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After the Frack: Hydraulic Fracturing’s Intense Thirst

Water withdrawals and siltation create havoc on aquatic ecosystems

Ever since Josh Fox’s documentary film Gasland startled viewers with its scenes of flammable tap water, concerns about groundwater contamination have fueled the community-level opposition to hydraulic fracturing. While water contamination continues to be a serious concern when it comes to fracking, a slew of scientific and government reports published in recent years points to perhaps a more immediate environmental threat: unsustainable groundwater and surface water withdrawals.

graphic map depicting the USA and sources of fracking waterImage: CeresSee the full map, zoomable map here.

Scientists have long understood that fracking comes with a range of environmental risks. A 2014 study appearing in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry concluded that the closer an ecosystem is to a fracking site, “the higher the risk of that ecosystem being impacted by the operation.” The scientists further confirmed that oil and gas field infrastructure also uses significant amounts of water.  “These operations may result in increased erosion and sedimentation,” the study stated, as well as “increased risk to aquatic ecosystems from chemical spills or runoff, habitat fragmentation, loss of stream riparian zones, altered biogeochemical cycling, and reduction of available surface and hyporheic water volumes because of withdrawal-induced lowering of local groundwater levels.”

In addition to habitat fragmentation and the risk of pollution, diminished flows in rivers and streams are one of the concerns that researchers outline in a study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. One of the study’s authors, Kimberly Terrell told Earth Island Journal that freshwater withdrawal and stream siltation from fracking activities has lasting effects on aquatic ecosystems. “In the shale areas in the eastern US there is tremendous aquatic diversity,” Terrell says. “However, only 21 percent of streams are healthy. The vast majority are not in good biological condition. On top of that, we have drained over 50 percent of our wetlands in the US.”

As early as 2009, the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) at the University of Texas at Austin was already noticing an increase in water use for hydraulic fracturing in the Barnet Shale.  Researchers concluded that hydraulic fracturing used an average of 2,400 gallons of water per foot of drilled hole, which equaled an average of 3 million gallons per …more

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Environmental Activists Continue to Face Interrogations at US-Canada Border

Members of Deep Green Resistance denied entry to Canada on the way to a Chris Hedges’ lecture

Three members of the radical environmental organization Deep Green Resistance and two other individuals were detained for more than seven hours at the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia on their way to Vancouver to attend a talk by author and activist Chris Hedges last Friday, September 25. They were questioned about the organizations they were involved in, their political affiliations, and their contacts in Canada before being turned away by Canadian border agents. Upon re-entering the United States they were then subjected to another round of questioning by US border agents. The car they were traveling in as well as their personal computers were searched.

Peace Arch and Trafficphoto by Greg Dunlap, on FlickrThe Peace Arch border crossing between British Columbia, Canada and Washington, USA

The interrogation comes on the heels of an FBI inquiry into Deep Green Resistance last fall in which more than a dozen members of the group were contacted and questioned by FBI agents. Several months later the group’s lawyer, Larry Hildes, was stopped at the same border crossing and asked specifically about one of his clients, Deanna Meyer, also a Deep Green Resistance member. During the 2014 visits, FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents showed up at members’ places of work, their homes, and contacted family members to find out more about the group. Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent if she’d be interested in “forming a liaison.” The agent told her he wanted to, “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.” Two of the members detained at the border on Friday were also contacted by the FBI last fall.

Since Hildes was last held up at the Peace Arch border crossing in June he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. In August he received a letter from the DHS saying the agency “can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information.”

It’s not only Deep Green Resistance members who have had trouble getting across the border. Environmental activists who were part of a campaign in Texas opposing  the Keystone XL pipeline …more

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Illegal Sport Hunting in Russia: When It’s Misha the Bear, not Cecil the Lion

The rise of macho VIP poachers stymie wildlife protection laws in the country

The cases of illegal lion hunting in Zimbabwe and a recent United Nations resolution about wildlife poaching have captured the public’s attention in recent months. Yes, poaching of all forms of wildlife – from trophy species to marine life and butterflies – has reached epidemic proportions and the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade last year identified a strong link between poaching and organized crime. But sometimes, it’s more about personal expressions of power than profit. Nowhere is this fact more clearly demonstrated than in Russia. Unfortunately, what makes the Russian case particularly dismaying is that the guardians of the law are often also the poachers.

photo of a man outdoorsphoto courtesy Kathleen BradenA local wildlife inspector, Vladimir Yantiev, tried to bring to book, a group of VIPs who he
alleged were hunting illegally from a Mi-8 helicopter in the Kosh-Agach region of the Altay
Republic in central Siberia.

In 2012, Sergey Donskoy, head of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, estimated the value of poached wildlife to the Russian economy at about half a billion US dollars. So-called “environmental crime” in the country contributes to the destruction of what was once one of the most extensive stretches of pristine nature on the globe. Species that were better protected during Soviet times are now on the brink of extinction, threatened due to loss of funding for nature reserves, the opening of borders and Asian demand for wildlife parts, illegal fish catch, uncontrolled harvest of timber, and an increasingly impoverished rural population.

Thanks in part to Vladimir Putin’s love of photo-ops that show him as an avid outdoorsman and wildlife conservationist, so-called glamour species like Siberian tigers get publicity, but abuse of ordinary game animals gets little notice outside of Russia.

To stop this destruction of biodiversity, the Russian government adopted tougher hunting laws in 2012, with the blessing of environmental groups such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Fines in some cases have risen tenfold, jail time increased, and the right of inspectors to check vehicles and documents, revoke licenses, and confiscate guns has been strengthened, at least on paper.

But the battle against illegal hunting in Russia has a serious handicap due to the country’s infamous “VIP Poachers.” Wealthy and influential members …more

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Shell Abandons Alaska Arctic Drilling

Oil giant’s US president says hugely controversial drilling operations off Alaska will stop for ‘foreseeable future’ as drilling finds little oil and gas

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition in what jubilant environmentalists described as “an unmitigated defeat” for big oil.

The Anglo-Dutch company had repeatedly stressed the enormous hydrocarbon potential of the far north region in public, but in private began to admit it had been surprised by the popular opposition it faced.

a semi-submersible drilling unitPhoto by Charles Conatzer & the sHellNo! Action CouncilKayaktivists from the sHellNo! Action Council greeted the Transocean Polar Pioneer, a semi-submersible drilling unit leased by Shell to explore Arctic deposits, as it entered Port Angeles, Washington in April.

Shell said today it had made a marginal discovery of oil and gas with its summer exploration in the Chukchi Sea but not enough to continue to the search for the “foreseeable” future.

Shell has spent over $7bn (£4.6bn) on its failed hunt for oil which critics said could only endanger one of the world’s last pristine environments and produce expensive hydrocarbons that were no longer needed.

Shell said it would have to take a hit of around $4.1bn on future earnings as a result of the decision but it is unclear what the final bill will be.

The company has already come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about plunging oil prices, a planned merger with rival BG as well as the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

It appears that van Beurden was also worried that the row over the Arctic was undermining his attempts to influence the debate around how to tackle climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with skepticism, partly because of the Chukchi operations.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high …more

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Weathering the Storms Together: Grassroots Women’s Response to Climate Change

When we invest in women, we invest in food and economic security, community health and protection of land and our precious natural resources.

In an event hall in the small village of Sirsi, on the edge of the Western Ghats in the Indian state of Karnataka, more than a hundred women gather to participate in the Malnad Mela, a decade-old festival organized by Vanastree, a seed saving collective of women farmers. These participants, as well as the 800 or more community members who visit throughout the day, have traveled long distances to be there despite a week of heavy monsoon rains and winds, uprooted trees, and power outages. 

Malnad MelaPhoto courtsey of Womens Earth AllianceThe Malnad Mela is an opportunity for these women to share traditional ecological knowledge. For the very same reasons that women are intimately connected to the challenges that climate change brings, they are also uniquely positioned to identify the most effective solutions.

Sunita Rao— seed saver, farmer and founder of Vanastree — believes that the mela is a critical opportunity to bring women home gardeners and farmers together to exchange skills, share and sell produce, and discuss solutions and adaptations to the growing threat climate change presents to the region. The Malnad region of the Western Ghats is an area rich in biodiversity that has sustained their communities for centuries. However, the changing climate has rendered the monsoons — one of the area’s most essential ecological events — both unreliable and unpredictable. Rainfall patterns have drastically changed. Deforestation has increased.  Soil degradation has worsened. And women farmers are bearing much of the resulting burden.

The Malnad Mela is an opportunity for these women to share traditional ecological knowledge about saving flood-resistant indigenous seeds, promote tuber cultivation as a solution to climate-induced food insecurity, engage a larger market to sell produce, and take part in leadership skills-building with other local women leaders. Each of these goals is a strategic action Sunita Rao, Vanastree, and the women of the Malnad take to face the persistent and dangerous effects of climate change. 

Women and Climate Change

“Climate change is about people. People cause climate change. People are affected by it. People need to adapt to it. And only people have the power to stop it. Not all people or countries, however, are created equal when it comes to the greenhouse-gas emissions that are warming our atmosphere.”State of the World Population 2009, UN Population …more

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There Can Be No Meaningful Action on Climate Change Without Women

Community resilience is much stronger when women are part of the decision-making process

I took part in my first environmental march on April 22, 1970 in New York City. Dressed in our Sunday best, my little sister and I clung to our mother’s hands as she steered us proudly down Fifth Avenue. We celebrated the beneficence of our planet with the one million people who joyfully thronged the city’s major thoroughfare and converged in Central Park, confident that preserving clean air, fresh water, and food security were basic human values shared by most, if not all, of the world’s citizens.

women collecting waterPhoto by Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)The impacts of climate changes are different for women and men, with women likely to bear the greater burden in situations of poverty.

Mom raised us on the stories of women leaders — conservationist Rachel Carson, often considered the mother of the American environmental movement, whose investigations into chemical pollution of air and water made an unprecedented impact on the mainstream public and engendered the Environmental Protection Agency. At the dinner table we discussed New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a singular woman who early on made the connection between women’s rights, human rights, and the integrity of the environment by founding the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, one of the United Nation’s largest nonprofits. We chuckled at her outrageous hats and cheered her bold and witty confrontational style. In my family, the importance of women in ensuring the survival and resilience of our planet was never in doubt.

In 2009, working with the Global Call for Climate Action around the UN General Assembly and COP 15, I was given a brusque wake-up call on current status of women and our climate, which is so far from what we envisioned in those heady days of the early seventies. In short, despite all of the warning signs that had been visible more than forty years ago, the climate had become severely degraded by unfettered global carbon emissions and the women of the developing world were suffering the worst impacts.   But I also learned of an inspirational “silver lining.”  Gathered at the UN was an extraordinary group of women leaders: Women from tiny island communities, women peasant farmers from Africa, and American women of color from the Gulf Coast towns and cities who had suffered through …more

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Pope’s Climate Change Appeal Boosts Hope for Bipartisan Action in Congress

Climate campaigners applaud pope’s bridging of environmental issues with moral obligation as way to force Republican party leaders to reconsider position

It just took one utterance from Pope Francis – “earth” – to rouse cheers from the climate campaigners who had gathered on the Mall to watch the pope’s historic speech to Congress.

The pope’s visit to what remains a fortress of climate denial among the Republican party leadership greatly boosted hopes among campaigners of elevating climate change from a narrow, partisan issue to a matter of broad public concern.

Pope Francis© Mazur/ Pope re-affirmed that human activity was driving climate change, and that political leaders needed to act.

As Francis appeared on the large screen, several thousand campaigners – some carrying quotes from his encyclical on the environment on large banners trimmed in Vatican yellow, a contingent of animal rights activists dressed as nuns – whooped and cheered.

“We’re excited about the pope being here, especially his saying that climate change is not a partisan issue, and that we have a moral obligation to act,” said Ashley Aguirre, 20, and a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, who had travelled from Richmond for the rally.

Although there was only a very brief mention of the environment in his speech to Congress – he avoided a direct clash with Republican party leaders by diving into climate change deeply in his visit to the White House on Wednesday – the pope still managed to emphasize two clear points. He re-affirmed that human activity was driving climate change, and that political leaders needed to act.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play,” the pope said. “Now is the time for creative actions and strategies aimed at implementing “a culture of care”.

Francis’s intervention has produced some new alliances in the climate camp, with faith groups now coming together with civil rights campaigners and traditional environmental supporters.

His appearance in Congress came a day after his endorsement of Barack Obama’s clean power plant plan – arguably one of the biggest targets of Republicans in both houses as well as on the presidential campaign trail.

More than half of Republicans in Congress …more

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