Category Archives: Environmental Hazards (ex. fracking, haz waste, climate change)

Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico attributed to polluted runoff from farmland fertilizer

A story from MSN was sent to me and caught my attention.  Again, everything is connected… would you ever connect a cow in Missouri to a deoxygenated area unable to sustain life in the Gulf of Mexico?  Well, there is a very direct connection: farms are exempt from many water quality laws, however they are responsible for large pollutant loads to water ways.  Fertilizer and manure have high phosphorus and nitrogen content, which feeds algae to grow and form blooms.  These algae blooms uptake oxygen from water at the same time as blocking sun from reaching plant life below the water surface, preventing photosynthesis.  The combination of these occurrences can result in a “dead zone” where life cannot exist.  The Gulf of Mexico has the second largest recorded dead zone in the world at 5,000 sq miles, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut.  The high phosphorus and nitrogen loading is attributed to the Mississippi River and the farmlands along it. 

'Dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut: Graphic explains how dead zones occur.

 

See the story here:

http://news.msn.com/us/dead-zone-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-is-the-size-of-connecticut#tscptme

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Lake Erie Algae Bloom leaves 400,000 without drinking water

Ohio algae bloomJust another example of the need for sustainable design efforts; remember that everything is connected, that fertilizer you put on your lawn can, and will affect your drinking water!  I mentioned the algae prediction for northeast Ohio about a month ago, and conditions exceeded expectations leaving 400,000 residents without drinking water for three days this week! Read the story here:

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/127741-algae-bloom-in-lake-erie-leaves-400000-without-drinking-water

 

Let me tell you a story about a beautiful land and an evil man, with acid, who was taken down… Big Cypress Swamp/Everglades remain Protected as Texas Acid Fracker is Sued.

Big Cypress PreserveSurely this is the best news I’ve heard since the Gators fired Ron Zook…yes it’s been a while.  To give you a quick backgound on the story, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is illegal in Florida (if you want to know more about this process, see my post “What the Frack”).  To sum it up, the process involves drilling deeply into the ground, where unknown chemicals and tons of water are injected with great pressure to break shale and release “natural” gas.  This process is known to leak harmful chemicals into our ground water, surface water, and millions of gallons of our potable water, which, subsequently becomes unusable.  Additionally, fracking is causing earthquakes throughout the US and overseas (Italy is suffering big time!), as well as random explosions (near Columbus, OH last week).  This is NOT a process we want anywhere near the Everglades.

Well this D-bag… I mean, this “man” from Texas, named Dan A. Hughes, whose company is modestly named after himself, owns some land on the outskirts of the everglades in Big Cypress Swamp. He decided to go around the law, and, without a permit, preformed an “enhanced extraction procedure” to proceed with exploratory drilling.  The company denied this to be hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the basis that they used an “acidic solution”, instead of the usual fracking chemicals, and a “mostest” volume of water and sand…whatever that means.  And, wait ’til you hear how this process works:

  1. They still start by drilling a well, just like regular fracking
  2. They still use a ton of water
  3. Instead of cracking open shale, they dissolve the rock by shooting HydroFlouric Acid into the ground…YES, HydroFlouric Acid!  The same exact stuff that Walter White and Jessie Pinkman used to dissolve dead bodies in the show “Breaking Bad”…that really, REALLY bad stuff!

I would assume that this “acid fracking” is probably worse than regular ole fracking, but, unfortunately, I can’t tell you for sure because the fracking chemicals are kept secret!

So this guy, who is the chair of Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, mind you (poor Austin has to be stuck in that state), proceeded to acid frack, even after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told him to stop and also slapped him with the maximum fine of $25,000 for unauthorized actions.  As the Orlando Sentinel paper states,

“For this transgression the Florida DEP fined the company $25,000 for “unauthorized actions,” apparently the maximum civil penalty under Florida law, and also ordered that a preapproved expert monitor groundwater contamination in the area. On May 2, the state banned Hughes Co. from beginning to drill five other wells for which permits had been secured until further review is complete, to which the company agreed.

Of the situation, Hughes Co. spokesman David Blackmon told the Orlando Sentinel the company is “confident the results are going to show that the groundwater hasn’t been negatively impacted” and that “its operations do not pose a threat to contamination,” saying that “the way these wells are constructed, there are multiple layers — five layers of concrete and heavy steel — that prevent any of the fluids going through the well bore from contacting the groundwater formation.”

Ok, so, the bad guy comes in, and the good guy fails to stop him; so what happens next?  Well, after a long legal battle, Dan A. Hughes’ company’s permits were revoked, he has been stripped of his authority to operate within the state of Florida, and he is being sued for $100,000 (really FDEP?  That’s like peanuts to this guy!).  So, the bad guy, unfortunately, wasn’t completely thrown out of “The Sunshine State” and sent back to where he came from (seriously, our state has enough screwballs… seriously though…), but at least he can’t hurt Florida’s people, wildlife, or water sources anymore.

The End

FDEP News, Acid Fracker Revoked
FDEP News, Acid Fracker Revoked

Big Cypress Preserve Map

 

What. The. Frack. How Is Hydraulic Fracturing Legally Growing While EPA Cracks Down On Regulations? Is It Money, Lack of Env. Invasive Evidence, or Is It Actually Not As Bad As We Think? All Perspectives Taken (but I can’t promise an unbiased conclusion)

 

I happen to be a Matt Damon fan, so of course I have seen the movie “Promised Land” which shows slimy hydraulic fracturing companies dangling large sums of money in the face of poor, unknowing farmers, in exchange for the land that had been their life and livelihood.  I understand that although bias, there had to be some truth to this story “based on true circumstances”.  So I made my opinions based on what I know of science and hydrology, but I know that my views have been influenced by the environmental uproar that surrounds me.  I decided that I should probably get the facts before making statements so I can share an intelligent, unbiased, opinion.   The EPA has been on a rampage with surface and groundwater water quality, hazardous waste, remediation, and now going to far extents to combat climate change, so how is it that hydraulic fracturing has received little regulatory discourse?  Does it all come down to money or perhaps this process is not as negatively impactful as I’ve been encouraged to believe?  I will state some facts about this process, explain where my opinions were drawn from, then share what I learned when I spoke with a fracturing supporter, and I will close with my new opinions formed after collecting all information possible on the process.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of extracting gas resources from the ground via deep well, to be used for energy production, and has been around since the 1940s.  This process is commonly known as “fracking”, however, while speaking with a chemist who sells the chemicals used in this process, I learned that this term is slang and slightly offensive, so I will use “HF” instead to maintain an unbiased tone. Recent technological advances, increases in energy consumption, and the need for US energy reserves has increased production of natural gas substantially.  The amount of natural gas recovered from a given well differs with each type of shale, sand or carbonate rock, but ranges from approximately 2-4billion cubic feet of recovered gas per well.  It is estimated that the USA has 2.2trillion cubic feel of recoverable natural gas (however this number is argued by half), which would last about 92 years (or 46 depending on your source) at 2011 rate of consumption.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) claims that hydraulic fracturing has made the US number one in shale gas production with 39% of total natural gas production coming from hydraulic fracturing.  EIA also states that hydraulic fracturing has allowed the percentage of energy coming from coal to decrease 11% in the past 20 years (although energy from coal has still increased substantially).  Natural gas stock fraction has increased from 13% to 25% of the energy market throughout the past 20 years, and is projected to hit 30% by 2040.  EAI expects that US natural gas production will increase 44% between 2011 and 2040.

These numbers mean very little to a nature lover, but I do understand the need to balance economics with environmental responsibility. My original opinions were based on my knowledge of science, hydrology, and contamination: There is a definite amount of water in the world.  The same amount, and same water molecules that were here 1000 years ago, are here today.  No more and no less.  With an ever-increasing human population, therefore, continuously increasing water demands, it is difficult enough to provide clean water… so difficult that millions don’t have it (see my post about how water kills more people than every kind of violence).  During the process of HF, 2-6million gallons of potable water are used to recover “natural” gas (the quotes are not because I think it is unnatural, but because the word is usually associated with positivity and healthy outcomes).  Following this process, these millions of gallons of water are now wastewater contaminated to an unusable state, far too challenging and expensive treat to a reusable condition.  Therefore this water is injected deep below a confining layer, and basically taken out of the water cycle, ultimately depleting our usable fresh water supply.  Now when the product of this pollutant inducing process is burned for energy, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, are byproducts, much like coal and oil, but in lower quantities.  This is why proponents claim it is “clean energy”, but how does “less pollutants” end up being termed  “clean”, a word that reflects “none”?  In addition, Methane is a primary component of natural gas, and is also a greenhouse gas that is emitted into the air when the gas is not burned completely, which happens often.  Just an observation, but does anyone else notice that the  people and companies that support HF are shouting “clean energy” to the rooftops, meanwhile, they are the same groups most likely to oppose scientific evidence for, and actions to mitigate, climate change?  I’m sure there is no economic motive there…Not (yeah I totally just went old school- 90s clothes are back in, why not the slang?)!.  These were my passionate opinions prior to hearing from the other side.  I attempted to be as open minded as possible, I guess I am hoping to be wrong in this case since I don’t see regulations putting an end to it.

So I met with an expert proponent of HF who I asked to explain the process: The process begins when a well is drilled deep into the earths surface.  Then, “fracking fluid” (yes, after I was told not to say “fracking” there apparently an acceptable use of the term), which consists of millions of gallons of water with sand and chemicals (he said a small fraction of the total volume is chemicals), are pumped into the well at extremely high pressures- 9,000lbs/sq.in.  This pressure created causes the shale formation beneath the ground to crack, or “fracture”, and the sand in the fracking fluid serves as a “propping agent” to prop open “fissures” that allow hydrocarbons (natural gas) to escape.  He explained that this process has been done for over 30years and if done correctly, should not impact groundwater.  As reported by a company supporting HF, when fracturing is complete, and pressure is released, between 20-80% of the fracking fluid begins to flow to the surface as “flowback water” throughout a period of a few days to a few weeks.  Some companies see this flowback as opportunities to extract more hydrocarbons from the well by extracting them from the flowback water which is now hydrocarbon rich.  Water that is naturally present (aka groundwater), may also rise to the surface and can consist of anything at that point (wait, what?  I thought the groundwater wasn’t involved?).   There are then three different options for that water, permanent disposal of the wastewater injected into the ground, reuse for future fracturing which is theoretically an option, but does not happen due to it’s inconsistent, therefore, unknown chemical composition and would require treatment and the addition of more freshwater, and recycling, another theoretical option in which this wastewater is used for irrigation after an extensive and expensive treatment process removing all total dissolved solids.  Almost all cases go with option one because it is the least expensive and the way it’s been done for years.  I was told that if the process is done right, and nothing goes wrong, HF is not an environmental risk.

Honestly I was hoping for more concrete, finite statements on the safety to the environment, and an explanation of the process that was much less invasive than I had been predisposed to believe.  I wanted to let the information settle, and I didn’t want to sound arrogant and ask leading questions, but my father happened to be listening, a businessman who knows nothing of science, and posed concerns… legitimate, intelligent, concerns.  I was shocked.  He asked: so during drilling, where does the drilling liquid go?  Does the well casing ever leak? What if the casing leaks? If groundwater is present when the shale is propped, then how is it possible that the natural gas doesn’t enter the groundwater system? When the wastewater resurfaces at that volume, can it impact surface water and soil?  Is there a way to make the fracking fluid safer?  What about earthquakes? Not trying to get political, but my republican dad was actually paying attention to a man talking about science and the environment…. and saw implications with a process that is seen as economically beneficial??  Someone call FOX news and let them know there is a rebel among them!

These questions were answered, but not answered confidently with respect to environmental safety. They do everything possible to prevent leaks, although most likely possible, there are no plans to redesign fracking fluid to be less detrimental to the environment, and the groundwater shouldn’t be affected, even though sometimes it is.  He also stated that claims stating that drinking water sources were contaminated,  were skewed.  Accidents happen at times, and geologic processes can be unpredictable, and the analyses are sometimes incomplete or incorrect.

I did some further research to answer my dad’s questions, and I found the following information:

1. The majority of the drilling liquid remains in the ground and is not biodegradable, and like all pollutants, can spread and travel through the soil or ground water.

2.  If the well casing is not perfectly sealed, it will leak, and if the well penetrates through the aquifer and is not well sealed, chemicals can leak directly into our drinking water supply

3. The fractured shale may allow chemicals to enter the water system, and reports of radiation in drinking water have been made, as an article in the NY Times states. This is obvious to me, if groundwater is present, how would it not mix with HF chemicals?

4. Surface water and soil contamination can occur when wastewater resurfaces… only 30-50% of that water is recovered and is highly toxic.  Surface evaporation of volatile organic carbons (VOCs) coming into contact with diesel exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site can produce ground level ozone, which can travel up to 250 miles (as reported by 8020 vision)

5. When the earth is drilled, pressurized, depressurized, it’s stability is compromised, and HF has been associated with earthquakes in the northeast and Midwest.

6. HF companies have not and will not release the chemicals associated with fracking fluid, they are not required to, so why would they?  However, scientists have identified known carcinogens and VOCs such as benzene, tolulene, ethylbenzene, and xylene.  I would describe each of these, however, I have a dissertation to finish… and it is not on HF or it’s chemical components.

Following my research regarding the benefits and implications of HF, my opinions opposing this practice were supported and grew stronger.  I understand the environmental implications of burning and extracting coal, and the need for alternate energy sources, the need to be independent of foreign oil sources, and economic benefits of HF.  However doing, what seems to me, as permanent damage on the earth to extract 46-92 years (if fuel consumption does not increase past 2011 numbers) of fuel, is not sustainable.  Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see that economics plays a huge part on the longevity of this controversial practice.  Other sources of energy should be focused on, which I believe is happening, and hopefully those strict environmental regulators will give this industry some attention despite the potential monetary and political benefits.

Hazardous Waste in Buffalo Buildings- Update, my lil bro is in charge!

Hazardous Waste in Buffalo Buildings- Update, my lil bro is in charge!

So Buffalo making EPA news again! Last time EPA decided to give the city millions of dollars to help implement LID, creating jobs, and boosting the economy while making the city prettier, how does Buffalo pay them back?? Violating a whole bunch of hazardous waste codes…Ugh. Buffalonians, be careful, Love Canal may have just been the one time someone was caught!
 
The day the news broke, my brother, a City of Buffalo engineer, was held captive…he had to stay late…real late, like past 5:02.  He was then informed that he was promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Buildings for the city and has to come up with a plan to quickly meet EPA regulations.  Looks like superhero runs in the family.  Congrats lil bro, let’s make this world better!
 
 

 

Reduce your impact

http://epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#difference
http://epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#difference

Forty-two percent of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. In every one of these stages of the life cycle, we can reduce our impact.

Reduce, Recycle and Reuse people!!!!

Of course it’s always better to reduce waste first, use re-usable cups, plates, water bottles, electronic copies of magazines and newspapers, etc.  However, if use on non-reusable items are necessary, Recycle!

Recycled Product

# of Recylcled Items

Can Produce Enough Energy to Run

Air Conditioner (hours)

Hair Dryer (hours)

Laptop (hours)

60W Equiv CFL Bulb (hours)

Aluminum Can

10

1.7

1.7

51.9

199.5

Glass Bottle

10

0.7

0.7

20.9

80.2

Plastic Bottle

10

0.8

0.8

25.4

97.8

Weekly Magazine

10

0.1

0.1

2.8

10.8

Plastic Grocery Bag

10

0.1

0.1

3.4

13.1

EPA Waste Statistics:

  • 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the provision of goods produced within the United States.
  • The provision of food contributes another 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Traditional “waste” management represents 1 to 5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Find out what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint:

http://epa.gov/climatechange/climate-change-waste/

Traces of radioactive water from Fukushima detected on US West Coast

Image

Uh… duh, obviously this was going to happen. As I always say EVERYTHING is connected!!! The amount of radioactivity which has reached the US is not enough to impact our drinking water supply, which is great, but the solution to pollution is NOT dilution, and this contamination is not without it’s victims. Just using common sense, small fish were exposed to this radio activity, and we eat fish from all over the world…just sayin’ there are reprocussions.

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/126985-traces-of-radioactive-water-from-fukushima-detected-on-us-west-coast

Global Warming Updated Report- The 2007 Data Underestimated Impacts

polarbearIf you still think global warming is some kind of hoax, or theory made up by democrats to push foreign cars, some political stunt, or Al Gore’s crazy made up delusion, you are living under a rock of naivety.  And I can see why someone would do that, ignorance is bliss, right?  It is easier to not concern one’s self with non-human matters, and at least temporarily avoid the anxiety and worry of what is to come.  Many don’t like change, and fear it, but don’t comprehend that changes now will avoid bigger and more detrimental changes later.  The adverse impacts are in our face with “super storms”, the average temperature increasing every year, erratic weather patterns, and the most undeniably timely is the sea level rise.  We can’t make this stuff up people.  These are the facts, not the theories.

Many have had obnoxiously cold winters, I saw the frustration of the Buffalonians this past weekend while I struggled through pelting hale and whipping snow at the end of March.  And one may take that and say “Global warming is BS!” and understandably so.  However, the truth is that the increased population causing increased carbon emissions to the atmosphere is trapping more heat and the global average temperature is still increasing every year.  Erratic weather conditions: colder winters, warmer summers, strange cold and warm spells are all results of the melting of the polar ice caps.  Everything is connected in this world.

As this report, as well as the NASA report states, the heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms, will cause further problems which will be felt by the poor first, while the rich continue to make things worse prior to seeing the adversity for themselves.

If you really aren’t worried about the future and are one of those people who say “well I won’t be alive for that”, think again, because unless you are already deceased, (which would make it quite difficult to make any statement without Zac Bagan’s Ghost Box), you are alive, so you are around for “that”.  So let’s talk about “that” which you are obviously alive for, the undeniable result of increasing temperatures…sea level rise. Right off the bat, our first thought is the implications this can have for all those people, businesses and infrastructure on coastlines, what will happen to those low elevation cities?  These are huge issues, however, right now we are already dealing with sea level encroachment and struggling to protect our freshwater sources. Lakes and rivers provide for fun weekends of boating or fishing, but more importantly, millions of people depend on these freshwater sources for drinking water. The skeptic will say, well, we already have ways to turn salt water to drinking water, so that’s an easy solution. Well, no it’s not, and it’s extremely expensive, uses a lot of energy, and a lot of water is wasted in the process. The issue that you cannot contest is the loss of habitat. The skeptic may say “good, I don’t like gators anyway, especially because their representative team keeps winning championships”, but the world as we know it runs on the circle of life, where nature has its way of checks and balances, and when one species is missing, another fills in the gaps, and this can be a catastrophic change.  Anyone can do a little experiment right in their own home, get rid of the spiders and see how many mosquito bites you end up with.  Again we are all connected and the loss of this habitat will impact everyone, everywhere.

The earth is a living thing, with natural balance and cycles. If we interrupt those cycles, the earth will find a way to stabilize. The earth is resilient, and human resiliency is no match.

Some comment from the attached article:

“Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report. And on the other end, it will act as a brake slowing down the benefits of a modernizing society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production, it says.

The expected outcomes in the near future are stated to be: “Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report’s authors said.”

http://news.msn.com/world/global-warming-dials-up-our-risks-un-report-says#tscptme