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 But this study is outdated and woefully inadequate–it doesn’t even mention fracking.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

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]

Rick Santorum on Energy, Environment, and Climate

Rick Santorum CPAC 2012As the election year lurches on, Rick Santorum is emerging as an alternative to the assumed nominee, Mitt Romney (at least for the moment). So far, the super PACs have neglected to tear apart Mr. Santorum’s platform, so I thought I would take it upon myself to pick up the slack–at least in the green department.

Standing Up for Your Neighborhood Coal Giant

You may have heard Santorum talk about helping a local business fend off creeping regulatory tentacles. In the New Hampshire debate, he said, “My grandfather was a coal miner. So I contacted a local coal company from my area. I said, look, I want to join you in that fight. I want to work together with you.”

That “local company” was Consol Energy, one of the largest coal mining outfits in the country. And, as Kate Sheppard reports, “joining in the fight” translates to being hired as a consultant for about $142,000 between 2010 and August 2011.

During his Senate career, Santorum received more than $73,000 in donations from Consol, and (surprise!) his legislative record was indistinguishable from the coal company’s agenda. He fought cap-and-trade, cheered on Bush’s coal-friendly Clean Air loopholes, and pressured the EPA to relax sulfur dioxide standards. More recently, Santorum attacked the new rules limiting mercury emissions from power plants.

Unmasking the Global Warming Conspiracy

What about Santorum and global warming? Most of the candidates take a relatively nuanced “skeptical” view. But not Santorum. At a campaign stop Colorado, he declared that he had never bought the “hoax of global warming.” In this, he one-ups Gingrich and Romney, both of whom have, at some point, sort of leaned in the general direction of maybe accepting climate change as a problem.

To any readers outside the States: Yes, our presidential candidates do argue over who has the strongest record of rejecting tenth grade science.

But let’s assume for a moment that Santorum sincerely believes climatology is a dastardly plot to dominate of our lives and our economy. The scale of this conspiracy is pretty impressive. It was apparently begun in 1824 by Joseph Fourier, who first proposed the greenhouse effect. Today, nearly every national Academy of Science and 97 percent of climate scientists scheme around the clock to deceive policymakers and the public.

One might think that such a vast fraud accusation would not be made lightly.

Renewing America’s Commitment to Hydrocarbons

Believing climate change is a hoax is convenient when your energy policy sounds like an ad for the American Petroleum Institute. Overall, Santorum’s platform is about average for the GOP:

  • He favors an “all-of-the-above” policy–mainly fossil fuels, in other words.
  • He would remove limits on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Outer Continental Shelf, and the ANWR. “Drill. Drill everywhere,” he told Glenn Beck.
  • Keystone XL, he says, should be immediately approved. To not do so is “pandering to radical environmentalists who don’t want energy production.”
  • Rather than eliminate the Energy Department, he would like to stop its investments in “technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and alternative-energy vehicles.” Why? According to his web site, the market alone should decide which energy products are successful.
  • Interestingly, Santorum proposes getting rid of all energy subsidies. Presumably, this would include not just renewables, but also oil.

And here is Rick Santorum’s take on fracking:

[Environmentalists] are…saying…’Ooh, all this bad stuff’s going to happen, we don’t know all these chemicals and all this stuff.’ Let me tell you what’s going to happen: Nothing’s going to happen, except they will use this to raise money for the radical environmental groups so they can go out and continue to try to purvey their reign of environmental terror on the United States of America.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Rick Santorum may have charisma in Republican circles, but goes out of his way to attract the scorn of environmentalists, climate hawks, and fans of clean energy.

At the very least, you have to give him credit for being consistent.

 

[Image credit: Mark Taylor on Flickr.]

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.