Category: Sustainable

Wind Power Could Meet Entire World’s Electricity Needs 18 Times Over

Wind power could meet entire world’s electricity needs 18 times over, says International Energy Agency

Wind power accounts for just 0.3 per cent of the world’s energy – but as costs fall and green policies rise, it is on course to grow into a trillion-dollar industry.

And ultimately, it has the potential to provide sufficient clean electricity for every person on Earth 18 times over, a major industry report has now claimed.

What’s more, the winds of change are blowing at high speeds. Global offshore wind capacity could increase 15-fold and attract around $1 trillion (£800bn) of cumulative investment by as soon as 2040, the International Energy Agency report finds.

“The UK is on course to lose its crown as the nation producing most offshore wind power as huge capacity is due to be in place in China by 2025”

The IEA says this boom is being driven by the declining costs in installations, supportive government policies and “remarkable technological progress” with components such as larger turbines and floating foundations.

Outlining the rapid pace of change, which the authors say has been led by European countries including the UK, the report says the global offshore wind market grew nearly 30 per cent per year between 2010 and 2018.

There are now about 150 new offshore wind projects in development around the world, with China adding more capacity than any other country in 2018.

“Yet today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential,” the authors write

“With high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 terrawatt hours per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.”

But the agency says “much work” must be done to bring a clean energy revolution to fruition.

“Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3 per cent of global power generation, but its potential is vast,” said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. 

“More and more of that potential is coming within reach, but much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of clean energy transitions.”

Growing awareness of the climate crisis and political responses to environmental concerns are also contributing to growth in the sector, the report indicates.

In just 20 years, wind could become Europe’s main source of energy generation.

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American Solar Jobs Eclipse Fossil Fuels

Clean energy jobs in California now outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry five to one, a new study has found, an increase driven by the state’s ever-expanding renewable energy and climate laws.

More than 512,000 people are employed in jobs related to clean energy  — from installing solar panels to building electric cars — making the state home to 1 in 7 such jobs in the United States, the study found. Those numbers are expected to grow further in the coming years, as California further ramps up efforts to address climate change.

“The clean energy industry is a large and growing part of our economy, certainly here in California, but nationally as well,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a non-profit group with offices in San Francisco and San Diego that compiled the data.

“With the right policies, we can keep these clean energy jobs growing in red states, blue states, purple states,” Keefe said, “and in every county in California from Humboldt to San Diego.” 

The study was based on an annual survey of businesses called the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, a snapshot of the energy industry that in the past was put out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

But the survey was discontinued after President Trump took office in 2017. In recent years, the report has been compiled instead by two non-profit groups using the same methodology, the Energy Futures Initiative, and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

Among the study’s findings for California:

  • Statewide, there were 512,934 jobs in the clean energy industry in 2018. Those included jobs in renewable energy, like installing solar and wind power, building electric and hybrid vehicles, doing energy efficiency work in buildings, manufacturing clean fuels and building battery storage projects.
  • That same year, there were 89,059 jobs in fossil fuel industries, including drilling jobs at oil and gas fields and offshore platforms, oil refinery work and mining jobs, but not attendants who work at gas stations or the stations’ convenience stories.
  • Nearly four in 10 solar jobs in America are in California.
  • The only state with more clean vehicle jobs than California is Michigan.
  • The top counties ranked by total clean energy jobs are Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco and Alameda.

Growth was largely flat last year compared to the year before, the study found. California’s 2018 clean jobs total was just slightly up from its 2017 total of 512,233 clean jobs. The reason was a 7.5 percent dip in solar industry jobs, which industry officials say was in part a result of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese-made solar panels, which increased the costs for U.S. homeowners considering installing solar on their roofs.

That trend is expected to change this year, Keefe said, because California regulators have passed new rules requiring all new homes constructed after Jan. 1, 2020 to either have solar panels on their roofs or be powered from electricity from a solar farm.

“We’ll start to see that swing back in the other direction very soon,” he said.

As the Earth continues to warm, California has ramped up its clean energy laws. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring 60 percent of the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030 and 100 to come from “carbon-free” sources, which can include nuclear and large hydro-electric dams, by 2045.

This year, 34 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from renewable energy, according to the California Energy Commission. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2004, and have fallen roughly 15 percent since then. By the end of this year, more than 1 million homes in California will have solar power on their roofs.

And the highways are greening. There are now more than 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in California, more than any other state.

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Broomfield Crescent Grange Fall Harvest Festival 2019

Broomfield’s Crescent Grange had a wonderful Open House and fundraiser for the ADA bathroom and ramp. There was Live Music, Food and Refreshments, a Raffle, and a Silent Auction featuring Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Arvada Center, Rocky Mountain Ski and Wake, Peggy Dyer Photography, the Studio (haircut), Iwa Dojo, the Sanctuary Spa and Salon, CO Dog Academy, Jack Bilariusz Photography, and History Colorado.

Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics & PV Restoration: Innovations at the nexus of Food – Energy – Water sciences.

[The Barron-Gafford research group is a collection of broadly-trained biogeographers, ecosystem ecologists, and plant ecophysiologists tackling a wide range of environmental topics.]

What is agrivoltaics?

agrivoltaics = agriculture + photovoltaics
(photovoltaics = renewable energy production from solar panels)

We are investigating the potential for reintroducing vegetation into the typical PV power plant installation in drylands.  Why??  We think that this novel approach may lead to increased renewable energy production, increased food production, and reduced water use!

Why might this benefit agricultural plants?
Plants need sunlight.  The truth is, though, that plants don’t continue to do increasingly well as you add more sunlight.  At some point, their potential to use the sunlight for photosynthesis plateaus out, and if they experience too much light, they can actually become less productive. Think about it – plants in drylands have adapted to deal with the excessive amount of energy in lots of cool ways.  Unfortunately, many of our agricultural plants are not desert adapted; we make up for this lack of adaptation by giving them plenty of water through irrigation. 

What if we mimicked nature?  One desert adaptation is to grow the shade of another plant. How might the shade of a solar panel array overhead lead to cooler temperatures and less excessive sunlight for agricultural plants? Our preliminary work suggests that there are measurable benefits for some species!

Why might this benefit renewable energy production?
Larger solar installations create a heat island effect, and that is bad for the PV panels because as they get too hot, they become less efficient. Basically, there two ways for the excess sun energy that is not converted into electricity to leave the area: sensible heat (the energy you can feel) and latent heat loss (the energy used to convert liquid water to water vapor).

In a natural ecosystem, this latent heat loss happens when plants transpire during the process of photosynthesis. The problem is that most PV installations don’t have plants in them any longer, which means they don’t have a way for sun energy to leave through latent heat loss.  This means that excess energy can only leave through sensible heat loss (which is why these areas become hotter). 

We are trying to increase the latent heat loss from plants so that there is less sensible heat loss.  Such a simple concept that can potentially have a big impact?  Yeah, we had our doubts too until we tried some preliminary experiments!

Why might this benefit water resources?
Water evaporates away more slowly in the shade, no? If we reduce the direct sunlight hitting the soil, we believe that water from each irrigation event will remain in the soil longer to do the work we put it there to do – sustain plants!

Why might this benefit people?
In addition to potentially producing equal or greater amounts of food and renewable energy with reduced water use, we anticipate our agrivoltaics approach to help humans in 2 key ways:

1. Drylands are often really hot environments, making our farm worker population prone to heat stroke and heat-related death.  Our preliminary data suggests that skin temperatures can be up to 20°F cooler when working under the PV array!  That makes for significantly more comfortable working conditions! 

2. We have partnered with the UofA Community & School Garden Program to help educate our next generation about all aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math), while integrating art and ecology.  See more about our Agrivoltaics Learning Labs below. 

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Please Report If You Are Impacted

My heart goes out to everyone negatively impacted by fracking. No one should have to live like this. None of us moved to Broomfield to put up with this. I’ve been fighting against this industry since 2012, which is what led me to running for office. If you experience headaches, nosebleeds, coughing, tightness of breath. If you have recently been diagnosed with asthma, need nebulizer treatments, or have begun to have heart issues. If you experience odors, noise, light from the rigs, or even your house shaking, please take the time to report it. Here are the complaint links for O&G Health and Safety related issues for both the local and state.

Broomfield:
https://www.broomfield.org/2842/File-an-Immediate-Concern

State:
https://cogcc.state.co.us/complaints.html#/complaints

Solar Panels Pair Surprisingly Well with Tomatoes, Peppers and Pollinators

Solar panels pair surprisingly well with tomatoes, peppers and pollinators.

In ‘agrivoltaics,’ crops and solar panels not only share land and sunlight, but also help each other function more efficiently.

The world already needs more solar power. It’s clean, renewable energy, and it’s quickly outpacing the job creation and affordability of fossil fuels. But on top of that, a growing field of research suggests it can improve agriculture, too, helping us grow more food and pollinator habitat while also conserving land and water.

Big, utility-scale “solar farms” are one important source of solar power, helping complement smaller, less centralized sources like solar panels on the roofs of buildings. Solar farms take up a lot of space, though — and they thrive in places with many of the same qualities favored by food crops. As one recent study found, the areas with the greatest potential for solar power tend to already be in use as croplands, which makes sense, given the importance of sunlight for both.

“It turns out that 8,000 years ago, farmers found the best places to harvest solar energy on Earth,” said Chad Higgins, study co-author and professor of agricultural sciences at Oregon State University, in a statement.

Since crops already occupy many of those places, this might seem to cast solar farms and food farms as rivals for real estate. Yet while it’s smart to balance food and energy production, a growing field of research suggests it can also be smart to combine them. Unlike fossil fuels, one of the great things about solar power is that it’s clean enough to still use the land for food production, without needing to worry about contamination. And not only can crops and solar panels co-exist on the same land, but when combined in the right ways at the right locations, researchers say each can help the other function more efficiently than it would alone.

This idea — known in the U.S. as “agrivoltaics,” a mashup of agriculture and photovoltaics — isn’t new, but new research is shedding light on how beneficial it can be. Beyond the benefits of harvesting food and clean energy from the same land, studies suggest solar panels also boost crops’ performance — potentially raising yield and reducing water needs — while crops help the panels work more efficiently. This could increase global land productivity by 73%, while generating more food from less water, since some crops under solar panels are up to 328% more water-efficient.

Agrivoltaics won’t necessarily work the same for every location or every crop, but we don’t need it to. According to Higgins’ research, if even less than 1% of existing cropland was converted to an agrivoltaic system, solar power could fulfill global demand for electricity. That still wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds, but amid the growing urgency of climate change, energy demand and food insecurity, it’s an idea that seems more than ready for its moment in the sun.

Types of agrivoltaic systems

illustration of three different agrivoltaics systems

Three different types of agrivoltaic systems: (a) using the space between solar panels for crops, (b) a photovoltaic greenhouse, and (c) a stilt-mounted system. (Illustration: Sekiyama et al. [CC BY 4.0]/Environments)

The basic idea of agrivoltaics dates back at least to 1981, when two German scientists proposed a new kind of photovoltaic power plant “which allows for additional agricultural use of the land involved.” It has evolved in the decades since, leading to new twists on the concept that have found success in several countries, including Japan — which has emerged as a global leader in “solar sharing,” as the practice is known there — as well as France, Italy and Austria, among others.

There are three general categories of agrivoltaic systems. The original idea placed crops between rows of solar panels, capitalizing on spaces that are otherwise mostly unused (see example “a” in the illustration above). A different tactic, developed in 2004 by Japanese engineer Akira Nagashima, involves solar panels raised on stilts about 3 meters (10 feet) off the ground, creating a pergola-like structure with space below for crops (example “c” above). A third category resembles the stilted method, but places the solar panels on top of a greenhouse (example “b”).

It’s one thing to plant crops in sunny gaps between solar panels, but sowing them underneath the panels means sunlight is blocked for at least a few hours every day. If the goal is to maximize the efficiency of both the crops and the solar panels, why let one block any sunlight from the other?

Made in the shade

agrivoltaic or solar-sharing system at rice farm in Japan

Solar panels stand above a rice paddy at a solar-sharing farm in Japan. (Photo: Σ64 [CC BY 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Plants obviously need sunlight, but even they have limits. Once a plant maxes out its ability to use sunlight for photosynthesis, more sunlight can actually impede its productivity. Plants native to dry climates have evolved various ways to deal with excessive solar energy, but as researchers at the University of Arizona point out, many of our agricultural crops are not desert-adapted. To successfully grow them in deserts, we make up for their lack of adaptation with intensive irrigation.

Instead of using all that water, though, we could also mimic some of the natural adaptations used by dry-climate plants. Some deal with their harsh habitats by growing in the shade of other plants, for example, and that’s what agrivoltaics advocates are trying imitate by growing crops in the shadows of solar panels.

And that payoff can be substantial, depending on the crops and conditions. According to a September 2019 study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, agrivoltaics systems can improve three important variables that affect plant growth and reproduction: air temperatures, direct sunlight and atmospheric demand for water.

The study’s authors created an agrivoltaics research site at Biosphere 2 in Arizona, where they grew chiltepin peppers, jalapeños and cherry tomatoes under a photovoltaic (PV) array. Throughout the summer growing season, they continuously monitored sunlight levels, air temperature and relative humidity using sensors mounted above the soil surface, as well as soil temperature and moisture at a depth of 5 centimeters (2 inches). As a control, they also set up a traditional planting area near the agrivoltaics site, both of which received equal irrigation rates and were tested under two irrigation schedules, either daily or every other day.

agrivoltaic system at Biosphere 2 in Arizona

A view of the agrivoltaic system at Biosphere 2 in southern Arizona. (Photo: Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona)

Shade from the panels led to cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures for plants growing below, as well as more moisture available in the air. This affected each crop differently, but all three saw significant benefits.

“We found that many of our food crops do better in the shade of solar panels because they are spared from the direct sun,” said lead author Greg Barron-Gafford, a professor of geography and development at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “In fact, total chiltepin fruit production was three times greater under the PV panels in an agrivoltaic system, and tomato production was twice as great!”

Jalapeños produced a similar amount of fruit in both the agrivoltaic and traditional scenarios, but did so with 65% less transpirational water loss in the agrivoltaic setup.

“At the same time, we found that each irrigation event can support crop growth for days, not just hours, as in current agriculture practices,” Barron-Gafford said. “This finding suggests we could reduce our water use but still maintain levels of food production.” Soil moisture remained about 15% higher in the agrivoltaics system than in the control plot when irrigating every other day.

This echoes other recent research, including a 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One, which tested the environmental effects of solar panels on an unirrigated pasture that often experiences water stress. It found that areas under PV panels were 328% more water-efficient, and also showed a “significant increase in late-season biomass,” with 90% more biomass under solar panels than in other areas.

agrivoltaic system at UMass in South Deerfield, Massachusetts

Machinery can still operate among panels in an agrivoltaic setup, researchers say. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

The presence of solar panels might seem like a headache when it’s time to harvest crops, but as Barron-Gafford recently told the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the panels can be arranged in a way that lets farmers continue using much of the same equipment. “We raised the panels so that they were about 3 meters (10 feet) off the ground on the low end so that typical tractors could access the site. This is was the first thing that farmers in the area said would have to be in place for them to consider any kind of adoption of an agrivoltaic system.”

Of course, the details of agrivoltaics vary widely depending on the crops, the local climate and the specific setup of solar panels. It won’t work in every situation, but researchers are busy trying to identify where and how it can work.

A ‘win-win-win’

agrivoltaic system at UMass in South Deerfield, Massachusetts

NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and University of Massachusetts professor Stephen Herbert survey an agrivoltaic test plot at the UMass Crop Animal Research and Education Center. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

The potential perks for crops alone might make agrivoltaics worthwhile, not to mention the reduced competition for land and demand for water. But there’s more. For one thing, research has found that an agrivoltaic system can also increase the efficiency of energy production from the solar panels.

Solar panels are inherently sensitive to temperature, becoming less efficient as they warm up. As Barron-Gafford and his colleagues found in their recent study, cultivating crops reduced the temperature of panels overhead.

“Those overheating solar panels are actually cooled down by the fact that the crops underneath are emitting water through their natural process of transpiration — just like misters on the patio of your favorite restaurant,” Barron-Gafford said. “All told, that is a win-win-win in terms of bettering how we grow our food, utilize our precious water resources and produce renewable energy.”

Or maybe it’s a win-win-win-win? While solar panels and crops cool each other off, they might do the same for people working in the fields. Preliminary data suggest human skin temperature can be about 18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in an agrivoltaics area than in traditional agriculture, according to research from the University of Arizona. “Climate change is already disrupting food production and farm worker health in Arizona,” says agroecologist Gary Nabhan, a co-author of the Nature Sustainability study. “The Southwestern U.S. sees a lot of heat stroke and heat-related death among our farm laborers; this could have a direct impact there, too.”

Generating buzz

solar panels and wildflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)

The space around solar panels can provide valuable habitat for pollinators, hosting wildflowers like these Mexican sunflowers. (Photo: Michael G. McKinne/Shutterstock)

Aside from all the aforementioned benefits of agrivoltaics — for crops, solar panels, land availability, water supplies and workers — this kind of combination could turn out to be a big deal for bees, too, along with other pollinators.

Insects are responsible for pollinating nearly 75% of all crops grown by humans, and about 80% of all flowering plants, yet they’re now fading from habitats worldwide. The plight of honeybees tends to get more attention, but pollinators of all kinds have been declining for years, largely due to a mix of habitat loss, pesticide exposure, invasive species and disease, among other threats. That includes bumblebees and other native bees — some of which are better at pollinating food crops than domesticated honeybees are — as well as beetles, butterflies, moths and wasps.

Lots of valuable crops depend heavily on insect pollination, including most fruits, nuts, berries and other fresh produce. Foods like almonds, chocolate, coffee and vanilla wouldn’t be available without insect pollinators, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and many dairy products would be limited, too, given the large number of cows that feed on pollinator-dependent plants like alfalfa or clover. Even many crops that don’t need insect pollinators — like soy or strawberries, for example — produce higher yields if they’re pollinated by insects.

And that’s the impetus behind a push for more pollinator habitat on solar farms, especially in agricultural areas where pollinators can play the biggest economic role. This is well-established in the U.K., where a solar company began letting beekeepers set up hives at some of its solar farms in 2010, according to CleanTechnica. The idea spread, and the U.K. now has a “long and well-documented success using pollinator habitat on solar sites,” as Minnesota nonprofit Fresh Energy describes it.

monarch butterfly on Mexican sunflower near solar panels

A monarch butterfly rests on a wildflower in front of a solar panel. (Photo: Michael G. McKinne/Shutterstock)

The pairing of pollinators and solar power is increasingly popular in the U.S., too, especially after Minnesota enacted the Pollinator Friendly Solar Act in 2016. That law was the first of its kind in the country, establishing science-based standards for how to incorporate pollinator habitat into solar farms. It has since been followed by similar laws in other states, including MarylandIllinois and Vermont.

Much like crops, wildflowers could help cool off solar panels overhead, while the panels’ shade could help wildflowers thrive in hot, dry places without taxing water supplies. But the main beneficiaries would be bees and other pollinators, who should then pass on their good fortune to nearby farmers.

For a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory looked at 2,800 existing and planned utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities in the contiguous U.S., finding “the area around solar panels could provide an ideal location for the plants that attract pollinators.” These areas are often just filled with gravel or turf grass, they noted, which would be easy to replace with native plants like prairie grasses and wildflowers.

And aside from helping pollinators in general — which would likely be wise even if we couldn’t quantify the payoff for humans — the Argonne researchers also looked at how “solar-sited pollinator habitat” might in turn boost local agriculture. Having more pollinators around can increase the productivity of crops, potentially offering farmers a higher yield without using additional resources like water, fertilizer or pesticides.

The researchers found more than 3,500 square kilometers (1,351 square miles, or 865,000 acres) of farmland near existing and planned USSE facilities that could benefit from more pollinator habitat nearby. They looked at three example crops (soybeans, almonds and cranberries) that rely on insect pollinators for their annual crop yield, examining how more solar-sited pollinator habitat might affect them. If all existing and planned solar facilities near these crops included pollinator habitat, and if yields rose by just 1%, crop values could rise by $1.75 million, $4 million and $233,000 for soybeans, almonds and cranberries, respectively, they found.

Enlightening research

peppers and solar panels at agrivoltaic farm

Peppers grow under solar panels at the UMass agrivoltaic test plot. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

Farming in the U.S. has become increasingly difficult lately, due to a mix of factors from droughts and floods to the U.S.-China trade war, which has reduced demand for many American crops. As the Wall Street Journal reports, this is leading some farmers to use their land for harvesting solar power instead of food, either by leasing the land to energy companies or by installing their own panels to cut electricity bills.

“There’s been very little profit at the end of the year,” says one Wisconsin corn and soybean farmer, who’s leasing 322 acres to a solar company for $700 per acre annually, according to the WSJ. “Solar becomes a good way to diversify your income.”

Agrivoltaics may not be a quick fix for farmers who are struggling now, but that could change as research reveals more insights, potentially informing government incentives that make it easier to adopt the practice. That’s what many researchers are focusing on now, including Barron-Gafford and his colleagues. They’re working with the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab to assess the viability of agrivoltaics beyond the U.S. Southwest, and to examine how regional policies might encourage more novel synergies between agriculture and clean energy.

Still, farmers and solar companies don’t necessarily need to wait for more research to capitalize on what we already know. To make money from agrivoltaics right away, Barron-Gafford tells the ESA, it’s mostly just a matter of elevating the masts that hold up the solar panels. “That is part of what makes this current work so exciting,” he says. “A small change in planning can yield a ton of great benefits!”

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Lakewood’s Sustainability Plan

On Thursday September 26th, I met with Jonathan Wachtel, the Sustainability Manager for the City of Lakewood. He was giving a Sustainability presentation for the American Public Works Association (APWA). Lakewood, after more than two years of collaborative planning between city staff, residents, community stakeholders, and industry experts, formally approved the Sustainability Plan on May 11, 2015. 

For the last eleven years, Lakewood has been holding Sustainability Awards Ceremonies for the City. Competition has been fierce, and the entire approach to what it means to be sustainable, has changed Lakewood down to its core. They now have an approach to creating balance in all new projects, and they have formalized their new philosophy with a Sustainability Plan and a Lakewood City Sustainability Manager. 

“SUSTAINABILITY MEANS creating balance among the environment, the economy, and society to ensure that practices and decisions do not compromise the quality of life for future generations. Sustainability is not an end goal, but an approach that recognizes the interplay between natural, economic, and social interests. As our population and economy continue to grow, we depend on the resources and services that our surrounding ecosystems provide. Sustainable development requires an understanding of these systems and how we can survive and thrive within the patterns and cycles of the natural world.”

Lakewood 2015 Sustainability Plan

Successful implementation of sustainability plans support the long-term resilience of communities. 

Here are the links to the Lakewood Sustainability Plan

As Broomfield moves forward, we are increasingly confronted with economic and ecological issues. We are also learning how those issues impact our quality of life. How certain practices and approaches are no longer Sustainable, and in some cases, never were. We can learn from our Coloradan neighbors who are already doing what we would aspire to do.

The Research Is In: Stop Fracking ASAP

“Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences, and engineering literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”

Over 1,500 reports show there’s simply no safe way to do it — and it’s harming us all every day it goes on.

Science. Evidence. Facts. Do these even matter anymore in U.S. policy? They should — especially when it comes to issues that affect our health and environment, like fracking. 

Concerned Health Professionals of New York and my organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility, recently released a remarkable compendium of research on the subject. It summarizes and links to over 1,500 articles and reports and has become the go-to source for activists, health professionals, and others seeking to understand fracking. 

The new studies we looked at expose serious threats to health, justice, and the climate.

2018 study in the Journal of Health Economics, for instance, found that the babies of Pennsylvania mothers living within 1.5 miles of gas wells had increased incidence of low birth weight. Babies with low birth weight (under 5.5 pounds) are over 20 times more likely to die in infancy than babies with healthy birth weight.

Babies exposed in utero to fracking are likely to face additional challenges throughout their lives. They may suffer long-term neurologic disability, impaired language development and academic success, and increased risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

Other researchers are finding that fracking wells and associated infrastructure are disproportionately sited in non-white, indigenous, or low-income communities. 

study published this year in Ecological Economics analyzed the socio-demographics of people living near drilling and fracking operations in four high-fracking states: Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas. It found strong evidence that minorities, especially African Americans, disproportionately live near fracking wells. 

They don’t just face disproportionate exposure to toxic emissions, leaks, and spills. They also have fewer resources — like health insurance, medical services, or income security — that would help them protect their health.

But you don’t have to live near wells and pipelines to be at risk. We all face harm from fracking’s impact on the climate. 

So-called “natural gas” is 85-95 percent methane, a short-lived but highly potent greenhouse gas. Over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane traps about 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide. That 20-year timeframe matters: Scientists tell us that’s about the time we have to slash our greenhouse gas emissions and begin pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.  

Unfortunately, as the research we collected finds, methane leakage rates from drilling and fracking operations have “greatly exceed” earlier estimates. A 2018 analysis of methane leaks across the U.S. found leakage rates to be 60 percent higher than reported by the EPA. A 2019 study in southwestern Pennsylvania found some gas emissions to have been underreported by a factor of five. 

Overall, how bad is fracking? The Compendium states that “public health risks from unconventional gas and oil extraction are real, the range of adverse environmental impacts wide, and the negative economic consequences considerable.” 

It concludes: “Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences, and engineering literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”

The logical conclusion is that, for health, justice, and a livable world, the time to stop using fracked gas is now.

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