Wenonah Hauter, author of ‘Frackopoly’, discusses the election and how some states are fighting fracking harder than the federal government
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. Hydraulic-fracturing, the process of using millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to break apart shale rock to extract natural gas. This industry has grown tremendously over the past decade plus. In the year 2000, fracking was 2% of oil output in the US. In 2016, it counts for over half of American oil production. There aren’t definitive numbers of exactly how many active fracking wells there are but the range is somewhere between 300,000 and 1.7 million. There have also been a lot of push and pull around this issue. The oil industry is viciously drilling new wells and seeking to expand into states that have not yet hopped on the fracking boom. The reason why these states haven’t hopped on this boom is in large part due to massive grassroots resistance from groups and every day citizens who voice concerns about the hazardous environmental impacts of releasing massive amounts of methane gas and the contamination of ground water. The EPA under President Barack Obama has been somewhat laissez faire about fracking. Climate change unfortunately has taken a back seat in the presidential election but Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Florida on Monday and here’s what she had to say. HILLARY CLINTON: Climate change is real, it’s urgent, and America can take the lead in the world in addressing it, right. We here in America can develop new clean energy solution. We can transform our economy. We can rally the world to cut carbon pollution. BROWN: She went on to remind the crowd that Donald Trump is a climate change denier whose said that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to undermine American industry. But is Hillary Clinton all that different in her support of the fossil fuel industry and what does her track record have to say about the future of the US and climate change under a Clinton administration. To discuss these and related topics, we’re joined in studio by one of the leading voices of the environmental movement, Wenonah Hauter is the author of Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment. She’s also the founder and executive director of Food and Water Watch Action Fund, the first national advocacy group to call on a ban on fracking. Wenonah thank you so much for joining us. WENONAH HAUTER: I’m so glad to be here. BROWN: In the second debate we heard a tiny bit about climate change and we heard Hillary Clinton discuss the use of natural gas. She describes it as a bridge fuel and I heard this language come from democrats especially. Is natural gas extracted via fracking a bridge fuel going on to renewable energies? HAUTER: No. Absolutely not. A bridge fuel is energy efficiency, a major job creator, and what we really need to do is shift our economy around renewables and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry and the big banks are in the process of funding and building another 40 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. That shows they don’t believe it’s a bridge. They believe it’s the future. BROWN: So in the democratic primary, especially during the democratic debates between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, we heard Mrs. Clinton give a lot of caveats around her support or rather her opposition of fracking. She says as long as it’s done cleanly, as long as it doesn’t contaminate water, as long as it’s not releasing poisonous gas into the atmosphere. Bernie Sanders gave an unequivocal no; he does not support fracking. But interesting that Mrs. Clinton laid forth these caveats but the caveats are exactly how this process works, is it not? HAUTER: That’s exactly right and we know from Mrs. Clinton’s time as a Secretary of State that she’s extremely supportive of fracking. In fact, our office in Brussels wrestled with a lot of the policies put out by the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton tried to use in strong arming our allies in places. For instance, in Bulgaria. Bulgaria passed a ban on fracking and very shortly after that the State Department sent someone there to try to twist their arms. The same was true in many places in Europe. So the idea that Secretary Clinton isn’t supportive of fracking now, doesn’t really pass the laugh test. Of course we know that presidential candidate Trump is very supportive of fracking and all fossil fuels and is a climate denier. But you know, unfortunately, especially with these new WikiLeaks disclosures, we know exactly what’s going on in the Clinton campaign and its full force forward with fracking for oil and for gas. BROWN: So on the interests of analyzing both sides, what is the Trump position on fracking and climate change? HAUTER: Well of course Trump has never seen a dirty energy source that he doesn’t love. But what I find really interesting are the people that he has picked to be his advisors on energy. He has named Harold Hamm who owns Continental Oil which is the largest fracker in North Dakota and responsible for a lot of the fracking that’s going on there. He says he will be his Secretary of State. Larry Nichols who is a partial owner of Devon Energy, another very large fracker, is one of his advisors. Of course other people who are working on his campaign have very close ties to the Koch brothers and other large energy companies like Halliburton. BROWN: Given that we’ve seen fracking expand tremendously throughout the Obama administration, what is going to be President Obama’s legacy behind this? He has long been saying that climate change is a priority of his administration. He’s taken steps in other ways to push for renewable energy and renewable energy sources but yet the process of fracking has exploded under him. HAUTER: That’s right and in fact if we look since 2012 the amount of oil that’s been fracked is 80% of the output from the United States. So the industry many political leaders say it’s all about natural gas. But it’s also been about oil and of course under the Obama administration, the export ban that had been in place since 1973 was removed. Now that happened in a big [inaud.] bill. But the White House indicated that they wouldn’t object to it. So we don’t see any real interests in getting off of fossil fuels. In fact, a lot of the things that people may think that the Obama administration did that would address climate change like the Clean Power Plan, actually incentivize natural gas. So we have a lot of work to do. Both under a Clinton presidency and under a Trump presidency around energy. BROWN: So there’s a lot of I wouldn’t say misunderstanding, but people don’t seem to grasp what exactly methane is and how much methane is released during the fracking process. Actually according to the information from the EIA, the US Energy Information Administration, they say that energy emissions are at their lowest point since 1991. Carbon emissions are at the lowest points since 1991. One would be inclined to hear this and think that that’s very good news. But when we factor in methane to this equation, what do these numbers really mean? HAUTER: Right. Well it is complex. First of all, if you look at emissions from that far back, we know that we had a major recession. So emissions are lower. Methane basically is natural gas. Natural gas is methane. What’s so frightening is that EPA, that the different agencies that look at climate change, they look at a hundred-year time frame. It is true that carbon stays in the atmosphere a long time and it’s very damaging but methane in the short term is a much more potent greenhouse gas almost 100 times and that’s the first 20 years after it’s emitted. We all know that we need to do something immediately about reducing emissions, getting into renewables and energy efficiency. If we are turning to methane we are sentencing our climate to more problems because in the short term, methane is as bad as coal, if not worse and there’s more and more scientific evidence coming out about this like a groundbreaking study from Cornell that was done by Bob Howarth and Tony Ingraffea. BROWN: Even the big methane leak out in California that had people locked out of their neighborhood for a series of weeks. It was a clear gas that you can’t see. I remember seeing the pictures, the aerial shots of this empty neighborhood and thinking, well what’s wrong. Well they’re having a big methane leak; they can’t go home. HAUTER: Right, these storage facilities are very very dangerous. There are many of them around the country and they suffer from a lot of the problems of aging infrastructure. What happened in California was a blowout much like the BP horizon? BROWN: So let’s talk about where fracking is wining and losing on the state level. Because as I mentioned the EPA doesn’t seem to have a lot of interests in trying to regulate it. In fact it seems that some of the EPA’s previous estimates of how much methane is being released into the atmosphere is actually lower than what they had originally thought. But there have been some moratoriums in states. Some states have flat out banned fracking. Where’s fracking losing its war across the country? HAUTER: Well one thing is that EPA has some new rules under the Obama administration that are focused on reducing methane emissions. But shockingly they grandfathered in all of the existing infrastructure and we know that there are massive leaks in the infrastructure and there’s a lot of scientific evidence of that now. Now the movement against fracking I think is the countervailing force against all of this misinformation from the federal government. I think it’s pretty exciting actually that fracking became an issue in the fight between Clinton and Sanders. We wouldn’t have seen that happen if there wasn’t a strong movement. So all across the country we see people organizations grassroots groups, really fighting to stop the oil and gas industry. There are more than 500 local moratoriums and bans. New York had a very exciting ban that passed a couple of years ago as a result of a very well put together campaign. Maryland has a moratorium and of course there’s a huge movement in Maryland coming back to win a ban this year from the legislature. Florida’s making a lot of progress. More than 16 jurisdictions in Florida have taken some, have done something about fracking, either a moratorium or a ban that represents more than 70% of the population. We’ve stopped bad legislation that would’ve let fracking move forward. All across the country in the 30 states that face fracking, we are seeing people get together. We see the big pipeline fightbacks across the country. I think it’s really exciting what’s happening in North Dakota with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the leadership of indigenous people at Standing Rock. So I do believe that there is a whole movement that is going to turn back the oil and gas industry and their other allies. What we’re going to have to do after the election, no matter which candidate wins, we’re going to have to immediately hold the winner accountable. We can’t have any of this supporting of weak measure talking about market mechanisms that are going to fix the problem. Things like trading. What we really need are mandates against fossil fuels and we need to really build the movement for renewable energy and energy efficiency. That could start in states like Maryland actually because when you look at Maryland’s renewable energy mandate it’s very weak. In fact, in 2015 the largest renewable energy source was black liquor from dirty paper processing. So there’s lots of room for people to get involved in their community. Lots of ways that we can begin to really change the politics and I think it really begins with holding our elected officials accountable. BROWN: And truthfully in some circles, depending on what side of the isle you find yourself regarding this issue, there’s pushback against politicians. Hillary Clinton is experiencing some of this when she said that she’s against the use of coal and this could actually cost her in Ohio which is a coal and fracking state. So how do we bring more people to the understanding about that this is the time to take action on these fossil fuels and to either not burn them, to keep them in the ground. Even when it’s maybe not politically expedient for elected officials to do so. HAUTER: Well you know I think a lot of it is about campaigns for real life policies that improve people’s lives. I think that’s why in some states, we’ve really been successful in bringing forth a movement to stop fracking. Now obviously we have to do this in a broader way and I think part of it is reworking our economy. You know we shouldn’t be in a place where we’re heating up the planet or we have people who are out of work because coal is no longer environmentally sustainable. We need to create the kind of policies, the fair economic policies that allow us to buy coal workers out if they’re losing their jobs. We have to be really expansive in our thinking and we know that there are lots of people suffering across this nation from the economic policies that have been instituted by democrats and republicans and what we need to do is start having a real look at what policies are going to allow us to really have an environment that gives people what they need to survive. Or whether it’s all going to be about greed and money. I think it really begins locally and at the state level. I know at Food and Water Watch Action Fund we’re really looking at the 2018 elections. We really need to begin help put people in office who want to move forward on all sorts of progressive issues and we have to be more active at the state level because we are facing in 2020, redistricting. We know that that’s how the districts are cut, who goes to congress, why do we have such an out of touch, morally bankrupt congress in so many ways? Because of how those districts were cut. BROWN: Gerrymandering. HAUTER: Yea so we have to look at these issues in a very broad way and we have to hold accountable, the people we elect. Whether they’re republican or democrat. BROWN: Who are some good politicians to watch? Who do you feel is getting the issue and concurrently taking action and moving on the issue? HAUTER: You know I think we do have some members, Congressman Pocan from Wisconsin, Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. I mean we have a good group of progressive legislatures but it’s not enough and we have too many democrats in states like Pennsylvania or Colorado where there are democratic governors like Governor Wolf or Governor Hickenlooper who has been discussed as someone who might serve in the Clinton administration. They have basically given the green light to fracking. We really have to expect more and I know one of our big asks before President Obama goes out of office is that he actually meet with the impacted people who live near oil and gas operations. 15 million people and in fact we know more now, live within a mile of an oil and gas operation. They’re suffering from all sorts of health problems, water pollution problems, and we’ve never been able to get the president to even meet with these people and in fact the water investigations that were going on in places like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming were closed down before his last election battle. So we need politicians to really pay attention to what’s going on and I really hope that President Obama is going to actually do what he says and pay attention to climate change. Because the way I look at it with climate chaos of course the poorest among us, people of color, those are the people who suffer the most. Although we can expect all sorts of repercussions if we reach a tipping point and our climate really changes. We want to take action. We’re not going to be able to solve all of the other problems in our society, in our world, if our climate goes to. So I think it should be a first tier issue. It should be what these candidates are talking about instead of the politicking that’s going on. BROWN: Wenonah Hauter, she is the founder and executive director of Food and Water Watch Action Fund. Also the author of Frackopoly. Wenonah we appreciate you stopping by today, thanks a lot. HAUTER: So glad to have been here. BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.