Pain At The Pump
Who Really Pays The Price For The Fossil Fuel Industry? (Hint: It's Us)
Sky high gas prices? We knew this day would come.
Unless you drive an electric vehicle or live in a cabin in the woods, you’ve probably noticed the significant increase in gas prices this week.
I’ve met a lot of people who would not identify as “environmentalists” or “activists.” However, people’s perspectives change rapidly when they can’t drink their water or when their lives are impacted—like with rising gas prices.
The national average for a gallon of gas is now about $4.25 a gallon, up more than 60 cents from a month ago and $1.30 higher than a year ago, according to AAA. The national average has not been this high since July 2008. California drivers are seeing an average price of more than $5.50 a gallon.
Why do we, the people, have to pay for this mess? It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry has lobbied for years against any efforts to end our reliance on fossil fuels. Now, they’re gouging as at the pump.
They continue to protect their profits, but who protects us?
Burning fossil fuels has consequences and like so many other issues, we have kicked the can down the line for decades.
Oil is the single largest source of air pollution and smog in the world. Fossil fuels are the main source of global warming emissions. Plus, this industry pollutes water.
Just look at what’s happening in Hawaii right now. On Monday, the DoD announced it will permanently shut down the Navy Hill fuel facility after massive leaks for years created a water contamination crisis effecting thousands of military families. My heart goes all to all of them.
Built in the 1940s, The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility helped deliver fuel to Pearl Harbor, but it was built just 100 feet from Oahu’s main drinking water aquifer. While shutting down this facility is certainly needed, the action is much too late. Who will be responsible to the community and environment for the decades of remediation that is now needed?
Lies, Lies, Lies
Back in October, executives representing many of the major fossil fuel companies testified in front of Congress about their role in climate disinformation. Yes, these energy giants have worked with PR firms and ad agencies for decades to spread lies, improve their image, and block climate action.
All while our country has dealt with the climate impact—extreme heat, devastating wildfires, and deadly storms. Low-income communities and communities of color are always hit hardest.
Gas prices have been rising for weeks in anticipation of potential sanctions on Russian energy. Yet when President Joe Biden announced a U.S. ban on imported Russian oil this week, aiming to put more pressure on the country to pull forces back from Ukraine, prices kept increasing.
Only about 8 percent of our oil imports come from Russia or roughly 700,000 barrels a day. We could fill that gap with renewables or ramp up drilling at home. Either way, this crisis certainly reveals the fragility of relying on the fossil fuel industry.
Speaking of Energy Independence
Let me remind you that we have been in the midst of a massive drilling boom across the U.S. for years, in part due to new technologies like hydraulic fracturing, a process that pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals and sand into the ground to retrieve oil and gas deposits. Fracking is happening near neighborhoods and Main Streets across the country. In many of these areas, drilling competes with farming for access to freshwater.
Fracking has helped increase U.S. production of oil and natural gas, but as energy prices rise, we should be wondering about the true cost of this practice.
Millions of Americans live within one mile of a fracking well, and studies have found that the toxic chemicals from fracking, natural gas processing sites, and storage facilities are present in high concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near these sites.
I’m not against the practice itself. The right regulations exist to extract safely, but they are not being enforced. Fracking is exempt or excluded from many major federal environmental laws put in place to protect us and the environment.
We’ve been told fracking helps create jobs and keeps America energy independent, but this practice is also one of the culprits of our escalating drinking water problems. When you pump a brew of substances containing man-made chemicals into the environment (through underground water aquifers), you can absolutely taint the water.
The EPA reports that up to 700 hundred different chemicals are used for this process in sites throughout the country. They include chemicals such as arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, and mercury, which are associated with developmental or reproductive toxicity.
We have more than a thousand documented cases of water contamination from fracking operations—whether it’s from toxic wastewater, well blowouts, or chemical spills. Wastewater from fracking may be more toxic than the fluids that go into it, so more research is needed to study the byproducts generated throughout the process.
Fracking is happening in residential areas, near homes, schools, and playgrounds. More than 17 million Americans live within a mile of an active oil or gas well. The EPA has studied the impact of fracking on drinking water and released a report in 2016 stating that, “activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”
The oil and gas industry—not communities or families—needs to pay for the damage it has caused. The industry needs to pay for its share of climate damage and adaptation and to stop funding climate disinformation and lobbying.
What can we do in the meantime? Support legislation that invests in renewable energy. Carpool. Walk and bike when you can. Continue to educate yourselves and speak out. Got other ideas? Let us know in the comments below.