By Peter Lehner
Fracking for oil in North Dakota is so lucrative that when natural gas bubbles up alongside the oil, most oil companies simply view it as waste. It's cheaper, in the short term, to burn the gas than it is to build the infrastructure to pipe and sell it--so they burn it. Across the North Dakota prairie, natural gas flares light up the night sky like huge torches. Every day, they burn off enough gas to heat half a million homes.
The risks and challenges of extracting natural gas, and fracking, in particular, have been written about extensively, by my colleagues and in many other articles, lawsuits, and scientific studies. Given these challenges, it is astounding to discover how much natural gas we are wasting every day, either through burning or poorly managed leaks. By reducing this waste, we can clean the air and water, cut global warming pollution, and, as is the case when we become more efficient--make money.
Natural gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Pound for pound, methane is at least 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, over a 100-year period, and as much as 100 times more powerful over a 20-year period. Releasing increasing amounts of it into the atmosphere could accelerate the pace of climate change. Because methane acts faster than carbon dioxide, and doesn't linger as long in the atmosphere, scientists see an opportunity to quickly reduce the risk of incurring extreme climate disruption by cutting methane pollution.
The World Bank estimates that in North Dakota alone, natural gas flares produce the same amount of global warming pollution as 2.5 million cars. Across the board, the oil and gas industry wastes two to three percent of all the natural gas in the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), due to flaring, leaks and other waste. Other experts think this number is even higher, and that unconventional gas production, like fracking, wastes up to 8 percent.
Methane levels spike downwind from a large natural gas facility near Flower Mound, TX. (Source: Picarro Inc., California)
Regulating fracking with strong environmental safeguards will help protect people's health and dramatically reduce methane waste. It will also encourage the industry to become more efficient. Many companies are already using commercially available technologies to control methane leakage. A process called green completion, for example, captures liquids and gases coming out of wells after they are fracked, and routes them to a separate tank for processing.
Companies that have been using the process for years say it's smart business. A spokesman for Devon Energy, based in Oklahoma City, told Bloomberg News: "We are capturing value that would otherwise be lost. It does make good economic sense for us.” At Southwestern Energy, the president of the drilling unit simply said, "We're making money."
In addition to green completions, a host of other cost-effective techniques, such as better pipes, and improved monitoring and maintenance, which pay for themselves within a few years, or even months, can dramatically reduce methane leakage. If these practices were widespread, we could stop 80 percent of methane waste across the industry, and recover $2 billion worth of natural gas. It would reduce global warming pollution equivalent to the emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants, or 40 million passenger vehicles.
Colorado and Wyoming already require green completions for many natural gas wells; the EPA has issued a new rule that requires green completion for many natural gas wells nationwide. However, the rule will only go into effect in 2015, and in the meantime—and even after the rule is implemented—there will continue to be many natural gas wells, as well as all oil wells, that still leak methane.
Plugging up methane leaks is a critical tool in our efforts to reduce global warming pollution. It's also a cost-effective way for the oil and gas industry to stop wasting energy and become more efficient—and an important step forward in cleaning up dirty, disruptive fracking operations.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
This post is part of our Wasteland series, featuring people, towns, businesses and industries that are finding innovative ways to cut waste, boost efficiency and save money, time and valuable resources.
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By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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