East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Frackers in Pennsylvania used illegal additives

Barbara McPherson
When fracking approaches an old vertical well, blowouts can happen
An environmental watchdog group, Environmental Integrity Project(EIP), has blown the whistle on frackers in Pennsylvania who have been pumping kerosene into their wells.  Much of the fracking liquid used in the petrochemical industry’s rock fracturing operations is unregulated in the USA. The Energy Policy Act 2005 makes most of the additives exempt from regulation except for diesel. Diesel and its products can be used if a permit is granted.

EIP’s report Fracking Beyond the Law, alleges that using the companies’ own self-reported date that kerosene, derived from diesel, has been used in Pennsylvania operations. There have been no permits issued for its use. They go on to state that diesel has been used widely throughout the states to extract oil and gas.

"Injecting diesel fuel into the ground to fracture shale and extract gas or oil is a potential threat to drinking water supplies and public health because diesel contains toxic chemicals, such as benzene, that cause cancer or other serious health problems, even at low doses. EIP"

The exemptions to the US Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act afforded to the petroleum industry are smirkingly referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole”. Halliburton is the company involved with the giant Gulf of Mexico well blowout. Dick Cheney former US vice-president has served as a top level executive for the drilling company.

Some drilling companies in the US have maintained that they are not using diesel in their fracking liquid. In 2014 the US Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) released an updated guide to clarify which substances contain diesel. Included in the list is kerosene. It is important to note that the drilling companies wishing to use these substances containing benzene, xylene, toluene are not prohibited from doing so. They must get a permit to do so.

Adding to the controversy over rock fracturing to gain petroleum products is the huge amount of water that each well consumes. The water becomes toxic waste when the unknown chemicals are added to it. Often the fracking is using the precious resource in areas of severe drought.

One of the arguments for fracking in the USA is so that that nation can achieve energy independence. Unfortunately much of the natural gas presently extracted is processed and shipped overseas.

No Water No Life
Environmental Protection Agency    

Sunday, 10 August 2014

More bad news from Fukushima

B. McPherson
Basically, Japan has this radioactive mess and doesn't know how to clean it up.

The nuclear power station at Fukushima Daiichi disaster has faded from the front pages, elbowed aside by new disasters, wars and disease but it is still festering on the coast of Japan.

The nuclear power station was devastated three years ago when a one-two punch of earthquake and tsunami hit it. The privately owned electrical company Tokyo Electric Power Company has been pilloried ever since for their failure to fully disclose the extent of the danger to the workers in the plant and to those in the surrounding areas.

A judicial panel has requested that an indictment proceed against three former executives of TEPCO – chairman and two vice-presidents – for their failure to act to mitigate the damages resulting from the radioactive releases.

The cleanup of the radioactive site has been a litany of worker exposures, shoddy work, repeated releases of radiation and rumours that organized crime syndicates are profiting from the disaster. Today we are given the news that after three years, TEPCO spokespersons are saying that the meltdown in reactor 3 is worse than previously thought.

Quoting from the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum:

“As the core meltdown is now believed to have started earlier than was previously thought, the amount of melted nuclear fuel that passed into the containment vessel through the pressure vessel is considered to have been greater, making it technically more difficult to extract the melted fuel and dispose of it,” the newspaper stated. RT

Today, August 7, TEPCO has announced that it will start to pump water that has been contaminated by radiation into the Pacific Ocean. They propose that they will remove most of the radioactive material before releasing it.

Many will wonder how effective their removal programme will be. Earlier the company announced that it would install an ice barrier to prevent ground water from reaching the ocean. Now they are announcing that they will install an iron barrier to do that job. With the clean up of the ruined plant expected to take many years, I wonder how long it will be before the contaminated water manages to eat through the iron.

The Japanese government in conjunction with TEPCO has tried to assure the Japanese people that radiation is not so bad and that the worst effects are from fear of radiation itself. That may be, but when research shows abnormalities in the blood of the iconic macaque monkeys(the ones that bathe in the hot springs) and new evidence shows agricultural land contaminated over a wider area than previously disclosed, trust becomes a rare commodity.


Japan Times              

Friday, 8 August 2014

Massive toxic waste spill contaminates BC rivers

B. McPherson
No words can describe the damage done to our environment
A massive tailings spill from a mine in British Columbia’s Cariboo region has fouled rivers, lakes and land. An estimated five million cubic metres of toxic waste escaped from a breach in a berm holding back the sludgy waste. The Mount Polley copper and gold mine run by Imperial Metals has contaminated the whole of the Cariboo and Quesnel River systems as well as Quesnel Lake.

There is a complete ban on water usage in these systems. About 300 people live in the affected area, but authorities are not sure if that number is accurate. Of course, that does not inform the wildlife in the area or the range cattle about the dangers.

Mine tailings from this kind of operation often contain substantial amounts of arsenic, mercury and sulphur as well as numerous other metals. Unfortunately, the mine operators were unable to provide an accurate accounting of the sludge that escaped.

Imperial Metals has three operations currently in BC. Their homepage has a three word mantra – Discover, Develop, Operate – no nod to environmental protection. They had no information for the public when the dam breached on the 4th. Today they had little more information except to say that the dam had stabilized and that detection equipment didn’t detect the imminent break. They also were in the dark as to the makeup of the slurry which looks like gray oozing clay.

“Exact quantities of water and tailings discharged have yet to be determined. The tailings are alkaline with an average ph of 8.5 and are not acid generating.

Imperial Metals has tried to assure the public that the tailings are not toxic while at the same time state that they don’t know the exact makeup of the waste material. Even if the tailings prove to be light in heavy metal content, that won’t help the spawning salmon which will fight their way up from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs. Salmon must spawn in clean, clear gravel beds.

BC is looking forward to a large return of sockeye salmon to the rivers and streams this year. They are starting on their way up to the spawning streams where they hatched. Fishing is a multimillion dollar industry in BC.

Investors are deserting the company in droves. The Financial Post has reported a 44% drop in the company’s stock. It makes me wonder who will pay for the cleanup and the costs to the people if Imperial Metals goes bankrupt. The company may face a one million dollar fine for this incident, but clean up, if it can be done, will take far more.

Today the Williams Lake First Nations have announced that they may not give permission for the open pit mine to re-open.

Imperial Metals       

Financial Post      

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Toledo water supply shut down by toxic algae

B. McPherson

Toledo was issued a wake-up call when toxic algae forced a shut-down of the water supply. 400 000 people were suddenly without water. They were told that the water was too toxic to touch. Orders went out to not use it as contact could result in difficulties. Difficulties like acute liver failure and death.

The culprit is a one celled algae. Algae are an important part of our ecosystem but when Nature’s fine balance is knocked out of kilter problems arise. Lake Erie is the most shallow of the Great Lakes. When hot summer weather warms the shallow lake, blue-green algae grow quickly. When runoff of fertilizer from agricultural operations and the products of millions of toilets are dumped into the water, the algae reproduce so fast that the water turns green with them. This is called a “bloom”. When the algae produce a poison, the water becomes poisonous as well.
Monday, the mayor of Toledo announced that tests came back showing the toxin levels had dropped to a safe level. That is puzzling in that a day earlier it was too poisonous to shower with. I would have to ask if the system has been fully flushed or that the “authorities” have deemed the water shortage crisis such bad publicity that it is worth taking a chance on water safety.

While the state of emergency in Toledo spawned some water hoarders and stripping of shelves, altruism also became evident. People in the surrounding areas with wells invited those without safe water to fill ‘er up and one farmer loaded up hundreds of gallons in a tank and drove it into town so people could obtain free safe water.

The problem of periodic poisonous water is unlikely to go away soon. There are about 11 million people drawing down the waters of an already stressed lake. Many of those 11 million are contributing their toilets’ contents to the waters. Phosphorous acts as a fertilizer on land and water. Climate warming promises to serve up more and hotter summer days.

We know that algal blooms are more frequent and often more toxic with each year. Yet no effective action seems to be taken. The blooms die off when the weather cools and people seem to forget the crisis. The solution won’t be easy or cheap, but the alternatives aren’t either.

No water No life


The Blade     
Business Insider          

Monday, 7 July 2014

Superweeds Choke Out Farm in Iowa

B. McPherson

Superweeds are a new reality for N. American farmers. Weeds capable of resisting the herbicide glyphosate are sprouting in all the wrong places after years of inadvertent selection by farmers depending on chemicals to keep weeds down. Since the ‘70s when Roundup was introduced, farmers and homeowners alike have used the liquid to kill plants that they didn’t like.

Mother Nature has surprises for the unwary. What seemed like a quick, cost effective solution to elimination of weeds in soy and corn fields has turned out superweeds instead. Iowa is finding more and more Palmer amaranth(pig weed)  infestations. This weed is capable of putting out half a million seeds for each plant. And it’s only one of a plethora of superweeds washing back over croplands that have been sprayed with glyphosate
Glyphosate(Roundup Ready) resistant crops are genetically modified(GM) to not die when sprayed with the chemical.

Palmer pigweeds can produce up to half a million seeds per plant. And they are easily carried by water, wind, tillage tools, combines; even on your clothes,” Steinkamp says. In Michigan, where the weed was first detected in 2010, the tiny seeds were probably transported in cottonseed fed to dairy cattle and spread to fields in the manure.  Corn and Bean Digest

The superweeds compete with the corn and soy crops reducing the yield by as much as 90%. At stake is billions of dollars in agricultural sales.

As European nations and the UK are pondering the spread of herbicide resistant crops, the very real spectre of superweeds should give them pause.

Superweeds Found in N.America (incomplete list)
·         Giant ragweed
·         Marestail(horsetail)
·         Waterhemp
·         Kochia
·         Rigid ryegrass
·         Hairy fleabane
·         Johnson grass
·         Coca (yes, that coca plant)
The New York Times reported that in 1996, "Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically nontoxic" to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines."[123] Wikipedia


Civil Eats   

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wildfire Season in California Starts Early

B. McPherson

A wildfire outside of Bakersfield California has forced a mandatory evacuation of 500 homes. The fire, dubbed the Shirley Fire, is currently out of control and spreading fast. It currently has consumed 2200 acres on the Alta Sierra Mountains.  Gusty winds on the weekend helped spread the fire.

Currently, over 1000 firefighters are on the job there, helped with planes and helicopters. With only 10% of the fire contained, workers are employing  overlapping duty/shift changes in order to maintain the fight. The firefighting may get more difficult later this week as the weather is expected to trend to hotter and drier. The rugged terrain is hampering the use of heavy ground equipment.

The cost of fighting this fire so far has been pegged at over $4 million. California is facing increasing costs in fighting wild fires. One of the reasons for the increase is the huge efforts to save people’s homes in areas of interface between the wild land and the urban. Where scrub land and forest land may have been allowed to burn in the past, now, with whole neighbourhoods at risk this can no longer be allowed.

In the US, nearly $2 billion annually is spent fighting wildfires, much of it in Montana and California. The Headwaters Economics research group predicts a doubling or tripling of the costs if the urban interface is allowed to spread further. That group calls for financial disincentives to building there.

 By spending large sums every year to protect homes from wildfires, the federal government is subsidizing the true cost of development. Without financial disincentives to building homes on dangerous, fire-prone lands, the problem will get worse. Headwaters Economics

Other factors contribute to the wildfire risks. A higher average temperature, an increasing number of windy days, lower humidity, lightning strikes are a few of the natural factors that contribute to the number and seriousness of wild fires.Those are beyond human control.
USA Today   
Headwaters  Economics  

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rising Seas Expose WWII Skeletons

Their South Pacific paradise is disappearing under the waves.
B. McPherson

As Europe is recognizing the 70th year since D-Day, the successful establishment of a beachhead on France’s beaches by Allied Forces, a macabre scene is playing out in the Pacific Ocean. Rising sea levels in the South Pacific have washed away soil covering graves of 26 soldiers believed to be Japanese. The Marshall Islands were the scene of fierce fighting in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. Experts will attempt to confirm and return the remains to their country of origin.

Sea level increases have been more pronounced in the tropical areas, and the S. Pacific islands have been hard hit in some areas. An island in the Marshalls, is now underwater. Some of the S. Pacific islands are based on coral atolls and have very little elevation. Others, more fortunate, are the peaks of volcanoes and have higher ground. The Marshalls have an average elevation of only 2 metres(7ft).

Sea levels are creeping up generally around the world. While some areas are still rebounding from the last ice-age, others are getting the full brunt of the changes. Ocean levels increase because more water is in the seas as more ice melts. Also as the Earth warms, the water expands, taking up more room. Salt water flooding of low lying areas can also occur when earthquakes jostle the land and storm surges may cause higher than normal tidal action.

Even when the ocean retreats, damage is done and people may be forced to move.
Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs, Marshall Islands is quoted by Bloomberg News.

“The atoll ecosystem is very fragile so that if you have a severe inundation of salt, if it doesn’t rain every day for a year, recovery is probably doubtful,” he said. Then “the island loses all its vegetation and becomes very susceptible to wind and tides and more winds and the next thing you know it’s not there anymore.”

South Pacific islands are subject to spring tides that are higher than normal. Dubbed King Tides, they regularly wash over areas formerly safe from inundation. A state of emergency has been called in the Marshall Islands’ capital city of Majuro after king tides rolled into the streets, displacing about 1000 people.
To see what the king tides are doing in the Marshalls, check out the You Tube footage.