Posted by on November 10th, 2010
Joe Osborne’s essay title suggests he’s going to explain how fracking is a threat to people and nature because it poisons the air…not just the water in communities where drilling is imposed. One might expect that the gist of such an essay would be that the drilling should be prohibited, since toxins in the air we all breath should be an unacceptable price to pay for an energy source that’s no better than dirty coal, when all the pollutants are factored together from extraction to use. But that’s not what the essay is about.
I wouldn’t be commenting on the piece, but a couple of times Joe presumes to speak for everybody, and he’s far off the mark when he does.
“Drilling opponents and supporters can all agree that if Marcellus Shale development proceeds, it should happen in a manner that protects workers, the environment and communities.”
Fact is, many drilling opponents do not agree that drilling in the Marcellus Shale should proceed at all. Respecting this point of view should be as natural to our friends in the environmental organizations as the respect shown when Joe writes that
“Another belief we all share is a healthy skepticism for vaguely worded, feel-good public relations campaigns like the [Marcellus Shale] coalition’s ‘Guiding Principles.’ If the coalition’s commitment is genuine, and I’d like very much to think that it is, the coalition can begin to demonstrate its sincerity by reducing air pollution emissions from Marcellus Shale operations.”
“Reducing” the toxins we breathe in order to subsidize the corporations’ profitability is just not good enough for many of us; so we do not “all agree” that negotiating away our absolute right to clean air can be legitimately negotiated by lawmakers, regulators or well-meaning environmentalists. Who should speak for the people in a “democracy?” How about the people affected by governing decisions?
The “experts” appear willing to trade off industry concessions to “reducing” the harm corporations inflict on our communities. Left out of the discussions and deal-cutting (not that the corporations have shown any willingness to negotiate at all), are the people and communities who will have to endure the legalized poisoning, while the state preempts them from protecting themselves. All to guarantee the privileges bestowed on the corporations by the government that ostensibly represents us.
Some communities, like Pittsburgh, are considering asserting the rights of the people and community by adopting local laws that criminalize the poisoning. True, the state legalizes it by issuing permits. The question of law presented by this confrontation between the people, their municipalities and the state government is this: are state regulatory laws superior to fundamental rights of the people? Can the state adopt laws that deny and violate those rights?
Joe is a nice guy, and I am certain he cares about the environment. But it’s important that we not accept the default premises advanced by the extractive industries: that the privileges of state-chartered corporations are superior to the inalienable rights of the people, and that the state has authority to license corporations to violate those rights. We can not strategically articulate a defense of our communities and the natural environment by allowing these assumptions to go unchallenged. Let’s not accept the premise that we the people have no authority to outlaw industrial practices that inflict poisons, disease and environmental harm. Surrendering fundamental rights for reasons of pragmatism, if that’s the suggestion, is not something we can all agree on.
Shale gas can pollute the air, too
But Marcellus companies might even profit from preventive measures
Monday, November 01, 2010
By Joe Osborne
The Marcellus Shale Coalition says it’s committed to protecting our communities and our environment. Here’s how it can prove it.
Earlier this month, the coalition — a business association representing many of the natural gas companies operating in the Marcellus Shale region — released a document titled “Guiding Principles: Our Commitment to the Community.” It consists of a list of promises, including promises to provide safe work sites, operate transparently, “implement state-of-the-art environmental protection” and be “responsible members of the communities in which we work.”
Drilling opponents and supporters can all agree that if Marcellus Shale development proceeds, it should happen in a manner that protects workers, the environment and communities. Another belief we all share is a healthy skepticism for vaguely worded, feel-good public relations campaigns like the coalition’s “Guiding Principles.”
If the coalition’s commitment is genuine, and I’d like very much to think that it is, the coalition can begin to demonstrate its sincerity by reducing air pollution emissions from Marcellus Shale operations.
We hear a lot about the threat this industry poses to our water. Though it receives less attention, the threat to our air quality is just as significant. Compressor engine exhaust, offgassing from storage tanks and raw natural gas emissions during well completions are just a few of the many sources of air pollution associated with natural-gas production.
The total air pollution created by this industry is astounding:
• In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, located in the Barnett Shale gas play, annual emissions of smog-forming pollutants from the oil and gas sector exceed emissions from motor vehicles.
• A 2008 analysis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded that smog-forming emissions from Colorado’s oil and gas operations exceed motor vehicle emissions for the entire state.
• Wyoming recently failed to meet federal health-based standards for air pollution for the first time in the state’s history. According to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, emissions from the state’s growing oil and gas sector are to blame.
Natural-gas operations in the Marcellus Shale are expanding at a breakneck pace. Texas, Wyoming and Colorado offer a preview of what’s to come if we don’t address this problem now.
Fortunately, effective control technologies exist to reduce air pollution from natural-gas operations. Better yet, because most of them reduce emissions by increasing the amount of methane and other hydrocarbons that are captured rather than entering the atmosphere, they are not just cheap, they actually can pay for themselves in short order — often a year or less.
Utilizing these technologies makes so much sense from both an environmental and economic standpoint that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with industry to create the Natural Gas STAR program, which promotes voluntary adoption of these cost-effective pollution-control technologies.
While several of the Marcellus Shale Coalition members are members of the Gas STAR program, most aren’t. If the Marcellus Shale Coalition wants to show its “Guiding Principles” are more than just words, it should require coalition members to participate in Gas STAR. Every year, program participants must document their emission reduction activities in a report to the EPA.
Consistent with the coalition’s commitment to operate transparently, the coalition could make these annual reports available to the public. This would allow Pennsylvanians to draw their own conclusions about whether the industry is minimizing its impact on human health and the environment and generally living up to its “Guiding Principles.”
These recommendations would dramatically reduce air pollution while increasing industry profits. If the Marcellus Shale Coalition members implement them, we’d give them due credit and recognition. If they don’t, how could the public expect this industry to live up to the coalition’s “Guiding Principles” when what’s good for the industry’s bottom line and what’s good for the rest of us don’t match up so conveniently?
Joe Osborne is legal director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (www.gasp-pgh.org).
First published on November 1, 2010 at 12:00 am
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10305/1099670-109.stm#ixzz14tGTSg1B