Betting the Farm on Free Trade?

The White House is gambling with our health, jobs, and environment by embracing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

— by

Janet RedmanFrom her home in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Karen Feridun is helping stage a growing citizen pushback against the expansion of natural gas extraction. But a far-reaching global deal recently signed halfway around the world may make her job much harder.

Feridun got involved in this fight over concerns that fracking waste, laden with toxic chemicals, could end up in the sewage sludge that some Pennsylvania towns spread on local farm fields.

Figuring her best bet for keeping the state’s water, food, and communities safe was putting a stop to fracking, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth. The group is now part of a statewide coalition calling for a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania.

no-TPP-trans-pacific-partnership-protests
AFGE / Flickr

The campaign got a boost when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ruled that local governments have the right to protect the public trust. The court also found that oil and gas companies must abide by municipal zoning and planning laws.

The decision was celebrated as a huge victory for local control. But, Feridun told me, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership could turn over the apple cart entirely.”

The day after we spoke, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Frohman joined top officials from eleven other Pacific Rim nations in a New Zealand casino to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a sweeping “free trade” agreement aimed at opening national borders to the flow of goods, services, and finance.

The location couldn’t have been more symbolic. By entering into this deal, the Obama administration is playing roulette with America’s future.

The White House hopes to win greater access to raw materials, cheap labor, and burgeoning consumer markets in Asia for U.S. companies. What do we stand to lose? Nothing less than the ability to set rules and regulations that protect our families’ health, our jobs, and our environment.

The provision at the heart of this wager is something called an “investor-state” clause. It would let companies based in TPP partner countries sue governments over laws or regulations that curtail their profit-making potential.

It’s a risky bet. Here’s the White House’s simplistic calculus: The U.S. government has never lost an investor-state case.

The more we win, it seems, the bigger our next gamble. The TPP would be the largest free trade agreement in history, covering about 40 percent of the global economy and giving additional countries the option to “dock” to the treaty later. It also adds thousands of companies that could potentially sue the United States in trade court.

Back in Berks County, the demand from newly opened overseas markets for U.S. gas may increase local pressure to frack. The TPP’s investor-state provisions would let foreign-owned gas companies challenge any statewide limits on the practice standing in their way.

If this sounds unlikely, look no further than our neighbors to the north. U.S. oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources sued Canada using a similar clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when Quebec passed a moratorium to halt fracking under the St. Lawrence River. And Lone Pine won.

Now, TransCanada — the Canadian company behind the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline — is bringing a $15 billion claim against the United States for denying permits to build it. That’s exactly the kind of legal action that makes people like Karen Feridun fighting oil and gas projects nervous.

Even if Washington wins the TransCanada suit under NAFTA, the fear of spending millions of dollars fending off litigation under the much larger TPP could have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

Luckily, as Feridun and her neighbors know, Congress hasn’t approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. If lawmakers care about protecting good jobs, clean skies, safe water, and a stable climate in this hotly contested election year, they’d be wise not to gamble against the public interest.


Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org. 

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‘Thirsty’ Global Fracking Industry Puts Water, Environment, Communities at Risk

‘The fracking industry needs to be urgently reined in before it’s too late for our planet and people across the globe.’

— by Deirdre FultonCommon Dreams staff writer

Multinational oil and gas companies are moving into increasingly vulnerable countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia where the ecosystems, communities, and authorities are even less able to cope with the impacts of fracking and shale gas extraction, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth Europe.
Fracking
Mexico’s shale gas reserves and water-stressed regions overlap significantly. (Credit: Friends of the Earth/World Resource Institute/US EIA)

The report, Fracking Frenzy: How the Fracking Industry is Threatening the Planet (pdf), shows how the pursuit of fracking in countries such as Mexico, China, Argentina, and South Africa is likely to exacerbate the climate, environment, social, and human rights problems those countries already face. While much has been written about fracking in the United States and the European Union, this study “seeks to provide a global overview of shale gas development in the rest of the world,” its authors note, focusing specifically on 11 countries that are leaders in shale development on their respective continents.

“From Brazil and Mexico to Algeria and South Africa, this thirsty industry is exploiting weak regulation and causing untold environmental and social damage in the pursuit of profit,” said Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “The fracking industry needs to be urgently reined in before it’s too late for our planet and people across the globe.”

Released as United Nations climate talks open in Peru, the report illustrates the variety of dangers posed by the rapidly expanding fracking industry. In Northwest Africa and Mexico, for example, longstanding water scarcity issues will only be exacerbated by fracking operations that require millions of liters of water per project. In the earthquake-prone Sichuan basin in China, the Karoo basin in South Africa, the Himalayas, or the Sumatran basin in Indonesia, drilling around complex underground geologies raises the prospect of increased seismic activity, higher costs, and “incalculable environmental impacts and risks.” In Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, drilling activity on or near indigenous lands is already leading to conflicts with local communities.

“The emerging planned expansion of the shale gas industry outside the EU and North America raises serious concerns because of the almost unavoidable environmental, social, and health impacts already seen at existing fracking sites,” reads the report. “Given that these problems have proved difficult to avoid in countries with relatively strong regulations to protect the environment, how can this industry be properly monitored in countries where environmental standards are often lower (and sometimes non-existent), and/or where enforcement capacities are frequently limited and where corruption can be an everyday reality?”

Far greater scrutiny of the industry’s climate impacts is warranted, the report concludes, “particularly in countries which are already and will be much more directly affected by the consequences of climate change.”

Natural gas “is not—and never has been—the clean fuel that the industry has tried to claim,” it reads. “In fact it poses an immediate threat to attempts made to fight climate change.”

Friends of the Earth is urging the 195 nations gathered in Peru this week to consider these assertions.

“Around the world people and communities are already paying the price of the climate crisis with their livelihoods and lives,” said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “Fracking will only make things worse and has no place in a clean energy future. Europe and other industrialized countries most responsible for the climate crisis need to use the talks in Lima to make genuine commitments to end their reliance on corporate-controlled fossil fuels and embrace clean, citizen energy.”


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Oh Say Can You See Through the Frackers’ Big Lie?

The surge in fracked gas is headed for export and won’t boost the nation’s energy independence.

— by Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower

Big Oil’s frackers are wrapping their shameless profiteering in our flag.

In shale fields across the country, you’ll see fracking rigs festooned with Old Glory, and they even paint some of their rigs red, white, and blue.

This ostentatious patriotic pose is part of the industry’s cynical PR campaign to convince you and me that its assault on our health, water, air, and economic future should be mindlessly saluted, rather than questioned.

Energy Independence! ” is their deafening cry. The so-called shale gas boom, they proclaim, will free America from dependence on foreign producers.

This Fourth of July, can you sing “Oh say can you see through the frackers’ big lie”?

Joel Dyer, editor of the Boulder, Colorado Weekly, has peeked behind their-star spangled curtain. The investigative digger uncovered what he called “one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on America.”

Far from independence, we’re going to get the pollution — while foreigners take the energy. The gas extracted from our fractured land is destined for export. How do we know that?

First, because the industry and its government enablers admit it in their internal communications. Second, guess who’s paying for the fracking of America?

Dyer cites reports by Bloomberg news that China has pumped $5.5 billion into the U.S. drilling boom — not only so it can export the energy back to their people, but especially so the Chinese can “redeploy the best U.S. practices and technologies” back to China.

Other foreign investors fracking us hail from Japan ($5 billion invested so far), India ($3.5 billion), France ($4.5 billion), as well as South Korea, the UK, and Norway.

Norway? Come on, America — don’t let the profiteers wrap you up in our own flag. It’s the Fourth of July — let’s rebel!


OtherWords

columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org.  Photo Credit: www.citizenscampaign.org


Related Posts

A Deadly Power Surge

Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful.

— by Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson

Jacki Schilke was suffering from symptoms ranging from rashes, pain, and lightheadedness to dental problems and urinating blood. The formerly healthy, 53-year-old cattle rancher’s body was under assault from a list of toxic chemicals as long as your arm.

But Schilke’s lucky — so far — compared to five of her cows. They died.

Richardson-Fracking-Oly-Pentax

The rancher’s problems might become worse in time, since the chemicals causing her acute problems are also linked to chronic, deadly diseases like cancer.

What’s afflicting Schilke and her cows? The oil and gas drilling craze known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As The Nation magazine and the Great Plains Examiner reported last year, Oasis Petroleum started fracking on land three miles from her ranch in 2010. Oasis got money, the world got more energy from the gas they drilled, and Schilke got sick. Now, she won’t even eat her own beef.

If the results of fracking were virtually unknown a decade ago, before it became a common practice in states like Pennsylvania and Schilke’s home of North Dakota, there’s no mystery remaining now.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when you pump a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground to dislodge fossil fuels, there’s a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the ground. And some of those toxins don’t stay put. Those toxic chemicals make their way into the water, the soil, and the air, and they’re EXEMPT from regulation under the Clean Water Act.  You can thank Dick Cheney for that reckless action.

And the toxins flow from there — into the living things that rely on the water: the soil, the air, plants, animals, and us. We’re fracking our food.

Yet President Barack Obama is a big fracking supporter. He called natural gas a form of “clean energy” in the big address on global warming he delivered in June, touting the nation’s production of more natural gas “than any other country on Earth.” Then he said, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

Right. Compared to other forms of dirty energy, natural gas might reduce our carbon emissions. But at what cost?

If our only energy options were oil, coal, and natural gas, we’d be in a rotten Catch-22. Luckily, we have more choices than that. There are growing solar, wind, and geothermal options. Perhaps the most overlooked alternative is increasing efficiency.

I visited the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, two years ago. The school had made a big effort to reduce its energy use. In one building, I saw a hallway that used to have its lights turned on all the time. The builders had never even installed switches to turn them off.

Decades ago, energy was “too cheap to meter.” It seemed cheaper to just leave the lights on all the time than to wire them to be turned off. That’s changed. After some retrofitting, the lights can be turned off.

How many other buildings and homes have no light switches, insufficient insulation, or old, power-guzzling appliances? How many are still being built without taking advantage of the most up-to-date methods that curb energy use?

Obama proudly spoke of doubling America’s use of solar and wind power in the last four years, with plans to double them yet again. He’s right. We increased wind and solar energy from less than 1 percent of our energy in 2007 to less than 2 percent in 2011. (Meanwhile, our reliance on natural gas crept up from 28 percent to 30 percent of total energy consumption, and our total use of energy overall rose in those four years by 9.4 percent — with most of the increase coming from dirty sources.)

Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful. Emissions during the fracking process outweigh any benefits of reduced emissions when the fuel obtained is burned. Besides, how does fracking American land make sense if it’s poisoning our food and water supply with chemicals that give us cancer?

Let’s solve our energy problems by increasing efficiency and by turning to truly clean sources of energy: renewable options like solar, wind, and geothermal power.


OtherWords
columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.  OtherWords.org.  Photo Credit:  Oly-Pentax/Flickr

Speak Out Against Fracking in Nevada

Fracking is a dangerous method of oil and gas extraction that contaminates water and puts nearby residents at risk of serious illnesses, including cancer and asthma. And it’s coming to Nevada.

As if fracking could get any worse for arid Nevada, each fracked oil well consumes millions of gallons of water and turns it into toxic wastewater. But that isn’t stopping Noble Energy from planning a massive 350,000 acre, $130 million fracking project in Elko County.

The project requires approval from Governor Sandoval to move forward. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to green-light the disastrous project, so it’s urgent that Nevada residents speak out against the project now.

Tell Governor Sandoval: “Don’t frack Nevada!”

Sign the Petition

Ohio Fracking Wastewater Test Reveals Toxic Mess

— by , originally published on Care2 | July 8, 2012

Ohio Fracking Wastewater Test Reveals Toxic Mess

The natural gas industry, and it’s supporting case of puppet politicians, continue to claim that fracking has no negative impact on the environment or local drinking water supplies. There are many incidents of flammable water and poisoned streams that refute these claims, of course, but neither the industry or the government agencies that should be regulating them seem to care.

In big fracking states, many members of the public are alarmed that natural gas companies are blasting thousands of gallons of chemically-enhanced water into the ground just to get at natural gas deposits. Not only does the injection of these chemicals pose serious health risk, but then there’s the frightening question of what happens to the wastewater when frackers are done with it.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the five most common disposal options for fracking wastewater currently in use are: recycling for additional fracking, treatment and discharge to surface waters, underground injection, storage in open air pits, and spreading on roads for ice or dust control. “All of these options present significant risks of harm to public health or the environment. And there are not sufficient rules in place to ensure any of them will not harm people or ecosystems,” explains the NRDC in a recent report.

West Virginia and Pennsylvania are big fracking states, but they happily ship most of their wastewater for disposal in Ohio injection wells. Only recently did West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection take samples of the brine to find out exactly what they were burying in Ohioans’ back yards. The results were shocking (or not):

The lab results indicate high levels of alpha particles, arsenic, barium and toluene, among other contaminants, and are cause for the brine to be classified as “hazardous,” according to Ben Stout, professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University who interpreted the results. Stout labeled the results as “eerily similar” to brine samples taken by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection. He describes heavy metals found in the sample as “grossly above standard,” citing skyrocketing arsenic and barium levels that exceed the primary standard for acceptable drinking water concentrations by 370 and 145 times, respectively.

The fact that environmental protection agencies at the state and federal level are allowing these substances to be dumped in areas where they can then seep into water supplies is outrageous. These agencies have a simple job: to protect the environment and human’s health above all else. Yet they would rather play the “wait and see” game instead of confronting these companies and holding them accountable for their actions.

Fracking should stop unless and until the gas companies can prove it has ZERO negative impact on local drinking water supplies.


Read more and sign the petition at: http://www.care2.com/causes/ohio-fracking-wastewater-test-reveals-toxic-mess.html#ixzz209lPUKfA

Reprinted with permission of the author, Beth Buczynski.