A recent study of hydraulic fracturing by the University of Texas at Austin produced results that fly in the face of numerous other studies and expert opinions. The final report claims that fracking in and of itself does not contaminate groundwater.
According to Casey Junkis, of Herald Star Online, the report “does not deny there are potential chemical and methane contamination problems related to the entire drilling process. Instead, it states these hazards—well casing failures, poor cement jobs or surface chemical spills— can occur at drill sites independent from the actual fracking process.”
Many experts, environmentalists, and people living in fracking zones are in an uproar. They believe the whole study is biased and led one biology professor, Yuri Gorby, to proclaim, “There are no new data presented, simply a compilation of industry-generated declarations of how there are no scientific data to link fracking to contamination.”
Indeed, only recently, testing in Wyoming showed a clear link between fracking fluid and water contamination. Widespread hydraulic fracturing in the northern part of Pennsylvania has caused a host of problems including fracking wastewater being flushed into waterways. A recently published EPA document from 1987 describes a case of well water contamination in Jackson County, West Virginia.
With all the skepticism surrounding this new study, questions do arise. Could it be that human error, not fracking itself that causes contamination? With all the economic benefits that stand to be gained with increased drilling for natural gas, is it worth finding a safe, relatively fool-proof method of fracking? Could using a safer fluid, one that does not contain such a toxic chemical cocktail, help avoid polluting local ground and drinking water?
Duke University professor Robert Jackson sums up the situation. “Most problems are caused by companies that are in a hurry. When you are in a hurry, you make a mistake.” Could it be a series of mistakes causing the contamination that is one of the most debated current environmental issues of our time?
A tragic story is emerging out of a PCB-contaminated property in Sandusky County, Ohio. The property history of Whirlpool Park in Clyde appears happy on the outside; a place of recreation where friends and family of Whirlpool employees played on the playground and basketball court and swam in the pond. But beneath the surface is a dark secret that has only recently come to light.
According to an article by Kristina Smith in the News Messenger, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tested the land after receiving tips that the site had been used as a dumping ground. It found 9 feet of toxic sludge buried beneath the surface that contained PCBs—cancer-causing toxins— in levels that exceed the EPA’s standards and met requirements for land that should be cleaned up.”
Sadly, the land pollution caused by the toxic sludge emptied into the water that was used for swimming. A number of families that had connections to the swimming pond have dealt with sickness and death, possibly related to the PCB water contamination. Some believe the toxins may have been passed through mothers to their newborn babies.
Whirlpool Inc. is now stuck in a dispute with the new owners of a property, Jonathan and Robert Abdoo. The Abdoos hired an environmental attorney and are demanding that the company clean the site up to high enough standards for it to be classified as a residential property. Jonathan Abdoo would like to build a home there.
What complicates matters is that Whirlpool claims it has tried to access the property to conduct a site assessment but the owners will not allow it to do so. Also, Whirlpool Inc. is seeking to remediate the former park only up to commercial and industrial standards since Environmental regulations are less stringent for those types of properties.
The families of the cancer cluster victims have also hired an attorney and are pressing Whirlpool to investigate whether or not the PCB contamination took place while the company was in operation and if it was aware of the dumping.
This sad story is likely to heat up as it moves through the court system and one can only hope the families will have some answers in the near future.
Hercules Inc. invokes the name of a Greek hero, but the company, in contrast, finds itself being made a villain for causing land pollution and water contamination around its Mississippi plant. Hercules the mythical being may have earned praise for cleaning the Augean Stables in a single day; Hercules Inc. has become notorious for allegedly disposing of hazardous waste materials, including the carcinogenic substances benzene, chlorobenzene, toluene and others over the course of decades.
In 2011, the EPA ordered Ashland Inc, the 2008 purchaser of the manufacturer of resins, rubber, and pesticides, to begin “testing for contamination on the site and in a four-mile radius in the surrounding area. It also ordered testing of wetlands, creeks, ditches and lakes within a half mile of the site,” according to the Hattiesburg American. Part of the goal was to also determine the scope of the contamination.
After it was discovered that the environmental safety had indeed been breached, the city of Hattiesburg filed an environmental lawsuit against the company. This past Thursday, the city filed its complaint, which according to Jesse Bass of the Hattiesburg American, said “Upon information and belief, for decades, defendants improperly disposed of hazardous substances and other wastes in the industrial landfill, sludge pits, impoundment basins and other areas located at or around the facility. “
One major concern for people in the area is that the layer of clay separating the groundwater underneath the facility and the public aquifer beneath that is not effective enough to protect the drinking water source.
The suit claims, “The clay layer is pierced in many places by well bores; at least some of the well bores appear to provide a direct pathway for contamination from the shallow groundwater to migrate to the deep groundwater zone and impact the city’s drinking water supply.”
Time and legal due diligence will tell what happens in this case; but from the looks of it, the city of Hattiesburg could the real hero of this epic.
The state of California remains in a serious period of drought and has been for the past several years. The lack of water has forced the state to look at every possible waterway as a potential resource. One of these waterways is the New River, which has long since been considered nothing more than a polluted cesspool flowing from Mexico and into the United States.
The New River formed after the Colorado River flooded the entire area in the early 1900s. Once the flood waters began to recede, much of the debris and pesticides that had been washed away ended up in the New River. The River’s water continued to become more and more polluted as neither Mexico nor the U.S. protected it. Finally in the 1990s the two nations began to work together to clean up the water contamination. A $100 million water treatment plant was constructed to help purify some of the New River’s waters. The U.S. also dedicated areas of wetlands that help naturally filter hazardous waste materials.
It is estimated that getting the New River to meet U.S. water standards could take well over a decade as well as hundreds of millions in additional funding. Plans would include constructing a disinfection facility and creating a screen that would capture trash entering the U.S. from Mexico. The task of significant long term success is a daunting one. Mexico and the U.S. have to work together to accomplish this, in a time when both nations are not necessarily on the same environmental page. The U.S. is powerless in stopping Mexican polluters from violating the Clean Water Act.
The polluted New River has been linked to several health problems like rashes, headaches, breathing issues, eye irritation, and nausea. Linking health concerns has also been a difficult task due to the differences in medical availability between the two nations. It is difficult to collect patient data when individuals are not reporting symptoms to healthcare professionals.
Overall, the New River could someday prove a valuable resource for California residents as well as Mexican citizens as long as the two nations cooperate with each other in cleanup efforts .
Mountain View, California has been a Silicon Valley hotspot; home to technology giants Google, Nokia, Symantec.
The dirty side to the high tech computer boom that took over Mountain View is that former operations of Intel, Fairchild Semiconductor, Raytheon, and CTS Printex left behind significant amounts of carcinogenic trichloroethylene (TCE) which have formed into chemical plumes. One plume measures 60 feet across and 25 feet deep and the other, larger plume, is a mile and a half long and 2000 feet wide. Both sites have joined the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Superfund list.
The chemical plume at the north end of Sierra Vista Avenue has made local drinking water unsafe for consumption and all of the TCE Superfund sites pose the danger of vapor intrusion into nearby homes and businesses. Some new buildings erected after the finding of the contamination have been designed with sub-slab systems to prevent vapor intrusion. There have been talks about requiring any new buildings to contain sub-slab systems.
Lenny Siegel, Director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, the EPA, the companies responsible for the pollution, and the residents of Mountain View have been working together to decide the future of cleanup efforts at the Superfund sites. There have been cleanup solutions in place for several years, but new findings determined that those methods would prolong the contamination to a possible fifty year timeline.
Some suggestions for cleanup are thought to cut the timeline down to as little as fifteen years. One heavily suggested method is the placement of microbes in the affected areas which in turn change the TCE into the non-greenhouse gases organic ethane and ethane.
One other suggestion that could cut down on the number of years but is millions of dollars more costly, is inserting pieces of scrap iron into the water table. The iron scraps chemically break down the TCE.
The standby method, which has been used for several years now, is the “pump and filter” solution in which the contaminated water is filtered out and the TCE removed. Pump and filter has proved to be losing its effectiveness and could place a time stamp on the project of another fifty years.
Largely, the cleanup will be determined by the companies paying for them and the residents and businesses, like Google, who have to live and work near the Superfund sites each and every day. It’s likely that different sites will use different solutions, or even a combination of more than one.
A number of Pickens County, South Carolina residents are tired of losing the value of their homes, limiting the amount of fish they eat, and fearing for their health over PCB contamination of a local waterway.
Twelve Mile Creek has been suffering from water contamination since at least as far back as 1955, when the former Sangamo Weston factory produced capacitors using the carcinogenic substance on the banks of Town Creek, a Twelve Mile tributary. According to Anna Mitchell, of IndependentMail.com, “Environmental Protection Agency officials estimate that 400,000 pounds of PCBs seeped into or were dumped into Town Creek while the plant was in operation.”
The EPA began testing a small section of the creek in the 1990s, but residents insist that the area of environmental safety concern is actually much greater. Also, they are unhappy with the testing that was done; only certain fish species were tested for PCB levels. Fish tissue tests are not always accurate indicators of the health of the water.
Wes Hulsey, a hydrologist, said about recent testing, “What we found in the plains and stream banks were some of the highest levels of PBCs encountered in history.”
In 1989, a company named Schlumberger Technology Corp purchased the 220-acre site of the Sangamo Weston factory. Mitchell says, “To date, EPA officials have estimated the Schlumberger has spent more than $100 million of cleanup efforts at the old Sangamo Weston plant site, which included several contaminated dumps, and along Twelve Mile Creek.”
In spite of all the dollars spent on remediation, the PBC contamination remains, and is likely spreading farther down the waterways. The EPA has listened to the concerns of locals and is focused on involving them in the cleanup decision-making process.
“We want to get input. That’s a big part of Superfund is community involvement,” said Craig Zeller, of the EPA.
On the dreadful morning of December 22, 2008, confused and horrified Harriman, Tenn. residents awoke to what some described as “a gray moonscape of ashbergs” that “obliterated the river inlet and left boat docks mangled and surrounded by quicksandlike muck,” said Pam Sohn of TimesFreePress.com.
What Sohn calls “one of the nation’s largest industrial environmental accidents” had taken place in the wee hours—TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant spilled 1.2 billion gallons of coal ash over a pastoral and home dotted 400-acre plot. The land pollution was widespread, causing every homeowner (181 homes in total) to literally pack up the farm and set down roots elsewhere in Tennessee. A river that served as a tributary to a major drinking source became dammed up with coal ash and the water contamination has affected aquatic life ever since.
The massive project to clean up the coal ash, or fly ash, spill will cost over a billion dollars and is expected to be completed in 2015, with a fair amount of leniency on that date. According to Sohn’s article, “The utility has taken thousands of air monitoring and water samples and sent 3.5 million cubic yards of recovered ash to a landfill in Alabama.” Other current and future plans include removing an additional 2.8 million cubic yards and completion of a massive retaining wall. Due to fears of stirring up hazardous waste materials from Oak Ridge’s Manhattan Project, 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash will remain on the river beds.
Cleanup project manager, Craig Zeller said, “Finally we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The plan is for the whole area to become a recreational park. That’s an important piece to both TVA and EPA, because it’s what we’re leaving behind.”
North Dakota has become a popular place for the fracking of deep underground oil shale. While there is much controversy over the environmental safety of fracking, a new concern has come into focus. Oil wells in much of North Dakota, especially the Bakkan Shale have far surpassed anticipated water usage predictions. Initially it was believed that 2 million gallons of water would be needed to begin cracking the rock to extract the oil from the shale. It was later discovered that large quantities of fresh water would be required on a regular basis in order to prevent salt build up in the machinery at a rate of about 600 gallons a day. This North Dakota shale has proven to have a much higher salt concentration than any previous fracking sites in the nation.
It is estimated that the well will require between 6.6 and 8.8 million gallons over its lifespan of approximately forty years. This large demand for fresh water posses many distinct challenges to North Dakota, especially since the area only receives less than 13 inches of rain annually.
Once fresh water is flushed into the oil well, it cannot be recycled and used again, since it has become too heavily contaminated with salt. The water can only be reused for the purpose of drilling a new well; otherwise the contaminated water is pumped into storage tanks.
Efforts are being made to improve the recycling process of contaminated water. If oil companies continue to use a great amount of fresh water the price will sky rocket. The cost of running the fracking sight could become too expensive to maintain. The loss of profit would force oil companies to stop the fracking process, leaving well sites abandoned. Local residents would also suffer, since the cost for clean drinking water would increase. In 2012 the Bakkan oil wells used the fresh water equivalent of 110,000 North Dakota residents. Farmers and ranchers fear that the vital water sources they need for crops will become scarce or too costly as well.
Aside from the potential to recycle and re use contaminated salt water, oil companies have been exploring alternative options, like piping fresh water from the Missouri River. The Western Area Water Supply Project (WAWSP) has proposed a $110 million pipeline as well as a treatment plant to ensure a constant supply of fresh water. This government backed organization would provide North Dakota’s residents with clean drinking water while also charging fracking companies for an estimated 20% of the water collected.
The only critics of this plan are independent private water suppliers who stand to make a lot of money of selling fresh water at premium prices. WAWSP’s plan would cut into this profit significantly.
Researchers have begun to explore the insecticide group known as neonicotinoids and the effects that they are having on U.S. waterways. Neonicotinoids are similar to nicotine in chemical makeup and includes about half a dozen types of insecticide. While research regarding the effect on waterways is a relatively new environmental trend, the chemicals have been widely used since the 1980s in over 120 nations worldwide.
Most recently, the insecticides have been scrutinized after they began to wipe out entire bee populations across Europe. The European Union eventually ended up banning the use of the neonicotinoids all together in order to protect any remaining bee colonies. Many environmentalists in the U.S. would like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do the same in order to protect its native bee and insect populations.
Neonicotinoids have become widely used in the Midwestern United States to protect large industrial corn and soybean crops from insects. The chemicals are not sprayed over crops like a traditional insecticide. Instead, the neonicotinoid coats each seed before the crop is planted. Once the seeds are watered they begin to leach the chemical into the groundwater. Neonicotinoids are extremely water soluble and have been found in many Midwestern waterways, including the mighty Mississippi River. The U.S. Geological Survey took approximately 79 water samples from nine waterways in the region. Of those sampled, three quarters of the streams experienced water contamination, testing positively for high levels of neonicotinoids. The insecticide also does not break down easily, so it remains in waterways over a significant period of time.
Critics of the study argue that insecticide levels found in waterways are well below EPA standards and should not be considered an alarming concern. The researchers conducting the study acknowledge that the levels are below EPA environmental regulations, but they feel that neoniconoids can be harmful to insects at far lower levels. Environmentalist stress that an insect may not killed by a chemical but may become completely useless and defenseless. For instance, neonicotinoids attack the nervous system of an insect and may make them unable to eat, fly, crawl, or reproduce. Weak insects are easily consumed by predators and future generations are not replenished without adequate mating.
Neonicotinoids have not been linked to any significant dangers to the health of human beings, but could have a serious effect on smaller animal populations. Proponents of neonicotinoids are quick to point out that they are far less lethal to mammals than traditional insecticides. Despite those claims, bird populations in the Midwest have been on the decline and researchers believe there is a correlation to insect deaths. Birds have far fewer insects to consume due to the pesticide’s devastation of insect populations. The birds are also eating the seeds that were completely coated in the pesticide as well as snacking on exposed bugs. Similarly, fish living in the sampled waterways may have fewer insects to feed on. Researchers feel that there simply is not enough information on how insecticides affect waterways and the associated wildlife and hope continued studies like the one conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey can help toward a healthier environmental future.
Chevron owned oil storage tanks had been leaking oil into the Penobscot River in Hampden, Maine for decades, eventually discharging a total of 140,000 gallons. When the Coast Guard noticed petroleum sheens in the water back in 2006, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began investigating.
Chevron owned the tanks until 1986 and had been using remediation methods for years. At the time of the investigation, the company told the DEP that it had done everything that it could. Some say Chevron did not disclose the full extent of the damage.
When asked if it was fair to say that Chevron misled authorities, Scott Whittier, of the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management replied, “I think it’s fair to say that Chevron didn’t share with the department the depth of information they had about this site.”
The State of Maine has been working for months to try to bring some sort of charges against Chevron for the land pollution and water contamination that it caused. This past week, Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that the state has reached a settlement with Chevron of $900,000, the second largest penalty secured by the state for an environmental misdeed.
$520,000 of the settlement will be used for the development of a public park and boat launch along the Penobscot River. $380,000 will be earmarked for the Maine Inland and Coastal Service Oil Cleanup Fund because sadly, there are over 3,000 oil and hazardous waste spills in the state each year.
Part of the settlement states that Chevron admits no wrongdoing with regards to the Penobscot River oil spill. Often it appears that oil companies are able to pollute with minor repercussions relative to the damage done to the communities around the contaminated sites, though the state of Maine declared that it finds the penalties awarded were “tough, but fair.” Fortunately in this case no area residents were affected by the oil spill.