Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Got Fracked The environmental nightmare you know nothing about.

How Rural America Got Fracked

The environmental nightmare you know nothing about.

| Wed May. 23, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Drilling a horizontal shale gas well. 
If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out. As Wisconsinites are learning, there's money (and misery) in sand—and if you've got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep.
March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80 degrees—bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.
In this troubling spring, Wisconsin's prairies and farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds, bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.
Yet this peaceful rural landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate race for the last fossil fuels on the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.
Five hundred million years ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that, under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a particularly pure form of crystalline silica. Its grains, perfectly rounded, are strong enough to resist the extreme pressures of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which pumps vast quantities of that sand, as well as water and chemicals, into ancient shale formations to force out methane and other forms of "natural gas."
That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.
"The valleys will be filled… the mountains and hills made level"
Boom times for hydraulic fracturing began in 2008 when new horizontal-drilling methods transformed an industry formerly dependent on strictly vertical boring. Frac-sand mining took off in tandem with this development.
"It's huge," said a US Geological Survey mineral commodity specialist in 2009. "I've never seen anything like it, the growth. It makes my head spin." That year, from all US sources, frac-sand producers used or sold over 6.5 million metric tons of sand—about what the Great Pyramid of Giza weighs. Last month, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Senior Manager and Special Projects Coordinator Tom Woletz said corporations were hauling at least 15 million metric tons a year from the state's hills.
By July 2011, between 22 and 36 frac-sand facilities in Wisconsin were either operating or approved. Seven months later, said Woletz, there were over 60 mines and 45 processing (refinement) plants in operation. "By the time your article appears, these figures will be obsolete," claims Pat Popple, who in 2008 founded the first group to oppose frac-sand mining, Concerned Chippewa Citizens (now part of The Save the Hills Alliance).
Jerry Lausted, a retired teacher and also a farmer, showed me the tawny ridges of sand that delineated a strip mine near the town of Menomonie where he lives. "If we were looking from the air," he added, "you'd see ponds in the bottom of the mine where they dump the industrial waste water. If you scan to the left, you'll see the hills that are going to disappear."
Those hills are gigantic sponges, absorbing water, filtering it, and providing the region's aquifer with the purest water imaginable. According to Lausted, sand mining takes its toll on "air quality, water quality and quantity. Recreational aspects of the community are damaged. Property values [are lowered.] But the big thing is, you're removing the hills that you can't replace. They're a huge water manufacturing factory that Mother Nature gave us, and they're gone."
It's impossible to grasp the scope of the devastation from the road, but aerial videos and photographs reveal vast, bleak sandy wastelands punctuated with waste ponds and industrial installations where Wisconsin hills once stood.
When corporations apply to counties for mining permits, they must file "reclamation" plans. But Larry Schneider, a retired metallurgist and industrial consultant with a specialized knowledge of mining, calls the reclamation process "an absolute farce."
Reclamation projects by mining corporations since the 1970s may have made mined areas "look a little less than an absolute wasteland," he observes. "But did they reintroduce the biodiversity? Did they reintroduce the beauty and the ecology? No."
Studies bear out his verdict. "Every year," wrote Mrinal Ghose in the Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, "large areas are continually becoming unfertile in spite of efforts to grow vegetation on the degraded mined land."
Awash in promises of corporate jobs and easy money, those who lease and sell their land just shrug. "The landscape is gonna change when it's all said and done," says dairy farmer Bobby Schindler, who in 2008 leased his land in Chippewa County to a frac-sand company called Canadian Sand and Proppant. (EOG, the former Enron, has since taken over the lease.) "Instead of being a hill it's gonna be a valley, but all seeded down, and you'd never know there's a mine there unless you were familiar with the area."
Of the mining he adds, "It's really put a boost to the area. It's impressive the amount of money that's exchanging hands." Eighty-four-year-old Letha Webster, who sold her land 100 miles south of Schindler's to another mining corporation, Unimin, says that leaving her home of 56 years is "just the price of progress."
Jamie and Kevin Gregar—both 30-something native Wisconsinites and military veterans—lived in a trailer and saved their money so that they could settle down in a pastoral paradise once Kevin returned from Iraq. In January 2011, they found a dream home near tiny Tunnel City. (The village takes its name from a nearby rail tunnel). "It's just gorgeous—the hills, the trees, the woodland, the animals," says Jamie. "It's perfect."
Five months after they moved in, she learned that neighbors had leased their land to "a sand mine" company. "What's a sand mine?" she asked.
Less than a year later, they know all too well. The Gregars' land is now surrounded on three sides by an unsightly panorama of mining preparations. Unimin is uprooting trees, gouging out topsoil, and tearing down the nearby hills. "It looks like a disaster zone, like a bomb went off," Jamie tells me.
When I mention her service to her country, her voice breaks. "I am devastated. We've done everything right. We've done everything we were supposed to. We just wanted to raise our family in a good location and have good neighbors and to have it taken away from us for something we don't support…" Her voice trails off in tears.
For Unimin, the village of Tunnel City in Greenfield township was a perfect target. Not only did the land contain the coveted crystalline silica; it was close to a rail spur. No need for the hundreds of diesel trucks that other corporations use to haul sand from mine sites to processing plants. No need, either, for transport from processing plants to rail junctions where hundreds of trains haul frac-sand by the millions of tons each year to fracture other once-rural landscapes. Here, instead, the entire assembly line operates in one industrial zone.
There was also no need for jumping the hurdles zoning laws sometimes erect. Like many Wisconsin towns where a culture of diehard individualism sees zoning as an assault on personal freedom, Greenfield and all its municipalities, including Tunnel City, are unzoned. This allowed the corporation to make deals with individual landowners. For the 8.5 acres where Letha Webster and her husband Gene lived for 56 years, assessed in 2010 at $147,500, Unimin paid $330,000. Overall, between late May and July 2011, it paid $5.3 million for 436 acres with a market value of about $1.1 million.
There was no time for public education about the potential negative possibilities of frac-sand mining: the destruction of the hills, the decline in property values, the danger of silicosis (once considered a strictly occupational lung disease) from blowing silica dust, contamination of ground water from the chemicals used in the processing plants, the blaze of lights all night long, noise from hundreds of train cars, houses shaken by blasting. Ron Koshoshek, a leading environmentalist who works with Wisconsin's powerful Towns Association to educate townships about the industry, says that "frac-sand mining will virtually end all residential development in rural townships." The result will be "a large-scale net loss of tax dollars to towns, increasing taxes for those who remain."
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ciudad Juárez

Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos en Ciudad Juárez
Luis Hernández Navarro
iudad Juárez es el epicentro del temblor de horror que sacude México; también lo es de la resistencia ciudadana a la insensata guerra contra las drogas de Felipe Calderón. Temor y esperanza, amnesia y memoria, parálisis y acción atraviesan y forman parte de la vida cotidiana de los habitantes de Juaritos.
Mujeres desaparecidas, defensores de derechos humanos asesinados, jóvenes detenidos arbitrariamente por la policía y el Ejército, trabajadores de la maquila despedidos por reclamar condiciones de trabajo humanas son el pan nuestro de cada día en la ciudad. También lo son los reclamos enérgicos de las madres de víctimas, la organización para la defensa de los intereses, la documentación valiente de las tropelías y los abusos de la autoridad.
Ciudad Juárez ejemplifica los males del libre comercio salvaje que azotan a todo el país. El modelo de desarrollo maquilador, depredador de recursos humanos y ambientales, ha florecido allí sin políticas de amortiguamiento social. La destrucción del medio ambiente es proverbial, como lo es la descomposición del tejido social.
Un ejército de niños y jóvenes, muchos de ellos hijos de madres solteras que laboran de obreras de la planta de ensamble, crecen en viviendas sin equipamiento urbano suficiente y sin lugares para recreación, sin más futuro que sobrevivir integrándose a las bandas. Urbe fronteriza, es zona de paso de mano de obra indocumentada y de estupefacientes. La producción maicera del estado y las familias que viven de ella, están cercadas por las importaciones desleales del cereal estadunidense. En una historia de horror sin fin, más de 300 mujeres han sido asesinadas, después de ser secuestradas, torturadas, violadas y mutiladas.
Pero en Juaritos está sembrada también la semilla de la indignación. Los jóvenes se niegan a que el miedo paralice sus vidas. Toman las calles para protestar y para divertirse. Los familiares de las víctimas nombran a sus muertos y exigen justicia. En amplias capas de la sociedad se demanda poner fin a la militarización del país.
El último episodio de esa resistencia se celebrará este 27, 28 y 29 de mayo. Durante esos días se efectuará en Juárez la audiencia inicial del Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos (TPP), sección México, que lleva por título Libre comercio, violencia, impunidad y derechos de los pueblos, 2011-2014. Aunque en la reunión se documentará y analizará lo que sucede en todo el país, los juarenses son los anfitriones del acto.
Asistirán delegados de todo México. Una parte de ellos llegará hasta aquella ciudad como parte de una caravana que partirá de la ciudad de México el 24 de mayo. Durante el trayecto, a bordo de varios camiones, los delegados participarán en debates y reuniones en Atenco, Tlaxcala, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Saltillo y Chihuahua, para discutir la problemática que se abordará en Juárez.
En la urbe fronteriza, seis jurados escucharán denuncias de las siete audiencias temáticas que conforman el TPP: 1) guerra sucia como violencia, impunidad y falta de acceso a la justicia; 2) migración, refugio y desplazamiento forzado; 3) feminicidiosy violencia de género; 4) violencia contra los trabajadores; 5) violencia contra el maíz, la soberanía alimentaria y a autonomía, y 7) desinformación, censura y violencia contra los comunicadores.
Los jurados internacionales que analizarán las denuncias, muchos de ellos destacados juristas, provienen de países como Francia, Brasil, España, Australia y Argentina, y tienen una larga historia en la labor de documentar arbitrariedades de los estados. Es el caso de la francesa Mireille Fanon Mendes France, hija del célebre siquiatra y revolucionario Franz Fanon, que es presidente de la Fondation Frantz Fanon, integrante de la International Association of Democratic Lawyers, y ha sido nombrada miembro del Grupo de trabajo de expertos sobre afrodescendientes de Naciones Unidas. Y de Gill Boheringer, que fue decano de la Macquarie Law School de la Macquarie University de Sydney, Australia, director del Center for the Critical and Historical Study of the Common Law, y miembro del comité editorial de la Alternative Law Journal (Australia) y del Editorial Boards of theAustralian Journal of Law and Society.
Algunos de los jurados tienen larga trayectoria como defensores de derechos humanos. Por ejemplo, la argentina Nora Cortiñas es titular de la cátedra de poder económico y derechos humanos y doctora honoris causa por la Universidad Libre de Bruselas, Bélgica, y de la Universidad de Salta, por su trayectoria en defensa de los derechos económicos y sociales de la población argentina. También el de su paisano, el abogado Alejandro Teitelbaum, representante desde 1985 hasta 2006 ante los organismos de las Naciones Unidas con sede en Ginebra, de la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos y de la Asociación Americana de Juristas.
Aunque no estará presente en esta ocasión en Juárez, como jurado del TPP participa también un mexicano excepcional: Luis Villoro. Con mucho uno de los pensadores críticos más brillantes y comprometidos del país, el académico mexicano es filósofo, investigador y catedrático, y ha sido diplomático.
Ellos, junto al brasileño Eder Ferreira, al español Antoni Pigrau Sol y la argentina Graciela Daleo, escucharán los horrores que cotidianamente se viven en Ciudad Juárez y en el resto del país, que han conducido al Estado mexicano a ser sentado en el banquillo de los acusados de este tribunal ético.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Stand for Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples and Renounce the 'Doctrine of Discovery'

Posted: 05/06/2012 6:49 pm

When the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convenes on May 7th in New York, native peoples around the world will turn their eyes to the most important effort to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th century Papal bull that has been exploited for five centuries to deny the human rights of hundreds of millions of people who continue to be subject to its power.
The Doctrine got its first expression in 1452, when pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull to Portuguese King Alfonso V authorizing the King to "invade, capture, vanquish and subdue ... all Saracens and pagans, and other enemies of Christ ... to reduce such persons to perpetual slavery" and further "to take away all their possessions and property." This bull was issued as Portuguese ships began colonizing areas of Africa occupied by millions of indigenous non-Christian peoples.
Forty years later, soon after Christopher Columbus' voyage across the Atlantic ignited an imperialist rush by European powers to control the so-called New World, Pope Alexander VI issued Inter Cetera, a new Papal bull that granted those European monarchs the right to claim sovereignty over these newly "discovered" lands occupied by non-Christian "barbarous nations." Those non-Christians were what we now call American Indians, including my ancestors in the Onondaga Nation, part of the confederacy of Indian nations we call Haudenosaunee, and Americans and Canadians call the Iroquois.
It didn't matter to the Christian invaders that we had lived here for millennia, or that 500 years earlier, our forebearers ended generations of war by creating a peaceful confederacy that became a model for the United States government. All that mattered was that we -- along with hundreds of millions of other indigenous peoples living in non-Christian lands across the globe -- were living on land that the conquerors, and the colonists that followed, wanted for their own.
It has been a long path to get the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to confront the racist underpinnings of the Doctrine of Discovery, in part because the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's representative to the UN, has claimed it is ancient history and no longer relevant.
But as recently as 2005, the United States Supreme Court, relying on a series of Indian law cases going back to 1823, specifically cited the Doctrine in its decision denying the right of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to restore its right of sovereignty over land it owned within the footprint of territory set aside for the Nation under treaties dating back to the 18th century.
"Under the Doctrine of Discovery ... fee title to the land occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign -- first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005 decision.
It is glaring who is left out of that formulation -- the people who lived her for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.
In fact, the Doctrine of Discovery is the basis for all Indian land law in this country, and it has imposed similar burdens on indigenous peoples all over the world -- in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in Africa, in Latin America and in the island nations of the Caribbean and Oceania. More than 500 million indigenous peoples around the globe live today with the effects of the Doctrine's oppressive racism.
We are encouraged that people of faith in this country and around the world have joined in the call for the Catholic Church to formally renounce the Doctrine to help heal the grievous injuries that its promulgation has released. Most recently, the World Council of Churches, at is meeting this past February in Switzerland, denounced the Doctrine "as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and as a violation of the inherent human rights that all individuals and peoples have received from God." The World Council went on to urge governments "to dismantle the legal structures and policies based on the Doctrine of Discovery and dominance, so as to empower and enable Indigenous Peoples to identify their own aspirations and issues of concern."
This is not ancient history to Indians in this country, or to indigenous peoples around the world. It is a living insult to our rights as citizens of the world and must be renounced. We are on the Earth to heal the world. This wound must be healed.