The future of the coal and fracking industries and jobs in these industries has been in the news a lot these past days. While we must be mindful of the people who currently depend on these industries for their livelihoods, the fact remains that this work is harmful. People are losing their health, the quality of their lives, the safety of their children, the value and sanctity of their homes, the clean water they need to drink and the healthy air they need to breathe. The cost of continued dependence on fossil fuels is far too great to support any longer. While we must support new jobs for fossil fuel workers, these jobs cannot be in the continued use or expansion of fossil fuels and its infrastructure.
The research on this issue is clear.
The shale gas extraction industry - an industry dependent upon drilling and fracking -- is an industry that devastates the communities where it is happening. The process contributes to greenhouse gas emissions responsible for dangerous storms like the ones we have experienced as recently as this past week. Fracking contaminates drinking water supplies (260 confirmed cases in PA alone), and risks the health of people of all ages (e.g. children of mothers living within 10 miles of gas wells are 30 percent more likely to be born with congenital heart disease and twice as likely to have a neural tube defect.)
The hazards of coal mining to health and safety of workers, coupled with its climate changing pollution emissions, are well recognized.
Communities experiencing the rapid proliferation of pipelines, compressors, oil trains and expanding fossil fuel infrastructure have found their property rights stripped, businesses undermined, and communities put at risk from accidents and explosions. (Most recently, a man was critically burned fleeing a pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania.)
For those that think pipelines are getting safer, think again. Research shows that pipelines built since 2010 have incident rates higher than those installed pre-1940s.
It is time for us to transition to clean energy now, and to leave our remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Study after study demonstrates we can make this transition by 2050 if we start today.
Unfortunately, it is undeniable that the jobs dependent upon fossil fuels will be lost in this transition. Still, this change is also an undeniable necessity if we are going to save our communities from the health, economic and devastating storms that result from fossil fuel pollution and operations. It serves no one to try to hide this essential truth. Instead, we must focus on developing new solutions for energy and for those affected in this period of change.
If we transition now, we will be able to preserve our water, air, health and environment while at the same time ensuring that we create good clean energy jobs. Without this immediate transition, many working in the fossil fuel industry will still find themselves jobless in the near future. As the Post Carbon Institute's Drilling Deeper report fully documents, the shale gas and oil industries have a short life, one that is only a few decades long. In addition, if we fail to make this transition, then in 2050 when the fossil fuels are gone, our country will truly be dependent on foreign sources of energy -- but this time it will be a dependence on the clean energy options that other nations like China and Germany are racing to lead. And so we are all better served making this change now.
Though the journey will be difficult, it is clear that it is the only path forward. We need our politicians to say as much. Pandering to those working in the fossil fuel industry with false promises of sustainability isn't the solution. We need honest answers and clear explanations from our politicians. It's the only way we can create a clean energy future that protects our families, our environment, needed jobs and our security.