In one of my first messages to you as the Sierra Club’s new executive director, I spelled out four matters I consider priorities for my first three months. Today I’d like to discuss our plans for addressing one of those priorities: the regulation of natural gas.
The topic has come up often in my travels and it is important that we address it even as we focus so much attention on the disaster BP has created in the Gulf. As the recent natural gas boom changes the energy landscape, new production techniques raise environmental concerns about this fuel. Let me repeat now what I have been telling those of you who fear that your favorite landscapes and the communities you love may be at risk: The Sierra Club has your back. We will stand with you to ensure that natural gas extraction is effectively regulated and that the industry employs the safest and most environmentally sound techniques.
We stand at a crossroads today. The time is coming when coal and oil will be the energy of the past. Over the past five years Sierra Club has led a nationwide effort with our chapters and local allies that prevented the construction of more than 125 coal-fired power plants. Just two weeks ago the Mississippi Chapter won a David-versus-Goliath battle to block Southern Company’s proposal to build a massive new coal plant.
On the horizon are the predominance of new clean-energy projects and the country’s reliance on wind and solar. The only question is how long it will take (and what we’ll lose as many of our leaders dither). As the Sierra Club works hard to stop the worst of the worst, we have to fight equally hard to promote the best of the best, starting with energy efficiency and moving on to the range of renewables, from responsibly sited wind and solar projects to distributed generation in communities across the country.
During the transition from old to new, we acknowledge that some fuels will remain in use, even though they should have no place in our long-term energy vision.
Several years ago the Sierra Club, using its standard democratic processes and taking into account the best scientific evidence, acknowledged that natural gas will be part of the transition from far dirtier energy sources—particularly coal—to a clean-energy future (http://bit.ly/SCnaturalgaspolicy). This policy was born of the Club’s realization that the threat of climate disruption is severe and that we need an immediate solution to get off coal on a massive scale.
A commitment to problem solving is one of our organization’s great strengths. The responsible use of natural gas will help the nation address the complex problem of climate change, but only if we do it right.
We must be clear that energy efficiency, distributed solar and wind, and appropriately sited large-scale wind, solar and geothermal projects are true clean-energy solutions and should be at the front of the line for new energy investments. Indeed, it is a priority for the Club to build a package of grassroots campaigns so that we can more effectively build a movement and make dramatic progress at the local, state and federal levels to stabilize energy demand and create a larger share of the pie for clean energy.
We must also wrestle with the environmental challenges raised by the use of natural gas. Modern natural gas production techniques can cause significant environmental damage, and the risks are multiplied by the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology that allows for recovery of gas from deep in shale formations. Expanded natural gas production without adequate regulation has led to serious problems, from fouled well water in Wyoming, to polluted rivers in the Northeast, to air-pollution in Texas. These problems are exacerbated by legal loopholes that exempt the industry from basic environmental laws, by outdated state regulations that do not fully control modern gas-production practices, and by the limited capacity of authorities to enforce those laws on the books.
A volunteer-led task force has developed a policy calling for the strict regulation of natural gas fracturing (http://bit.ly/frackingpolicy). Among the types of drilling projects the Club opposes are those in which the contents of fracking fluids are not disclosed to the public or contain an unacceptable toxic risk, and those that fail to protect drinking and surface water or violate air-quality standards.
To implement this policy, the Club recently formed the Hydraulic Fracture Implementation Task Force and the Hydrofracking Team on the Activist Network
(http://bit.ly/activistnetworkgasfrack). The task force is developing model regulatory standards based on detailed best management practices, overseeing an effort to push for them in pilot states, and guiding the identification of areas that should be off-limits to natural gas production. It has already worked with chapters and coalition partners to submit extensive technical and legal comments on numerous state and federal regulatory proposals governing natural gas production. It has also joined with several groups to form a team of attorneys and experts to develop model regulations. The growing team will include engineering, hydrology and toxicology specialists and other technical experts.
Grassroots advocacy for natural gas regulation is essential. That’s why we’re launching a natural gas campaign to coordinate hard-hitting efforts across the country to make sure that this industry is regulated and using best practices. Watch for upcoming opportunities to get involved.
I applaud the excellent work our chapters and activists have already done, and I encourage those of you involved in these efforts to keep pushing for environmental safeguards.
Doing sophisticated campaign work on efficiency and renewables is critical to our success. Getting it right on natural gas is also essential as we move toward a clean-energy future. The Sierra Club has experienced tremendous success in recent years in our efforts to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate disruption. Securing major improvements in natural gas extraction practices and regulation is a top priority. I’m looking forward to working with you to get this crucial work done.
I welcome your feedback and ideas. To let me know what you think please visit: www.sierraclub.org/ed/memos And next Monday, June 7, at 5 p.m. Pacific, I will host a call with all volunteers and staff to talk about our natural gas campaign and policies and answer questions (1 866-501-6174; Code 223-9223#).
From: Michael Brune June 1, 2010
To: Sierra Club Volunteers and Staff
Re: Natural Gas Initiative
Friends and Colleagues: