Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Tribunal of Quito 2014 / Lima 2014 / Paris 2015

Presented by Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange, USA

Shannon Biggs is the Director of the Community Rights program at Global Exchange, an international human rights organization based in California, USA, where she assists communities confronted by corporate harms to enact binding laws that place the rights of communities and nature above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. MS. Biggs leads over a dozen community-based campaigns to ban fracking in California. She is the co-author and editor of two books, Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots and The Rights of Nature: Making the Case for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. She is a founding steering committee member of the Stop the Frack Attack network, the largest national fracking network in the United States and a leading member of the Californians Against Fracking coalition. Prior to coming to Global Exchange she was a senior staffer at International Forum on Globalization (IFG), she also was a Lecturer in International Relations at San Francisco State University. Shannon holds a Masters in Economics/Politics of Empire the London School of Economics (LSE), and has a BS in International Relations from San Francisco State University (SFSU)

Download the presentation / Read the case study

Hear the judge’s ruling by Tantoo Cardinal on Hydraulic Fracking.

Informations held in the Tribunal:

In the United States, human law has not forgotten nature, but it hasn’t protected it either.  Fracking is a prime example.  Some 400 million years ago, ancient aquatic environments dried up, cementing fine sedimentary deposits over the millennia into hard shale, which now lie 2 miles or more below our feet.  Through the wonder of modern technology some industry-friendly political will and serious legal heft, today these ancient shale formations are the new underground playground of oil and gas corporations.

Under our current structure of law, communities are not allowed to say “no” to fracking even as our health, safety and welfare is at risk.  In many states fracking is unregulated and even unmonitored. Most communities are not even notified that fracking is happening near them. Fracking is a legal drilling process, and corporations with a state permit and ownership or lease of mineral rights to drill have the law on their side. Residents are seen as having “no authority” in their own communities. Cloaked in Constitutional protections, exemptions and well-greased political cover, the oil and gas industry stands on solid legal ground as they roll into town.

And what about environmental protections? The ownership of ecosystems is promoted and protected by law, upholding the control and dominance of humans over nature.  The law does not “see” nature as anything but property.  Our ecosystems have no legal standing in a court of law. From the tar sands of Alberta to mountaintop removal for coal, to fracking and deep ocean drilling, profound damage has been done with the full blessing of the law.

The Hydraulic Fracking case was presented by:

  • Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (USA)

  • Martin Viela, Bolivian Platform on Climate Change (Bolivia)

  • Fabrizio Oscahayta (Bolivia)

  • Casey Camp-Horinek, Indigenous Environmental Network (Ponca Nation, USA)

  • Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network (Turtle Island, USA)

Informations held in the Tribunal:

Hydraulic fracturing is a well-stimulation technique to release oil and gas through high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations rich in hydrocarbons. This technique affects various parts of our planet and jeopardizes the rights of nature. Hydraulic fracking is a wide-spread reality in the United States and an emerging possibility in Bolivia and Argentina. The case was filed in the initial Tribunal in Quito and accepted as a possible violation of the rights of nature and the rights of people who, despite being against the technique, have to live with the devastating effects.

Objective of the Court: to present evidence and further information about hydraulic fracturing as a problem in several parts of the world.

Verdict of the Tribunal:

Hydraulic fracturing, to be called “fracking” in this verdict, is a destructive process used by corporations to extract natural gas and oil from rock that lies deep underground. The process involves the drilling of a deep well and injecting millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid. This fluid is a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressure that fractures the rock and releases the oil or gas. Presentation was made citing more than 600 toxic chemicals are used in the fracking process.

Presentation was provided by Ms. Shannon Biggs, of the fracking development of North Dakota. This data was prepared by Ms. Kandi Mossett (not present), an indigenous environmental activist and member of the tribal-nation community of Fort Berthold Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara in the State of North Dakota in the United States. Data provided evidence of approximately 300,000 barrels of natural gas a day and over 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day is extracted within the territories of her indigenous community and within the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Many fractures occur within 200 feet deep under houses, schools, federal lands and in populated areas.

Fracking requires large amounts of fresh water in order to extract natural gas from the ground. Each fracking well requires between 2 and 8 million gallons of water. Access to clean water often becomes a public health issue and a human right to clean fresh drinkable water. Again, that water is mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, but also includes hydrocarbons, radioactive radon, biocides and includes over 100 suspected endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Testimony was provided that large quantities of wastewater from fracking and water that escapes from fracking wells are polluting underground water sources and surface streams, lakes and rivers. In the United States alone, about 100 trillion gallons of water and 400 billion gallons of “fracturing fluids”, as mentioned above is polluted with no stable process or technique for treating this water. In the U.S. Bakken oil field, water treatment facilities aren’t equipped with specialized equipment, which is very costly, even if there was a certified process for “cleaning this wastewater.” As the world faces a global water crisis with aquifers running dry and glaciers melting, fracking presents a further threat to global fresh water supplies. In the US, hydraulic fracking has been exempted from major federal and state Environmental Protection Act (EPA) laws, including the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act . This is alarming for there are many spills and leaks.

The sand used in the fracking process includes silica dust, which pours out of fracking sites and into the atmosphere in large clouds. A recent review of the public health impacts of drilling and fracking noted that these silica dust clouds have been associated with tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.

Fracking also is linked to air pollution and contamination to the atmosphere. Fracking releases carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, methane, benzene, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous pollutants into the air where human, animals, birds, fish and nature communities live. In my verdict, I take note for the Tribunal to recognize that natural gas contains methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG). When a well is fracked, methane leaks from the well site, from the compressor stations, and even from cracks and fissures in the earth that goes into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change. I cite a 2014 assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that reported that methane from drilling and fracking traps 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide, pound for pound, over a 20 year period. In the U.S., fracking is promoted as a less dirty source of fossil fuel and as a solution to climate change. But evidence shows it can make climate change worse.

Presentations cited that in fracking, 2/3 of toxic chemicals remain in the soil; millions of gallons of toxic waste cannot be processed and are released into the environment. In the U.S. State of Colorado alone, 51,000 fracture operations in four years have been drilled for gas and oil. The wells produce methane, which is a greenhouse substance that is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Substances that produce cause asthma, cancer and serious illnesses. It is estimated that 60 tons of methane gas are emitted.

Furthermore, the technique of fracturing is shown to cause earthquakes. Ms. Casey Camp, U.S. based indigenous grandmother, actor, and environmental justice and indigenous rights activist presented a very touching testimony about the pain that “fracturing the skeleton of Mother Earth” is causing within her homeland and indigenous communities across the U.S. Her own 600-member Ponca tribal community in the U.S. State of Oklahoma is burying one relative a week due death from cancer and other diseases. She spoke movingly about feeling frequent earthquakes in recent years in an area that had not been prone to earthquakes before fracking development. The shaking is all the more riveting to the raw emotions dealing with the deep personal loss and destructive impact of extractive industries on all relations.

On a video presentation, Ms. Kandi Mossett spoke emotively of toxicity to air, ground and water introduced by fracking within the Bakken oil field, within her homeland. The perpetual flares of methane burn off are so numerous that they can be seen from space. Ms. Mossett also told of the devastating social impact of large man camps and heavy equipment traffic. The man camps that come with the oil and gas fracking development, in these remote rural areas has led to trafficking of women and girls, and crime. Drug crimes in neighboring eastern Montana have increased 172 percent. Assaults in the town of Dickinson, North Dakota, are up 300 percent. There was a link to how fracking development is a form of violence against women, and how fracking is viewed by many Indigenous peoples as a form of violence against Mother Earth.

Hydraulic fracturing development is escalating throughout the world. Presentations were provided that demonstrated the expansion of hydraulic fracturing throughout many regions of the world. It was cited that in the U.S. a country that prides itself on environmental protection laws and human rights, that even the U.S. has a poor record regulating the fracking industry with signs of human rights and environmental justice violations mounting. The question is how can other developing countries that lack environmental protection laws, regulatory and enforcement infrastructure be expected to manage and prevent human harm and prevent environmental and ecosystem damages to Nature?

Regionally in Latin America, Martin Vilela and Fabrizio Oscahayta of Bolivia spoke of the threats of aggressive fracking plans proposed in their country. Plaintiffs requested the Tribunal keep the case open to more evidence about the use of this technique in countries like Argentina, in order to assess the overall impact of this technique that fractures the skeleton of Mother Earth and is demonstration of other abuses against Nature.

As the Judge of Court of this topic, there is evidence that the fracking industry, globally has caused multiple injuries to Mother Earth, the subsoil, water, ecosystems and Nature. I request the Tribunal suspend a decision in order to receive more information on hydraulic fracturing and identifying global violations of its industrial practices and processes on the rights of Nature at an upcoming hearing. The Tribunal further requested consultations with scientists and place-based testimonies of communities directly affected by this development to gather more information on the extent and magnitude of hydraulic fractures damage. These documents shall further be transmitted to the UN secretary General for knowledge under the program Harmony with Nature.

Judge: Damien Short

Presenter Shannon Biggs (Movement Rights – USA) 

Enrique Viales(Argentina), Geert de Cock(Food and Water – Europe)

Kandi Mosset(Fort Berthold, ND, USA), KhaoulaChikhaoui(Tunisia)

More informations

Shannon Biggs (Movement Rights) presented an overview of the case against shale fracking operators and all who were complicit in allowing such operations to go ahead (including national and environmental authorities). She explained how shale was a process of Mother Earth that had been 400 million years in the making and how the harsh violent acts of gas and oil extraction were akin to a rape on her body. Fracking was a violation against Mother Earth’s right to water as the source of life through leaks of poisonous and carcinogenic chemicals into groundwater and the leakage of methane into public water supplies. It was a violation against soil and life cycles through causing a massive increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma from around 5 per year before fracking operations to now in the region of 5,000 per year. A number of experts and witnesses provided additional evidence. Kandi Mosset was a witness and resident of Fort Berthold in Oklahoma who gave moving eye-witness testament to the devastating effects of the man camps that had surrounded her community, resulting in harassment and sexual violence against children and women and how the industry was an assault on her people’s cosmovision as “water people” that connected them to the cycles of Earth.

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