Greta Thunberg and Jill Hunkler were among six speakers at The Role of Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Preventing Action on the Climate Crisis congressional committee hearing on April 22. Jill Hunkler is a resident of Belmont County who has been displaced by fracking development. Greta Thunberg is the founder of Fridays For Future.
Jill Hunkler lives within 5 miles of 78 fracking wells, a compressor station, a transfer station, interstate pipelines and has been subjected to explosions, brine spills, and reservoir contamination. The region has lost 6500 jobs and the population has declined since fracking began in her county.
The Subcommittee on the Environment hearing considered damage done by the oil and gas industry as Congress prepares the next infrastructure bill. Specific concerns were the $30 billion in federal subsidies that was handed to the fossil fuel industry last year, the health and economic impacts of fossil fuel subsidies, the need to repeal fossil fuel subsidies, and vulnerable communities that are disproportionately affected by oil and gas subsidies. Chairman Khanna’s 6 minute introduction followed by the full hearing can be viewed here.
On May 8, oil and gas executive David Hill’s industry propaganda was published by The Plain Dealer. In response to the May 8 letter’s inaccuracies, the 2020 Concerned Health Professionals of New York, & Physicians for Social Responsibility Compendium is referenced here to offer research-based information.
Hill claims that the oil and gas industry creates jobs that support the community. However, as noted in the congressional hearing on April 22, fossil fuel companies spent $250 million in lobbying and contributions last year and, in return, received over $30 billion in federal support.
Despite these massive subsidies, fossil fuel workers were laid off last year while lobbyists continued to receive $500,000 salaries and executives earned millions. Eliminating oil and gas subsidies would pressure the industry to stop using taxpayer money to pay lobbyists.
It is important to realize that more jobs are created in the sustainable energy sector than by fossil fuel companies. Currently solar and wind energy jobs outnumber coal and gas jobs in 30 states. According to Forbes, renewable energy jobs offer higher wages than the national average and are growing at a faster rate.
Hill suggests that oil and gas investments in the community are irreplaceable. Predictably, he fails to admit the huge negative impact of the industry. The 2020 Fracking Science Compendium offers a compilation of peer reviewed research on the community impact of hydraulic fracturing:
“As fracking operations in the United States and abroad have increased in frequency, size, and intensity, a significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are dangerous in ways that cannot be mitigated through regulation. Threats include detrimental impacts on water, air, climate stability, public health, farming, property values, and economic vitality.
“Independent, peer-reviewed analyses and industry studies alike indicate that fracking is a dangerous process with innate engineering problems that include uncontrolled and unpredictable fracturing, induced earthquakes, and well casing failures that worsen with age and lead to water contamination and fugitive emissions.
“Unpreventable problems … include radiation releases; unmapped and abandoned wells that serve as pathways for contamination; and operations necessary for safety (venting, flaring, blowdowns) that result in methane releases and hazardous air pollution. The disposal of fracking wastewater remains a problem with no solution. More than 17.6 million people within the United States live within one mile of an active oil and gas well. The result is a public health and climate crisis. ”
Clearly, the damage done by shale development in Ohio negates any money the gas and oil industry may have spent on rebuilding damaged roads to allow trucks and heavy equipment entry into Ohio rural communities.
Hill states that CO2 emissions in Ohio have decreased and that it is due to the increased use of natural gas. He completely ignores the fact that natural gas, or methane, is a much more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2.
Researchers have found that “North American fracking operations are driving the current surge in global levels of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period. Methane escapes into the atmosphere from all parts of the extraction, processing, and distribution system, at significant rates that exceed earlier estimates by a factor of two to three.”
Amazingly, Hill denies mountains of research findings when he claims that there are no adverse health effects experienced due to living near a fracking site.
To clarify the dangerous health effects, “Public health harms now linked with drilling, fracking, and associated infrastructure include cancers, asthma, respiratory distress, rashes, heart problems, and mental health problems. Multiple studies of pregnant women living near fracking operations across the nation show impairments to infant health, including birth defects, preterm birth, and low birth weight.”
While adamantly asserting industry propaganda, Hill fails to even note the environmental injustice practiced by fracking companies. Low-income and underrepresented communities are targeted for shale development, leaving these areas as sacrifice zones where residents have lost their health, their property value, and often their ability to support themselves.
“Emerging science also shows that fracking is an environmental injustice, with injuries not borne equally by all. Throughout the United States, pregnant women, children, communities of color, Indigenous people, and impoverished communities are disproportionately harmed by fracking.”
Hill claims that there is no evidence that the problems experienced by residents of Ohio were the fault of the industry that he represents. He feels that we can’t prove that fossil fuel extraction in Ohio caused all of the documented problems.
However, 2,015 scientists, investigative journalists, and public records prove him wrong: “The vast body of scientific studies now published on hydraulic fracturing in the peer reviewed scientific literature confirms that the climate and public health risks from fracking are real and the range of environmental harms wide. The risks and harms of fracking are inherent to its operation. Our examination uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.”
Concerned Health Professionals of New York, & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2020, December). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (7th ed.). http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/
House Committee on Oversight and Reform,
Opening statement from Chairman Ro Khann https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/Khanna%20Opening.pdf
Testimony from Jill Hunkler
Testimony from Dr. Joseph E Aldy
Testimony form Peter A Erickson