An OPEN LETTER to António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United NationsSeptember 2019
REQUEST TO THE UNITED NATIONS TO CALL FOR A GLOBAL BAN ON FRACKING
Dear UN Secretary General Guterres,
The undersigned organizations submit this letter to highlight the fact that continued production, trade and use of fracked hydrocarbons for energy, petrochemicals and plastics torpedoes our global efforts to tackle climate change and violates basic human rights.
As you are aware, manmade climate change is the biggest and most comprehensive existential threat humanity has ever faced – apart from a nuclear war.
Scientists confirm that we have maximum 10-30 years left to phase-out all fossil-fuels (including fossil gas) if we want to avoid overshooting significant climate tipping-points. Scientific evidence shows that methane emissions from gas extraction in general and from shale gas in particular are a significant driver of global warming and climate change.
However, at a time when all global forces must be combined to combat the foreseeable and enfolding mass extinction on our planet, the oil and gas industry – backed by many irresponsible governments – bets on a fossil fuels extraction technique that will destroy the joint forces of humanity: hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
As early as 2012, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a “Global Alert” on fracking, concluding that fracking may have environmental impacts even if done properly.
Rather than working towards increased development of the fracking industry we must focus on ways to eliminate our continuing reliance on fossil fuels, including fossil gas, as quickly as possible. To do otherwise ignores the existing crucial scientific evidence that proves the significant negative climate role of gas, in particular fracked gas, and the dire economic consequences related to ongoing fossil fuel consumption.
1. Negative climate impacts of fossil gas
The UNFCC’s press release from January 19, 2018, highlighted an important study by NASA which has confirmed that oil and gas industry is responsible for the global rise in methane emissions.
Dr. Robert Howarth, a researcher from Cornell University, recently concluded that the global increase in methane over the last 10 years is largely driven by the oil and gas industry. His updated estimate for average, full-cycle methane leakage rate from natural gas operations (fracked and non-fracked) is 4.1%. These kinds of leakage rates render natural gas just as, if not more, climate harmful than coal. Recent pushed trade in LNG will increase global emissions and its overall full lifecycle greenhouse gas balance is comparable to or even worse than that of coal.
But even if we leave the existing significant methane emissions aside, we know that global – economically recoverable – fossil fuels extraction projects (currently producing and under-construction), would take the world far beyond safe climate limits. Further development and trade of gas reserves is inconsistent with the implementation of the vital climate targets. We also know that the industry also strongly relies on fracking for the current and future extraction of oil and gas worldwide.
2. Environmental and public health implications of fracking
More than a decade of large-scale use of fracking to extract fossil fuels from the ground has underscored how harmful and destructive this extraction process can be, as confirmed and acknowledged by countless peer-reviewed scientific studies. There are numerous proven risks and impacts related to the development of fracking projects, such as heavy freshwater consumption, water and soil contamination, public health impacts and the significant contribution to global warming.
In heavily fracked areas in southwestern Pennsylvania there have been high rates of cancer, including Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of childhood bone cancer. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched a study to determine if the number of cases constitute a cancer cluster. Families are suffering from the effects of contaminated air and water and there is increasing fear as fracking activities show no sign of slowing down.
Pregnant women who live near active fracking operations in Pennsylvania are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely, according to research by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
3. Fracking supports polluting plastics industry
The plastics industry has reaped under-the-radar benefits from the environmentally destructive fracking boom and an oversupply of cheap ethane in the past few years. This surge has been a boon for the plastics industry, which relies on petrochemical manufacturing to turn ethane, a hydrocarbon present in natural gas, into plastics. Beginning in 2012, chemical companies started aggressively investing in petrochemical plants, pipelines and export facilities focused on tapping the ethane glut, creating further negative implications for human and environmental rights – right at a moment when we try to solve the big global plastic health and climate crisis.
According to calculations recently published by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), full plastic lifecyle emissions (including the extraction of fossil fuels, production, transport, consumption and disposal) alone will generate 56 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. This corresponds to 10 – 13 percent of the global carbon budget we have left to stay within a 1.5 ° global warming scenario.
4. Fracking impacts human rights
In May 2018, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change heard testimony and received other evidence relating to fracking and its impact. Included were very substantial reports from four prior PPT Citizens’ Tribunals that had gathered scientific, technical, social, cultural and experiential testimony from many community organizations, experts and individual citizens.
According to the preliminary statement of the PPT judges, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the processes of fracking contribute substantially to anthropogenic harm, including climate change and global warming, and involve massive violations of a range of substantive and procedural human rights and the rights of nature.… The evidence also shows that governments have, in general, failed in their responsibility to regulate the industry so as to protect people, communities and nature. In addition, they have failed to act promptly and effectively to the dangers of climate change that fracking represents.” In the final Advisory Opinion, the PPT recommended that “fracking be banned” and that “the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment be asked to investigate the violations of the rights of humans and nature by the Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction industry.”
This finding is echoed elsewhere: In October 2018, the UN’s CESCR issued an official warning concerning fracking for shale gas in Argentina, saying that „The Committee is concerned that this hydraulic fracturing project contradicts the State party’s commitments to the Paris Agreement, with a negative impact on global warming and the enjoyment of the economic and social rights of the world population and future generations. (Article 1 (1) and 2 ((1))“ In March 2019 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) urged the British Government to “consider introducing a comprehensive and complete ban on fracking.”
In June 2019, the Human Rights Council published a report on climate change and poverty, clearly highlighting the fact that “fossil fuel companies are the main driver of climate change” and that “the track record of the fossil fuel industry makes clear that overreliance on profit-driven actors would almost guarantee massive human rights violations”.
He further points out that “if climate change is used to justify business-friendly policies and widespread privatization, exploitation of natural resources and global warming may be accelerated rather than prevented.“
That is definitely true for the fracking industry and the false and positive promotion of natural gas.
Directly affected regions and communities all over the world rely on a strong and bold public position of the United Nations on this significant and existential issue.
Dear Secretary General Guterres, as the United Nations prepares for its Climate Action Summit 2019, we call on you to accept this climate champion role and to publicly demand a global ban on fracking!
1. Andy Gheorghiu, Policy advisor & Campaigner, Food & Water Europe
2. Scott Edwards, Legal Director, Food & Water Watch
3. Michele Fetting, Program Manager, Breathe Project