By Sharon Guynup
A growing boom in natural gas drilling near homes and schools prompted the city of Longmont, Colorado to vote last July to bar new oil and gas permits in residential neighborhoods.
The state quickly overturned the ordinance. Gov. John Hickenlooper said that letting it stand would “stir-up a hornet’s nest,” encouraging other Colorado towns to pass their own drilling rules. Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs argued that communities have the right to restrict heavy industry in residential zones—including oil and gas drilling.
The natural gas “gold rush” underway in 31 states is indeed “stirring up a hornet’s nest,” sparking push back from communities that see themselves as the last line of defense protecting citizens against state and federal failures to regulate fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technology that blasts millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand underground to release oil and gas from shale bedrock.
“The U.S. faces a crisis in the enforcement of rules governing the oil and gas industry,” states a new report by Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. Their study, which analyzed government data from six heavily-fracked states, discovered that each of them failed to enforce existing drilling regulations. Between 53 and 91 percent of active wells in those states go uninspected—175,000 to 300,000 wells in all, with not enough inspectors nor the funding to pay for them or their equipment. As a result, many violations go unrecorded, with few penalties and many repeat offenders.
With just 17 inspectors for 60,000 wells in West Virginia, municipalities and environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on drilling until various safeguards and monitoring criteria are met. North Carolina’s controversial moratorium on natural gas drilling runs until 2014, when the legislature will vote on as-yet-unwritten regulations. But Raleigh, NC, Morgantown, WV, and other communities aren’t waiting for state action. They’ve preemptively passed local drilling bans or strict zoning rules.
New York State’s contentious 2010 moratorium on natural gas drilling currently remains in place, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo launching a new health study, and the state Supreme Court upholding municipalities’ rights to ban drilling within their borders. At least a dozen New York communities, including Buffalo, have passed such bans.
Next door, in Pennsylvania, the legislature passed a 2012 law forbidding towns from regulating fracking, which was then overturned by the courts. Five Delaware Valley towns quickly asserted their “home rule” rights and prohibited fracking.
In Texas, the towns of Flower Mound, Grapevine and Southlake chose to regulate fracking within their city limits after the industry had heavily impacted their towns. Those ordinances include buffer zones that distance wells from homes, schools, churches and hospitals, as well as a Southlake ban on summertime fracking due to the industry’s competition for drinking water.
Meanwhile, back in Colorado, more than 80 county commissioners, mayors, and city council members statewide have asked Gov. Hickenlooper to withdraw his lawsuit against Longmont’s fracking ban, saying that, “Local governments have both the right and responsibility to take action to protect the public heath and well being of our citizens as well as the environment.”
Across the nation, this local opposition is occurring within a vacuum. The federal government does not regulate hydraulic fracturing, and the industry—unlike any in America—is exempted from seven major environmental regulations. On the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, fracking gets a pass, along with exemptions from the Clean Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Superfund law and hazardous waste disposal regulations.
Only four states have significant regulations, which seem to go largely unenforced.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conclusively proven that fracking contaminated an aquifer in Pavilion, Wyoming, refuting longstanding industry claims that the process doesn’t pollute drinking water. Across the state line, a Colorado School of Public Health study released earlier this year found high levels of airborne petroleum hydrocarbons near drilling sites in Garfield County, levels that could cause acute or chronic respiratory and neurological problems.
Municipalities are increasingly concerned over health and economic impacts from frack water and air pollution. Drillers transform quiet rural communities into industrial zones with wells, waste ponds, smog, roaring compressors and heavy truck traffic. Environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. estimates that it takes more than 4,200 truck trips to carry freshwater in and contaminated frackwater out of each well site.
In Ohio, a grassroots “limited home rule” campaign seeks to regulate drilling by drafting community noise limits, designating operating hours, and limiting truck routes and drilling waste shipments. The strategy would, in theory, supersede Ohio Department of Natural Resources' authority over drilling, passing it back to municipalities.
In Broadview Heights, Ohio—an upscale city dotted with 90 wells—a “charter amendment” on the November ballot would ban future drilling, citing citizens’ rights to clean air, clean water, clean soil and a sustainable energy future. At least 30 Ohio communities have passed statutes to regulate or ban fracking.
Not one state, nor the federal government, currently requires drillers to disclose “proprietary” drilling formulas, which contain chemicals known to cause cancer or disrupt hormones that regulate basic body functions, including benzene, toluene, diesel and formaldehyde, to name a few. Oil and gas companies pumped 780 million gallons of fracturing products underground from 2005-2009 containing about 750 different chemicals.
Of the 353 chemicals identified by researchers in a recent study, about half could harm the nervous system, the cardiovascular system and blood, 40 percent could disrupt immune function, about a third could affect endocrine organs and a quarter could cause cancer.
A new Pennsylvania law demonstrates how states favor drillers: companies there are now required to reveal “trade secret” chemicals to physicians, but doctors must first sign a confidentiality agreement. Ohio’s new fracking rules include a similar provision.
In August, Wilkes-Barre physician Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the PA frack “gag rule” violates his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, preventing communication with “patients, colleagues, medical researchers and the public regarding the identity and amount of chemicals, and the health hazards they present to the community.”
The root of the regulatory breakdown lies with elected officials who take hefty campaign contributions from frackers—then pass industry-friendly rules. The oil and gas industry has already handed at least $30 million in 2012 campaign contributions to members of Congress and fossil fuel political action committees. A current flag-waving “Vote 4 Energy” TV ad boasts job creation, though most frack jobs are short-term and go to out-of-state, transient workers—often attracting drugs, prostitution and crime to communities.
But it also goes one step deeper. The underpinning that allows fracking to go nearly unregulated across America is a century-old, Industrial Revolution-era legal framework that favors limitless economic growth, even if it harms human health or the environment or tramples the rights of citizens or communities—and it’s up to those harmed to prove damages, notes legal scholar Joseph Guth.
The European REACH system stands in stark contrast to the U.S. model, placing the burden of proof on companies—not governments—to show that the chemicals they produce or use are safe.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans want clean energy, but federal and state officials have done little to shift towards renewables. In the meantime, more and more communities are moving to protect their citizens against the “fracking gold rush.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Sharon Guynup’s writing has appeared in Smithsonian, The New York Times Syndicate, Scientific American, The Boston Globe and nationalgeographic.com. © Blue Ridge Press 2012 email@example.com.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
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