As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, we sincerely hope his message on energy will be based on science, reflecting the very real climate crisis that currently vexes our great nation. In previous years, he has used his platform to promote his "all of the above" energy plan, which includes significantly expanding domestic oil and gas production -- i.e. fracking -- thus betraying the promises he articulated in his nomination speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention to curtail the "rise of the oceans" and to let the planet begin to heal.
While it has been clear for some time that fracking poses a grave threat to our water, air, climate and communities, mounting evidence over the past year makes the harms of fracking undeniable. When it comes to exacerbating climate change and the health of millions of Americans, fracking is the most pressing environmental issue of our day.
It's time that President Obama and his administration stop downplaying the significant risks of fracking and promoting policies that will escalate the process and exacerbate climate change. Our nation and our planet teeter on a critical precipice; President Obama should seize this opportunity and shift course.
Although past and recent instances suggest he will disappoint, here are five things we would like to see President Obama say to the nation on Tuesday:
1. We Are Experiencing a Climate Crisis, and Fracking Makes Climate Change Much Worse
President Obama should address the realities of the climate change crisis. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change (IPCC) embraced an upper limit on greenhouse gases that the world is on track to hit around 2040, warning that unless very serious steps are taken soon to reduce emissions, we will face irreversible consequences. From extreme weather, to agricultural failures, to water shortages, the effects of this are, and will continue to be devastating. Now is the time for action.
By embracing fracking, President Obama is not only failing to address climate change, he is making the problem significantly worse. In many places like North Dakota and California, the industry is fracking for oil, which clearly holds no climate benefit. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas and beyond, methane leaks and emissions from fracking and drilling operations pose significant risks to the environment. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, 34 times more potent in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year time scale and 86 times more so over a 20-year time scale, according to the IPCC. Yet inexplicably, President Obama's EPA is using very outdated measurements on the potency of methane. Worse still, a Harvard University study found that the EPA is underestimating the effects of methane, and that methane leaks associated with oil and gas drilling are up to five times greater than the agency's estimates.
President Obama should acknowledge that fracking exacerbates climate change, and acknowledge that U.S. energy policy cannot be based on this destructive practice.
2. Announce a Ban of Fracking on Federal Lands
As part of this shift, President Obama should announce an immediate ban on fracking on all federal lands. Last year the Bureau of Land Management held a comment period on proposed new rules that would continue to facilitate fracking on federal lands. In response, Americans Against Fracking member groups delivered more than 650,000 comments to the Obama administration calling for a ban on fracking on all federal lands, citing concerns about water contamination, air pollution and climate change.
Our federal lands include some of our most treasured spaces, but also cover large areas that could potentially be subject to development. President Obama has the power to prevent this from happening, and should announce his intention to do so.
3. Stop Promoting International Corporate Interests over the Public Interest - Say No to Oil and Gas Exports and the TPP
President Obama has touted oil and gas production as vital to our national security and energy independence, but at the same time his administration is moving to allow companies to export oil and gas produced in the U.S. to be sold abroad. This contradicts the alleged benefits to American consumers. Meanwhile, President Obama is in the process of negotiating a secret trade deal with 12 other nations called the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would further drive exports of gas while also undermining the ability of local communities to ban fracking. The president should reverse course, say no to exporting fossil fuels, and step back from the TPP.
4. Reopen the EPA Investigations into Fracking Pollution
In addition to promoting climate change, fracking contaminates drinking water. Over the past several years, regional EPA offices have linked fracking to dangerous water pollution in Pavillion, Wyoming; Parker County, Texas; and Dimock, Pennsylvania. In all three cases, EPA bowed to industry pressure and scuttled further investigation or enforcement.
The EPA Inspector General recently examined the Parker County, Texas case and found that the regional EPA office was correct in concluding that a nearby gas well was the most likely cause of the water contamination, and that an overall risk assessment had never been conducted. The EPA dropped the case with the justification that residents could purchase water elsewhere. It is utterly ridiculous to expect families to bear such a burden when the oil and gas industry is responsible for this mess.
Today, more than 200 national and grassroots organizations urged President Obama to apologize to the affected families in these communities, agree to meet with them, announce that he is reopening these investigations and direct the EPA to take all necessary action to make sure communities are protected from fracking.
5. Like JFK's Race to the Moon, President Obama should Announce a Bold, Swift Transition to Renewable Energy
As the IPCC and nearly all of the world's climate scientists have determined, we need to immediately transition to renewable energy, and President Obama should use his State of the Union address to announce plans to do so. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy boldly and ambitiously told a joint session of Congress that the United States would send a man to the moon and bring him home in less than a decade. At that time, we didn't even have the technology.
We need a similarly ambitious goal today with renewable energy. But the difference is that we already have the technology and the means to do so - we just need the political will and the leadership. Just as presidents have called on the nation to do great things in times of crisis in the past, President Obama should use the State of the Union address to outline a bold vision for investing in programs to deploy energy efficiency and renewable technologies such as wind and solar power.
He should call on and inspire Americans to take part in combating the greatest issue of our day and lay out a plan to fight climate change without giving our essential resources away to large corporate interests. Instead, we must preserve and protect them for generations to come.
Join the growing national movement at www.AmericansAgainstFracking.org.
Photo by Les Stone.