Just as clean, renewable energy is lifting off and the impacts of climate disruption become ever more visible, fossil energy production is becoming dramatically more extreme. But extreme fossil energy production is exactly what we don’t need.
In just the last two years, I have seen the Louisiana coast’s oil-slicked marshes after the Deepwater Horizon blow-out, met with Pennsylvanians and Coloradans whose homes are under assault in the fracking boom, toured the Alaskan Arctic with a caribou hunter whose way of life is threatened by onshore and offshore oil development, and shared the outrage of West Virginians whose schools and streams are under siege from mountaintop removal coal mining.
Though these extreme energy projects differ in their methods of extraction, they have two things in common: their massive industrial scale, and how little we know about their potential impacts to our air, water and climate.
As we move to ever-more extreme fossil fuel production, we are rapidly destroying landscapes, polluting air and water, shredding communities and exacerbating climate change. The new oil and gas fields have thousands of wells, each one using enormous quantities of water mixed with toxic chemicals that have not been tested for safety. In most states, the frackers aren’t even required to report what chemicals they use, or in what amounts, and Earthjustice is in court fighting for testing and disclosure.
Among the most extreme energy development being proposed is oil drilling in Arctic waters, where the drillers encounter ice and fierce weather far from the resources needed to respond to a spill. The industry swears it can drill there safely, but its track record demonstrates that the most sophisticated and wealthiest companies in the world are not yet able to operate safely in Arctic Ocean conditions. Speaking of extreme, consider what’s going on in Appalachia, where mountain tops are being blown off to get at the single biggest cause of climate change: coal. But climate change is just part of the harm wrought by mountaintop removal mining. Whole communities are forced to endure the noise, the poisoned water, the polluted air and the devastated lands. Ending this tragedy became the life’s work of our own Joan Mulhern, a true “Mountain Hero” who was admired, loved, and sometimes feared for her sharp tongue, her wry sense of humor and her die-hard dedication to the Boston Red Sox.
For years, Earthjustice has fought these extreme energy stampedes by using legal tools to prevent a reckless energy boom from becoming an environmental and public health bust. Currently, Earthjustice attorneys are challenging California’s failure to evaluate or even consider the risks as frackers try to make California their next boomtown—using extreme measures.
America will always need energy, but heating up our climate, polluting our air and water, and contaminating our bodies goes far beyond what can be considered a reasonable, moderate or even moral energy policy—especially when clean, renewable energy is quickly becoming so readily available.
Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice.
(This column originally appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine. Sign up here for a subscription to the magazine.)