The senate is now ruled by the Republican, climate-denying majority, the controversial and climate-damning Keystone XL Pipeline is probably gonna be approved, fracking for shale gas is going to become more popular than Taylor Swift on mainstream radio, and Pennsylvania will soon be entirely industrialized. With a beginning sentence like that, it’s hard not to reach for the bottle, drink until thoroughly intoxicated, and proceed to cry whilst binge-watching Gilmore Girls. But just in case you’re only halfway through the doomsday scenario the environmentalists have been talking about ever since the Lorax popped out of that Truffula trunk, let’s unpack that a bit more and discuss what these things mean for Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world’s climate as a whole.
The Keystone XL has been opposed by environmentalists since 2011, when over 1,000 people—including movement celebrities Bill McKibben and Sierra Club’s Michael Brune—were arrested protesting at the White House. And that was only the first time. Since then, dozens of rallies have occurred around the Keystone XL, including one called XL Dissent in which myself and over 390 college students bound ourselves to the White House fence back in March. Despite these demands, President Obama has yet to make a decision regarding the pipeline and has pushed back the decision date (I believe) four or five times, as if it were a wedding or a concert that his ex-girlfriend invited him to or something, and not “game over for the climate,” as climatologist James Hansen has said. But why listen to him, right? He only invented the idea of climate change, no big deal.
With all these arrests happening, organizations like Bold Nebraska, Idle No More, and Tar Sands Blockade have been sending people to get arrested protesting this thing in swathes. It seems like every day I have a new email telling me donate to a jail fund for one of these organizations. One particular trial to watch out for is that of Alec “Climate Hawk” Johnson. Now, it’s hard to mention the Keystone XL Pipeline without mentioning what it means for frontline communities and wildlife.
In addition to those organizations and the non-violent civil disobedience arrests they are continuing to support, it’s important to talk about frontline communities and wildlife. For example, here are some before and after aerial photos of the tar sands mines in Alberta. Such grand expansions fragment habitats and lead to massive amounts of air and water pollution, damaging the health of the surrounding communities, animals and humans, alike. Many of these health claims and risks are similar to what is happening on the front lines of fracking in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania along the Marcellus Shale.
Recently Tom Wolf made history by becoming the first governor to defeat a seated governor in a re-election bid. For those of you who think Wolf is better than Corbett, I want to point out that during his election speech, Wolf mentioned we need to take advantage of coal as well as natural gas to keep Pennsylvania going—nowhere in his speech did he mention climate change or even any sort of need for renewables.
I’m not sure whether Wolf saw the headlines the Rockefeller oil barons made when they said they themselves were divesting from fossil fuels because it was a poor investment (citing a changing climate, among other things), but maybe he just misunderstood the urgency of the issue. In fact, I’m sure of it. With the price of crude oil—the real reason we’re extracting natural gas so frantically—dropping, it makes no sense to perpetuate our economies with a dying and, quite literally, prehistoric, fuel source. Not to mention, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just came out and basically told us we’re allowing “severe,” “widespread” and “irreversible” changes to climate. But no big deal, right? They’re just the ones who study this for a living. Then there’ the whole dead babies near oil drilling sites in Denver, but that’s all probably just coincidence. Nothing to worry about here, folks.
So what does Wolf’s election mean for Pennsylvania and for the United States? Well, I’d like to say fracking will end soon and we’ll have a bunch of stranded infrastructure and people will return to caves and forests. In fact, every day I await the email from one of my many email forum lists to tell me that’s the case. But for now, it means that we need to push Tom Wolf and our government to realize the impacts of what they’re doing, to understand what continued fossil fuel usage means for our climate, our future, and our childrens’ futures.
As someone who’s spent the past six months studying the impacts of fracking from the front lines of the shalefields of Pennsylvania, I can say no one wants that kind of fallout. I’ve met with residents who work for the industry and once I tell some of them about what’s happening scientifically, they’re surprised that they weren’t informed about some of the direct impacts they are experiencing through exposure to airborne chemicals like silica dust. Some people in the shale fields might be fooled by clever industry advertisements and jargon and some are definitely swayed by money from leasing, royalties, and water deliveries, among other things, but when it comes down to it, everyone needs clean water and clean air.
I can’t help but thinking what expanding fossil fuel infrastructure means for our country. Seeing all the problems and damages and carelessness this industry has caused and continues to cause on a daily basis, the idea of “natural gas” is laughable. There’s nothing natural about fracking. There’s nothing natural about clearing wildlife, fragmenting habitats, or driving silica sand trucks all the way from as far as Wisconsin. There’s nothing natural about dumping chemicals, silica sand, and fresh water from our rivers into the ground. There’s nothing natural about blasting apart the earth’s shale, flaring chemicals (that were previously injected into the ground) and sour gases into the atmosphere. There’s nothing natural about thousands of truck trips, thousands of containment ponds holding flowback water, and truck accidents that lead to deaths of innocent people.
With all of that said, there are a few grassroots groups out there that are fighting this problem of expanded fracking on the frontlines, like the group I work for: Energy Justice: Shale Initiative. In fact, we’re looking for new applicants to become paid fellows starting in March of 2015. Many towns have moratoriums on new drilling until proper impacts have been assessed, and as of yesterday Denton Texas—the birthplace of fracking—among other towns, banned the practice in some form. Despite approvals of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facilities like Cove Point, we are making a difference in this movement. It might be an uphill battle struggle more than 90 percent of the time, but with success stories like these under our belts and all the progress we’ve seen in the anti-fracking movement, it’s hard not to have hope: it’s the only thing that keeps us going.