By Joe Timmerman
Few leaves are still falling off trees and down the ever-running water of the National Wild and Scenic Little Miami River, where they float through five counties and 111 miles of Southwest Ohio, into the Ohio River and toward the Mississippi before eventually finding their way into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, these 111 miles of Little Miami River are the cleanest that they have been in the last 40 years, and as the world may seem largely disconnected due to the coronavirus pandemic, a connection between people over time is helping to create the river's lasting sustainability.
Since the end of the last Ice Age before this land was known as America, humans have lived along the Little Miami River and enjoyed the resources it provides — drinking the water alongside its banks while hunting for fish within, using the clay to build pottery or structures, and floating on the surface in kayaks or canoes like the leaves still do today. In that time, the river has seen many seasons of change, from shifts in human culture alongside its banks through community development to biological diversities in its rich, natural environment, according to the Little Miami Ecology and History report.
When the Little Miami was designated as Ohio's first State Scenic River and included in the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1973, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, locals had already been active in its conservation and return to sustainability for more than half a decade. The Little Miami Conservancy (LMC), a non-profit organization fueled by passion for the protection of the river, led the effort in Washington to recognize the importance of protecting the Little Miami River as not only a local hidden gem, but as a national treasure.
The lower section of the river runs right through the heart of Loveland, Ohio, where LMC and its current executive director, Eric Partee, is based. Partee's passion roots from the original director of the conservancy, Glenn Thompson, who in 1967 embodied the idea that their effort isn't about one single person, but rather about everyone coming together to save the river.
"Someday, a corridor of green will stretch from one end of the river to the other. Individuals and families will enjoy peace and quiet and restoration of spirit that comes with clean water, birds, and trees," a quote from Glenn Thompson that Partee believes the conservancy has lived up to.
A ripple in the water caused by a fish moves below fall trees as the sun rises in Loveland, Ohio, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. The Little Miami River flows through 5 counties and 111 miles of Southwest Ohio, including Clermont County and Hamilton County where Loveland lies between. Joe Timmerman
Since its origin, the conservancy has worked with agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), who records the condition of the Little Miami River every 10 years by sampling fish life. In the 1980s, only 4% of the Little Miami River was in full attainment of water quality health, but in recent years, the chart has flipped, and as of 2007, the river is at 96% attainment of health, according to OEPA research.
"As early as the turn of the century, this river was very well polluted. (There were) a lot of deformed fish, it was not anything close to exceptional," Partee said in an interview. "It took a lot of discussion, a little bit of arm twisting, and some local funding to fund improvements to the sewage treatment plants to ratchet down on phosphorus, which was the main culprit … when we got the treatment plants to ratchet down on that, biology basically turned around on a dime — from terrible to exceptional."
To make sure the river stays healthy, LMC introduced a set of equipment called YSI Water Quality Sondes, which monitor dissolved oxygen in nine locations throughout the length of the entire Little Miami, according to Partee. Each system monitors oxygen every 15 minutes, allowing for constant awareness of river health to prevent a reversion of quality. The conservancy also takes pride in its work on forest restoration through buying riverfront properties, planting trees, removing invasive species, and working collectively to clean up trash in the effort to grow closer to the initial goal of a corridor of green along the riverbank.
Eric Partee, executive director of the Little Miami Conservancy, holds one of nine water quality sondes that are found all along the length of the river, this one in Milford, Ohio, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2020. A water quality sonde uses sensors to measure dissolved oxygen in the river, which is recorded every 15 minutes in 3-month spans and is checked once a week by Partee and volunteers of the conservancy. "Ninety-six percent of the river is in full attainment with exceptional habitat quality, it's just in fantastic condition. The challenge is to keep it that way," Partee said. Joe Timmerman
A short walk from the doors of the conservancy is the Loveland Canoe and Kayak Livery, owned by Mark and Robyn Bersani, which is just one of the many businesses along the Little Miami River that rely on its health as their main resource for income. The Bersanis work closely with the conservancy each year by offering and volunteering for cleanups as well as generous donations. This year, along with two other liveries including Rivers Edge and Scenic River, their combined donation to the Little Miami Conservancy's effort was $56,000, according to Bersani.
"We're involved from a grassroots portion, to actually helping with cleanups, to keeping an eye on the river, as well as donating and continuing to fund the good work that they do," Bersani said in an interview. "It comes down to the people that live along the river, people that visit the river, the people in the community, if the river is going to stay clean. This river is very natural, it looks like it did 300 years ago … it is vital that the citizens all realize they have a role in this."
Up the road at Loveland High School, Amy Aspenwall, an AP environmental science teacher teaches teenagers the importance of environmental awareness through hands-on experiences in places like the Little Miami River.
In an interview over Zoom, Aspenwall talked about the importance of students getting out into nature to actually see how humans fit in the environment, because "if you don't see it, it's really not your problem," Aspenwall said. From understanding food waste to the water drinking system to sewer treatment facilities, her goal is to allow students the opportunity to realize a sense of civic responsibility.
"It's important for students to start to think of themselves as a bigger picture rather than just someone following teacher instructions," Aspenwall said. "I want them to start thinking on their own and realize how powerful they are as a consumer."
Although the Little Miami River is of "exceptional quality," according to a 2010 water quality monitoring report by the OEPA, "the tributaries were generally of a lower quality."
Michelle Waller, an environmental specialist in the Division of Surface Water at OEPA, discussed the difficulties the river has faced through poor nutrients entering the river due to excess phosphorus from treatment plants and still faces through agricultural runoff from farms, in an interview over Zoom.
Waller said that placing phosphorus limits on the main stem's water treatment plants in recent years proved to show major improvements in river nutrients after the OEPA performed sampling, but other negative sources are out of their reach. "We do not have authority over agriculture the way we do with what we call point sources, the treatment plants," Waller said. "We try to work with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, they try to get the word out about good farming practices … but there is no real regulatory authority which is a really big problem."
The majority of land along the Little Miami River is agricultural, unlike other major rivers in Ohio that have industry running alongside their waters. And just like the branches of community that have come together to help preserve the river, many tributary streams and creeks branch out from the Little Miami, though those tributaries can be overlooked.
As most organizations, including the OEPA and LMC, focus their efforts on upholding the exceptional quality of the main stem of the Little Miami River, there is still work to be done in the tributaries. Partee talked about how there just isn't enough time for LMC to visit every tributary and talk to every landowner. However, near Beaver Creek in Greene County, there is an organization called the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, which has adopted that very issue. "I think that's probably the best future for the watershed, to have local citizens dealing with multiple tributaries and try to restore or protect it," said Partee.
People bike on a section of the Loveland Bike Trail alongside the Little Miami River in Loveland, Ohio, on Monday, Nov. 8, 2020. Joe Timmerman
Between the shared relationships of the Little Miami Conservancy, OEPA, local government officials, developers, landowners, non-profits, teachers, and local business owners, a community has come together and worked toward the common effort to make a positive, sustainable change in the health of the river.
The timelessness of the Little Miami River will carry on as long as its water continues to run. And as it always has been, it's still up to the people alongside the riverbank to make sure that the water runs clean for generations to come. As the late author Nelson Henderson said, and Eric Partee paraphrased when we talked together, "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
Note: The next OEPA Little Miami River Watershed TMDL Report will be produced and published by 2022, according to the last OEPA TMDL report.
Joe Timmerman is a sophomore journalism and photojournalism student at E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and the School of Visual Communications at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Joe is passionate about finding natural connections between people and sharing those stories he finds.
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In addition to taking precautions against the novel coronavirus, schools across the country find themselves needing to worry about a new scourge: legionella bacteria in their drinking water, according to The New York Times.
Recently, nine schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania found the harmful bacteria in their water. In Fox Chapel, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, four out of the town's six schools tested positive for the bacteria. Because the schools were unused for so long, nearly six months, the water just sat in the pipes and did not have a chance to move. That created a condition for the bacteria to thrive, according to WPXI News in Pittsburgh.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people get sick when they inhale mist that has the bacteria or they ingest water with the bacteria in it. It can cause severe pneumonia or lung infection, which is worrying when the nation is already grappling with COVID-19, an infectious disease that leads to severe pneumonia.
Similarly, schools outside of Dayton, Ohio found the bacteria in their water last week. In all of those cases, the outbreak was noticed in locations that were far from classrooms or drinking fountains, such as one faucet in a seldom used bathroom, according to Dayton Daily News.
"We would have capability to wash hands, we would provide drinking water, we have toilets that are working, and we have the ability to serve lunch," said superintendent Rob O'Leary, defending the district's decision to proceed with in-person instruction and to keep the schools open, as Dayton 24/7 reported.
O'Leary added that the school district ran disinfectant through all the school's water lines and cleaned the aerators on all of its faucets.
The Milton-Union school district, also in Ohio, received a federal grant to test its water over the summer. It found the bacteria in a drinking fountain and in two faucets on only the cold-water side, according to WHIO News in Ohio.
"Ice machines we tested it all," said Tim Swartztrauber, West Milton Water Supervisor and Chief Inspector to WHIO. "Luckily we did because we did find legionella. We tested every drinking fountain and we got it in a drinking fountain. Without that this probably would have been missed."
Swartztrauber added that they ran chlorine through the system to disinfect it and then flushed out the chlorine to make the water safe again.
Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, was involved in the study at the Milton-Union schools and said it would not have been possible without the federal grant. That leaves a question of how many schools across the country are not testing their water because they don't have the funds to do it, according to The New York Times.
"If somebody contracts legionella and legionnaires disease the exposure can be fatal," Whelton said to WHIO. "So it is serious."
It's highly unusual for schools to go for such an extended time without use. Even during the summer months, there's often summer school, sports practice, and custodial work being done.
"Schools generally do not have a water management plan," Whelton said to the New York Times. "There's a myth that most do. They don't in my experience."
Whelton told The New York Times that the bacteria would likely show up with greater prevalence if schools actually conducted tests.
"If parents haven't heard from their schools about whether or not testing is being conducted, then they should start asking questions," he said.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Twenty years ago, Shawn and Beth Dougherty had trouble finding land to farm, so they bought a plot that was designated by the state of Ohio as unsuitable for agriculture.
"And we just had to set about disproving that," Beth Dougherty says.
The land was overgrown but too steep for a tractor, so the couple began rotating goats through parts of the property. The goats devoured brush and briars.
"We watched the pastures transform," Shawn Dougherty says. "Even these very steep pastures turned from rock where you slid down. They are all now grass-covered pastures."
That success prompted them to look at other methods farmers used before modern equipment was available.
"What we find is that almost any job that needs to be done, there's an animal that can do that in return for a little bit of management and care," Beth Dougherty says.
Grazing animals minimize the need for mowing and nourish the land with manure. Pigs consume waste and turn compost. And chickens help control insects.
As a result, the couple farms with very little feed, fertilizer, or fuel. They say this shows that policy is not the only way to fight environmental degradation.
"Almost anybody can turn to the plot of soil nearest them and start having a direct effect," Beth Dougherty says.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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At least two people were reportedly injured and two homes are believed to have been damaged in the incident.
"We got reports flames were shooting (up) 80 feet to 200 feet (25-60 meters)," Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio, told Reuters. "You could see it upwards of 10-15 miles (16-24 km) away. Lots of people thought it was in their backyard because it does appear large."
The Canadian energy transportation company confirmed that the incident occurred on its 30-inch Texas Eastern pipeline. The pipeline was built in 1952-53 and an in-line inspection was performed in 2012, "and no remediation was needed," Enbridge said.
Enbridge responds to Texas Eastern system incident in Ohio: https://t.co/TT4zeylCJT— Enbridge (@Enbridge)1548107867.0
The fire has been contained and residents near the incident have been evacuated, the company said, adding that "field operations immediately started to shut in and isolate that section of pipeline."
"Our first concern is for the safety of the community and our employees," Enbridge said. "We have activated our emergency response plan and are cooperating with authorities in our response."
Noble County resident Trina Moore, who lives 7 miles from the scene, told The Daily Jeffersonian that the explosion caused her home to shake.
"Our house shook so bad things came off the walls," Moore said. "Pictures came off the wall and it shook for about 15 seconds, but it felt like forever. All of the neighbors ran outside."
The 9,029-mile Texas Eastern pipeline carries natural gas from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Texas to high demand markets in the northeastern U.S., according to the operator's website. It's not yet clear if the shut-in will impact its customers, Reuters noted.
In October, another Enbridge-owned pipeline exploded in rural land north of Prince George, British Columbia, forcing 100 people to evacuate from the nearby Lheidli T'enneh First Nation.
Enbridge is the same company behind the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota and the contentious Line 5 oil pipeline, which is notable for a section that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.
If you've seen lovers' initials carved in a tree, it's probably a beech. The iconic species—known for its smooth, delicate bark—is not just a favorite canvas for bark carvers, they provide shelter and food for a large range of wildlife, including birds, squirrels and bears.
But scientists are raising flags on a mysterious, deadly and rapidly spreading beech leaf disease that's been described as "an emerging forest epidemic."
The disease (Fagus grandifolia) was first discovered in 2012 on beech trees in northeast Ohio and has since spread to forests in 10 counties in Ohio, eight counties in Pennsylvania and five counties in Ontario, Canada, according to a study published last month in the journal Forest Pathology.
Early symptoms of the disease are characterized by dark green banding on the leaves between the veins. Later symptoms are characterized by solidly darkened leaves that are shrunken and crinkled. The symptoms then seem to progress through the buds, causing them to fall off and produce no new leaves. The affected tree eventually dies.
Beech leaf disease symptoms include dark banding between the veins in early stages, followed by crinkling leaves. Forest Pathology, Ohio State
As the North American beech is native to the eastern United States, the researchers "fear this disease has the potential to drastically alter the Eastern deciduous forests of the United States on its own and through potential compounding disease effects," the study states.
The study was authored by researchers and naturalists from Ohio State University and metroparks in northeastern Ohio.
"It's hard at this point to say where this disease will go, but it has all the hallmarks of something like emerald ash borer or sudden oak death, threats to trees that start slowly and quickly pick up speed. We seem to be in that rapid expansion phase right now," senior researcher Pierluigi "Enrico" Bonello, an Ohio State professor of plant pathology, said in a university press release.
For instance, in one Ohio county the disease advanced at 1,250 acres a year between 2012 to 2016 alone, according to the press release.
These startling tree deaths could also come with a heavy price tag, per the release:
"If just half of American beech trees in Ohio were lost, it would come at environmental costs of approximately $225 million, according to an estimate in the new paper that takes into account various factors, including the trees' role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, furnishing habitat for wildlife, aiding in water purification, providing aesthetic and recreational value as well as other ecosystem services."
The study also warns that the disease could affect foreign species as symptoms were found in European and Asian beeches in nurseries in northeastern Ohio.
Scientists are not sure what's causing beech leaf disease, but Ohio State University researchers suggested that a microbe rather than an insect could be the culprit.
"We're really not 100 percent sure that it's a microbe causing this, but the symptoms resemble those of other plant diseases caused by microorganisms," graduate student Carrie Ewing and lead author of the new paper said in the press release. "There are no infestations or boreholes, or chewing of the leaves like you'd typically see if the disease was caused by an insect."
Major efforts are underway to determine the causal agent. Molecular techniques are being used to determine if there are any microbial differences between affected and unaffected beech trees.
Other researchers have suggested that a nematode could be to blame.
Unfortunately, there is no record of beech trees that have developed a resistance or have recovered from the disease, according to Constance Hausman, an ecologist with Cleveland Metroparks and one of the authors of the paper.
"Beech trees are a significant food and habitat resource for wildlife. We can't treat or manage our beech forests effectively if we don't know what is causing the decline," she said in the press release.
#DakotaAccess Pipeline Company Misses Deadline to Plant 20,000 #Trees Along #Pipeline Route https://t.co/BC3DApUTHW… https://t.co/4a6UKc3XsJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1546804844.0
By John Russell
Sometimes climate change can feel like someone else's problem—we read about stronger hurricanes hitting our coasts or wildfires raging across California and think 'well, it's a good thing that I live here and not there.' The truth is, climate change is everyone's problem, and it's already impacting Ohio. But we have a way to fight it.
I live in Central Ohio, where I've been farming my land for five years now. In that time, I've learned that the weather can be your best friend or your worst enemy. The problem right now is that weather is becoming more and more extreme. Once-a-century weather events are now happening every few years. Right now, one part of our state is in drought while other parts of our state flood. These events are becoming increasingly common.
All of that makes life a lot harder for me and other farmers like me. On my farm, we mainly grow produce. With too much rain, our crops suffer. Erratic weather patterns caused by a warming climate make extreme weather events more likely. And that's not good news when your income depends on the weather.
I'm not alone. I know a lot of farmers who've struggled to manage in the face of extreme weather. Costs go up and profits fall. Hiring employees becomes a luxury. Every bill gets that much harder to pay. Two-thirds of the people in this country can't afford a $400 emergency expense despite working harder than ever. The richest country in the world can do better.
That's why we need to act now—before it's too late. Rural areas might struggle at times, but they're a great place to call home and they deserve the chance to thrive. What is the future of small-town America if making a living working the land becomes impossible?
Big problems require big solutions. We need to act now and choose leaders who will support solutions that match the scale of the climate challenge—solutions like taxing polluters and refunding the money directly to citizens. Now is our chance to rise to the occasion, as Americans always have, and confront the generational challenge of climate change. And if our leaders will not rise to meet that challenge, then we must stand up to lead ourselves.
There are a lot of complex and technical solutions to climate change, but the most powerful solution is simple—it's voting. Our current leaders are pretending that this problem will go away. But it won't until we get involved in our political system and make our voices heard. That's why my friends and I are supporting leaders who will act on climate change—and you should too.
In the video below talks about the impact of unpredictable weather patterns on his crops.
John Russell: I'm A Climate Voter www.youtube.com
John Russell is a farmer from Galena, Ohio. To learn more about John and other young voters supporting climate leaders, click here.
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By Sharon Kelly
The petrochemical industry anticipates spending a total of over $200 billion on factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas, the American Chemistry Council announced in September. Construction is already underway at many sites.
This building spree would dramatically expand the Gulf Coast's petrochemical corridor (known locally as "Cancer Alley")—and establish a new plastics and petrochemical belt across states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
If those projects are completed, analysts predict the U.S. would flip from one of the world's highest-cost producers of plastics and chemicals to one of the cheapest, using raw materials and energy from fracked gas wells in states like Texas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Those petrochemical plans could have profound consequences for a planet already showing signs of dangerous warming and a cascade of other impacts from climate change.
The gathering wave of construction comes as the Trump administration works to deregulate American industry and roll back pollution controls, putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the world's efforts to slow climate change.
Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. had halted all implementation of the 2015 Paris agreement and intends to fully withdraw. America is now the world's only state refusing participation in the global agreement to curb climate change (after Syria, the final holdout, signed in November 2017).
This petrochemical industry expansion—much of it funded by foreign investors—makes America's refusal to participate in the Paris agreement all the more significant, because much of this new U.S. infrastructure would be built outside of the greenhouse gas agreement affecting the rest of the globe.
If American policy makers approve this wave of new plastics and petrochemical plants with little regard to curbing climate change and reducing fossil fuel use, environmentalists warn, they'll be greenlighting hundreds of billions of dollars of investment into projects at risk of becoming stranded assets.
From Rust Belt to Plastics Belt
Some of the largest and most expensive petrochemical projects in the U.S. are planned in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, a region that has suffered for decades from the collapse of the domestic steel industry but that has relatively little experience with the kind of petrochemical complexes that are now primarily found on the Gulf Coast.
In November 2017, the China Energy Investment Corp., signed a Memorandum of Understanding with West Virginia that would result in the construction of $83.7 billion in plastics and petrochemicals projects over the next 20 years in that state alone—a huge slice of the $202.4 billion U.S. total. Those plans have run into snags due to trade disputes between the U.S. and China and a corruption probe, though Chinese officials said in late August that investment was moving forward.
The petrochemical industry's interest is spurred by the fact that the region's Marcellus and Utica shales contain significant supplies of so-called "wet gas." This wet gas often is treated as a footnote in discussions of fracking, which tend to focus on the methane gas, called "dry gas" by industry—and not the ethane, propane, butane and other hydrocarbons that also come from those same wells.
Those "wet" fossil fuels and chemical feedstocks are commonly referred to as "natural gas liquids," or NGLs, because they are delivered to customers condensed into a liquid form—like the liquid butane trapped in a Bic lighter, which expands into a stream of flammable gas when you flick that lighter on.
Ethane can represent a surprising amount of the fossil fuel from a fracked shale well, particularly in the Marcellus. For every 6,000 cubic feet of methane (the energy equivalent of the industry's standard 42 gallon barrel of oil), Marcellus wet gas wells can produce up to roughly 35 gallons of ethane, based on data reported by the American Oil and Gas Reporter in 2011.
And U.S. ethane production is projected to grow dramatically. By 2022, the region will produce roughly 800,000 barrels of ethane per day, up from 470,000 barrels a day in 2017, according to energy consultant RBN Energy.
That supply glut is driving down ethane prices in the Rust Belt.
"The lowest price ethane on the planet is here in this region," Brian Anderson, director of the West Virginia University Energy Institute, told the NEP Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference in Pittsburgh in June.
Chemicals and the Climate
Image projected onto Houston petrochemical plant during the Houston Toxic Tour, 2017.Backbone Campaign, CC BY 2.0
The petrochemical and plastics industries are notoriously polluting, not only when it comes to toxic air pollution and plastic waste, but also because of the industry's significant greenhouse gas footprint—affecting not only the U.S., but the entire world.
"The chemical and petrochemical sector is by far the largest industrial energy user, accounting for roughly 10 percent of total worldwide final energy demand and 7 percent of global [greenhouse gas] emissions," the International Energy Agency reported in 2013. Since then the numbers have crept up, with the IEA finding petrochemicals responsible for an additional percentage point of the world's total energy consumption in 2017.
Carbon emissions from petrochemical and plastics manufacturing are expected to grow 20 percent by 2030 (in other words, in just over a decade), the IEA concluded in a report released Oct. 5. A few days later, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that by 2030, the world needs to have reduced its greenhouse gas pollution 45 percent from 2010 levels, in order to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to a less-catastrophic 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
The petrochemicals industry has so far drawn relatively little attention from oil and gas analysts and policy makers. "Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends," Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement this month.
"In fact," he added, "our analysis shows they will have a greater influence on the future of oil demand than cars, trucks and aviation."
The new investments, which will rely on decades of continued fracking in the U.S, offer the oil and gas industry a serious hedge against competition from renewable energy, even in the event that climate policies push fossil fuel energy to the margins.
"Unlike refining, and ultimately unlike oil, which will see a moment when the growth will stop, we actually don't anticipate that with petrochemicals," Andrew Brown, upstream director for Royal Dutch Shell, told the San Antonio Express News in March.
The planned infrastructure could also help bail out the heavily indebted shale drilling industry financially by consuming vast amounts of fossil fuels, both for power and as a raw material.
The American Chemistry Council has linked 333 chemical industry projects, all announced since 2010, to shale gas—that is, gas that is produced using fracking. Forty-one percent of those projects are still in the planning phase as of September, according to the council, and 68 percent of the projects are linked to foreign investment.
State regulators in Texas and Louisiana have already issued permits that would allow a group of 74 petrochemical and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects along the Gulf Coast to add 134 million tons of greenhouse gases a year to the atmosphere, an Environmental Integrity Project analysis found in September. The group said that was equal to the pollution from running 29 new coal power plants around the clock.
The expansion of plastics manufacturing in America also has environmentalists worried over a plastics pollution crisis. "We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it," Carroll Muffett, president of the U.S. Center for International Environmental Law, told The Guardian in December 2017.
This story is part of Fracking for Plastics, a DeSmog investigation into the proposed petrochemical build-out in the Rust Belt and the major players involved.
The petrochemical industry transforms ethane and other raw material into a huge range of products, including not only plastic, but also vinyl, fertilizers, Styrofoam, beauty products, chemicals and pesticides.
The petrochemicals industry itself straddles an uncomfortable fence when it comes to renewable energy and climate change. A significant portion of its revenue comes from "clean" technology sectors, as it provides materials used to make batteries and electric cars.
One report last year concluded that roughly 20 percent of the industry's revenue comes from products designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the American Chemistry Council cited the industry's role supplying "materials and technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions," as it opposed Trump's decision to drop out of the Paris agreement.
But petrochemical manufacturers are also heavily reliant on fossil fuels. They need them to power and supply a dreamed-of "manufacturing renaissance," as the ExxonMobil-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute explained as it pushed for Trump to abandon the Paris agreement.
Plans to use American shale gas would also link petrochemicals to the expansion of fracking, which carries its own environmental concerns. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's landmark study on fracking and drinking water concluded in 2016 that fracking has led to water contamination and poses continued risks to American water supplies.
In addition, though conversations about climate change usually focus on carbon emissions, the gas industry has such a bad methane leak problem that using natural gas can be even worse for the climate than burning coal.
Pittsburgh and Paris
Climate implications make a petrochemical build-out risky, not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a fiscal perspective, Mark Dixon, co-founder of NoPetroPA, which opposes fracking-based petrochemicals projects, told DeSmog.
One plant, Shell's $6 billion ethane "cracker" plant currently under construction in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, has permits to pump 2.25 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year into the air near Pittsburgh, roughly equal to the annual carbon pollution from 430,000 cars.
Industry advocates say the region can produce enough ethane to support up to seven more ethane cracker plants like Shell's.
"We're trying to drop our emissions 50 percent by 2030," Dixon said, referring to Pittsburgh's highly touted plans to comply with international climate targets despite the federal government's withdrawal from the Paris agreement. "The Shell cracker alone will decimate that."
A kayaker protests against Shell's cracker project outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in June 2018.Mark Dixon, CC BY 2.0
International negotiators met in Bangkok in September to hash out details on how the Paris agreement will be implemented. The U.S., which participated in talks despite the Trump administration's intention to withdraw from the accord, faced criticism over working to delay clarity over the agreement's financing (nonetheless, a top UN negotiator praised "good progress" from the talks).
While the Paris agreement is not directly binding, globally there has been discussion of using trade agreements and tariffs to pressure countries that fail to keep up with their carbon-cutting commitments.
In February, the European Union (EU) declared that it will not sign new trade agreements with any country that refuses to get on board with the Paris agreement.
"One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris agreement on the ground," France's foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told the French Parliament. "No Paris agreement, no trade agreement."
"They're already shooting across the bow, saying look, you've got to implement the Paris climate agreement," Dixon told DeSmog. "We could very well spend 10 years building an infrastructure to support fracking all over the region, crackers, ethane, plastics, everything, then have Europe say, 'sorry, you can't do that. You have to shut it down.'"
In other words, whether or not the U.S. puts its signature on the climate pact's dotted line, the pressure from trading partners to reduce greenhouse gas pollution—and the underlying concerns about the rapidly warming climate—could remain the same.
That said, while the U.S. is the only country to reject Paris on paper, it is far from the only country on track to miss its targets aimed at warding off catastrophic climate change. Only Morocco and The Gambia are projected to hit "Paris Agreement Compatible" targets, according to the Climate Action Tracker (whose rating tracker includes many major polluters but not all countries worldwide).
The EU itself currently earns a rating of "insufficient" from the group (China is ranked "highly insufficient," while the U.S. and four other nations earned the worst "critically insufficient" grade).
The next several years will determine the future of petrochemical production for decades to come, crucial years when it comes to the fate of the climate, if industry gets its timing right—particularly in the Rust Belt.
"The window to make this all work is not forever," Charles Schliebs of Stone Pier Capital Advisors told the NEP Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference in June. "It's maybe two to five years."
That means key decisions may be made while Donald Trump remains in office—though state and local regulators will also face important calls over permits and construction planning.
For some living near the center of the planned petrochemical expansion, the problem is readily apparent.
"We're not going to be able to double down on fossil fuels," Dixon said, "and comply with the Paris climate agreement."
The Link Between Fossil Fuels, Single-Use Plastics and Climate Change https://t.co/dNvbx9e4r9 @PlasticPollutes @GreenNewsDaily— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525383607.0
Follow the DeSmog investigative series, Fracking for Plastics, and get your questions answered with the Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Tyler Rivlin and Leann Leiter
Allen Young and his family are surrounded. They can see three sizable natural gas plants–operated by Dominion and Energy Transfer Partners–without taking a step off their property. Over the past three years, these facilities have taken over the boomerang-shaped ridge less than a half-mile from the Young's home in Powhatan Point, Ohio.
Soon after the compressor stations went into operation, Allen, his wife and two children noticed unsettling changes. Their previously fresh air often smelled, they were plagued by noise from engines and machinery, and the whole family experienced frequent headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nosebleeds and other respiratory symptoms. Concerned for his family's health and wellbeing, Allen attempted to resolve these issues by reporting them directly to the sites' operators for over three years–but to no avail. He'd even called and written to Dominion about the ongoing problems. Citing the plethora of gas companies in the area and the lack of "evidence" that Dominion was the one responsible for the problems, the company wrote back: "Dominion is declining your claim."
Fortunately, they haven't given up. Along with other Ohio residents, Allen is using an important avenue for action: submitting complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Recently, Earthworks has teamed up with Ohio residents like Allen to pressure these public agencies to do their jobs and hold companies accountable for fixing problems and ending the pollution they create.
Through the Community Empowerment Project, Earthworks offers tools and support to residents like Allen who live on the front lines of oil and gas development. We use a specialized camera that allows us to see and document the air pollution endemic to facilities like the Dominion and ETP compressors. This technology, called Optical Gas Imaging (OGI), makes visible this normally invisible pollution, and is the same technology used by regulators like the Ohio EPA. After Allen saw OGI footage of the emissions he and his family were exposed to every day, he decided to start submitting formal complaints to the Ohio EPA.
A complaint is a way of officially reporting problems or concerns to regulators. Ohio EPA rules require that the agency investigate and respond to complaints from the public. Together, Allen and Earthworks staff submitted complaints to the Ohio EPA on each of the three facilities, and awaited their response.
Meanwhile, with Earthworks' support, Allen incorporated new methods to document and share his observations. He began logging his family's health symptoms and measuring the noise pollution from the compressors with a phone app. He shared his family's story in a video interview conducted by Earthworks, and was featured in news stories by the Allegheny Front and local WTRF News.
Ohio EPA responded to the complaints by contacting the operators to ensure the facilities were running as permitted. They told us to contact the county health department, and later, the ODH–leading us in a frustrating circle, with those health agencies stating that oil and gas is not their purview and directing us back to Ohio EPA.
Finally, with more calls–and the suggestions of some very helpful, determined ODH staff–we learned of a small office within the Department with the ability to investigate exactly these types of complaints. The ODH's Health Assessment Section eagerly took the details Allen had carefully amassed–including noise levels, photographs of his children's skin rashes and nose bleeds, prescriptions for recently emerged health symptoms–and began its own investigation by collaborating with Ohio EPA.
Within two months, ODH and Ohio EPA had conducted air quality testing right in Allen's backyard. Ohio EPA informed us of additional plans for a summer-long odor study at these and other nearby sites. What's more–and perhaps the biggest relief for Allen and his family–Dominion installed new equipment to control noise, and the Young's backyard fell quiet again.
In all, Earthworks and Allen submitted a total of nine complaints. During a repeat visit in August, the OGI camera revealed what appeared to be reduced emissions and we saw operators conducting maintenance at the sites.
All that Allen achieved–air monitoring, the attention of regulators, action by Dominion to reduce the noise pollution–are vital improvements for his family and community. But these compressors are three of the more than 100,000 gas facilities in Ohio. And the Youngs are among 3.25 million Ohioans living within ½ mile of those sources of dangerous air pollution. Currently, Earthworks is awaiting the results of Ohio EPA's investigations into seven complaints we submitted from other locations between March and July of 2018.
Agencies should take action when residents complain, but also need to inspect the sites they permit much more frequently, and work harder to reduce pollution from the industry they're charged with overseeing. In fact, Ohio EPA staff recently confirmed that they don't actually audit the wells and compressors in Ohio with unannounced site inspections, checking up on them only when they receive a complaint–and even then, they may only call the operator for verbal assurance before dismissing the complaint as resolved.
The complaint process requires strong safeguards and regulators who have the resources and the will to enforce them. It demands persistence on the part of residents like Allen Young. And it takes more of them reporting the problems of the industry to make all of Ohio a safer, more livable place.
Toxic algal blooms occur when chemical pollution from farms and other sources runs off into waterways, forming a thick, green, soup-like substance on the surface. The blooms are hazardous to human health and can even kill pets. And they can make tap water unsafe to drink, as residents of Toledo, Ohio, learned in 2014, when a massive bloom blanketed Lake Erie and invaded the city's water supply.
"Toledo was a wake-up call for many people," said Craig Cox, EWG's senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. "It was the first major city to declare its water supply unsafe for human consumption due to a toxic algal bloom. But many more Americans are experiencing the damage these blooms can wreak—and the problem is getting worse."
No government entity tracks blooms nationwide, but EWG's analysis of news coverage and satellite imagery found that, since 2010, nearly 300 blooms have been recorded in lakes, rivers and bays in 48 states. The problem has grown exponentially during that period: 169 toxic blooms were reported in 40 states in 2017, compared to only three blooms in 2010.
The EWG report includes an interactive map of 288 blooms, as well as before-and-after satellite photos of 24 blighted lakes in 12 states and a short video about the Lake Erie bloom, which is now an annual phenomenon. And Lake Erie isn't the only place with a reliable yearly bloom—in recent years federal regulators began issuing an annual "bloom forecast" for some coastal states and plan to expand the program.
Toxic algal blooms have erupted in every state. In California, state agencies recently raised alarm about the problem, noting 141 public health alerts by state and local authorities in 2017 alone. In 2016, Florida declared a state of emergency in four counties inundated by a huge bloom.
Algal blooms can cause fish die-offs and harm other marine life, and they can devastate local economies by curbing tourism and recreational activities like swimming, fishing and boating. Blooms often reach their peak in the summer, but can also occur well into the fall and winter. In many places, they are forming earlier each year. Changing weather patterns associated with climate change exacerbate the issue.
What's usually referred to as blue-green algae are actually photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria. And not all algal blooms are toxic. They become dangerous when they create byproducts such as microcystin, the toxin that contaminated Toledo's water. Short-term exposure to microcystins through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation can cause sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, liver failure and sperm damage.
While algal blooms can happen naturally, the recent spike is indisputably linked to pollution from farms. When fertilizer and animal manure run off into lakes, streams and bays, chemicals—including phosphorous—can spur the unchecked growth of cyanobacteria, particularly in warm weather.
"Farmers are largely exempt from the Clean Water Act," Cox said. "And the rising number of blooms is directly related to the staggering intensification of crop and livestock production. Farmers get billions of taxpayer dollars each year through federal farm and insurance subsidies. It's more than fair to ask them to take steps to prevent pollution in return for such generous support from their fellow citizens."
Simple techniques like planting strips of grass next to streams and applying fertilizer using precision methods can cut water pollution from farms.
"Voluntary programs alone aren't getting the job done. It is far past time to expect landowners to meet basic standards of caring for their land and our water," Cox said.
At two hearings last month, Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt was repeatedly asked by lawmakers from Ohio about the EPA's plans to combat algal blooms under its authority from the Clean Water Act.
Environmental activists, science educators and the Athens Ohio City Council are teaming up against a controversial new proposal by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (ODNRDOW) to open a bobcat trapping season in the southeastern part of the state, The New Political reported Wednesday.
The Athens City Council passed a resolution opposing the measure Monday night, citing concerns that bobcats were taken off the state's threatened and endangered species list less than four years ago and that not enough research has been done to determine if the newly-growing populations can sustain a trapping season, according to a copy of the resolution obtained by EcoWatch. The city council also looked to prevent similar proposals in the future, urging "the State of Ohio to declare the bobcat a protected species and ban all hunting and trapping of this wonderful animal for all Ohioans now and in the future."
The resolution notes that bobcats do not overpopulate.
"I like the idea that there's wild animals in the woods," Athens City Councilman Jeff Risner told The Post. "They're worth more to me alive than they are dead."
The resolution further notes that the trapping proposal contradicts the ODNRDOW's own research plans.
In an October 2017 report, the department wrote, "Little is known about the density and distribution of bobcats in Ohio, as well as the population trajectory, and which areas act as source populations. Such information is critical before decisions are taken on opening a trapping season and the maximum yearly take."
The ODNR entered into a contract with the Ohio University in August 2017 to conduct such a study, which will take four years to complete.
"So why the rush and sudden turn-around??," Heather Cantino, an environmental educator and vice chair of the Buckeye Forest Council board who drafted the council resolution, asked in The Athens' News Readers Forum. "Politics and pressure from the Ohio Trappers Association seem to be trumping the DOW's own recent science-based plan to protect Ohio's top native predator species," she wrote.
Chapter 1501:31-16 of the Ohio Revised Code values a bobcat at $500.
Bobcats are making a comeback in Ohio—there were 499 verified sightings in 2017, The Columbia Dispatch reported. "We're confident the population is secure," ODNR wildlife management and research executive administrator Mike Reynolds told The Dispatch.
The proposed trapping season would last from November 2018 to January 2019 and end once a maximum of 40 bobcats are trapped in the east and 20 in the south, where Athens is located, The Dispatch reported.
But Cantino pointed out that each verified sighting does not necessarily correspond to a different animal and that the increase in sightings might be due to the increase in trail cameras installed in the past years, which the ODNRDOW itself suggested in its Ohio Bobcat Management Plan. Further, she expressed concerns that the hunting licenses themselves will be unlimited and sell for $5, meaning hunters might go over the proposed quota before the state can enforce it. Finally, not enough research has been done to determine if the quota amounts are really safe for the existing populations.
Assistant professor of conservation biology at Ohio University and the lead researcher on the bobcat study told The Dispatch he did not yet have enough information to make that call.
"I would love to have a solid answer, but it's a tough question," Popescu told The Dispatch.
Public outcry by individuals like Cantino and groups like Save Ohio Bobcats II has persuaded the ODNRDOW to extend the online commenting period until March 31 and push back the dates planned for the public hearing and vote. The Ohio Wildlife Council, a board of 8 that decides all ONDRDOW proposals, will hold a public meeting on April 11 and vote on May 9.
In her letter, Cantino pointed out that the council is composed entirely of sportspeople and does not have a biologist, though one member is a veterinarian.
"Only a massive outcry will defeat this dangerous, greedy, and ill-considered plan," she wrote.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has again ordered Energy Transfer Partners to halt horizontal directional drilling under the Tuscarawas River in Ohio at its troubled Rover pipeline project pending additional review.
The move came after Ohio regulators requested FERC order a cease of all drilling on the project after nearly 150,000 gallons of drilling fluids were lost down the pilot hole for the pipeline earlier this month.
"While our understanding is that no fluid has reached the surface, and no impacts on sensitive resources have been documented, the difficult geology at the crossing warrants investigation into other approaches prior to advancing the [horizontal directional drilling] pilot drill as well as before subsequent reaming passes," FERC Director of Energy Projects Terry Turpin wrote in a letter.
The 713-mile pipeline project, which will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Canada once complete, is currently under construction by the same Dallas-based company that built the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.
In September, Energy Transfer Partners was fined $2.3 million for numerous water and air pollution violations across Ohio. Over the last two years, the Rover pipeline has racked up more "noncompliance incidents" than any other interstate gas pipeline.
According to Reuters, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has already asked FERC a few times in January to stop Energy Transfer Partners from drilling under the Tuscarawas River.
While operations are currently halted at the site, the company is seeking approval from FERC on a plan submitted on Jan. 22 to continue horizontal drilling.
But the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency countered on Tuesday that the plan "only provides temporary solutions and only suggests ways Rover may minimize expected losses if allowed to proceed. For this reason alone, Ohio cannot support the plan."
The Ohio EPA wants FERC to require Energy Transfer Partners to abandon the current installation.
But the company is more than 99 percent complete with total project construction and plans to finish Rover by the end of the first quarter.
"We have ceased operations at the Tuscarawas site. However, we are continuing our construction activities at all other locations," Alexis Daniel, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, told Reuters.
Rover Pipeline Spills Another 150,000 Gallons of Drilling Fluid Into Ohio Wetlands https://t.co/xX9n9S9OIW… https://t.co/SN2OD4dvui— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516227009.0
Rover has racked more "noncompliance incidents" than any other interstate gas pipeline and leaked more than two million gallons of drilling mud into protected Ohio wetlands this spring, leading the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order a temporary halt to construction.
The Ohio EPA claims that Energy Transfer Partners—which also owns the Dakota Access Pipeline—has refused to pay multiple fines from construction of the 713-mile pipeline and owes the state $2.3 million. Elsewhere in Ohio, the AP reported that legal resistance to an Enbridge/DTE Energy natural gas pipeline is growing, led by the city of Green's mayor Gerard Neugebauer.
Rover Pipeline Spills Water Containing Gasoline Into Michigan Wetlands https://t.co/xQZlo577LM @billmckibben @foe_us @greenpeaceusa @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508080004.0
"I'm not opposing oil and gas," Neugebauer told the AP. "What I'm saying is that you should not go through populated areas when you put in a pipeline."
"It takes just one judge to say you can't build this here because this is wrong," Neugebauer added. "I hold out hope that this will come."
For a deeper dive: