Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hydrofracking in NYS through the lens of Climate Change

 

Although our governments, politicians, business community, and even our environmentalists do not (or will not) connect the dots of hydrofracking with Climate Change they cannot be isolated from each other. Natural gas, however extracted, is a greenhouse gas (GHG) when burned and it must be addressed as such.

Because of the scale of our energy issues, the scale of the gas to be extracted (some have referred to the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale boon as comparable to two Saudi Arabia’s worth of fossil fuels) and the scale of our Climate Change crisis, now is the time for the media and our government officials to connect natural gas with greenhouse gas emissions. The gravity of our accelerated Climate Change crisis, where there will be many likely changes to our region’s environment, compels us to view all environmental issues through the lens of Climate Change. This isn’t my expression; this is the language of the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

“As a Service, we are committed to examining everything we do, every decision we make, and every dollar we spend through the lens of climate change, fully confident in our workforce to rise to this challenge and to lead from in front and from behind.” page 5, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Rising to the Urgent Challenge, Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change

Addressing Climate Change must be our primary objective from now on, not just when it’s convenient. Not just when a few organizations get together and decide to install florescent light bulbs. Climate Change needs to be addressed when a major boon for extracting and then burning more fossil fuels is on the table. This is the time to stand up and connect the dots. Until that is done, the public cannot truly believe their government or environmentalists are serious about Climate Change.

Granted, this is going to be hard to do as New York leaps towards something akin to the heady days of the Texas oil rush. Everyone with gas under their land can be a zillionaire—just like the Beverly Hillbillies. So, all sorts of benefits are dangled before the eyes of New Yorkers: more jobs in a bad economy; farming isn’t paying like it used to so leasing your land to drilling can help compensate; New York State has very tough drilling regulations and we’ve learned from other states’ issues with hydrofracking; and the clincher, hydrofracking in NYS will make us energy independent so we won’t have to go to war over oil anymore. Hydrofracking is being presented in the media as a panacea that will resolve all our energy problems—except water issues.

The downsides of hydrofracking presented in mainstream media are mostly water issues: it might contaminate our water supplies; it draws a considerable amount of water from our lakes and streams, and more including our drinking water might catch on fire. But, nowhere is it mentioned that hydrofracking and burning more natural gas will exacerbate Climate Change. It’s just not talked about—even though it is impossible to refute.

What if we connected the dots and admitted that this rage for natural gas will warm the planet further? It would look like this: We would drop hydrofracking altogether. We would strip away subsides that we give to the oil industry (in the billions) and give these incentives to wind, solar and geothermal power. Along with battery storage improvements, smart grid technology, energy efficiency, and conservation, we could do without the havoc that is going to be caused by hydrofracking. And, there’d be jobs galore. And we might just cool down the planet.

The study that the New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC) just released on hydrofracking does mention the mitigation of greenhouse gases. But it only addresses escaping GHG during the drilling process. It doesn’t talk about natural gas being a GHG—even though the NYSDEC OFFICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE helped write the report: Preliminary Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (July 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

The truth is that we are not serious about the Climate Change crisis. The press won’t include Climate Change in their daily reporting. The government won’t include Climate Change in their drilling regulations. Environmentalists won’t use Climate Change when talking about hydrofracking. The public won’t talk about Climate Change at all—unless it’s something vague and fortuitous. Through the lens of Climate Change hydrofracking is a continuance of an energy option that will ensure a further acceleration of atmospheric warming. There’s nothing in our collective present activities to suggest that we are able to move on the scale needed to actually reverse the human release of GHG. This present hydrofracking issue in NYS is a clear example of how we go about avoiding our generation’s responsibility.

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