by Duane Nichols
In the debate over whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in New York State, the need for millions of gallons of water at each well is a major concern, according to Matt Richmond of Radio WSKG. Now a Canadian company called GasFrac is trying to eliminate the large volume (2 to 8 million gallons) of water for every well being fracked by using propane instead of water.
Kyle Ward of GasFrac says that, besides propane, there are only four ingredients in the company’s fracking fluid, all of which decompose naturally. Not only that, all of the propane comes back out of the well, whereas much of the water used in fracking stays underground.
Ward says the propane that comes back up out of the well can be easily separated. It’s then sold or reused. “The propane fracturing would leave most of those naturally-occurring constituents down in the shale,” says Dave Yoxtheimer of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.
While Yoxtheimer says propane offers a solution for the challenge posed by wastewater treatment, he says it also creates new risks. “You have a large volume of an explosive substance that you’re transporting and then handling onsite,” Yoxtheimer says. In fact, a recent explosion at a Gasfrac site in Alberta led to a three-week shutdown in operations while the company reviewed its safety procedures.
The company has expanded anyway, fracturing more than 500 wells in 2011. That’s a nearly four-fold growth in just two years. This year the company completed its first wells in Ohio’s Utica Shale. Gasfrac’s Kyle Ward says the technology, which was first used in 2008, should also increase production by up to 30 percent over the life of a well. It’s too soon to say whether that’s true. Still, the company’s expansion after just a couple of years is a sign that the technology is attractive to companies.
But Nadia Steinzor of the Oil & Gas Accountability Project says regulators should take a close look at the use of propane, also known as LPG fracking, before it spreads. “Every time there’s a new technology that could get more gas out of the ground, a lot of people get really excited,” says Steinzor. “But just because LPG is new and different and doesn’t use water, doesn’t make it safe.”
Steinzor’s group along with 14 other environmental organizations sent a letter to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in April. The coalition is calling on the DEC to perform a separate environmental review of propane-based fracking before allowing it in the state.
A deal with a landowners’ group in New York’s Southern Tier that would have required drillers to use Gasfrac has been put on hold since first being reported in March.
The growing Texas solar industry is offering a safe harbor to unemployed oil and gas professionals amidst the latest oil and gas industry bust, this one brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Houston Chronicle reports.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
This month, a new era began in the fight against plastic pollution.
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Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>