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Friday, March 21, 2014

Speaking at GAPP Summit in Pittsburgh

I'm speaking at the Gas and Preservation Partnership's Bridging the GAPP” Summit - Honoring our History…Fueling our Future” today in Pittsburgh, PA. 

The summit is an important gathering because of what's at risk.  The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) has estimated that over 195,000 cultural, historic, and archaeological sites are found in the most active areas of shale gas development in the US.  In the Marcellus area alone, 1,951 sites have been identified - but only about 5% of the area has been surveyed. Over 39,000 such sites may exist in the Marcellus - and are at risk of loss from the industrialization of the landscape from shale gas development.

Instead of moderating today's plenary panel, I'll be participating as a panelist.  I'll be discussing various collaborative efforts that I led at Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that can inform GAPP's essential work and, I hope, help to convince the natgas industry to engage on preserving historic and cultural resources. They include collaborative efforts on wind energy and wildlife - which resulted in the nation's first siting standards for wind energy development - on state forest leasing, and on the development of best management practices to minimize the impact of natgas development of state forest (and all other forested) land.

I'll also deliver a pointed message that, when it comes to balancing natgas development and the preservation of historical/cultural resources, finding the win-win makes business sense and is the right thing to do - part of what the industry needs to do to maintain its social license to operate. But it's more than that.

Pennsylvanians have a right to that preservation. 

Last December, in throwing out the overreach of a 2012 law governing natural gas drilling, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court breathed new life into Article 1, Section 27 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which says: 
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
The natural gas industry not only should - but must - accept historic/cultural preservation among its responsibilities.

Will they?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How much more do we want to learn about the environmental effects of fracking?

When it comes to the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, we should go where the data leads. The problem, as frequent readers of this blog know, is that that data has been mostly sparse, or at least conflicting. From impacts to groundwater, drinking water, air quality, and methane emissions; to public health, landscape impacts, and cumulative impacts; the data, so far, has been inadequate. We simply don't know enough.

With that thought in mind, this item from The National Journal’s excellent Energy Edge newsletter was encouraging, because it can help fill the knowledge vacuum:
How much more does Congress want to learn about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing?
The next round of appropriations decisions could provide a hint. The U.S. Geological Survey has posted new details of its budget request to Congress.
Among the items: A request to boost spending on fracking research by $8.3 million.
See pages B-23 to B-28 here for information on USGS’ very thrifty fracking research agenda.

The USGS, in my experience, does excellent, rigorous scientific work, much like their counterparts and my former colleagues at Pennsylvania’s DCNR. I have great respect for both groups of professionals. They are resources to which decision makers should turn - but often don't - for expert analysis and advice.

USGS' research agenda doesn't propose to answer all of the questions around fracking, but it would help to answer important ones.  

How much does Congress - and by virtue of USGS' public reporting, how much more do we - want to learn about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing? The answer to that question is of central importance to our energy and environmental future.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Science, climate risks, and black helicopters

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, has released a stark report on global climate disruption.

human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action. 
Simple. Clear. Strong. Might it begin to turn the tide toward action?

Probably not.  

Virtual scientific certainty isn't enough to convince people of certain economic interests or ideologies.  I met three such folks a few weeks ago, when I spoke at a forum on climate change and public policy at West Chester University. The release of the AAAS report brought back the memory of that encounter.

The forum was crowded, and featured great presentations and some very thoughtful questions from audience members. (See this summary.) Afterwards, as folks milled about and chatted, two women and one man approached me - angry looks on their faces.

“This should have been a debate!” the woman spat. The other two nodded vigorously in agreement. 

Seriously, I asked? When 97% of climate scientists agree that climate disruption is real and urgent?  “The IPCC!” she exclaimed, brandishing a fist full of papers. She insisted that “a member of the IPCC” had disagreed with their latest, dire, climate assessment - obviously exposing it as a sham. 

“I’m on the internet!” she proclaimed, to prove her sleuthing credentials.

Then, glancing over her shoulder at the dispersing attendees, she scoffed, “These people are sheeple!” She waved the back of her hand dismissively. Then she fixed her disgusted stare back on me.

“I believe we have climate change!” She paused for a beat to build the suspense and add rhetorical flourish. “It’s called winter, spring, summer, and fall!” Every sentence of hers really did end with an exclamation point.

“That’s right!” the other two repeated, still nodding forcefully.

“I believe in taking care of the earth! But I see Liberals throwing things out of their car windows!” Must have been the telltale bumper stickers that gave them away, I guess.

“That’s right!” the choir repeated, still nodding and displaying excellent neck muscle endurance.

The man, wanting to contribute more than dittos to the conversation, interjected - somewhat wild-eyed - “Agenda 21!” I swear it was just that sentence fragment, angrily delivered.

Black helicopters, I asked in reply?

“YES!” he said, delighted by my knowing recognition of the sinister delivery vehicle of world government.

At that moment, I remembered a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer that I try to put into practice, not always successfully: “When you have a choice to be right or to be kind, always pick kind.”

I tried a little harder this time.

Well, I guess we disagree, I said softly.

Not satisfied, the man added his peroration. “I’m going to write a letter to the editor!”

And with that, the three stormed off.

AAAS has its work cut out. And so do we.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Seasons, cycles, sounds

I received a lot of gifts from my Mom.  

I remember how – every spring and fall – she would thrill to the sound of geese flying overhead on their semi-annual migrations. Whenever we heard that wonderful sound, together we’d run outside and look up.  We'd bask in the beauty of those iconic V-formations and the cacophonous melody of the honking choir singing out the passage of seasons and the deep rhythms of nature and time.

I remember one spring morning in grade school, looking west outside from my desk, through the huge windows of our classroom on the second floor of (the long gone) St. Gabriel’s School, and counting 38 flocks of geese as they streamed past overhead.  Some of them were close enough to hear.  Others were silent in the distance over the black coal fields that surrounded my home town. I don’t remember that morning’s lessons, but I still remember the seemingly endless majesty of ribbons of uncounted geese on their journey north.

I stood transfixed, many years later on one crisp, spring Saturday morning – after Mom was gone - looking up as a procession of flocks of tundra swans and snow geese flew northward overhead for what seemed like hours. The morning sun gleamed on their white bodies. They looked like flecks of silver in that brilliant, cloudless, blue Northeast Pennsylvania sky.

Last Saturday morning, as I was out for a run, I hear that familiar, heart-tugging sound overhead. The electricity flowed. I only glanced skyward, not wanting to stop - being a masochistic type – but the honking music carried me along for a few minutes, thinking of shared moments, of loved ones, and of Mom.

Yesterday, I read this from Ad Crable, who’s as much a poet as he is a writer. And then I clicked the link and watched the video.

I felt the familiar tingle, even virtually.

This Spring, if you hear honking overhead, pause, look up, and listen.