Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Appalachian Woes

I was recently reminded of a documentary that I saw a couple of years ago about families growing up in the Appalachian region, one of the United State's poorest areas, titled "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," (Click here to view the whole documentary). I must say, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeing this documentary and realizing that extreme poverty is not just an international problem and it is surely not segregated to certain ethnic backgrounds by any means...but it's in our own back yards. If you don't agree, check out the following map. I know many of you reading this live in many of these counties and areas shown. I know that I see my home county on this map. Did you happen to know that Pittsburgh is the largest city in the Appalachian region and, according to one source, the unofficial capital of Appalachia (According to the "Appalachia" Wikipedia article, "Pittsburghese" is a dialect of Appalachia). Other notable cities in this region include Ashville, NC; Columbus, OH; Knoxville, TN; and Wheeling, WV.

This document struck me hard for a number of reasons. I have done some traveling throughout this area, being from it. Driving from Pittsburgh to Knoxville, TN over the past couple of years to visit my brother, you cannot help but notice the poverty the surrounds you as you enter southern West Virginia which, according to the map, is Central Appalachia. It's reminiscent of such American memories like moonshine, Hatfields and McCoy's, hillbillies, and more. Let's keep in mind that I have traveled throughout Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, yet there is still something unnerving about the poverty that you see traveling throughout Appalachia and realizing that you are not in some third world country,  but in the United States and close to some of the biggest metropolitan areas in our nation (New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh,  Baltimore, Washington D.C., etc.) According to Ohio University, 1/5 of Appalachian children live in poverty. Should you not have time to watch the documentary, although I highly recommend it, this Huffington Post article does a great job of summarizing many of the viewpoints that Diane Sawyer, an Appalachia native herself, presents.

I am not arguing any sort of socialist agenda or that one side is right over the other in the fight against poverty, but that we need to be aware of poverty in our own areas. This documentary tells of the prescription drug trade, where some pills fetch prices hundreds of dollars more than urban areas like Detroit or Los Angeles. Mountain Dew, a former favorite drink of mine, has become a highly addictive substance that is literally rotting the mouth's of children and adults, creating an area with the worst dental hygeine in our nation (and yes, worse than anything I saw in Haiti. Many developing nations are lucky that they don't have a diet based upon processed sugars, so it is better for their teeth). So many more points are presented, but I had to get these viewpoints down.

In the Book of James (1:27), we see that God calls us to care for orphans and widows and throughout the Bible we see God's call to love our neighbors, love others, and share the Gospel. We see Jesus helping the poor, although he himself was poor. Do we not realize that these are our neighbors? Many of them live right down the street from us. Again, if you don't think that Appalachia is in our area, drive to South Beaver Twp. in Beaver County, PA near the Ohio line. This is near where I grew up and you see many examples of this poverty. Skirt down into Greene, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties in PA, Ashtabula County, OH, or the I-79 corridor between Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. Once you do that, let me know what you think. Do a quick Google Image search for Appalachian Poverty or Appalachian Poor and you will quickly see your screen filled with many images you would not expect to find in the U.S.

I cannot paint a totally gloomy picture of Appalachia though, as it is a region steeped in history and culture. Most of the Civil War was fought throughout the Appalachia region, it has brought us country and blue grass music, the Kentucky Derby, and the Pittsburgh Steelers (ok, maybe some bias there). Take a quick tour through National Geographic's "Discover Appalachia" map, which highlights many natural and cultural wonders throughout the area. I must remind you though of this, even among the attractions and fun...poverty still looms right over the hillside. It's a lesson I learned in Haiti as you fly out of Cap-Haitien and see the poverty, yet right on the other side of the mountain is Royal Caribbean's "Labadie Beach" with it's resort style features. Guests to this area have no clue that right on the other side of their relaxation spot lies some of the worst poverty in the world, while visitors to the New River Gorge have no idea that just down the river lies children with no education, food, or hope for a better life. We can give them hope.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Marcellus Water Wars

Across Pennsylvania, that water wars continue to rage throughout the Marcellus Shale natural gas plays. One side, residents of towns and local consumers, claim their water is now flammable with toxic levels of methane due to natural gas production, a claim brought about in Josh Fox's documentary Gasland. The other side, that of the oil and gas companies, residents reaping the benefits of land leases, and towns (such as my own hometown of Zelienople, PA) seeing an influx of business from the natural gas workers. In a recent blog post by Robert Sumner, we read it may be $900 million per day to the US economy. Both sides may have some merit to their arguments. Personally, this article from Attorney Colin Harris relays everything I have been trying to say. There are always risk associated with extraction of natural resources, and as Mr. Harris puts it:

"Fracturing is conducted on more than 90% of wells drilled today. The practice benefits the economy, has kept natural gas prices at historic lows, and reduces our reliance on foreign energy supplies. Opponents of fracturing should be asked how they intend to duplicate these results, how they intend to find near and long term substitutes, and whether their position is in the best interests of lower-income Americans who benefit from affordable energy."

In an article on FuelFix, the U.S. EPA recently came out with the results of a study claiming that the high levels of methane gas in the water supply of Dimmock, Pennsylvania were not caused by natural gas drilling, yet residents still are not sure. Resident Scott Ely states, "They [U.S. EPA] recommended that we don’t drink or use the water, but told us they can’t go public with that." A claim I find hard to believe as this is the U.S. government essentially condoning the ingestion of chemical-laden materials. Not all residents will "get the memo" that it is secretely not safe to drink (or believe their claims) and many will drink it. I do not believe that the government, regardless of where you fall politically, would allow this to happen.

I urge you to become educated in these issues, as they are pressing ones that will affect us in different ways over the coming years. Natural gas production is here to stay, no matter how many protests and demonstrations go on around the nation. Wells will be drilled, land will be developed, money will flow in and out of the community. There is potential for royalties to you, but there is also the potential for harm. All natural resources extraction has risks. I cannot stress that enough, but I also cannot completely stress my full support of natural gas drilling in the United States. If you don't support it, you don't have a say in voting to make it cleaner. (Much like the argument, if you don't vote in the Presidential election, you don't have a right to complain about who got voted in because you did nothing to help the cause).

I urge you to check out some of these organizations that fall on both sides of the spectrum and create your own visions and values of this industry, then email me to let me know what you think:

In the words of Colin Harris:

"Opponents using air quality as a sword should be met with industry transparency and listening, public outreach and context, good science, dialogue about energy policy and natural gas, and hard questions about the motives behind the anti-fracturing movement. The hydraulic fracturing storyline about supposed environmental catastrophe should no longer get in the way of the truth."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More on the fracking debate

The Association of American State Geologists recently published a document on their view of Hydraulic Fracturing (a.k.a. fracking, fracing, hydrofracking) during natural gas production. As many of you know, this is a heated debate throughout the natural gas plays and one that has ramped up in my home state of Pennsylvania and in my current home of Ohio. It's a debate that I'm sure will continue on for a long time to come as both sides are not willing to budge.

Liberals are claiming fracking causes earthquakes (maybe partially true, but nothing more than 3.0 according to AASG), methane-contaminated groundwater, and more. Conservatives argue we need to push natural gas as a "sustainable alternative to oil production" (flawed argument...non-renewable resources cannot be use sustainably as using them depletes their supply). What I enjoyed most about AASG's short 2-page article was the attention they brought to the true debate. Fracking doesn't cause these issues...yes, natural gas drilling may cause a few of these issues but it is not in the fracking itself. People need to learn their issues before they go berating any sort of development or process. They've jumped on the anti-fracking bandwagon with no regard for the education or processes behind it.

Horizontal drilling allows for more gas to be extracted from one
well compared to traditional vertical well drilling.

Would they rather we continue drilling vertical wells that don't require as much fracking? If so, you'll see 20 times (my estimate) the amount of wells that you would with today's horizontal well drilling.

 Yes, fracking is needed. Yes, natural gas drilling is needed. And yes...it needs to be taxed (but at a reasonable rate). You're not going to stop it. I'm sorry. March in the streets all you want, spend your days sitting in front of the White House....great. Support the industry and push for tighter environmental controls and increased research and development into this technology.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Natural Gas Flaring

I've always enjoyed fireworks, explosions, and, in general, things that are on fire. No, it's not an inner arsonist in me, but the little boy portion of my psyche that just thinks fire is awesome. When a natural gas well in the Marcellus Shale plays went up near my parents home a few years ago, I was very intrigued when they began flaring off some of the excess gases. From my window, I could see a flame shooting high into the sky and, with Pennsylvania having lots of cloud cover, it would light up the night sky.

A natural gas flare in Bradford County, PA
(Photo: Les Stone/Corbis, 2012)

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article on the waste of natural gas from flaring. Oil companies are flaring natural gas coming off of their drill sites because the price is relatively low ($3.04 per thousand cubic feet as of 7/20/12, according to the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Assocation). Companies just do not have the finances or the time to connect their facilities to the natural gas pipelines and begin collecting this gas, so they burn it off. According to the article, 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was flared last year worldwide (accounting for 25% of U.S. natural gas consumption annually). In the U.S. alone, it soard to 251 billion cubic feet in 2022 (a 223% increase from 2007).  This article mainly focuses on the Bakken formation in North Dakota which, at a rate of 100 mcf/day flared annually, represents $110 million dollars in lost revenue. Thats a crazy amount and could be invested in the research and development into safer natural gas extraction technologies or renewable/sustainable forms of energy.

We know I am a proponent for the extraction of natural gas, but as a means of weaning the U.S. off of foreign oil and to contribute tax revenue to renewable energy R&D. This represents a great potential for not only curbing emissions into the atmosphere (as natural gas is mainly comprised of methane, which is more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), but also generating revenue and increasing our domestic supply of natural gas.

Thoughts or comments? Shoot me an email!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ditch the lawn and World Water Usage

As drought continues to grip the nation, TreeHugger recently posted an article about replacing our lawns with gardens. It also springs from a discussion I had with one of the rangers here in Cuyahoga Valley National Park last week. We waste so much time, money, and (most importantly) water to keep our grass looking green and healthy...but is there a true benefit to it? What if instead of vast expanses of grass we planted flower gardens, trees, and vegetable gardens. These plants can survive off of the rainfall or with minimal amounts of watering and, as a more important factor, can supply food and shade to you and your family. I believe we should only be allowed to plant native plants in our lawns. If a plant is native, it is perfectly suited for the amount of precipitation we get in our area...except the majority of U.S. lawns are covered by Kentucky Blue Grass. Better yet, why not plant xeric lawns, which require little to no water?

I was amazed while walking in Akron last night to see medians on some of the streets where people have been watering their flower gardens. They look great, yes, but what amazed me those most was a very noticeable line between bright green grass where it had been watered and the brown grass which is victim to the drought. Is our love of aesthetic beauty really more than our need to conserve water. In books such as Sandra Postel's "Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity," arguments are made that the next great war will be fought over water rights. I'm not surprised, nor do I disagree.
Even in our own nation, we have these problems. During 2008, the southern United States was gripped by another drought and the mayor of Atlanta began requesting that water be diverted from the Great Lakes to supply his cities drinking water (Read Article Here). While I'm sure this water would supply drinking water, how much of it would go to supply water to golf courses, lawns, and other non-essential resources? Additionally, around the world, nations are witness a water crisis. The waters of the great Colorado River no longer reach the mouth in its historic range. Due to city water supplies, agriculture, and more the mouth of the Colorado River now looks like this:

Spending time in Haiti over the past couple of years, I saw the need for clean, safe drinking water. People are bathing, washing clothes, swimming, urinating, deficating, and drinking out of the same water supply. I was there for the start of the Cholera Outbreak in 2010 and watched as people frantically tried to educate others on clean, safe practices...yet water was stilled pulled from the same polluted sources. The following is a pictur of one of my trips, on the northern coast of Haiti. Notice the shacks and people using the beach...the water was dirty. It was used for every purpose with no designation of where to go bathroom, where to drink from, and where to cook at.

(Orchard Hill Church, 2011)

The choices we make concerning water use affect everyone around the world. The United States is divided into 2 main watersheds. All water either enters the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic, with the Continental Divide being this division point. In the Atlantic Ocean watershed, I (here in northeastern Ohio) live in the Great Lakes watershed, more specifically the Lake Erie Watershed, more specifically the Cuyahoga River Watershed, more specifically the Furnace Run Watershed. Need I go on? Everytime I flush a toilet or spill a cup of coffee (which I do more than you think), it ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. Take a look at the following picture and then lets look at my coffees impact:

So my little bit of spilled coffee flows into the Atlantic Ocean, hits the Gulf Stream, and flows either towards England or veers south near the western shore of Africa and...back around to Haiti. Yes, my coffee is an extreme example, but what about spilled oil from our cars, pesticides we use on our lawns, trash you throw out of your cars onto the road. We all live upstream from somewhere....but we also live downstream from somewhere else.

Here are just a few tips for conserving water:
  • Shorten your shower to 5 minutes. You're not getting any cleaner after that point
  • Do not water your lawn. Plant water-conservative species
  • Use low-flow water features in your house
  • Only wash clothes when you have a full load
  • Turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, washing your body, or shampooing your hair
Any simple Google search will return thousands of results, such as 100 Ways to Conserve Water. Be smart. Think what is downstream.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Biking to Reduce Prison Sentence

Today I came across this interesting article on CNN about Brazilian prisons that have instituted inventive ways for prisoners to reduce their sentences. One of these includes a reading program, where inmates can shave 4 days off of their sentence for every book they read off of an approved list following the completion of a book report (up to 48 days per year). The hope is that this program will help educate a largely illiterate and/or under-educated population so, upon release, they will be more suited to enter the workplace.

The second, and more interesting, program has inmates pedaling stationary bicycles attached to a bank of batteries. As the inmates pedal, the batteries are charged and power street lights in the nearby town...and their sentence is reduced. Apparently, pedaling for 16 hours will reduce your sentence by one day with no yearly limit.
(Photo: Santa Rite do Sapucai Prison, 2012)

It's an interesting concept. Expanding green energy opportunities, providing exercise and recreation for inmates, and offering a relatively large incentive of early freedom. I can truthfully say that I am confused about my reactions to this project. I believe it justice for what people have done. While I may not always agree with the system, I support it and know every four years I can campaign and vote to change the system. If someone is found guilty and sentenced to twenty years, I believe they should serve 20 years, not a day more or less (unless bad behavior...I don't believe it getting out on good behavior. It's prison, not time-out). Reading is great and so is green renewable energy...but is it really worth letting convicted criminals out of jail early? Why not use it as an incentive to watch a movie or gain an extra hour a day of recreation time...something that keeps the criminals in prison but still educates them and continues with the green energy initiative.

Have you seen similar stories somewhere? Email me with them, as well as your thoughts and ideas.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Caught in the act?

In James Conca's recent article, Fugitive Methane Caught in the Act of Raising GHG, Forbes Magazine argues that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (true) and that over the span of the lifecycle of extracting natural gas it has higher emissions of CO2 (1,200 gCO2/kWhr [grams of Carbon Dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy produced]) compared to coal (975 gCO2/kWhr). I find their argument flawed. They even go so far as to state that the measurements for coal were taken only at the power plant source, where natural gas measures a weaker 600 gCO2/kWhr. The 1,200 measurement takes into account what they call "fugitive emissions," or those lost during the drilling process, etc.

Are there not fugitive emissions for extracting coal from the ground? How much carbon dioxide is used to run the machines to remove a whole mountain top from the West Virginia Appalachians? How much is used to haul this coal around the country? You cannot make an argument based upon two entirely scales of measurement. It's a flawed argument. Another huge factor Mr. Conca omits is the intrinsic value of nature. Natural gas drilling uses less land than coal drilling (water is another issues and I don't know the statistics for water used or polluted during coal extraction, so I won't argue it). My home in western Pennsylvania is dominated by natural gas wells and coal quarries. I can tell you that upon the drilling of the natural gas well, you are left with a small well head and a tiny dirt road into the area. Upon completion of a strip mine...well, I think we all know what you're left with. There is value in plants, value in animals, and extreme value in the ecosystem role that they play. Why not calculate life cycle costs of these or the ability to plants to sequester carbon from the atmosphere? Coal is getting rid of more trees than natural gas (based upon my own observations). So many factors come into play when we try to make these arguments.

I've said it once and I'll say it again. Natural gas drilling is a good alternative to coal for the moment...but not a long-term solution. We need to be taxing natural gas drillers at an acceptable rate and investing that in the research and development of more sustainable forms of technology. Would I love to see our country and our world relying solely on photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, and hydro power? It's a resounding yes and I fully believe every politician, regardless of party, would agree with me. It's just not economically feasible at this point in our nation to stop extracting natural resources. I believe God gave us these resources, gave us mastery over Earth, but also calls us to be stewards of the environment. We can use these resources, but still lessen our impacts and attempt to leave the plant unimpeded for future generations.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Follow up to "What the frac"

As a quick follow up to my recent post "What the frac" about the hydraulic fracturing method of obtaining natural gas, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, recently posted this blog post about the devastation of fracking.

We have seen and read my thoughts, but I still urge you to look at what Mr. Brune has said. I support the Sierra Club in many of their endeavors. They are passionate about conservation work, are very science-driven in all they do, and continually educate the public and update their methods to stay relevant. Mr. Brune presents great points about the fracking industry. I don't believe it is a perfect system by any means, but I do believe we need to continue with it so as to refine it and make it better. The US (let alone the world) is not at a place to simple stop fossil fuel based electric production, but we need to push for that. Energy independence, sadly, will only come if we push on with our current energy addiction, but try to ween ourselves off it and invest in technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, and more. Yes, the technology is out there. We just don't have it effective or cost-efficient enough to be mass produced for the average consumer. Light bulbs use to be really expensive, yet as we refined them they became more efficient and lower in price. That is what we need to ween the US off of fossil fuels and enjoy a clean, green energy future.

No one, regardless of political party, wants dirty air and water, littered streets, and all of our lands developed. There is a happy medium. Even President Obama doesn't want to stop all progress. Not all liberals are tree-huggers and not all conservatives are oil barons.

Again, Email Me and let me know your thoughts!

Conservation Laziness

This post comes more from a place of anger than it does any current pressing issue that I have seen in the news (where mainly all of my recent posts have come from). This post relates to the laziness that I see as I explore the natural world around me and today really hit hard tonight. Let me preface by saying again that this summer I am working in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as the Climate Change Intern as part of the George Melendez Wright Climate Foundation. I have a B.S. in Parks and Resource Management and an M.S. in Sustainable Systems. I will be starting my Ph.D. in Geography at Kent State University this fall. I also spent two summers working in the Yellowstone National Park area (Wyoming/Montana). If you haven't seen a pattern....I believe in conservation of resources, I believe that we are Biblically called to be stewards of the environment, and I don't believe it being lazy. Want to let me know your own thoughts? Please feel free to Email Me! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Beaver Marsh (Photo Courtesy Lincoln Prairie School)
Tonight while enjoying an evening bike ride down to the Beaver Marsh area of the park, I stopped on the boardwalk to see if I could find any beavers, muskrats (saw 1!), or other animals. On top of some of the lilly pads and spatterdock spread throughout the marsh, I saw cigarette butts laying on top of the leaves. Ok, I understand *sometimes* when someone is driving down the road eating something with their windows open and a piece of paper may fly out. Yes, it's happened to me on the highway before and it really bothers me. I don't believe in littering, I don't believe in ruining the environment. How lazy can people be that they would simply throw their cigarette butts into the water onto the lilly pads. Lets see the animals I count in the marsh: beavers, muskrats, raccoons, blue herons, redwing blackbirds, cedar waxwings, geese, blue gill, bass, sunfish, carp, snapping turtles, red-ear sliders, yellow finches, spotted newts, green frogs, bull frogs (and that doesn't even begin to touch the ones I have seen). Do you know what the effects of these animals eating something like a chemical-laden cigarette butt could be? Put it in your pocket, in your sock, have your friend hold it, or....I know this is crazy so bear with me...hold it yourself until you get to one of the trashcans not that far down the Towpath Trail.

I feel no remorse for laziness and no remorse for those who litter. Yes, God gave us command over the natural world around us but also that we may be stewards of His creation. By throwing our trash around us, we are continually raping God's creation and ruining the gifts we have been given Yes, I'll say it. I think litterers should be in jail. There we go. Call it crazy. Yes, I know the jails are already full of many societal leeches, but why not keep stocking them full up of other people who are continually draining our resources.

Visiting a National Park? The National Park Service has recommendations on how to have a Green Park Visit. Be smart..use a trash can, recycle, pack-in pack-out, Leave No Trace. Whatever you call it, you don't need to throw your garbage on the ground. I always tell people that I would rather you throw it on the floor of my car than out the window. I once stopped on the highway so someone could get something they threw out of the window. It's stupid. Those who do it are lazy and ignorant.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blatant attack on premier national park

In what I deem a blatant attack from Congress (High Country News), earmarks in a recent transportation bill have once again opened up Grand Canyon National Park to the noisy drone of helicopters. Having never been to this park, I still feel that this is in blatant disregard of the National Park Service's mandate "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” How can one preserve the scenic quality of a place such as the Grand Canyon while allowing helicopters to race throughout the park so tourists too lazy to hike down in on their own two feet can get a glimpse of it? Scenery, in my opinion, is more than just the sights you can see but encompass a full aesthetic value ranging from sights to smells, noises, and even emotional feelings.

A visit to a national park (state park, municipal park, or any public land) is a holistic experience, one that for many people can take one a religious, spiritual (or at the very least..utter relaxation) tone to it. These feelings get ruined when one is forced to listen to the loud noises of helicopters buzzing throughout the park. Our own John McCain, supposed lover of public lands and open spaces, was the one to earmark this into the bill and for that I denounce him. Bad move.

Would kayaking in the Everglades be the same if you were constantly inundated with the buzz of helicopters or being almost run over by speed boats? Would watching the geysers of Yellowstone take on the same appeal should there be ATV's running around on the algae mats. I think not. Our public lands are designed to be a tranquil place where one can get away from it all...the true form of recreation is to re-create oneself, yet this attack on the aesthetic experience in one of the nation's most visited national parks seeks to destry that.

Do you part to protect our public lands from intrusion. We are loving our parks to death. Hop on a mule, walk on your feet, or ride a bike...but do not permit helicopters, ATV's, snowmobiles, and other gas-powered forms of travel to disrupt our ethereal experiences.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A plantable beer coaster...

This was hard to believe, but according to this Tree Hugger post, Molson Canadian (one of my favorite brews) has been making coasters that are infused with Black Spruce seeds. When you are done drinking your beer, simply plant the coaster in the ground and, ideally, the seeds should germinate from it. Now this is a great idea! Not only is Molson beginning to do their part to restore trees and forests, but they are hitting a market that you do not hear too much about in the environmental world.

What other sort of marketing plans have you heard of like this? This news was first released by pfsk, who linked to the following promotional video:

Just another great idea..simple, not costly, and reaches people that might not normally be reached. Not only does Molson brew a wonderful brew, but has now begun to do their part to give back. Remember, it's not about how big of an initiative you can do, but it's about being willing to step outside of your box and try something new to be Earth-friendly. Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative....we all have a part to play. Regardless of the lines that you adhere to, there is no one that wants to see all of our forests cut down and lands destroyed. Everyone has a conservation ethic, a Land Ethic as Aldo Leopold put it so elequently. Do your part.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"What the frac?"

Natural gas drilling has ramped up across the nation and probably none more so than Pennsylvania. Being a western Pennsylvania native whose hometown is right in the midst of the Marcellus shale natural gas plays, I have seen firsthand both sides of the argument. You have those in full support of natural gas drilling (and much like Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Corbett....they do not see a need for any tax) and those who are vehemently against it. Rallies have raged, protests have happened, and yet the drilling continues. In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an editorial was printed from a local woman against natural gas drilling due to hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking." Essentially, it is mixing water, sand, and other chemicals to fracture the shale and extract the gas from the fissures creates. 

How does fracking work?

Unfortunately, the woman does not state any sources for her argument yet claims that well-drilling is accident prone and sees one major environmental violation or accident per well. Unfortunately for her, this is a very flawed argument. Accidents from natural gas drilling have been relatively few compared with the number of wells that have been driven. Many argue that fracking hurts the water supply, yet studies have recently come out stating that gas drilling does not contaminate drinking water. To those opponents to natural gas drilling, I bring you this argument. Name one industry that has not witnessed at least one accident. Did NASA let accidents stop the exploration of space or did Henry Ford let automobile accidents hinder the development of some of the first automobiles? 

Accidents are expected as we move forward with natural gas drilling. It is not a perfect system, yet we learn as we go on. Exxon and other oil drilling companies have learned from the Gulf oil spill of 2010, as natural gas drilling companies have continually learned from their mistakes. What we need is to tax the natural gas companies at a reasonable rate (i.e. one that does not attempt to bankrupt the company) and invest 100% of this tax into the development of renewable forms of energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal). These technologies are the future and, unfortunately, they are not at an economically feasible point nor is their output efficient enough to supply U.S. energy needs...but again, that is what research & development (trial & error) is ultimately for. 

You can support the extraction of natural gas and still support the protection of America's pristine places...it's not hard. I do it. The key is to think smart...learn to fight your battles. Natural gas drilling is here to stay. We can either fight it and lose, or support it and push for safer and more environmentally sound ways to extract it. 

Climate Change Frustrations

It has been interesting, to say the least, to have the opportunity to explore climate change issues this summer as I working for the National Park Service in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Cleveland/Akron, OH metro area. We are situated on 33,000 acres of pristine forest and farmland between these two major metropolitan areas. With lakes to fish, trails to bike on, and plenty of farmers markets, it has been a nice little haven for the past couple of months.

I am working with that park as the George Melendez Wright Climate Intern, through the National Council for Science and the Environment, enhancing the parks climate change outreach programs. I am working to incorporate climate change lessons into our existing environmental education programs, as well as draft new programs to take place either on site or at area schools. These programs will look at such issues at the differences between climate and weather, climate regions around the world, how do we know the climate is changing, what is causing this change, and what sort of Earth-friendly practices can we perform in our own lives to adapt to and mitigate climate change. This position is also working in conjunction with the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the non-profit friends group that works alongside the NPS is our mission to protect the resources of the park and educate the public.

We read daily about climate change in the newspapers, see the videos and images online, and are constantly bombarded with the doomsday opinions of research scientists about what will happen should we not change our ways. We see the pictures of polar bears floating off into the ocean on melting sea ice, the melting glaciers in Glacier National Park, and severe drought and famine in under-developed nations. While these issues pluck the heartstrings of people around the world, it has been very difficult to garner an interest in climate change mitigation in northeastern Ohio. Scientists have many predictions about the changes we will see in this area, but nothing has surfaced as of yet. I am attempting to educate the public on something that we can barely monitor for in this area. Below are some of the biggest predictions that scientists see for our area and the Midwest region:
  • Overall drought conditions, but higher frequency of large storm events
  • More heat days (over 90 degrees)
  • Earlier spring thaws
  • Increased water temperature of Lake Erie (by 10 degrees)
  • Lower water levels of Lake Erie (by 2 feet)
  • Increased invasive species (eg. more poison ivy with an increased potency) 
We are witnessing, nor predicting, nothing terribly drastic, so how do you get people to sign onto a cause that many do not believe will affect their lives terribly much. They will still be able to go to Giant Eagle and get their food. They don't care if their tomato travels 2,000 miles from Mexico or comes from the local farm market. They will still drive their SUV, run their air-conditioning when it hits only 80 degrees, and do a lot of other practices that just are not smart and contribute to a declining environmental standard around the world. I will not get too much into the politics, but according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 95% of scientists now agree that Earth's climate is changing and is anthropogenic.

It has been frustrating to try to get people to sign onto this cause. When I tell people what I do, I get many frowns and bad looks. It gets even worse when they ask what impacts we are seeing in this area and all I can tell them is that everything is predicted and show them graphics such as the CO2 measurements in the atmosphere and rising average global temperature:

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010)

Graphics look great, but anyone can alter a graphic to prove a point that they want. What we need is more solid evidence of climate change in the Great Lakes Region and, more specifically, Lake Erie. They say it will be impacted to least of all the Great Lakes (again, not helping my cause). It's good for the environment, but bad for what I'm trying to do. I will be starting my doctoral studies at Kent State University this fall in Geography, where I have the opportunity to look at climate change issues. I see gaping holes in the research that has been done thus far and the opportunity to advance this research. Seems like a possibly great task! According to NOAA, for the first time in recorded human history, we have hit 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Carbon Dioxide hits milestone at Arctic sites). Things are changing, but people are not.

Whether a climate change advocate or opponent, I think we can all agree that sustainable practices are just smart. Who doesn't want cleaner cities, cleanier air, safer neighborhoods, and more access to fresh and local foods? It's simple things we can do really. You don't need to install a wind turbine or try to go completely off the grid (although kudos if you do), but enact small changes in your own life and work on establishing and sharing your environmental and sustainability ethic to those around you.  A little, when grouped with other's little changes, go a long way towards greater change.