April 25, 2011

A fuelish solution?

That disturbing "drill baby, drill" mantra appeals to some Americans as gasoline prices continue to soar. Rumors of $5 and even $6 per gallon prices by summer don't help. Have we already forgotten what BP taught us about blowouts?

What most folks do not realize, however, is that increased offshore drilling for oil off our East and West coasts, as well as western Florida, is unlikely to have much effect on gasoline prices. The latest figures estmate that opening up these new oil-drilling areas could generate an extra half million barrels daily by 2030. Perhaps that sounds like a lot while you're pumping 20 gallons into your car's gas tank. But the world is consuming 89 million barrels per day. So any new domestic oil would really be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

The U.S. is already producing about 9.7 million barrels of oil per day, the most in 20 years and about a million and a half more barrels today than it did six years ago. But we import about 11 million gallons of oil per day. We need to understand that both deepwater drilling and shale-rock extraction (through fracking) are neither cheap nor without threat to our environment.

Shell Oil folks are asking to drill up to ten new wells off Alaskan waters. They claim there's potentially enough oil there (maybe 27 billion barrels of the stuff)  to fuel 25 million cars for 35 years. I've also seen that's an extra 2.8 million barrels per day by 2025. Might wanna ask the residents of the Louisiana coast if that's worth it.

So what's a viable solution? President Obama is calling for a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures to reduce U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025. Conservation can't make more than a dent in our consumption. Public transit just isn't there for many of us. Solar and wind-driven cars are a pipe dream. Natural gas is being pushed by T. Boone for buses, although he's not saying much about the dangers of fracking. But what's going to propel our cars? Maybe it's time to put down a deposit to reserve an electric car and hope that charging stations will be there if you need one.

Or better yet, giant algae farms could produce enough biofuel to produce 21 billion gallons of algae oil and replace 17 percent of our imported petroleum, according to researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Lab. Both ODU and VCU are turning algae into biofuel in their labs, and William and Mary is part of ChAP (Chesapeake Algae Project). Exxon Mobil just committed $600 million to develep algae-based fuel too. I'm hoping to hear more from these folks soon!

Growing algae requires a LOT of water, sunshine, and humidity. Duh. Sounds like Tidewater Virginia to me!  Now that would really create green jobs--slimy green jobs. Algae doubles their mass in a few hours and produce 30 times as much oil per acre as sunflowers do. The stuff thrives in sewage and brackish water too.

Any suggestions for a marketable name for "algae oil"? "Slimy slime" perhaps????

April 16, 2011

Virginia is 26th "Greenest State"

The Greenopia folks, who bill themselves as "experts on green living" rank Virginia as the 26th greenest state in their 2011 annual ratings, based on  air quality, water quality, recycling rates, number of LEED registered or certified buildings, per capita energy consumption, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

They also report that: Virginia has good water quality according to EPA data and has a better than average recycling rate at around 38%. Virginia has a good number of LEED buildings when you scale against its population. Virginia is better than average in emissions per capita and average in water and energy consumption. Virginia utilizes a decent amount of renewable energy, but we would prefer to see it move away from hydro and wood-biomass and towards other greener technologies.

Environmental Negatives: Virginia has worse than average air quality according to EPA and American Lung Association data. Virginia does not have a lot of green businesses even when you scale them against its population. Virginia should also look into adding more renewable energy types to its grid mix and utilize less coal and petroleum. Finally, Virginia has one of the worst per capita generation rates in this study.

Click here to see where your state ranks.

"Go Green" stamps from USPS

When we can't use Facebook or email to communicate, we have to resort to the postal service. The new stamps from the United States Postal Service (just in time for Earth Day 2011) don't make a huge difference to our planet, unless those using them follow the advice on these 16 stamps.

But hey, the stamps are cute. Click here to find out more about them.

  • Print postage-paid shipping labels with Click-N-Ship®
  • Save gas by scheduling a FREE package pickup from your mailman
  • Buy stamps and order supplies online
  • Put your mail on hold

April 10, 2011

March "Climate Madness"?

Weather or climate change?

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center just made it official, folks: "The U.S. had above normal temperatures and precipitation in March." The average temperature in March was 44.0 degrees F, which is 1.4 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average.

But a LOT of Americans can't look beyond their own backyards. They are correct when they claim that THEY experienced little rain ruining their March weekends. But that's weather, NOT climate. For example, March precipitation, while record dry in areas like Texas, was overall 0.22 inch above the long-term average for the ENTIRE country.  That's why that vexing word "global" enters the picture. Scientists (at least most of them) look at the bigger picture than climate change skeptics--even though NOAA's recent announcement is ONLY about the U.S.

NOAA also says,
"Above-normal warmth dominated much of the southern U.S. and Rocky Mountains. The largest temperature departures were in Western Texas and New Mexico, which had its fifth-warmest March on record. Midland, Texas had four consecutive days—March 16 – 19—of temperatures that tied existing records.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures were present in the northern and western areas of the country. Conditions were especially cool from southwestern Minnesota across the Dakotas into eastern Montana. Within this belt, March temperatures were as much as 6 degrees below the 20th Century average.

Precipitation varied across the country, as the west and east coasts received above normal amounts, while the central and southern United States was largely dry. Texas had its driest March on record, with a statewide average of 0.27 inch. This was 1.47 inch below its 20th Century average, and broke the previous record of 0.28 inch set in 1971. It was the third driest March in New Mexico and 10th driest in Oklahoma.

Record warm maximum temperatures exceeded record cold minimum temperatures by a 5-to-1 ratio.

Washington, Oregon and California had their second, fifth, and ninth wettest March on record, respectively. Regionally, it was the second wettest March on record for the Northwest. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania had its third wettest such period.

Drought conditions continued to intensify across much of the nation in March. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the overall footprint of drought did not increase, holding fairly steady at about 24 percent of the country. However, the area covered by the “Severe” and “Intense” drought categories almost doubled, from about 12 percent early in the month, to more than 20 percent at month’s end.

Dry conditions across the Southern Plains contributed to above average wildfire activity during March. Across the U.S., approximately 385,000 acres burned, marking the second most active March in terms of wildfires on record, behind March 2006."

I don't have time to crunch all these numbers, so I'll take NOAA's analysis. You can find more at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ 

April 8, 2011

Any way you see it . . . BEWARE!

United Nations Symbol for Radiation  In 2007, after a 5 year project in 11 different countries, the United Nations introduced a new symbol to help reduce accidental exposure to large radioactive sources. The new icon is aimed at alerting anyone, anywhere to the potential dangers of being close to a large source of ionizing radiation. The new symbol will not be visible under normal use, but only if someone attempts to disassemble a device that is a source of dangerous radiation. It will not be located on building access doors, transportation packages or containers.

In the mean time, you'll see this familiar magenta or black "tri-foil" on a yellow background that is the international symbol to protect people from being exposed to radioactivity. It is a warning, posted where radioactive materials are handled, or where radiation-producing equipment is used such as the nuclear medicine area of a hospital. This sign is used as a warning

April 6, 2011

Speaking of dams

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River
The recent "Damned If You Do; Damned If You Don't" article by Jody Argo Schroath in Chesapeake Bay Magazine opened my eyes WIDE. This is one of my favorite publications by the way.

I first saw the humongous Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River years ago and followed its damage in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes when I lived in Baltimore. But I never realized that it's only one of three hydroelectric dams on the lower part of that mighty river, the longest along the East Coast by the way. As a sailor, I don't get to explore some rivers thanks to dams. You can't portage a 36 foot sailboat. Damn! The dam used to be a problem to shad swimming upriver as well. But a $12 million fish lift was completed in the early 1990s and has restored more than 1 million shad to the upper Susquehanna.

The Conowingo Dam, which began generating power in 1928, is a big player in "nonpoint source pollution" prevention. It has trapped a bunch of nasty stuff behind its thick walls and flood gates that doesn't need to flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Schroath says, "an average of 3.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 2 million tons of dirt every year." Yes, every YEAR! So one third of the phosphorus coming from farms, lawns and other sources of "nonpoint source pollution" and half the sediment washed off farmed and developed tree-less terrain end up in Conowingo Pond. You might think that that's a good thing, but this pond does not have infinite capacity. Just how long before it's full? I hope Schroath can answer that in next month's issue.

Dam it! Is anyone talking about hydroelectric power?

One source of clean (and renewable) energy was missing in a recent feature article, "Is there Any Safe Energy?," in NEWSWEEK. Are our mega-dams outta sight these days? I realize that most of our major rivers are already dammed and producing megawatts of electricity, but is anyone talking about building more hydroekectric power? It's out there! Just not free for the taking.

It seems that hydropower CAN be added to many of the Interior Department's flood-control dams. On March 31, the U.S. Department of the Interior released the results of an internal study that shows it could generate up to one million megawatt hours of electricity annually (that's a lot) and create an estimated 1200 jobs by adding hydropower capacity at 70 of its existing dams, canals, tunnels, and other water-handling facilities. That's enough clean, renewable energy to annually power more than 85,000 households. Doing so would move us toward Obama's goal of meeting 8o percent of U.S. energy needs with clean sources by 2035.

These 70 facilities identified in this report are located in 14 states. Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas, and Arizona have the facilities with the most hydropower potential, but facilities with hydropower potential were also found in California, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.

April 5, 2011

Fracking for natural gas ALERT

"Slow down; you move too fast."

That line from Simon and Garfunkle's "Feelin' Groovy" comes to mind when I learned that the great state of Pennsylvania approved 3300 drilling permits for natural gas in 2010 and is looking at another 3500 in 2011. In the first half of last year alone, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found more than 530 violations at natural gas drilling sites across that state, ranging from spills and leaks to poor erosion and sediment controls, according to the state agency. Some of these chemicals could migrate into nearby sources of drinking water. Yikes!

These chemicals also remain in the fluid that returns to the surface after a well is hydrofracked. A recent investigation by The New York Times found high levels of contaminants, including benzene and radioactive materials, in wastewater that is being sent to treatment plants not designed to fully treat the waste before it is discharged into rivers. At one plant in Pennsylvania, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed levels of benzene roughly 28 times the federal drinking water standard in wastewater as it was discharged, after treatment, into the Allegheny River in May 2008. Yikes again!

The "experts" now suspect that more methane leaks out of these wells than they thought. Methane is the wonderful gas that ignited when those hapless Pennsylvania families opened their faucets in the "Gasland"  documentary. That was NOT computer-generated graphics, folks. It's a no-brainer to take it easy on allowing more fracking (horizontal hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas wells in my great state of Virginia.

Yes, the Marcellus Shale formation stores googads of natural gas from its northern reaches in New York State down through West Virginia. It's huge too--under 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s total land mass, where it is buried up to 9000 feet deep.

But many elected folks in Virginia are chomping at the bit to allow fracking here--in the far western (very rural!) parts of the state.

So the Chesapeake Bay Foundation leads a coalition of environmental groups in petitioning the White House Council on Environmental Quality for a comprehensive federal analysis of the cumulative impacts of natural gas drilling in the Mid-Atlantic region on streams, the Bay, drinking water, air pollution, and human health. That word "comprehensive" implies a LOT of research and more than just a simple EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). And the word "cumulative" is not one that the gas industry especially likes. But moving too fast just to make a quick buck (actually lots of bucks) from natural gas can leave a lot of tainted water in its path.

The National Parks Conservation Association is one of the petitioning organizations because of their concern that public lands will also be damaged by drilling.

For a look at this issue from the industry, click here to see how the Marcellus Shale Coalition presents its case.