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Issue No. 65 - October 1, 2015

1. Over 180 million gallons of toxic fracking wastewater spilled 2009 – 2014 (USA)

toxic fracking wastewater
The Associated Press (AP) has published analysis which reveals that between 2009 and 2014, more than 180 million gallons of fracking-related toxic wastewater was spilled in US oil and gas producing states, due to accidents and deliberate dumping. Most of the spills reported relate to fracking wastewater, which contains salts, heavy metals, and radioactive substances from underground as well the chemicals used in the fracking process, which are not disclosed in most cases.

The spills have contaminated agricultural land, poisoned drinking water and caused mass die-offs of plant and animal life. The results of the investigation are summarised in this article, which notes that the data analysed by the AP does not include data from Louisiana or Pennsylvania, two major oil and gas producing states, because the states did not provide the data. Even excluding the data from these two states and undocumented incidents, there were 21,651 spills recorded in 11 states between 2009 and 2014.

Many of the chemicals used in fracking are known to be endocrine disruptors. However, the mixtures of chemicals used for particular fracking jobs are generally undisclosed, and little is known about the effects on human health of the complex mixes of chemicals contained in fracking wastewater, large quantities of which are spilled into the environment, as the AP investigation shows.

Researchers from the University of Missouri have published a peer-reviewed analysis of more than 100 scientific, peer-reviewed studies related to the links between the chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations and human development. They found evidence of adverse health effects from UOG operations but note that there is little evidence-based research on the combined effects of the various endocrine-disrupting substances (natural and anthropogenic) that are present in surface and ground water contaminated by fracking operations. The authors recommend an "endocrine-centric component for overall health assessments" which could be used to "help explain reported adverse health trends as well as help develop recommendations for environmental impact assessments and monitoring programs."

2. Citigroup: low-carbon future will cost less than inaction


In August, Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (GPS), the economic research branch of Citigroup, issued a lengthy report: Energy Darwinism II – Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth, which concludes that taking action to prevent a 2°C rise in global temperatures would cost less than doing nothing – $1.8 trillion less globally over the next 25 years.

While this difference, which takes into account the global spend on fuel costs and capital expenditures for the two scenarios (action vs. inaction), is not substantial in global terms, the report finds that the estimated damage to global GDP of allowing global temperatures to rise is considerable. Even for an estimated 1.5°C increase in temperatures, Citi GPS estimates damage to global GDP to 2060 of $20 trillion (-0.7%). This rises to $44 trillion (-1.1%) for 2.5°C of warming, and $72 trillion (-2.5%) for a global temperature increase of 4.5°C.

The report finds that while the early years of addressing climate change would require significant investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the later savings would more than compensate for the initial investment. At a low point, during the years of high investment, the analysis concludes that returns from climate action compared to inaction would be between 1% and 4%, and that these returns would rise to between 3% and 10% in later years. As David Roberts points out in this commentary on the report findings, the report probably underestimates the returns from a climate action scenario, as these would likely also include environmental, health and social “co-benefits” that are difficult to quantify and tend to be omitted from analysis models.

As highlighted by the Guardian, the report acknowledges that there will be "losers" in the climate action scenario: the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal. Echoing the findings of other recent reports, the Citi analysis concludes that, because fossil fuel resources must be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming, a significant portion of these (one-third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and 80% of coal reserves will necessarily become "stranded assets", posing risks to investors. The report notes the growing movement among investors and financial institutions away from these assets (see also below), and calls on financial markets and institutions to innovate to change investment patterns so as to bridge the gap between the growing investor demand for low-carbon opportunities and the need for investment in low-carbon infrastructure.

3. Fossil fuel divestment commitments grow 50-fold in one year to $2.6 trillion

Analysing the Growth of the Movement

As reported in the Guardian, new analysis published last month by the Divest Invest campaign shows that the value of the total combined assets of individuals and organisations who have committed to divest from fossil fuels has increased 50-fold to $2.6 trillion. Last year, when the annual report by Arabella Advisors found that 181 institutions and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets had committed to divest, organisers pledged to triple the numbers in time for the COP21 climate summit in December this year. At present, more than 400 institutions and 2,000 individuals have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Among the most notable recent commitments are those made by the Norway Pension Fund, the Canadian Medical Association, the World Council of Churches, the University of California system, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the KR Foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, who announced his divestment to coincide with the release of the new report, said at the launch: "Climate change is severely impacting the health of our planet and all of its inhabitants, and we must transition to a clean energy economy that does not rely on fossil fuels, the main driver of this global problem….Now is the time to divest and invest to let our world leaders know that we, as individuals and institutions, are taking action to address climate change, and we expect them to do their part this December in Paris at the U.N. climate talks."

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who has been advocating a shift of investment from fossil fuels to climate solutions, said in a video statement at the press conference for the report: "Investing at scale in clean, efficient power offers one of the clearest, no regret choices ever presented to human progress."

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