Liquefied Natural Gas Port in the Atlantic Ocean? No Fracking Way!

Standard

Growing up in New Jersey, it didn’t quite feel like summertime until I was eating Kohr’s ice cream on Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach or riding a bike on the promenade in Cape May.  My family and I have gone down the shore every summer since I was born.

I have spent a lot of time with my feet in the ocean in awe of its systems, trying unsuccessfully to grasp the power and enormity of it all.  I think that every child should get to experience the great moments of finding a conch shell fully intact, seeing a pod of dolphins swim across the current, and watching sandpipers scurry across the sand.

In order for future generations to even have a fighting chance at one of these shore moments, a recent project proposed off the coasts of New York and New Jersey by Liberty Natural Gas called “Port Ambrose” must be stopped.

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

Photo Credit: Clean Ocean Action

On June 14, 2013, the Maritime Administration (part of the US Department of Transportation) announced Liberty Natural Gas’ Port Ambrose application. Port Ambrose is a proposed deepwater port to be used for the import or export of natural gas which has been liquefied. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is dirty; the carbon footprint of LNG is almost as bad as coal.  In liquid form, this dirty energy source can be shipped across the world and sold for the largest profit overseas.

The Port Ambrose facility would be located off the coast of Long Branch, NJ and Jones Beach, NY.  This location also happens to be near the entrance to the New York Harbor, in two active Coast Guard training areas, in the middle of a proposed offshore wind area, and within several important fishing areas and wildlife migration routes.

With fishing areas and wildlife migration routes in the area proposed, it is important to note that the installation of new pipeline facilities for Port Ambrose would disrupt hundreds of acres of seafloor and cause re-suspension of sediments in the ocean, which increases the turbidity of the water and negatively impacts water quality.  Establishing new pipelines in the ocean would also generate serious underwater noise pollution.

In the ocean, hearing and sound are vital for the survival of marine life. Sound is used for everything from migration to reproduction to feeding. Over 700 fish species produce low frequency sounds — sea turtles, Squid, octopus, shrimp, crab — and even coral and fish larvae have been found to respond to sound. All of these species would be affected by the noise pollution caused by Port Ambrose.

Port Ambrose would bring not only noise, but water pollution to the Atlantic Ocean.  If approved, Liberty would be required to test the pipeline from the Port for any safety and control issues.  For these pipe tests alone, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater.  Water pollution would also increase in inland regions, as LNG exports drive up the costs of manufacturing and electricity and increase the intensity of hydraulic fracturing, a major source of water pollution, for shale gas expansion.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a water-intensive process where a mix of millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (including ones known to cause cancer) are injected underground at high pressure to fracture shale to release the natural gas found in the rock formation into a nearby well.  Oftentimes, this chemical stew is released into the surrounding groundwater through faulty pipes.

Beyond the well, fracking brings industrial activity into communities through the clearing of land to build new access roads and new well sites, drilling and encasing the well, fracking the well and generating the waste, trucking in heavy equipment and materials and trucking out the toxic waste — all contributing to air and water pollution risks and devaluation of land.

The synergy of the environmental impacts from fracking AND a deepwater port is the last thing New Jersey and New York need, especially now, as the region is recovering and rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.

It is time to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuel, stand up to Big Energy, and develop more renewable energy sources.  Port Ambrose would simply feed our addiction.  Let’s preserve Jersey Shore moments for generations to come, encourage Governor Christie to reaffirm his veto and for Governor Cuomo to veto Ambrose.

Take Action:

To learn more about Port Ambrose and how to get involved in the fight to Block the Port, contact Lindsay McNamara, Program and Communications Associate at Clean Ocean Action via e-mail at communications@cleanoceanaction.org.

Clean Ocean Action (COA) is a 501(c)3 working to “improve the water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.”

Advertisements

Eyeless Shrimp?

Standard

As a “Millennial,” the constant bombarding of information on the web has become engrained in my daily routine.  I am able to access news stories and reports in the blink of an eye.  I can read my Twitter timeline for up-to-the-second information from various environmental groups.  On the surface, this seems to be a clear advance in technology and a benefit for all Americans who wish to stay informed and aware of current events.  I can follow an event for a little while, but when I get bored I am able to quickly toggle to something new and exciting.  The whole world is at my finger tips…which is exactly the problem.  It is near impossible to have a story stay relevant for more than a couple days.  It seems to be one issue after another, factoid after factoid from website after website.  If a certain story makes me uncomfortable or sad, I have plenty of others to choose from.  I can control what I am exposed to; unlike a few decades ago when whatever was on a few channels of the TV was the only accessible news.

The plethora of information in the worldwide web creates an interesting dilemma for environmental news.  Oftentimes, news that is reported is bad news.  Environmental disasters make people uncomfortable.  They force us to step back and look at the system that we have created…but now that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs only has to last for a few days.  We can easily follow other stories, happier ones, and push the images of oiled birds out of our minds.  Out of sight, out of mind.

It has been over two years since the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill and it appears that there are only a few sources still covering the disaster.  We need to find a way to make environmental issues relevant for more than a day, a week or a month so that real progress can be made.  These continued updates must find their way to mainstream news, without bias from big industry.

Last week, it was announced that shrimping has been stopped along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  WEAR TV had originally reported that the closure was due to the deformities found in the fish caused by the oil spill and chemicals used to clean up the oil.  The original post (on April 23) was titled: “Looming Crisis: Officials Close Gulf Waters to Shrimping as Reports of Deformed Seafood Intensify.”  WEAR TV withdrew their original post, citing the smaller average size in shrimp as the reason for the shrimping closure.

It is frightening to me to grow up in a time when we have so much information at our fingertips, but the stories are being manipulated not by the media, but by industry and corporations.  The general public of the United States needs to take a stand to not only demand coverage of more environmental news, but demand accurate and unbiased coverage.  It is unacceptable for a respected TV station to blame smaller average size in shrimp as the reason for the ban on shrimping.  The problems in shrimp populations began after Deepwater Horizon exploded and BP used about two million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants to disperse the oil.  “Grossly deformed seafood” has been found all along the Gulf from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana, although Alabama is the first state to close waters to the seafood fishing industry.  All waters in the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay, plus some areas of Little Lagoon, Wolf Bay and Bon Secour have been closed to shrimpers.

Al Jazeera interviewed Darla Rooks, a woman who has been fishing all her life in Port Sulfur, Louisiana.  Rooks reported finding shrimp with abnormal growths, without eyes, and female shrimp with their babies still attached. She has also seen shrimp with oiled gills: “We are also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills.”

 

Two years later, the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill continue to threaten the economic vitality of the Gulf Coast.  I think we are at a turning point in the United States in terms of energy policy.  We are at a fork in the road and it is time for us to turn to renewable sources of energy for not only the wildlife of the coastal regions, but the people and the economies they depend on.

Climate Change Education

Standard

Below is my perspective on climate change education.  I gave this speech at the MADE CLEAR (Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment and Research) Climate Change Education Summit at the University of Maryland on September 19, 2011.  I felt honored to be one of four panelists, and the only undergraduate student, that spoke at the Summit.  I’ve included the YouTube video of my speech too.

Looking back on my childhood, I fondly remember watching the stages of butterfly metamorphosis in the first grade, catching and identifying insects in the fifth grade, and going on nature walks with my camera by eighth grade.  When I reached high school, I took AP Environmental Science, a class where we were able to test the water quality of Black River, the closest body of water to my school in Chester, New Jersey.  I do realize that unlike me, not every child growing up in the United States enjoys nerdy activities, like bird watching.  Can the appreciation that I have for the planet, which seemed to develop naturally, be taught to those who spent their childhoods inside playing video games, oblivious to the ecosystems in their own backyards?

My peers and I grew up in what seems to be the “Pre-Climate Change” generation.  Although climate change has been occurring since the Industrial Revolution, the idea of human impact on the environment did not saturate the media until the early 21st century.  The “Green Revolution” in America will certainly impact the curriculum of the next generation, but where does that leave students my age?  In my experiences at the University of Delaware, I have seen students manifesting the idea of “conspicuous consumption.”  At first glance, a student wearing a hemp necklace, Tom’s shoes and a floral skirt with Nalgeen and canvas bag in hand appears earth-friendly.  Ask that student how much he or she drives around campus, whether he or she consumes local food, or whether he or she pressures congressman to pass renewable energy policies and the answer may surprise you.

Although students my age seem to be coming a little late in the game to the environmental discussion, I have hope for our climate future because of the incredible children that I had the pleasure of meeting through my job at the Hunterdon County Parks Department Summer Nature Program.  Every weekday for eight weeks during the past two summers, I would arrive at Mountain Farm/Teetertown Preserve, to implement the one week program I developed for my third and fourth grade nature campers.

Educators must be discussing some form of climate change awareness, as my eight and nine year old campers are already familiar with “going green.”  My campers could identify our composting bin, were asking where the recycling bin was, and were proudly explaining the organic and locally grown foods that are a part of their diet.  Two summers ago, I discussed global warming, carbon dioxide emissions and the dwindling polar bear population with the campers.  We coupled this discussion with a sustainability game where we brainstormed ways to be energy efficient in each room of the house. The campers surprised me every week; already familiar with “squiggly” light bulbs, biodiesel (one camper recognized “French fries” as an alternative form of energy), and hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

This past summer, I did an activity to illustrate the concept of river pollution flowing downstream.  I drew a river across ten pieces of paper and asked each camper to take a piece.  I told them that they had all become millionaires and could afford whatever house they wanted on the riverfront property.  As I’m sure you can imagine, the children had rather creative ideas: floating trampolines and zoos, roller coasters, helicopter landing pads, and rather eccentric pets.  I had one camper, however, named Adam who drew a simple yellow house, with a fenced in yard for his dog to play in and a swing set for his kids to play on.  When I asked him why he chose to draw his part of the river in such a way he told me, “I don’t want anything I don’t need.”

Now, while Adam is a rarity, it only takes one person with a great idea to make major, progressive changes in our society.  The earlier children learn about their responsibility as a steward of the planet, the more time they have to develop into concerned conservationists and serve as the voice of the future, which is why I am a strong advocate for environmental education being incorporated into the curriculum as early as possible.

Though bringing environmental aspects into the classroom has proven to work efficiently (at least with my campers), there is no better way to learn than experiencing something first hand.  The children at Nature Camp are learning about the environment not in a confined classroom but instead outdoors, which allows for them to be surrounded by the beauty of nature and understand the idea of conservation through their own personal experience.  It is incredibly exciting as a Nature Program Leader to see young girls wearing snakes as necklaces and watching campers’ smiles stretch wide when they find a skull inside an owl pellet.  Having a camper come up and ask if we can check on the swallow fledglings in the barn or having a swarm of children running at me and screaming how someone found a frog or an insect gives me hope for the future.  If these young children foster an appreciation for all things outdoors, they will learn to live sustainably as adults.

The idea of an interactive, hands-on approach to climate change education can be successful for my peers, those of us who were out of the elementary school system before the “greening” of the American media.  Through traveling to the ACPA (American College Personnel Association) Institute on Sustainability in Boulder, Colorado, this past June, I became familiar with Ohio State University’s Buckeye Metro Farm.  What started as an initiative by a few members of a student group has, become a model for climate change education.  Passionate students with a vision were lucky enough to obtain some land on campus property for three plots, totaling roughly an acre of farmland, and a number of grants and support from faculty and staff to make their dream a reality.  One of the plots is even headed towards certified organic.  The OSU Student Farm involves students from Metro High School and local organizations to help plant and sell their products at the Farmer’s Market.  The University’s Dining and Catering Services buys products to use in the campus dining halls.  The Horticulture and Crop Science department offers an organic gardening class taught on the Student Farm.  The department has even created a concentration within the Horticulture and Crop Science curriculum on sustainable food systems due to the Farm’s popularity among students.  It seems to be a well-oiled machine at this point that involves not only the students and the University, but the surrounding community.

The OSU Student Farm can serve as a model for climate change education at the college-level.  Not only are students literally digging in the dirt, they are giving back to the community and have the option of receiving college credit for their experience to boot.

In the end, I am hopeful for our future.  I believe that education is the key to progressing towards a greener American climate: environmentally, politically, and economically.  To quote Baba Dioum, a great ecologist: “For in the end, we will conserve only what we love.  We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”

Ethanol is Not the Answer

Standard

With oil at $104/barrel, it seems only logical to invest in alternative sources of fuel for our cars in the United States.  The increase in oil prices has led to the apparently beneficial act of diverting grain from food supply to ethanol production.  Ethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting sugar components of plant materials, usually sugar and starch crops.  In its purest form, ethanol can be used as fuel for cars, but it is most commonly used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve emissions from automobiles.  As long as oil prices are above $80/barrel, grains, mainly corn, will be diverted from food consumption to ethanol production.  It has even been announced that the percentage of ethanol in gasoline in the United States will shift from 10-15% by summer 2011 driving season.  Without further investigation, ethanol seems to be another green or environmentally friendly innovation of the 21st century.  However, with the use of ethanol has come an increase in food prices, poverty, deforestation and believe it or not, carbon dioxide emissions.  In 2009, 19 billion gallons of ethanol were produced.  What has this done for the planet and its populations?  Nothing but harm.

Using grain for ethanol has no doubt been a key contributor to rising food prices.  People in less developed countries spend an average of 60-70% of their income on food, while those in more developed countries spend only 10% of their income on food.  Therefore, rising food prices affect the most poor the most quickly and deeply.  We must recognize the marginalizing effect on of the very rich and very poor as exacerbated by ethanol production.  The UN’s Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Third World.  Trends were even reversing, until 2007, when food prices sky rocketed because of the emergence of ethanol in gasoline.  By 2008, poverty had increased across East Asia, Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Adding ethanol to gasoline is a moral and political question.  Should we choose to benefit a car owner whose income averages $30,000 annually over the two billion poorest people in the world who average an income of only $3,000 annually?  It is obvious that big business, investors and lobbyists choose to benefit the car owner in order to make a larger profit, a practice that is entirely unethical.  U.S. grain used to produce fuel for cars in 2009 would feed 340 million people for one year.  Developed countries have an obligation to assist less developed countries; the people of the Third World have little opportunity to advance because of their focus on immediate needs for survival.  Are we going to make food unattainable too through our addition to fossil fuel consumption, which drives ethanol production?

As if the catastrophic effects of ethanol on poverty is not enough, the production of the allegedly “ecologically friendly” fuel source only adds to the land paucity issue we face today in 2011.  Clearing land to plant corn for ethanol means more land must be cleared to plant grain for food.  With little to no new land accessible for farming, rainforests across the globe are being destroyed as a direct result of adding ethanol to gasoline.  Forests in Brazil, Congo Basins, and Indonesia have become a prime target.  Release of sequestered carbon, loss of plant and animal species, increased runoff and soil erosion are just a few consequences of deforestation, the “Biofuel carbon debt” as named by a 2008 study in Science conducted at the University of Minnesota.  Not only does ethanol production contribute to land use issues, it contributes to water shortages, as well.  It takes 1,000 tons of water to produce 1 ton of grain.  If we are now farming more grain to compensate for both ethanol and food supply, we are contributing to aquifer depletion and falling water tables.

Ethanol must at least be an efficient source of energy to outweigh all of the above costs.  When looking at resource efficiency, natural resource managers view the resource from extraction to production, namely “cradle to grave.”  When applying the cradle to grave concept to ethanol, it can be concluded that ethanol is not in the least bit sustainable.  Combining the total energy used for farm equipment, irrigation systems and transportation of crops to processing plants and later fuel terminals and retail pumps, ethanol seems hardly “green.”  Not to mention the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made from petroleum necessary to maximize yields in a Post-Green Revolution world.  Cradle to grave analysis suggests it is time to put an end to ethanol.  Even if the entire U.S. grain harvest were to be converted into ethanol, it would satisfy at most only 18% of U.S. automotive fuel needs.

The repercussions of ethanol production pose severe threats to both the environment and impoverished countries.  Perhaps the most detrimental threat of all however, with Cinco de Mayo rapidly approaching, is the effect of ethanol on the market for tequila.  As if rainforest clearing, substantial water use, skyrocketing food prices and trend-reversing poverty rates were not enough, ethanol is threatening margarita consumption.  Farmers in Mexico are shifting from harvesting blue agave, a cactus-like plant from which tequila is made, to more profitable cash crops such as wheat and corn to keep up with ethanol production.  Ending ethanol production for gasoline additives?  I’ll drink to that.

The “Peak Oil” Debate

Standard

For the last 20 some-odd years, natural resource experts have estimated we have 30 years of oil left.  This seems counter-intuitive.  How can 20 years pass, but the amount of oil we have left on the planet stay the same, especially as we continue to consume it at an exponential rate?  The answer lies in advances in technology.  Improved technology has allowed access to otherwise trapped oil reservoirs.  We can now reach what has been termed “tough oil.”

Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, and Michael Klare, a Five Colleges professor of Peace and World Security Studies shed light on the idea of “easy oil” vs. “tough oil.” “Easy oil” is categorized as oil produced in “friendly, safe, and welcoming places,” such as oil found on shore or near to the shore, close to the surface or concentrated in large reservoirs.  On the other hand, “tough oil” is buried far offshore or deep underground, or spread out in small, hard-to-find reservoirs.  The manner with which “tough oil” must be obtained is from “unfriendly, politically dangerous or hazardous places.”

Twenty years ago, the majority of our oil supply was “easy oil,” giving us 30 more years of black gold.  Currently in 2011, as we continue to deplete natural reserves at an ungodly rate, we have managed to reestablish our 30 year oil supply with advances in technology, but twenty-first century oil is now “tough oil,” calling for processes like oil sands mining to extract.

While conventional crude oil is extracted from the ground by drilling wells into a petroleum reservoir, oil sands have been deemed “unconventional” oil and require a much more extensive process.  Extra-heavy oil flows very slowly toward producing wells under normal conditions and therefore must be extracted by strip mining.  Strip mining reduces the viscosity of the oil by injecting steam, solvents, and/or hot air into the sands.  Consequently, oil sands mining requires more water and energy than conventional oil extraction.  Because of this, Environmental Defense has called the Alberta Oil Sands project “the most destructive project on Earth.”  Below are a few hard numbers to back up this claim:

  • Oil sands mining is permitted to use two times more fresh water than the entire city of Calgary uses in a year
  • At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them
  • Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes
  • Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil

 Despite the environmental disadvantages of oil sands mining, Chief executive Peter Voser has named tar sands one of the new projects set to propel Shell’s growth even higher.

With this damaging method proposed, it is important to pay attention to where 2012 election candidates stand on alternative energy and peak oil.  Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) claims, “The new Republican majority seems intent on restoring the robber-baron era where there were no controls on pollution from power plants, oil refineries and factories.”  We absolutely cannot return this era where politicians honor businessmen who use questionable business practices to become powerful or wealthy.  We cannot elect candidates who are funded and supported by oil megalomaniacs.  We need to credit candidates who are walking the talk and looking for new solutions away from petroleum to power America’s economy.

We can no longer stand for individuals who are just talking about renewable energy sources—we need action.  Especially since many environmentalists believe that we have reached “peak oil,” the point at which the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.

“Peak oil” is not to be confused with oil depletion; it is not a period of falling reserves and supply, but a point at which maximum production is reached.  “Peak oil” should be viewed as an opportunity to transition our economy and consequently the American lifestyle away from oil and towards more renewable sources, like solar, wind and geothermal.  It is not a doomsday environmental crisis, more a wakeup call to stop extracting “tough oil” and progress in a more environmentally-conscious manner.