Superstorm Sandy’s battering of the northeastern tri-state area was a sobering reminder of the realities of climate destabilization; the weather manifestations that occur when climate change has been underway.
The Earth’s climatological balance is a precarious one and this years “Indian summer” in California is another prime example. Warm temperatures have persisted with continued warming in November seeing average temperatures at 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. A late onset winter is not so unusual, but with evolving weather patterns the ebb and flow of severity pushes further with it.
Last year’s freak tornado spree in Dallas, TX where over a dozen tornadoes formed clustered in a relatively small geographic area may not really be such a rarity. Of course, tornadoes come with the territory in Texas, but we’re talking about severity here.
So, the weather you know and love will still be there, year in year out – only with a twist. And, when severe weather events cluster like they did in last week’s ‘Frankenstorm’, the reality of climate destabilization comes into sharp focus in the minds those affected.
The Wrathful Planet – In recent decades, a technique for natural gas exploration and extraction known as ‘fracking’ has emerged which has had a ‘game changing’ impact for energy producers worldwide. In existence since the 1940’s the current technique involves a modernized combination of several preexisting techniques: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in combination with novel application of chemical agents.
With natural gas prices at their lowest in a decade the industry has a continued cost-efficiency over oil even in the face of forecasts speculating the doubling of the prices seen today. Where the price of oil is determined in a global market with perturbations being felt across the globe the market price of natural gas is typically intra-national and often times, as is the case with the United States, a regional one. Where certain deposits of natural gas have previously been cost ineffective to extract, fracking has opened the way for exponential growth for the Energy Industry.
Despite the advantages, many questions remain such as the environmental impact of the chemical blends used to improve well performance and other risks associated with deep ground extraction. Drilling takes place, not only in remote areas but in many cases in proximity to population centers and precious deep ground aquifers.
With service companies typically refusing to show the chemical agents used in fracking and loose or often watered-down regulations and safeguards, the public’s clamoring for transparency is reaching new heights. Not just the usual NIMBY (not in my back yard) fight, fracking has energized activists and communities across the United States.
To understand the nature of the fracking fight, one must gain an understanding of the methodologies at play. Each fracking operation while unique, has some core components shared across all extraction operations.
Vertical Drilling – This is the most traditional aspect of fracking and is employed in almost all types of extraction scenarios.
Horizontal Drilling – Traditional vertical wells can cut through gas rich rock layers, but only tap the portion of rock that the bore pass through. Horizontal drilling allows a curvature to be implemented into the bore path making it possible to target the desirable layer more effectively.
Hydraulic Fracturing – Using high pressure water (~95-99%) is mixed with chemical agents and pumped into the well. Deep underground, the gas rich rock layer is cracked and the fissures in the rock are held apart with sand or various types of grit. With the fissures held open, the gas issues forth and the well becomes active, capable of extracting exponentially more hydrocarbons that ever considered possible before.
Chemical Agents & Additives – The aforementioned substances mixed to create the fracking fluid are variable and many with some being known or suspected carcinogens and air pollutants. A 2011 Congressional Report details a number of findings distilled from data provided by 14 leading oil and gas providers.
The committee found that methanol was the chemical that was by far the most commonly used between the years of 2005 – 2009. Methanol is considered a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) and is being review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
The foaming surfactant agent, 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) was also heavily employed, which can cause hemolysis in humans in addition to causing damage to organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Toxicological studies on humans have shown that this class of chemical is even more readily taken into the body when suspended within an aqueous solution. With fracking operations happening within relatively close proximity to deep ground aquifers and vital water tables the possibility for serious consequences becomes clear.
Consequences that became a reality for one small town in Wyoming. After years of issuing complaints about local water quality Pavillion, Wy residents petitioned the EPA to test water wells used by the area’s residents. Situated in the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Tribes, the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Indians have petitioned to be recognized as a State under the Clean Air Act.
Complaints that led to the EPA testing ranged included:
Water taking on a yellow tint
Appearance of gas bubbles
Loss of taste sense
Increased turbidity (cloudy as if with sediment)
EPA Expanded Site Investigation results are pending but residents have been advised to use alternate sources of water.
Should heavy industry be responsible for self-regulation? Are we asking the wolf to play shepherd? Is the information I present to you today simply another example of civilian hysteria that pro-business forces regularly decry? Is it true what industry spokespersons say when they insinuate that the reason for the public resistance to fracking is the complex nature of the chemical agents themselves?
Regardless of the ultimate answer what we do know is that this is fracking is happening now and if service companies are operating in a gray area of the law where environmental impact and necessary commonsense statutes that proper legislation provide, then perhaps fracking is something worthy of closer inspection.
While the benefits of fracturing techniques are significant and perhaps ultimately necessary for an increasingly energy hungry world, the risks and collateral damage to communities and individuals must not go unappreciated.
If Humanity has indeed disrupted the natural balance of planet Earth, future generations will undoubtedly seek to learn by what manner and for what reasons this reality came to pass.
Talk of climate change in the mainstream media is primarily limited to abstract discussions about carbon dioxide emissions, melting ice, and rising sea-levels. Further, media attention tends to focus only on the most visible effects of Global Warming.
Climate models show us that along with the melting of glaciers, coastal communities will cease to exist as present-day shorelines shift to higher altitudes. Even without the specter of Global Warming city planners and resource managers know that water supplies, already stretched by over-development and mismanagement will continue to be outpaced by the population growth. And, based on sheer volumes of emissions of being produced on an annual basis, the problem’s magnitude is constantly evolving for the worse.
Yet, a unified global response continues to elude a world where national or even local interests trump the benefit of the greater population. With a cacophony of competing voices and entrenched power structures, progress over the last decades has been superficial at best. Misinformation and political apathy have created an environment where progress has been stymied at the expense of the Global Community.
The Wrathful Planet series, of which you are reading the first edition, seeks to chronicle changes going on in our environment both in terms of scientific evidence and the psychological impact on Human societies.
Once you noticed that you have lost or are about to lose something, typically you will find that it is too late to reverse the situation to any significant degree satisfaction
Changes in our planetary weather patterns are no different than disappearing resources or mass extinctions of life. It is the responsibility of the whole of Humanity to choose to pay heed to the signs and to take action, or not. But, keep in mind that the Earth rarely rewards excess and even less frequently offers second chances.
Equilibrium and proportion will win out over instability in the end, whether or not Humanity deigns to participate.