Freedom Industries President Facing Charges for Chemical Leak to Elk River

Chemical leak contaminated drinking water supplies.

Chemical leak contaminated drinking water supplies.

On 9 January 2014, a tank at Freedom Industries in Charleston leaked coal-cleaning chemicals into the Elk River, about a mile and a half upstream from a water treatment plant. Tap water from faucets started smelling like licorice. It also had a blue-green color to it. Drinking the water was banned for several days.

In bankruptcy court hearings and meetings, former Freedom Industries President repeatedly said he had little to do with the company before it was sold a few weeks prior to the January chemical spill. But an FBI affidavit said the President had overseen day-to-day operations at the chemical storage company, hired employees and executed contracts for several years, according to a complaint unsealed Monday. He was charged in a chemical spill that discharged MCHM chemical into the Elk River that left 300,000 people without drinking water and lied about his role with the company to protect his personal wealth, according to an FBI affidavit recently released.

Investigators discovered holes in tanks, shoddy last-resort containment walls and other deficiencies.

The President, who has previously denied wrongdoing, faces charges of bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud and lying under oath. If convicted of all the charges, he faces up to 30 years in prison. The executive appeared unsympathetic to much of an entire valley of people lacking clean water.

 

 

California Drought Conditions and the Link to Climate Change

California’s crippling ongoing drought is considered one of the worst in state history. In the past three years, California has experienced exceptionally warm temperatures, stagnant air conditions, and low precipitation. These conditions have resulted in a dangerous increase of wildfires and pollution levels. In addition, it is estimated that water shortage in California will result in $2.2 billion of agricultural losses, leading to the loss of more than 17,000 seasonal jobs in 2014 alone.

CA-droughtA recent study conducted by Stanford climate scientist, Noah Diffenbaugh, contends that California’s recent atmospheric conditions associated with the drought are very likely connected to human-caused climate change. Using a combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques, Diffenbaugh’s study shows the presence of a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure located above the Pacific Ocean that is responsible for diverting storms away from the state. This phenomena is much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford, claims “Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region—which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California—is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.”

Many renowned scientists concur that the immediate cause of the drought is a stubborn “blocking ridge” over the Northeastern Pacific. This ridge, commonly referred to as the Ridiculous Resilient Ridge, or Triple R, has prevented storms from reaching the state during the 2013 and 2014 rainy season.

Blocking ridges are regions of high atmospheric pressure that disrupt typical wind patterns in the atmosphere. Daniel Swain, one of the study’s lead authors explains, “Winds respond to the spatial distribution of atmospheric pressure. We have seen this amazingly persistent region of high pressure over the northeastern Pacific for many months now, which has substantially altered atmospheric flow and kept California largely dry.”

Triple R is considered an exceptional blocking ridge, due to its size and longevity. It has diverted the flow of high-speed air currents known as the jet stream far to the north, causing many Pacific storms to bypass California, as well as Oregon and Washington. Due to this redirection, rain and snow that would normally fall on the West Coast have been re-routed to Alaska and the Arctic Circle.

The main question environmental scientists are concerned with is whether California’s drought conditions are a result of climate change cause by humans. To attempt to answer this question, Diffenbaugh’s team collaborated with Bala Rajaratnam, assistant professor of Statistics and of Environmental Earth System Science, and affiliated faculty of the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Comparing geopotential heights, an atmospheric property related to pressure, the group analyzed two sets of climate model experiments. One set represented the present climate, in which the atmosphere is growing increasingly warm, due to human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  In the other set of experiments, greenhouse gases were kept at a level similar to those that existed just prior to the Industrial Revolution.

The interdisciplinary research team concluded that the geopotential heights associated with the Triple R were three times as likely to occur in the present climate as in the preindustrial climate. They found that such extreme conditions are consistently tied to the unusually low precipitation in California and the formation of atmospheric ridges over the northeastern Pacific.

Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants to Exceed $100 Billion, Less Than Decommissioning of Oil Offshore Platforms

Costly decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

Costly decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

The cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors that will be closed around the world between now and 2040 will top $100 billion, according to the latest annual report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). For comparison, decommissioning just North Sea oil and gas facilities is projected to cost about $70 billion over the next 25 years. The report notes that, of a total of about 200 nuclear reactors now operating globally, about 38% of those will be shut down over the next 25 years,. About 44% of these reactors are in the European Union (EU) nations, another 16% are located in the United States, and 12% are in Japan. IEA warned that governments and their energy agencies have little experience in the craft of decommissioning—only 10 reactors have been decommissioned over the last 40 years so the report’s estimates of the ultimate costs must be regarded as a minimum level of expenditure. The estimate does not take into account the need to construct facilities to store the waste that’s accumulating at these facilities, according to Fatih Birol, IAE’s chief economist, who added that, 60 years after the first nuclear power plant started up operations, no country has yet built a permanent disposal facility for high-level nuclear waste.

US-China Deal on Carbon Emissions to Potentially Impact Climate Talks

In 1997, the world’s first climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, failed to stop the rise of plant-warming pollution. Nearly two decades later, there is new hope for the impending climate change negations that are to occur in Paris next year.

Earlier this month, Obama and Xi Jinping, China’s president, came to an agreement to commit to lowering their nations’ carbon emissions. The ramifications of such a commitment from two of the world’s largest emitters has many environmentalists excited for a shift in global politics.

As David B. Sandalow, Obama’s former assistant secretary for energy policy and international affairs, comments, “For the world’s biggest emitters to be coming together and announcing concrete numbers, serious numbers, sends a signal to the world.” One of the many reasons the Kyoto Protocol is not considered a success is due to a standoff between the two nations who refused to sign the deal in 1997.

The Kyoto plan was meant to force developed countries, such as the United States, to cut fossil fuel emissions, while developing countries like China were exempt. Due to these conditions, the United States refused to ratify the treaty. Since 1997, China has grown to become one of the world’s largest carbon polluters. The standoff between two of the world’s superpowers caused many other governments to refuse to cut emissions as well.

Despite these negotiations, many experts claim that these emissions reductions are not enough to reduce the global atmospheric temperatures. Scientists expect the atmospheric temperature to increase by at least 2 degrees Celsius, tipping the planet into a trend of dangerous warming. Such conditions will result in the loss of large areas of arable land, melting Arctic sea ice and rapidly increasing sea levels, among many other dreadful climate changes.

These Scientists have concluded that in order to avoid such catastrophic conditions, the world’s largest economies must commit to a much more extreme plan of emission reduction, in a much shorter amount of time. Additionally, many Paris deal-negotiating experts claim that in order for significant change to occur, the final deal must include a tax on industries for their carbon emissions.

Although many are hopeful for the upcoming Paris negotiations, others are taking a more pragmatic stance. Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate change ambassador to the United Nations, states that she does not believe the Paris deal will result in a traditional treaty. Tubiana envisions a “Paris Alliance” which she anticipated will resemble a collection of targets pledge by individual countries, as well as governmental pledges to follow through with domestic action.

The opinions on how the Paris deal will pan out are varied; many are not convinced how the agreement between the United States and China will influence other major emitters. Despite these concerns, negotiators can all agree that if the treaty fails to stave off a 2-degree temperature increase, the 2015 deal must include provisions to assist poor countries deal with the resulting climate change.  Rich countries will meet in Berlin to formally announce their pledges for such provisions, with hopes of reaching their $100 billion goal.

Internet of Things and the Climate Change

The future of climate change management lies in the ability to use a holistic approach to environmental data and monitoring information. This merging of technological advances, such as real-time sensors, big data technologies, and Internet of Things (IoT), gives industries and governments the ability to effectively predict and manage climate change.

Internet_of_ThingsIn any industry, when all incoming data is connected and centrally accessible through a SaaS application, the flow of information is much more efficient and effective. For example, instead of having a separate file and procedure for energy management, waste management, environmental compliance and incident management, a company can have all emissions-related records environmental and H&S compliance data in one system. From this single system, they would have the ability to manage compliance activity, data monitoring, and resource management at the same time. Adopting such a structure offers any entity the ability to converge all incoming sources of information to create a much more integrated enterprise platform for EH&S+S management.

At the crux of this method of centralized information is the Internet of Things. The IoT is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure. The proliferation of IoT is expected to usher in an age of automation in the environmental field, while enabling advanced applications like a smart grid or real time water quality measurement and management. IoT is able to offer connectivity beyond machine-to-machine communications and cover a variety of protocols, domains and applications.

In relation to environmental management, a “Thing” in the IoT could refer to flow monitoring sensors, a groundwater monitoring well, emission monitoring stations, Gas Chromatography (GC) instruments  used in analytical chemistry for  testing the purity of a particular substance, or separating the different components of a mixture or  identifying a compound. Ultimately, any natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network can become a thing in the IoT. The expanded use of this system is expected to create a plethora of new areas of application for internet connected automation. And, in turn, the IoT is also expected to generate a large amount of data from a huge variety of environmental monitoring devices, thereby increasing the need for better indexing, processing, and storing of incoming data.

The IoT is considered one of the fastest growing trends in technology. When applied to the environmental monitoring industry, there will be an overwhelming influx of information that will have to be dealt with. Many companies are concerned that the sheer volume of data will render the information useless. Environmental companies must invest in smart software and intelligent databases to deal with this new trend, hopefully changing the face of the environmental monitoring industry.

Hydrofracking Wastewater Treatment Market to Triple

Expensive waste water treatment and management.

Expensive waste water treatment and management.

Hydrofracking wastewater treatment market to triple
The U.S. market for treating produced water and flowback water generated during the process of hydrologic fracturing, or “fracking,” in oil and gas production will increase substantially from $138 million in 2014 to $357 million in 2020, according to a recent report by Bluefield Research (Boston, MA). The report finds that, overall, the U.S. oil and gas industry will spend $6.38 billion in 2014 on water management, including water supply, transport, storage, treatment, and disposal. The transport and disposal components will account for 66% of the total costs, while treatment will only constitute 2% of that expenditure this year, but treatment will gain as the industry requires more reuse of its wastewater. The “fracking” industry has been a kind of “wild west” for the U.S. water industry, according to Bluefield analyst Reese Tisdale, because of the explosive build-out of fracking wells, the lack of clear regulation of water management in key markets, and the absence to date of a consistent method for treating the wastewater.

California’s Water Shortage

A new paper published in Nature Climate Change, by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, presents the chilling reality of California’s ongoing drought crisis. “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” uses satellite data to measure the depletion of the world’s aquifers, and summarizes the effects this has on the environment.

These aquifers contain groundwater that more than 2 billion individuals rely on as their primary source of water. Groundwater is also essential, as it is one of the main sources we rely on to irrigate food crops. In times of drought, the lack of rain and snow results in less surface water (the water that settles in lakes, streams, and rivers). Thus, farmers must rely on available groundwater to irrigate their crops, leading to rapid depletion in areas of high farming concentration.

California’s Central Valley has been one of the most effected regions in the state. The map below depicts groundwater withdrawals in California during the first three years of the state’s ongoing drought.

CA-drought

Images by J.T. Reager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, from “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” Nature Climate Change, November 2014, by James S. Famiglietti

 

According to James Famiglietti, “California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011.”  That means “more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

As more water is pumped from the aquifers, things can only get worse. As this trend continues, wells will have to be dug deeper, resulting in increased pumping costs. This, in turn, will lead to a higher salt contents, which inhibits crop yields and can eventually cause soil to lose productivity altogether. Over time, Famiglietti writes, “inequity issues arise because only the relatively wealthy can bear the expense of digging deeper wells, paying greater energy costs to pump groundwater from increased depths and treating the lower-quality water that is often found deeper within aquifers.” This problem is already apparent in California’s Central Valley.  Some low-income residents are forced to let their wells go dry, while many other farmers are forced to irrigate with salty water pumped from deep in the aquifer.

The lesson we can learn from Famiglietti’s research is that “Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.”  This problem of diminishing groundwater is perpetuated, due the lack of forethought, regulation, or research concerning this water source. Famiglietti contends that if current trends hold, “groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”

Without any change of practices, we can expect steeper droughts and more demand for water. Famiglietti suggests that if we ever plan on getting the situation under control, we must start carefully measuring groundwater and treat it like the precious resource that it is. However, if the globe continues on this path without any adjustment, it will most likely result in civil uprising and international violent conflict in the water-stressed regions of the world.

UN Report – Irreversible Climate Change Deadline

The latest United Nations’ world climate report states that greenhouse gas emissions will need to stop by 2100 or the world will face irreversible change.

The final report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes the findings from the three previous reports, and includes more than 30,000 independent studies about climate. The bottom line conclusion is a 95 percent accurate assessment that climate change is both real and almost entirely man-made. It also states that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the results will be irreversible. Effects will include even hotter years than the recent record setting ones, rising sea levels, agricultural disruption, and even potential changes in the male-female population ratios.

The physical changes outlined in the report won’t be the limit to the secondary societal changes. Famine and drought have already exasperated issues in parts of Africa, and rising human migration from areas affected by climate change will cause even more conflicts between nation states. The rise in heat will also cause increases in health issues.

2014 may be the hottest year on record, and if the heat trends continue, growing regions will change, causing untold potential economic disruption to traditional agricultural areas. Coastal towns and resort communities could find themselves underwater and forced to move inland to higher elevations or forcing never-ending construction of offshore breakwaters.

The primary conclusion from the IPCC report is that all countries will need to reduce, and eventually halt, use of fossil fuels and move to renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. And while twenty-eight European nations have agreed to reduce emissions to almost half of their 1990 levels in the next fifteen years, the United States still hasn’t even come to a political agreement between Republican and Democrats if climate change is even real.

Decisions made in the next couple of decades by politicians and citizens around the world will determine if this “irreversible” deadline in going to be met with change or if we’ll be walking into 2100 different world than we are now.

Locus Technologies Introduces Locus Mobile for Data Access and Input On the Go

Native iOS app for environmental, health, safety and sustainability field data collection. Get real-time connection with your data and do data validation on the go.

Native iOS app for environmental, health, safety and sustainability field data collection. Get real-time connection with your data and perform data validation on the go.

Locus Mobile is designed for easy and accurate data collection on the go.

Locus Mobile on the go…  Locus Mobile works both online and offline to ensure continuous access and interaction, and takes advantage of the most advanced technology to provide a variety of options for ad hoc sampling, additional field data checks, dynamic forms, and effective mapping tools. Locus Mobile users can easily configure business-specific data collection needs, enter data offline and upload on-demand, and synchronize data back to Locus’ systems for final review, storing, managing, and reporting.

We are seeing growing customer interest in adding mobility to our full-line of environmental and sustainability information management applications to more efficiently centralize remotely collected information for executive decision-support reporting. Locus Mobile allows users to push information the other way so that remote personnel are empowered with the information and instructions they need to take appropriate preventative and remedial action on the ground, perform real-time data validation, and spot exceedances. As a result of this more frictionless two-way data flow, Locus mobile will completely transform the way enterprises address their environmental and sustainability challenges and achieve positive outcomes for the environment, brand protection, and their shareholders and customers.

Locus Mobile is offered as a downloadable app from the Apple App Store to work with Locus’ cloud software systems.

Download it here: Locus Mobile App Store

NASA now says massive methane cloud over U.S. southwest is legitimate

Several years ago, NASA scientists discovered a cloud of methane gas over the Four Corners of the American southwest that measured about the size of Delaware. The unusually high readings were dismissed then; however, a new study today confirms that the methane hot spot is legitimate.

methane-gas-plume

“We didn’t focus on it because we weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error,” said NASA research scientist Christian Frankenberg, who works in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California.

The Christian Science Monitor website states that a 2,500 square mile methane cloud over the region where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona connect traps more heat in a 1-year period than all of Sweden’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

To provide an overview of gases that endanger the Earth’s atmosphere, methane gas is the most powerful of the greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is another greenhouse gas, and is more abundant in our atmosphere. However, methane is more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

A new study published 10 October 2014 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters takes a look at the data discovered several years ago and confirms what we now know to be North America’s largest methane hot spot. According to lead author of the study, Eric Kort, a professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the source of the methane is from extensive coal mining activity in the San Juan Basin. According to Kort, the Basin is “the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.”

There has been a notable increase in fracking in that region. Both Kort and Frankenberg believe that the earlier coal mining is most likely to blame for the methane cloud.  From 2003 to 2009, the study shows there were 0.59 million metric tons of methane released each year — 3.5 times more than previous estimates.

According to Kort, “The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried. There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”