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The Chemical Weapon Next Door

The Chemical Weapon Next Door

The morning of Wednesday, February 18, 2015, had started just like any other day for Summer Spencer. Back then, she was a sixth grader at South High School in Torrance, a coastal city in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. But at around 9am, Spencer and her classmates were given a ‘shelter in place’ order by their teacher. It was, the now 17-year-old says, pretty exciting at first. “I just figured I might not have to go to my next class.” 

Summer’s teachers closed the doors, secured the windows, and pulled the drapes shut. It was only when she went home that day and spoke to her dad, an environmental safety expert, that she realized she, her classmates, and thousands of other Torrance residents, had had a near miss with a chemical so deadly the Department of Homeland Security lists it as a substance of interest for terrorists.

“I told [my dad] all we did was shut the windows and he explained it wouldn’t have been enough to protect the students,” she recalls.

Spencer’s dad explained if the chemical had been released, “thousands of Torrance residents would have died”.

The threat came from the Torrance Refinery, just three miles away from Summer’s school, a 700-acre plot which processes around 155,000 barrels of crude oil every day, and uses hydrofluoric acid (HF)—or “modified hydrofluoric acid” (MHF) as refineries often refer to the substance—to make high octane gasoline. Around 400,000 people live within three miles of the refineries.

On that Wednesday morning, unbeknown to Summer, pent up gases at the refinery, back then owned by Exxon, had triggered an explosion so big that it registered as a 1.7 tremor. A processing unit had burst open, propelling a large piece of equipment into the air, which narrowly avoided hitting a tank …

read more
We’ve had Corporate Personhood for a decade…what about ecosystem personhood?

We’ve had Corporate Personhood for a decade…what about ecosystem personhood?

In our last narrative season, La Lucha En La Jungla, about the decades-long fight over oil pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I mentioned something unique about Ecuador’s constitution. It includes a provision for the rights of nature. Ecuador rewrote its constitution in 2008 to include a chapter called Rights for Nature. Other countries have toyed with this idea since then, and it freaks a lot of people out, especially people running large multinational corporations, mainly because it challenges one of the core tenets of capitalism: private property. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights for nature articles acknowledge that nature in all of its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate, and that we, the people, have the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of ecosystems. Here’s Natalie Green with the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, explaining how the concept works in Ecuador.

“Well, Ecuador in 2008 rewrote its constitution and it was passed by the majority of Ecuadorians. And what we decided is that we don’t want to follow a model for development like a socialist model or capitalism model, because all those models were proven to be wrong. And we decided to recognize something that is that we are going to fight for and we’re going to be working for a model based on well-being. What’s what’s established in the Constitution is a model based on well-being and what is well-being, or bien vida in Spanish? It will be this notion of living in harmony with nature.”

And here is a handy explainer from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has been leading a lot of the fights for rights of nature in the US.

“Under the current system of law, nature is considered to …

read more
All Eyes on Weymouth as FERC Signals Interest in Environmental Justice

All Eyes on Weymouth as FERC Signals Interest in Environmental Justice

Local activists and legislators have been fighting the Enbridge natural gas compressor in Weymouth for years. It’s too close to residents and businesses, and poses too many health risks to a community that’s already borne the burden of too much pollution, they say. The project was approved by FERC in 2019, built and became operational in 2020. Then it had an emergency shutdown. And another. Now FERC is considering the unprecedented move of re-thinking its permit, a decision that could have broad ramifications.

Check out Miriam Wasser’s ongoing reporting on this at WBUR: https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2021/03/19/weymouth-compressor-ferc-precedent-enbridge-natural-gas

Transcript

Amy Westervelt: Early last year, I started hearing from some activists in Massachusetts about a natural gas project proposed in their town. One woman in particular really thought this was something I should look into.

Her name is Andrea Honoré.

Andrea Honoré: But it took me a good year to understand what was going on. I’d never heard of a compressor. I’d never heard of FERC. I didn’t understand the process.

Amy: Andrea lives in the town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, a coastal town of around 50000 people in the South Shaw region, about half an hour south of Boston. And in 2015, Spectra Energy, a gas company from Texas, wanted to put what’s called a natural gas compressor right on the water at the north end of town. Natural gas needs a little help to travel the whole length of a pipeline and compressor stations help to sort of goose the gas along the way. If you’ve never heard of these things, it’s probably because they usually don’t put them in the middle of cities or even heavily populated areas, period. They’re generally placed on the middle of nowhere because they explode sometimes.

Local news montage: Also breaking overnight in Greene County, an explosion at …

read more
Frackalachia and the great fracking jobs myth

Frackalachia and the great fracking jobs myth

When a report makes oil and gas companies—and the politicians they help elect—this mad, you know the author is on to something. Researcher Sean O’Leary, with the Ohio River Valley Institute, joins us to talk about his new report, which found that the local economic benefit of fracking to communities in the Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia gas corridor was slim to none.

Transcript

Sean O’Leary: If you live in the region, you only have to walk through the downtowns to see what I’m saying, whether it’s, you know, Steubenville, Ohio, Boléro, Ohio, Wheeling, West Virginia, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, all of those downtowns are hollowed out shells of what they once were.  

Amy Westervelt: Hey there, this is Drilled, I’m Amy Westervelt, and that was Shaun OLeary from the Ohio River Valley Institute.  

O’Leary is a native West Virginian who’s watched firsthand what first coal and then gas did to his community. He doesn’t live in West Virginia anymore. And that has become a topic of criticism from people who did not appreciate some of his recent work. Last month, O’Leary and the organization he works for released a report that really made the oil and gas guys mad. It takes on a simple question did the fracking boom actually deliver all those economic benefits? We’ve heard the industry talk so much about. The report specifically looks at the region O’Leary has dubbed “Frackalachia”, encompassing parts of the Ohio River Valley in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. As you might recall, from every election cycle in the last decade, whenever people start talking about the environmental impacts of fracking or the potential of a fracking ban, the industry has the same response.  

Fox News: The amount of jobs that are created by this technology cannot be overstated. …

read more
The Chemical Weapon Next Door

The Chemical Weapon Next Door

The morning of Wednesday, February 18, 2015, had started just like any other day for Summer Spencer. Back then, she was a sixth grader at South High School in Torrance, a coastal city in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. But at around 9am, Spencer and her classmates were given a ‘shelter in place’ order by their teacher. It was, the now 17-year-old says, pretty exciting at first. “I just figured I might not have to go to my next class.” 

Summer’s teachers closed the doors, secured the windows, and pulled the drapes shut. It was only when she went home that day and spoke to her dad, an environmental safety expert, that she realized she, her classmates, and thousands of other Torrance residents, had had a near miss with a chemical so deadly the Department of Homeland Security lists it as a substance of interest for terrorists.

“I told [my dad] all we did was shut the windows and he explained it wouldn’t have been enough to protect the students,” she recalls.

Spencer’s dad explained if the chemical had been released, “thousands of Torrance residents would have died”.

The threat came from the Torrance Refinery, just three miles away from Summer’s school, a 700-acre plot which processes around 155,000 barrels of crude oil every day, and uses hydrofluoric acid (HF)—or “modified hydrofluoric acid” (MHF) as refineries often refer to the substance—to make high octane gasoline. Around 400,000 people live within three miles of the refineries.

On that Wednesday morning, unbeknown to Summer, pent up gases at the refinery, back then owned by Exxon, had triggered an explosion so big that it registered as a 1.7 tremor. A processing unit had burst open, propelling a large piece of equipment into the air, which narrowly avoided hitting a tank …

read more
We’ve had Corporate Personhood for a decade…what about ecosystem personhood?

We’ve had Corporate Personhood for a decade…what about ecosystem personhood?

In our last narrative season, La Lucha En La Jungla, about the decades-long fight over oil pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I mentioned something unique about Ecuador’s constitution. It includes a provision for the rights of nature. Ecuador rewrote its constitution in 2008 to include a chapter called Rights for Nature. Other countries have toyed with this idea since then, and it freaks a lot of people out, especially people running large multinational corporations, mainly because it challenges one of the core tenets of capitalism: private property. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights for nature articles acknowledge that nature in all of its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate, and that we, the people, have the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of ecosystems. Here’s Natalie Green with the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, explaining how the concept works in Ecuador.

“Well, Ecuador in 2008 rewrote its constitution and it was passed by the majority of Ecuadorians. And what we decided is that we don’t want to follow a model for development like a socialist model or capitalism model, because all those models were proven to be wrong. And we decided to recognize something that is that we are going to fight for and we’re going to be working for a model based on well-being. What’s what’s established in the Constitution is a model based on well-being and what is well-being, or bien vida in Spanish? It will be this notion of living in harmony with nature.”

And here is a handy explainer from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has been leading a lot of the fights for rights of nature in the US.

“Under the current system of law, nature is considered to …

read more
All Eyes on Weymouth as FERC Signals Interest in Environmental Justice

All Eyes on Weymouth as FERC Signals Interest in Environmental Justice

Local activists and legislators have been fighting the Enbridge natural gas compressor in Weymouth for years. It’s too close to residents and businesses, and poses too many health risks to a community that’s already borne the burden of too much pollution, they say. The project was approved by FERC in 2019, built and became operational in 2020. Then it had an emergency shutdown. And another. Now FERC is considering the unprecedented move of re-thinking its permit, a decision that could have broad ramifications.

Check out Miriam Wasser’s ongoing reporting on this at WBUR: https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2021/03/19/weymouth-compressor-ferc-precedent-enbridge-natural-gas

Transcript

Amy Westervelt: Early last year, I started hearing from some activists in Massachusetts about a natural gas project proposed in their town. One woman in particular really thought this was something I should look into.

Her name is Andrea Honoré.

Andrea Honoré: But it took me a good year to understand what was going on. I’d never heard of a compressor. I’d never heard of FERC. I didn’t understand the process.

Amy: Andrea lives in the town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, a coastal town of around 50000 people in the South Shaw region, about half an hour south of Boston. And in 2015, Spectra Energy, a gas company from Texas, wanted to put what’s called a natural gas compressor right on the water at the north end of town. Natural gas needs a little help to travel the whole length of a pipeline and compressor stations help to sort of goose the gas along the way. If you’ve never heard of these things, it’s probably because they usually don’t put them in the middle of cities or even heavily populated areas, period. They’re generally placed on the middle of nowhere because they explode sometimes.

Local news montage: Also breaking overnight in Greene County, an explosion at …

read more
Frackalachia and the great fracking jobs myth

Frackalachia and the great fracking jobs myth

When a report makes oil and gas companies—and the politicians they help elect—this mad, you know the author is on to something. Researcher Sean O’Leary, with the Ohio River Valley Institute, joins us to talk about his new report, which found that the local economic benefit of fracking to communities in the Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia gas corridor was slim to none.

Transcript

Sean O’Leary: If you live in the region, you only have to walk through the downtowns to see what I’m saying, whether it’s, you know, Steubenville, Ohio, Boléro, Ohio, Wheeling, West Virginia, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, all of those downtowns are hollowed out shells of what they once were.  

Amy Westervelt: Hey there, this is Drilled, I’m Amy Westervelt, and that was Shaun OLeary from the Ohio River Valley Institute.  

O’Leary is a native West Virginian who’s watched firsthand what first coal and then gas did to his community. He doesn’t live in West Virginia anymore. And that has become a topic of criticism from people who did not appreciate some of his recent work. Last month, O’Leary and the organization he works for released a report that really made the oil and gas guys mad. It takes on a simple question did the fracking boom actually deliver all those economic benefits? We’ve heard the industry talk so much about. The report specifically looks at the region O’Leary has dubbed “Frackalachia”, encompassing parts of the Ohio River Valley in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. As you might recall, from every election cycle in the last decade, whenever people start talking about the environmental impacts of fracking or the potential of a fracking ban, the industry has the same response.  

Fox News: The amount of jobs that are created by this technology cannot be overstated. …

read more