Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The Fracking Debate – The “Truth” about Gasland and water contamination

May 25, 2011 1 comment

One of the major concerns with regards to hydraulic fracturing is the potential for fracking fluids – specifically, the chemicals in them – to contaminate drinking water. The YouTube video titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight” outlined this concern:

But there’s more in the water than just H2O
Toxic chemicals help to make the fluid flow
With names like benzene and formaldehyde
You better keep ‘em far away from the water supply

The drillers say the fissures are a mile below
The groundwater pumped into American homes
But don’t tell it to the residents of Sublette Wy-O
That water’s fracked…. We’re talking Benzene…

It is believed that there have been thousands of cases of groundwater contamination in the United States due to this fracking process. But, there is some debate on the validity of these claims. On May 13, Jamie L. Vernon, PhD wrote a post about the pro- and anti-fracking debate for Discover Magazine’s blog, The Intersection where he brought to light doubts surrounding claims of groundwater contamination. In his opinion:

…this is a hilarious production designed to draw attention to the fracking debate.  To be clear, my biggest concerns are not centered on the hydraulic fracturing fluid per se.  I feel the recent PNAS paper highlighted the much more worrisome problem of methane gas leakage.  In fact, the PNAS paper stated that there was no evidence of contamination of drinking water with deep saline brine or fracking fluids.

To be clear, this PNAS paper does not say that water contamination is not a potential problem with the fracking process. Instead, it indicates that recent claims of groundwater contamination in the United States might have been overstated.

Regardless of the validity of the water contamination claims, this concerns has captured American’s attention. Some of this success could be rooted in the success of the “Gasland”  documentary by Josh Fox. This movie focuses on the use of hydraulic fracturing to unlock natural gas stored in shale (rock) underground, and the potential negative environmental impacts of using this technology. But, it’s main anti-fracking argument centers on the potential for fracking to contaminate drinking water supplies, painting a highly negative picture for viewers.

Unsurprisingly, this documentary has received negative press and backlash from organizations including the organization called America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), a pro-natural gas association that promotes the use of natural gas in the United States.  In response to the Gasland documentary, ANGA supported the released of a short video – titled “The Truth About Gasland” – that puts a call out for “open, factual and fair dialogue” surrounding the development of the nation’s natural gas resources. In this video, the creators state that “the film “Gasland,” whatever the intentions of the filmmaker, has contributed to a dialogue based more on fear than facts. While it is a dramatic movie, ‘Gasland’ is a deeply flawed documentary that gets several important facts wrong. Learn more at


The Hydraulic Fracturing Debate (pt 1) – “My Water’s on Fire Tonight”

Hydraulic fracturing – fracking – is a process that can be used to extract natural gas from rock (shale) underground. In this process water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to crack the rocks containing the natural gas.

A recent YouTube video discusses some of the major arguments for and against the use of hydraulic fracturing in a – shall we say – less conventional format. This rap, titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight,” attempts to bring attention to the current debate on the risks v. rewards of using this process in the United States. Drawing from concerns also raised in a National Academy of Science paper released last month, this video emphasizes the dangers from increased potential of methane gas leaks with hydraulic fracturing.

“My Water’s on Fire Tonight” lyrics:

Fracking is a form of natural gas drilling
An alternative to oil cause the oil kept spilling
Bringing jobs to small towns so everybody’s willing
People turn on their lights and the drillers make a killing

Water goes into the pipe, the pipe into the ground
The pressure creates fissures 7,000 feet down
The cracks release the gas that powers your town
That well is fracked….. Yeah totally fracked

But there’s more in the water than just H2O
Toxic chemicals help to make the fluid flow
With names like benzene and formaldehyde
You better keep ‘em far away from the water supply

The drillers say the fissures are a mile below
The groundwater pumped into American homes
But don’t tell it to the residents of Sublette Wy-O
That water’s fracked…. We’re talking Benzene…

What the frack is going on with all this fracking going on
I think we need some facts to come to light
I know we want our energy but nothing ever comes for free
I think my water’s on fire tonight

So it all goes back to 2005
Bush said gas drillers didn’t have to comply
with the Safe Drinking Water Act, before too long
It was “frack, baby, frack” until the break of dawn.

With the EPA out it was up to the states
But they didn’t have the money to investigate
Sick people couldn’t prove fracking was to blame
All the while water wells were going up in flames

Cause it’s hard to contain all the methane released
It can get into the air, it can get into the streams.
It’s a greenhouse gas, worse than CO2
Fracking done wrong could lead to climate change too

Now it’s not that drillers should never be fracking
But the current regulation is severely lacking
Reduce the toxins, contain the gas and wastewater
And the people won’t get sick and the planet won’t get hotter

What the frack is going on with all this fracking going on
I think we need some facts to come to light
I know we want our energy but nothing ever comes for free
I think my water’s on fire tonight

CNN: 70% of Americans Favor Increased Offshore Drilling

May 5, 2011 1 comment

Today, the House of Representatives voted 266-149 in favor of H.R. 1230, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act. According to the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R – Ohio), this bill will help to stop policies that drive up the price of gasoline while creating jobs for Americans. According to Boehner’s website, this bill acts on what Americans want – more offshore drilling in U.S. waters, presumably to increase supply. The Speaker’s comments are in direct response to poll results published by CNN, which provides some measure of quantitative support to his statement.

Specifically, in a survey conducted last month, Americans were polled to see measure their response to a single question:

“How do you feel about increased drilling for oil and natural gas offshore in U.S. waters?”

Possible answers included “strongly favor, mildly favor, mildly oppose or strongly oppose [to] increased offshore drilling.”

After surveying 824 people using a CNN-approved process, it was found that 70% of Americans favor increased offshore drilling. It is this result that Speaker Boehner and groups including the American Energy Initiative used to help move this legislation through the house.

After today’s vote, H.R. 1230 moves on the senate where it will wait to find its fate in front of a Democrat majority. If it passes on and receives the President’s signature of approval, it will specifically direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Virginia. It also streamlines the environmental impact statement process required under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for these leases.

For more information on H.R. 1230, you can visit the following websites:

1. H.R. 1230 Congressional Research Service (CRS) bill summary

2. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources

The HIVE: How high-tech solutions stopped the Gulf oil spill

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

bp-oil-spill-macondo-wellFeatured on Scientific American this week is an article discussing how science and technology stopped last summer’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The piece, authored by Scientific American’s David Biello, provides a narrative of how scientific discussion and collaboration resulted in a solution to one of history’s largest environmental disasters.

The article discusses how high-tech solutions were discusses, discarded and improved upon until they could finally be used to stop the stream of oil gushing into the Gulf.

Forty-eight hours into an attempt to muscle a gusher of oil back into the deep-sea well from which it spewed, the flow of petroleum and gas refused to slow. Screen after screen in a special room at BP’s headquarters in Houston showed the oil gushing undiminished, silently witnessed underwater by remotely operated vehicles(ROVs).

The room—called the HIVE, for Highly Immersive Visualization Environment—was hardly the only place at BP buzzing with activity. Earlier, locked in the 10-meter-square “intervention room” on the third floor, scientist fought scientist in the battle over whether to proceed with an established way to plug the leak, the so-called “top kill” operation…

DC Budget Cuts Impact Texas Drinking Water

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

One week ago, Congress narrowly avoided a federal government shutdown with an 11th-hour budget compromise to the tune of $38 billion in budget cuts. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was spared the most extensive fo the proposed budget cuts, its funding was still significantly reduced. In Texas, these cuts will result in a $55 million reduction in federal funding support for clean water projects in the state.

According to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), there are currently more than $700 million worth of drinking water projects currently on the board in Texas. Most of these 160+ projects will be delayed with this cut in funding for the next fiscal year.

California will also face significant reductions in funding, to the tune of $30 million.

Categories: Environment

The Japanese Nuclear Crisis

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

On March 11, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked northeastern Japan. An earthquake of this magnitude hasn’t occurred in this region in over 1,200 years and its effects have been felt across the world with tsunamis hitting coastlines from California and New Zealand’s north island. Its effects are also being felt in Japan’s nuclear fleet, as multiple failures and explosions have created the potential for the world’s largest nuclear disaster.

The Japan quake, and the tsunami that it created, knocked out the electricity supply used to run the cooling systems at the Fukushima Power Plant. And, for unclear reasons, backup generators did not engage properly. As a result, several reactors have experienced partial meltdowns that threaten the health and safety of Japanese residents. This morning, a team of Japanese engineers and technicians are risking their lives to prevent a catastrophic full reactor meltdown and radiation leak.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Scientific American is providing extensive coverage of the crisis. Included in today’s articles was a post by David Wogan that compares this crisis to last year’s Gulf oil spill. You can check out that post in Scientific American’s guest blog here.

Noble Energy Granted Gulf Deepwater Drilling Permit

Four months after President Obama officially lifted the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico a new drilling permit has been issued to Noble Energy Inc., a global independent energy company.  Their well, located 70 miles southeast of Venice, LA, will drill 6,500 feet below the water’s surface. This is the first permit to be issued since the April 2009 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill that released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf. According to Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement:

This permit represents a significant milestone for us and for the offshore oil and gas industry, and is an important step towards safely developing deepwater energy supplies offshore… This permit was issued for one simple reason: The operator successfully demonstrated that it can drill its deepwater well safely and that it is capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur.

The permit came only days before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was set to defend the agency’s 2012 budget request in Washington, where Republicans have been critical of that office’s conservative approach to issuing new drilling permits after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.