September 1, 2020

PennFuture Op Ed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The following appeared in the August 17 edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Emily Persico: Our future depends on moving past fracking

Earlier this month, the president and CEO of CNX Resources Corp., one of the largest fracked gas companies in Western Pennsylvania, published a dishonest opinion piece in PennLIVE that spoke to the desperation of the fossil-fuel industry.

While easily dismissed, Nick DeIuliis’ piece is part of a larger disinformation campaign being undertaken by an industry with its back against the wall.

His first argument that the fracked gas industry is “the picture of epic success” runs contrary to the fact that fracking companies are declaring bankruptcy at an unprecedented rate.

DeIuliis compares these failures to the early struggles of the information technology sector. Yet as the oil and gas sector flounders, information technology has continued to be the S&P’s best performing sector in the last decade. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that S&P Energy — made up of exclusively oil and gas companies — comes dead last.

Secondly, the author boldly asserts that a person cannot be both “anti-carbon” and “pro-human,” even as burning carbon catapults humanity deeper into the climate crisis, threatens public health with contaminated water, premature births and unexplained cancers, and disproportionately harms marginalized communities.

In his third “irrefutable truth,” DeIuliis claims there is “nothing renewable about wind and solar.” Despite his claim, renewables release minimal greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime, especially when compared to fracked gas.

In offering a fourth “irrefutable truth,” DeIuliis opines that there is “no such thing as a zero-carbon future.” Yet according to an article from the Financial Times, “a zero-carbon future is both feasible and affordable.”

One reason that DeIluiis might want to sow doubt about this prospect is that reducing industry emissions — 67% of which come from gas, petroleum, chemicals and plastics industries — will be absolutely critical. When DeIuliis says that “outrage should be directed at academia,” what he really means is that undermining science is one of the few options fossil-fuel companies have left.

The author’s fifth claim that “carbon is vital to society” attempts to leverage the pandemic and reaffirm the role of fracked gas in a world eager to embrace new technologies. Ad nauseam, the industry claims that “plastic saves lives”—from surgical gloves and face masks to ventilators.

What the industry isn’t telling you is that 59% of polyethylene (the type of plastic that Shell would produce in Beaver County) is actually used to create packaging like food and beverage containers. As prices for oil and gas plummet and alternatives become more competitive, fossil-fuel executives are staking their bet on petrochemicals and creating a massive plastics oversupply. Their success, then, relies on you thinking that plastics — and a whole lot more of them — are essential.

In his sixth truth, the author says that “carbon is the ultimate extension of geopolitical power.” In reality, America’s undying commitment to fossil fuels is embarrassing us on an international scale. When the United States decided to leave the Paris climate agreement, we not only relinquished our role as a global leader on climate change, but we undermined our reputation broadly.

If you need further evidence, look no further than the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Science denialism — which fuels our failed response to the climate crisis — ​is now hampering our response to another issue of international importance: coronavirus. Unless we start taking science seriously and responding to these crises with the urgency they demand, our reputation as a global leader will continue to falter.

DeIuliis’ penultimate argument is that “carbon sustains the middle class” when the truth is that extractive industries have repeatedly left Pennsylvanians stranded without jobs. They set up monopolistic economies reliant upon their success. When profits dry up, companies abandon ship, leaving communities to clean up the health, environmental, and economic mess left in their wake.

This is no way to structure an economy. We need the long-term, life-sustaining jobs of the future, not the dirty jobs of our past. Increasingly, these jobs can be found in industries like energy efficiency, renewable energy and nature-based small businesses. In fact, despite the fracked gas boom of the past decade, clean energy jobs actually employ twice as many people as the fossil-fuel industry in Pennsylvania. The majority of these jobs are in construction and manufacturing.

The final claim that “political inaction is a recipe for disaster” is a cry for help from an industry quickly reaching the end of its road. While fossil-fuel executives try to draw out their impending collapse by repeating industry lies, renewable energy is getting cheaper by the minute, and it is growing faster than any other energy source in the U.S.

As fracked gas companies flounder in the past, we will continue to innovate and move forward, to embrace life and earth-preserving energy conservation and generation like solar and wind. Our very future depends on it.

Emily Persico is a policy analyst for PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.