the federal spending for the entire defense budget and ten times more than the federal spending for education.[6] State level subsidies also support fossil industries. For example, Pennsylvania provided $3.2 Billion in tax breaks and direct grants for fossil industries during fiscal year 2012-2013 alone.[7] Specific projects such as the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant have received commitments of $1.6 Billion in subsidies and tax incentives. Subsidies matter. According to an International Monetary Fund study issued in 2018, 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences.[8]

Relief from environmental regulation also comprises a significant profit to fossil development, especially to the hydraulic fracturing industry. From the first major environmental regulation packages of the 1970s, industry has steadily objected, protested and lobbied to erode environmental restrictions.  What the public sees as protections of vital resources such as clean air and safe drinking water and important natural resources, industry sees as a cost without benefit or a negative salvage value. The “Haliburton Loophole” was adopted with minimum scrutiny and debate, giving the fracking industry advantages not enjoyed by oil, coal or any other major industry with regard to pollution controls. While the dynamic tension between public interest and private profits has always played out within the regulatory system, under the Trump Administration, most regulatory agencies now have major industry leaders at the head. 

The result is that eighty-five significant environmental regulations have been rolled back as of December 2018, including provisions of the Endangered Species Act, provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Power Plan- Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines.[9] The stated objective of regulatory rollbacks, such as changing the oil and gas rules to eliminate control of methane emissions, is “to remove regulatory requirements that are not appropriate to regulate, and will reduce unnecessary regulatory duplication, saving $85 million in regulatory costs from 2019 to 2025.”[10]

The people pay. 

Fracking and the petrochemical buildup to produce plastics threaten prospects for addressing global warming and global pollution.  The plastics industry based on raw materials extracted from fossil gas deposits will accelerate both global warming by producing tons of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production cycle, and the product of this operation will contribute tons of plastic materials to the waste stream contaminating the oceans and landfills. Industry analysts and labor unions look at the immediate jobs scenario, projected to last for 20 years with escalating levels of manufacturing associated with the petrochemical operations. The cost of this industrial expansion comes from the climate impact, environmental degradation, and deterioration of worker and public health and safety. 

The regulatory policies applied to fracking for natural gas and petrochemical production support destruction of the natural environment. Environmental damage to land and ecosystems is the inevitable consequence of the fracking process from the hydraulic fracturing itself, the pipelines, separation facilities, transportation and production infrastructure. Fracking fragments forests, compromises wetlands, destroys watersheds, emits methane and fugitive hydrocarbon pollutants, and contaminates land with deposits of particulates, radioactive material and organic compounds. 

Removing millions of gallons of fresh water from the surface flows of rivers and streams of Pennsylvania to pump underground for hydraulic fracturing will have long-lasting consequences for the geology of the area.  Stream paths will be re-directed, groundwater recharge rates will be affected, and plumes of heavy salt will travel through the hydrology of the area.  Unknown consequences of this massive redistribution of the water flows will impose both tangible costs to communities as they struggle to assure safe drinking water supplies and indirect costs in the loss of functioning ecosystems. Taxpayers and communities will pay for the transient profits of these multi-national corporations for generations into the future. 

The single Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant under construction in Beaver County now will send out enough pollution and greenhouse gasses to totally obliterate the climate action efforts of the entire surrounding area. The complex of such facilities touted at the Shale Insight Conference would doom this whole area to a future devoid of hope for reaching any meaningful response to the climate crisis and the global plastics pollution crisis that is compromising the very existence of life on earth. The profits will enrich a few multi-national corporations, who will pay as little as possible to their workers, and as little as they can manage to the communities, with extended tax credits and subsidies from the tax payers of the state and nation.  

Meanwhile, the costs of failing to address or mitigate the effects of climate change extract an enormous cost from all of us. A summary of the principal economic effects of failing to address climate change was reported in the fourth congressional climate Assessment. [11]

  • Labor Losses: Heat-induced productivity reduction costs $160 billion in lost wages a year
  • Higher Energy Costs: $87 billion a year by 2100 due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • Infrastructure damages: Coastal areas face $507 billion worth of real estate from risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100.  
  • Inland infrastructure damage: Inland flooding could destroy thousands of bridges by 2050 at a cost of $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year in addition to landslides and collapsing roadways from storm damage and super-saturation of the soil;
  • Shrinking Environmental capital: industries dependent on functioning ecosystems such as fishing face  huge losses, for example $230 million/ year in loss on shellfish harvests alone.
  • Recreation and tourism losses: $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone, and cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected.
  • Agricultural productivity losses: the drought of 2012 alone cost $14.5 billion as determined by crop failure insurance payments.
  • Health Effects: stress from extreme weather both cold and heat, affect the health of humans affected both in direct ways from heat stress, asthma, respiratory afflictions and allergies to indirect effects of chronic stress, economic loss, and increased disease vectors.

The costs of continuing this intense investment in extending the fossil-based industries far into the future will have catastrophic effects on our ability to mitigate climate change in our communities.

What is our legacy?

This area has seen the boom and bust cycle repeatedly over its history, most recently in the dramatic decline of steel and heavy manufacturing in the 1970-1980 decade.  The population fell, unemployment reached 25% among those who stayed, and the city was close to bankruptcy.  This was an industrial transition without a plan, without consideration of the social and environmental justice issues, and without compassion for the human suffering.  The trauma and scars of that time run deep and linger to this day. People see system change as fraught with danger. The myth that air and water pollution are inevitable, if not necessary, side effects to having good jobs is well entrenched in the culture of Pittsburgh.

We can take many important lessons from the trauma of that sad time. First is to recognize that powerful industries will shape the social conditions for their success without regard for the impact on individuals, communities, or future citizens.  They will shape the laws to their advantage for as long as they can. The net effect of regulations today is to protect polluters and criminalize protestors. Taxpayer subsidies originally applied to encourage the public convenience and necessity of certain enterprises have not been reviewed and evaluated for current conditions. Do subsidies to multi-national corporations with annual profits in excess of the gross domestic product of many countries really support a public convenience and necessity when the result is increased pollution and global warming?

Second, workers are rarely paid what they deserve; they are paid what they negotiate.  Unions had a major role in obtaining fair wages, safe working conditions and humane hours through battle with the barons of the industrial revolution.  Now, the strength of unions has been undermined and eroded by the same forces that offer good wages on the condition of workers enduring the effects of lax environmental and public health and safety regulations. The fraught labor movement has alienated entrepreneurs and innovative companies emerging in the renewable energy arena, and in the high technology industries as well.  Do we need a better model for determining a fair wage, or is there another way to reflect the value for “the public convenience and necessity” in moving away from a fossil-based economy?

Third, we must recognize that the laws of nature are not negotiable.  The laws of chemistry, physics, and the biological responses to changes in the physical environment cannot be changed by human declarations or wishes.  Our laws and actions must conform to the laws of nature, or we will join the growing list of living things that are going extinct in the face of a warming planet. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase the temperature of the planet by holding the sun’s radiation close to the surface. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause increased acidity in the oceans as the carbon dioxide absorbs into the water. Changes in the currents of air and water affect the weather patterns and the water cycle in ways that disrupt established patterns of land use and human habitation as well as habitat for creatures all over the globe.  

Pittsburgh is on a new path, one that leads to a vibrant, more resilient and sustainable economy with greater hope for equity and environmental stability. Quoting Mayor Peduto’s statement to the P4 Climate Summit,

“These are the facts: In Pennsylvania there are twice as many workers employed by the clean energy industry than by fossil fuel producers. There are more clean energy workers in Allegheny County than any other county in the state, including Philadelphia. The plans the City of Pittsburgh has adopted to cut carbon emissions in half are projected to add 110,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2030. Pittsburgh has transitioned to a technology-based economy, with its tech firms attracting almost $4 billion in investments the last 10 years – $2.3 billion of which has come in just the last five years, much of it focused on the autonomous vehicle and robotics sectors. …  Pittsburgh has willed itself into economic rebirth after its near death. It joins the world in valuing our future over reliving the past.” [12]

We face a critical inflection point where the ecological balance shifts to a new equilibrium that is hostile to life as it has evolved over the last five million years. The invisible hand of the market will not drive the fundamental transformation that is required to maintain climate conditions in a temperature range that supports today’s living things, including humans.  We must apply the moral judgment to make decisions that will sustain a living planet for the future. Where we choose to make investments and what we choose to enable by law will determine the fate of our children. The greatest tragedy of the Haliburton Loophole is the huge diversion of capital and expectations from a path that sustains life to one of destruction. The enormous subsidies and incentives showered on the multi-national corporations of the petrochemical industry foreclose investment in sustainable, resilient development initiatives within communities.  This lost opportunity cost of the fracking/petrochemical industry is a moral decision to destroy the future rather than to preserve it. 

When empowered to decide on what kind of future is desired for communities, people develop exciting plans.  In Johnstown, Beaver, Butler, Meadville and Erie, communities are working to re-define their future. For example, The Re-Imagine Beaver County project facilitated by the League of Women Voters gathered community members and leaders throughout Beaver County over an eighteen- month period.[13] The strategies that evolved from this work established a community vision that is not dependent on a single fossil-based industry but rather establishes a diversified base of businesses in many different industries. The plans call for investing in Energy Innovation, Green Chemistry Eco-Industrial Parks, Sustainable Agriculture and Riverfront Development centered on restoration and natural resources.  The community is moving forward to implement this vision, with the premise that if the $1.6 billion in incentives given to the Shell Petrochemical complex were invested in communities instead, this vision would be readily accomplished for far less. 

The way forward:

We face two visions for the future- one where preserving fresh water symbolizes a civilization that recognizes the value of the living Earth and preserves it as the provider of our life support system and one where water is a production medium and land is to be exploited for transient profits. I close with Rachel Carson’s prescient comment at the end of Silent Spring:

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we travel at great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”[14]

The pathways to a sustainable future and the technologies we need to pursue them are at hand.  We are not facing a technology crisis, but rather a crisis of ethics.  Will we leave a legacy of a living earth for our children, or will we remain focused on immediate profits and condemn our children to a future hurtling toward certain destruction of life? Imagine what we can accomplish if we invest in the future instead of subsidizing the past.

Sources and Citations


[1]  Rebecca Elliot, Christopher Matthews. “Oil and Gas Bankruptcies Grow as Investors Lose Appetite for Shale.” The Wall Street Journal. August 30, 2019.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/oil-and-gas-bankruptcies-grow-as-investors-lose-appetite-for-shale-11567157401 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[2] Air Quality Plan Approval Application – Petrochemicals Complex.  Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Beaver County, Pennsylvania. May 2014.  Submitted to PA Department of Environmental Protection. https://gasp-pgh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Shell-Petrochemicals-Complex-Plan-Approval-Application.pdf

[3] Michael Corkery. “Deluged by Plastics but Bustling to Make More.” New York Times. Aug. 12, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/business/energy-environment/plastics-shell-pennsylvania-plant.html Accessed October 23, 2019.

[4] For a fuller discussion of oil and gas subsidies and effects see  https://patriciademarco.com/2019/05/23/green-jobs-and-a-living-planet-make-it-happen/

[5] http://priceofoil.org/2017/10/03/dirty-energy-dominance-us-subsidies

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/06/15/united-states-spend-ten-times-more-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies-than-education/#414b6e784473

[7] https://www.pennfuture.org/Files/News/FossilFuelSubsidyReport_PennFuture.pdf

[8] David Coady, Ian Parry, Nghia-Piotr Le, and Baoping Shang. Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An       Update Based on Country-Level Estimates.  International Monetary Fund Working Paper, Fiscal Affairs Department. May 2019. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[9]  Harvard University. Environmental and Energy Law Project. Regulatory Rollback Tracker. https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/regulatory-rollback-tracker/  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[10] https://www.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2019/08/13/Shell-cracker-Trump-protesters-plastics-ethane-oil-gas-Beaver-EPA-regulations-pennsylvania/stories/201908130059

[11] USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

 https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/downloads/NCA4_2018_FullReport.pdf  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[12] Oliver Morrison. “Peduto Speaks Out Publicly for the first time against a petrochemical expansion in western Pennsylvania.” Public Source. October 30, 2019. https://www.publicsource.org/peduto-speaks-out-publicly-for-the-first-time-against-a-petrochemical-expansion-in-western-pennsylvania/ Accessed November 7, 2019.

[13] Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Joanne Martin, Heather Haar, Mark Dixon, Andre Goes, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Reidel. Funded by Colcom Foundation, Heinz Endowments, League of Women voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund, Three Rivers community Foundation. Spring 2019.

[14] Rachel Carson. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1962. Page 277.


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“The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA- Its environmental consequences and what can be done about it” presented by the Isaac Walton League of America

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill)

1240 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228.

Presenters: 

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communications platform, the Breathe Project The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics with a common commitment to advocate for the air the Pittsburgh region needs in order to be a healthy, prosperous place. For more information about the Breathe Project and detailed information about the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Facility see https://breatheproject.org

Patricia DeMarco, IWL Member, Author: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Global Perspective from Pittsburgh“, Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020

Robert Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Community / BCMAC . and Citizens to protect the Ambridge Reservoir. CPAR. 

Terrie Baumgardner – Beaver County activist, Field Organizer for Clean Air Council, volunteer with Beaver Marcellus Community and Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir. 

Thaddeus Popovich – Co-founder Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Protect Franklin Park, Climate Reality Project 

A major part of this event will be a discussion between audience activists, and the presenters. Please join us for this excellent educational event.

Sponsored by:  The Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter, Harry Enstrom (Green County) Chapter


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“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone.” World Ocean Day 2018

“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone”
World Ocean Day – June 8, 2018
Patricia M. DeMarco

“Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone?”  Joni Mitchell

Photo: winner in the Youth Category
of World Oceans Day Photo Competition/Jack McKee.[1]

“The Ocean is a place of paradoxes.  It is the home of the great white shark, two-thousand-pound killer of the seas, and of the hundred-foot blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. It is also the home of living things so small that your two hands might scoop as many of them as there are stars in the Milky Way.”Rachel Carson[2]

Walking along the edge of the sea in the early morning after a storm reveals the power and the wonder of Nature. Long ribbons of winged kelp, Alaria, with rock clinging to their moorings wrenched from the depths by the power of the storm clump along the tide line.  Strewn among them are the spiral egg cases of the Channeled Whelk, stranded jellyfish, or sea urchins along with bits of shell and an occasional starfish cast out of its depth.  The sanderlings and gulls prod through the debris running back and forth, or swoop and dive into the shallows. The detritus of humanity is there too, adding unnatural bright colors of plastic bottles, straws, styrofoam cups, toys, tampons, plastic containers of joint compound or kitty litter, shards and pieces of plastic goods once used and discarded. Indigestible even by the bacteria and detrital consumers of the ocean deep, this accumulated debris of human convenience chokes the life out of the creatures of the sea.  Inevitably, it will choke the life out of all of us, too

The ocean as we have known it for hundreds of years now exhibits the effects of careless and deliberately harmful human actions. The ocean has been considered so vast that no amount of contamination could possibly affect it.  Now the effects of endless dumping, runoff from chemical agriculture, and the acidification of the water from absorbing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are degrading vast areas of the ocean.  Coral reefs stand bleached and dying over 50% to 80% of their reaches.[3]No coastline on earth is free of plastic debris washed to the ocean from land.

Since 1983, the United Nations has celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8thto help raise awareness of our dependence on the ocean for most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, food for millions of people, tempering our climate and contributing endless connections in the global web of life.  The ocean covers 70% of the surface of planet Earth. Though part of the Earth from the time of its ancient origins, vast expanses of the ocean remain unexplored, shrouded in mystery.  All of life on Earth depends on the functions of the ocean and the myriad of living things embraced in its waters.  Most critically, 50% of the free oxygen in the atmosphere comes from phytoplankton living in the top 18 inches of the ocean water. These small life forms convert sunlight to sugars and oxygen as they float on the surface of the sea.  At the ground base of the food chain, plankton feed creatures from beluga whales, to sockeye salmon to small fry of fishes. Millions are suffocated by oil slicks. Worse, the plankton are now joined by micro-plastic particles, ground into bits from years of tossing in the ocean, now intermixed with the life forms, reducing the food value and offering surfaces on which toxic bacteria and toxic pollutants accumulate. Some of the plankton will ingest the micro-plastic, and thus incorporate this material into their own systems.[4]The feeding fishes and whales do not distinguish the plankton from the plastic micro-particles, ingesting huge quantities of the increasingly contaminated material to the point of starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of fish caught for human consumption also.[5]

Plastic pollution is causing tremendous harm to our marine resources. For example:

  • 80% of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic per year ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism.
  • Plastic pollution costs the lives of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
  • Fish eat plastic, and we eat the fish.
  • Plastic causes $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year.[6]

The global contamination of the ocean from single use plastic is an especially poignant tragedy because it represents the epitome of the unintended consequences of modern progress. Plastic came into the market as a convenience, a wonder material that could lower cost and bring myriad improvements in critical things such as health care, packaging and disposable consumer products. Since the 1950s, plastic use has grown exponentially. While the uses of plastic have grown, there has been no concerted effort to address the waste stream that now reaches 300 million tons per year of plastic waste.[7]The uses of plastic and their production represent a $184 billion industry, with exports expected to grow by 7% per year until 2030 based on increased use of shale gas as a feedstock.[8]But the reclamation, recycling, or re-use of the raw petrochemical derived material has no value as a profit center, and thus accumulates as trash, and erodes the public amenities of water, land and ocean ecosystems. The unintended consequence of creating a material that is strong, non-biodegradable, light weight, formable into a variety of shapes are the same properties that make plastics a scourge when discharged into the oceans.

Without concerted action, we face the tragedy of a loss beyond measure – an ocean sterile of life, bereft of the resilience and regenerative power of millions of living things from the smallest plankton to the mightiest of whales that rise from the depths to breathe. There is no way to “recycle” out of this problem, though recapturing plastics for re-use is one part of the solution.  We must address the need to design systems for the capture of waste, so the “garbage” of modern life does not end up in the ocean. We must address the problem of excess plastic at the source. We must adopt policies and systematic solutions that prevent further pollution from plastic, and begin to clean up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

The United Nations has adopted an action focus for 2018: preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”[9]At the closing of the G-7 meetings in Charlevoix, Canada, six of the countries, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, adopted an Ocean Plastics Charter: “Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives. However, the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health. It also represents a significant loss of value, resources and energy.” [10]The charter includes a five- part commitment to take action toward a resource-efficient lifecycle management approach to plastics in the economy by:

  1. Sustainable design, production and after-use markets
  1. Collection, management and other systems and infrastructure
  2. Sustainable lifestyles and education
  3. Research, innovation and new technologies
  4. Coastal and shoreline action

As we enter the summer season, many people travel to the seashore to enjoy the beaches, or fishing, or just being at the seaside. It is important to recognize that the simple pleasures we derive from experiencing the coast depend on much larger forces at work. The unthinking carelessness and wasteful practices surrounding our conveniences in using plastic take a relentless toll on essential life systems.  We cannot live without the complex living ocean, but we can certainly live without plastic straws, plastic bags and hundreds of other single-use items. For hundreds of suggestions about reducing plastic in your life, see https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/  The most important step is to care about preserving the life of the ocean, to care about preserving our planet for our children. The   mysteries of the ocean depths are worth preserving, worth fighting for, and worth making changes in the “convenience” we take for granted without counting the cost.

“But even with all our modern instruments for probing and sampling the deep ocean, no one can say that we shall ever resolve the last, the ultimate mysteries of the sea. … For the sea lies all around us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea – to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.”  
Rachel Carson. 1951. The Sea Around Us- Commemorative Illustrated Edition. Oxford Press. (2003) Page 259.

 

References and Citations:

[1]As the photographer of this young yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) said, small marine creatures as well as large ones are fascinating and worth protecting. The fish was in a rocky crevice in the Tweed River, New South Wales, Australia.

[2].” Rachel Carson “Undersea” Nawaukum Press. Santa Rosa. 2010.

[3]https://www.insidescience.org/news/bringing-plight-coral-reefs-our-screens

[4] https://inhabitat.com/plankton-pundit-video-shows-exact-moment-plastic-enters-the-food-chain/

[5] Chelsea M. Rochman,Akbar Tahir,Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam,Jeffrey T. MillerFoo-Ching Teh, Shinta WerorilangiSwee J. Teh. “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.”

Scientific Reports. volume 5, Article number: 14340 (2015) https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340#auth-8

[6]http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/

[7]Briony Harris. This is what countries are doing to fight plastic waste.” World Economic Forum. June 8, 2018. https://medium.com/world-economic-forum/this-is-what-countries-are-doing-to-fight-plastic-waste-d7673132230b

[8]https://www.americanchemistry.com/Trade-Overview/

[9]http://web.unep.org/unepmap/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic

[10]https://g7.gc.ca/en/official-documents/charlevoix-blueprint-healthy-oceans-seas-resilient-coastal-communities/#a1


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The Power of Joined Voices

 

The Power of Joined Voices

By Patricia M. DeMarco
May 20, 2018

 “It took hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth –    eons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings. Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time.” [1]Rachel Carson

Daily headlines document the gleeful devolution of our environmental protections, even as the conditions of climate and pollution grow worse.[2]A numbing effect sets in; beyond disbelief, a paralysis of will sends people into a shocked retreat. We pretend that some visionary leader will step in to save us. Or that a yet undiscovered technology will emerge to reverse the effects of global warming and global plastic pollution. We pretend it will all be fine, and try to go on with our lives while the basic life support system of our earth is torn to shreds. It is the children who are outraged, who bring suit and scream for justice.[3] It is the Native American defenders of water and land who rise up with their lives on the line to protest and object.[4]When rules protecting endangered species, drinking water, farm workers and children are dismantled in the name of immediate profits, or the lure of jobs, where is the outrage against the harm? Against the injustice? In nine states laws are under consideration that would make protesting energy infrastructure a criminal act, subject to prison as domestic terrorism.[5]Where is the outrage against the basic violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly? When did cruelty become a value that makes America “Great”?

No visionary leader is going to come forth to save us. We must take responsibility to object directly to those in office at all levels who are making these decisions. We must take action ourselves, in our daily lives. There is no way to generate the necessary uprising of protest against the outrageous actions of this Administration and those complicit by silence without each one of us standing up and declaring ENOUGH!  There is a better choice for a way forward.  We have better options for our economy, for our way of life, for our children’s future. We do not need to destroy the Earth to have a thriving civilization. Indeed, we must preserve and restore the living systems of the Earth if we are to survive at all.

On this day, my 72ndbirthday, I call on all of my colleagues and friends, collaborators and associates to Stand Up! Speak Up! End the complacent silence that gives tacit permission for the destruction of our world to continue. We must exercise our obligations as citizens, as caring human beings, as children of Mother Earth to preserve the life support system of our planet. I urge a call to action as a manifesto for the environment.[6]

The rationale for this call to action rests on the following facts:

  1. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania States The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” Article 1, Section 27.[7]
  2. All forms of exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change.[8]
  3. Communities and people of color have been disproportionally affected by the environmental, health, social and cultural effects of energy and resource exploitation and development. [9]
  4. Burning fossil fuels, the principal cause of global warming, compromises the life support system of all oxygen-breathing, freshwater-dependent organisms, including humans, while global pollution from man-made chemicals, especially those with endocrine disrupting properties, threaten the health of creatures throughout the world. [10]
  5. The health and well-being of people and especially children are significantly degraded[11]:
    • One in 12 Americans suffer from asthma[12]
    • In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease [13]
    • Newborn babies have more than 200 synthetic chemicals in their blood, 75 of which are known to cause mutations and cancers. [14]
    • Sperm counts have declined by 50% to 60% in the last 40 years in America and other Western countries.[15]

It is critical to seek and support people in office at all levels who support the following positions:

  1. To protect, restore and preserve for future generations the fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and biodiversity of species of Pennsylvania, the United States and the world.
  2. To promote urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas honoring the cultural heritage of all our communities
  3. To support investment in renewable energy systems and regenerative agriculture and train workers to pursue careers in these fields.
  4. To oppose destructive practices such as slick water hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, destructive coal mining practices, and wanton pollution of water, air and land.
  5. To promote non-toxic manufacturing with an economy designed to reclaim and reuse materials, such as recycling of glass, plastic, paper and metals, and to limit or eliminate single-use plastics.
  6. To promote policies based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any discrimination or bias.

Only with the joined voices of all people who care about the future, about our children, and about the quality of life for all living things can we overcome the culture of greed that has evolved in America. The only value that matters in the current decision-making process is the dollar, the short-term economic benefit to interests vested in the existing political power structure. It is time to reassert the values of social equity, care and concern for the elderly, ill, weak and the children of our country. Many people in past generations — especially unionized workers — have fought for the protections put into place over the past 100 years. Their efforts changed the laws to protect worker health and safety, cleaned up the air and the water, established wage and labor protections so that life expectancy increased, worker safety and health become a priority, and broadly shared prosperity was accomplished alongside of real progress in cleaning up the environment. Those successful battles also made it possible for people to enjoy our national and state parks, not only because these areas were protected but also because of the negotiated rights of workers to have time away from work available for themselves and their families.  [16]

Everyone alive today has received the legacy of the struggles of the activists who came before us. What has been so hard won with blood, sweat and tears can be lost through indifference, and complacency. It is time to reclaim and rebuild a public education system that prepares all Americans to respond to a changing future. It is time to have healthy people and a healthy environment as a right for everyone. It is time to reclaim America as a land of hope, empowerment and caring communities instead of a place of ignorance, deprivation and fear.

We must each stand up for what is true and right, with courage, determination and passion. It is not enough to grumble to each other, to wring our hands and complain. It is time to act boldly. We do not want to see hard-won environmental protections rolled back to 1985, or worse. We do not want to see worker and child labor laws weakened or rescinded. We do not want to have education become a privilege of the elite. We do not want toxic emissions to air, water and land to become even more pervasive. A true democracy depends absolutely on an informed and engaged citizenry, on freedom of speech and of the press. We must stand up for our America, or we will be inhabitants of a despoiled and tortured land, her wealth squandered, her beauty plundered, her heart broken. To accept tyranny in silence is to become compliant in the slow murder of our culture.

I will fight for clean air, fresh water, fertile lands, and to preserve the beauty and wonderful intricacy of Nature to my last breath. Join me, for now, and for the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate we shape by our action, or by our silence. Joined voices of the People will prevail over tyranny and greed.

Blessed Be

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Citations

[1]Rachel L. Carson.Silent Spring. (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,1962) 6.

[2] White House, Briefings and Statements. Energy and Environment Archive. 2017-2018 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/?issue_filter=energy-environment

[3]Juliana vs. The United States. Constitutional Climate Lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District Court of Oregon. 2015.  https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/

[4] Grant Crawford. “Tri-Council Passes Resolution supporting Standing Rock Sioux.” Talequah Daily Press. May 1, 2017. http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/news/tri-council-passes-resolution-supporting-standing-rock-sioux/article_89c0d220-2e88-11e7-9633-17825b450097.html

[5]Daniel Walmer. “PA Senator wants protestors to cover costs if they break the law.”  Lebanon Daily News. August 26, 2017. https://www.ldnews.com/story/news/local/2017/08/26/pa-senator-wants-protesters-cover-costs-if-they-break-law/601452001/

American Legislative Exchange Council. “Model Policy: Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” https://www.alec.org/model-policy/critical-infrastructure-protection-act/(Under consideration in nine states, including Pennsylvania.)

[6]Portions of this statement were developed in collaboration with Mike Stout, Anita Prizio, Jay Ting Walker, Cole McDonald, with input from Jules Lobel and Mark Dixon as part of a proposed Platform for the Community Power Movement.  See www.xxxxxfor details and more information.

[7]Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27.

[8]World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Cochabamba, Bolivia. April 22, 2010.   https://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/

[9]First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, “Principles of Environmental Justice.” Washington, D.C. October 27-29, 1991. https://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html

[10]Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Plenary 27, Valencia, Spain, November 12-17, 2007, page 36.

[11]Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds.  The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.  http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQXhttps://health2016.globalchange.gov:

[12]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs- Asthma in the United States.” May 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/asthma/index.html

[13]National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute. Cancer Statistics. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[14]Sara Goodman. “Tests find more than 200 chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood.” Scientific American. December 2009.    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/

[15]Hagai Levine Niels Jørgensen Anderson Martino-AndradeJaime Mendiola Dan Weksler-Derri Irina Mindlis Rachel PinottiShanna H SwanTemporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update, Volume 23, Issue 6, 1 November 2017, Pages 646–659, https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmx022

[16]Matthew Mehalik, Executive Director, The Breathe Project contributed to this discussion.


1 Comment

Comments on the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline

 

April 5, 2018

Allegheny County Public Hearing

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Southwest Regional Office
Waterways & Wetlands Program
400 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
RA-EPWW-SWRO@pa.gov 

 

In the Matter of: Shell Pipeline Company, Falcon Ethane Pipeline

JOINT PERMIT APPLICATION FOR PENNSYLVANIA CHAPTER 105 WATER OBSTRUCTION AND ENCROACHMENT PERMIT AND U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SECTION 404 PERMIT (JANUARY 20, 2018)

My name is Patricia M. DeMarco, I reside at 616 Woodside Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.  I am an elected Member of the Borough Council in the Borough of Forest Hills, representing 5,600 citizens.[1] Our community lies in the area affected by air emissions and watershed contamination potential impacts from the Falcon Ethane Pipeline. I speak on behalf of the citizens I am sworn to represent and for the unborn children of the 21st century who will bear the consequences of the decisions made today.

 

I oppose the construction of this pipeline and the entire industrial complex of which it is a critical component. The Falcon Ethane Pipeline system is a 97-mile pipeline network intended to feed the SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Falcon Pipeline will carry more than 107,000 barrels of ethane per day through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to Shell’s Appalachia Petrochemical facility, which would then “crack,” or break apart, ethane molecules to create ethylene and polyethylene for single-use plastic materials at the rate of 1.6 million tons per year. The SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility would be the first step in building a regional petrochemical hub.[2] Piecemeal permitting of the multiple components of this intended petrochemical industry hub prevents the comprehensive impact review of the consequences of converting the forested, rural landscape of western Pennsylvania to an industrial mega-complex. The petrochemical industry is migrating from the storm ravaged Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana and Texas to escape the effects of climate change that their own industrial activities are exacerbating. Western Pennsylvania communities will become part of the sacrifice zone to this endeavor, as has happened in Baton Rouge Louisiana and parts of Houston, Texas.[3][4]

 

The construction of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline should be denied for three reasons: it presents a clear danger to critical ecosystem functions in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it presents a public health hazard; and it contributes to the immoral and unethical destruction of our climate and planetary health. Propagating infrastructure for fossil-derived methane to be burned as fuel, and petrochemicals to be converted into single-use plastic materials accelerates the slow suicide of our civilization.

 

Falcon Ethane Pipeline violates PA Constitutional protection for the environment.

The Pennsylvania Constitution protects the natural resources of the Commonwealth:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.[5]

This Constitutional provision argues explicitly for precaution in protecting natural resources, including their inherent ecosystem functions, for the use of current and future generations.  It is clear from the proposed route of this Falcon Ethane Pipeline that the permanent right of way will assure the clearing of forest lands, the disruption of natural habitat, the exposure of wetlands, streams and rivers to spill hazards and erosion for the imposition of roads and crossings, and the loss of aesthetic and recreational use of lands. The proposed route of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline will require 1, 273 acres of construction space and 650 acres for the permanent right of way. The Shell Pipeline Company has a poor record of spills, from breaks, leaks and operations. An examination of Shell’s operations around the world makes it clear that the company operates with a brazen disregard for the safety of its own workers, the needs of local communities both here in the United States and internationally, and the long-term impact of drilling on the environment.[6]  In the United States, Shell has one of the worst environmental violation records in the industry, illustrated by these few examples. In September 2011, Shell was fined $500,000 for failing to report five toxic releases at the Deer Park refinery in Harris County; the facility is close to two schools and multiple communities; In 2010, two Shell subsidiaries were forced to pay $3.3 million in civil penalties to the government and spend $6 million to install pollution reduction equipment at refineries in Louisiana and Alabama; In addition, four years earlier, the company was fined $6.5 million for more than 50 environmental violations in Riverside, California.[7] This pattern of corporate behavior is unlikely to change in the proposed Pennsylvania operations at Shell petrochemical facilities.

 

Clean fresh water is essential for life- single use plastic from natural gas liquids like ethane is not. Critical environmental and ecosystem functions will be at risk of damage and degradation from the effects of this pipeline and the extensive infrastructure required for the extraction of fossil methane and natural gas liquids such as ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields. Fully implementing this strategy to locate a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania will assure the destruction of the natural landscape, watersheds, and fresh water rivers and streams for decades into the future. Protecting fresh water resources is a critical need to support the habitability and resilience of the Western Pennsylvania region.  The Falcon Ethane Pipeline compromises watersheds, wetlands, streams and rivers that provide the water supply directly for at least 8,500 people, and the 30,000 people who rely on the Ambrige Reservoir, not counting people served by private wells within the affected area.[8]

The Falcon Pipeline will directly intersect 319 streams with 361 additional streams located only 500 ft from construction areas and 174 wetlands with 470 additional wetlands located only 500 ft from construction areas. For the most part, these intersections will use open cuts and dry ditch trenching for the construction process, offering minimum protection from sediment, erosion and the introduction of contaminants.  Horizontal Directional Drilling to give greater protection to sensitive areas was indicated in some planned crossings, including highway crossings, but was not included in the plans for crossing areas that directly affect water reservoirs in the Ambridge and Tappen Reservoirs. No plans for DEP or other regulatory oversight of operations in these sensitive watershed, wetland and stream crossings are included in the Application.

 

The Montour Trail will be crossed by the Falcon Pipeline in nine locations: five by the pipeline itself, three by temporary access roads, and one by a permanent access road.[9] Construction of the pipeline and ongoing right of way maintenance will entail clearing of woods and disruption of scenery and a recreational bike way used by an average of 400,000 people annually. This constitutes a permanent and irreparable harm to a scenic and recreational asset of Pennsylvania.

 

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline will deliver ethane extracted from Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant in Monaca, PA. The anticipated output of this facility is polyethylene plastic, a precursor for single-use plastic packaging, among other plastic products. It is anticipated to use low-cost ethane supplied by shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tons (Mt) of polyethylene a year.[10] Global pollution from plastic waste has reached crisis levels. In 2010, eight million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean from coastal cities and river discharges.[11] With no restrictions for recycling, reclaiming single-use plastic waste, or designing for repurposing and recapturing this material, the net effect of the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical facility, and the ethane pipeline that feeds it, will be to convert fossil raw materials to trash as rapidly as possible to generate profits for the industry.  The costs to the environment in the form of permanent non-biodegradable plastic pollution will endure for generations.

 

Falcon Pipeline contributes to health effects for workers and communities.

The slick water hydraulic fracturing method for extracting fossil natural gas and associated liquids from deep shale deposits was enabled by the National Energy Act of 2005, which gave an exemption for this process from seven federal environmental and public health laws.[12]  Due to such exemptions, the Falcon Ethane Pipeline is not technically required to file for air quality permits under the Clean Air Act. The rapid expansion of the industry has been accompanied by an increasing documentation of public health and worker exposure data. As a result of the rapid growth of this industry, 9.4 million Americans in 39 states live within one mile of fracking facilities. The Fifth Compendium of peer reviewed documentation of health effects from the fracking industry has been compiled by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social responsibility. The major findings of this study based on peer-reviewed health studies are as follows:

By several measures, evidence for fracking-related health problems is emerging across the United States and Canada. Studies of birth outcomes in regions of intensive unconventional oil and gas extraction continue to point to reproductive risks, including low birth weight and preterm births. In Pennsylvania, as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization, and community members experience sleep disturbance, headache, throat irritation, stress/anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, sinus, fatigue, wheezing, and nausea. Drilling and fracking operations are also correlated with increased rates of asthma, elevated motor vehicle fatalities, ambulance runs and emergency room visits, and gonorrhea incidence. Benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies. Animal studies show numerous threats to fertility and reproductive success from exposure to various concentrations of oil and gas chemicals, including at levels representative of those found in drinking water. Two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm at levels to which people can be realistically exposed.[13]

Given that significant public health impact is already evident from the build out of the petrochemical industry based on hydraulic fracturing, the continued expansion of this industry, including the pipelines that connect the fracking sites with petrochemical production, processing and export facilities, is not in the public interest. This industry may be technically operating legally due to a special interest exemption from environmental and health protections, but its continued development will come at a tremendous price in avoidable human suffering.

 

Ethical Arguments against expanding fossil-based petrochemical industry.

Climate change and global pollution from synthetic non-biodegradable materials are the existential crises of our time. In addition to carbon dioxide produced from the direct combustion of fossil methane from Marcellus and Utica shales, the proposed power plant to drive the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility and the millions of diesel-fueled trucks that connect all the parts of this industry contribute to accelerating global warming. Methane leaks from U.S. oil and gas operations were significantly higher than previously estimated, as were U.S. methane emissions overall, which increased by more than 30 percent over a twelve -year period. Most of this excess methane, which is responsible for 30-60 percent of the recent upsurge of global atmospheric methane, represents leaks from U.S. gas and oil operations.[14]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example) There is also the issue of the supremacy of mineral rights over surface rights. This is an ethical issue especially when the surface  rights include essential ecosystem functions such as watersheds, wetlands, forest, prairie grasslands and rivers. In Pennsylvania, where the mineral rights owners are given access to fossil resources even over the objections of surface property owners, the Constitutional protection for natural resources for future generations is ripe for testing in court.

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. Policies that suspend the environmental and health protections to the advantage of the petrochemical, oil and gas industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being impede progress to a more sustainable future.

 

From the beginning, the industry has been touting the production of jobs and a resurgence of manufacturing in the area. As Shell states in its promotion for the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline, “The project will bring new jobs to the area, with up to 1,000 workers at peak of construction and four to six permanent employees when completed.”  [15] The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical project is slated to create approximately 6,000 jobs during the construction phase and a further 600 permanent positions upon completion. However, an investment of the equivalent of the $1.34 trillion anticipated to build out the petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania may preclude more sustainable and long-term opportunities.  Imagine what the re-investment of this amount of capital in long-neglected communities in Pennsylvania could accomplish with investments in renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, and a circular supply chain for products produced by green chemistry processes.  While Pennsylvanians still support natural gas, the level of understanding for the environmental risks of fracking is eroding that support to the extent that 55% of people polled in March of 2018 say the environmental risks of fracking are greater than its economic benefits.[16]

 

It is time to put a stop to this destructive and dangerous build-out of a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania.  It is an investment in a backward-looking industry that forecloses better options for the future.

 

Citations and References:

[1]  This statement represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Mayor of the Borough of Forest Hills or any other Member of the Borough Council.

[2] Ref https://www.fractracker.org/projects/falcon-public-eia/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[3] Ted Genoways. “Port Arthur Texas: An American Sacrifice Zone.” On Earth. August 26, 2013.    http://archive.onearth.org/articles/2013/08/if-built-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-will-end-in-one-toxic-town Accessed April 3, 2018.

[4] Pollution A to Z. Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Louisiana Forum. http://www.pollutionissues.com/Br-Co/Cancer-Alley-Louisiana.html  Aslo see:  Centers for Disease Control. (2002). Cancer Prevention and Control “Cancer Burden Data Fact Sheets, Louisiana.” Atlanta, GA.  Accessed April 3, 2018.

[5] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article I. Declaration of Rights § 27. Natural resources and the public estate. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/00/00.HTM Accessed April 2, 2018.

[6]  Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 3. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[7] Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 5. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[8]  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-hca/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[9] Frack Tracker Alliance. “The Falcon: Routes, Facilities and Easements.” January 27, 2018.  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-routes/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[10]  Hydrocarbons technology. “Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex.”     https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/shell-pennsylvania-petrochemicals-complex/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[11]  J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T.R. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science  13 Feb 2015:Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 Accessed April 3, 2018.

[12] National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptins for hydraulic fracturing from provisions of seven federal environmental laws and their associated implementing regulations: National Environmental Policy Act (1969, 2005); Clean Water Act (1972, 1987, 2005); Safe Drinking Water Act (1974); Clean Air Act (1970, 1977, 1990); Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976); Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (1986); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund)(1980) For further analysis see: Renee Lewis Kosnik. “The Oil and Gas Industry’s Exclusions and Exemptions from Major Environmental Statutes.” Earthworks. 2007.

[13] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) Pages 114-126. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[14] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) (See footnotes 714-716, 724, 733, 734.)

[15] https://www.shell.us/business-customers/shell-pipeline/falcon/about-the-falcon-pipeline.html Accessed April 3, 2018.

[16] Center for Opinion Research, Franklin & Marshall College.  /StateImpact Pennsylvania Poll. March 29, 2018.  https://www.fandm.edu/uploads/files/708725106986767486-f-m-poll-release-march-2018.pdf  Accessed April 4, 2018.


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A Plea for the Rights of the Living Earth

“I pledge myself to preserve and protect America’s fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established and her strength depends.” Rachel Carson [1]

Earth as we have known it faces dramatic and escalating changes wrought by the ignorance and carelessness of human exploitation. In the early days of human civilization, when humans were small tribal bands moving among other predators and omnivores, their impact was kept in balance as part of the ecosystems they occupied. As the population grew and humans added technologies for manipulating and shaping the natural world through large scale agriculture then through roads, cities and industry, the impact has grown to the point where now modern people do not perceive themselves automatically as part of the natural world. This separation from nature combined with a sense of entitlement to exploit, own and use the resources of the Earth for profits has sent the impact of human civilization spinning beyond the threshold of balance of natural systems.

 

Today’s economy rests on using fossil resources- oil, natural gas and coal – for fuel and petrochemical feedstocks. Fossil resource use is manifest in global warming and global pollution, from the accumulation of petrochemical products in the environment and the products of fossil fuel combustion in the atmosphere.[2] Our fossil dependent civilization now faces life or death situations across the planet as the inherent limits of tolerance for living conditions are breached. A quarter of the globe now faces desert conditions from prolonged drought; bleaching of 40% of the world’s coral reefs from ocean acidification and warmer temperatures; melting and collapse of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets; and average global carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million, levels not seen for thousands of years.[3]

 

The governments of all the countries in the world have pledged to address the peril of climate change, except for the United States of America under the Trump Administration. The isolation from our peers and the destructive effect of his policies undermine the natural capital of our nation and amplify the effect of our civilization on climate change and global pollution. Our life support system is under direct attack. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has rescinded or repealed 60 environmental, public health and worker safety protections in the name of eliminating ‘burdensome regulations.”[4] Millions of people now are exposed to risks of water contamination, air pollution, and the destruction of national lands and offshore areas from expanded oil, gas and coal development under relaxed environmental reviews. This is the road to an impoverished and unhealthy nation ruled by a cruel and oblivious elite. This is not the America my immigrant grandparents shed blood, sweat and tears to build.

 

This situation is more tragic because the solutions are all around us, technologies and systems proven to provide the base for a thriving economy abound – renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, green chemistry and a circular supply chain.[5] We are facing a moral and ethical crisis, not a technology challenge. The splintered factions of the environmental and social justice movements must coalesce and stand together to restore a system of checks and balances that contain the rampant greed of unfettered economic exploitation.  Capitalism unbalanced by social and environmental constraints becomes a tyranny, thriving on the exploitation of the natural resources of the Earth and discounting the intrinsic value of all living things, including people. Continuing on this course will end in a planet hurtling through space devoid of the lush regenerative life we have known.

 

The People’s Climate Congress held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth signed by 288 nations and adopted at COP21 in Paris as part of the Paris Climate Accord. The first declaration is “For the right to life and to exist.”[6] The Earth provides everything we need to live and thrive as functions of the interactions among the living systems and mineral structure of the planet.  Robert Costanza and his colleagues have recently updated the twenty- year study of the value of ecosystem services in an article which concludes that the substantial contributions of ecosystem services to the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature should be at the core of the fundamental change needed in economic theory and practice if we are to achieve a societal transformation to a sustainable and desirable future.[7]

We can achieve a sustainable society where economic enterprise is balanced with environmental health and social and cultural values. This goal rests on recognizing the intrinsic value of the life support systems of the living Earth. We have established in law that corporations have the same rights as “persons” under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Contract Clause and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[8] Yet, we do not recognize the components of our living Earth as having intrinsic rights under the law. In a few places in America, this concept of Nature having legal rights is beginning to be challenged in the courts.  First is the lawsuit Juliana et. al. vs. the United States filed by the Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 teenagers in Oregon who claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations. The plaintiffs argue that their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property have been violated. They also argue that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use.[9]

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado is asking a judge to treat the Colorado River as a person rather than property, therefore recognizing its right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve.” It makes the argument that if corporations in the U.S. can be granted the same rights as people, shouldn’t rivers be allowed that status as well? [10]The same issue lies at the heart of the of the Indigenous Peoples challenge to the Keystone XL Pipeline, who argue that the pipeline would endanger the water supply and the river system in the event of a leak. Initially denied pending further environmental studies to evaluate the effects on the watershed and water supply, the Keystone XL Pipeline is now returned to production by Trump actions rescinding the requirement for a more thorough environmental review.[11] The 1,179-pipeline extension was projected to move 830,000 barrels of sands oil per day, and is at the center of this battle over land rights of private U.S. citizens, Native Americans, and the U.S. government in its role as guardian of the public interest.

The most alarming aspect of these lawsuits and many others piling up across the country is that the government is supposed to protect the public interest and the people, not corporations! The perversion of our Constitution to serve multinational corporations with no concern whatsoever for the people of this country, or indeed of ANY country, over the preservation of the public health and welfare is a total perversion of America.  We must take back the true values of America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, or we will perish from this Earth. If corporations are persons, how much more valid is the claim that the rivers, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and estuaries should have the rights of persons? I call for the adoption of the Universal Rights of Mother Earth as a Constitutional Amendment to balance Citizens United.  We will otherwise destroy our life support system in the pursuit of unfettered economic greed.

Written for the Sierra Club Allegheny Group Newsletter. January 21, 2018 Published in Allegheny Sierran, Spring 2018 issue, page 5. http://alleghenysc.org/agv1/wp-content/uploads/sierran_spring_2018.pdf

References

[1] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 43

[2] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[3] NOAA;  https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25026 Accessed January 16, 2018.

[4] Nada Popovitch, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. “60 Environmental Rules on the way out under Trump.” The New York Times. Updated, December 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html Accessed January 20, 2018

[5] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press.

[6] See the preamble and the ten rights of Mother Earth in Patricia DeMarco. 2017. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press.) p. 25-26.)

[7] Robert Costanza, Rudolph deGroot, Leon Braat, Ida Kubeziewski,Lorenzo Fioramonte, Paul Sutton, Steve Farber, Monica Grasso. “ Twenty years of ecosystem services: How far have we come and how far do we still need to go?” Ecosystem Services 28(2017) 1-16. http://www.robertcostanza.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017_J_Costanza-et-al.-20yrs.-EcoServices.pdf Accessed January 15, 2018.  See also my interview with Robert Costanza on The New American Economy Radio https://theunionedge.com/twenty-years-ecosystem-services/

[8] Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling of corporations as persons http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/08-205.html Accessed January 15, 2018.

[9] Juliana et. Al. vs the United States Government. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/ Accessed January 20,2018.

[10] Angela K. Evans. “Rights of Nature Lawsuit Seeks personhood for the Colorado River.” Boulder Weekly. September 28, 2017. http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/rights-nature-lawsuit-seeks-personhood-colorado-river/ Accessed January 19, 2018.

[11] Robert. Diotalev and Susan Burhoe. “Native American Lands and the Keystone Pipeline Expansion: A Legal Analysis.” Indigenous Policy Journal. Vol XXVII, No.2. (Summer 2016)  http://www.indigenouspolicy.org/index.php/ipj/article/viewFile/265/403 accessed January 19, 2018


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Fatal Fracking Frenzy

Fatal Fracking Frenzy

By Patricia M. DeMarco

January 4, 2018

 

“The road we have long been traveling on is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster.”  Rachel Carson.[1]

 

Conceived of greed, promoted with pride, and nourished with worker’s blood, sweat and tears, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil gas reserves has whipped the energy industry into a frenzy. Its backers point with great satisfaction at the results accomplished by eliminating “burdensome regulations.”  This industry could only proceed when the National Energy Act of 2005 opened the “Haliburton Loophole,” granting exemptions for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction from seven federal environmental and worker protection laws.(https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41760.pdf)  Without these exemptions, fracking would be illegal! Now 39 states have some degree of fracking operations producing natural gas at the pace of 80 billion cubic feet per day, 67% from fracking from 300,000 wells.[2]

 

Relatively cheap natural gas is piped across the country mostly for domestic use in homes and displacing coal for utility electricity production.  But the industry targets massive exports in the near future as the infrastructure for transport and shipment to China and other growing markets is complete.[3] When that happens, the domestic prices will go up, and the communities that currently justify the fracking side effects with the need for local use and local jobs will be left with the environmental degradation in water use, land devaluation, and air emissions[4] but the larger profits will accrue to the multinational companies that sell the gas internationally.

 

Fracking also produces hydrocarbon liquids that can be used as precursors for plastics and other petrochemical products.  This is the payload for the industry.  The collection system and infrastructure of new refineries , “ethane cracker” plants, is shifting the locus of the petrochemical industry toward Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia, the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas deposits.[5] The pace of this industry initiative has hastened following the devastating storm damage that lay siege to the Houston and Louisiana coastal installations.  As the industry knows in its strategies, continued sea level rise and the increased storm severity from global warming compromise the viability of these operations long term.  While continuing to deny and obfuscate the reality of climate change, the petrochemical industry prepares to migrate into areas interior from the coasts.

 

Companies like the Edgar Thomson Works of U. S. Steel see fracking as a way to secure a dedicated gas supply in the face of likely price increases and restrictions.[6] A community such as Braddock, left devastated by the loss of industries, looks hopefully to this new avenue for employment and economic development.  But, the hidden costs loom unrecognized, lurking to bring on lower birth weights in babies, higher incidents of asthma, water contamination, and increased pollution from diesel trucks and spills.[7] Without strict controls and oversight, the short- term promise of jobs, both those preserved in the existing Edgar Thomson operations and those emergent in the new fracking industry, comes at the price of a community locked into a sacrifice zone.[8]

 

Ultimately, the fracking frenzy unleashed by Dick Chaney and his colleagues through the Haliburton Loophole accelerates the fatal outcome of our fossil dependence. Investments in the infrastructure of the fossil gas extraction and enhanced oil recovery and “clean coal” technologies divert resources from implementing renewable energy systems on a large scale nationwide.  Every new data point indicates greater levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greater acidification of the oceans and greater contamination from petrochemical products- plastics – worldwide.[9]  Rather than curtailing these destructive initiatives, we plunge forward heedless of the signals of danger ahead, danger already upon us, and catastrophe for humanity as a certain end.

 

The proposed fracking operation at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works is the exact cutting edge of the transition. The 600 workers in the Edgar Thomson mill one of the last steel mills operating from the heyday of Pittsburgh Industry, see cheap gas as a lifeline to preserving their jobs. The company argues that gas is cleaner than coal and provides revenue from potential sale of produced liquids that can become feedstock for the plastics petrochemical industry. Mayor Fetterman is looking at the immediate tax revenues and retention of jobs for 600 working families, and minimizes the risks that he bets will play out long range, if at all.[10]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as steel mills fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example)

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. People demanding accountability for policies that suspend the rules to the advantage of certain industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being can make a difference in the outcome.  Communities demanding full disclosure and hearings before permits are issued can make a difference in seeing that environmental and health standards are preserved. Community meetings to placate “unduly concerned” citizens after deals are struck in the back room have no place in a true representative democracy.

 

If our elected officials do not stand for the health and well-being of the community, we who care must stand up and be heard.  The Allegheny County Health Department must be petitioned to enforce air emission standards of existing sources, without exception. If the government no longer protects the people, we must protect ourselves.

~~~~

 

 

References and Resources

[1] Rachel L. Carson. Silent Spring. 1962. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.  p.277

[2]  Energy Information Administration. Energy Today “Hydraulically fractured wells provide two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production” May 5, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26112  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[3] Shelly Goldberg. “Natural gas exports can solve U.S. energy glut.” Bloomberg Business News. May 2017.   https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-05/natural-gas-exports-can-solve-u-s-energy-glut Accessed January 3, 2018.  See EIA article on planned pipelines here https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28872

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States (Final Report) December 2016. EPA-600-R-16-236ES. December 2016. https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[5] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Wrong Way- A Call for A New American Dream.” Blog post January 8, 2017. On subject of plastics pollution and production from fracking.  See citations and references for primary resources. https://patriciademarco.com/2017/01/08/wrong-way-a-call-for-a-new-american-dream/

[6] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142

[7] Patricia DeMarco. “Fracking Health Effects and Worker Safety.” Battle of Homestead Foundation presentation. August 25, 2016. (See citations for primary sources.)  https://patriciademarco.com/fracking-health-effects-worker-safety

[8] Reid Frazier. “U.S.Steel agrees to allow fracking at Edgar Thomson Mill.” NPR State Impact. December 27, 2017.   https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/12/27/us-steel-agrees-to-allow-fracking-at-steel-mill/ Accessed January 2, 2018.

[9] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[10] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142


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AESS Wlliam Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance- Moving from Awareness to Action

 

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Meeting, Tuscon, AZ, June 23, 2017

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. Visiting Researcher and Writer, Carnegie Mellon University, Senior Scholar at Chatham University and Council Member of Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020 was given the 2017  William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award.

Moving from Awareness to Action

It is with great humility and gratitude that I accept this award made in honor of AESS founder William Freudenburg. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him, but in looking at his work, I recognize a kindred spirit in the battle to connect the systems thinking of ecology and the problems of society.

 

Receiving this award has surprised me because mine has not been a traditional academic career. Indeed, a promising beginning in the early days of molecular genetics was derailed when I stepped off the tenure track for four years to have two children in close succession. Then I found out that there was no way to go back. Receiving a doctorate in biology prepared a person to expect a career in research and teaching where merit is determined by the number of peer-reviewed publications, the size of research grants received and the number and prestige of graduate students mentored. All of that was suddenly closed to me. I was supposed to become a nice doctor’s wife doing good works and keeping a place in society. Right! I was looking through the newspaper for jobs and came across a small advertisement in the Hartford Courant: ”Vacuuming- $3,000 per hour” from Northeast Utilities. It turned out to be a call for people to be trained to vacuum up radioactive spills at Millstone power plant, and I was deemed unqualified. So I sent a neighbor’s 20 year-old son to collect all the paperwork and SIGN NOTHING, and I took the whole thing up to the Connecticut Legislature Energy and Commerce Committee and asked for an investigation. As a newly minted Ph.D. in genetics, I held my own with the Northeast Utilities lawyers, and legislation was passed for nuclear power plant workers protection.

William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award

I finally found my place in society: as a translator between lawyers, engineers and economists; as a citizens voice for policy to protect workers and communities; as a policy analyst bringing science to weigh on energy, environmental, and social justice actions. The skills acquired through a thorough liberal arts education and the discipline of achieving a doctorate, post-doctoral research position and fellowship in biology turned out to be transferable to a wide array of non-academic pursuits. I struggled throughout my career to maintain connections to the academic world I love.

If I have been successful in these endeavors at all, it is because of the roots of my training. First, I inherited my Father’s poet heart and understanding of the power of well-chosen words; from my Mother, the spirit of rebellion to stand for those without voice and the value of organizing. Most critically, I was raised in an environment that encouraged curiosity and discovery under the tutelage of my wise Nona whose lessons in patience, generosity and compassion crossed generations. Hers was the lesson that sustained my course when roadblocks loomed: “The men may rule, but women govern,” she told me. I watched how all the major decisions of the family took place over the dinner table on Sundays, my Pop decreed, but my Nona guided the discussion that shaped his pronouncement.

I want to comment for a moment on the importance of role models and the inspiration for young women to enter sciences as a lifelong pursuit. The role models of my life were first Rachel Carson whose book Silent Spring I received as a high school graduation present. I had read The Sea Around Us years before when traveling by ship from Brazil to New York. Her words resonated so deeply because we had often lived by the sea as my Father’s job in the diplomatic service took him around the world. As I graduated from high school, Rachel Carson’s success flickered in my mind as a beacon. Second, I was inspired by Eleanore Roosevelt. I had met her briefly as a seventh grade student when my Father took me to hear her speak at the University of Pittsburgh. Later in my time of despair after losing my academic path, I took heart from her courage in speaking out to the world. Her biography moved me to develop my own voice as a speaker and as a public figure. Finally, Connecticut Governor Ella Tambussi Grasso showed me the tough, hard edge of public policy. As one of her technical staff in the Office of Policy and Management, I learned the importance of listening to the voices of the people. She liked to hold “public hearings” on the call-in radio talk shows, to the great consternation of the lawyers: “but Your Honor, this will not be on the record!” to which she replied “How do I know what matters “on the record” if I don’t know what the people think?” She sent me to the National Governors Association deliberations on the low level nuclear waste compact with her staff attorney and in sending me off she said, “Being female is a fact of life. What you do with it is up to you. Cut your hair, get out of those high heels, buy a red suit, and get a briefcase. And be sure you ask the toughest questions in a loud strong voice.”

In receiving this award I have puzzled over my connection to the academic world. While Will Freudenburg made great efforts from within academe to reach into society, my problem has been the reverse. I have been immersed in society, bringing academic training to the problems encountered, and have had to reach into the academic world to remain connected. Of the many colleagues I have worked with over the years, Dave Hassenzahl while Dean at Chatham University and Terry Collins, the Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University have helped me in bridging this divide. Mark Collins at the University of Pittsburgh gave me an adjunct teaching position for a course on directed study in science, ethics and public policy, which became the basis for my book.

The situation of the world today has never needed more advocates and systems thinkers to address the confluence of problems humanity has wrought upon itself and upon the whole living Earth. I believe that we who study ecosystems and sustainability have a unique capacity to shape a new direction toward solutions.

In a world wildly out of balance from the ideal of sustainability where environment, economics and culture are mutually supportive, the economic parameters dominate all else. The problems of our time derived from human enterprise – global warming and global pollution with synthetic materials – are not technology problems, for many of the solutions are well known and within reach. We are facing an ethics problem.

I would like to share a paragraph from the opening chapter of my book, Pathways to Our Sustainable Future -A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh:

“The complex interconnections among living things form Earth’s life support system, necessary for all of today’s creatures and for future generations – fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the interconnected web of life. The challenges of climate change and chemical contamination present a call to preserve the living Earth. It is a call to temper the prowess of technology with wisdom and precaution to protect Earth’s living systems. It is a plea for justice for those who will be most acutely affected, the non-humans and the unborn whose voices are not included in the debate, and those who are disproportionately vulnerable. It is a plea for accountability in the way people have used the natural resources of the earth for short-term benefits. It is a plea for life to exist.”

It is time for us in the sustainability profession to move from awareness to action. Our path cannot remain within the academy, safe in the halls of universities and colleges. Communicating important findings about the state of the living systems of the Earth must reach beyond the peer-reviewed journals that are the currency of the academic realm. In a political atmosphere charged with “fake news” the line between reality and fiction has blurred. But the laws of Nature are not negotiable. Chemistry, physics and biology will prevail regardless of political declarations or legislated stupidity.

We as scientists have a tremendous task to bring facts to the front of the discussion, to engage the conversation not only in the classroom but also in the living rooms where families gather, in the churches and social gatherings, in the union halls, in the neighborhoods where people talk to each other. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it is not discussed. We need to break it down so it is less intimidating. We can begin to understand how to preserve the gifts of this living Earth for another generation.

There are four ways to move from awareness to action effectively.

  1. Set an example, and talk about it. We are facing global challenges of climate change and pollution, so people think their own efforts are too insignificant to matter. It all matters. Every plastic bottle dropped on the street can end up in the great plastic gyres of the oceans. Use your own non-plastic bags, and give the little homily to the vendor. Decline the BPA laced receipt, and ask the vendor to wear gloves to protect their own exposure. You can imagine millions of ways to do this. Street theater works! Make it OK for successful white guys in business suits to bring a recyclable bag to the store. When building new campus or municipal facilities, use a net zero energy design and include citizen information in the lobby. Inspired by the Phipps Conservatory Living Building and the Chatham University Eden Hall Campus, my town of Forest Hills Borough is building a net zero energy municipal building. So far, four other communities have come to us asking for ideas.
  2. Build common ground. The Yale Climate project described six Americas response to climate change and environmental issues. But in spite of differences in attitude and perception of risks, all people share a need for fresh water, oxygen rich air, and access to safe and nourishing food. All have a care for their children’s future at some level. Find ways to reach across the dividing gulf of political ideology and reach common concerns. My colleague Kirsi Jansa, a film maker and journalist from Finland, has developed 12 Sustainability Pioneers episodes as 10 to 12 minute videos. We combined our efforts into a five-session course called “Sustainability Pioneers-Climate Conversations” given as an adult education class in the OSHER Life Long Learning Institute at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Each session has a short discussion of facts, followed by a video then a class exercise where the participants did role modeling. And we sent them off to practice and report back how the conversations went. By the end of five sessions, nearly every student had some success in having a climate conversation as part of a daily routine. You can find the Sustainability Pioneers videos and the class for free on my web site https://patriciademarco.com/sustainability-pioneers-community-conversations-class/ or on Kirsi’s web site sustainabilitypioneers.com
  3. Reach out to those who are not at the table. The environmental NGOs are mostly headed by white men, and the environment movement in general has been characterized as the domain of left-leaning, spoiled, white, rich people, mired in 1970s thinking. But all around us, the environmental justice issues and the social justice issues involve much broader communities. The people affected by a shift from fossil based energy and commodity production hold a disdain for “tree huggers” and “snail lovers.” The “Shoot, shovel and shut up” approach to endangered species is alive and thriving. This divide was never clearer to me than at the demonstrations around the EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan in Pittsburgh. 3,500 United Mine Workers sent off by Governor Corbett flooded the street in waves with uniform T-shirts and pre-printed signs chanting in cadence with a sound truck. Clustered on one corner of Grant and Sixth, were a motley gathering of about 300 environmental activists, mothers with toddlers in strollers, Buddhists giving out free ice cream, and Mayor Peduto urging a view to the future. I stood on the coal miner’s corner with my friend, labor historian Charlie McCollester who held a sign that said, “When Blue collar workers fight clean earth health we are all doomed.” Following that dramatic day, I sat down with Charlie, and we discerned together that what the miners are protesting is not against the environment, because they are indeed the most viciously affected victims of the effects of mountaintop removal mining. They are protesting out of fear for their future. What becomes of their pensions when no more coal miners pay into the system? How will they support their families? What will become of them when they get sick, as they inevitably will from being in the mines? We hatched a plan to help working people visualize what a transition can look like to a more sustainable future with a radio program called “Just Transitions- Labor, Environment and Health.” On the Union Edge- Labor’s Talk Radio Station twice a month I bring guests to talk about how communities are making transitions, about environmental and health issues, like reducing exposure of workers to BPA in the workplace, or fracking fluid contamination. After a year of this, we kept running out of time in the 30 minute format, and I wanted to take on more complex issues that would help people visualize what a sustainable future would look like. So, we launched The New American Economy program, which airs every Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:00 Pm EST. Here we talk about emerging issues in energy, food and water, manufacturing and supply chain and transportation. You can find both programs attheunionedge.com We reach 300,000 people a week in 33 cities and have 15,000 to 20,000 podcast downloads a month. If you want to carry the program on your campus radio, or if you have something exciting you would like to share with a working families audience, let me know. Union working people, coal miners, farmers, beauty shop operators, store keepers are highly unlikely to come to a class, presentation or lecture about climate change, environmental health or endangered species. But, they listen to the radio, they send questions, and they talk about it later.
  4. Engage with the community you are in. Ultimately, all of politics is local. Whether large cities like Pittsburgh or small boroughs like Forest Hills, communities need the expertise and engagement of the sustainability academic community. There are many ways to be involved and make a difference. Go to your local governing council meeting and find out what issues they are coping with. It is mostly mundane stuff- police contracts, fire service, swimming pool management, garbage. But some issues are really important- storm water management and meeting health and safety standards, establishing an environmental review for new developments, how pest control is managed, how transportation access and recreational open space are managed, strategic plans for land use, education of children. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get involved yourself and empower your students with the tools to participate in the public policy process. Take them to a public hearing; teach them about stakeholders and power brokers. Consider running for office yourself.

Know that public policy management is not the same as business management. The public interest goes beyond economic profit. Governing in the public interest must reach the wellness of the community, the collective well-being of people living together in a community of care. Governing in the public interest preserves and maintains the robust functions of the ecosystem that hosts the community. It attends to the needs of the youngest, the oldest and the most needy of the community and preserves fairness and justice but with compassion and kindness to neighbors we see every day and know. It must look to the future and anticipate the needs of those yet unborn whose lives are affected by decisions made today.

We as Americans still think of ourselves as the defenders of “Freedom,” but freedom is not free. Freedom without responsibility yields chaos. And Freedom without accountability yields tyranny. I will close with Rachel Carson’s admonishment to the Garden Club of America: “We must be very clear about what our cause is. What do we oppose? What do we stand for?” Those of us who know have the obligation to speak. Those of us who know have the obligation to lead. Thank you.

 


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Wrong Way! A Call for a New American Dream

Wrong Way! A Call for A New American Dream

January 6, 2017

by Patricia M. DeMarco

The proposed Shell Chemical Appalachia Plant to produce polyethylene plastic pellets from Marcellus and Utica shale gas in Potter Township, Beaver County PA, highlights two of the most important issues of our time: human-induced climate change and global pollution from man-made chemicals. In our lifetime, these existential crises threaten the survival of life, as we know it. But even as the data indicate ever more serious manifestations of these two challenges, the United States is retrenching around fossil-based industries. Each decision we make about how we use and develop resources reaches far into the future with implications for hundreds of years beyond our own time. The direction a society takes rarely changes with a single decision. Rather, an accumulation of decisions taken at the local, state and national levels create a body of accumulated positions embedded in law and precedent. Changing direction in the face of such a policy construct requires a new vision and a deliberate revision of the policy infrastructure.

Scientists and observers worldwide document increasingly dire events, with accompanying predictions of inevitable disaster from climate change and global pollution:

  • Average global temperatures rising and average carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million;
  • Collapse of the Antarctic ice sheets;
  • shrinking of the arctic polar sea ice;
  • inundation of sea level islands and coastal communities,
  • widespread bleaching of sea corals and coral reef communities;
  • erratic and severe weather patterns producing extreme storm events;
  • prolonged droughts and advance of deserts;
  • slowing of the ocean currents;
  • loss of biodiversity and increasing rates of extinction of species worldwide.[1]

These documented facts describe the increasingly unhealthy condition of the living planet Earth. The complexity of living systems, refined over millions of years of evolution, complicate the process of making rapid, effective policy responses even in the face of such dire facts.

The socio-political processes themselves have a complexity vested in laws that run counter to the laws of chemistry, physics and biology that operate living ecosystems. To examine how these intersecting processes can be changed, it is instructive to look at decisions made around a specific project, the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical Project. The underpinnings of the modern petrochemical/energy industry trace all the way back to the initial colonization and development of America. Federal lands granted for mining, logging and ranching grounded the American continental dominance from coast to coast. Many of the entitlements and land use practices established in the laws of the 1800s remain in effect as $20.5 billion annual fossil industry subsidies today.[2]

The advance of hydraulic fracturing to develop and extract fossil methane and associated liquids from deep in the Earth has attracted chemical industry interest as a relatively inexpensive domestic feedstock. The National Energy Act of 2005 abatement of seven federal environmental and public health protections(the Halliburton Loophole)  to expedite hydraulic fracturing for fossil gas and oil bears fruit in a new petrochemical industry in 39 states, including western Pennsylvania. The shale gas supply development has been shifting investment in refineries and production facilities away from traditional locations on the coasts – Galveston and Houston Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Patterson, New Jersey. All of these locations have centered their chemical industries on petroleum refining from domestic and imported feedstock. They are characterized by the flares and emission plumes of noxious materials, with environmental and health consequences that affect the surrounding communities. The $377 billion valued industry does not count the expense of health problems of workers and communities or degraded environmental conditions among the costs.[3] The profits accrue to the industry; the costs, estimated at $238 million annually, fall on the people, communities and taxpayers.[4] This industry advance was the direct result of the Halliburton Loophole, engineered into the National Energy Act of 2005 by Vice President Chaney, former CEO of Halliburton, the manufacturer of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. This is evidence of what happens when high powered government officials are vested in private corporate interests. The public interest was swept aside.

Attracted by proximity to relatively inexpensive domestic wet gas feed stocks from Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits, augmented by $1.65 Billion in subsidies and incentives from the State of Pennsylvania, Royal Dutch Shell bought the former Horsehhead Zinc facility and is planning to build a new petrochemical processing complex to make polypropylene.[5] The facility will consist of an ethylene manufacturing process, three polyethylene manufacturing lines, three natural gas-fired combustion turbines, and various auxiliary and support equipment. The Shell Appalachian Plant in Potter Township will emit 2,248,293 tons per year of carbon dioxide and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene per year. Shell claims 2,000 construction jobs and about 600 permanent jobs associated with the plant. Their permit applications are carefully crafted to ride within the allowable provisions of complex regulatory requirements, trading future emissions against past permits of closed plants. Concerns about climate change, community health and environmental degradation fall “outside the scope of these proceedings.”[6] This plant may be within the law, but it is ethically and morally wrong.

The socio-political system of laws and regulations is not constructed to consider existential challenges! This plant will come into full production capacity in 2020, when targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to control global warming and climate change call for steep reductions in CO2 from industrial operations.[7] In addition, polyethylene is a precursor for the manufacture of plastic disposable containers, products like plastic dishware, plastic bags and other single-use commodities. Over 90% of this material will end up in landfill or in the oceans. In effect, fossil deposits of methane from deep underground are extracted, under an exemption from seven federal environmental and worker protections, to be heated and cracked into elements to make plastics manufactured into single-use materials that will end up discarded into landfills or washed into the ocean. In any but strict short-term economic criteria, this is a losing value proposition. This process causes degradation to the environment, quality of life and health of surrounding communities, and poses a threat to the well-being of children, elderly, and sensitive populations across a broad region. The effects of this action will manifest over hundreds of years adding to the cumulative destruction of the living Earth.

The justification is “JOBS!” In a region afflicted with loss of traditional industries, there has been no re-investment policy, no social safety net to help communities adjust, rebuild and regenerate around more sustainable pursuits to support the economy. Beginning with the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the press toward a single metric for evaluating the effect of government has driven policies more and more toward eliminating environmental protections and social services, defined as “wasteful” or harmful to business. The concept of the role of government being limited to defense and keeping the peace while leaving business to run at will has taken over the value system of America. The result has been a widening division in society with wealth concentrated in a shrinking top tier and the middle class shrinking into debt and despair.

The American values of social equity, and public trust for the management of the nations resources have shrunk in the face of the onslaught by corporate dominance of government. The Citizens United ruling granting the rights of “persons” to corporations accelerated the trend toward governance for the sake of corporate interests. It may have once been true that what was good for business was good for America, but in modern times of multinational corporate dominance, what is good for companies like EXXON may certainly harm the average citizen. Citizens and Corporate Persons are not a congruent population. Corporations do not feel hunger, sorrow, or pain. They do not breathe or bleed. A government dominated by corporate interests has no soul. Rulings from such a body will focus on the immediate economic gains, even if they sacrifice the workers, the community and the future.

A policy direction that fully embraces the serious global issues we face as Americans and as the human race can reaffirm essential social and environmental protections without sacrificing a sound economy.[8] Policies and the infrastructure of laws and regulations to shift direction to a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable society can recapture the full greatness of America. The window of time for action is narrow and closing. But with determination and a shared vision of success, a shift to a society based on renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture and green chemistry production in a circular materials management system can flourish. This is the New American Dream.

References and Sources

[1] Ralph J. Cicerone and Sir Paul Nurse (Eds.) Climate Change: Evidence and Causes. (National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society. Washington D.C., 2017) https://www.nap.edu/catalog/18730/climate-change-evidence-and-causes

[2] Elizabeth Bast, Alex Doukas, Sam Pickard, Laurie van der Burg and Shelagh Whitley. “Empty Promises: G-20 Subsidies to oil gas and coal production.” Oil Change International, November 2015. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/11/Empty-promises_main-report.2015.pdf

[3] Statista. Facts on the Chemical Industry in the United States. 2015. https://www.statista.com/topics/1526/chemical-industry-in-the-us/ Accessed January 5, 2016.

[4] Physicians for Social Responsibility. Cancer and Toxic Chemicals.         http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/confronting-toxics/cancer-and-toxic-chemicals.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ Accessed January 5, 2016.

[5] Tim Schooley. “”Pennsylvania’s Biggest Corporate Subsidies.” Pittsburgh Business Times. March 14, 2014. http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2014/03/14/pennsylvanias-most-subsidized-companies.html Accessed January 5, 2016.

[6] Mark R. Gorog, Regional Manager, Air Quality Program. “Comment and Response Document RE: Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Petrochemicals Complex and Polyethylene Manufacturing, Air Quality Permit” File PA -04-00740A. June 18, 2015. Page 36.

[7] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement. December 15, 2015. http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php Accessed January 5, 2017.

[8] For concise analysis of the green jobs economy see the following reports, among many others.   https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/sustainable-employment-green-us/   and https://thinkprogress.org/bureau-of-labor-statistics-reports-3-1-million-u-s-green-jobs-top-5-takeaways-83ddaa3dfb54#.ladqohajd


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Gratitude for First Nations- A Call to Action for the Standing Rock Sioux

As most of America sits down to a “traditional Thanksgiving Dinner” on Thursday, the Standing Rock Sioux people will be holding ground between the Dakota Access Pipeline construction equipment and the shores of Lake Oahe, a part of the Missouri River that serves as the only water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation about a half mile away. The Missouri River is the longest River in America, and serves over 160 million people for domestic, commercial and agricultural water supplies.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to carry 450,000 gallons of crude oil per day from the Baaken Shale Oil fields to a refinery in Illinois. It has been under protest from the Standing Rock Sioux since April because of failure for the developers or any governmental agency to confer with the Tribe, as required by treaties established over a hundred years; and because of concerns over the potential for oil spill contamination of the water supply.

The Standing Rock Sioux have petitioned for an injunction to halt construction , and President Obama has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to re-examine the issues they have raised, suggesting that the pipeline may be re-routed to avoid the intrusion into Tribal areas. However, while deliberations are pending, construction has continued, and is now within less than a mile of the River. The protests and demonstrations have continued, attracting Police and Marshalls from the Morton County Sheriff ‘s Office. Suppression actions have proceeded in a most inhumane, brutal and unconscionable manner. As the Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by First Nations from around the country, numerous violations of human rights, constitutional rights and basic decency have occurred.

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The Standing Rock Sioux position was explained by artist and tribal member Johnny Coe speaking to a gathering at Maren’s Sustainability Salon on November 12, 2016. “Our People are the Water Protectors. This has been the center of our culture for many generations. We stand between the construction equipment and the waters that give us life to prevent this danger.” He explained that the protection of a significant watershed from crude oil spillage from a 30 inch pipe intruding under the river speaks not only for the inhabitants of the Reservation but also for the life of the River itself, and the people who rely on its fresh water for miles downstream. “Crude oil and fresh water do not mix. The life giving waters must be protected from this Black Snake” (Sioux legend interpreted as oil pipelines)

The concerns are well-founded. The Energy Transfer Partners constructing the pipeline will turn over operations to Sunoco. “Sunoco Logistics (SXL.N), the future operator of the oil pipeline delayed this month after Native American protests in North Dakota, spills crude more often than any of its competitors with more than 200 leaks since 2010, according to a Reuters analysis of government data.” (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pipeline-nativeamericans-safety-i-idUSKCN11T1UW)

In addition, the same issues that supported the denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico pertain to this project. The rapid deployment of oil and building more permanent infrastructure to exploit it contributes to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The Army Corps of Engineers has taken this position: “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property.”

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/11/15/headlines/army_delays_issuing_permit_for_dakota_access_pipeline_ahead_of_global_day_of_action

The pipeline is nearly complete, awaiting only this final Army Corps of Engineers Permit. In the meantime, the Morton County Sheriff Officers continue to suppress the protest.

A Call for Action in Support of the Standing Rock Sioux:

The most concerning aspect of this situation is the blatant violation of First Amendment rights of free speech. Protest on behalf of strongly held beliefs, especially those supported by legitimate claims for legal action, should not be suppressed by police action. The people have the right to protest, on their own land, to defend their water supply. Journalists attempting to report on the protests have been jailed. The mainstream media has been silent on this issue. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/north-dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protests-explainer )

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Second, the level of brutality evident in the actions of the Morton County Sheriff’s officers, in full military gear, with water cannons, percussion grenades, rubber bullets fired point blank into people’s faces is unjustified, immoral, and hateful. Spraying high pressure water cannon on people in 29 degree weather is mass torture. (“Father of injured pipeline protester says she may lose arm” Blake Nicholson and Amy Forliti, Associated Press, November 21, 2016. )

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Third, the Standing Rock Sioux are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the river from a potentially dangerous installation. They are standing in principle against the injustice of placing corporate profits and convenience over the public interest in having secure fresh water supplies. This is an environmental justice issue perpetrated over centuries of abuse of First Nations’ rights.

This is an existential battle, not only for the Standing Rock Sioux but for all people. The hydraulic fracturing that has released the Baaken Shale oil is operating under the exemption of seven federal laws designed to protect the air, water and health of the public and workers. This exemption granted in the National Energy Act of 2005 opens all of America to the permanent degradation of the environment. Oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected web of life are our life support system. Laws designed to limit and prevent the destruction of our common needs must be resisted and replaced with protections in the public interest.

As we face a political power shift that favors even less regulatory protection for air, water and land, we must each decide where we will make our stand. I urge your support of the Standing Rock Sioux. They hear the screams of Mother Earth and choose to stand as Water Protectors. Join their call for survival, for compassion and for respect to our common Mother Earth.

Speak out to stop the violence while the courts plod slowly through their deliberations.

Call the Morton County Sheriff’s office number: 
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330 

 

Call the Department of Justice and demand they investigate and charge the Morton County Sheriff’s Department for these life-threatening attacks on peaceful unarmed protectors immediately!

Department of Justice phone numbers:
Main: 202-514-2000, press 0. (This one has been hard to get through.)
Department Comment Line: 202-353-1555

 

Additional Resources:

Sam Levin. “Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests” The Guardian. November 3, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/north-dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protests-explainer

Kevin Enochs. “The Real Story: The Dakota Access Pipeline” Silicon Valley and Technology. October 26, 2016. http://www.voanews.com/a/dakota-access-pipeline/3563592.html