4. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS & PUBLIC INTEREST INVESTIGATIONS
Over the years, the Government Accountability Program (GAP) has successfully employed our Know Your Rights Campaign (KRYC) methodology across GAP’s program areas in order to inform individuals about the rights available to them to safely blow the whistle. Most recently, these efforts have included GAP’s BP/Gulf Coast KYRC which resulted in over 30 whistleblowers disclosing significant environmental and public health threats.
Insiders within core aspects of the fossil extraction industry know why certain practices are perilous for the environment in ways that must be exposed and brought to public attention. We must reach them and inform them about their rights to safely blow the whistle. We will be seeking to launch public education investigations and campaigns on critical national issues Rick Piltz identified, each with their own set of consequences, which highlight how we must phase-out fossil energy sources as Rick warned. Utilizing decades of experience, the interrelated KYRC initiatives below are strategically designed to spread transparency throughout the extraction industry from the bottom-up. In coordination with Rick’s top-down policy approach as exemplified in the Overseeing National Energy Planning pillar of CSPW’s plan of action, we are now poised to take maximum advantage of our history and reputation and have a significant impact on challenging the fossil industry – both at its roots at the policy level and on the ground where those policies meet reality and “affect real people in real places,” as Rick would often say.
Our CSPW KYRCs will be targeted at federal, state and corporate employees who know about wrongdoing associated with climate change concerns related to the issues below and regarding regulatory policy development and implementation, research, or energy industry practices. For each of these campaigns we will be engaging in strategic public education blogging campaigns and seeking to coordinate with leading coalitions on the ground across the nation where available to reach and inform affected individuals about their rights. Areas of focus for CSPW Know Your Rights Campaigns which will carry on Rick’s strategy of featuring our investigation and public education of administration support for increased fossil fuel extraction include but are not limited to the following
(i.) Fracking: Dramatically increasing U.S. natural gas production, in particular through hydrofracking, is an essential component of the administration’s climate and energy policy. However, this is not a viable approach for an effective climate strategy in the long term. Natural gas has roughly half the emissions per unit of energy as coal – assuming a very low level of methane leakage, an assumption that some current research calls into question. The administration has fully supported a massive expansion of shale gas fracking, with no EPA environmental regulation in place or any agency decision on whether to regulate, and with some studies – as recent as July 7, 2015 – estimating large fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas system “potentially offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas” with potential estimates of the greenhouse gas having “a global warming potential over a 100-year time frame as high as 34 times that of carbon dioxide.” With the administration’s policy of strong support for increasing domestic production, as well as promoting natural gas export and the development of a global market and infrastructure for natural gas power plants and vehicles, those emissions will go up, and natural gas infrastructure will be locked in for decades. Natural gas must also be phased down to a much lower level in order to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.
Moreover, the process of fracking itself is laden with additional environmental risks. Fracking fluid contains hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, methanol, mercury, and hundreds of other contaminants. At least eight states have reported “surface, ground and drinking water contamination” due to the practice. Habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling to environmentally sensitive areas also yield untold further damage to the environment. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in late April 2015, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released a map of earthquakes “thought to be triggered by human activity in the eastern and central United States” – coinciding with the emerging view of officials “that wastewater disposal following oil and gas extraction is causing more earthquakes.” All of the areas highlighted on the map “are located near deep fluid injection wells or other industrial activities capable of inducing earthquakes.” The Chief of the USGS’ National Seismic Hazard Project stated in the article that the pattern of increased earthquakes is “troubling”… and that “[t]hese earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before.”
Despite the mounting body of evidence of these dangers, on May 18, stating that Texas needs to avoid a “patchwork of local regulations,” Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill “which prohibits cities and towns from banning [fracking]… giving the state sole authority over oil and gas regulation.” Unsurprisingly earning the support of energy companies and industry groups, the act “expressly pre-empts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities and other political subdivisions.” A plan of action for a Fracking KYRC is currently under development to address these issues through strategic blog posts and public education and investigation. We will seek to inform workers in affected areas who may be able to expose these environmental dangers while drawing necessary attention to the Obama administration’s reliance on the procuring of natural gas as a flawed central aspect of its climate and energy policy.
(ii.) Off-Shore Drilling: As raised above, in the wake of the 2010 Gulf Coast oil catastrophe GAP launched a Gulf Coast/BP KYRC to let employees know of their rights to blow the whistle and undertook a public interest investigation resulting now in over 30 whistleblowers disclosing significant environmental and public health threats. Having garnered significant media coverage and released a White Paper on our findings, we seek to shed new light on this disaster and its cover-up, influence responsible regulations of dispersant use and create an accurate public record of the subsequent environmental and public health impact.
Not having learned the lessons of Deepwater Horizon, the Obama administration continues its efforts to open up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling (see our Fracking KYRC above). For example, on May 11, the Obama administration first gave conditional approval to allow Shell Oil to start drilling for oil in the Arctic off the Alaskan coast this summer. Then, on August 17, the administration gave Shell final approval to do so. As reported in The New York Times, “[t]he area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deepwater ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach in case of an accident”…[t]he closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is over 1,000 miles away.” In addition to raising awareness around these issues via strategic blog posts and other public education efforts, we will be investigating leads and seeking to employ the same successful BP/Gulf Coast methodology in the context of this site as well as other at-risk off-shore drilling sites in order to educate workers about their rights in advance in the hopes that we may be able to prevent another potential Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
(iii.) Pipelines: On August 29, 2011, Rick Piltz joined former GAP client and renowned climate scientist James Hansen and 141 other individuals in getting arrested at a sit-in demonstration at the White House, calling on President Obama to block construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. As anyone who knew Rick was well aware, he was strongly opposed to the pipeline’s construction and spearheaded long-standing and active opposition in the form of articles, communications to the government, posting of communications from the science community, and direct action (see here, here, and here). The very prospect of Keystone XL’s construction and the potential environmental devastation which could result from its rupture has made national attention and brought piping technology itself under fierce scrutiny. If the pipeline eventually survives the President’s veto during the next administration, before it is even built Keystone XL will already be predisposed to a heightened risk of rupture due to the corrosive nature of tar-sands oil. If the pipe were to burst, it could hopelessly pollute thousands of acres of farmland in the Great Plains as well as one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world.
There is good reason to be concerned. Oil and gas pipelines crisscross the country in staggering numbers and the current state of piping technology is extremely suspect. For example, five pipelines ruptured for unknown reasons in January 2015 alone, and, even as recently as May 19, an 11-mile-long pipeline ruptured – spilling what was estimated at the time to be up to 101,000 gallons of oil along California’s Santa Barbara County coastline spanning over nine miles. Since then, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, Plains All American Pipeline — the company responsible for the disaster — disclosed in its quarterly earnings in early August 2015 that the spill “may have been bigger and costlier than originally expected” and that “as many as 143,000 gallons of crude [oil] may have been spilled when the line ruptured.” These issues are quite possibly systemic and must be investigated, given they happen indiscriminately across the country with older and newer pipes, and regardless of whether the piping is transporting oil or gas. We intend to conduct this KYRC along the routes of the ruptured pipelines in the areas most directly affected and the routes of potentially compromised pipelines across the nation based on intelligence we receive, engage local communities where workers live and provide them information on their rights to blow the whistle.
(iv.) Railways: Crude-by-rail shipments have increased nationwide from an average of 55,000 barrels per day in 2010 to more than 1 million barrels per day in 2014. Given the recent massive expansion of fossil-fuels by rail, the nationwide transport of oil is also of paramount concern. A Railways KYRC effort is particularly necessary in the wake of significantly increased derailments. A U.S. Department of Transportation report last July predicted “that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades” and that the derailments “could cause more than $4 billion in damage and possibly kill hundreds of people if a serious accident were to happen in a densely populated part of the U.S.” Local communities across the country are thus becoming increasingly alarmed about the movement of fossil-fuels by trains.
The uncomfortable truth is that the American public is extremely vulnerable as a result of crumbling rail infrastructure. The Federal Railway Act has the most successful track record in practice of any law that GAP has helped pass. Yet, few if any employees are aware of their rights. In spring 2015 our KYRC materials were provided at an influential rail safety conference in Olympia, WA. Washington State is a hub of oil-by-rail activity coming through the Pacific Northwest; oil trains have increased in number from 9,500 in 2008 to over 400,000 in 2014, with even further significant projected increases slated for 2020 and 2025. We have attracted several rail whistleblowers and are formulating a strategy so that we will have the capacity to respond to them and take action.