Coal, oil and gas have given communities across the U.S. both steady paychecks and devastating pollution. It's time to make health a priority in meeting our energy demands.
"The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy. To deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that." – Gus Speth
High risks of extraction<p>There is a deeply concerning and familiar story that repeats itself in the U.S. Borne out of a combination of reduced government regulations, optimization of profit through business practices, and lack of rigorous health and environmental impact assessments, a corporation's operations can result in catastrophic, and sometimes irreversible disasters that may affect a community for generations through negative externalities such as air pollution, groundwater contamination, and property value reduction <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23552649" target="_blank">resulting from these high-risk actions</a>.</p> <p>When this occurs, a settlement may be negotiated, however, it is oftentimes tragically insufficient to compensate the community for their loss of health and quality of life. Importantly, communities that are affected the most by these impacts are less privileged, further perpetuating environmental injustice. </p> <p>There are numerous operations in natural resource extraction occurring in the U.S. that affect the health of local communities. For example, there are more than <a href="https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990" target="_blank">275,000 hydraulic fracturing sites scattered across counties within 21 states</a>. And the number of hydraulically fractured wells is growing. </p> <p>The Environmental Protection Agency <a href="https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990" target="_blank">estimated that approximately 20,000 new hydraulic fracturing sites</a> were developed in the U.S. in 2015 alone. Communities with hydraulic fracturing sites are at risk for groundwater contamination of chemicals with toxic effects on various organ systems, including the liver, nervous system, and kidneys. Although several lawsuits have been filed as a result of contamination due to hydraulic fracturing, the settlements are reactionary and insufficient. </p> <p>Residents will bear high costs in healthcare services for treatment of health conditions resulting from contamination. Public agencies and municipalities extend already strained resources to monitor and mitigate environmental contamination. And representation in litigation is often privileged to those with social and political capital. This is not economically or environmentally sustainable. </p>
Transport troubles<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY3NTQ3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTQ0OTExOH0.iboYHpYxOSWl7yDZeyp36M6DNjrC6J8iGAj1u0ewLi0/img.jpg?width=980" id="93722" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f12ac05cff64ddd10146c32361f847a1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Standing Rock Sioux and others protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. (Credit: Joe Brusky/flickr)<p>Community concerns and impacts do not end after oil or gas is pulled out of the ground. There is also an urgent need to address the negative externalities caused by the transportation operations of the fossil fuel economy.</p> <p>In 2014, the Dakota Access Pipeline was proposed to transport crude oil across four states in the U.S. and <a href="https://earthjustice.org/features/oil-water-and-steel-the-dakota-access-pipeline" target="_blank">posed serious hazards to the environment and human health</a>. The proposed pathway of construction overlapped with reservation lands that belong to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Furthermore, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe <a href="https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/plains-treaties/dapl" target="_blank">expressed concern</a> over the impact of this project on cultural resources within their land. </p> <p>Proactively, the Tribe and its allies drove a grassroots movement of protests to protect their sacred land. Earthjustice – a non-profit environmental law organization – partnered with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe <a href="https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/3154%201%20Complaint.pdf" target="_blank">in a lawsuit</a> against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the office tasked with approving the implementation of the pipeline. The legal charge of this lawsuit was that the environmental assessment and construction of the pipeline violated the guidelines set in place by the Clean Water Act. </p> <p>Meanwhile, the development of the Keystone XL pipeline is in progress as the Trump Administration signed <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-promoting-energy-infrastructure-economic-growth/" target="_blank">executive orders and reversed several federal regulations</a>, including the scope of the Clean Water Act. This pipeline is projected to transport more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day across six U.S. states, from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. </p> <p>Existing infrastructure of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/keystone-pipeline-leak.html" target="_blank">Keystone Pipeline</a> as well as the <a href="https://theintercept.com/2018/01/09/dakota-access-pipeline-leak-energy-transfer-partners/" target="_blank">Dakota Access Pipeline</a> have both resulted in oil spills, and the reduction in regulation for clean water enhances the threats for long-term well being of the affected communities. </p> <p>Although these existing spills occurred in areas that aren't directly impacting residents, they contaminated the soil and groundwater systems, which impacted local wildlife and required remediation. These spills demonstrate the risk of future spills that could occur more proximal to communities. </p>