Recently, I attended a public hearing hosted by Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo. The subject of the hearing was a proposed 1000 MW electric generating plant located 5 miles from my house out in the middle of a forest. It is near a major natural gas pipeline that serves southern New England and a high tension long distance transmission line that is part of the regional grid. If built, it will be the largest generating plant in New England.
The meeting was attended by several hundred of my neighbors, most of whom are vehemently opposed to this plant, which will blanket the area with an increase in carbon emissions equivalent to adding 250,000 conventional cars and trucks to local roads. That’s almost as many vehicles as are currently registered in my tiny state.
Governor Raimondo kept assuring the audience that natural gas is a “bridge fuel to the future.” The argument is that anything has to be better than burning coal to make electricity. That may be true, Governor, but only in the most superficial sense. When we examine how natural gas is produced, we find that it is just as dirty as coal and even more destructive to the environment.
The fact that natural gas burns cleaner than coal in Rhode Island is no excuse for ignoring the destruction it causes to other states where fracking is prevalent. We only have one world, Governor. It is short sighted to close our eyes to the consequences our actions visit upon others.
A report prepared by Environment America in April details the damage fracking does to local environments. “For the past decade, fracking has been a nightmare for our drinking water, our open spaces, and our climate,” says Rachel Richardson, co-author of the report. The entire study is available online. It is long, detailed, and concise. I urge you to read it, Governor.
In the executive summary, the report states: “Fracking uses vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. According to industry reported data in the FracFocus database, oil andgas wells fracked across the U.S. between 2005 and 2015 used at least:
• 5 billion pounds of hydrochloric acid.
• 1.2 billion pounds of petroleum distillates, which can irritate the throat, lungs and eyes; cause dizziness and nausea; and can include toxic and cancer-causing agents.
• 445 million pounds of methanol, which is suspected of causing birth defects.
• The exact identities of many other chemicals are unknown because they are kept secret as proprietary information.
The report goes on to say, “People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne. A recent analysis by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health identified 157 chemicals used in fracking that are toxic. The toxicity of 781 other fracking chemicals examined by the researchers is unknown (p. 10). A 2014 study by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported thatnan estimated 10 percent of chemicals used in fracking fluid are known to be toxic to humans or aquatic life (p. 10).”
Why is so little known about the dangers of fracking? Quite simply, the oil and gas industry have spent lavishly to support compliant politicians. As a result, several states have passed laws making it a crime to reveal what chemicals are used in the process. That fact alone should alert you to dig deeper. Why would companies invest so much money to keep the public in the dark about their activities? Doesn’t that raise alarm bells for you, Governor? It sure does for me.
Fracking is also associated with an increased risk of earthquakes and contaminated drinking water. The process releases billions of tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. As a smart, savvy person, Governor, I’m sure you are aware that methane is far more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Is it more accurate to call a fuel that requires such a high level of environmental destruction a bridge fuel or a death sentence for our children and grandchildren?
The meeting I attended in June was also attended by many union construction workers. They want the powerplant built because it means jobs for them, jobs that will allow them to feed their families. I understand their position. But let me suggest this. If you truly want to be a leader, why not put those union members to work building renewable energy installations?
Why squander money on a project that will spew billions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere over the next 40 years when that money when that money could be more wisely used to create the means to de-carbonize the electric grid and benefit an unending succession of future citizens? The union workers need jobs, but that doesn’t mean those jobs should go to further the interests of fossil fuel companies.
I am sure you are aware, Governor, of the COP 21 conference that took place in Paris last December. That’s when all the nations of the world came together to plan how to reduce carbon emissions in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. That’s the point at which climate scientists say we will pass a tipping point that will trigger a worldwide environmental catastrophe. All the countries of the world agreed to take action to prevent that from happening. Surely our little state should be doing its part to help prevent a global disaster, shouldn’t it?
For more information about how promoting renewable energy will fuel economic growth, please view the recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. It claims, “Accelerating the deployment of renewable energy will fuel economic growth, create new employment opportunities, enhance human welfare, and contribute to a climate-safe future.”
Finally, Governor, I want to share with you a brief presentation made by Elon Musk on Paris last December. Musk may be the most far sighted visionary alive today when it comes to recognizing the collision course mankind and fossil fuels are on with the environment. His presentation is simple, direct, and accessible to people like me who do not have a technical background.
Once you view it, Governor, I think you will be hard pressed to call natural gas or any other fossil fuel a “bridge fuel.” That term is specious. It was made up by highly paid shills for the energy companies who want to sugar coat the truth and cram it down our throats so they can continue to reap their obscene profits. Bear in mind that many of the people mouthing pious platitudes on behalf of fossil fuel companies today learned their tactics and techniques from the tobacco industry. Should we believe what they say is the truth?
Like all politicians, Governor, you anticipate expanding your political career. For most, that means slavishly following the dictates of powerful peope who would willing subvert the public interest in search of profits for themselves. We have plenty of those kinds of so-called leaders, many of them members of Congress.
I was much impressed with how you conducted yourself during the meeting I attended. I think you could be an influential leader. It is time to decide whether you wish to be a true leader or just another follower who does what those who control the purse strings require of you. The choice is yours, Governor. Please choose wisely.
Source: Think Progress Graphic: IRENA