Is it just me? Or did this week’s oil and gas news have a doomsday quality to it?
On Monday we had not one, not two, but three industrial gas disasters: a natural gas pipeline in Texas exploded, killing one worker, injuring several others and sending up a geyser of flame visible for miles around; a fireball and explosion burned seven workers drilling for natural gas in West Virginia; and authorities shut down activities at a Pennsylvania gas drilling site after a plume of toxic wastewater shot 75 feet into the air from a ruptured gas well, raining chemicals down on the site for 16 straight hours.
All of this as BP kept churning out an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico and investigations continued into the Massey mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 29 miners.
Looking around at this fossil fuels end-of-days drama unfolding around us, I can’t help but feel like we’ve all been cast as extras in some scary action-adventure movie.
Hampshire College professor Michael Klare says we’ve entered the era of "extreme energy." Though fossil fuel supplies are dwindling (not to mention wreaking havoc on our climate), the folks who got rich off them seem undeterred, devising ever more risky and destructive schemes to siphon the last remaining drops of oil, pockets of gas, and thin seams of coal. They’re drilling thousands of feet in deep ocean waters for oil, blasting off mountain tops for coal, shooting millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to extract natural gas.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Act III of this disaster flick. That’s the part where the people get fed up, take matters into their own hands, and take down the bad guys with spunk and humor and wit.
Here at Earthjustice, we’re doing our part in the courts, filing (at last count) seven lawsuits in the Gulf spill to hold polluters accountable and prevent future disasters; we’re challenging backroom deals between government regulators and the oil and gas industry; we’re fighting for the strongest possible regulations to protect clean air and water supplies.
And across the country, citizens are banding together, demanding change.
It happened yesterday when members of the U.S. Senate, swayed by an outpouring of public outrage, voted down Lisa Murkowski’s Dirty Air Act resolution.
It happened today, on the steps of New York’s City Hall where Earthjustice attorney Megan Klein stood with activists and elected officials from throughout New York rallying in support of a gas drilling moratorium in the state.
In the coming weeks, in communities throughout New York and Pennsylvania, people are coming together to watch GASLAND, an at-times irreverent but very important documentary on the consequences of the extreme form of gas extraction known as ‘horizontal hydraulic fracturing’ (just as scary as it sounds). On June 21, the film premieres on HBO.
At times like this, I’m inspired by the words of Paul Loeb, author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, who writes about the undercurrent of courage and faith that spur individual actions, setting into motion the seemingly random chain of events that fuel social movements.
"Even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who could go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks’s husband Raymond convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions?"
I’m thinking about the events of this week and wondering how many people will take a look around and, for the first time in their lives, contact their elected representatives, organize a rally, switch to renewable energy? How many thousands of people will their actions touch? What gains will we have won a year, ten years, fifty years from now?