Thoughts on environmental activism in a Trump presidency

Yesterday I looked at the potential environmental policy direction of the Trump Administration. Today I offer some additional thoughts about what this might mean for political action.

Republicans own climate change
Conservative Republicans now own climate change, with all its consequences.

 Over the years they have sold their party out to climate denialism in a flood of money from the Koch Brothers and the oil and gas industry. It has become an unquestioned aspect of Republican orthodoxy to deny or question whether climate change is occurring, or whether it has human causes, or, if it does, whether we can possibly consider any policy that would have an impact on jobs in the fossil fuel energy sector.

The Obama Administration was late to the game on climate change, but they have made significant positive actions to take global leadership for action to reduce the impacts of warming.

The Republicans now have the power to wipe out all of that if they choose to. They can gut the EPA, take us out of the Paris Climate Agreement, open public lands to fossil fuel development and transport, scrap the Clean Power Plan, and open the doors to the frackers to exploit the land and foul water and air in the name of economic growth.

Yes, it is a bleak picture.

It is scant comfort that what they have taken possession of is a ticking time bomb that will eventually be their undoing. Their aggressive neglect will not only accelerate the process of warming, but the lack of US leadership will empower other nations to be neglectful as well. No matter what Republicans cynically believe, the climate is warming, arctic ice is disappearing, the ocean is rising, drought and extreme weather are intensifying. In the not-too-distant future, it will be clear to all that they have ruined the only planet we have.

Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Attitudes are changing
But there is potential positive news here.

The Republican Party is out of step with the American people on this issue. According to a recent study by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, 70% of Americans now believe that global warming is occurring and public opinion is changing fairly rapidly toward acceptance. What’s more, even though there is uncertainty about whether global warming is human-caused, Americans interest in climate action outpaces their agreement that climate change exists.

Conservative Republican attitudes are changing more rapidly than the general public.

  • The share of conservative Republicans who say global warming is happening has risen from 28 to 47 percent over the last two years.
  • As a whole, 56 percent of Republicans say global warming is happening, up from 40 percent two years ago

What’s more, even though there is uncertainty about whether global warming is human-caused, interest in climate action outpaces agreement that climate change exists.

  • 84 percent of registered voters support more funding for renewable energy research (91 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans).
  • 81 percent support tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (91 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans).
  • 75 percent support regulating carbon dioxide emissions (88 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans).
  • A large majority (70 percent) of registered voters support setting strict carbon emission limits on existing coal power plants. But only 37 percent of conservative Republicans support such action (as opposed to 67 percent of liberal/moderate Republicans and 67 percent of Independents).

Changes in attitude present opportunities for unusual political alliances. 3 in 10 registered voters say they are ready to join a campaign to convince their elected representatives to take action to combat climate change. More education is badly needed to separate public attitudes from political orthodoxy. More experience with extreme events will continue to change attitudes.

Here is a one-hour presentation of the findings of this study.

Other developments moving us forward
What’s more, other developments can move us forward in taking climate action. Vox lists some of these:

  • States like California and New York are still pursuing their own ambitious climate policies, and it’s possible those efforts could be so successful that other states decide to follow suit.
  • Likewise, wind power, solar power, and electric cars will keep getting cheaper — it’s possible they’ll acquire a self-sustaining momentum, even without support from the US government. Or maybe some other new low-carbon technologies will emerge to shake up climate politics. (Small modular reactors, anyone?)
  • Climate activists will continue to push for action at local levels — much as they did during the George W. Bush years, when the Sierra Club began blocking a major planned expansion of coal power. It’s possible that opposition to Trump will galvanize a new generation of climate activists who find creative ways to address global warming.
  • Individuals and local communities are taking action. Recent protests regarding the Dakota Pipeline have galvanized support, and, in California, Monterey County became the first local government with a significant oil industry to ban fracking when voters took action on Tuesday.
  • Other countries still have their own reasons for tackling climate change, even China and India (which, note, is choking on deadly levels of air pollution in Delhi right now). It’s possible that Trump’s recalcitrance on climate change could motivate the rest of the world to redouble their efforts at curtailing emissions without us.
  • It’s even possible that Trump and the GOP could have a change of heart and decide that global warming is a real issue that needs to be taken seriously. It’s possible that Republicans could balk at repealing all these pollution regulations, realizing that they’re actually quite popular. Stranger things have happened.

Last, four years is not the end of time. It is critical to step up action at the local level. It is not a time to sit back and let things happen. Step up, get active, and fight for your planet.

Shutterstock images

Shutterstock images

Posted in Climate change, Politics and History | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Environmental implications of a Donald Trump presidency

President Elect Donald J Trump

President Elect Donald J Trump

Regardless of where you stand politically, Donald Trump’s election yesterday was an unexpected shock. There is no way to know all the environmental implications of his election, but we can expect significant deviation from the policies of the last eight years, and a return to the environmentally ruinous policies of the Bush/Cheney era.

This occurs at a time when public understanding and acceptance of the need to combat climate change is growing. We should be moving quickly to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon emissions; instead it appears we will moving back to the era of “drill baby drill.”

Based on what I have heard and read, here are some of the known positions and statements of Donald Trump on the environment.

Climate change and air quality

  • Cancel United States participation in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Our participation in the plan was the linchpin for getting 195 countries to agree to voluntary emissions reductions, and our withdrawal will like undermine the entire agreement.
  • Stop the Clean Power Plan, which will require power plants in each state to achieve significant reductions in emissions.
  • Reverse the Supreme Court’s “endangerment” finding that says CO2 can be regulated. In 2009, the EPA determined, based upon a careful review of the scientific record, that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
  • Undo other regulations that he concludes harm jobs in the fossil fuel industries
  • Favor policies that promote coal, oil and natural gas for power generation


  • Undo regulations on oil and gas fracking and power plant emissions
  • Encourage development of fossil energy generally
  • Possibly reverse policies that support renewable energy
  • Revive Keystone XL pipeline; ease the way for other fossil fuel transmission lines
  • In the past has said he doesn’t want energy development done in a way that damages public lands

Public Lands

  • Encourage development of coal, oil and natural gas resources on public lands.
  • Lift the moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands
  • Make it easier to site pipelines and transmission lines on public lands
  • Weaken or eliminate rules that govern oil and gas development on public lands
  • Suggested more corporate sponsorships of national parks, but not necessarily in a way that makes them overtly commercial
  • Give states more input on what happens on federal public lands
  • Create more access to resource extraction on BLM lands
  • Side with sportsmen on issues of hunting and management of public lands
  • In the past has opposed the idea of state or private takeover of public lands
  • May invest in invigorating public lands for all forms of recreation


  • Undo the “Waters of the US” rule that clarifies the EPA’s jurisdiction over waters regulated under the Clean Water Act.


  • Eliminate or substantially weaken the EPA
  • Make all new regulations go through a ‘jobs’ test
  • Eliminate existing regulations that he concludes cut jobs

What it means for us
We are at a crossroads for environmental and energy policy. Either we move quickly to reduce our carbon footprint in an attempt to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, or we backslide and leave a catastrophic mess for future generations. Failure to move forward for four or eight years will be ruinous if we hope to keep temperature increases to the level specified in the Paris agreement.

At a local level, we should continue to fight for regulation of oil and gas activity to protect our property, our water, and our communities. We should support the protests of those who are fighting to block unnecessary and illegal pipelines. We should take political action to fight for legislation at the state and federal levels. We should support candidates who will take responsible environmental actions. And we should make our voices heard at every possible moment to preserve our planet.

Yesterday’s election was a shock, but it is not the end of the world (at least I hope not). We all know that political progress is not continuous. It is at moments like this that we need to redouble our efforts.

Posted in Climate change, Community Organization, Politics and History | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

10 questions for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on energy and climate change

We have now been through four debates in this election cycle — three for president and one for vice president — and there has not been a single question posed to any candidate on energy and climate change.

At Preserve the Beartooth Front, we believe that this is the key issue facing the United States over the next 20-30 years. It is central not only to energy policy, but to economic development, national security, immigration, infrastructure, and much more.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

It is deeply concerning that these issues have not taken center stage in the campaign. Failure to debate them publicly lessens our chances of coming to consensus about a course of action that will enable the US to become an effective leader in reducing the impacts of climate change, and to transform our economy to take advantage of the dramatic shifts in energy technology that will occur in the coming decades.

We have tracked the candidates’ positions on energy and climate change for over a year, and have many questions we would pose to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if we had the chance. Here are ten. Please feel free to contribute your own in comments.

  1. What is the role of science in developing energy and climate policy? How will you reconcile the gap between climate science and the public’s perception (and Congress’) of that science?
  2. What specific policies, e.g. carbon tax, incentives for adoption of efficient energy technology, stimulus, would you propose to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies?
  3. What is the role of fracking in the transition of US energy policy to clean energy?
  4. What is an achievable timeline for the transition of US energy utilization from fossil fuels to clean energy? How does this apply specifically to coal, natural gas, and oil?
  5. How will you ensure US compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015? Is compliance with this agreement sufficient to avert the negative impacts of climate change?
  6. Science has shown that fracking has disproportionately negative environmental and community health impacts on the communities in which it takes place. What rights should local communities have to regulate fracking?
  7. For Hillary Clinton: You have proposed aggressive targets for adoption of solar, wind and other technologies, yet have not made this an issue in the campaign and have proposed no plan for action on this in your first year in office. Is this a serious goal, and, if so, how do you plan to achieve it?
  8. For Donald Trump: You have previously stated that climate change was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Please state whether you believe that
    1. Global temperature rise is occurring?
    2. If it is occurring, to what extent is it manmade?
    3. If it is manmade, what is the role of government in developing policies to address it?
  9. Describe your vision for energy use in the US in 2030. How will transportation, home energy use, and infrastructure be different from today?
  10. Your grandchildren will likely be alive in the year 2100. Science tells us that if we do not act quickly, climate change will cause major impacts in their lifetimes in sea level rise, drought, food and water availability, and more. Have you given any thought to what you will tell them about your role in keeping that from happening?
Posted in Clean energy, Climate change | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The state of Oklahoma would rather pray for oilfields than regulate them

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Sometimes items show up in my mailbox that I have a hard time believing. But the oil and gas industry often defies belief, and today’s item gave me pause.

Seems Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has issued an executive proclamation designating October 13 as Oilfield Prayer Day. The proclamation goes like this:

Whereas, Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, allowing the state to be a prosperous producer of these valuable resources; and

Whereas Christians acknowledge such natural resources are created by God; and

Whereas the oil and gas industry continues to produce countless opportunities for wealth generation for Oklahoma families; and

Whereas Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies; and

Whereas Christians are invited to thank God for the blessing created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection; now, therefore, I, Mary Fallin, Governor, do hereby proclaim October 13, 2016, as “Oilfield Prayer Day” in the state of Oklahoma.

I sure hope that the good Lord doesn’t send down one of his earthquakes on Thursday. It might shake the locals into realizing that an understanding of science, proper regulation, and a tax policy that makes oil billionaires pay for the damage they are doing to the state might do as much good as all those prayers.

It’s important to remain vigilant about the extent to which the oil and gas industry extends its tentacles into our lives to prevent responsible management of their activities.

Video | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

As a killer hurricane descends on Florida, a reminder that it is time to act on global warming in Montana

As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on Florida’s eastern coast. It is a killer Category 4 storm, with 140 mph winds. It has already caused extreme devastation in Haiti, leaving over 250 people dead and many more homeless. According to the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon, “Extremely dangerous, life-threatening weather conditions are forecast in the next 24 hours. Airborne debris lofted by extreme winds will be capable of breaching structures, unprotected windows and vehicles.”

The Governor of Florida has told 1.5 million people to leave their homes, saying, “You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”

Southeastern Florida in an age of global warming
According to a 2015 report by the Miami Herald, southeast Florida is the region in the world at greatest risk from rising ocean levels. If sea levels rise by six feet by 2100, which many scientists expect because of the accelerating rate of polar ice melt, 6 million people in Florida will live in flooded areas. The Herald says that, according to the Risky Business Project led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “the value of Florida property at risk from climate change (is) first in the nation. By 2030, they estimated $69 billion at risk, with sea rise alone expected to threaten $15 billion in property.

Tourists navigate the flooded streets of Miami during a king tide in 2015. Climatologists say these king tides will be normal high tides soon. Photo Emily Michot, Miami Herald

Tourists navigate the flooded streets of Miami during a king tide in 2015. Climatologists say these king tides will be normal high tides soon. Photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald

Tropical storms are the norm in Florida, but as the ocean warms, we can expect more and more devastating hurricanes like Matthew. Recent research has shown that we are experiencing more storms with higher wind speeds, and these storms will be more destructive, last longer and make landfall more frequently than in the past.

Global warming and Montana
There are obviously no tropical storms in Montana, but we have seen significant changes caused by global warming in the state. According to the most recent US Climate Assessment, published by an interagency group, in Montana and the Great Plains:

  • Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. This will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production, and ecological needs.
  • Changes to crop growth cycles due to warming winters and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events have already been observed; as these trends continue, they will require new agriculture and livestock management practices.
  • Landscape fragmentation is increasing. A highly fragmented landscape will hinder adaptation of species when climate change alters habitat composition and timing of plant development cycles.
  • Communities that are already the most vulnerable to weather and climate extremes will be stressed even further by more frequent extreme events occurring within an already highly variable climate system.
  • The magnitude of expected changes will exceed those experienced in the last century. Existing adaptation and planning efforts are inadequate to respond to these projected impacts.

Now is the time to act
We are all connected. Florida’s global warming problem is Montana’s problem. While Montana will not experience the magnitude of impacts of global warming that Florida will, swift action is required to reduce carbon emissions. This means a rapid transition from traditional fossil fuels to clean energy, supported by government incentives, a carbon tax, and other measures.

As Florida is devastated by a storm fueled by warmer oceans, we can no longer afford ourselves the luxury of complaining about “a war on coal” or allow our government agencies to permit oil and gas companies to operate with minimal regulation.

We can respond quickly if we act together to move toward a carbon-free future rather than clinging to our devastating energy past.

Posted in Climate change | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Billings Gazette editorial on fracking chemical disclosure

John Cole, Scranton (PA) Times Tribune. Click to enlarge.

John Cole, Scranton (PA) Times Tribune. Click to enlarge.

Last week the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation turned down a request from several conservation organizations and other residents to require increased disclosure of fracking chemicals.

This is typical for the BOGC. Earlier this year they declined to establish minimum setbacks of wellheads from occupied buildings, leaving Montana as one of the few oil and gas producing states with no required buffer zones.

Montana remains one of the most poorly regulated oil and gas producing states, largely because the BOGC is designed to conserve oil and gas interests, not the rights of the state’s residents. The fight to reform the BOGC is central to protecting the state’s residents from unsafe drilling in this poorly regulated industry.

Today the Billings Gazette responded to the latest BOGC failure with a scathing editorial, reprinted below.

Oil and Gas board needs to find a better fracking solution

No fracking way. 

That’s what the Montana Board of Oil and Gas said when it comes to disclosing what is in the fracking fluid that is pumped down oil wells at high pressure to recover oil. There’s simply no way to disclose what’s in the fluid without compromising trade secrets.

But what’s being compromised by not releasing the information is doubly concerning. 

First, think of how many industries have to disclose what they’re using to the public. Read the label on any agricultural product and companies will tell you a list of chemicals, compounds or ingredients. A label on any item on the grocery store has the ingredients. Look at how the air, water and soil are monitored for pollutants. So it seems curious that what is being forced into the ground and could potentially mix with water would get a free pass from a government board. Unless, of course, that government board is made up of members with ties or business interests in oil and gas.

Really, what can you expect a group of oil and gas people to say? Montana citizens should not expect an unbiased opinion from this group.

That being said, transparency is key because there is potential to do harm to one of our greatest resources, water. As the old Western saying goes, “Whiskey is for drinking, water’s for fighting.” 

We cannot leave to chance our environment, if our state history has taught us anything. We must have a better standard of review, and we must be assured that what is put into a well for fracking is going to be safe in a place where water is so scarce, especially when the financial fortunes of those who stand to gain so much by our oil don’t have to live here with the repercussions of any harm that may be done.

However, we also agree that there are limited times when detailed information may indeed be proprietary. And we also respect that businesses must be able to protect the investment. But that cannot come at the expense of our environment. Just because we’ve been fracking in Montana since 1951 doesn’t mean that all fracking done here — now or then — has been positive or done correctly.

That’s why we urge the oil and gas board to adopt some middle ground. Is there an independent review body which can assess the claims of proprietary information or trade secrets? After all, it would seem like the easiest thing in the world for a petroleum company to simply invoke the proprietary information excuse in order to avoid any scrutiny. 

We’d argue that there must be some independent review. We also think Wyoming may provide a reasonable alternative. In that state, where water contamination in Pavillion led to many questions about fracking and geology, that board has adopted a more stringent disclosure process. There are lists of fracking fluid ingredients that are not considered proprietary and must be disclosed. Any other fluid that is not on that list must be reviewed by experts to determine whether it falls under the proprietary disclosure. 

 When companies or individuals want to do something outside the public view, there’s often a reason. 

Trust us is not a good enough answer.

The risk of environmental damage is so great that we shouldn’t have to trust that something is safe. We should get the peace of mind to know that something is safe — not because some expert from a company says so, but because we can check the fact for ourselves.

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History, Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Interview: The Gas Patch with John Fenton

John Fenton, Pavillion Wyoming

John Fenton

I have a number of topics percolating, but I want to share this video that found its way to my mailbox today. It’s an interview with John Fenton of Pavilion, Wyoming about his experiences with the oil and gas industry and how they have changed his life, first for worse and then, in a transformational sense, for the better.

We’ve written about John in the past. We’ve described his personal story and how politics has trumped science in Pavilion, and encouraged you to attend an event in Red Lodge at which he spoke.

But we can’t do justice to John’s story the way he can. The video is an eighteen minute description of the events that changed his life. I can’t recommend it enough to those who live in communities where oil and gas drilling is being considered. It is sobering and hopeful, and perhaps it will spur you to action.

The video is part of a series by Heidi Hutner called Coffee with Hx2. Hutner is the director of the Sustainability Studies Program and Associate Dean in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

New study links fracking to migraines, fatigue, sinus problems

New research suggests that Pennsylvania residents with the highest exposure to active natural gas wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reporting online today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, say their findings add to a growing body of evidence linking the fracking industry to health problems.

fracking071816The research reminds us that Montana is one of the few oil and gas producing states with no mandated minimum distances, or setbacks, between wellheads and occupied buildings. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation recently considered the issue of setbacks, but decided to require only notification of residents when a well is about to be drilled nearby. Carbon County recently became the first county in Montana to pass a county-wide setback restriction as part of the County’s growth plan revision.

Debilitating impacts
“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says author Aaron W. Tustin. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

For their study, Tustin and his colleagues created a questionnaire and received responses from 7,785 adult primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System, a health care provider that covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. The questionnaires were returned between April and October of 2014. The researchers found that 1,765 respondents (23 percent) suffered from migraines, 1,930 people (25 percent) experienced severe fatigue and 1,850 (24 percent) had current symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis (defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms).

The researchers used publicly available well data to estimate participants’ exposure to the fracking industry. Their models accounted for the size and number of wells, as well as the distance between wells and people’s homes. While no single health condition was associated with proximity to active wells, those who met criteria for two or more of the health conditions were nearly twice as likely to live closer to more or larger wells.

Brian Schwartz

Brian Schwartz

“We don’t know specifically why people in close proximity to these larger wells are more likely to be sick,” says the study’s senior author Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “We need to find a way to better understand the correlation and, hopefully, do something to protect the health of these people.”

But, he said, “there have now been seven or eight studies with different designs and in different populations, and while none is perfect, there is now a growing body of evidence that this industry is associated with impacts on health that are biologically plausible.”

Previous research conducted by Schwartz and colleagues has linked the fracking industry to increases in premature births, asthma attacks and indoor radon concentrations.

Tustin and his colleagues say there are plausible explanations for how fracking could cause these health conditions. Well development generates air pollution, which could provoke nasal and sinus symptoms. This type of drilling also produces stressors such as odors, noise, bright lights and heavy truck traffic. Any of these stressors could increase the risk of symptoms. Migraine headaches, for example, are known to be triggered by odors in some individuals.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of millions of liters of water into deep rock formations to liberate natural gas or petroleum. Energy companies moved toward fracking in the early 2000s when natural gas prices were high and supplies were low. Pennsylvania has embraced the industry. Over 9,000 fracking wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past decade. Hydraulic fracturing has expanded rapidly in recent years in states such as Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia and Ohio. In contrast, New York has banned fracking and Maryland has delayed well production.

Maryland’s fracking moratorium is set to expire in October 2017. The moratorium was passed in 2015 out of concern about fracking’s potentially negative environmental effects, before the more recent health studies were completed. Schwartz says Maryland regulators should consider these new scientific findings when they decide whether to allow drilling.

“The moratorium was put in place before we even knew that there were health effects associated with these wells,” Schwartz says. “Now that we do, regulators need to carefully consider their next steps.”

A growing body of evidence
This study is part of a growing body of evidence that oil and gas drilling has substantial negative impacts on human health.

A recent analysis by PSE examined 685 peer reviewed studies on fracking. They  concluded that:

  • 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes;
  • 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination;
  • 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.

Montana remains woefully behind in protecting its residents from these health effects.

Based on “Study: Fracking associated with migraines, fatigue, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms,” John Hopkins University.

Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to step up on setbacks
A win for local activists: Carbon County passes county-wide oil and gas regulations
Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to act on chemical disclosure

The oil and gas industry’s predictable attack on this study: Activists’ own research contradict claim of link between fracking and sinus conditions, migraines, fatigue in Drillbit Media

Posted in Health impacts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Yellowstone River closing: this is what climate change looks like

Click to read the FWP release on the closure.

Click to read the FWP release on the closure.

A microscopic parasite is destroying the fish population of the Yellowstone River system, causing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to take the extraordinary step of closing a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone and its tributaries to all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating). The closure affects the river from Gardiner, at the north end of Yellowstone Park, to Laurel, and includes the Stillwater, Boulder, and Shields rivers.

In the past 10 days, FWP has discovered over 2000 dead mountain whitefish along this stretch of river, and expects that the total kill will climb to the “tens of thousands.” According to FWP, the kill is beginning to impact some rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The parasite is tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, which causes proliferative kidney disease (PKD) in salmonids, one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. According to FWP, the disease can be 20-100% fatal in trout.

The closure will have a dramatic impact on Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, which is responsible for more than 64,000 jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity. In stressing the urgency of the situation, Governor Bullock stated, “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

FWP will continue to monitor the river and will lift the closure when stream conditions such as flow and temperature improve and fish mortality ceases.

Water flows on the Stillwater are at an extremely low level, as you can see from our deck.

The Stillwater is at an extremely low level, as you can see in this photo taken from our deck.

This is what climate change looks like
The parasite is native to the northern US, Canada and Europe, but outbreaks have not been common. According to FWP, there have been only two isolated PKD outbreaks in Montana in the last 20 years.

Why such a huge outbreak, and why now?

According to the FWP release, the effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

We know that these stressors are extreme:

  • The area of the Yellowstone River system that has suffered the PKD outbreak is suffering from extreme drought conditions. According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Water Conservation, Sweetgrass, Stillwater, and Yellowstone counties — the primary locations of the closure — are all suffering from extreme drought as of July, 2016.
Source: Montana DNRC

Source: Montana DNRC. Download.

  • As we have reported on this site, 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years in recorded global history, and 2016 will set a new record. In fact, we have had over 30 consecutive months of record temperatures. These temperature increases have been felt in Montana. According to the federal government, average spring temperatures in the state have risen by almost 4°F over the last 55 years; summer temperatures have risen by over 1°F during the same period.
  • Source: US Geological Survey

    Source: US Geological Survey. Click to enlarge.

    Drought and increased temperatures reduce river water flows. I can see this looking out my back deck at the Stillwater. It is lower than it has been in years.

    The chart at right depicts Stillwater River water levels at Absarokee over the last week. Average river levels over 81 years are shown in the triangles at the top; current levels are shown by the blue line.

We also know that these conditions are not temporary. Droughts, warmer temperatures, and lower river flows are part of our future.

According to the article “Life cycle complexity, environmental change and the emerging status of salmonid proliferative kidney disease,” published in the journal Freshwater Biology in June, 2010:

“Environmental change is likely to cause PKD outbreaks in more northerly regions as warmer temperatures promote disease development, enhance bryozoan biomass and increase spore production, but may also reduce the geographical range of this unique multihost-parasite system. Coevolutionary dynamics resulting from host–parasite interactions that maximise fitness in previous environments may pose problems for sustainability, particularly in view of extensive declines in salmonid populations and degradation of many freshwater habitats.”

There are those in Montana who will say that this is an unfortunate chance outbreak of this disease, but it isn’t. This is what climate change looks like. It means that, as the conditions that promote diseases like PKD proliferate, so will future outbreaks of these and other diseases.

For those of us concerned about the future of this region it is a reminder that we need to guard against activities that can threaten our water. This includes oil and gas drilling, but many other activities as well. As Governor Bullock says, “We must be guided by science.”

The science is clear.

Related: Study: Native trout populations endangered by global warming
Congratulations! You’ve just lived through the hottest year on record. Again.
Comparing the 2016 US presidential candidates on climate change

Update August 23: Excellent article in The Atlantic on the unique nature of the parasite responsible for the shutdown, “A Tiny Jellyfish Relative Just Shut Down Yellowstone River.”

Billings Gazette: “Yellowstone fish-killing parasite is so prolific it’s ‘shocking’ fish to death”

…(T)he immune response that the fish are expressing would suggest that they have not been exposed to this parasite previously….That has concerned us since it would suggest it’s a new infection. At least we haven’t seen anything on this scale previously.”

“The other thing that’s concerning is from the histology results there were high numbers of parasites seen in multiple tissues. That suggests to us that the infective load that’s currently out in the river is very high. Why that’s a concern is that the sheer volume of parasites that’s out there makes it very easy for the parasite to be spread to other waters.”

Update August 24: Our post is featured in an article on the river closure on, which describes the evolving parasite as a “tiny winner” of climate chance. The article includes an item from the British Natural History Museum, which is ” examining how bryozoans act as a source of a disease in salmon and trout that is increasing in prevalence and severity as a result of environmental change.”

Update September 1: FWP issued a release today that announced the opening of some closed sections of the Yellowstone. From the release:

The Yellowstone River and all of its tributaries downstream from the Highway 89 Bridge Fishing Access Site to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel are open to all uses, with the exception of the Shields River and all of its tributaries, which remain closed to all public occupation and recreation per the original Aug. 19 closure in order to protect the Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery. The mainstem Yellowstone River and all tributaries downstream from the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel were never part of a closure, and remain open to all uses.


According to the Billings Gazette, this includes the Boulder and Stillwater rivers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Time for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas to act on fracking chemical disclosure

Last week a coalition of environmental organizations, landowners and public health advocates petitioned the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) to provide broader public disclosure of information about the chemicals used in fracking.

The coalition, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice and led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Montana Environmental Information Center, requested the changes to BOGC rules to ensure that Montana citizens who live and farm near fracking operations have access to chemical information they need to safeguard their property, health, and environment.

Montana law gives citizens the right to petition state agencies such as the BOGC to request amendments to agency regulations. The petition will be presented at the BOGC’s August 11 meeting in Billings, after which the agency will have 60 days to take action.

Why this is important
The current BOGC rules related to chemical disclosure were established in 2011. They require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking after a well is drilled, and allow operators to keep confidential any chemical information they claim to be a trade secret.

These rules put Montanans at a considerable disadvantage in protecting themselves from possible harm from oil and gas drilling for two important reasons:

  1. If water contamination occurs during drilling and a landowner tries to prove legal liability for damage, the law requires that the water be tested before and after drilling occurs. If contamination is caused by drilling, the landowner must prove that contaminating chemicals in the water were not present in the baseline testing conducted before drilling occurs. To conduct appropriate baseline testing, the landowner needs to know what chemicals to test for. Without prior knowledge of the chemicals to be used in drilling, the landowner could do everything possible to protect his water, but fail to test for the specific chemicals that are used.  (Related: Report from the water testing seminar in Lewistown)
  2. The current rules allow operators to keep secret the identity of any chemical used in fracking by designating it a “trade secret.” There is no independent review of these exclusions — companies can independently decide what chemicals they do not disclose. By contrast, Wyoming changed its rules in 2015 to require an independent review by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission of any chemical a company seeks to keep secret.
Katherine O'Brien

Katherine O’Brien

These are common sense reforms that would protect landowners from potential harm. As Katherine O’Brien, the Earthjustice attorney who drafted the petition on behalf of the coalition put it, “Montanans have the right to know what is being pumped into the ground around their homes, farms, and ranches.”

Reaction in Montana
The press reaction to these proposed changes has been strongly positive. In an August 2 editorial, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle declared:

“Think about this: Would we even allow natural resource extraction companies to dump hazardous chemicals into our lakes or rivers? Or would we allow them to spew toxic pollution into the air without any restrictions?

“And yet somehow it’s just fine to allow them to pump these pollutants deep into the earth and we’re not even allowed to know what they are. It’s a testament to the lobbyists for the oil and gas companies that they were able to persuade state and federal legislators to enact laws that protect the firms from revealing these chemicals.”

Jessica Sena

Jessica Sena

Reaction of the oil and gas industry
The oil and gas industry is determined to oppose any change in rules. In a recent guest editorial in the Sidney Herald, Jessica Sena, a frequent spokesperson for the industry whose dog and pony show  we have already seen along the Beartooth Front, lays out a position that she could have written in her sleep: the 2011 disclosure rules are just fine, and besides, fracking is completely safe because there is “no evidence of ‘fracking’ fluids permeating the thousands of feet of bedrock which separate frac zones and drinking water acquirers.”

Regular readers of this site will recognize this statement as the oil and gas industry’s great lie. They take a single type of water contamination that is almost impossible to prove, and for which the industry has stonewalled government attempts to prove, and say that contamination never occurs.

She trots out all the tired old industry standards: the Lisa Jackson quote, and comparing the fracking industry need for trade secrets to KFC and Coca-Cola, both of which long ago joined the 21st century by releasing their “secret” formulas.

This is complete and total nonsense, and Sena should be ashamed to trot out the same old antiquated arguments.

Peer-reviewed scientific studies on fracking by year. Source

Peer-reviewed scientific studies on fracking by year. Source

Scientific studies prove impacts of fracking
Here is the scientific proof about the relationship between fracking and its impacts on air, water and community health.

Since the fracking/horizontal drilling boom began in the United States began about ten years ago, it has taken science time to catch up with our experience. But it is catching up. When Montana disclosure rules were set up in 2011, there were almost no peer-reviewed scientific studies on water and public health impacts caused by fracking. But since that time, there have been at least 685 papers published in peer-reviewed journals regarding the impacts of oil and gas drilling.

Of these studies:

  • 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes
  • 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination
  • 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations

The oil and gas industry undoubtedly knows this data, yet chooses to lie to the public about the impact of drilling.

The BOGC needs to act
We have often discussed the inadequacies of the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation on this site. It is not serving the people of Montana and is in need of substantive reform.

Last summer the BOGC was presented with another rulemaking petition, on minimum distances, or setbacks, of wellheads from occupied buildings. Despite the fact that most oil and gas producing states, including Wyoming and North Dakota, have minimum setback rules, the BOGC decided to require only notification of property owners, not minimum setbacks, leaving Montana far behind other states in protecting its citizens.

The Board of Oil and Gas Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The Board of Oil and Gas Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

The new rules proposed in the fracking disclosure petition are reasonable, they are in line with what neighboring states are doing, and they do not impose an undue burden on industry. The BOGC needs to act to protect Montanans.


Posted in Fracking Information, Health impacts | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments