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Saturday, April 30, 2011

End Nears For Fracking Wastewater Releases

From The Huffington Post

-- Pennsylvania's top environmental regulator says he is confident that the natural gas industry is just weeks away from ending one of its more troubling environmental practices: the discharge of vast amounts of polluted brine into rivers used for drinking water.

On Tuesday, the state's new Republican administration called on drillers to stop using riverside treatment plants to get rid of the millions of barrels of ultra-salty, chemically tainted wastewater that gush annually from gas wells.

As drillers have swarmed Pennsylvania's rich Marcellus Shale gas fields, the industry's use and handling of water has been a subject of intense scrutiny.

The state's request was made after some researchers presented evidence that the discharges were altering river chemistry in a way that had the potential to affect drinking water.

For years, the gas industry has bristled and resisted when its environmental practices have been criticized.

But last week, it abruptly took a different tone.

Even before the initiative to end river discharges was announced publicly, it had received the support of drillers. By Wednesday evening, a leading industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, had announced that its members were committed to halting the practice by the state's stated goal of May 19.

"Basically, I see this as a huge success story," said Michael Krancer, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. "This will be a vestige of the past very quickly."

After May 19, almost all drillers will either be sending the waste to deep disposal wells – mostly in Ohio – or recycling it in new well projects, he said.

While the movement to end the wastewater discharges followed years of environmentalists' criticism, the most influential push may have come from within the industry itself.

Among major gas-producing states, Pennsylvania is the only one that allowed the bulk of its well brine to be treated and dumped in rivers and streams. Other states required it to be injected into deep underground shafts.

Publicly, the industry – and the state – argued that the river discharges were harmless to humans and wildlife.

Just months ago, the industry was actively opposing new state regulations intended to protect streams from the brine, saying fears about the river discharges were overblown.

But simultaneously, some companies were concerned.

John Hanger, Krancer's predecessor as Pennsylvania's environmental secretary, said that as early as 2008 he had been approached by two of the state's most active drillers – Range Resources, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Atlas Energy, now a subsidiary of Chevron, warning that the state's permissive rules had left rivers and streams at risk from the salty dissolved solids, particularly bromides, present in produced well water.

"They came to me and said, if this rule doesn't change, there could be enormous amounts of wastewater high in (total dissolved solids) pouring into the rivers," Hanger said.

Almost since then, the companies have been working on alternative disposal methods.

"We never thought that it was a good practice to begin with," said Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

For months, drillers have been introducing technology that returns brine to deep wells, rather than discarding it as waste. By the end of last year, this reuse was being considered by most big drillers as the industry's future.

Efforts to curtail the waste flow accelerated, though, after a series of critical media reports, increased pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, and new research that raised questions about whether drinking water was being compromised.

After reviewing that research, Range Resources began lobbying other drillers to confront the problem once and for all, and to do it publicly, Pitzarella said.

"I don't think that it's a stretch to say that the traditional way this industry has operated isn't going to work in the long run," he said. "We aren't going to fly beneath the radar, nor should we. And when we don't talk about these issues, someone else does."

The water that flows from active wells is often contaminated with traces of chemicals injected into the wells during a drilling procedure called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which breaks up the shale and frees natural gas. The flowback water also brings back from underground such naturally existing contaminants as barium, strontium, and radium.

Worries about the contaminants took on added urgency after the Monongahela River, a western Pennsylvania waterway that serves as a major source of drinking water for Pittsburgh and communities to its south, became so salty in 2008 that people began complaining about the taste.

The Department of Environmental Protection responded by curtailing the amount of wastewater sent to plants on the Monongahela. It also wrote new rules barring wastewater treatment plants from accepting more drilling wastewater than already permitted unless they were capable of turning out effluent with salt levels that met drinking water standards.

Those rules, though, left most of the existing wastewater treatment plants alone, and between 15 and 27 continued to pump out millions of gallons of water that scientists said was still high in some pollutants.

Over the past year and a half, a handful of researchers, including Jeanne VanBriesen, a professor of civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanley States, director of water quality at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, have been collecting evidence on an increase in bromide in rivers that were being used for gas wastewater disposal.

By itself, bromide is harmless, but when combined with the chlorine used to sanitize drinking water supplies, it can produce substances called trihalomethanes that have been linked in some studies to increased human cancer rates after years of exposure or consumption.

The industry has, until now, expressed mostly skepticism about any possible link between drilling waste and water quality problems.

When The Associated Press reported in January that some drinking water systems close to gas wastewater treatment plants had struggled to meet EPA standards for trihalomethanes, the article was written off by industry groups as irresponsible, as was a similar report by The New York Times in February that focused on the presence of radium in drilling waste.

But in recent weeks, Range Resources arranged for VanBriesen and States to present some of their preliminary findings on bromide to a gathering of industry representatives.

VanBriesen said she cautioned that her own findings didn't necessarily point the finger decisively at natural gas waste as the main culprit behind rising bromide levels.

Only one of the waterways where she documented high bromide levels, the South Fork Tenmile Creek, even has a gas wastewater plant. It is equally possible, she said, that the majority of the pollution is being caused by wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants.

"There are lots of power plants, and only a few brine treatment facilities," she noted.

Still, her presentations had an impact, she said.

"I think what you are seeing is a realization that the problem isn't going away," VanBriesen said. "I'm not pushing the panic button ... but it's a directional change that you don't want to continue."

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber said that after reviewing those findings, her group now believes the industry is partly responsible for the rising bromide levels.

In her letter to Krancer on Wednesday, she promised that the industry was taking action, but also encouraged state officials to evaluate whether other "sources" were contributing to the problem.

Krancer promised that evaluation would indeed happen, but he said he believed the gas industry's actions would lead to immediate improvements in river bromide levels.

"The proof will be in the pudding," he said.

He added that advances in recycling technology had positioned the industry to wean itself from treatment plants that do river discharges.

Recycling wastewater also makes business sense. It saves companies the expense of purchasing vast amounts of clean water to use in hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves injecting fluid deep underground at high pressure to shatter shale beds and free trapped gas.

It also brings substantial public relations benefits.

Gas companies can only drill if they can persuade landowners to lease their rights to the shale, buried deep beneath their properties. And people who think the drilling is going to contaminate their water supply are reluctant to lease.

"More than being a public health issue, it is a public trust issue," Pitzarella said.

Whether the action will lessen overall criticism of the industry, and the practice of hydraulic fracturing, is unknown.

Environmentalists continue to have concerns that methane gas loosed by the process can migrate into aquifers underground and get into people's water wells and homes. There have also been instances in which the high volumes of chemically tainted water injected into the ground during the fracturing process have escaped into the environment.

Last week, an equipment failure in a wellhead connection caused a blowout at a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Bradford County, resulting in a spill of several thousands of gallons of tainted water into a farm fields and streams.

Krancer said he didn't believe the industry, overall, was environmentally hazardous.

"I continue to believe that fracking is safe," he said.


Associated Press writer Marc Levy contributed to this report.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Solar On The Water

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Elvin Batz, an installer at SPG Solar, checks the pontoon structure and panels of a floating solar array in an irrigation pond in Petaluma, Calif.

PETALUMA, Calif. — Solar panels have sprouted on countless rooftops, carports and fields in Northern California. Now, several start-up companies see potential for solar panels that float on water.


A blog about energy and the environment.

Mark Defeo

The solar panel system at Far Niente Winery involves nearly 1,000 panels on pontoons and about 1,300 panels on adjacent land.

Already, 144 solar panels sit atop pontoons moored on a three-acre irrigation pond surrounded by vineyards in Petaluma in Sonoma County. Some 35 miles to the north, in the heart of the Napa Valley, another array of 994 solar panels covers the surface of a pond at the Far Niente Winery.

“Vineyard land in this part of the Napa Valley runs somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 an acre,” said Larry Maguire, Far Niente’s chief executive. “We wanted to go solar but we didn’t want to pull out vines.”

The company that installed the two arrays, SPG Solar of Novato, Calif., as well as Sunengy of Australia and Solaris Synergy of Israel, are among the companies trying to develop a market for solar panels on agricultural and mining ponds, hydroelectric reservoirs and canals. While it is a niche market, it is potentially a large one globally. The solar panel aqua farms have drawn interest from municipal water agencies, farmers and mining companies enticed by the prospect of finding a new use for — and new revenue from — their liquid assets, solar executives said.

Sunengy, for example, is courting markets in developing countries that are plagued by electricity shortages but have abundant water resources and intense sunshine, according to Philip Connor, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

Chris Robine, SPG Solar’s chief executive, said he had heard from potential customers as far away as India, Australia and the Middle East. When your land is precious, he said, “There’s a great benefit in that you have clean power coming from solar, and it doesn’t take up resources for farming or mining.”

Sunengy, based in Sydney, said it had signed a deal with Tata Power, India’s largest private utility, to build a small pilot project on a hydroelectric reservoir near Mumbai. Solaris Synergy, meanwhile, said it planned to float a solar array on a reservoir in the south of France in a trial with the French utility EDF.

MDU Resources Group, a $4.3 billion mining and energy infrastructure conglomerate based in Bismarck, N.D., has been in talks with SPG Solar about installing floating photovoltaic arrays on settling ponds at one of its California gravel mines, according to Bill Connors, MDU’s vice president of renewable resources.

“We don’t want to put a renewable resource project in the middle of our operations that would disrupt mining,” Mr. Connors said. “The settling ponds are land we’re not utilizing right now except for discharge and if we can put that unproductive land into productive use while reducing our electric costs and our carbon foot footprint, that’s something we’re interested in.”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Organic Farmers File Preemptive Suit Against Monsanto News

On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) to challenge the chemical giant's patents on genetically modified seed.

The plaintiffs said they were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their crops ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed.

The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald. Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community who say they are increasingly threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it. The plaintiff organizations have over 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.

"This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto's transgenic seed should land on their property," said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. "It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients."

Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed contaminates organic seed for the same crop. For example, soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, organic canola became virtually extinct as a result of contamination. Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now face the same fate, as Monsanto has released genetically modified seed for each of those crops, too. Monsanto is developing genetically modified seed for many other crops, thus putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture, at stake, the plaintiffs say.

In the case, PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement. One reason justifying this result is that Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don't meet the "usefulness" requirement of patent law, according to PUBPAT's Ravicher, plaintiffs' lead attorney in the case. Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing states that genetically modified seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of genetically modified seed--increased production and decreased herbicide use--are false.

"Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that's not possible, and it's actually in Monsanto's financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply," said Ravicher. "Monsanto is the same chemical company that previously brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB's and other toxins, which they said were safe, but we know are not. Now Monsanto says transgenic seed is safe, but evidence clearly shows it is not."

The plaintiffs in the suit represented by PUBPAT are: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.; OCIA Research and Education Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems; Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; FEDCO Seeds Inc.; Adaptive Seeds, LLC; Sow True Seed; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Mumm's Sprouting Seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC; Comstock, Ferre & Co., LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics; Cuatro Puertas; Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.; Alba Ranch; Wild Plum Farm; Gratitude Gardens; Richard Everett Farm, LLC; Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc; Genesis Farm; Chispas Farms LLC; Kirschenmann Family Farms Inc.; Midheaven Farms; Koskan Farms; California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm; Taylor Farms, Inc.; Jardin del Alma; Ron Gargasz Organic Farms; Abundant Acres; T & D Willey Farms; Quinella Ranch; Nature's Way Farm Ltd.; Levke and Peter Eggers Farm; Frey Vineyards, Ltd.; Bryce Stephens; Chuck Noble; LaRhea Pepper; Paul Romero; and, Donald Wright Patterson, Jr.

More information about PUBPAT's suit against Monsanto's seed patents can be found at the link below.

Earlier this month, attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), arguing that the agency's recent unrestricted approval of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" Alfalfa was unlawful.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

As The Mountaintops Fall, A Coal Town Vanishes

Click here to read the full article from the New York Times


This Land

Dan Barry takes readers behind news articles and into obscure and well-known corners of the United States.

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Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Ms. Richmond, 85, is one of the last residents of Lindytown. More Photos »

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To reach a lost American place, here just a moment ago, follow a thin country road as it unspools across an Appalachian valley’s grimy floor, past a coal operation or two, a church or two, a village called Twilight. Beware of the truck traffic. Watch out for that car-chasing dog.

After passing an abandoned union hall with its front door agape, look to the right for a solitary house, tidy, yellow and tucked into the stillness. This is nearly all that remains of a West Virginia community called Lindytown.

In the small living room, five generations of family portraits gaze upon Quinnie Richmond, 85, who has trouble summoning the memories, and her son, Roger, 62, who cannot forget them: the many children all about, enough to fill Mr. Cook’s school bus every morning; the Sunday services at the simple church; the white laundry strung on clotheslines; the echoing clatter of evening horseshoes; the sense of home.

But the coal that helped to create Lindytown also destroyed it. Here was the church; here was its steeple; now it’s all gone, along with its people. Gone, too, are the surrounding mountaintops. To mine the soft rock that we burn to help power our light bulbs, our laptops, our way of life, heavy equipment has stripped away the trees, the soil, the rock — what coal companies call the “overburden.”

Now, the faint, mechanical beeps and grinds from above are all that disturb the Lindytown quiet, save for the occasional, seam-splintering blast.

A couple of years ago, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, which owns a sprawling mine operation behind and above the Richmond home, bought up Lindytown. Many of its residents signed Massey-proffered documents in which they also agreed not to sue, testify against, seek inspection of or “make adverse comment” about coal-mining operations in the vicinity.

You might say that both parties were motivated. Massey preferred not to have people living so close to its mountaintop mining operations. And the residents, some with area roots deep into the 19th century, preferred not to live amid a dusty industrial operation that was altering the natural world about them. So the Greens sold, as did the Cooks, and the Workmans, and the Webbs ...

But Quinnie Richmond’s husband, Lawrence — who died a few months ago, at 85 — feared that leaving the home they built in 1947 might upset his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. He and his son Roger, a retired coal miner who lives next door, chose instead to sign easements granting the coal company certain rights over their properties. In exchange for also agreeing not to make adverse comment, the two Richmond households received $25,000 each, Roger Richmond recalls.

“Hush money,” he says, half-smiling.

As Mr. Richmond speaks, the mining on the mountain behind him continues to transform, if not erase, the woodsy stretches he explored in boyhood. It has also exposed a massive rock that almost seems to be teetering above the Richmond home. Some days, an anxious Mrs. Richmond will check on the rock from her small kitchen window, step away, then come back to check again.

And again.

A Dictator of Destiny

Here in Boone County, coal rules. The rich seams of bituminous black have dictated the region’s destiny for many generations: through the advent of railroads; the company-controlled coal camps; the bloody mine wars; the increased use of mechanization and surface mining, including mountaintop removal; the related decrease in jobs.

The county has the largest surface-mining project (the Massey operation) in the state and the largest number of coal-company employees (more than 3,600). Every year it receives several million dollars in tax severance payments from the coal industry, and every June it plays host to the West Virginia Coal Festival, with fireworks, a beauty pageant, a memorial service for dead miners, and displays of the latest mining equipment. Without coal, says Larry V. Lodato, the director of the county’s Community and Economic Development Corporation, “You might as well turn out the lights and leave.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking City

Click here to read the full debate from the New York Times

Census data released last week showed that Detroit's population had plunged 25 percent over the last decade. From 2000 to 2010, 237,500 people left the city, which from 1920 to 1950 was the fourth largest in the country.

Although Detroit's numbers are startling, a shrinking city is not a new phenomenon; indeed the loss of population is a fairly common trend in the once-thriving industrial cities in the Midwest. But as swaths of city neighborhoods turn into vacant land, what can done about them? Are there ways to bring them back to life?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The True Food Shoppers Guide For Avoiding Non-GMOs

The True Food Shoppers’ Guide to Avoiding GMOs

From The Center For Food Safety

Download our NEW True Food Shopper’s Guide to avoiding GE foods, updated for 2011, or get our True Food Shoppers Guide mobile application for iPhone and Android! The mobile app was created to help you find and avoid GE ingredients wherever you shop. Our guide gives you valuable information on common GE ingredients, brands to look for, and look out for, and common sense tips to keep you in the know. Stop shopping in the dark and download your new pocket shoppers’ guide today! Check out this video review of the app on

Get it for free on iTunes (for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) or Android Market by searching for “True Food.”

Don’t have a compatible mobile phone? Download our NEW printable True Food Shoppers Guide, updated for 2011 instead!

Go behind the label and get the facts on genetically engineered foods.

Today, thousands of products on supermarket shelves are made with ingredients from genetically modified (also known as genetically engineered [GE]) crops. But GM foods are not labeled in the U.S., despite warnings from doctors and scientists that these foods may not be safe in the diet or the environment. This lack of mandatory labeling can make it difficult to determine which products are made with GM ingredients and which are not. The True Food Shoppers Guide is designed to give you the tools you need to make informed purchasing decisions.

The True Food Shoppers Guide also arms you with valuable information regarding common GM ingredients, as well as brands to look for, and to look out for. The application includes a “Four Simple Tips” section, which offers easy ways to avoid GM ingredients, a “Supermarkets and GMOs” section to help consumers identify GM and non-GMO private-label store brands, and a rbGH and rbGH-free dairy guide.

In addition to a list of brands that produce foods with no GM content, the application also offers contact information for companies that do use GM ingredients. This feature enables consumers to personally voice their opposition to the use of GM foods directly to the parties involved. As a result, the app serves not only as a shopping guide and teaching tool, but one that can be used for widespread advocacy as well. The app also has a “Take Action” section allowing people to contact state and federal agencies and officials to demand better regulatory oversight, safety testing and labeling laws for GM foods and crops.

App Features:

  • Our “Four Simple Tips” section gives you easy ways to avoid genetically modified ingredients in any product
  • “What’s New” brings you an always-updated feed of the Center for Food Safety’s latest news and campaign developments on GMOs and other important food issues. You can even share these articles and announcements with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and more, right from the app!
  • Our “Action” center brings you our latest action alerts on simple things you can do to demand True Food!
  • “Supermarkets and GMOs” lists major supermarket chains across the US and their policies on GMOs and rbGH use. Here you can find non-gmo and rbGH-free store brands, and supermarkets that are entirely non-gmo in their private-label brands!
  • You can browse the Shoppers Guide by category (16 categories in all) in a simple “Green” and “Red” list format, or search for products by brand name or food type
  • The Shoppers Guide also includes the ability to call or email companies listed in the “Red” (those who do not avoid GM ingredients in their products) to let them know you will not buy their products until they drop GMOs
  • Learn about the risks of gm crops and foods, the benefits of and where to buy organics, gm crops in development, rbGH, and more in “More Info”
  • Join the CFS True Food Network or our new Mobile Activists list and get updates and action alerts on the most pressing food issues via email or text message! We are over 100,000 members strong, and growing. Add your voice!
  • Connect with the CFS True Food Network on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

The True Food Shoppers Guide was compiled because you have the right to know what’s in your food!

The Guide was compiled primarily from direct communications with food producers. In some cases, we received company policy statements from consumers who passed these on to us. In addition to written statements, we spoke to many company representatives to clarify or assess their position. Products on the RED list contain ingredients that come from the most common GE crops (corn, soy, canola, cotton). Companies with products on this list have confirmed that their products may have or are likely to be made with GE ingredients, or have not denied using GE foods when given the opportunity to do so. Companies on the GREEN list have made a concerted effort to avoid GE ingredients and have company policies asserting their position on avoiding GE foods.

As ingredients change in products all the time, the best thing is to check the ingredients list of the products you buy often. Keep a look out for:

Corn: corn oil, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn meal
Soy: soy protein, soy lecithin, soy oil, soy sauce, soy isolates
Canola: canola oil
Cotton: cottonseed oil

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