Thursday, December 19, 2013

Frackin' up Ukraine

As energy demands increase globally, so do the pressure and support to expand unsustainable energy sources and extraction. The resulting environmental and public health impacts, most notably the catastrophe at Fukushima, underscore the global urgency of developing alternative, sustainable energy resources.  

This fall, CSE brought five US experts to Ukraine to share with NGO and local government leaders the US experience with environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing and positive examples of its alternatives.  Our three-day conference, co-organized by CSE and Ukraine’s EcoClub Rivne, included Kari Matsko, a software engineer from Ohio who has struggled with severe health issues as a result of living only 2,500 feet from a fracked gas well. Unlike other members of her community, she didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement. Kari speaks up for the thousands of those who cannot by sharing the truth about health impacts of extracting gas by injecting highly pressurized water mixed with harmful chemicals to fracture shale rocks.  Our Ukrainian counterparts were able to learn about these truths, which helped shape their own campaigns in their struggle to fight against fracking in Ukraine. Thanks to Kari’s leadership and founding of the People’s Oil and Gas Collective, in 2010 the state of Ohio improved its oil and gas laws, which had not been changed since 1965!

We were fortunate to have Dr. Larysa Dyrszka join our delegation to Ukraine, as she provided the medical truths of fracking. A pediatrician and member of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy, she shared the results of on-the-ground public health assessments and how here in the US, we have a long upward battle against big industry claims that fracking is “safe”.

Jason Edens and Maria Sanders offered alternatives for a more sustainable future, as commented by Dr. Dyrzka, “we weren’t left in fracking shale hell, but could look to the sky and see Helios”. Edens’ experience with pioneering a program to offer low-cost solar thermal heating to the cold climates of rural Minnesota related directly to our Ukrainian partners’ needs. 

From a local government perspective, Sanders gave examples of how citizens and local government can work together for sustainability and energy efficiency, drawing on her experience leading energy and climate planning initiatives in El Cerrito, California. Professor John Perkins, who recently joined the CSE staff as our Energy Consultant, provided a larger context for addressing energy issues in both countries, reminding us that we have to look at energy systems as a whole, with efficiency and renewable technology being most important.

This particular configuration of representation of non-profit, medical, academic, and government sectors provided a holistic approach to addressing energy issues in both the US and Ukraine.  Just as one energy source cannot be examined without connecting it to the larger energy system, each sector of the community needs to be seen as part of a connected system. 

Participation in this exchange brought to light the crucial importance of personal exchanges. Ukraine, and the rest of Europe, looks to the US as the only example of a developed fracking industry and hears little of the opposition. Unfortunately, because of its desire to become energy independent from Russia, the Ukrainian government closed a deal with major oil and gas companies to pursue fracking contracts.  

Along with the disappointing decision to pursue fracking in Ukraine, the fight for democracy and justice can be seen today, in Ukraine’s bloody crackdown of Euromaidan. Public health systems are very weak, and without that, environmental and health impacts will not be tracked. This makes continuing the work of our delegation even more urgent and we plan to continue our efforts in the region.