Environment


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.

People who have lived in Colorado their entire lives, such as myself, often take the water resources of this state for granted. We water our lawns at noon, run the tap while we’re waiting for the water to cool down or while we’re brushing our teeth, and generally take all the fresh water we use for granted (and I’m sure Coloradans aren’t the only ones).

Does it strike anyone else as wrong that we use potable water to flush our toilets? To water our lawns? I don’t mean to sound (too) patronizing, because I’m just as guilty of these things as nearly every other American, but we are all incredibly privileged and most of us don’t even realize it (myself included).

Why don’t we do something about this, like use gray water to water our lawns and flush our toilets? I suspect there are two reasons. First, we just don’t really think about it a lot of the time. It’s just how it is, and we take the status quo for granted. Second, it really would take an extraordinary amount of infrastructure (re)development to re-route gray water from your shower drain to your toilet. Right now, we just don’t have the infrastructure or the will to do it.

It will probably take a significant water crisis, maybe on an order of magnitude similar to the Dust Bowl, to convince us that it’s silly to keep wasting all this fresh water.

Speaking of the Dust Bowl, I live on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, which means I also live on the east side of the Continental Divide. In Colorado, 80% of our rain falls on the west side of the Continental Divide, and only 20% on the east side. So, a significant amount more water flows down the west side of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean than down the east side of the Rockies, to the Atlantic.

But eastern Colorado is where the vast majority of the farming in Colorado is done, because that’s where all those “fruited plains” are. In the early stages of Colorado’s settlement this wasn’t a problem, but during the Dust Bowl, farmers east of the Continental Divide (not just in Colorado) began to covet all that wonderful fresh water out west that they couldn’t use.

So began a little public works project called the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT). It was authorized in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and completed almost 20 years later. Upon completion, the project supplied fresh water to 33 cities, including Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Loveland, and Estes Park, as well as farming in 7 Colorado counties. It includes 10 reservoirs, 18 dams and dykes, six hydroelectric power plants, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel.

The technical skill and perseverance required to build the entire C-BT project, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel in particular, continues to astonish me (remember, this was 70 years ago). The tunnel is 13 miles long and goes all the way under the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built from 1940 to 1944, in the middle of a world war. Much of the impetus for its construction was the hardship suffered by Americans, farmers in particular, during the Dust Bowl.

If this astonishingly hot, dry summer (and a little report from the UN) are any indication, Climate Change is here to stay. Ignoring it will not make it go away, despite what certain politicians seem to believe. Colorado, as well as much of America’s farmland, has faced drought conditions every summer for the past several years, and we desperately need to save as much clean water as we can for its best possible uses. (I’ll give you a hint – it’s not to flush your toilet.)

We need another large-scale water project. This time not to build dams, reservoirs, and tunnels, but to make more efficient use of the water we have. The Federal government can’t even find the political will necessary to pass a budget without shutting down the government, let alone undertake the massive infrastructure investment that would be required to mitigate another Dust-Bowl-like drought. We need that kind of investment to do things like re-route gray water from our shower and sink drains to our toilet bowls and lawns.

I’m afraid we might end up waiting for another Dust Bowl before we do what’s necessary.

This post was inspired in part by my newly begun master’s studies in Agricultural and Resource Economics, where I recently took a tour of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) headquarters. The NCWCD is responsible for administering the water resources for northeastern Colorado, including the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. 

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.

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