Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 03 2012

12:59

The Farce Of The "Golden Age Of Gas"

Oil and gas industry insiders revealed earlier this year the high probability that we're headed into a shale gas bubble. But that's not what the industry's CEOs and PR departments want you to hear.

"The reality of at least 100 years’ worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert…The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion – ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world’s biggest and most successful energy companies?"

So spouts off Chesapeake Energy in a press release earlier this month responding to a Rolling Stone article which likened fracking to a huge industry Ponzi scheme. Arthur Berman is an energy consultant based in Houston, and not swayed by the industry's vibrant plumage they are putting on display to the nation.

The energy companies want the public to believe in the "Golden Age of Gas"- as it has been dubbed- where the supplies are bountiful and the profits are high. While it's true that there have been economic booms in some areas that have gas reserves, the numbers are showing that these booms will not be long lived. Meanwhile, the falling price of gas along with the inherent public health risks and environmental devastation that comes along with it makes the gas rush less profitable in the long run. But the gas industry wouldn't have you believe that.

read more

January 23 2012

20:14

EPA Comments On New York's Environmental Impact Assessment: Hey...You Missed A Few Things

On the heels of receiving over 40,000 citizen comments on their environmental impact assessment, it looks like the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also getting flack from the EPA on their fracking proposal.

The EPA's concerns echo those being shouted from the rooftops (or at least outside local town halls) for months from New York and Pennsylvania residents and advocacy groups, who are alarmed about the inherent risks to public health and drinking water that fracking imposes. The other looming question is whether the DEC can handle such a lofty task, seeing that they've experienced budget cuts and layoffs over the past couple of years.

Mainly, there are major concerns over drinking water buffer zones, wastewater treatment plans, those pesky earthquakes that seem to hang out near fracking-related sites, and the radiation hazards that could threaten workers and nearby residents.

The EPA boasts that their regulations prohibit gas drilling wells within 1 mile of public water supply areas while the DEC is only proposing 150 feet. That's less than one New York City block (the smaller ones), half the length of a football field, or roughly the distance between you and the next-door neighbor whose bathroom horrifyingly has no blinds (although to be honest, there's no adequate buffer zone for that).

Furthermore, apparently the impact assessment includes a clause that allows trucks to spread salts from "produced water" (the water that comes back up after fracking), over roadways during inclement weather during the winter months. EPA urges them not to do that, and in fact states:

"It is unclear why this distinction was made by the NYSDEC as produced water will have higher concentration of natural contaminants…".

That's nice that the DEC is attempting to embrace the whole "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra, but it's kind of missing the point if you sprinkle the roads with salt extracted from water that has previously contained over 600 toxic chemicals. 

And on the radiation? The EPA is concerned that the data they are using in the impact assessment is outdated, since radioactive materials in Pennsylavania have been found to have higher radiation counts than expected, and that the DEC hasn't taken into consideration all the potential points along the way where radiation could concentrate and contaminate local land and water resources.

Even so, the document also advises that homeowners preemptively test their water supply (through water quality testing facilities of their choosing) to "remove any concerns about the water testing results being biased."

This "vote of no confidence" should really spark people to question whether this process can be adequately regulated, even with all the pitfalls and obstacles to continually overcome and oversee. People that continue to say wind and solar are too expensive clearly do not calculate all the external costs associated with fossil fuel extraction. This is why algebra is important- because when the equation doesn't add up, the x and y you are solving for is often the cost to people's health and livelihoods, as well as the long-term or irreversible damage to the surrounding ecosystems and the global climate.

Read the EPA's statement here.

January 14 2012

21:46

Radionuclides Tied To Shale Gas Fracking Can't Be Ignored As Possible Health Hazard

Comic books tell us that it's cool to be a superhero. Sometimes those superheroes started out as everyday citizens that became irradiated and suddenly transformed into epic, superhuman, ninja-fighting dynamos with abilities and powers that far outweigh regular human abilities, such as remembering anniversaries, calculating your own taxes, being able to answer every Jeopardy question, or tetrachromacy.

However, we know in real life that radiation, especially at dangerous levels, can cause burns, hair loss, ulcers, chromosomal deterioration, weakened immune systems, and cancer in the form of leukemia when it concentrates in the bones. Radiation is more likely to destroy our genetic code than to alter it to give us invisibility superpowers.

So why is radiation not more prevalent in the discussion about fracking? We've learned over the past couple of years about other health impacts from fracking - such as the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals used in the fracking process and the health effects such as lost sense of smell and taste, headaches, respiratory problems, and cancers reported by citizens near oil and gas drilling sites. News coverage of fracking dangers often focuses on the threat of water contamination, the toxic fluids used in fracking operations and how it isn’t always disposed of properly, and the all-time favorite made world-famous by "Gasland": flaming water.

Yet we don't hear a lot about how oil and gas fracking can concentrate existing radionuclides, presenting the risk of human contact through disposal or handling, posing another possible health risk for the public and workers in the industry.

In the Marcellus Shale region, the particular nuclide in question is Radium-226. Radium comes from uranium, which naturally exists in the shale-rich geology of the northern Appalachian Basin. In fact, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,

"The Marcellus is known to contain concentrations of [naturally occurring radioactive materials] such as uranium-238 and radium-226 at higher levels than surrounding rock formations."

Other studies [PDF] show that the particular levels of radiation in the Marcellus Shale are up to 20x higher than background levels. While uranium is quite insoluble, radium is not. It preferably binds to water, which is particularly worrisome if it leaks into groundwater or contaminates any of the millions of gallons of water used in the fracking process.

Normally a person's skin serves as a protective barrier against natural environmental sources of radiation, but if a person drinks or bathes in contaminated water, where it can enter internally through the mouth or exposed and sensitive areas like the eyes, then the risk of internal damage is heightened. Ingesting or inhaling radiation in significant amounts can wreak havoc on internal organ systems.

Briny water usually concentrates the highest amount of radionuclides. This means that radionuclides will collect in the chemical-laden water used in fracking when it comes in contact with radioactive rock from the Marcellus, or when mixing with brine water stored within the Marcellus shale. Since fracking fluid is often used several times, this can cause radium to concentrate in the fluid and possibly the pipes.

If the fracking fluid is deposited in a landfill, it can continue to irradiate not only any groundwater in the area but also potentially any vegetation grown over a closed landfill. Furthermore, while landfills designed to receive contaminated water are built to contain potential toxics, they are not built to contain radiation.

And if the trucks that transport the contaminated fracking fluid ever leak along the way, it can end up contaminating roadways as well. Radium-226 sticks around for 1600 years before it decays, and when it does, it produces radon gas.

The Environmental Impact Statement from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation acknowledges that radiation levels are naturally higher in the Marcellus, but NYDEC doesn't outline an adequate plan to deal with the possible radiation. Most of the document discusses their plans to measure for radiation after the wells are in place and to follow current radiation regulations.

That might sound reasonable, except for that fact that NYDEC’s last investigation into naturally occurring radioactive materials occurred in 1996 and was conducted on well sites that did not operate via the horizontal directional drilling and fracking methods that are now the status quo technique in the Marcellus and other shale basins around the country.

If fracking for oil and gas gets the green light from Governor Cuomo, New Yorkers may actually need a superhero to save us from the multitude of risks that fracking presents, and the risk of radioactive contamination is one scary consequence that deserves greater scientific scrutiny.

November 19 2011

00:08

Another Blow To Dirty Energy: Fracking Nixed In The Delaware River Basin

Last night, big news erupted across the Northeast with an announcement that fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a pristine watershed that supplies water to over 15 million people, would be suspended. The Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote on whether or not to permit 20,000 fracking wells in the area on Monday, November 15th. However after enormous citizen backlash, the DRBC realized they did not have the votes to push the practice through.

The Commission is made up of the 4 governors of basin states: New York (Cuomo), New Jersey (Christie), Pennsylvania (Corbett), and Delaware (Markell). The fifth member is from the Army Corps of Engineers, who is there to vote on behalf of the Obama administration.

Earlier in the week, sources indicated that Pennsylvania and New Jersey were set to vote yes, while New York was set to vote no. This left Delaware and the Obama administration up in the air. Advocacy groups and citizens targeted Delaware, knowing that the Obama administration wouldn’t likely leave themselves in the position of tie-breaker.

Knowing of the widespread, devastating health and environmental effects fracking has left in other areas of the nation, many people in the Delaware River Basin are immensely concerned about the prospect of fracking in their watershed. So much so, that when information came out that offices of the members of the Commission were tallying phone calls, people flooded the offices with calls and emails urging each to vote no on allowing fracking into the area, to the point where voicemail boxes were full for days.

After Delaware announced they would vote no at Monday’s meeting, as predicted, the meeting was soon cancelled. Ideally citizens would have liked to see fracking legitimately outlawed, but for now, it’s a temporary victory that will keep gas fracking - which some have dubbed as extreme energy extraction - out of an area that supplies water to millions.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch made the following statement,

This is a victory for the grassroots activists who have passionately rallied to protect our water, communities and health from the potentially devastating effects of this dirty practice. By standing up against big lobbying cash and flashy ads touting the job creating effects of shale gas development, we have won this critical fight.This delay is really a testament to the power of fighting for the what we believe in, not the best we can get. We’ll continue to forge ahead until we have a ban on fracking in the U.S.”

June 25 2010

18:26

Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: Risks of Continued Oil and Gas Extraction Grow, USSF Offers Change


This gas well in Texas sits across the street from a park and a populated residential area.By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people's water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks."

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out."

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

—————-

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Image credit: Rich Anderson, courtesy Flickr

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl