Energy


A recent study by the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University showed high concentrations of chloride, bromide, strontium, and radium in wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Formation, after undergoing wastewater treatment.

226Ra levels in stream sediments (544−8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were ∼200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22−44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal.

These potentially dangerous, high levels of sometimes radioactive pollutants were discovered in fracking water that had already been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. This poses serious concerns for treated fracking wastewater, let alone water from hydraulic fracturing that has been documented being dumped into nearby water supplies without first being treated.

The study is Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania. Abstract below. 

Abstract: 

The safe disposal of liquid wastes associated with oil and gas production in the United States is a major challenge given their large volumes and typically high levels of contaminants. In Pennsylvania, oil and gas wastewater is sometimes treated at brine treatment facilities and discharged to local streams. This study examined the water quality and isotopic compositions of discharged effluents, surface waters, and stream sediments associated with a treatment facility site in western Pennsylvania. The elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with the strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions of the effluents reflect the composition of Marcellus Shale produced waters. The discharge of the effluent from the treatment facility increased downstream concentrations of chloride and bromide above background levels. Barium and radium were substantially (>90%) reduced in the treated effluents compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. Nonetheless, 226Ra levels in stream sediments (544−8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were ∼200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22−44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater
disposal.

I just listened to my brother, Jens Lund Snee, interview Stanford Professor Michael Wara, a climate scientist-turned-legal scholar, for Standford’s Generation Anthropocene podcast. See below for Michael’s and Jens’ backgrounds, and for notable quotes from the interview.

Click the link below to listen to the full interview.

Michael Wara Interview

 

Contributor

Michael Wara
An expert on energy and environmental law, Michael Wara’s research focuses on climate and electricity policy. Professor Wara’s current scholarship lies at the intersection between environmental law, energy law, international relations, atmospheric science, and technology policy.  Professor Wara was formerly a geochemist and climate scientist and has published work on the history of the El Niño/La Niña system and its response to changing climates, especially those warmer than today. The results of his scientific research have been published in premier scientific journals, including Science and Nature.

 

Interviewer

Jens-Erik Lund Snee
Jens-Erik Lund Snee is a Masters student at Stanford University studying Geology and Environmental Sciences. He is interested in ways that scientific knowledge can better inform policy, particularly with regard to international natural resources issues. He spent 2011 on a Fulbright Fellowship studying geology and politics in New Zealand.

 

Quotes:

“The industries that were gonna be regulated played what I think is a disproportionately important roll in driving the design of the law” 

“I try to come at the problem from a sort-of fact-based, data-driven… approach, and that isn’t really how things play out in Washington.”

“You don’t see to many ideas that really die in the policy arena, unfortunately, even if there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they aren’t terribly effective.”

“That person ends up sitting – giving expert testimony to lawmakers – pretending as if – pretending that – this was their idea; that this has nothing to do with a financial arrangement that has been made behind the scenes and I find that – I think that, in particular, gives you some clue as to why ideas, good or bad, don’t die in the policy arena.” (apx 16:00)

“If there was one thing I wish we would try more of, it’s smaller-scale agreements, where we actually do things. Where we experiment with reducing emissions of a particular gas, from a particular industry, and then we learn about how well we can implement those kinds of programs; how much they actually cost, not how much industry and environmental groups say they’re going to cost. And we also learn about our partners in the international negotiation, how much we can trust them, how well they can actually implement agreements that they sign on to.” (18:00)

“I think that, if we could have more sort-of small-scale steps, we could actually get a lot further than we have been by trying to craft this giant kind of global, once-and-for-all agreement.” (20:00) 

“We see environmental problems being resolved by regulatory approaches that change behavior, change incentives, and we also see environmental problems being resolved by innovation; but sometimes the innovation is stimulated by the regulation.” (21:00) 

“Energy research and development investment in this country is pathetic… We need some basic innovation if we’re going to really change the picture on climate.” (22:00)

I admit I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but it was just too ridiculous to pass up.

 

Wind Turbine, Tower in a Corn Field

Image Credit: Sebastian Celis via Creative Commons

Last week, Governor Romney’s presidential campaign announced in Iowa that if he is elected president, he will allow the Production Tax Credit (referred to below as the “wind credit”) to expire.

According to The Des Moines Register,

Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Romney’s Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register, “He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

It the Romney campaign actually wanted to get rid of all energy subsidies, I’d be 100 percent for it because energy subsidies create market distortions. But of course the Romney campaign continues to support oil subsidies; because of course they don’t create an uneven playing field.

Besides, if Romney wanted to do away with oil subsidies, you can bet the Koch brothers et. al. wouldn’t be bankrolling his campaign anymore.

That aside, Romney really needs to work on his swing-state strategy. Iowa has more wind energy jobs than any other state, and Iowa Republicans were quick to point out just how misguided his notion was.

As Republican Rep. Tom Latham pointed out, this proposal demonstrates “a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation.”

This isn’t just turning heads in Iowa, either. Green energy jobs are so important here in Colorado that only one Republican representative, Doug Lamborn, supported Romney’s notion. Even Birther lunatic Rep. Mike “Obama’s not an American” Coffman opposed Romney’s proposal. (This clown is my representative, sadly.)

Lest we forget, the wind energy tax credit was originally signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992 and renewed in 2005 by a Republican Congress and signed by George W. Bush.

The bottom line is Romney’s wacky proposal to do away with the PTC and the wind energy tax credit is so ridiculously off-the-wall that even his own party is disavowing his statements.

I seriously doubt Romney ever expected this to be good policy. He’s just doing the pandering he needs to do to appease the Tea Party and his oil billionaire donors.

He never needed Colorado and Iowa’s 15 electoral votes, anyway.

This morning, I had CNN’s Starting Point on in the background as I got ready for work. On it was an interview between CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and one of Mitt Romney’s top surrogates, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

I usually tune interviews like this out, because of the nuttiness that is increasingly common from those on the political right. But in this interview, Johnson said something so absurd that I couldn’t help but pay attention.

He said, “President Obama simply doesn’t understand that it’s the free enterprise systems, the private sector, the productive sector, not the government sector that creates long-term self-sustaining jobs. Take a look at the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s economic basket case, and is anybody moving to the island paradise of Cuba?”

O’Brien, visibly perturbed, asked Johnson if this was indeed what he meant. She asked, “You’re surely not suggesting that the idea and the concept behind Solyndra and other green energies like Solyndra is comparable to the Soviet Union and Cuba, right?”

Johnson replied, “No, I am suggesting that, because when you take taxpayer money and you invest that into business, that’s the taxpayer money put at risk. And let’s face it; the lesson of the Soviet Union and other socialist nations is that governments are very poor allocators of capital. It’s an economic model that doesn’t work.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I’m not even sure where to start. For example, one of the biggest problems we face is that private industry isn’t “creating long-term self-sustaining jobs.”

Those arguments aside, my real question for Senator Johnson is, if government subsidizing green energy companies is communist, what does that make government subsidies to fossil fuel companies? What about government subsidies the agriculture industry?

What about the LA Times article detailing evidence that Mitt Romney benefited from government subsidies while he was head of Bain Capital? Or when, as Governor of Massachusetts, he offered subsidies to attract businesses to his state? Does that make Romney a communist?

Of course it doesn’t. Government subsidies to green energy companies aren’t communist either. Subsidies are common practice at the federal and state level, and are given to companies in nearly every industry.

That Romney and his surrogates are making claims this absurd, not to mention categorically false, is evidence of how little they think of the American public.

Here’s the video:

Wind turbines and solar panels on the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland, Oregon

Wind turbines and solar panels on the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland, Oregon

I was visiting Portland, Oregon, last weekend, and I came across this building while wandering around near Powell’s Books.

This is the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland’s West End. This building is certified LEED Platinum, and you can see wind turbines and solar panels on the roof.

Why don’t we have buildings like this in Denver? We certainly get enough wind. I’m jealous.

Credit: Tod Baker via Creative Commons

I read in the Denver Post earlier that the head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dan Arvizu, said at a conference recently, “if we don’t start phasing out even a scale-up of natural gas by 2040, 2050, we will not achieve any of the carbon loading goals we have set for ourselves.

On a related note, Think Progress reports that the “International Energy Agency Finds Safe Gas Fracking Would Destroy A Livable Climate,” based on the conclusions drawn by the IEA in its recent Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas report.

They’re right, of course. Natural gas alone is not the solution to climate change or to our reliance on other, dirtier, fossil fuels. It may be better than coal or oil, but it should never be viewed as more than an intermediate step.

Besides, if we allow the gas industry to become as powerful as the oil and coal industries, we’ll probably have to fight the gas industry in 2040 in much the same way that we’re fighting coal and oil now.

So is there any place for natural gas in a renewable energy economy?

Some argue that there is no place at all for natural gas; while it may generate lower carbon emissions than coal, it is still a fossil fuel and therefore must be phased out as quickly as possible.

It’s hard to argue with that, but the problem remains that we still don’t have a fully viable alternative to energy generated using fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Don’t get me wrong: wind, solar, wave, and geothermal energy are fantastic. I have every confidence that these forms of energy production will reach the point where they provide all the energy we need.

But they’re not there yet. There are still some problems with these forms of energy that have not been fully addressed. The wind isn’t always blowing, the sun isn’t always shining, geothermal and tidal power are only available in certain regions, and the U.S. power grid isn’t nearly efficient enough to transport energy from one region to another. Unfortunately, that means that electricity from those sources is currently not as reliable as energy produced from coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants.

It’s true that a diverse energy grid drawing from of a variety of renewable sources can easily provide base load power. However, due to the intermittent nature of most varieties of renewable energy, renewables can’t produce power in a way that effectively meets peak energy demand.

Coal and nuclear power plants are also much more efficient at providing base load than peak load, because these power plants rely on turbines powered by steam. Once a coal or nuclear plant is ‘turned on’, it often takes days before it is operating at full efficiency.

Battery technology hasn’t yet reached the point where excess energy generated using renewable sources can be stored and then released later to address peak demand, so what do we do until it reaches that point?

That’s where natural gas comes in. In natural gas turbine power plants the combustion of the gas itself spins the turbine, so gas power plants don’t take nearly as long as coal or nuclear to reach peak efficiency. This makes power from gas turbines the ideal candidate to handle peak load. In fact, that’s exactly how they’re used today.

Even though the primary methods of producing natural gas are oil wells and fracking, these are not the only options. Natural gas can also be captured from ranches and landfills, or created with fermentation. When produced using these options, natural gas is much cleaner than when produced with fracking.

So yes, natural gas does have a place in a renewable energy economy, but only when used responsibly – as a complement to, not a replacement of, renewable energy.

Until better battery technology arrives, we don’t really have another option.

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