This post comes from Caitlin Johnson, 2011-2013 Fellow at the George Gund Foundation in Ohio. There she has worked across program areas and with HEFN members on the issue of fracking. She will end her fellowship and enter world of advocacy and organizing in summer 2013.
Two years ago, I would have thought “fracking” was some sort of new curse word, or that maybe it had something to do with the Fraggles (yes, I am a child of the ‘80s). I never would have fathomed that my fellowship with the George Gund Foundation would lead to a new passion and professional focus. When people ask me what I do, I try to explain that I work for a foundation where we give money away to important causes – like how to help make fracking safer and more transparent. First, people usually want to know if I can give them money (I cannot). Then they ask why I am so concerned and passionate about fracking and why exactly does it matter to the Gund Foundation. Here is how I respond.
The George Gund Foundation is a place-based funder that focuses mostly on Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. We have five program areas: education, the arts, economic and community development, the environment and health and human services. A considerable portion of our funding supports state policy work, especially regarding the environment and health and human services. Our economic development grant making is based in the 16 county region of Northeast Ohio, containing Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron and Canton. Because of its transformative effect on communities and its potential to impact the natural environment and human health, we see fracking as an issue that cuts across the latter three program areas.
In many ways, the natural gas boom seems like déjà vu all over again. Ohio funders can merely look to our neighbor West Virginia to see that an economy based around an extractive resource – coal mining in that state’s case – is not a pretty thing once the boom is over. In Ohio, too, we have pockets of rural poverty in former coal mining communities. It seems to me that natural resource extraction is more of a curse than a blessing in the long run. Many economists agree.
Most economic development experts eschew the practice of “smokestack chasing,” or pursuing big industries through tax breaks in favor of investments in human capital and innovation. Despite this, Ohio has some of the nation’s lowest oil and gas severance tax rates. The industry says Ohio cannot raise taxes or else they will drill elsewhere. Although the governor proposes an increase in the severance tax rate, he plans to return that revenue to all Ohioans through an income tax cut.
As the largest funder of the Fund for our Economic Future, a collaboration of funders throughout Northeast Ohio, the Gund Foundation is deeply committed to responding to our region’s deindustrialization and the economic havoc it wrought. The Fund invests in organizations that assist innovative startups, strengthens the region’s cluster of technologies, and promote our robust manufacturing sector. While the foundation understands fracking may create jobs, we also worry that a lack of planning and adequate taxation could produce a boom-bust cycle, and ultimately leave Northeast Ohio in a weaker position economically.
Secondly, the foundation worries that Ohioans do not have a say in this matter. A 2004 law stripped municipalities of local control over oil and gas drilling. Ohio also allows “mandatory pooling,” which allows drilling companies to go through a landowner’s property to drill if a landowner refuses to sign a gas lease, but most of his neighbors have. There are also provisions in Ohio law, which prohibits citizens from appealing the issuance of a drilling permit. Meanwhile, a gas company denied a permit is able to appeal. Moreover, under Ohio law, gas companies are not required to disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluid—the mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected deep underground to open natural gas deposits—despite the disastrous potential for contamination when the fluid is being transported.
In order to promote transparency and engagement, the Gund Foundation has made grants to FracTracker to expand public access to fracking-related data and maps in Ohio, as well as to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which empowers the myriad of citizens groups that have responded to the issue. We have also enlisted environmental public interest law firms Earthjustice and Natural Resource Defense Council to survey Ohio’s existing regulatory structure and determine what, if any, legal avenues might be pursued.
Many people in Ohio want to see fracking stopped completely. Many others say the economic possibilities are too good to miss. We at the Gund Foundation believe a balance can be struck through sensible regulations and improved disclosure. Despite its many downsides, fracking presents a great opportunity for environmental funders. Citizens of all stripes are concerned about the issue. Some worry about private property rights protection, or about the lack of local control. Others fear contamination of local water supplies or that jobs will not go to Ohioans.
Fracking touches everything – and everyone. If funders want to build a robust coalition around environmental issues, fracking can show us the way. This is an opportunity to change how we frame environmentalism as a movement for health equity, democracy and social and economic justice versus just hippy tree huggers out there fighting for polar bears. As I prepare to leave my fellowship at Gund and enter the world of advocacy and organizing, I hope all of us are able to seize the moment.
Ramtin Arablouei, HEFN’s Program Manager, authored this post. Ramtin joined HEFN in 2007 and staffs HEFN’s working group on fracking. You can read more of his writing here.
The word “fracking” has been all over the media over the last few years. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the technical shorthand for the process that extracts natural gas and oil from deep inside the earth. Fracking* has facilitated a boom in natural gas drilling, but it also comes with many risks and disadvantages. These risks have caused concern among many foundations that now are funding efforts to regulate or ban fracking. Why should you pay attention?
1) It’s coming to a town near you. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration there are currently 36 states with “shale plays” that are being fracked or explored for possible fracking. Most states are not on the sidelines of this serious industrial activity. Is your state in the mix?
2) Fracking is making people sick. While research has focused on the environmental impacts, it’s clear that there are public health impacts as well. The pollution of air and water in communities near fracking sites has been documented in both anecdotal stories and studies. What’s happening? Disproportionate levels of asthma, cancers, frequent headaches, and nosebleeds have been reported in fracking communities. Why? For starters, fracking is excluded from portions of the Federal Clean Air and Water Acts and host of other federal and state regulations. In the past, inadequate oversight of energy industries has not gone well (see Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill). And as one public health expert writes, “there is no fence line community when it comes to fracking.” This industrial activity is occurring in residential areas without significant buffers to protect families from pollution.
3) It’s making communities sick too. There is growing evidence about the health and environmental impacts of fracking, but not enough people are talking about the other social impacts. With a sudden increase in drilling comes an influx of itinerant workers. Often, these workers live in small enclaves which locals call “man camps.” Many localities are seeing dramatic increases in violence, drunk driving, drug use, theft, housing shortages, and prostitution in, and near, towns with active fracking. Outrageous? Read about what happened in Williston, North Dakota after fracking began there.
4) Fracking is eroding town rights. The state legislature of Pennsylvania usurped the power of local municipalities to set the laws to regulate drilling when they passed Act 13. The law, which takes away the power of local townships to regulate or tax fracking, is currently being challenged in the State Supreme Court. Some Republicans and Democrats believe that these provisions violate the Pennsylvania constitution. And similar laws have been proposed in New York. To learn more about the specifics of the law read this summary by the National Resources Defense Council.
5) It’s eroding homeowner’s rights too. In order to gain access to shale from landowners not interested in leasing their property, gas companies have taken advantage of “split estate” laws which allows companies to purchase the mineral rights to land and drill without the homeowner’s permission. Split estate laws were mostly passed during the industrial boom of the late 19th century, but they are being used now in many states to facilitate gas drilling. (Sound unbelievable? Read the story of Vince and Jeanne Rhea in this recent Reuters article.)
6) Fracking could be worse for climate change than coal. Many environmentalists have supported the expansion of hydraulic fracturing based on the assumption that gas is a lower-carbon alternative to coal or oil. While burning natural gas as a fuel does produce less carbon dioxide than coal and oil, it also emits large amounts of methane. There is scientific consensus that methane is a more destructive greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A recent Cornell University study concludes that methane leakage from fracking sites has the potential to be twice as damaging as greenhouse gas emissions from coal. There is more research to be done on this topic but we know one thing for sure: calling natural gas clean is an overstatement.
7) Fracking could be what’s for dinner. Many of the fracking wells in states like Pennsylvania are located in rural areas that are dotted with farms producing fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meat for the surrounding areas. Contamination of local water sources have been a major problem in gas-rich areas like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Alberta, Canada. A 2012 Cornell University study linked fracking wastewater with mortality in farm animals. Many cases of cattle death in farms near fracking sites have been reported in Pennsylvania. One of the largest food co-ops in the country, located in Brooklyn, NYC, has publicly stated they will not order food products from New York farms that are near fracking sites, expressing great fear of contaminated products.
Funders who are concerned about the impacts of fracking on health, environments and communities are working together at the Health & Environmental Funders Network Hydrofracking Working Group. To learn more, contact Ramtin Arablouei. To learn more about fracking, check out HEFN’s briefing, Drilling Deeper.
*Advocates have adopted the term “fracking” to refer to the entire process of unconventional gas extraction from exploration to processing. We are similarly adopting the term for this article.
In this blog post, Jon Cracknell writes about a new report he authored for HEFN: Fracking Survey 2012: Report on NGO and Philanthropic Efforts to Address Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing. Jon manages the Goldsmith family’s philanthropy and helped to create the U.K. Environmental Funders Network, which brings together 150 trusts and foundations involved in environmental philanthropy.
Last week HEFN published the results of a new piece of research on the foundations and NGOs addressing impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The report, Fracking Survey 2012, is the result of my work with HEFN and an advisory board to survey a rapidly expanding field of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations working on fracking issues. The 33 foundations and 81 NGOs responding represented many of the organizations most engaged in this field, reporting a total of $17.4 million in fracking-related expenditures by nonprofits in 2012 and $18.3 million in foundation grants.
The work builds on similar research I’ve been involved with to survey foundations and NGOs working on coal, and a new survey of funders focused on the meat and livestock industries. Research of this kind helps funders better understand the work being done across many organizations. It can create opportunities for collaboration and can help improve alignment between funders and their grantees, at a very low cost relative to the amount of resources being channeled into these issues. I strongly believe that as funders we are unlikely to be less effective for having an understanding of the field into which we are making grants. We might actually do better!
The HEFN fracking survey found a quite spontaneously emerging landscape of groups concerned about the impacts of fracking – even in places where there is currently no philanthropic support. NGOs responding were active on fracking in 42 of the 50 states, with the greatest amount of activity in Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado. The NGOs involved told us that they hope to more than double their expenditure on fracking in 2013, compared to 2012. Increased philanthropic support will be important if they are to achieve this objective.
The survey also found that much work on fracking happens at the community level. Given how little infrastructure there currently is for coordination, it was interesting to see a high degree of alignment between NGO and funder responses about their reasons for working on the issue of fracking. Both groups named concerns about impacts on water quality and quantity issues, public health, and environmental conservation as their top three priorities.
When we looked at the approaches that funders and NGOs were using, the survey found less alignment. NGOs reported more of a focus on public awareness and communications, grass-roots organizing and legal activity, while the funders reported greater emphasis on policy and regulatory reform and scientific research. Increased communications capacity is seen as a priority especially within the NGO community, along with more resources for organizing, research, and information-sharing.
This initial snapshot survey suggests a strong base of civic concern in relation to fracking, along with increasing philanthropic engagement. Funders sharing concerns about fracking impacts may be interested in HEFN’s working group on fracking; contact email@example.com for more information.
Lots of people resolve to get healthier in a new year, but some find it hard to stick to their resolutions. I think the best resolutions, whether on health or something else, are just about picking changes we are actually motivated to make, and ones we know we can achieve by steadily focusing energy for months.
HEFN’s resolutions for 2013 are about things we plan to focus energy on so that everyone can live in healthy environments. We are aiming at big goals and fundamental changes, not quick fixes. Some are well within reach, others not easy to achieve. But they will be fun to tackle, and well worth the effort. Here are some of our resolutions to make everyone’s lives more clean and green during 2013:
Resolved: We will sustain philanthropy’s support for fights to make chemicals safer for families and the environment. HEFN will work with funders supporting policy campaigns, market shifts, base-building, and investments in green chemistry.
Resolved: We will make it easier for philanthropy to help communities assess and address local environmental health and justice challenges. HEFN plans to work with place-focused partners on grantmaker resources to aid investment in healthier conditions where people live, work and play.
Resolved: We will help funders concerned about fracking strengthen awareness and action on adverse health, environmental, and community impacts. HEFN will support funders in learning and working together across affected states and in amplifying environmental health values in decisions about climate and energy issues.
Resolved: We will help funders who value public health, environmental protection, and social equity to connect across various issues and geographies. HEFN will provide space for funders to learn, network, and collaborate – and to help their grantee communities connect for greater collective impact.
Resolved: We will engage more funders and donors in grantmaking to make people healthier, environments greener, and citizens and communities more engaged. HEFN will work with funder group partners and through expanded social media, to build philanthropic awareness and investment in environmental health and environmental justice.
HEFN’s member foundations tend to focus on places where people are most vulnerable, on pollutants or activities that are harming public health and the environment. That makes it really easy to be highly motivated to work on issues like toxics or dirty energy. We also have seen so many results from our members’ investment and collaboration – from local successes, policy wins and marketplace shifts to science discoveries, advocacy base-building and public engagement – that we know big changes are within reach. We are excited about the roles HEFN can play in philanthropy to help maximize the impact of grantmaking, for a cleaner, greener 2013.
And we look forward to conversations on this blog and in other venues: what do you resolve?
This week, Lauren Davis, program associate for the 11th Hour Project and co-chair of HEFN’s Hydrofracking Working Group, guest blogs. Lauren splits her time between the 11th Hour Project’s work on human rights and its energy-related work on issues related to oil, gas, and hydraulic fracturing.
In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that makes it state policy to protect every Californian’s right to safe, clean water. CA Assembly Bill 685 reads that “it is hereby declared to be the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.” My hope was that the state I live in would finally regulate or ban high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking” — a process fraught with threats to our precious water resources (see here[i] and here).
This was an optimistic moment after a depressing legislative year around fracking, which is almost entirely unregulated in California. Back in May, the State Senate rejected a bill that would have simply notified residents if fracking was going to occur within 300 feet of their home. In August, CA AB 591 and CA AB 972 aimed to require the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid or place a moratorium on the practice until regulations were put into place; both died on the Senate floor. After so many defeats, last month’s water rights bill gave me hope that California would begin to see fracking through the prism through which 11th Hour has begun to think about it.
The 11th Hour Project began researching fracking in early 2010 and started grantmaking around the topic in mid-2011. Around that time, we also launched a new program dedicated to human rights, focused primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Human Rights program was the first at our organization to dive deeply into the international landscape. We quickly realized that our efforts in the developing world might prompt different questions and require new metrics than the ones we use to evaluate our domestic initiatives. But should it? Our work in the DRC is motivated by two simple goals: to increase dignity for all people in that country, and to bring justice to those who are suffering at the hands of the powerful. These goals felt instinctual the more we learned about the country and its complicated history, and they felt imperative as a part of a program under the label, “human rights.”
However, when we characterize our work on fracking, focused domestically in places like New York or Pennsylvania through our Renewable Energy/Climate Change program, we often speak about carbon emissions, public health threats or pressure from fossil fuel industries. Increasingly, other funders who work on climate change issues have narrowed their focus to analyzing the fugitive methane emissions from hydrofracking, while conservation-focused peers emphasize the importance of protecting “special places” like national parks or sensitive ecosystems.
But the most powerful stories coming out of communities hardest hit by the harsh realities of shale development rarely, if ever, mention “fugitive emissions” or “parts per million.” If they do refer to a “special place,” it’s usually the family backyard, or the creek where they first learned to fish.
Here at 11th Hour Project, we have begun to think of our fracking work as preserving the dignity of New Yorkers in frack-free communities or fighting for justice for Pennsylvanians harassed by the natural gas industry. We aim to protect the basic human right to clean, safe water, a right more difficult to preserve with global climate change. This view of our work increases our dedication to grantmaking that benefits local organizations and local community efforts. We believe that these fights are personal and that some of the most effective efforts highlight how peoples’ lives are being affected.
Hearing news of Gov. Brown’s support for Californian’s rights to clean water, I was curious if other states had dedicated themselves to this ideal. Turns out, there are a few other states that have taken this same step, including Pennsylvania. I came across this gem from section 27 of Pennsylvania’s constitution: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.” It’s time to change the narrative around fracking and hold Pennsylvania, California — and every other state — to higher standards. Fracking is infringing on basic human rights across the country. And whether you’re in Central Africa or Western Pennsylvania, preserving these rights should be central to our efforts.
[i] This report by the Pacific Institute was funded by The 11th Hour Project