Calif. plastic ocean debris bill dies in committee

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

A California bill that would have required manufacturers to figure out how to keep the most common plastic junk out of state waterways died in the state Assembly without a vote Friday.

Assembly Bill 521 was before the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, and the panel failed to act on it, effectively killing the legislation for the session. It had previously passed the Assembly Natural Resource Committee.

State Assemblyman Mark Stone, a D-Monterey Bay, one of the proposal’s sponsors, was disappointed by the outcome.

“Plastic pollution will continue to harm our oceans and coastline, so Assembly member Stone is committed to working on this problem,” said Arianna Smith, Stone’s legislative and communications director.

Once in the ocean, plastic takes ages to decompose. The manmade junk either collects into floating trash islands called “garbage patches,” or it breaks into smaller pieces that harm and kill sea creatures throughout the food chain.

It’s a complex problem with no easy fix, but some European countries have already implemented “extended producer responsibility” laws with some success.

AB521 would have required manufacturers to figure out how to reduce 95 percent of plastic pollution along the state’s coastline by 2024. It carried financial penalties for companies that did not comply: up to $10,000 per day for the worst violations.

Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, said during Friday’s Appropriations Committee meeting that he opposed the measure in part because it singled out one industry as the source of ocean pollution.

“I agree that cleaning up our oceans should be something that’s very, very important to us, but this bill places the burden of compliance directly on the producers instead of the violators, the people who are littering,” Linder said.

The regulation was just the latest California legislative attempt to address some of the world’s toughest environmental problems, often at the expense of private business, critics say.

The state’s large economy and population has already influenced automakers to produce cleaner burning cars, forced warning labels for toxic chemicals on a range of consumer products and put a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions from industrial sources.

“With nearly 40 million people in the state, what happens here matters whether it is cap-and-trade and renewable energy portfolio standards, solid waste reduction, water conservation,” said Mark Gold, associate director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“What happens in California matters both nationally and globally,” he added.

Gold said legislation won’t solve the plastic pollution problem, but could have a wide-ranging effect. The failed proposal could have been the first significant legislation in the U.S. to try to reduce the amount of plastic junk in the ocean that makes up trash formations such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the world’s largest landfill.

The plastic industry, California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed the bill, saying they already fund recycling and other programs to reduce marine plastic pollution. Plus, they say, the bill asks manufacturers to develop new products or other ways to reduce trash, but it doesn’t say how.

Extended producer responsibility laws have already taken root in more than two dozen European countries.

In France, nearly 90 percent of consumer products are part of the “Green Dot” program, requiring manufacturers to pay into a program that recovers and recycles packaging materials. It has successfully influenced manufacturers there to cut down on packaging or use alternative materials.

Stone’s office said the assemblyman is unsure if he will reintroduce the bill next year. He is “weighing his options for how to continue to work to address this problem in the future,” Smith said.

Laura Olson contributed to this story from Sacramento.

Could fracking ruin Germany’s beer?

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Water Quality

The country’s brewers want Berlin to hefe-weizen up and reconsider a proposed fracking law

Water, malt, hops. For centuries, German law prohibited any other substances from going into the nation’s beers (this was before they knew about yeast).

Yet now, the country’s brewers fret that their brews could wind up containing a host of unknown chemicals should the government move ahead with a proposed fracking law.

The Brauer-Bund beer association has asked the government to forestall proposed fracking legislation until it can ensure the practice won’t contaminate groundwater used for brewing. The group is concerned that hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting water and a slurry of undisclosed chemicals into the ground to obtain natural gas from shale deposits, could pollute the private wells used by many of the nation’s brewers.

“You cannot be sure that the water won’t be polluted by chemicals so we have urged the government to carry out more research before it goes ahead with a fracking law,” a spokesperson for the group told the Telegraph.

With fracking becoming a more popular method of energy extraction worldwide, German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s government has been working on legislation to expand the practice. The country currently allows test drilling in some places, just not near reservoirs of drinking water and other sensitive areas.

However, the brewers worry that the legislation won’t go far enough in protecting their water, which, if sullied, could inadvertently result in the violation of a centuries-old beer purity law, called the Reinheitsgebot.

That law, passed way back in the 15th century, is technically no longer on the books; a European court struck it down in the 1980s. Yet many brewers still consider it a source of pride to adhere to those ancient guidelines, hence the association’s fear that fracking would endanger their “absolutely pure beer.”

Germany, home to some 1,250 breweries and 5,000 different brands of beer, isn’t alone. American breweries have also expressed concern that fracking could taint their ales and lagers.

That’s because, purity laws aside, brewers are water fanatics. Homebrewers will go to incredible lengths to reproduce the mineral content of water supplies from certain brewing regions in attempts to clone world-famous beers. Should mysterious chemicals seep into the mix, it could completely throw off the chemical processes involved in brewing, and thus dramatically alter a beer’s taste and appearance.

And if you thought it was just beer snobs who are up in arms about this, think again. Brauer-Bund represents AB InBev, makers of Budweiser and other drinks of dubious quality. If Budweiser is concerned about how fracking might make its beer taste, imagine how craft brewers must feel?

Fracking could pollute coastal water sources

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Water Quality

Sophomore Jasmine Ruddy is from Morehead City, one of many coastal communities that could be directly affected by a bill to fast-track hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in North Carolina.

“That makes me really nervous for the health of my family who is still living there and drinks the tap water every day,” said Ruddy, an environmental health sciences major and a member of UNC’s environmental affairs committee of student government.

Fracking retrieves natural gas by pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock formations.

Proponents of the process say it taps into an otherwise inaccessible energy source that could reduce oil dependency.

But critics of the bill claim fracking uses too much water and could pollute drinking sources, especially in coastal areas suitable for waste deposits.

The bill, which passed the N.C. Senate and is currently in a House committee, would lift a ban on depositing industrial waste in deep wells and permit fracking starting in March 2015.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the state should establish more regulations before fracking begins.

“That’s not to say that I am totally opposed to fracking,” he said. “It’s just to say we should take a go-slow approach.”

McGrady said there are still unanswered questions about how to safely dispose of the chemical waste.

An April 2012 report by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources found that fracking can be done safely with more research and the proper regulations.

Richard Whisnant, UNC School of Government professor and former environmental lawyer, said many legislators and residents do not understand the complications of regulating a new industry.

“We can’t cut and paste regulations from other states,” he said. “The state ought to take whatever measures it can take to put a good regulatory structure in place.”

He said the process should not be rushed.

“I don’t see that the resource itself is going anywhere,” he said.

But Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a member of the House environment committee, said fracking should not be attempted in the state.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be able to establish a safe structure for fracking,” she said.

She said if the deep well ban is lifted, the chemical waste from fracking could imperil drinking sources.

“It can be a real problem for public health issues,” she said. “We ended that practice 40 years ago because we knew once you put poison in the aquifers you’re never getting that back.”

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said fracking would create only short-term positions for N.C. residents.

Most long-term jobs would remain with out-of-state companies, she said.

She said depositing waste on the coast could slow tourism.

“There’s a danger of people thinking they’re coming to a place that’s polluted,” she said.

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New Tools for Tracing Fracking Impacts

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Water Quality

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Sherlock Holmes used a magnifying glass to trace a fingerprint to its source. Andrew Barron favors miniscule rust particles, millions of gallons of water and a magnet.

Researchers in the Rice University chemistry professor’s laboratory have developed nanoparticles that will flow with the fluid used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells, slip through rocks and travel wherever the water ends up — in a holding pond at the surface, a tanker on the highway or, in a worst-case scenario, a nearby drinking water well.
The particles, which can bear unique magnetic signatures tailored to each fracking company that uses them, have the potential to clarify the troubled debate over whether and how oil and gas extraction damages water supplies.

“Whether you are Matt Damon or the president of Halliburton, for different reasons you should be interested in this,” Barron said in a lounge off his laboratory on the Houston, Texas campus early this year. “If you’re worried about the environment, then for once you might be able to find out if they’ve really done it and who did it. If you’re Halliburton, maybe this is a way of saying, ‘You’re right, someone contaminated your water. But it wasn’t us. It was that guy.’”

Finding conclusive evidence of contaminated groundwater from oil and gas drilling broadly, and fracking-influenced fluids in particular, is a complicated task. Many of the signals of drilling-related pollution like methane, salts and metals can occur and vary naturally; most regions lack robust studies of baseline water quality that can account for fluctuations over space and time.

Scientists and some industry and environmental organizations are seeking more certain and sensitive ways to pinpoint problems or rule them out. Their efforts include testing manufactured tracers, like Barron’s, that can flag pollution if it occurs, identifying natural indicators that reveal proof of a substance’s origin near the surface or deep underground, and developing practices to better monitor for changes before and after drilling.

Some oil and gas companies are willing to look closer for signs of contamination because a clean record under tight scrutiny will give the public much more confidence that drilling is done safely, said Andrew Place, the interim executive director of the new Center for Sustainable Shale Development and corporate director of energy and environmental policy at EQT Corp.

The standards developed by the center, a partnership between industry, charitable foundations and environmental groups, will require companies seeking certification to monitor surface and groundwater around their well sites regularly to demonstrate that their drilling and fracking operations have not caused an impact, instead of responding only if a homeowner raises a complaint.

“All of us want assurance, and the data to back it up, that these operations can be done without groundwater impacts,” he said. “No one’s served by not knowing the answer to that question.”

Scientists looking for natural tracers find them at the intersection of several key questions: What are hallmark signs of the water that flows back from a gas-bearing rock formation like the Marcellus Shale after it is fractured, or “fracked,” with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals? What is the range of natural variability for elements that occur in a region’s groundwater? And what does it look like when the first type of fluid, called “flowback” or “formation water,” comes in contact with the second?

“It’s hard to tease out the contamination signal from the natural variability,” Syracuse University hydrologist Laura Lautz said. “It’s even harder to do that when you don’t have the baseline water quality data.”

Lautz is part of a team of Syracuse scientists working on Project SWIFT (for “shale-water interaction forensic tools”), an effort to study New York groundwater before Marcellus Shale development begins in the state. They are trying to determine the most potent combination of elements that can distinguish potential contamination from briny shale development waters from pollution caused by shallow saline aquifers, legacy pollution or salted roads. The team has found that studying the quantity and relative concentrations of chloride, bromide and iodide together can be a “very, very powerful” indicator of Marcellus formation water compared to other salt waters, she said.

The problem is that too few people test for them.

Neither bromide nor iodide is included in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s recommended list of basic pre-drill water test parameters and they are not among the constituents analyzed during DEP’s standard test for post-drilling water contamination investigations. They are also rarely included in historical data sets for regional groundwater.

While Project SWIFT is promoting bromide and iodide as useful forensic tools, the researchers are also investigating if combinations of other, more commonly tested parameters like chloride, calcium and strontium can be revealing, Lautz said. “If you include the combination of those variables, can they be as powerful as knowing one really key variable like iodide?” Lautz asked. “I think there is some potential there.”

Other scientists have isolated more esoteric natural fingerprints to add precision to their analysis.

Researchers at Duke University study isotopes in water, dissolved salt and gasses for tell-tale signs of formation water or the provenance of methane bubbling at the surface. They have also found promising signals in ratios of elements to help track the sources of fluid or gas.

The strongest indicators come from using tools in combination, said Avner Vengosh, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke.

“The basic chemistry of the water can tell you a lot,” he said, especially distinctive ratios of chloride, sodium, bromide, barium and sulfate. “We are trying to develop more novel tools that give more perspective.”

Unlike regulators, who generally gauge impacts based on whether substances in drinking water rise above advisory limits set for safety or taste, researchers are looking for subtler indicators.

It is “absolutely” possible to have detectable contamination without any chemical parameters in the water rising above safe drinking water limits, Vengosh said.

“Good monitoring systems actually identify it at that point,” then track any changes, he said. “The way to do monitoring is to be able to identify it in the early stages before it becomes dangerous.”

While some researchers are finding that signs in the water reveal its contamination, others hope to tag the contaminant then engineer a way to trace it.

The process developed by Barron and his colleagues requires running water through a membrane system to concentrate enough of the rust particles to identify them. The collected particles are then sorted in a magnetic separator and analyzed to find the distinctive signature that distinguishes one company’s tracer particle from another.

The process will be tested by an oil and gas company working with the researchers to determine how long after the particles are first injected underground they can still be detected in the water that returns to the surface.

The “limiting factor is time,” he said of both his and other proposed benign tracer technologies. “The longer you are away from the time of injection, the longer it’s going to take you to sample enough water to get the small amount of material that would tell you whether it’s there or not.”

It is not a simple process, he said, but it holds the promise of providing more certain answers among murky clues. It also offers a new way to diagnose problems and fix them.

“The important thing shouldn’t be the blame game,” he said. “It should be finding out the source and making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Original Article here:

19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans

May 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

Comments Off on 19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.

It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.” To find out more about the project and to contribute, click here.

Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building