Earthworking in 2016

Now that 2015 is behind us, we at Earthworks are looking forward to an exciting 2016. Here are are some of the things we expect in the coming year.

Meeting the U.S.  Paris Climate Agreement Commitments:
The world cannot hold global temperature increase to less than 2° C without tackling methane pollution from oil and gas. The Obama administration’s draft rule to limit pollution from new and modified sources addresses part of the problem, and state actions like those in California and Colorado help, but we need much more aggressive action on climate pollution from the oil and gas sector.

The good news is that regulators and the Obama administration seem to agree.  Earthworks’ efforts to make invisible methane pollution visible will continue to help spur stronger action. We’ll be asking for rules that cover oil and gas air pollution from existing sources early in 2016, We’ll also be looking for ways to address natural gas storage facilities like the one near the Porter Ranch community outside Los Angeles that has been polluting families for months on end. Earthworks and our partners will also continue to fight to keep as much oil and gas in the ground as possible, knowing that the real solution to climate change involves a swift transition to renewable energy.
 

Changing Of the Guard on Mining Reform:
The 1872 Mining Law has needed reforming almost from the moment President Ulysses S Grant signed it into law 144 years ago. It gives away publicly owned hardrock minerals (e.g. gold, copper, uranium) for free, contains no environmental protection provisions, and, unlike what the coal industry pays, it doesn’t require hardrock mining companies to pay into an abandoned mine reclamation fund. That’s why 500,000 abandoned mines litter the U.S. that will cost taxpayers $50 billion to clean up — unless the law changes.

But help may be on the way. Driven by the need to do something in the wake of the catastrophic Animas River mine waste spill,  New Mexico Senators Heinrich and Udall, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and others have introduced real mining reform legislation. This legislation is the first of it’s kind in the Senate this decade, and could open to door to much-needed regulatory reforms of mining.
 

Bursting of the Shale Bubble:
Look for more oil and gas companies to go belly up in 2016. This is what a popping Shale Bubble looks like:

  • Many of those fracked shale wells are not producing like companies claimed they would,

  • The glut of oil and gas means lower prices which in turn means uneconomical conditions for drill-baby-drill behavior,

  • The last straw may be that the Securities and Exchange Commission is requiring oil and gas companies to tell investors what of oil and gas they can actually sell at current prices… which is much less than what they have been claiming. The result: investors are much less willing to invest in oil and gas companies just when the oil and gas industry needs capital the most. And coal companies are in even worse shape.
     

Growing Renewables:
Adoption of renewable energy sources like wind and solar will pick up speed in 2016. Energy forecasts predict that renewable sources will be the fastest growing sources of power from now until 2040, momentum from the Paris Agreement and the short term extensions of renewable tax credits bode well for growth in solar, wind and energy efficiency.
 

Failing mine waste dams:
After the 2014 Mount Polley disaster in British Columbia and the 2015 Samarco tragedy in Brazil, experts predicted that mine tailings dams are inevitable.  As of 2013, the National Inventory of Dams listed 839 tailings dams in the US and a 2000 study reported about 3,500 globally. New research published by the Center for Science in Public Participation shows that these failures are increasing in frequency and severity because of modern technologies that allow ever more wasteful mining. Eleven catastrophic failures are predicted globally during this decade – meaning that six more could occur between now and 2020.

Earthworks is working with a coalition to pressure industry, governments, and the United Nations to take action to change practices to prevent more disasters. We’ve already gotten some positive responses. Stay tuned.
 

Electing a President:  
A new, conservation-oriented President can  help communities and the environment by further opening the door to 1872 Mining Law reform, ensuring the Pebble Mine never opens, continuing to cut pollution from oil and gas development,  and keeping more fossil fuels in the ground. But if we elect a President that does not believe in science, 2016 could be a year that sets environmental and community protection back decades.

And for my final prediction- Earthworks will be there to hold the oil, gas and mining industries accountable for impacts on our health, our water, our landscapes and our global climate. Stay tuned for an exciting year.