U.N. Report Finds Largest CO2 Emissions Increase in 30 Years

Locus Air and Greenhouse Gases Earth Sun TiltLast week, the United Nation’s weather agency released a report stating that more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were released into our atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 than any other year since 1984; a finding that the United Nation claims puts us on the fast track for irreversible global warming.

The annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin composed by The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 parts per million, which is the largest increase in 30 years. Due to this increase, the atmospheric CO2 average has grown to 399 parts per million- just 9 ppm away from reaching a troublesome level, according to various scientists. It is believed that if we should reach this level, we could experience sea level rise, drought, and weather severe enough to significantly harm human populations worldwide.

The WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud stated, “The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” continuing, “We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board. We are running out of time.”

The WMO also expressed concerns of ocean acidification that causes large-scale die-offs of calcifying organisms such as coral, algae, mollusks, and plankton, and a general decrease in biodiversity. The report notes that the ocean currently absorbs about one quarter of human caused CO2 emissions, which has reduced the amount in the atmosphere. However, the ocean’s capacity to soak up carbon is decreasing rapidly.

Wendy Watson-Wright, the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO said, “If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come.”

According to the report, other concentrations are also on the rise. The report stated that atmospheric methane reached a record high of about 1824 parts per billion in 2013, with most of these emissions coming from human activity such as natural gas production and industrial agriculture.

Fortunately, according to the WMO, action can be taken to reduce the atmospheric carbon levels to prevent catastrophic global warming through cooperative international policymaking. The WMO asked policymakers to use this report as a “scientific base for decision-making” to help prevent these dangerous consequences.

Water Scarcity Shines Spotlight on the Fracking Industry

Shale Gas in PAThe World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a report that highlights the potential for water scarcity to put a halt on fracking among the world’s top 20 shale countries.

In one of these countries—the United States—fracking has been used for years. However, new technology has enabled companies to drill deeper and horizontally, allowing fracking in more populated areas than ever before. These modern fracking techniques require millions more gallons per well of water, resulting in millions more gallons of contaminated wastewater. This increased amount of water usage results in two major causes for concern: water scarcity, and groundwater contamination.

Adding to this concern, the WRI report states that 38 percent of the world’s shale resources are found in areas that are water barren or “under high to extremely high levels of water stress”, and 40 percent of countries with the largest shale reserves have severely limited freshwater sources. With the spotlight being shined brighter than ever on fracking’s relationship with water, the WRI has compiled a list of actions for these operations to take in order to help preserve the integrity of water supplies. The list is made up of four recommendations.

First, the WRI suggests conducting water risk assessments to understand local water availability and reduce business risk. Next, increase transparency and engage with local regulators, communities, and industry to minimize uncertainty and ensure adequate water governance to guarantee the security of the water and reduce risks. The last action the WRI recommends is minimizing freshwater use and engaging in corporate water stewardship to reduce impacts on water availability.

Current findings and water shortages suggest an urgent need for improved monitoring and transparency for operations within the fracking industry. Using a centralized system for managing crucial fracking information can increase transparency, improve compliance with current regulations, and better protect the quality and quantity of the world’s water supplies.

North Carolina Cleans Up With the Coal Ash Management Act

North Carolina’s decision to pass the Coal Ash Management Act on Wednesday makes it one of the first states to pass a bill that is a clean sweep effort to confront the hazardous environmental effects of coal ash dumps. The decision came mere days before the Republican-led Legislature ended their session.

This new bill will create the Coal Ash Management Commission to oversee the coal ash swirlassessment, planning and clean-up of all coal ash ponds across the state. These ponds will be assessed and grouped into one of three classifications based on their inherent risk to the water supply surrounding them. Any pond deemed “high-risk” will be required to be cleaned by 2019.

The bill must still be signed into action by Governor Pat McCrory before it will become law, and many environmental groups have already doubted its strength, calling it a weak remedy to the underlying issues. The bill will affect more than 30 coal ash dumps across the state containing over 100 million tons of coal ash.

Even though doubts exist, legislators still support the bill and hope to move forward with its implementation. State Representative Joe Sam Queen stated, “It may not be perfect, but it is a solid step forward.”

Earlier this year, North Carolina’s Superior Court ruled that the state can require “immediate action” to clean up coal ash dumps that have caused groundwater contamination. The bill also allows “low-risk” dumps to be capped with plastic sheeting and dirt, and also can require energy companies to move low-lying  dumps if they are seen as a significant risk to groundwater sources.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, “allowing coal ash to be left in unlined, leaking pits across North Carolina with documented groundwater contamination at each site is not a cleanup plan nor does it protect the people of North Carolina.”  They continue to state, “Many sites across the country where coal ash has been covered up or ‘capped’ in place continue to experience high levels of toxic pollution. Covering up coal ash and calling sites ‘closed’ does not stop or clean up pollution.”

Coal ash is known to contain trace amounts of arsenic and selenium, among other metals that can be toxic in high concentrations, making it a significant concern of environmental experts. The ash, which is placed into waste ponds and open-air pits is a toxic by-product of burning coal.

According to the Sierra Club, the U.S. produces 140 million tons of coal ash pollution every year. “Without this legislation, coal ash would have remained essentially unregulated, an untenable position for North Carolina residents,” states Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club. “Still, today’s action does not go far enough to prevent more contamination of our treasured water resources.”

Droughts Reinforce California’s Need for Water Management Improvements

slow-water-river-1013tm-pic-1292California, also known as the Golden State, has many well-known qualities that attribute to its reputation. Many times, these qualities refer to accomplishments or physical attributes that serve as superlatives the state can claim as its own. Some examples include having the ninth largest economy in the world, and containing the highest and lowest points in the continental U.S.

Another title that California can claim is the state with the most variable climate in the U.S. – a title that also comes with some consequences.

Possibly the most significant consequence is California’s need to become resourceful with its water supply- not entirely surprising, given the drought it’s been experiencing all summer. Droughts, which unfortunately occur on a fairly frequent basis, cause the state to rely heavily on groundwater. Estimates conclude that California may rely on this source for up to 65% of its water needs.

However, California is the only state that doesn’t regulate groundwater, meaning that many of these groundwater sources are over-pumped, which can cause serious, permanent damages such as subsidence (the ground sinking), and destroyed aquifers.

What many environmental experts believe California may need is an increase on both federal and state-level regulation when it comes to water. Some suggest they should look to Australia as a model, who after their own devastating drought strongly reinforced that water is a public good, and publicly owned, in their new laws on water rights. This aggressive move toward statewide water efficiency standards is seen as a great first step, and pairs well with the need for groundwater pumping regulation, a diversified water portfolio, focus on community-based water storage, and upgraded water infrastructure, among others.

If California were to answer the call for stricter regulation on water use, it would also need a way to manage monitoring practices in order to successfully abide by these new regulations. Water quality management software is available and could potentially be a piece to the puzzle of solving the state’s water crisis.

The first bill to regulate groundwater is currently making its way through the law-making process, and only time will tell if this new water policy will set the stage for better water management techniques.

Fukushima Water Cleanup Deadline Unlikely to be Met

FukushimaAccording to recent calculations by Bloomberg News, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) is unlikely to meet its March 2015 deadline to complete the filtering of cancer-causing radioactive isotopes at its wrecked nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Tepco’s President, Naomi Hirose, made a commitment to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September of last year to remedy the contamination of groundwater their plant has caused. Bloomberg estimates suggested that filtering out the isotope strontium, which has been linked to leukemia, from the stored water will take more time than they have left with the set deadline.

Spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida stated earlier this month that Tepco can, “only say we’ll make efforts to achieve that target” of reaching their goal of decontamination before the deadlines that are less than a year away.

The prolonging of the cleanup process has other implications as well, including an extension on a South Korean ban on Japanese seafood imports, and an increased demand in the U.S. for an international takeover of the cleanup process. While the implications of not completing the cleanup on time have not yet been discussed, Tepco is continually seeking ways to remedy the after effects of the March 11, 2011 accident.

The levels of toxic waters are continually rising at a rate of 400,000 liters per day, and as of July 29, the site was said to have more than 373,000,000 liters of radioactive water still needing treatment. With numerous failed attempts at reducing the amount of irradiated water released, Tepco’s ability to reach the deadline is looking incredibly bleak, but Yoshida reassures, “we are doing everything we can do.”

Years later we are once again being reminded of the Fukushima crisis and the magnitude of its effects. Just as it was discussed in the aftermath of the incident, the assistance of a cloud-based, centralized data management system could help to take action on the cleanup. With today’s technology it is possible to store relevant data in a system that is accessible to all stakeholders, supplies a way to continuously monitor and analyze levels of isotopes, and offers opportunities to make better decisions and improve safety at nuclear power plants.

Companies Make Strides Toward Enforcing Oil Spill Prevention Plans

2000 Le Cheylas France (17)In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has become much more vigilant about oil spill regulation—regardless of the spills origin. After a series of inspections over the past two years, the EPA announced seven New England companies who have all created or updated their spill prevention plans to be in compliance with federal oil pollution prevention laws.

The companies, who all store or distribute oil, agreed to pay fines under an expedited settlement program, their penalties ranging from $3,000 to $9,500. This expedited program allows companies to pay reduced penalties if they quickly correct violations against the Oil Pollution Prevention regulations. These companies also were required to have a certain minimum storage capacity with no accompanying spill in order to qualify for these reduced fines.

The EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rules designate certain requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges into navigable waters and adjoining shorelines. These rules call for facilities to adhere to guidelines pertaining to their ability to prepare, amend and implement SPCC Plans.

For many companies, complying with these regulations created by the EPA requires an additional focus on detailed actions in SPCC procedures.  Often times tracking and reporting spills if and when they occur—along with the root causes and inspection findings—can be a significant challenge without the appropriate management tools. However, when properly prepared, abiding by these necessary SPCC rules will ensure that organizations stay within compliance, thus avoiding fines and penalties and any harsh effects on our environment.

The Unclear Future of Carbon Capture

Locus Air Pollution--Focus on what matters the most.With the recent policy standards called for by President Obama, focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has moved to the forefront of the sustainability initiative. Much of this concern circles the hazardous effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere, and the longest standing contributors to its release: the smokestacks that are still problematic even in the most modern of coal plants.

Many scientists agree that the hope of deferring effects of climate change relies largely on our ability to capture, and lock away this carbon. This process, if implemented correctly, would greatly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by removing much of it from the emissions released. It would then require formulating a secure method of permanent storage for this collected carbon.

Interestingly enough, we know how to carry out these carbon-capturing procedures, and we have for nearly a century, yet little movement has been made toward actually practicing these methods. The reason behind this lack of momentum, simply put, is cost.

The cost to implement carbon capture and storage is high enough that many companies would not consider it without a requirement made by the federal government. The process would require retrofitting old plants, alongside the energy required for the actual procedure- a large enough sum of energy that it downgrades the efficiency of the plant, making it an undesirable action business-wise sans any federal regulation.

If we find a way to improve the cost-effectiveness, storage concerns still plague the campaign for implementation. We know that injecting liquids underground has been linked to earthquakes, and there is still the possibility of the carbon dioxide tainting drinking water, or even escaping into the atmosphere- a reality that would negate the entire process. These concerns have called for pause on the entire movement.

Even while Obama is pushing to limit the emissions of U.S. power plants, there is little expectation of decreasing the amount of power we harness from coal in the near future. Our dependence on this source of energy, combined with the opposition against Obama’s policy aspirations, make that fact clear.

Though coal may be the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, other sources of energy are also subjected to scrutiny, including natural gas collected through fracking practices. According to geologist Stuart Haszeldine at the University of Edinburgh, “if you want to carry on using those fossil hydrocarbons that means cleaning up their emissions,” and capturing this carbon he states, “is the single best way of doing that.”

While the future of this process is still unclear, it is furthering the initiative toward sustainability. Climate change is becoming a stark reality, with implications we don’t even fully understand yet, and many are calling for progress in any way possible.

Corporate America is Leaning Toward Environmental Responsibility

Corporate America taking environmental responsibilitySince the beginning of the movement toward climate activism, many changes affecting big corporations have been triggered by legislation and science. Environmental scientists continually uncover new complications caused by climate change, and while President Obama continues to call for regulatory changes—namely to cut carbon emissions—Congress has put these efforts on hold by working to overturn many of his requests to implement tougher restrictions.

This standstill may lead one to believe that efforts toward reaching a more environmentally-friendly future are stalled, yet that is not the case. In fact, corporate America is beginning to get ahead of these debates by reducing their emissions with or without the passing of Obama’s regulatory measures.

According to a study conducted by Calvert Investment, Ceres, David Gardiner & Associates, and the World Wildlife Fund, 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies have independently set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, become more energy efficient, or secure greener energy to fuel their business- and many of these businesses report saving large sums of money due to their efforts.

Former governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Christine Todd Whitman stated, “These companies make it their mission to reduce their carbon footprint because it is making good business sense.”

However, what about the other 57 percent of the Fortune 500? For many, they are trapped by subsidies which are making fossil-fuel power sources cheaper, allowing them to focus on other needs within the corporation.

There is no denying that a decision by U.S. and state policymakers would push even more companies to more sustainable measures; however, the power of the public and shareholders should not go unnoticed. Many companies are creating benchmarks per the request of these shareholders who push the companies to lessen their environmental impact.

Even if environmental legislation remains unspecified, it is clear that big corporations are beginning to move toward environmental responsibility regardless.  Though tougher restrictions on emissions may push more corporations toward solutions faster, the trend has already begun, and continues to spread. Corporate America is blazing the trail, proving that being environmentally responsible and fiscally sound can happen simultaneously.

China and U.S. Sign Climate Change Deals

half earth covers with city and grassThis past Tuesday, the United States and China signed eight partnership pacts in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. These pacts involve multiple companies and research bodies and bring the world’s two largest carbon emitters into closer agreement on climate policy.

One memoranda of understanding (MOUs) calls for the sharing of information on clean coal power generation technology between Huaneng Clean Energy Research Institute in China and the Summit Power Group based in Washington. Huaneng is expected to share information with Summit as they begin to initiate a similar project in Texas in the near future. In turn, Summit will share information and technology for recovering oil from captured carbon.

According to Laura Miller, who currently manages Texas Clean Energy Project, “We will be sharing expertise, years of development experience and non-proprietary technology on both projects, all while making giant steps forward for the world’s environment.”

While some pacts were signed by both nations, negotiators on each side recognize the need for more communication between the two in order to come to an agreement in areas of technological cooperation, as well as domestic and international policies, among others. In a recent interview, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the two sides remained committed to continuing the “close dialogue” of negotiations on climate change.

China and the U.S. coming to agreement would majorly impact climate change policy across the globe. Both nations also confirm the need for policy decisions implementing aid for developing countries in controlling their emissions in order to create a significant global impact.

These ongoing discussions and changes in climate policy place an emphasis on the need for accurate emissions data collection and reporting. The implementation of new policy and regulations could also lead to an increased demand for emissions data processing and analysis, to which cloud-based, big data management technologies are now available to supply.

Predicting the Big Data Boom: Hazardous Data Explosion

Predicting the big data boom

          Predicting the big data boom

In 1989, 25 years before the technologically advanced world we currently live in, Locus’ founding members were busy publishing an article about the challenges of managing massive amounts of data produced from testing and long-term monitoring at hazardous waste sites. The article, Hazardous Data Explosion, published in the December 1989 issue of Civil Engineering Magazine was among the first of its kind to discuss these issues within the environmental space, and placed Locus securely at the forefront of the big data craze.

Today, the term ‘big data’ has become a staple across various industries to describe the enormity and complexity of data sets that need to be captured, stored, analyzed, visualized and reported. Although the concept may have gained public popularity fairly recently, big data has been a formidable opponent for decades.

“It seems unavoidable that new or improved automated data processing techniques will be needed as the hazardous waste industry evolves. Automation can provide tools that help shorten the time it takes to obtain specific test results, extract the most significant finds, produce reports and display information graphically..,” Buckle and Duplan stated. They also claimed that “expert systems” could be a possible solution—technology that has been a long time coming but still has a promising future when dealing with big data. “Currently used in other technical fields, expert systems employ methods of artificial intelligence for interpreting and processing large bodies of information.”

25 years later, cloud technologies combined with other advancements in big data processing are rising to the challenge of successfully processing and analyzing big environmental and sustainability data.

Access the entire article here.