Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Fracking, cookstoves and premature death
February 10, 2022
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: Oil and gas. Two new reports out this week expand our understanding of the health impacts of fossil fuels. In a first-of-its-kind study that included more than 15 million Medicare beneficiaries and 2.5 million U.S. gas and oil wells, Harvard scientists found evidence of a statistically significant mortality risk associated with living in proximity to fracking sites among Americans 65 and older. Roughly 17.6 million people currently live within a half-mile of at least one active well, according to the study. Production of natural gas has grown by nearly 400 percent in the United States since 1950, and thanks to fracking, natural gas is now the country’s second-largest energy source.
Yet another study found that natural gas stoves emit high levels of nitrogen dioxide—a pollutant linked to respiratory conditions like asthma—and far more methane than previously estimated, which has 80 times more atmospheric heating power than CO2 in the short term. What’s more, researchers also found that more than three-quarters of the methane emissions occur when the gas stoves are off, meaning that leaks persist even when the appliances are not being actively used for cooking or heating.
Thankfully, there is some good news this week on the oil and gas front. A federal judge voided the largest offshore oil and gas lease in U.S. history, ruling that the impact analysis of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on which it was based—completed by the Trump administration—severely underestimated potential greenhouse gas emissions from the project. The decision invalidated 1.7 million acres of oil and gas leases that the Biden administration was legally required to sell after a Louisiana judge threw out their plan to suspend oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters last year.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has announced $1.15 billion in state funding to eradicate more than 130,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the country that continue to leak harmful pollutants, and the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban and phase out more than 5,000 such wells in L.A. County following decades of health complaints from nearby residents. Both decisions are important steps forward for the millions of Americans—many of them low income—who live in close proximity to functional or abandoned drilling sites.
Matt & Traci, GMMB
A new study has revealed a link between fracking and premature death among people aged 65 and older, adding to the existing list of health concerns associated with oil and gas industry activity. (Inside Climate News)
New research warns that natural gas stoves emit high levels of nitrogen dioxide—a pollutant linked to respiratory conditions like asthma—and that they emit far more planet-warming methane than previously estimated, prompting experts to urge homeowners to seek alternatives. (The Washington Post)
New research found that factoring humidity into climate change data shows the world has warmed 1.48°C (2.66°F) since 1980, nearly double the increase reported when calculating warming based on temperature alone. (ABC News)
Scientists are pointing to rising ocean temperatures and Arctic warming as the cause of recent snowstorms that pummeled the Northeast this week and set single-day snowfall records in several major cities. (The Washington Post)
Following unprecedented hot temperatures in Australia’s Coral Sea in December, scientists fear that the Great Barrier Reef could soon experience its sixth mass bleaching event, which will leave the coral colorless, weak, more susceptible to disease and less able to reproduce in successive years. (The Guardian)
Being a scientist in this field in this day and age is sometimes a bit nightmarish. Sometimes I wish I knew a little bit less.”
– Dr William Skirving, NOAA
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) updated its guidelines for distributing disaster-relief funds, emphasizing greener construction standards and long-term extreme weather protections for underserved communities. (PBS News)
A new study warns that without significant emissions reductions globally, the cost of flood-related disasters will rise from $32 billion to $43 billion per year by 2050 with risk shifting disproportionately toward primarily Black communities along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. (CNN)
Politics & Economy
A new report found that while funding for clean energy innovation and deployment reached a record high of $920 billion last year, that amount must triple in coming years to meet the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. (Axios)
The Biden Administration is making a last-minute push to derail the plan of U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy—a Trump appointee—to spend $11.3 billion on new gas-powered postal delivery trucks, citing DeJoy’s biased cost and emission estimates and the damage the vehicles could inflict on the climate and Americans’ health. (The Washington Post)
A federal judge voided the largest offshore oil and gas lease in U.S. history, ruling that the impact analysis of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico completed by the Trump administration severely underestimated potential greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent effect on climate. (CNN)
Last week’s Pittsburgh bridge collapse was a timely reminder of the urgent need to repair American infrastructure, yet billions of dollars already allocated for climate resilience and carbon reduction projects are on hold due to congressional disputes over federal spending. (The Washington Post)
Life as We Know It
As the consequences of climate change become more apparent, meteorologists have evolved from lighthearted, comedic foils into experts and educators on the most significant global threat to humanity. (The New York Times)
Honoring the Global Methane Pledge of cutting 30 percent of methane emissions by 2030, the Biden administration announced $1.15 billion in state funding to eradicate more than 130,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the country that continue to leak harmful pollutants. (The Washington Post)
The state of New York is starting construction on its first offshore wind farm this month—with the goal of launching eight more by 2035—in hopes of mitigating climate change across the state. (Canary Media)
The Los Angeles City Council voted to ban and phase out more than 5,000 oil and gas wells in the county that are releasing harmful fossil fuel pollutants, impacting the health of low-income communities of color living in close proximity to the functional drilling sites. (CNBC)
Hooked on Wordle? Check out A Greener Wordle from the International Institute for the Environment and Development, which uses words related to climate change and the environment.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.