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March 4th, 2015

Two Huge Stories on Fracking You Probably Missed This Week

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah_Hauter_BlogThumbIt seems that the fracking industry’s biggest concern is keeping their operations secret. Whether they’re talking about the chemicals in their frac fluid, how they pay (or don’t pay) royalties to landowners, or even whether doctors can tell their patients what they’re treating, industry representatives have pushed to keep their secrets. The industry has been pretty good at keeping people in the dark.

But two recent disclosures have shed some light on how the industry manages to obscure the details of its operations. On Tuesday, Mike Soraghan at EnergyWire broke the news that scientists in Oklahoma knew five years ago that the state’s recent unprecedented swarms of earthquakes were probably due to oil and gas operations. (We confirmed with Mike that he had uncovered these emails after pursuing an Open Records Act request in Oklahoma. Previously, he had analyzed federal earthquake data to break the news that Oklahoma had more earthquakes than California in 2014.)

According to EnergyWire, when Austin Holland, a seismologist from the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) based at the University of Oklahoma, raised the issue, he was asked to meet with the president of the university and “concerned” oil and gas industry officials (including with Mitt Romney’s campaign advisor on energy issues, Harold Hamm, who has donated over $30 million to the school.)

Since that meeting, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and OGS have butted heads over the link between oil and gas activities and earthquakes, with OGS pushing back against the idea that Big Oil and Gas is to blame. Bob Jackman, a petroleum geologist, says that when he asked Holland about the earthquakes, Holland replied, “You don’t understand – Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.” Holland disputed this, but did not offer a corrected statement to EnergyWire.

Industry influence with national implications

In related news, through an open records request, Greenpeace received thousands of pages of correspondence between the EPA and industry participants in its fracking study. Sharon Kelley at DeSmogBlog and Neela Banerjee at Inside Climate News combed through the documents and pulled hundreds of pages of the more revealing finds.

Significantly, the documents include comments by Chesapeake Energy on the EPA’s study plans in which the company asks it to narrow its focus to only the specific step in which fracking fluids are injected, without allowing it to test conditions during the drilling and cementing of the well before those frac fluid injections. The EPA agreed to only install monitoring wells after Chesapeake’s wells were drilled.

Chesapeake also asked to be involved in reviewing contractors and field data and tried to influence testing methods. The records also include a list of Range Resources’ demands in order to cooperate with the agency, including access to documents, copies of recordings and photos and a stipulation that EPA employees be “identified in advance” and accompanied by a Range escort at all times.

These revelations go along with what we already knew happened in Parker County, Texas, where the EPA abruptly closed an investigation into groundwater contamination, despite evidence that nearby fracking operations were to blame. As it turns out, Range, the company accused of contaminating water supplies, threatened to pull out of the agency’s national study if it kept investigating.

Our report The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking raises questions about the EPA’s ongoing study of the potential impacts of fracking on water resources. Rather than require participation, the agency has done nothing but bend over backwards, pleading with industry to share its information. Not surprisingly, this hasn’t worked.

A constant refrain from the oil and gas industry and supporters is that state regulation of fracking is adequate and federal regulations are unnecessary. In reality, they’re trying to undermine regulation at every level of government. Industry has risen to the challenge of shaping the science in the EPA’s study

The importance of media watchdogs

The industry’s pressure on scientists has long-term and wide-ranging effects: it hampers public understanding, gives cover to fracking-friendly politicians, and inhibits further scientific study, both at universities reliant on industry funding and at government agencies reliant on industry participation for data. Public Accountability Initiative’s recent report shows that the industry is using flawed research to promote fracking as safe—research that PAI says is “industry-tied and lacking in scientific rigor.”

EnergyWire, a subscription-based news wire geared at the energy policy community, De Smog Blog and Inside Climate News have done a great job of breaking or reporting news around the dangers of fracking. Here’s hoping that more mainstream news organizations will conduct investigative reporting on these conflicts of interest to clear the fog created by industry misinformation. With the oil and gas industry spending tens of millions every year in public relations and advertising, media watchdogs are more important than ever.

March 2nd, 2015

The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics: Et tu, National Geographic?

By Timothy Wise

GMO_CanolaTimothy A. Wise is at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University. This piece originally appeared at Food Tank.

Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”

The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:

“Climate change does not exist.”

“Evolution never happened.”

“The moon landing was faked.”

“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”

“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?

Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?

Read the full article…

February 27th, 2015

Climate Deniers Watch: Sen. Jim Inhofe Thinks Snowballs in Winter Disproves Climate Change

Mitch_JonesBy Mitch Jones

We are used to Congress’s Climate Deniers making boneheaded statements, but the bottom of the barrel has definitely been scraped now.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball to the floor of the Senate yesterday as “evidence” that the scientific basis for belief in climate change is untrue. There’s even video.

Apparently, that there is snow in Washington DC in February 2015, disproves that 2014 was the hottest year on record. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s probably because you aren’t as easily confused as the chairman of the Senate’s environment committee. Or, maybe you aren’t in the paid service of the oil and gas industry. Senator Inhofe, on the other hand, has taken at least $1.7 million from the oil and gas industry to fund his campaigns throughout his career. And the oil and gas industry has gotten its monies worth.

Global_Climate_Change_MapNot only has Senator Inhofe promoted patently absurd arguments on the Senate floor, he wrote a whole book of them. Science deniers like Inhofe ignore the facts about what climate scientists say about the strange behavior of the polar jet stream during the last few years. It’s responsible for the frigid weather that the south is experiencing right now. Anyone who is serious about following the newest research on climate knows that greenhouse gases are causing chaotic and unpredictable weather patterns. But the oil and gas industry are paying politicians to be blind to this fact. Read the full article…

February 25th, 2015

Governor Christie Sells Off New Jersey to the Highest Bidder

By Jim Walsh

It was Hurricane Sandy, the disastrous “super storm,” that thrust Governor Christie on to the national stage as a supposedly straight-talking hero of the common man. But the truth can’t hide forever. Sooner or later, Americans will come to realize what many of us in New Jersey have known all along: Christie is selling New Jersey off to the highest bidder, at the expense of hardworking families and our environment.

While Christie’s recent gaffs and scandals have been good fodder for late-night television comedians, behind these missteps is a governor tied to corporate interests that he hopes will fund his national political ambitions. It seems he’ll do just about anything to put those corporations ahead of regular people.

Early in his first term, Governor Christie created a privatization task force, creating a virtual road map for transferring billions of dollars in public assets to private profit driven companies. And throughout his tenure as governor, Christie has pushed to privatize public television, parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, public parks, inspectors, and now our water.

Governor Christie just signed a bill that will open the floodgates for water system privatization in New Jersey. The bill removes an important requirement that communities have the right to vote on any water privatization plan and the rate details associated with it. The elimination of these important consumer protections are a dream come true to corporate water giants like American Water, which just donated $50,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association when Governor Christie was the chair.

Governor Christie used this his position as Governor’s Association chair to raise money and build his political presence and influence. But far more sinister is Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program. The program was enacted when Christie signed an executive order allowing the New Jersey governor (and only the governor) to accept large gifts from personal friends.

One of Christie’s personal friends seems to be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who gifted Christie a $30,000 trip to a Cowboys playoff game. What folks may not know is that Jerry Jones amassed a fortune as on oil and gas mogul. This is concerning, considering that Christie recently refused to sign two bills that would have banned fracking and fracking waste in the state. At the same time he supported billions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies for the construction of fracked gas power plants in New Jersey, and a massive fracked gas pipeline through the Pinelands, a environmentally-protected area that preserves a 12 trillion-gallon fresh water aquifer in southern New Jersey.

Speaking of southern New Jersey, Christie has recently appointed an emergency fiscal manager for Atlantic City, a community on the brink of financial collapse due to long-term neglect and the downturn in Jersey’s casino industry. Instead of offering support, he appoints Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager. Kevyn Orr is the same person who, while serving as the emergency manager for Detroit, sought to solve Detroit’s financial struggles by recommending a fire sale of public assets, including their public water.

Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program has also garnered contributions from the King of Jordan and Sheldon G. Adelson, a wealthy casino owner. One can wonder exactly how much it costs to buy the governor’s friendship, but what is clear is that being “friends” with Christie comes with some fairly lucrative benefits.

February 24th, 2015

March Mobilizes Movement to Ban Fracking in California

by Tia Lebherz, California Organizer

Fresh off a victory in New York State, which banned fracking in December, 8,000 Californians came together in Oakland on February 7 to send Governor Jerry Brown a simple message: Climate Leaders Don’t Frack. The March for REAL Climate Leadership was a historic moment for our movement in the Golden State as it brought together frontline community members, indigenous people, nurses, labor unions, students, environmentalists and concerned Californians from across the state. We marched together in the town Governor Brown calls home because it is past time for him to step up and protect our health, our water and our communities by banning fracking now. I’m proud of Food & Water Watch’s role in creating what was the largest anti-fracking rally in U.S. history; two weeks later, as we work to water the seeds we planted with this event, it’s a pleasure to pause to reflect on what we’re growing with our partners.

8,000 people joined the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

8,000 people joined the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Governor Brown fancies himself an international leader in the fight against climate change. When he was inaugurated in January for his fourth and final term, he indeed committed to some notable renewable energy goals. But, as Brown focuses on the consumption side of our energy use, he fails completely to address production and extraction. California is the third largest oil producing state in the nation. Surprised? And here in the land of all-things-eco, oil companies are expanding extreme extraction techniques like fracking all the time. So, sorry, Governor Brown, you cannot control one of the nation’s largest fossil fuel extracting states and be a climate leader at the same time.

Californians demand and deserve better. Our state is in the midst of a historic drought that research shows is exacerbated by climate change. Our agricultural industry is suffering and farm jobs are being lost. Here’s another surprise for readers outside California: cities here are literally running out of water. Still, our Governor allows the oil and gas industry to permanently contaminate two million gallons of water every day in extreme oil extraction operations in California. Even more unsettling, recent reports show that under Governor Brown, billions of gallons of wastewater from oil and gas operations have been dumped illegally into protected aquifers in the state. Governor Brown’s unwillingness to tackle the real threat to our water and climate – his refusal to stand up to Big Oil – is what compelled thousands of Californians to march on February 7.

But the march was also an opportunity to spotlight the REAL climate leaders that work everyday to protect their communities and our planet by fighting the most powerful industry in the world. Leaders like Dianne Thomas from Carson, who along with a fierce coalition of her neighbors recently stopped 200 new wells from moving into their community. Or the busload of community warriors who traveled to Oakland from Kern County, where over 90 percent of the fracking is occurring in California; people here are already overburdened with the worst air quality in the nation and pesticide drift from Big Agriculture’s monocultures – who are literally fighting for their lives. And the leaders from San Benito who last November banned fracking through a ballot initiative despite being outspent nearly twenty-to-one. These are the REAL climate leaders in our movement; until Governor Brown steps up and puts an end to fracking, he has no claim to their ranks.

The action didn’t just end at the March. Afterward, Californians Against Fracking held a convergence where nearly 300 people talked about how they would take the energy from the march back to their communities to continue fighting for local and statewide bans on fracking. The following day, 50 grassroots leaders from across the state stayed in Oakland and together mapped out our work for 2015.

Food & Water Watch California Organizer, Tia Lebherz, talks with a reporter at the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Food & Water Watch California Organizer, Tia Lebherz, talks with a reporter at the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Working on the March for REAL Climate Leadership and the Californians Against Fracking convergence was one of the most powerful and incredible experiences of my life. From the start, it was clear that Californians are hungry for change and feel more urgently than ever the need to ban fracking now. The 130 partner organizations that came together for this event represented labor, faith, social justice, climate justice and other movements. This breadth and depth proves that the movement to ban fracking is not limited to a small group of environmentalist – it is united and strong and it touches every corner of California.

Need some inspiration? Check out the March for Real Climate Leadership wrap-up page, featuring an outstanding video, along with pictures, press hits and important numbers.

Keep your eye on California: the momentum is with us we’re not stopping until we’ve banned fracking for good.

Members of the Food & Water Watch California team pause for a quick photo as people gather behind them for the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

Members of the Food & Water Watch California team pause for a quick photo as people gather behind them for the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on February 7, 2015. PHOTO © MICHAEL WOOLSEY / COURTESY OF FOOD & WATER WATCH.

February 20th, 2015

Food for Thought With Dr. Dennis Keeney

By Kate Fried KeeneyCoverjpg

When many of us think of farms, our minds conjure idyllic images of small operations tended by friendly farmers, animals grazing freely in dewy pastures, rolls of hay that look like giant Shredded Wheats, bright red barns with silos. But with the advent of large-scale industrial farming, that reality is starkly different.

According to Food & Water Watch board member Dr. Dennis Keeney, the first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, “the farm you grew up on, at least for a couple of generations, was named after the family that lived there. It became a sense of place that we really miss, because now agriculture is large corporate farms that have no sense of place. It’s a way of life that is largely gone.” Read the full article…

February 19th, 2015

An Apple Lover’s GMO Apple Lament

By Genna Reed 

What is it about an apple that makes it such a beloved and culturally important fruit? For some it might be its bright red color, its sweet, juicy crunch, its association with the brisk beginnings of fall or perhaps its fabled ability to ward off visits to doctors’ offices.Apples

When I was growing up, my mom packed a home-sliced apple for me every single day for lunch. Though slicing the apples took more time, my mom got into the habit when braces made biting into the skin of an apple an arduous feat. The apple slices were sometimes a bit browned by lunchtime, but it never deterred me from devouring this healthy snack. Furthermore, I never stopped before biting into the apple slices to think to myself, “Gee, if only these slices could be modified somehow to prevent browning.” Read the full article…

February 13th, 2015

The Oil & Gas Industry Wants Your Children to Love Fracking, Not Democracy

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 5.40.42 PMBy Sandra Lupien and Rich Bindell

We live in a nation founded on democracy – a system that succeeds only when the people living within it engage in civic participation, a value prized so highly that “civics” has long been central to every public school K-12 curriculum. Kids learn that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to “petition the Government for redress of grievances.” In other words, if you want something to be different, speak up and tell those who have the power to do something about it.

We also live in a world of finger-pointing and hypocrisy. Some point their fingers more than others. And some point their fingers to distract you from what they are doing behind their back.

Last month, Energy In Depth (EID), a front group for the oil and gas industry, pointed its finger at Food & Water Watch Western Region Director Sam Schabacker. The group cried out with rage at Sam’s audacity for what it called “using children in ‘ban fracking’ campaigns.”

Essentially, EID interrupted its regular programming—promoting the extracting of the last remaining ounces of fossil fuel from the earth by blasting it out with water and chemicals, endangering public health and the environment of thousands of American communities and millions of people, and exporting the final product to the highest bidders overseas—because it saw something it thought it could exploit: Food & Water Watch supporting children who wanted to learn about civic engagement and social responsibility.

It’s taken us a few weeks to catch the shortest break from our regular programming – fighting this lying industry’s dangerous profit-driven practices like fracking – to point out the comedic egregiousness of EID’s hypocrisy.

EID took issue with the fact that, in 2013, Sam helped train a group called “Kids Against Fracking” when its members visited their state legislators (with their parents’ permission) to urge them to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado. These youth leaders organized themselves, scheduled their own meetings, led the discussions with the elected officials, and even reached out to the press to publicize their efforts to get involved in their democracy. Watch this video to see the result of Sam’s civics lesson. We’re pretty proud of Sam’s efforts to help educate these kids about democracy and civic engagement. EID’s charge that we’re “using kids” is not only desperate—it’s hypocritical.

Case in point: Talisman Terry. In 2011 gas extraction giant Talisman Energy created a propaganda coloring book, which it distributed widely to children in the Eastern United States. The book, which was later discontinued by Talisman (but still can be downloaded), features Terry, an amiable Fracasaurus and everyone’s favorite gas industry representative. He goes from house to house, asking homeowners for permission to frack their land. Then, Terry clears the land before drilling into the shale. But don’t worry, kids, reassures Terry, fracking only leaves behind a beautiful grassy field with its rainbow and sunshine completely intact. Terry even throws in an extra falcon. All this from a company that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited for 145 violations.

But did EID make so much as a peep about Talisman Energy “using children?” Yeah … no.

What’s the matter, EID? Afraid that these kids engaging elected officials with nothing but their sincere concern will have some influence when all you’ve got is dough? From 2008-2011, the oil and gas industry spent $4.7 million lobbying in Colorado to promote its fracking ways. In 2014, they spent a whooping $ 11 million to elect pro-fracking candidates. In 2012, the American Petroleum Institute paid $85.5 million to four PR and advertising firms including a whopping $51.9 million to just one firm—Edelman, which calls itself “the world’s largest PR firm”.

Nothing scares a bully more than a knowledgeable truth-speaking foe. If the most powerful industry points a finger at you for teaching kids to be good citizens, it’s fair to say you’re doing something right. Go, Sam!




Congress: Don’t Mess With Meat Labels

By Katherine Cirullo

COOL_Labeling_USDA_MeatThis week brought progress for consumers, ranchers and food safety advocates who want to know where their food is produced. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dropped an anti-consumer lawsuit filed by meatpackers and industry groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have denied U.S. shoppers the right to know where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered. The dismissal marks a major victory in the long history of industry attacks on country of origin labeling (COOL), but the battle to this labeling law isn’t over just yet, as the rule remains vulnerable to the whims of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in July of 2013 by the American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. (a conglomerate of domestic and international meatpacking and commodity groups) sought to strike-down COOL, a popular meat labeling law that gives consumers basic information about the origin of meat products. The court entertained three rounds of challenges by the industry groups. And those groups lost at every round.

First, in September of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the meatpackers’ request that the USDA stop using an updated version of COOL requirements that gave consumers more precise information about the origin of meat. Then, in March of 2014, a three-judge panel of the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. And in July, the entire circuit appeals court upheld the legitimacy of USDA’s rules for the popular COOL labels – rejecting the industry’s claim that companies have a First Amendment right to not give consumers basic information about where food comes from. Read the full article…

February 10th, 2015

TPP is the Crazy Train, and Fast Track is the Highway to Hell

Stop Secret Trade DealsA quick guide to why the TPP and Fast Track would undermine Democracy and eliminate protections for food and water

By Rich Bindell

We’ve been exposed to an awful lot of banter and propaganda about international trade deals recently. In the past year, the words “Fast Track,” “Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” and “trade promotion authority” have been thrown around quite liberally, most recently in the State of the Union Address. While we’ve blogged about the TPP and Fast Track many times already, and produced a fact sheet or two to break it down for the uninitiated, it seems like it might be a nice gesture to explain why this topic is on the tips of many a political tongue as of late.

In a world of endless acronyms, international trade has produced its share, many of which can be noted for their potential to reap havoc on values that Americans hold dear. To put it simply, the TPP is a controversial and largely secretive global trade deal that the Obama administration is trying to push through Congress, and Fast Track is a convenient nickname for the mechanism that political leaders are trying to use to push it through Congress quickly, without any messy arguments about it’s details. If it helps you remember: TPP is the Crazy Train and Fast Track is the Highway to Hell.

For the better part of a year-and-a-half, the corporate lobbying machine, congressional Republicans and the White House have been united in pushing for Fast Track authority on trade deals that will hurt the environment, public health, workers and American democracy, but the TPP has the ability to do all of this in one fell swoop. Read the full article…

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