By Bruce Ferguson
Should the U.S. export natural gas?
The answer depends on what you think about hydrofracking.
Historically, the U.S. has had to supplement domestic natural gas production with imports, but now the extensive use of hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale could allow America to become a gas exporter. A recent article in Barron's suggested that the U.S. could become the world's largest exporter of gas by 2017.
But let's be clear. When we're talking about natural gas exports, we're talking about shale gas.
That is, we're talking about fracking. So let's reframe the question: Should the U.S. be fracked to supply foreign nations with gas?
The objections to fracking are legion, and each one needs to be weighed in the balance if the U.S. is to develop a prudent gas export policy.
We know, for example, that fracking even a single shale gas well requires millions of gallons of fracking fluid, and produces huge quantities of toxic wastewater.
All of this fluid has to be transported, usually by truck, and that means hundreds of diesel trucks going to and from each well pad. The exhaust from these trucks combines with the methane and volatile organic compounds released into the atmosphere during the extraction process to produce ozone.
It's no exaggeration to say that, because of fracking, some rural communities have higher ozone levels than Los Angeles on a bad day.
Developing a giant shale formation like the Marcellus will entail injecting hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic fluid underground, and no one can say with any certainty how this might impact our drinking water supplies in the years and decades to come.
We do know that a recent geochemical study conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania found naturally occurring pathways between underground shale formations and shallow drinking water aquifers. The fact that the industry insists that fracking be exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act is not reassuring.
And of course there are other issues to consider, including the recent peer-reviewed studies that indicate that shale gas is, from a greenhouse gas perspective, worse than oil or coal. Health care professionals say we don't know what effect fracking will have on human health, while economists worry that disruptive extraction activity might damage local economies by crowding out long-term sustainable businesses like agriculture and tourism.
Right now the U.S. doesn't have the infrastructure it needs to become a major gas exporter. Canada and Mexico don't need our gas, and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals that will be necessary to tap lucrative markets in Europe and Asia have not yet been built.
Constructing the eleven huge LNG export terminals now on the drawing boards will cost more than $100 billion.
Tens of billions more will be needed to build pipelines to bring the gas to the coastal terminals. Should the U.S. pour this kind of money into fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when scientists warn that we are already suffering the adverse impacts of climate change?
The Obama administration has held up licensing export terminals until after the election. This winter, when licensing is again on the table, scientists, health care professionals and concerned citizens who oppose fracking may find themselves allied with manufacturers who realize that competition with foreign markets will drive up costs for both American industry and consumers.
Finally consider this: If the U.S. does export shale gas, it will be supplying countries like France that have already banned fracking because it's too dangerous.
Is the U.S. on its way to becoming an energy extraction colony for other nations?
Are we the new Third World?
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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