For the Conservation Curious

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What we do to the earth today has untold consequences for tomorrow December 9, 2016

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 3:40 PM
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The Snow Goose Situation

You may have heard that thousands of snow geese recently died as they landed on a toxic lake in Montana. The Berkeley Pit is a 700-acre, 900-foot-deep, former copper open-pit mine that contains high levels of acidic water with heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. While the employees at the former mine tried their best to scare the geese away, according to the Associated Press, about 10 percent of the birds landed anyway and succumbed to the poisonous water.

Why This Is a Cautionary Tale

The snow geese deaths are sad indeed, but there is more to the story when you think on a grander scale:

  • Think of how many other former pit mines, many of them not being managed as the Berkeley Pit is, are abandoned and just waiting for hungry migratory birds to land there.
  • Think of the tar sands pits in Canada, also full of toxic metals, and very appealing to migratory birds like snow geese.
  • Think of the abandoned underground coal mines that leech toxic metals into our streams, which then become devoid of life.

What these all have in common is that the long-term environmental consequences of mining are not factored into the initial costs of doing business. The bonds that are put in place now may not cover damage decades from now. And the mines dug before bonds were a common practice may just now beginning to show their nasty side effects.

What Can Be Done

We all need to realize that our actions can have devastating and long-lasting consequences. Therefore, we need to think further out than our lifetime when making drastic alterations to the planet. We need to ensure that those who are mining, and drilling, and manufacturing are on the hook, should something go wrong today, tomorrow, or one hundred years from now. Because the health of future generations, not to mention all other species on earth, may be at stake.

Take Action

If you are concerned about the health of our environment, as it has a significant effect on the health of our bodies, please let your elected officials know you are unhappy with Trump’s choice to head the EPA. Or we may have even more incidents like the snow geese deaths to deal with down the road.

 

 

Water Issues and Natural Gas March 21, 2011

By the time you read this, World Water Day 2011 may have come and gone, but the issues it brings to light are important 365 days a year.  One such issue that has dominated the news media lately is natural gas fracing and its impacts on water resources.  People are asking the questions – will it contaminate our groundwater? Will it use up too much of our surface water? What are the long-term impacts to our water resources?  I am not a hydrogeologist, so I don’t want to get too technical here, but I will give some general information and point you in the right direction for more information.

Here in Pennsylvania, companies are extracting natural gas from a layer of rock known as the Marcellus shale formation.  This shale is located several thousand feet underground and only recently has it been economically feasible for drillers to extract the natural gas from the shale.  The process is called hydraulic fracing, where a hole is drilled into the ground and large quantities of water and other materials are flushed into the hole to bring out the gas. 

Each natural gas well uses more than 3 million gallons of water.  Sounds like a lot, huh? It is, but if you compare it to how much water one person uses for showering, drinking and washing their clothes (69.3 gallons per day, according to the American Water Works Association) and multiply that by the population of Pennsylvania in 2009 (12,604,767 people according to the U.S. Census), you get more than 873 million gallons of water per day.  The Susquehanna River Basin Commission estimates that when the natural gas industry is working at full capacity in the state it will use 28 million gallons of water a day; still a relatively low number when compared to other industries.  So yes, water use is important, but it’s not the key piece of the equation, in my mind.

What is more important is what happens with that water once the company is done with it.  An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the water put into the hole comes back up.  It is no longer just water though; it also contains brine, sand, drilling fluids, and perhaps radioactive materials from the rocks underground (the New York Times published an article recently about the radioactivity of the waste fluid, but state officials say the article misstated a lot. Who’s right? I’m not sure.)  If the fluid is sent to local waste water treatment facilities, they have to be able to filter out the pollutants. Some people question whether or not they have the capacity to do so.  Some of the drilling companies reuse their waste water, but eventually they have to dispose of it somewhere.

Then there is the issue of surface spills.  Accidents happen, no matter how careful you are.  So there is a worry that some of the fracing fluid, wastewater, or even the diesel fuel from all the vehicles involved in drilling and transporting water for fracing  might contaminate streams.  In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited over 850 violations of Marcellus shale drillers.  These violations include discharge of industrial waste including spills into streams (15 percent), violations of the Clean Stream Law (9 percent) and improper construction of wastewater impoundments (15), among other issues.

Natural gas drilling is here to stay in Pennsylvania.  No matter where you stand on the issue, that much is clear.  So it’s up to everyone to get informed, learn to distinguish the truth from the propaganda, and work to make the industry as clean, safe and environmentally-responsible as it possibly can be. 

For more information on Marcellus shale and fracing, go to: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/naturalgasexploration/index.htm

 

My Stance on Marcellus December 13, 2010

I am editor of a quarterly e-zine that deals with wildlife and conservation news and the fall issue’s theme is Energy.  The cover story was on Marcellus shale drilling and, as expected, it brought in many more letters to the editor than any previous article had.  So far most comments have been of the same sort – saying that the article is one-sided and pro-drilling.  We aimed to be as neutral as possible, mentioning some negative impacts to the environment while not directly calling drilling a bad industry.  I had to keep my personal feelings out of it; something that was VERY difficult for me to do.  That is the role of a good journalist, however: to remain impartial.  Yet I was so upset by some of the letters that I had to vent here and share some of my feelings about drilling in the Marcellus shale.  These thoughts in no way represent what my organization thinks; they are solely my own.

I did a lot of research for that article and even visited a few drill sites.  I will be honest, they were not as horrible as I imagined they would be, using my preconceived notions formed from watching “Gas Land” and reading various articles and non-profit organization websites.  But they still weren’t what I’d ideally like to see in a forest.  A lot of trees are cut down to build the pad site, the area is graded with heavy machinery, which will compact the soil (and once soil is compacted it is difficult to fix), and there were a lot of vehicles coming and going through the area.  It’s not a “natural” site, to be sure, and one that shouldn’t be built willy-nilly throughout the Commonwealth.

Friends ask me whether I am for or against drilling for natural gas.  That’s a tough question for me to answer.  The part of me that is a pure conservationist screams, “No! I am NOT for it!”, but the more practical side of me pauses and thinks, “Well, we need energy to power our daily lives. The natural gas question isn’t going away any time soon. Basically, it’s complicated!”  Do I wish we could put solar panels on every roof in the state and grow native grasses for biofuel? YES! In a perfect world we could make much of our energy using alternative sources.  If Germany and other European countries can do it, why not us?!  But in our current democrat fighting with republican world, that isn’t likely to happen, so what else can we do?  Does this mean we must drill for natural gas?  In the short-term, I think the answer is yes.  Is that the answer I like? No, not really, but unless we’re all willing to go back to lighting our homes with beeswax candles and taking a horse-drawn buggy to the general store (ask your kids if they’d be willing to give up their video game systems and tell me how that works!), we have to find some sort of energy source in the U.S. and in the short-term that probably means natural gas.

Am I a bad environmentalist for saying that? Perhaps. I’ve participated in a protest or two in my life but generally I’m not that hard-core and prefer to make change in a more constructive manner.  The Greenpeace-types of the world deserve big kudos for the difficult and sometimes dangerous work they do, but that’s definitely not my style.  I’m the kind of person that watches “Whale Wars” and thinks that sometimes the people are doing more harm than good when they sabotage the Japanese whaling ships, but I digress…

Back to Marcellus. Conservation of our natural resources is, in my opinion, the most important thing we as conscientious human beings can do.  Yes, we have to make money so we don’t starve, but once our basic needs are taken care of I think we have a responsibility to protect our natural world because it’s the only planet we have, our very health depends on it, and once something is destroyed or exterminated we can’t bring it back.  If companies are going to continue to drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania and elsewhere it needs to be done in a very cautious, science-based, enlightened way that takes into consideration the health of our forests, waters, wildlife, plants and people.  This is happening now, but in a piecemeal fashion.  We need more people, not fewer, out there inspecting sites, making sure companies are doing what they’re supposed to. 

So those people who wrote angry or concerned letters about the article, I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from in terms of your fears and worries. Pennsylvania was manipulated and trashed by industries in the past – think turn of the century loggers and coal mining, just to name a couple – and you can’t blame people for expecting the worst.  We need to have those people out there with very strong opinions and keen eyes to keep everyone in line, doing the right things.  I may not be allowed to picket a drill site (unless I want to lose my job), nor would I necessarily want to, but it comforts me to know that there are folks out there who are making sure our resource extraction – not just of natural gas, but of other energy sources and minerals – does as little damage to the environment as possible, until we reach the day when we can power our homes, vehicles and lives with something that does little to impact the Earth.  Keep up the good fight!