Tag Archives: methane

No Fracking Way

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Short for hydraulic fracturing, fracking is fast becoming recognized as one of the most dangerous and damaging activities that mankind has ever engaged in, and is yet another example of the extremely unfortunate Randian spirit of this age. Did you know that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and state water-use regulations? It’s called the Halliburton Loophole. Consider that while perusing this list of chemicals used in the initial drilling and then the fracking processes.

Fracking is a triple threat. It severely damages air and water quality and leads to earthquakes and sinkholes, while marching us right off the Gangplank to a Warm Future. None of these issues are confined to the areas directly involved in fracking, either. They spread out through whole landscapes, as air and water do.


Mead, CO

Both the preliminary drilling process and the process of hydraulic fracturing have serious effects on air quality that every US resident should be incredibly wary of, as fracking is allowed to continue in close proximity to people’s homes and on public lands. During the drilling phase, before the actual fracking even begins, non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are released into the air. These are subsets of what are known as volatile organic compound (VOCs) and they have serious effects on human health in tiny quantities with chronic exposure (parts per trillion, for which there is no federal safety standard) because they are endocrine disruptors. Most discussions about the dangers of fracking do not include this information because it isn’t part of the fracking process, but the drilling. NMHCs and PAHs are compounds that are released from the earth during drilling, which would never have made it into the air otherwise.

The endocrine system is basically the system of hormones that controls many aspects of physiology, including tissue function, growth and development, metabolism, mood regulation, sexual functions and reproductive processes. It influences nearly every cell and organ in our bodies, so things like NMHCs and PAHs can wreak havoc, including causing delayed development and lower IQ scores in prenatally exposed children at far lower concentrations than what are found around fracking sites. “Endocrine disruptors have become an integral part of our economy and modern lifestyle, while at the same time are insidiously depleting the pool of healthy and intelligent individuals on a global scale.” Read more here.

Waste water carrying the many hazardous chemicals used for fracking is pumped into open-air pits for evaporation, releasing many chemicals into the air, including more of the VOCs, leading to smog, acid rain, spreading air contamination, and resulting in unforeseen compounds of toxic chemicals.


fracking_waterEach fracking job requires anywhere between 1 – 8 million gallons of water and some 40,000 gallons of chemicals. For the wells that currently exist throughout the US (about 500,000), if we assume the maximum amount of water and the largest number of times a well can typically be fracked (18) that leaves us with 72 trillion gallons of water that’s been polluted with 360 billion gallons of extremely toxic chemicals. Even if we took the minimum estimates, the numbers would be no less disturbing.

We need to be extremely concerned about where all this water is coming from, and where the chemical-laden “produced water,” as the industry calls it, is going. As mentioned, some of it is recovered and goes into various forms of pits and containers, but a lot of it isn’t recovered; as much as 50-70% of it stays in the ground. This information, combined with even the most rudimentary knowledge of where humans get drinking water from makes it absolutely inconceivable that companies involved in fracking continually deny responsibility for the contamination and toxification of nearby rivers, streams and residential wells.

The companies engaging in fracking say it’s not possible for the fracking process to create that contamination. Well, they must think we’re really stupid. Methane gas and toxic chemicals definitely leach out from this system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Studies have shown that levels of methane in nearby wells that are used for drinking water have methane concentration levels 17% higher than normal. There have been over 1000 documented cases of contaminated drinking water, as well as many people who have experienced respiratory, sensory and neurological damage from drinking this polluted water. There are even stories of children coming out of the shower with chemical burns in areas that have experienced more extreme levels of contamination. These people can light their tap water on fire. It’s horrifying.

Why is fracking exempt from the acts that have been specifically designed to protect us from things like fracking? (Hint: former vice president Dick Cheney had a lot to do with it.) It’s very literally destroying people’s lives, and we have to do something about it.

Earthquakes & Sinkholes

What happens when you forcefully inject millions of gallons of chemical soup miles into the ground? There are a couple of pieces to this puzzle – there’s how the water interacts with the layers of the earth that it’s injected into, and the fact that the known deposits of natural gas lay on the edges of tectonic plates.


Fracking stands for hydraulic fracturing. So what is being fractured? The ground beneath your feet. Natural gas is contained in layers of shale deep underground. High-pressure injection of water mixed with massive amounts of chemicals is used to break up the shale and release the natural gas. These layers are part of the foundation of solid ground, just like you have a foundation for your house that prevents the whole thing from shifting and sinking. These foundations also contain a distributed pressure, helping to hold up everything above. If you break up that foundation and release that pressure, as fracking does, you get sinkholes. Some of the most notable examples of these are in Louisiana and Ohio.

Fracking also disrupts the edges of tectonic plates, which is why there has been a 600% increase in minor earthquakes in and around fracking areas. For the moment, the damage is limited, but it’s entirely possible that we will do enough damage to the edges of the plates to eventually cause major earthquakes which will result in massive losses. We don’t yet have a strong understanding of how all these forces interplay. If we’re not careful, we could find out in the worst way possible.

Global Warming

There are plenty of natural gas advertisements stating that it’s a cleaner source of energy, that it respects the earth, that it’s safe and abides by “rigorous” safety standards. It’s all bogus, of course, but none of it’s as big a lie as the part about being a clean source of energy. Aside from being incredibly environmentally damaging in the ways discussed above, it’s making major contributions to global warming.

Let’s start with the transportation of water and chemicals. I made the point earlier that trillions of gallons of water and billions of gallons of chemicals are required for this process. They are transported to and fro by tanker trucks, helping the total to reach many millions of metric tons worth of carbon footprint. Even worse, massive amounts of methane, a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, escapes during the fracking process. Methane traps much more heat than CO2, unless it’s burned. If it’s burned it turns into CO2, still a greenhouse gas, just slightly less bad. So, it’s burned off where it can be, slightly decreasing the risks, but it also often escapes directly into the atmosphere, not to mention drinking water.

There are so many good reasons to stop fracking, to work hard to increase the number of states and countries who are at least declaring a moratorium on fracking. If we allow corporations and governments to continue on this destructive path, we condemn the next generation – our own children – to an unlivable world.


Why Meat is Not Sustainable

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein.

There are many reasons people decide to go pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, often having something to do with health or cruelty to animals. Legitimate reasons, to be sure, but they’re not what pushed me over the fence. It was realizing how grossly unsustainable it is to raise livestock for human consumption, especially with the number of people currently living on earth and the current practices that are employed by the vast majority of cattle farmers.

Cattle are definitely the worst offenders. Producing 1 kg of beef (a/b 2.2 lbs) emits greenhouse gases that equal about 34.6 kg (76.3 lbs) worth of global warming potential. Think of every cow as an extra car on the road driving about 7,800 miles per year. There are approximately 1.4 billion cattle in the world, 25-30% of which are dairy cows.

That’s a hell of a contribution to global warming, and that doesn’t include the other forms of environmental damage that result, like deforestation for the purpose of creating pastures. That also doesn’t include the contributions from other livestock, like sheep, goats, and pigs. The more you reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet,  the more you will reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Grapes to the rescue?

We need to work out other ways to reduce the impact of livestock on the environment, and more widely implement those we have. Grape marc is a by-product of wine-making. It’s the parts of the grape left over after pressing out the juice. It’s high in both dietary fat and tannins, both of which reduce the amount of methane a cow produces. When a study was done in Australia, it was found that feeding marc to dairy cows reduced their methane output by 20%. There were other benefits, too, such as reducing the concentration of saturated fatty acids, and increasing linoleic acid which is known to fight cancer, heart disease and arthritis. All that needs to be done for this to work is to create a supply chain between vintners and cattle farmers. It would at least be a start.

It’s also possible to use the manure from the cows to produce electricity, as pointed out by erisa1602 in a comment on my composting post. It strikes me that, as a society, we really need to work on interdisciplinarianism, cross-pollination of ideas, and plain old working together to create better solutions.

Full disclosure

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I am not a vegetarian. I’m actually a pescatarian, though I don’t eat seafood as often as I’d like and I’ve reduced my dairy intake to almost nil these days, almost by accident. One of the things you can do to decrease your meat consumption is to replace some of it with seafood, which doesn’t have as devastating an effect on the environment, if you choose responsibly. The Blue Ocean Institute has a fantastic resource to help you make sustainable seafood choices, while warning you of fish that may contain levels of mercury or PCBs.

It comes down to simple choices, every day, that can make very real differences – instead of making meat lasagna, make eggplant lasagna. Have a bbq with veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs. They’re way better for you anyway, and if you get the right brands they taste really good. There are also serious health benefits to lessening or eliminating meat consumption. I highly recommend looking into the China Study.

It’s hard to change your habits and your lifestyle patterns, but it’s so vital to the future of us all that we each try our best to contribute as little as possible to global warming. For most of us, that does mean we have to make changes. We can no longer afford to think, or eat, selfishly. It’s not sustainable.

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