Fracking in Alabama’s National Forests? Time to Act

Talladega National Forest Image

Talladega National Forest, located in eastern Alabama, is one of the state’s most valuable natural resources. The forest includes crucial water sources for nearby towns, as well as habitat for threatened and endangered species. It’s also a popular destination for hikers, campers, hunters, and bikers, attracting an estimated 600,000 visitors each year.

Despite all this, the Talladega Forest has been targeted by Big Oil and Gas. On June 14, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to sell drilling leases for 43,000 acres of the Forest. There may not even be enough gas under the forest to warrant drilling, but, if there is, it might be accessed with hydraulic fracking.

Gas drilling in Talladega National Forest threatens the health of nearby communities. As I’m sure you know, fracking consumes millions of gallons of freshwater–a resource we can’t afford to waste–and produces vast amounts of toxic “flowback” that can contaminate water supplies. Plus, a recent study found that fracking chemicals can reach underground aquifers much faster than previously thought. 

The BLM’s decision to sell leases in the Talladega is based on a 2004 study conducted by the Forest Service. But this study is outdated and woefully inadequate–it doesn’t even mention fracking.
What’s more, selling gas leases in Talladega National Forest could actually be illegal. Mark Kolinski at Wild South (one of the groups fighting the leases) explained,

The USFS and the BLM have not conducted their due diligence in terms of assessing the potential impacts of this heightened level of industrial oil and gas development and may well be in violation of federal law, especially the Endangered Species Act, in this regard. Selling oil and gas leases constitutes an irretrievable commitment of resources and is among the activities regulated under the ESA.

The good news? We still have time to halt the drilling leases in Talladega National Forest and protect nearby communities from exploitation. The local anti-fracking movement is building momentum, and we need your help to secure a victory.

Please sign this petition demanding the BLM stop leasing National Forest land for oil and gas drilling.

This is a federal lands issue, so it doesn’t matter where in the U.S. you live. A win in Alabama will forward the anti-fracking cause nationwide, because it will prove that the value of clean water and healthy ecosystems transcends partisan politics.

So, please take a minute to support our efforts to safeguard the public health from fracking, in Alabama and throughout the country.

If you’d like to get more involved, contact Wild South at 256-974-6166, or at WildSouth.org. And, if you want to delve deeper, you can read the detailed letter of protest filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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New Keystone XL Route Still Threatens Water Supply

Cross-posted from WeArePowerShift.

At the height of the Keystone XL battle, some of the pipeline’s toughest opponents came from Nebraska, where people of all political persuasions were alarmed at the damage a potential spill would cause. And rightfully so: According to the original plan, KXL would have crossed the Nebraska Sandhills, an ecologically-sensitive area that sits above the Ogallala aquifer.

TransCanada just re-applied for a permit to build KXL along an alternate route, one that avoids the Sandhills. But, according to the new plan, the pipeline would still threaten the crucial aquifer. Lisa Song of InsideClimate News reports:

The company’s preferred corridor avoids the Sandhills of southwest Holt County, just as TransCanada promised it would. But it still crosses through northern Holt County, where the soil is often sandy and permeable and the water table is high—the same characteristics that make the Sandhills so vulnerable to the impact of an oil spill.

In some parts of the new corridor, the groundwater lies so close to the surface that the pipeline would run through the aquifer instead of over it. (See map of TransCanada’s preferred Keystone XL route.)

What does that mean for the no-KXL movement? Obviously, a major objection to KXL–that it could poison water for thousands of people–is still completely valid. That means landowners, even those who don’t object to the pipeline on principle, may be powerful allies again, as TransCanada gears up for another battle over the border crossing permit.

However, that permit may soon be useless. A new batch of pipeline projects, none of which require State Department approval, could render KXL redundant.

  • The Bakken Crude Express will carry oil from deposits in North Dakota to the market hub of Cushing, Oklahoma. This pipeline will serve U.S. refineries the same way KXL would, but for about a tenth of the cost.
  • Enbridge, another Canadian pipeline company, plans to reverse the flow of its Seaway pipeline, in order to pump crude from Oklahoma to Texas.
  • Flanagan South, also by Enbridge, will carry oil to Oklahoma and is expected to be in service a year before KXL would be.
  • Meanwhile, Enbridge’s Trailbreaker project, which would ship tar sands oil into New England, seems to beback on the table. Several green groups claim Enbridge is trying to skirt proper review by breaking Trailbreaker into smaller phases.

Round two of the tar sands fight is about to begin. This time, the result may hinge more on the presidential election, since Obama will try to avoid another controversial decision. For his part, Romney has said he is prepared to build KXL himself, if need be. (Presumably, that is why he wears blue jeans at campaign stops.)

If KXL is ever delayed or permanently canceled for any reason, the climate movement can and should claim a victory. After all, they helped draw toxic attention to it, in the first place. From a carbon perspective, though, the “alternatives” are no better. A tar sands pipeline, by any other name, still smells like tar sands.

Image: Tar Sands Action

EPA Announces New Carbon Regulations: What You Need to Know

Coal power plant

Cross-posted from We Are Power Shift.

On Tuesday, the EPA officially announced its long-awaited rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — the first ever in U.S. history. According to the standards, new plants can emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per magawatt of electricity produced. Natural gas plants fall within this limit; coal plants do not.

So what does this mean for coal? At the moment, not much. The key word is new — plants already running are exempt from the regulations. In a move that startled climate advocates, EPA Admin Lisa Jackson declared that there were “no plans to address existing plants,” which, of course, produce the vast majority of the power sector’s carbon emissions.

But here’s the catch: The EPA may be legally obligated to regulate existing coal plants. Grist‘s David Roberts explains,

Once something is deemed a pollutant under the Clean Air Act… then it must be regulated under Section 111 of the act….

Section 111b governs new sources. That’s what was issued today. But when EPA regulates under 111b, that triggers a legal obligation for it also to regulate existing sources under 111d.

So a carbon rule for existing sources should appear sometime in the future, but, as far as the Administration is concerned, there’s no point in talking up more regulations until something’s actually on the table. Thus, “no plans,” at least until after the election. (Of course, under a Republican president, the EPA, if it even existed, would undoubtedly scrap all carbon limits.)

We’ve still taken a step forward. The new EPA carbon rules help the clean energy effort by effectively outlawing new coal-fired plants. In order to meet the requirements, coal plants would have to capture and store their CO2 emissions, and carbon sequestration isn’t available yet on a large scale.

[youtube http://youtu.be/uFJVbdiMgfM]

Interestingly, the coal industry built an entire lobbying campaign around this technology, dubbed “clean coal,” and politicians, including Obama, picked up the term becase they like alliteration. But when faced with actually implementing it, the industry people balk. Apparently, we should keep using coal because coal is clean, but we can’t require coal to be clean because clean coal, in the words of a Peabody Energy spokesman, “doesn’t exist as a commercial technology.” Thanks for clearning that up!

The bottom line: As long as the rule holds, the climate movement doesn’t have to worry about stopping new coal plants. Instead, activists can focus on transitioning old coal energy to renewable sources. We are nearer than ever to a coal-free America.

[Image: Dmitri Klimenko]

Of Oil and the Undead: A Keystone XL Update

Not long ago, the creature known as Keystone XL was hidden in the uncharted lands of bureaucracy, unknown to the general public. That was before an alliance of environmental campaigners, climate activists, college students, and Nebraska landowners dragged Keystone into the spotlight and made it pivotal issue in Washington.

A New York Times article, a corrupt environmental review, and a couple thousand arrests later, Keystone XL was a celebrity. Its every move became headline news. The No-KXL campaign convinced Obama that the pipeline was dangerous (politically, at least), and he tried to lock it up until after the election. But Republicans in Congress threw a tantrum and demanded a rushed decision on Keystone XL, even though State had warned that the review process would not be complete.

So it was that Barack Obama killed Keystone XL. But the pipeline’s friends on Capitol Hill aren’t backing down. The Grand Oil Party seems to have made reanimating Keystone XL its number-one goal. Right now, they have three main options:

  • Keystone XL will likely be featured in the House’s infrastructure bill. The “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” is a veritable Frankenstein of pro-oil policies and outdated urbanism. (To paraphrase the bill’s authors: Bikes and pedestrians = bad, highways and oil drilling = ♥.) Keystone XL would be in good company.
  • Alternatively, Keystone XL could be added to the next payroll tax bill. The previous one–a stopgap measure–was considered a “must-pass,” so the Republicans used it to rush a decision on the pipeline. They could try the same strategy again, this time requiring an approval. But the leadership would take some heat for holding the popular tax break hostage over an unrelated issue.
  • Big Oil’s pals in the Senate are promoting a standalone bill to approve Keystone XL. So far, 44 Senators have signed on. A House version is in the works as well. If you’re wondering, it would be legal for Congress to approve Keystone XL on its own, but Obama would have to pass a bill circumventing his own authority. In other words, the standalone bill would serve mainly as a talking point

If these options fail, Zombie XL could still come back with an alternate route, or TransCanada could apply for a new permit. For now, though, our oily adversary is confined to the laboratories of Congress.

The Keystone XL is unpredictable and known to attack without warning. Be sure to follow @TarSandsAction and @TheGreenLens for the latest news.

Environmental Surf Film Journeys into the Great Bear Rainforest

Part enviro documentary, part surf film, Tipping Barrels was created by Canadian surf brand Sitka, in collaboration with Pacific Wild. Although the film has a clear message, it doesn’t feel too “activist.” My impression is that the team set out to produce a work of art first and an advocacy piece second. As a result, you can appreciate the beautiful shots of rainforest and wildlife without delving into politics–at the same time, you can’t help but realize how much beauty and life is at stake.

I think this is a smart way to produce a documentary, even from an activist perspective. Tipping Barrels doesn’t preach. It’s basically a story of two guys looking to catch some waves off the coast of British Columbia. The stunning landcape visuals draw you in, and the poignant interviews make an understated but undeniable point.

Background: Oil and Rainforests Don’t Mix

The Enbridge Northern Gateway, the pipeline mentioned in the film, would pump tar sands  over 2,000 miles from Alberta to British Columbia (map here)–think of it as Keystone XL’s northern cousin. Like TransCanada’s project, the Northern Gateway is intended to help Canadian tar sands companies reach growing markets in Asia. In doing so, it will cross hundreds of streams and rivers, ending at the port of Kitimat in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway has the distinction of threatening one of the most pristine temperate ecosystems in the world. From Kitimat, tankers would carry the oil along British Columbia’s rugged coastline, home to a huge range of wildlife, from the economically essential salmon to the enigmatic spirit bear.

The industrial infrastructure needed to ship oil would be destructive enough by itself. And I don’t even need to describe what an oil spill on the B.C. coast would entail–just picture BP’s mess in a rainforest. Even something on the scale of the recent Montana oil spill would be disastrous.

The Northern Gateway faces stiff opposition, especially from First Nations communities, who have united against the pipeline. Largely due to the controversy, the final decision on Enbridge’s proposal has been delayed until 2013. But, like Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway has a lot of money and political power behind it, so it’s definitely not dead yet.