Weekly Mulch: The Dirty Truth about Natural Gas and Energy Innovation

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The argument against natural gas got a boost this week, when a congressional investigation turned up evidence that oil and gas companies were using diesel gas to extract gas from the ground.

Natural gas companies have insisted that their newly popular hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) techniques are safe, but as Care2’s Kristina Chew reports, “environmentalists and regulators have become increasingly concerned that the fracking chemicals—including toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, which are all from diesel gas—are seeping out into underground sources of drinking water, in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.”

The mix-up

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an inquiry into the environmental impacts of fracking, and some states are considering more stringent regulations of the practice, including disclosure of the chemicals that go into fracking fluid. Gas companies have argued that the blend of chemicals is a trade secret and must be kept private, but the findings of the congressional investigation suggest otherwise. Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, “In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson… Reps. Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Diana DeGette reported that although the EPA requires permits for hydraulic fracturing that involves diesel none of the companies that admitted using diesel have sought or received permits.”

And, as Melzer reports, diesel is the only chemical used in fracking that’s currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That companies have been sneaking it into the ground does not strengthen the industry’s case for independence.

Ensuring that natural gas companies do their work without threatening water supplies is becoming ever more crucial, as the fuel becomes one of the go-to replacements for coal. In Massachusetts, for instance, some legislators are pushing for a coal plant in Holyoke to start using natural gas or renewable energy, rather than being shut down, as Nikki Gloudeman reports at Change.org.

Supporting renewables

And although renewables are thrown in there as an option, right now the clearest way to replace the amount of energy generated by coal is natural gas. This year’s line on energy policy from Washington, however, is that the country should support innovations in clean energy.

Will Obama’s new direction on this issue go anywhere? Grist’s David Roberts has been arguing that any energy policy that leaves out climate change is missing the point.

However, Teryn Norris and Daniel Goldfarb (also at Grist), of Americans for Energy Leadership, a California-based non-profit, have a smart rebuttal. They argue that clean energy needs the boost in research and development that Obama is promising. Ultimately, they, write, “these investments will drive down the price of low-carbon energy and pave the way for stronger deployment efforts — perhaps even including a strong carbon price at some point — both here and in the developing world, where the vast majority of future emissions will originate.”

But, about climate change!

And to be fair, the federal government is trying to lead the way on investing in renewables. As Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, the Department of Energy is working on a $2.3 million solar energy project that would power its Germantown, Md., location.

Not every one is willing to wait for investments to take hold, however. On the National Radio Project’s show, “Making Contact”, Andrew Stelzer examines what climate activists are doing, post-Cancun, to push forward debates on climate change. Ananda Lee Tan, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alterantives argues, for instance, “Community-led climate justice in the U.S. has been winning. The largest amount of industrial carbon that has been prevented in this country has been prevented  by community-led groups, grassroots groups fighting coal, oil and incinerators.”

Cause and effect

Whether the solution comes from industry, government, or grassroots groups, the country’s energy policy will change over the next few decades. And what’s troubling is that it’s not clear what the impact will be. Take natural gas: Washington favors it right now because it’s thought to have lower carbon emission than coal. But any time humans introduce new factors into the environment, they can have unexpected consequences.

That’s not only true for the energy industry, too. In Texas, for instance, the government is trying to eradicate an invasive plant species, a type of giant cane called Arundo that is growing all over the Rio Grande Valley. As Saul Elbein reports for The Texas Observer, it’s been hard to eradicate:

There are three primary ways to control invasive plant species: Kill them with herbicides, clear them with bulldozers and machetes, or attempt to introduce a new predator. The least controversial approach, clearing the cane, is not going to work. There are thousands of square miles of the stuff, and Arundo cane is nearly impossible to cut out. Each stalk has a thick taproot that sends shoots in every direction. You can bulldoze or chop the cane down, and it will grow right back. Worse, any stress on the plant—say a machete blow—causes it to send out more root stalks. Every chopped-up joint of cane that floats downstream can sprout another stand.

But, Elbein reports, scientists have come up with a different solution: They’ve bred wasps that originate in the same region as the cane to come in and eat it. They’ve also taken precautions that the wasps won’t have their own adverse impact on the environment by ensuring that they can only survive on this particular type of plant. But even then, it’s a tricky business.

“The wasps have to survive,” John Adamczyk, an entomologist running the project, told Elbein.  “They have to not all get eaten. Then it becomes a question of whether they can keep the cane in check.”

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.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: How the Status Quo Benefits Natural Gas Companies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

There won’t be any national or international movement on climate policy for the rest of this year, at the very least. And while Washington waits to act on climate change, at least one group is benefiting. The natural gas industry is flourishing, despite reports that its practices lead to flammable tap water, poisoned aquifers, and multiple health problems.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is emerging as a new leader in Congress on these issues, said this week that a comprehensive climate bill had little chance of passing through the Senate in the next two years. Furthermore, the expectations for the next round of international climate negotiations, to be held this winter in Cancun, are abysmally low, as Inter Press Service reports.

Say no to the status quo

In the past, the volatility of gas prices limited the industry’s share of the energy market, but now, hydrofracking techniques guarantee a more steady supply, meaning steadier prices. It helps that green leaders have talked up natural gas as a clean energy source.

Natural gas does emit less carbon than coal, but the process of extracting it through hydrofracking—pushing chemical-laden water into the ground to create cracks and allow gas to bubble up to the surface—has serious environmental impacts.

Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, calls the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” Environmentalists based support for natural gas production on the premise that natural gas would serve as a “bridge fuel” while renewable energy infrastructure grew enough to provide much of the country’s fuel needs. But without stronger support from Washington for renewables, that bridge may never reach the other side.

The high cost of hydrofracking

The alliance between the environmental movement and the natural gas industry has always been uneasy. Both sides regard each other suspiciously. As evidence mounts that hydrofracking pollutes air and water, posing health risks, the worries of local environmentalists are beginning to outweigh the advantages of gas.

“Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking,” Steingraber writes in Orion. “It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

On the ground, fracking is frightening, as Kate Sinding, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told Change.org’s Jess Leber.

“Drinking water wells are being contaminated, livestock are being poisoned, explosions are occurring when methane has gotten backed up inside a drinking water well after the underground water supply became contaminated,” Sinding said.

Facing down gas companies

Steingraber argues that these effects—the true impact of natural gas extraction—should be factored into the cost of gas and that the public health implications deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even weighed against a lower level of carbon emissions, these considerations make gas look much more like a bridge to nowhere.

In New York, the state government is trying to reign in the industry, Sinding says. “Culturally and politically, I think New Yorkers may be more skeptical about a new heavy industry coming in,” she told Leber. While the promise of jobs is as tempting in New York as it is in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming that had rushed ahead with fracking, New Yorkers are seeing, Sinding says, that “now residents still face the same problems as they did before, but now, in addition, also can’t drink their water.”

Outside of New York, there are other initiatives that could slow the momentum behind fracking.  The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting United for Action, a group that’s fighting the practice, or pushing congressional reps to support the FRAC Act, which would increase regulation of the fracking process. (FRAC stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals.)

Fracking and flammable tap water

Fracking can pollute water supplies, as the flammable tap water in fracking areas demonstrates. But the process also demands huge volumes of water as a matter of course. Fracking companies mix chemicals into the water and use it to keep the cracks in the earth open in order to access gas.

But fracking isn’t the only water-guzzling energy process. Keith Schneider, speaking for a network of journalists and scientists called Circle of Blue, told Inter Press Service that “the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve.”

More than 200 billion gallons of water go to cooling power plants each day. Harvesting solar energy also demands huge quantities of water.

As water resources grow scarcer, this demand could drive huge conflicts, both internationally, and in the United States. As Making Contact reports, in Michigan, lawmakers are weighing the idea of putting water resources into a public trust, but already the ecological arguments for that idea and the economic arguments against it are clashing. Imagine how much harder it will be to divvy up water if energy companies got involved.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: How the Status Quo Benefits Natural Gas Companies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

There won’t be any national or international movement on climate policy for the rest of this year, at the very least. And while Washington waits to act on climate change, at least one group is benefiting. The natural gas industry is flourishing, despite reports that its practices lead to flammable tap water, poisoned aquifers, and multiple health problems.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is emerging as a new leader in Congress on these issues, said this week that a comprehensive climate bill had little chance of passing through the Senate in the next two years. Furthermore, the expectations for the next round of international climate negotiations, to be held this winter in Cancun, are abysmally low, as Inter Press Service reports.

Say no to the status quo

In the past, the volatility of gas prices limited the industry’s share of the energy market, but now, hydrofracking techniques guarantee a more steady supply, meaning steadier prices. It helps that green leaders have talked up natural gas as a clean energy source.

Natural gas does emit less carbon than coal, but the process of extracting it through hydrofracking—pushing chemical-laden water into the ground to create cracks and allow gas to bubble up to the surface—has serious environmental impacts.

Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, calls the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” Environmentalists based support for natural gas production on the premise that natural gas would serve as a “bridge fuel” while renewable energy infrastructure grew enough to provide much of the country’s fuel needs. But without stronger support from Washington for renewables, that bridge may never reach the other side.

The high cost of hydrofracking

The alliance between the environmental movement and the natural gas industry has always been uneasy. Both sides regard each other suspiciously. As evidence mounts that hydrofracking pollutes air and water, posing health risks, the worries of local environmentalists are beginning to outweigh the advantages of gas.

“Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking,” Steingraber writes in Orion. “It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

On the ground, fracking is frightening, as Kate Sinding, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told Change.org’s Jess Leber.

“Drinking water wells are being contaminated, livestock are being poisoned, explosions are occurring when methane has gotten backed up inside a drinking water well after the underground water supply became contaminated,” Sinding said.

Facing down gas companies

Steingraber argues that these effects—the true impact of natural gas extraction—should be factored into the cost of gas and that the public health implications deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even weighed against a lower level of carbon emissions, these considerations make gas look much more like a bridge to nowhere.

In New York, the state government is trying to reign in the industry, Sinding says. “Culturally and politically, I think New Yorkers may be more skeptical about a new heavy industry coming in,” she told Leber. While the promise of jobs is as tempting in New York as it is in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming that had rushed ahead with fracking, New Yorkers are seeing, Sinding says, that “now residents still face the same problems as they did before, but now, in addition, also can’t drink their water.”

Outside of New York, there are other initiatives that could slow the momentum behind fracking.  The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting United for Action, a group that’s fighting the practice, or pushing congressional reps to support the FRAC Act, which would increase regulation of the fracking process. (FRAC stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals.)

Fracking and flammable tap water

Fracking can pollute water supplies, as the flammable tap water in fracking areas demonstrates. But the process also demands huge volumes of water as a matter of course. Fracking companies mix chemicals into the water and use it to keep the cracks in the earth open in order to access gas.

But fracking isn’t the only water-guzzling energy process. Keith Schneider, speaking for a network of journalists and scientists called Circle of Blue, told Inter Press Service that “the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve.”

More than 200 billion gallons of water go to cooling power plants each day. Harvesting solar energy also demands huge quantities of water.

As water resources grow scarcer, this demand could drive huge conflicts, both internationally, and in the United States. As Making Contact reports, in Michigan, lawmakers are weighing the idea of putting water resources into a public trust, but already the ecological arguments for that idea and the economic arguments against it are clashing. Imagine how much harder it will be to divvy up water if energy companies got involved.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: How the Status Quo Benefits Natural Gas Companies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

There won’t be any national or international movement on climate policy for the rest of this year, at the very least. And while Washington waits to act on climate change, at least one group is benefiting. The natural gas industry is flourishing, despite reports that its practices lead to flammable tap water, poisoned aquifers, and multiple health problems.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is emerging as a new leader in Congress on these issues, said this week that a comprehensive climate bill had little chance of passing through the Senate in the next two years. Furthermore, the expectations for the next round of international climate negotiations, to be held this winter in Cancun, are abysmally low, as Inter Press Service reports.

Say no to the status quo

In the past, the volatility of gas prices limited the industry’s share of the energy market, but now, hydrofracking techniques guarantee a more steady supply, meaning steadier prices. It helps that green leaders have talked up natural gas as a clean energy source.

Natural gas does emit less carbon than coal, but the process of extracting it through hydrofracking—pushing chemical-laden water into the ground to create cracks and allow gas to bubble up to the surface—has serious environmental impacts.

Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, calls the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” Environmentalists based support for natural gas production on the premise that natural gas would serve as a “bridge fuel” while renewable energy infrastructure grew enough to provide much of the country’s fuel needs. But without stronger support from Washington for renewables, that bridge may never reach the other side.

The high cost of hydrofracking

The alliance between the environmental movement and the natural gas industry has always been uneasy. Both sides regard each other suspiciously. As evidence mounts that hydrofracking pollutes air and water, posing health risks, the worries of local environmentalists are beginning to outweigh the advantages of gas.

“Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking,” Steingraber writes in Orion. “It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

On the ground, fracking is frightening, as Kate Sinding, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told Change.org’s Jess Leber.

“Drinking water wells are being contaminated, livestock are being poisoned, explosions are occurring when methane has gotten backed up inside a drinking water well after the underground water supply became contaminated,” Sinding said.

Facing down gas companies

Steingraber argues that these effects—the true impact of natural gas extraction—should be factored into the cost of gas and that the public health implications deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even weighed against a lower level of carbon emissions, these considerations make gas look much more like a bridge to nowhere.

In New York, the state government is trying to reign in the industry, Sinding says. “Culturally and politically, I think New Yorkers may be more skeptical about a new heavy industry coming in,” she told Leber. While the promise of jobs is as tempting in New York as it is in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming that had rushed ahead with fracking, New Yorkers are seeing, Sinding says, that “now residents still face the same problems as they did before, but now, in addition, also can’t drink their water.”

Outside of New York, there are other initiatives that could slow the momentum behind fracking.  The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting United for Action, a group that’s fighting the practice, or pushing congressional reps to support the FRAC Act, which would increase regulation of the fracking process. (FRAC stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals.)

Fracking and flammable tap water

Fracking can pollute water supplies, as the flammable tap water in fracking areas demonstrates. But the process also demands huge volumes of water as a matter of course. Fracking companies mix chemicals into the water and use it to keep the cracks in the earth open in order to access gas.

But fracking isn’t the only water-guzzling energy process. Keith Schneider, speaking for a network of journalists and scientists called Circle of Blue, told Inter Press Service that “the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve.”

More than 200 billion gallons of water go to cooling power plants each day. Harvesting solar energy also demands huge quantities of water.

As water resources grow scarcer, this demand could drive huge conflicts, both internationally, and in the United States. As Making Contact reports, in Michigan, lawmakers are weighing the idea of putting water resources into a public trust, but already the ecological arguments for that idea and the economic arguments against it are clashing. Imagine how much harder it will be to divvy up water if energy companies got involved.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: How the Status Quo Benefits Natural Gas Companies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

There won’t be any national or international movement on climate policy for the rest of this year, at the very least. And while Washington waits to act on climate change, at least one group is benefiting. The natural gas industry is flourishing, despite reports that its practices lead to flammable tap water, poisoned aquifers, and multiple health problems.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is emerging as a new leader in Congress on these issues, said this week that a comprehensive climate bill had little chance of passing through the Senate in the next two years. Furthermore, the expectations for the next round of international climate negotiations, to be held this winter in Cancun, are abysmally low, as Inter Press Service reports.

Say no to the status quo

In the past, the volatility of gas prices limited the industry’s share of the energy market, but now, hydrofracking techniques guarantee a more steady supply, meaning steadier prices. It helps that green leaders have talked up natural gas as a clean energy source.

Natural gas does emit less carbon than coal, but the process of extracting it through hydrofracking—pushing chemical-laden water into the ground to create cracks and allow gas to bubble up to the surface—has serious environmental impacts.

Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, calls the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” Environmentalists based support for natural gas production on the premise that natural gas would serve as a “bridge fuel” while renewable energy infrastructure grew enough to provide much of the country’s fuel needs. But without stronger support from Washington for renewables, that bridge may never reach the other side.

The high cost of hydrofracking

The alliance between the environmental movement and the natural gas industry has always been uneasy. Both sides regard each other suspiciously. As evidence mounts that hydrofracking pollutes air and water, posing health risks, the worries of local environmentalists are beginning to outweigh the advantages of gas.

“Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking,” Steingraber writes in Orion. “It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

On the ground, fracking is frightening, as Kate Sinding, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told Change.org’s Jess Leber.

“Drinking water wells are being contaminated, livestock are being poisoned, explosions are occurring when methane has gotten backed up inside a drinking water well after the underground water supply became contaminated,” Sinding said.

Facing down gas companies

Steingraber argues that these effects—the true impact of natural gas extraction—should be factored into the cost of gas and that the public health implications deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even weighed against a lower level of carbon emissions, these considerations make gas look much more like a bridge to nowhere.

In New York, the state government is trying to reign in the industry, Sinding says. “Culturally and politically, I think New Yorkers may be more skeptical about a new heavy industry coming in,” she told Leber. While the promise of jobs is as tempting in New York as it is in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming that had rushed ahead with fracking, New Yorkers are seeing, Sinding says, that “now residents still face the same problems as they did before, but now, in addition, also can’t drink their water.”

Outside of New York, there are other initiatives that could slow the momentum behind fracking.  The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting United for Action, a group that’s fighting the practice, or pushing congressional reps to support the FRAC Act, which would increase regulation of the fracking process. (FRAC stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals.)

Fracking and flammable tap water

Fracking can pollute water supplies, as the flammable tap water in fracking areas demonstrates. But the process also demands huge volumes of water as a matter of course. Fracking companies mix chemicals into the water and use it to keep the cracks in the earth open in order to access gas.

But fracking isn’t the only water-guzzling energy process. Keith Schneider, speaking for a network of journalists and scientists called Circle of Blue, told Inter Press Service that “the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve.”

More than 200 billion gallons of water go to cooling power plants each day. Harvesting solar energy also demands huge quantities of water.

As water resources grow scarcer, this demand could drive huge conflicts, both internationally, and in the United States. As Making Contact reports, in Michigan, lawmakers are weighing the idea of putting water resources into a public trust, but already the ecological arguments for that idea and the economic arguments against it are clashing. Imagine how much harder it will be to divvy up water if energy companies got involved.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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