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.
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.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
— by Tom Kenworthy, Guestblogger at ThinkProgress, August 12, 2013
This week, to see how climate change will pull a nasty water surprise on the desert Southwest, you only need to look at one river.
Lake Powell is the giant reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border that backs up behind Glen Canyon Dam and is the linchpin for managing the Colorado River. The Colorado basically makes modern life possible in seven western states by providing water for some 40 million people and irrigating 4 million acres of crops. It is also depended upon by 22 native American tribes, 7 national wildlife refuges and 11 national parks.
As soon as Monday, the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation will announce the results of some very serious number crunching and model running focused on falling water levels in Lake Powell. It is widely expected that the bureau will announce that there is a serious water shortage and that for the first time in the 50-year-history of the dam, the amount of water that will be released from the reservoir will be cut. Not just cut, but cut by 750,000 acre feet — an acre foot being enough water to cover an acre one foot deep. That’s more than 9 percent below the 8.23 million acre feet that is supposed to be delivered downstream to Lake Mead for use in the states of California, Nevada and Arizona and the country of Mexico under the 81-year old Colorado River Compact and later agreements.
It will be, in the somewhat dry appraisal of Anne Castle, the assistant secretary of the Interior for water and science who oversees the bureau, “very unusual.”
Unusual, and unprecedented, but not totally unforeseen.
Six years ago, following another period of dropping water levels in Colorado River reservoirs, the federal government and the seven states that rely on the river agreed on“interim operating guidelines” for apportioning water in the event of shortages. That step is part of a longer-term process of trying to figure out how to deal with a river system that is no longer providing the volumes of water the southwest long ago came to expect. The guidelines require the secretary of the Interior each year to assess what the water supply looks like for the lower Colorado River basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. The secretary can choose among three declarations: normal, surplus or shortage. This year the smart money is on shortage.
Lake Powell, and its downstream cousin, Lake Mead — formed by Hoover Dam — are the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. They are the main plumbing fixtures for dividing up Colorado River water under a complex set of agreements known as the Law of the River. The Colorado River Compact is the most important of those agreements, and requires that the lower basin states and upper basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) each get 7.5 million acre feet a year. Mexico gets another 1.5 million under a 1944 treaty.
All good in theory, but the river was divided up in the 1920’s, a wet period when river flows were high. Times, and flows, have changed.
Now, the two reservoirs are giant flat water billboards advertising what climate change is doing to the American West. Persistent drought, and diminished snow runoff in the Rocky Mountains, have drastically shrunk the two reservoirs. Both are now less than half full, and both sport bathtub rings that show in dramatic fashion how high the waters used to be. Inflows to Powell this year are about 42 percent of average.
Some people believe that Lake Powell is toast, that it will never fill up again. For a lake that attracts a couple of million visitors a year who spend lavishly on houseboats, fishing gear, sun tan lotion and beer, that has some serious economic implications.
It could get worse.
Lake Powell is a moneymaker in other ways. Glen Canyon Dam and its hydroelectric turbines, produce 1320 megawatts of electricity, enough for about 1.3 million people. That yields something like $125 million every year, and that pot of money pays for the operations of much of the entire Colorado River Storage Project, and a host of vital environmental restoration programs.
Droughts do happen from time to time. But the hydrological cycle is being stressed by more than just natural variations. As greenhouse gases trap more heat in the atmosphere, dry areas like the Southwest will get drier and drier.
Last month, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in western Colorado, which looks out for the state’s interest in river issues, sent a memo to his board of directors outlining the likelihood of a shortage declaration by the Bureau of Reclamation.
“A one year shortage is probably not a big deal,” wrote Kuhn. But he made it clear that a multi-year shortage, and some very serious repercussions, are quite possible. In 2015, Kuhn wrote, the water level in Lake Powell may fall low enough — below what is known as minimum power head — to shut down the production of hydroelectric power. “The financial impacts could be substantial,” he wrote.
“The scary scenario for the Lower Basin is a multi-year shortage,” according to Kuhn’s memo. Among the impacts: big water delivery cuts to Nevada and Arizona, power production from Hoover Dam is “dramatically reduced,” recreation on Lake Meade “becomes marginal.”
Long term, the outlook is particularly grim. Late last year, a joint study by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven river basin states looked at water supply prospects over the next half century. It projects average yearly imbalances between supply and demand of 3.2 million acre feet by 2060. An acre foot is about what a typical suburban household uses in a year.
Asked what she thinks of Kuhn’s analysis, Bureau of Reclamation overseer Castle told Climate Progress that “it’s based on some pretty draconian scenarios, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.” But she predicts that ultimately “the states and the federal agencies together with all the stakeholders on the river will come together around a management plan that will attempt to ensure that we don’t hit critical [water levels] in either Powell or Mead.”
Outside groups are looking for solutions, too, and one — the Glen Canyon Institute, which advocates for a free-flowing Colorado River and the restoration of the magnificent canyon inundated by the dam and the filling of Lake Powell — sees at least a partial answer in its “Fill Mead First” plan.
Citing research that shows large water losses in Powell because of seepage into the porous sandstone banks, Glen Canyon Institute executive director Christi Wedig says Fill Mead First could save 300,000 acre feet of water a year, equivalent to Nevada’s annual allocation. The plan would allow Lake Mead to fill first, and would keep Lake Powell at the depth just above minimum power head. It would, said Wedig, bring substantial environmental benefits to the Grand Canyon, and would reveal many of the hidden treasures of Glen Canyon and stimulate tourism there.
Before the dam and lake erased it, few people had explored Glen Canyon. Author and photographer Eliot Porter described it in his book “The Place No One Knew”
“The big features, the massive walls and towers, the shimmering vistas, the enveloping light, are all hypnotizing, shutting out awareness of the particular,” he wrote. “Later you begin to focus on the smaller, more familiar, more comprehensible objects . . . the velvety lawns of young tamarisks sprouting on the wet sand bars just vacated by the retreating flood . . . the festooned, evocative designs etched into the walls by water and lichens. It is an intimate canyon.”
“Glen Canyon has been unexplored since 1963,” said Wedig. “There is a huge opportunity to capitalize” on its re-emergence with new tourism that focuses more on exploring vivid canyons and less on partying aboard 60-foot houseboats.
Castle declined to comment on the Fill Mead First idea. But she does say that current circumstances on the Colorado River are “unprecedented.”
The last 14 years on the Colorado River, she says, have been the driest years since records began being kept in the late 1800’s, and based on tree ring studies among the driest 14 year periods in the last 1,200 years.
“If you say climate change doesn’t have an impact, you’re smoking something,” Castle concludes.
Andrew Breiner contributed graphics to this piece.
Job Counts being promoted … are over-inflated and misleadingly wrong! Those “thousands” are merely “hundreds” and they’ll pretty much go away once the pipeline is constructed.
The reason they want to pump tar sand mixed in solvent to the Gulf is so they can ship the refined oil overseas! The US will be taking the risk of a devastating tar sands/solvent spill that no one knows how to or even if it can be effectively cleaned up, all so BIG OIL can pass it through us to used it overseas …. NOT in the U.S.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed water drill, pump and pipe scheme will devastate our people, plants, and animals in rural Eastern Nevada. That’s what a government approval of a Right-of-Way permit for a pipeline would do, according to a study of this unsustainable groundwater mining project.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just announced its preference for an alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which would approve a $15.7 billion proposal of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) for its 300-mile pipeline. The BLM did not study cheaper and more reliable water supply alternatives.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Op-Ed:The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
By Christine Shearer, Truthout | Report
The study, done by hydrogeologist Dr. Tom Myers and published in the peer-reviewed Ground Water, found that, under certain conditions, the chemical-laced water used in hydraulic fracturing can migrate through fractures and faults up to overlying aquifers in as little as tens of years.
Beth Hawkins | MinnPost: “Just as a private attorney cannot bring a suit on behalf of a client without the client agreeing and authorizing such action, and then only within the guidelines allowed by the client, so it should be with the attorney general. Rather than an attorney general deciding on his or her own what authority the office may have to bring a lawsuit, the authority should be defined by the state as reflected by the specific decisions of the legislature via statute. The legislature, not the attorney general, is best positioned to balance the competing concerns that go into the decision of whether to allow a cause of action and under what circumstances.”
Mike Hall | AFL-CIO Now: A new report reveals the “extraordinary influence” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has had in the Wisconsin legislature during the past 16 months—the same 16 months since Gov. Scott Walker (R) took power. ALEC peddles fill-in-your-state’s-name model legislation to suppress voting rights and eliminate collective bargaining. Its model bills include anti-immigrant legislation, right-wing measures on education and tax breaks for corporations.
Pat Garofalo, News Report: When the head of JPMorgan Chase met with shareholders to answer for a trading loss of more than $2 billion Tuesday, it was against an evolving political backdrop: Donors from big banks are betting on Mitt Romney to defeat President Obama and repeal new restraints on risky, large-scale investments. The top five donor groups in Romney’s campaign are individuals and political action committees associated with large financial institutions, led by Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.
Dennis Kucinich, Statement:H.R. 4310 includes language that paves the way for war with Iran. It specifically calls for aggressive deployment of our armed services to begin ‘credible, visible preparations for a military option.’ It directs the Secretary of Defense to pre-position the U.S. Armed Forces in key locations in the Middle East in order to threaten Iran. It specifically authorizes actions ‘including military action if required.’
Jim Morris, News Report: “Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, American workers are entitled to ‘safe and healthful’ conditions. Nick Revetta’s death and the events that followed lay bare the law’s limitations, showing how safety can yield to speed, how even fatal accidents can have few consequences for employers, and how federal investigations can be cut short by what some call a de facto quota system.”
Anthony Gucciardi, News Analysis: “The super resistant weeds threaten not only independent family farmers and major agricultural businesses alike, but also the future of food production. Experts are now calling for a radical change in farming practices, with time-tested traditional methods being the ultimate goal. In addition, weed scientists seek to hold a ‘summit’ or panel of sorts to address the issue in Washington. As a leading task force member who is working with the USDA on the issue stated, this is a bi-product of rampant biotechnology that must be remedied by returning to traditional norms.”
Ian Millhiser, News Report:“Twenty-two states joined an amicus brief that will be filed today in the Supreme Court by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) calling for the Supreme Court to back off its election-buying decision in Citizens United. The brief, which supports the state of Montana’s effort to preserve its ban on corporate money in elections, argues that state elections present an even greater risk than federal elections of being corrupted by corporate money.”
Thomas Magstadt, Op-Ed:The mythological “free market” is not free. It is a slave to the stock market which is manipulated and, indeed, exploited by investment bankers, fund managers, and a new breed of free-booting financial con artists. Remember Enron? The late Kenneth Lay? His partner in crime, the convicted co-swindler, Jeffrey Skilling, now serving a very long prison sentence? How about Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme pirate?
Ellen Cantarow, Op-Ed: Five hundred million years ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that, under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a particularly pure form of crystalline silica. Its grains, perfectly rounded, are strong enough to resist the extreme pressures of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which pumps vast quantities of that sand, as well as water and chemicals, into ancient shale formations to force out methane and other forms of “natural gas.”