A new report1 on shale resources and hydraulic fracturing from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress—concludes that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment. The report, which reviewed studies from state agencies overseeing fracking as well as scientific reports, found that the extent of the risks has not yet been fully quantified and that there are many unanswered questions and a lack of scientific data.
Major reports and studies were also released in Europe the past two months, all of which came to the conclusion that fracking poses serious risks to water, public health, and the environment, and that additional scientific study is necessary. Meanwhile, in NY hundreds2 of doctors, scientists, and medical organizations have renewed calls for an independent, comprehensive health impact assessment and additional scientific research.
“The big-money gas industry is at it again,” said John Armstrong of Frack Action on behalf of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a broad coalition of New Yorkers opposed to fracking. “Rather than allow a comprehensive independent health assessment that can study the dangers fracking poses to our water and health, they just want to frack as quickly as possible and take their profits back to Texas.”
Given the conclusions from the broad NY, U.S., and world-wide scientific and medical community that fracking poses serious public health and environmental risks and needs further scientific study, the gas industry and the Joint Landowners Coalition’s rush to frack is dangerously reckless and irresponsible.
The Government Accountability Office report, which includes review of the New York Department of Conservation's study of fracking, finds that there is insufficient data and scientific study to determine the extent of risks fracking poses to groundwater and avenues for groundwater contamination, but it does note that such contamination can take place. For example, the report states that, "Underground migration can occur as a result of improper casing and cementing of the well bore as well as the intersection of induced fractures with natural fractures, faults, or improperly plugged dry or abandoned wells. Moreover, there are concerns that induced fractures can grow over time and intersect with drinking water aquifers" (page 46).
The GAO's concerns about improperly plugged and abandoned wells strike an unnerving note in New York especially, given that the Associated Press recently found3 that Department of Environmental Conservation records, "reveal thousands of unplugged and abandoned wells and other industrial problems that could pose a threat to groundwater, wetlands, air quality and public safety."
The GAO report also raises many other concerns long held by NY health professionals and scientists, such as the negative impacts that fracking will mean for air quality. The GAO report concludes that, "Construction of the well pad, access road, and other drilling facilities requires substantial truck traffic, which degrades air quality. Air quality may also be degraded as fleets of trucks travelingnewly graded or unpaved roads increase the amount of dust released into the air—which can contribute to the formation of regional haze" (page 33).
GAO goes on to raise concerns that silica sand—commonly used as a proppant in the hyrdaulic fracturing process—may pose a risk to human health. GAO notes that according to a federal researcher from the Department of Health and Human Services, particles from the sand "can lodge in the lungs and potentially cause silicosis" (page 33).
That the gas industry and the Joint Landowners Coalition would push to frack, rather than listen to the science and medical experts and wait for the necessary studies such as an independent, comprehensive health impact assessment4 to be undertaken, is indicative that they are comfortable putting profits before health and are unwilling to participate in a debate based on the science and facts.
On behalf of New Yorkers Against Fracking, Armstrong said, “Fracking proponents continue their reckless and irresponsible push to frack even in the face of an overwhelming body of science showing that fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment and consensus among experts and government agencies that we need more scientific study on fracking. Our water, air and health are priceless.”
The new reports from Europe include a comprehensive report5 from the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General, a joint report6 from Germany's Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and a year-long German Hydrofracking Risk Assessment7 study from a panel of independent experts.
Among the conclusions8 from the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General’s comprehensive report5 are that there is "a high risk of surface and groundwater contamination at various stages of the well-pad construction, hydraulic fracturing and gas production processes, and well abandonment, and cumulative developments could further increase this risk." The report also points to air emissions impacts that pose "potentially significant effect on air quality including ozone levels."
The conclusions8 from the joint report6 by Germany's Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety include that fracking can lead to groundwater contamination,that experts advise against large-scale fracking and that there should be a ban in areas that provide drinking water, and that more scientific study is necessary to evaluate environmental risks.
Germany’s year-long Hydrofracking Risk Assessment7 by a panel of independent experts similarly found8 that fracking entails serious risks, that it can do substantial harm to water resources, and pointed to greater concerns about fracking in areas that supply drinking water.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
1Government Accountability Office. September, 2012. "OIL AND GAS: Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks" <http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/647791.pdf>
2Physicians Scientists & Engineers for a Healthy Environment. October 5, 2011. "Physicians Sign-On Letter to Governor Cuomo" <http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1024>
3Associated Press. September 26, 2012. "Marcellus Shale links: NY records show history of oil, gas well problems" <http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2012/09/marcellus_shale_links_ny_recor.html>
4Capitol Confidential. October 4, 2012. "Doctors, Nurses Press Cuomo on Hydrofracking Health Review" <http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/159030/doctors-nurses-press-cuomo-on-hydrofracking-health-review/>
5October 8, 2012. "Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involvinghydraulic fracturing in Europe" <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/energy/pdf/fracking%20study.pdf>
6Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federal Environment Agency. September, 2012. "Tight restrictions on hydraulic fracturing required" <http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/uba-info-presse-e/2012/pe12-028_tight_restrictions_on_hydraulic_fracturing_required.htm>
7Germany Hydrofracking Risk Assessment by a panel of independent experts. 2012. "Hydrofracking Risk Assessment" <http://dialog-erdgasundfrac.de/sites/dialog-erdgasundfrac.de/files/Ex_HydrofrackingRiskAssessment_120611.pdf>
8The Energy Collective. October 11, 2012. "The latest science from Europe on fracking" <http://theenergycollective.com/amymall/122906/latest-science-europe-fracking>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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