Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shale Gas and Fracking around the World

A report by the US Energy Information Administration last spring estimated the amount of recoverable natural gas within shale formations accessible in Europe with today’s technology was 624 trillion cubic feet—much higher than previous estimates. (The U.S., by comparison, is estimated to have 862 trillion cubic feet currently know and recoverable natural gas). Recently, the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EuCERS) based in Kings College in London released a study that estimated, "Europe's unconventional gas resources might be able to cover European gas demand for at least another 60 years.” Last week, Lichfield-based energy exploration firm Cuadrilla Resources estimated that some 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is stored within the shale rock beneath northwest England. The 200 trillion cubic feet is "gas in place" and is not the same as the recoverable volume of gas, but even if only a fraction of the shale gas is recoverable that increases the volume of gas that is recoverable with current technology significantly.

Until recently there was no economically feasible way to extract shale gas. However, in the past decade this has changed. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertical well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracking, the pumping of millions of gallons of water laced with proprietary chemicals into shale at high pressure to release the natural gas stored in the pore spaces have increased our ability to recover natural gas from that shale. An increase in the price of natural gas has spurred the development of the natural gas wells that could not have been viable without advances in drilling and fracking.

Fracking has been employed in the United States since the 1990s allowing energy producers to tap shale gas deposits previously considered almost useless. Production from those wells now contributes nearly a quarter of the United States gas supply, driving down prices for consumers. But concern and criticism of the practice has been growing even as it spreads. Exxon Mobil is drilling in Germany’s Lower Saxony. ConocoPhillips has joined a small firm based on the Isle of Man, to explore a large tract of land in Poland. Austria’s OMV is testing geological formations near Vienna. Shell is targeting Sweden. Earlier this year, France banned hydraulic fracturing despite the potential for extensive shale gas development in Southern France. In a radio interview France's environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said that fracking “is not something we want to use in France. Shale gas is the same as any other gas. What poses a problem is the technology used."

Though the energy companies are beginning to gather baseline data for drinking water wells in the areas being fracked, the data collection is neither ongoing nor broad enough. The data that is being collected is not adding to the base of knowledge, but rather I suspect to demonstrate that stray gas was a pre-existing condition of the drinking water wells. What is needed is a slow development of shale gas resources to allow careful monitoring and data collection of the potential impacts to our water supply from hydraulic fracking. Drilling requires significant amounts of water to create a circulating mud that cools the bit and carries the rock cuttings out of the borehole. After drilling, the shale formation is then stimulated by hydraulic fracking, using up to 3 million gallons of water.

Data needs to be gathered on the impact to water resources of supplying water for the construction of thousands of wells per year. For gas to flow out of the shale, nearly all of the water injected into the well during fracking must be recovered and disposed of. Though less than 0.5% by volume, the proprietary chemicals are 15,000 gallons in the waste from the typical 3 million gallon hydro fracking job. The chemicals serve to increases the viscosity of the water to a gel-like consistency so that it can carry the propping agent (typically sand) into the fractures to hold them open so that the gas can flow. Determining the proper methods for the safe disposal of the large quantities of this fracking fluid that may also contain contaminants from the geological formation including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organic contaminants and monitoring the impact from this disposal must also be done. The impact of so much waste water on our water resources must be measured and monitored. In a study that was published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, concluded that the fracking did not cause the earthquakes, but there seemed to be a relationship to the deep well injection of the fracking fluid to small earthquakes experienced in Texas. The water caused the earthquakes Finally, care must be taken to avoid degradation of watersheds and streams from the industry itself as large quantities of heavy equipment and supplies are moved on rural roads and placed on concrete pads. The watersheds must be monitored.
http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/XH0010.pdf

The U.S. success in gas recovery has set off shale gas explorations worldwide, and promising sites have been uncovered in Europe, particularly in France, Germany, Poland, and Ireland. Where there was coal there is shale gas. And as France's environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet pointed out, gas is gas. When it burns, natural gas emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide per calorie of any fossil fuel and burns cleanly because of this natural gas could be the “bridge fuel” in the long-term transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy or whatever the future and science will discover. However, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that loose pipe fittings and intentional venting for safety purposes on natural gas lines are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. (If you recall, methane and water are significant greenhouse gases.) These releases should be measured and the spurious emissions eliminated or at least significantly reduced. The environmental costs of sloppy production techniques and short cuts should be fresh in our minds after the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but the Deepwater Horizon fades from memory much too quickly.

In the 1990’s natural gas, sold for $2 per million BTUs after peaking in 2005 natural gas is now about $4 per million BTUs, making the extraction of shale gas viable and profitable. The U.S. uses natural gas to produce 21 % of its electricity. Coal is used to product 48 % of electricity in the United States and is still much cheaper than natural gas for generating electricity, but new regulations by the EPA on carbon emissions could decrease that financial advantage because coal burns dirtier than natural gas. Recent ambitious plans to convert the nation to renewable energy: build nuclear plants and solar and wind farms, were made under the assumption that natural gas prices would average $7 to $9 per million BTUs. At that level, electricity prices would have been high enough to make wind and nuclear power look affordable. Now, with natural gas at $4 per million BTUs and more gas reserves announced each year, many of these projects suddenly look too expensive. Shale sourced natural gas could profoundly change the future of our nation and world we live in; however we need to remember that the gas still is a limited resource and be cautious about what other impacts fracking might have on our other resources especially the hydraulic balance.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Water is Our Story






The United States is a “first world” economy with what I thought were established water use patterns until I reviewed the data. The US Geological Survey has conducted water-use compilations every 5 years since 1950. Water use per capita and total water use peaked around 1975-1980 (between two US Geological water use estimates) when growing recognition of the limitation of water as resource and regulation began driving water conservation efforts. At the time, US population was around 225 million. Despite the population growing almost 38% to 310 million water use appears to have leveled off, but since 1995 has begun to climb again after the gains from conservation can no longer make up to the increasing population.


Cooling water for thermoelectric power generation has accounted for the largest water withdrawals since 1965, and in 2005 accounted for 49% of total withdrawals. Thermoelectric water withdrawals are non-consumptive, the water is returned to the water source after use. Thermoelectric-power water withdrawals have been affected by limited water availability in some areas of the United States, and also by sections of the Clean Water Act that regulate cooling system thermal discharges. Since 1972, power plants have increasingly been built or converted to using wet recirculating cooling systems or dry recirculating (air-cooled) systems instead of using once-through cooling systems. Hydroelectric power is not counted as a water withdrawal because the water does not leave the river or other water reservoir.


Irrigation accounted for 31% of total water withdrawals and 61% of the total water use excluding thermoelectric. During 1950, 77% of all irrigation was from surface water, primarily in the Western States. By 1980, the quantity of groundwater used for irrigation had nearly doubled, and groundwater accounted for 40% of total irrigation withdrawals. In 2005, 42% of irrigation withdrawals were from groundwater. The total number of acres irrigated increased from 1950 to 2005, though the water used in irrigation has not increased by as much. In 2005, the total number of acres irrigated was 60 million acres. More efficient methods of irrigation are gradually being adopted.


Water use for public supply has increased continually since 1950, along with the population served by public supply. Public-supply water use in 2005 was about 11% of total withdrawals and 21% of all freshwater uses excluding thermoelectric power generation. The percentage of groundwater used for public supply increased from 26% in 1950 to 33% in 2005. Estimated withdrawals for self-supplied domestic use (rural private drinking water wells) increased by 82% between 1950 and 2005. Private water well supplied 57.5 million people in 1950, or 38% of the total population. In 2005, private drinking water well supplied 42.9 million people, about 14% of the population. This would translate to an increase in per capita use from less than 40 to almost 90 gallons per day.


The final category of use, “other” includes industrial, mining, commercial and a relatively new category, aquaculture. This little category which today accounts for 7.6% of total water withdrawals and 14.8% of water use excluding thermoelectric power tells the story of our nation in terms of regulation and economy. In 1950 26% of the consumptive water use was in this category, today it is 14.8% with over a quarter of that amount going to aquaculture. Total water use in this category had fallen in absolute terms since 1950 (after peaking in 1970) and is generally attributed to significant declines in production and employment in: primary metal manufacturing, paper manufacturing, chemical manufacturing and petroleum and coal products manufacturing. Overall, manufacturing employment in the United States declined 19% since 1990 and probably reflects an absolute economic decline in the sector. Our water use tells the story of our nation. We are no longer an industrial manufacturing economy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere, How Much is there to Drink?




All the water that ever was or will be on earth is here right now. More than 97% of the Earth’s water is within the in oceans. The remaining 2.8% is the water within the land masses. The land masses contain all the fresh water on the planet. Of the land surface water, 77% is contained in icecaps and glaciers and for all practical purposes is inaccessible in the short run. The remaining fresh water is stored primarily in the subsurface as ground water with a tiny fraction of a percent of water is stored as rivers and lakes.


The water on earth never rests, it is constantly moving within the hydrologic cycle along various complex pathways and over a wide variety of time scales. Water moves quickly through some pathways -rain falling in summer may return to the atmosphere in a matter of hours or days by evaporation. Water may travel through other pathways for years, decades, centuries, or more—the groundwater stored in the Wasia aquifer in Saudi Arabia fell from the atmosphere as rain thousands of years ago.


Water enters the atmosphere through evaporation and exits as precipitation -rain or snow. Typically, water remains in the atmosphere as vapor for about 10 days and it is this time that allows water to move from the oceans to the land mass. Then condenses and becomes rain, snow, or mist. The pattern of precipitation changes over time and causing or responding to changes in the climate of the planet. A falling raindrop might evaporate, or perhaps be taken up by a blade of grass or other plant. The rain drop might fall on the ground and form a puddle or run off across hard packed soil or pavement. This water will likely evaporate, infiltrate the soil or travel to a stream and ultimately flow to an ocean; at any point along this journey water can evaporate and start again. The average time for water to go from rain to stream flow to oceans ranges between 16 and 26 days. Mankind has interrupted the flow of streams and rivers to the oceans by diverting water for irrigation and building reservoirs, thus slowing or interrupting its flow to the ocean. http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2007/1308/pdf/C1308_508.pdf

Not all surface water flows to oceans. Some lakes and wetlands have no surface drainage. They lose water to evaporation and to groundwater. Water moves much more slowly in the subsurface than in the atmosphere or on land surface. Water that infiltrates the soil can remain in the unsaturated zone where it is returned to the atmosphere by evaporation or plant transpiration or the water it can discharge to the surface in a channel becoming surface flow; or it can begin the longer journey- traverse the unsaturated zone and recharge an underlying aquifer. The water that remains in the unsaturated zone typically remains in the subsurface less than a year. Infiltrated water that travels to the saturated zone, and becomes recharge for the aquifer spends much more time in the subsurface. The time that it takes for water to travel through the entire thickness of the unsaturated zone varies tremendously. It can take mere hours to travel through thin unsaturated zones in humid regions to millennia, for thick unsaturated zones in arid regions. The types of soil and rock, the amount of overburden and ground cover and the thickness of the unsaturated zone determines the travel time.


The available supply of fresh water is limited to that naturally renewed by the hydrologic cycle or artificially replenished by the activities of mankind. The recharge rate, the amount of natural replenishment, varies with weather and can exceed water demands during unusually wet periods or fall far below demands during drought periods. Despite conservation the need for water continues to grow planet wide with the growth of human population and the development of emerging economies.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Water the Worlds Most Valuable Resource

While many were focusing on energy use, carbon emissions, and climate change and buying carbon offsets, I was trying to secure a sustainable water supply. Global fresh water supply poses the real and immediate environmental risk.

According to the US Census Bureau there are 312 million people in the United States and almost 9 billion people on earth. All the water that exists on the planet is finite and always part of the water cycle or hydrologic cycle, the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. Since the water cycle is truly a "cycle," there is no beginning or end. More than 96% of Earth's water exists in the oceans where the sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water. Some of it evaporates as vapor into the air. Ice and snow can sublimate directly into water vapor. Rising air currents take the vapor up into the atmosphere, along with water from evapotranspiration, which is water transpired from plants and evaporated from the soil. The vapor rises into the air where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into clouds. Air currents move clouds around the globe, cloud particles collide, grow, and fall out of the sky as precipitation. Some precipitation falls as snow and can accumulate as ice caps and glaciers, which can store frozen water for thousands of years. Snowpacks in warmer climates often thaw and melt when spring arrives, and the melted water flows overland as snowmelt. Water is not created, it changes states, it changes locations, but it is finite.

The fresh water on the planet is stored in the glaciers (that are reported to be melting), groundwater, rivers and streams all which can be polluted. Groundwater, river and streams are recharged by precipitation. Most precipitation falls back into the oceans, but some falls onto land, where the precipitation flows over the ground as surface runoff. A portion of runoff enters rivers which all flow towards the oceans. Runoff, and ground-water seepage, accumulate and are stored as freshwater in lakes. Not all runoff flows into rivers, though. Much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers (saturated subsurface rock), which store huge amounts of freshwater for long periods of time. Some infiltration stays close to the land surface and can seep back into surface-water bodies (and the ocean) as ground-water discharge, and some ground water finds openings in the land surface and emerges as freshwater springs. Over time, all of this water keeps moving and is truely the flow of life on our planet.

As global population rises, the demand for fresh water rises for drinking, domestic use, for industry and for agriculture. The demand for food and the water that is essential to produces it grows with population and wealth. Globally, farming is estimated to account for 60% -70% of fresh water use. Irrigated agricultural is the largest consumer of water on the planet. With population growth and increase in wealth it is projected that agricultural consumption of water will increase, although its consumption growth is forecast to be slowed by more efficient water usage in the future, nonetheless, it was estimated that the water usage would grow by a third between 2000 and 2050. While there might be adequate fresh water on the planet to meet this, the available fresh water is not located where it is needed.

Irrigation has vastly improved crop yields in many semi-arid climates where the growing season is long and crop yields seem only to be limited by water availability. The development of irrigated agriculture was the first step in increasing human population. Irrigated agricultural land is two and a half times more productive than rain fed agricultural land and the limits of irrigation really are the fresh water resources, the capital costs and the saline buildup over time in the farm land and aquifers. Over 40% of the global food harvest now comes from the 17% of the world's croplands that are irrigated. More successful agriculture has allowed a larger and larger portion of the population to pursue activities beyond the direct production of food.

Social scientists and demographers predict that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Today there are reported to be 3.5 billion people living in urban areas, about half of the world’s population; however, much of this is due to urban migration because humans do not breed in captivity. In the United States in 2011 just under 80% of the population lives in urban areas many of modest size. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census_issues/metropolitan_planning/cps2k.cfm
http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/urpop0090.txt
In the nineteenth century, the world’s most populous city was London whose population in 1900 was 7 million, today London has 9 million citizens and has been eclipsed by emerging countries of China, India and even Mexico. Shanghai has15 million people, Delhi has 16 million people and Mexico City has 20 million people. Fresh and safe water supplies are becoming critical in these new world urban centers.

To survive the average adult needs between 0.75 and 2.25 gallons of water daily, depending on climate, activity, and size. However, the production of foodstuffs involves much greater consumption of water environmental scientists estimate that, for an average vegetarian diet, 95,000 gallons of water per capita per year is needed or irrigation or rainfall. So, the annual drinking water consumption of even the thirstiest vegetarian would still represent just 1% of the water required for the cultivation of their food. Animals like humans require massive quantities of water to grow, so that an animal protein based diet requires multiples of the water used in a vegetarian diet.

Drinking water and food are basic human requirements. Other needs include personal hygiene, cooking and cleaning. The World Health Organization considers that a minimum 8-13 gallons per day is necessary for keeping up basic personal hygiene, for cooking, and for cleaning. This amount (which does not include water for flushing toilets), plus the amount consumed as drinking water, has been labeled the “basic water requirement.” Rounding, the basic requirement is 15 gallons a day. http://https://www.citigroupgeo.com/pdf/SGL72074.pdf

Of course, most humans aspire to more than just basic survival and few of us in the “first world” would be willing to live at the survival level when it comes to food and water and continue to work and produce at our current level of production. On that point, although per capita meat consumption in developing countries is still less than half the levels of developed countries as incomes rise so does meat consumption. As noted above, 95,000 gallons of water per capita per year is needed for an average vegetarian diet; a diet containing 20% meat triples that consumption (reflecting water consumed directly by animals, and water used in the production of food for livestock).

Water is used for activities beyond basic personal hygiene. Activities such as flushing a toilet, watering flowers, or washing a car increase daily per capita water needs by 8-26 gallons. Hospitals, restaurants, hotels, schools, office buildings and other institutions use considerable amounts of water either directly or in the form of energy consumption. The actual numbers vary from 5.5 gallons per capita per day in Africa, to 26.5 gallons per capita per day in Europe, and over 100 gallons per capita in North America. Though we think of North America as the home of the ornamental lawn, the truth is that approximately 80% of North America’s gross water use, the total volume withdrawn from water bodies, goes to energy, natural resources and food. The thermal power generating sector is responsible for the greatest gross water use, while agriculture accounted for the majority of consumptive water use (water not returned to a water body after use).

As the world population grows the excess capacity of water necessary to have adequate food for areas of the earth experiencing drought, flooding or natural disasters shrinks. As all civilizations have in the past our intermingled world civilization will grow to the breaking point. Technology has allowed us to surpass the limits of previous civilizations, but we are still limited by water and our ability to increase our water efficiency.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Give the US Geological Survey the Well Data

It has long been known that natural gas was trapped in the tiny pore spaces that comprise shale rock, but that knowledge was useless. Until recently there was no economically feasible way to extract this gas. However, in the past decade our ability to recover natural gas buried a mile or more beneath the earth in these shale deposits has increased. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertical well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracking, the pumping of millions of gallons of water laced with proprietary chemicals into shale at high pressure to release the natural gas stored in the pore spaces have increased our ability to recover natural gas from that shale. This combined with the increase in the price of natural gas has spurred the race to develop wells to exploit the natural gas from a series of major shale gas deposits in North America that could not have been viable without these advances in drilling and fracking. The Fayetteville shale, the Haynesville shale, the Marcellus shale reserves all in the United States and the Horn River shale in Canada are now accessible. At the current rate of natural gas consumption North America is reported to have a 100-year supply (at the current rate of use) of proven, producible reserves.

Natural gas is now seen as an abundant domestic energy resource. When it burns, natural gas emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide per calorie of any fossil fuel and burns cleanly because of this natural gas could be the “bridge fuel” in the long-term transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy or whatever the future and science will discover. In the 1990’s natural gas, sold for $2 per million BTUs after peaking in 2005 natural gas is now about $4 per million BTUs, making the extraction of shale gas viable and profitable. The U.S. uses natural gas to produce 21 % of its electricity. Coal is used to product 48 % of electricity in the United States and is still much cheaper than natural gas for generating electricity, but new regulations by the EPA on carbon emissions could decrease that financial advantage because coal burns dirtier than natural gas. Recent ambitious plans to convert the nation to renewable energy: build nuclear plants and solar and wind farms, were made under the assumption that natural gas prices would average $7 to $9 per million BTUs. At that level, electricity prices would have been high enough to make wind and nuclear power look affordable. Now, with natural gas at $4 per million BTUs and more gas reserves announced each year, many of these projects suddenly look too expensive. Shale sourced natural gas could profoundly change the future of our nation and world we live in; however we need to remember that the gas still is a limited resource and be cautious about what other impacts fracking might have on our other resources especially the hydraulic balance.

Though there has been tremendous concern for the potential direct adverse impact that fracking may have on drinking water, geologists and engineers believe that there is little risk that the fracking “water,” a mix chemicals and water, will somehow infiltrate groundwater reserves though a fissure created by the fracking. It is believed though not documented and tested that the intervening layers of rock would prevent a fissure from extending thousands of feet to the water table. There are other risks in how we build wells and fracture the shale. Documented contamination to drinking water wells due to seepage of fracking water into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells can be controlled to some extent by recommendations made in the report of the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. The report had a rational approach to regulation recommending disclosure, testing, evaluation and modification of regulation and practices based on the information and data obtained. It assumes information and data will be gathered and analyzed. That is not being done.

Though the energy companies are beginning to gather baseline data for drinking water wells in the areas being fracked, the data collection is not ongoing nor broad enough. The data that is being collected is not adding to the base of knowledge, but rather I suspect to demonstrate that stray gas was a pre-existing condition of the drinking water wells. What is needed is an ongoing monitoring and data collection of the potential impacts to our water supply from hydraulic fracking. Drilling requires large amounts of water to create a circulating mud that cools the bit and carries the rock cuttings out of the borehole. After drilling, the shale formation is then stimulated by hydraulic fracking, using up to 3 million gallons of water. Data needs to be gathered on the impact to water resources of supplying water for the construction of thousands of wells per year. For gas to flow out of the shale, nearly all of the water injected into the well during fracking must be recovered and disposed of. Though less than 0.5% by volume, the proprietary chemicals are 15,000 gallons in the waste from the typical 3 million gallon hydro fracking job. The chemicals serve to increases the viscosity of the water to a gel-like consistency so that it can carry the propping agent (typically sand) into the fractures to hold them open so that the gas can flow. Determining the proper methods for the safe disposal of the large quantities of this fracking fluid that may also contain contaminants from the geological formation including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organic contaminants and monitoring the impact from this disposal must also be done. The impact of so much waste water on our water resources must be measured and monitored. Finally, care must be taken to avoid degradation of watersheds and streams from the industry itself as large quantities of heavy equipment and supplies are moved on rural roads and placed on concrete pads. The watersheds must be monitored. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2009/3032/pdf/FS2009-3032.pdf

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems. The USGS employs 10,000 scientists, technicians, and support staff that serve the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life. The USGS is an amazing national resource that we have failed to fully utilize in the understanding of the impacts of hydraulic fracking. The USGS should determine the parameters that need to be monitored for a base line and on an ongoing or periodic basis and industry should provide that data in a usable format to the USGS. For once let’s develop a resource carefully and correctly without scaring the earth or damaging our water supply. We’ve lost our margin for error.

Monday, September 12, 2011

California Groundwater in 2011





In 1995, the Pacific Institute published a report that summarized the condition of the water supply in California stating that “California’s current water use is unsustainable. In many areas, ground water is being used at a rate that exceeds the rate of natural replenishment…” In their 2005 the Pacific Institute published another report. Pointing out that water demand and use continued to exceed sustainable supply. Mining of groundwater unconstrained by environmental or ecological limits will doom California.

In addition to NGOs the State of California has routinely prepared water scenarios and projections as part of long-term water planning. The California Water Plan, a regular analysis published by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is the major guide book for water planning within the state. The latest version of the Plan was released for public review in January 2009 and stated: “We must adapt and evolve California’s water systems more quickly and effectively to keep pace with ever changing conditions now and in the future. Population is growing while available water supplies are static and even decreasing.”

In August 2009 the Environmental Water Caucus published California Water Solutions Now under a grant from the Goldman Institute pulling together a unified view and list of recommendations from a diverse group of stakeholders. The report points out that California’s state water agencies cannot report on how much water is actually being used, where it is being used, where it is being diverted to, how much is being diverted, or how many diversions are illegal. Where it does have such data, the State Water Board estimates that the number of illegal diversions may be over 40 % of the number of active permits and licenses, which also fails to comply with the law in many cases.

No one has publically questioned the conclusions of these studies, yet life went on as before with unsustainable water use in the Central Valley where massive surface-water diversions cannot meet all the agricultural and urban water demand and the groundwater has continued to be used to meet the deficit. California lacks the political will to balance their water budget, and nature is an unforgiving banker. Whenever you pump water from a well it has to be balanced by a loss of water from storage in the groundwater aquifer. Groundwater is recharged from rain and sources of surface infiltration. If too much water is pumped, water tables can drop in unconfined aquifers, water pressure fall in confined aquifers, surface water and ecology could be impacted and in some locations with fine grained soils compaction and subsidence can take place. Some of the storage capacity of the groundwater basins has been permanently destroyed.

According to U.S. Department of Commerce, California’s GDP (gross domestic product) was slightly more than $1.8 trillion in 2007. GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in California. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, the total value of the agricultural output from the state’s farms and ranches was $36.6 billion in 2007, up from $31.8 billion the year before. This means that crop, meat and dairy sales account for about 2% of the state economy. However, when you count all the secondary economic impacts: wine making and sales, chesse making, olive oil production, juice making, food processing and packing this number grows to 7.9% of the California economy.In terms of national agricultural output, $36.6 billion in revenue represents 12.8% of the U.S. total. The state accounted for 17.6 % of crops, and 7 % of the U.S. revenue for livestock and livestock products. California produces about half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Several of these crops are currently produced only in California and California agriculture is entirely dependent on irrigation. Over 75% of all surface water is diverted to agriculture. California does not have adequate water to meet the demands of the agricultural sector. California feeds much of the nation.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Groundwater Resources Program is conducting large-scale multiyear regional studies of groundwater availability in the United States. The USGS has found that the volume of groundwater stored in the earth is decreasing in many regions of the United States especially California. The extent of groundwater level declines across the United States has not been monitored before now. Our demands on the groundwater have increased and our understanding of groundwater has improved. It is now very clear we are running a groundwater deficit.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1323/pdf/Circular1323_book_508.pdf

In general the Sacramento Valley receives more precipitation than the San Joaquin Valley, which includes the San Joaquin and Tulare Groundwater Basins, and despite the surface water diversions from the Sacramento Valley they are using less groundwater than the drier San Joaquin Valley and the groundwater level as reported by the USGS Central Valley Ground Waster Study has remained fairly stable in the past few decades, falling less than 10 million acre feet of groundwater storage near the end of drought periods and making up that loss and more after wet periods. The Tulare Groundwater Basin at the southern most portion of the San Joaquin Valley has seen a loss of 70 million acre feet of groundwater storage since 1962. Half of this loss, about 35 million acre feet has taken place since 1985.

In the early 1960s, groundwater pumping caused water levels to decline to historic lows on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, which resulted in large amounts of surface subsidence. In the late 1960s, the surface-water delivery system began to route water from the wetter Sacramento Valley and Delta regions to the drier, more heavily pumped San Joaquin Valley. The surface-water delivery system was fully functional by the early 1970s, and there was some groundwater-level recovery in the northern and western parts of the San Joaquin Valley where subsidence was limited. The Tulare Groundwater Basin, the hottest and driest part of the Central Valley, has continued to have declines in groundwater levels and accompanying depletion of groundwater storage. The limits of the water not the Sacramento budget problems might be the limiting factor in California’s future.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hunters Point: Remediation Before Redevelopment





Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the massive 702-acre redevelopment of the former Hunters Point Navy Shipyard and Candlestick Point including 10,500 housing units and a new 69,000-seat football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. The construction is slated to be completed by the developer Lennar Urban Corporation and is projected to last more than twenty years. This caught my eye because for a decade spanning the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century a significant portion of my work was Brownfield redevelopment, and in 2007 I bought a two and a half year old Lennar subsidiary built home from Freemont Bank that had several flaws, no wax seals on the toilet, a failure to insulate the eves, attic vent covers installed over plywood with no vent holes, missing flashing, and long list of other small flaws that I have systematically corrected over the past few years. That was easy stuff that Lennar failed to get right. Lennar is not exactly the company I would trust to properly finish a remediation and verify its safety to man and the environment.

This past July the superior court of California stopped the early transfer of the shipyard. The court ruled that the City of San Francisco’s redevelopment plan for the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard failed to properly evaluate the environmental and health risks from allowing the Navy to transfer ownership of the contaminated Superfund site to the City and developer before the clean-up of the area is complete. http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/POWERTentativeDecision7-11-11.pdf
The 88-acre Parcel A which was the former military housing portion of the base transferred to the City of San Francisco in December 2004 after EPA approved the FOST (finding of suitability to transfer). During the investigation of Parcel A soil and groundwater, little contamination was found.

In court papers the City of San Francisco and the Lennar Corporation claimed there was no need for the Environmental Impact Report, EIR, to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of transferring the contaminated Superfund site to the City and the developer, Lennar, in advance of a completed, regulatory reviewed and approved clean-up. However, the court found that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the City has the responsibility to evaluate these impacts and I would heartily agree. The court also recognized that under early transfer the City and Lennar would become responsible for much of the cleanup as part of the redevelopment, a task which the EIR simply ignored. A large part of remediation is excavation, which is part of construction; however, it is essential that soils be properly tested, characterized and either reused or removed from site. To ensure a safe remediation the work must be through and methodical without cutting corners.

The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was first established in 1869 on leased land. In 1940 in preparation for war, the Navy obtained ownership of the shipyard for ship building, repair and maintenance for the Pacific fleet. The war effort was the only focus. Fuels, solvents, and lead paint were routinely used, dumped and buried at the shipyard and its landfill. When atomic tests began in the south Pacific, radioactive waste was also disposed of on-site. From 1946 to 1969, the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at Hunters Point decontaminated ships and studied the effects of nuclear weapons and disposed of waste on-site.

The Navy operated Hunters Point as a shipbuilding and repair facility from 1941 until 1976 shifting from surface ship repair to submarine servicing and testing after World War II. Between 1976 and 1986, the Navy leased most of the shipyard to Triple A, a private ship-repair company that was eventually charged with criminal violations for the illegal storage and disposal of hazardous waste on the property. In 1989, the shipyard was designated as a federal Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).The shipyard consists of 936 acres: 493 acres of land adjacent to the Bay and 443 under water within San Francisco Bay.
http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/vwsoalphabetic/Hunters+Point+Naval+Shipyard?OpenDocument

The reality is that when a military base is assessed, the history of the base is studied so that potentially problem areas can be identified. Contaminated soil and groundwater are identified after testing in areas likely to be impacted. Many areas received regulatory closure after assessment if there was determined to be no significant impact on the area from historical use. To expedite investigation and cleanup, the site was initially divided into 6 parcels; A through F. Parcel F is the offshore parcel and A containing the military housing. During the investigation, sampling on Parcel E and groundwater sampling throughout the Shipyard resulted in the Navy proposing to subdivide Parcel E into parts; E and E2. Parcel E2 contains the landfill. As the investigation and remediation progressed more contamination was found. Utility corridors were found to be conduits of contamination and were separately designated. Parcel D was subdivided D-1, D-2, Utility Corridor 1 (UC-1), UC-2, and G. The remedial investigations and feasibility studies continue for Parcels C through G.

So far the Navy has excavated and removed large sections of soil and contaminated steam and fuel pipelines on Parcels C and D, and cleaned up several aboveground and underground storage tanks. The Navy has also conducted numerous removal actions to address soil and buildings contaminated with radiation. The Navy's largest removal action has been ongoing since 2006 and involves removing over 11 miles of sanitary and storm drain sewer lines site-wide to address low-level radiation that has been discovered throughout the system. Impacted soils are transported and disposed in a low-level radiological landfill.

In 2000, a subsurface landfill fire was discovered and burned for weeks after discovery. In 2002, it was discovered that landfill gas had migrated offsite to an adjacent property. The Navy constructed a barrier wall and trench to prevent future migration of the gas and installed an active landfill gas extraction system to extract methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), treat the VOCs and vent the methane (a greenhouse gas).The Navy has conducted extensive removal actions to address areas of metal debris on Parcel E, buried radium dials also on Parcel E, PCBs on Parcel E/E2 and metal slag on Parcel E, but proposes to cap a significant portion of the land fill leaving the trash and materials in place. Even with plans to leave a significant portion of the landfill in place along with contaminated groundwater plums contained on site, the soil excavation is projected to continue until 2017 based on volume of soil to be excavated, sorted, treated, disposed of off site or returned to the site.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Protect the Rural Crescent Protect Our Future



The Rural Crescent in Prince William County is an urban growth boundary for the county that is intended to preserve our agricultural heritage and sense of place as well as achieve the goals of favoring redevelopment along the Route 1 corridor rather than Greenfield development in rural areas where there is no development. However, while I strongly support redevelopment of areas with preexisting infrastructure which would allow Prince William County to improve storm water management (and score nutrient points for the EPA mandated TMDL) as well as revitalize older areas of the county and preserve the greenfields areas in my general support of sustainable development; the Rural Crescent is about water, specifically groundwater.

The Rural Crescent in Prince William aligns roughly with the Culpeper groundwater basin, one of the more important watersheds in Virginia. My home and much of the Prince William County Rural Crescent is located within the northeast quadrant and eastern quadrant of the Culpeper basin and consists of an interbedded sequence of sedimentary and basaltic rocks formed about 200 million years ago. These volcanic rocks are intersected by diabase intrusives and thermally metamorphosed rocks. The rocks of the Culpeper basin are highly fractured and overlain by a thin cover of overburden. The lack of overburden is a challenge to gardeners and limits natural protection to the aquifer. These sedimentary rocks are productive aquifers and feed not only the groundwater wells that provide drinking water to Manassas and other communities, but also feeds the tributaries to Bull Run and the Potomac.

Ground water flows under ambient pressure from Bull Run Mountain towards Bull Run generally west to east with a slight southern slant in the northeast quadrant. The soils in this area are described by the USGS as Balls Bluff Siltstone with a gravel, sand and clay type bedding plane. (That would be those flat plane, edged orange red rocks that are everywhere you put a shovel.) In the siltstone bedding plane, the fractures within the rock run predominately north south. Thus while ground water flows generally speaking west to east, water or a contaminant that catches a fracture will carry the contaminant to depth in a north south pattern. Contaminants can enter the groundwater at these fractures and zigzag through the aquifer, but these fractures also serve as recharge areas. Groundwater is usually cleaner than surface water and is typically protected against contamination from the surface by the soils and rock layers covering the aquifer, but there is inadequate overburden in much of the Rural Crescent. Once contaminated, groundwater is very difficult to clean and often after removal of contaminated plumes only long term abandonment of use to allow for natural attenuation is the only possible course of action.

The fractured rock system that is so rich in water is also our weakness, there is no natural attenuation in a fractured system so that the groundwater as a drinking water resource can be easily destroyed without any real ability to recover. Any malfunctioning septic system, underground fuel storge tank, improper disposal, or hazardous spill on any property within this area has the potential to impact the drinking water wells to the south, southeast or east. Development of the Rural Crescent would introduce potential sources of contamination that could never (in our lifetimes) be remediated. In addition, development of the Rural Crescent threatens the water supply itself.

Generally, groundwater in the Culpeper Basin is renewed each year through precipitation. The water stored in the watershed can supply adequate water in wet years and droughts provided that there is adequate replenishment, the withdrawal of water is within the average recharge rate and that the source is protected from pollution. Properly managed and protected groundwater can be abstracted indefinitely. Groundwater recharge through precipitation requires adequate area for infiltration, control of sheet flow created by roads and paved areas, as well as protecting the most geologically favorable infiltration points. Precipitation flows over the ground as surface runoff. Not all runoff flows into rivers, much of it soaks into the ground as infiltration. Some water infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers (saturated subsurface rock), which store huge amounts of freshwater for long periods of time. Some infiltration stays close to the land surface and can seep back into rivers, creeks, and ponds (and the ocean) as ground-water discharge, and some ground water finds openings in the land surface and emerges as freshwater springs.

Prince William has more than adequate water to supply the County even with significant growth in population and industry without rationing, but conservation and water management are necessary and protection of the groundwater recharge areas are essential to maintain the water supply. Most of Prince William County is within the Piedmont geologic region, the largest geological region in Virginia. The Piedmont is bordered by the “fall zone” on the east and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west. Our little corner of the Piedmont has limited overburden and the fractures and fault lines formed in the rocks store and transmit groundwater. The size and number of water bearing fractures decrease with depth so significant supplies of water are generally located in the first few hundred feet and recharged by rainfall through near surface. There is a wide variation in groundwater quality and yield ranging from under 1 gallon to over 50 gallons a minute. The largest yields are obtained where fracture and fault system are extensive along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the Rural Crescent area near Bull Run Mountain.

A small portion of Prince William County is located within the Costal Plain and should serve as a warning to us of what happens if you do not protect your watershed and its recharge. The Costal Plain of Virginia is composed mostly of unconsolidated geologic deposits and extends from the Atlantic coast to the “fall zone” a geological line that runs north-south through Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg along Route 95. There are two groundwater systems, an unconfined aquifer and a lower artesian aquifer both flow in the general direction of the topography slope towards the ocean. The fall zone was the area of recharge for the artesian aquifer, it was the geologic area where the earth folded and the lower mostly isolated artesian aquifer reached the surface and could be recharged with rainfall. By building Route 95 along the fall zone and developing the adjacent areas Virginia essentially paved over a significant portion of the recharge zone for the artesian groundwater aquifer.

The groundwater withdrawals of the Coastal Plain now total more than 130 million gallons a day. USGS monitoring wells in the region indicate that artesian water levels are falling at rates of roughly1.0 to 3.0 feet per year. The water level decline is the result of a decrease in the hydraulic pressure of the artesian aquifer. Hydraulic pressure falls because groundwater is lost from aquifer storage by withdrawals (pumping) and reduced recharge caused by development of the recharge zones. It is predicted by Frank W. Fletcher, Ph.D., P.G. that Fairfax and the Eastern Shore areas could run out of groundwater to meet the demand if appropriate groundwater management does not take place. Fortunately, to a large extent the Coastal Plain areas of Prince William County are provided drinking water from public supply that originates within the Culpeper Basin, but we need to protect our groundwater and the only way to ensure an adequate clean supply of water for Prince William County is to preserve the Rural Crescent from any further development. The land must remain open and unpaved to allow for adequate rainfall infiltration to recharge the groundwater and the area must be protected from potential sources of contamination. Protect the Rural Crescent to protect our future.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fracking and Earthquakes

Two weeks ago I happened to talk about the responses of water levels in wells to earthquakes and the limits of our knowledge as to how and why this happens over distances of hundreds even thousands of miles. I questioned what this connection of groundwater to earthquakes might mean for groundwater in areas that are fracked. Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known is the pressurized injection of water with chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid cracks open or enlarges fractures in the rocks and shale. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing when the pumping stops and the pressure is released. Natural gas will flow from the fractures in the rock and shale into the wells increasing the recovery of the methane.

In hydraulic fracking in a shale formation to enhance recovery of natural gas on average 2-3 million gallons of chemicals and water is pumped into the shale formation at 9,000 pounds per square inch and literally cracks the shale or breaks open existing cracks and allows the trapped natural gas to flow. While geologists and engineers believe that there is little risk that the fracking “water,” a mix chemicals and water, will somehow infiltrate groundwater reserves though a fissure created by the fracking there are other routes of contamination and impact. It is believed that the intervening layers of rock would prevent a fissure from extending thousands of feet to the water table; there are other risks in how we build wells and fracture the shale. There have been documented cases of seepage into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells. There are also places where groundwater is only several hundred feet above the gas reserves as they are in Wyoming and groundwater is more easily directly impacted by fracking.

The US Geological Survey has been studying the factors that impact the response of groundwater wells to earthquakes, including the magnitude and depth of the earthquake, distance from the epicenter, and the type of rock that surrounds the groundwater. The depth of the well, whether the aquifer is confined or unconfined, and well construction also influence the degree of water-level fluctuations in wells in response to seismic waves. It has been suggested that some aquifers may even act as resonators, which may amplify the response. The US Geological Survey has been able to add more data points to their information base this past week and someday we may know more about this relationship and groundwater itself, but right now all the US Geological Survey can do is observe and collect data.
http://va.water.usgs.gov/Gw_FS_2008.pdf

Dr. Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas at Austin was part of a team of researchers who studied a series of small earthquakes that struck near Dallas, Texas in 2008 and 2009, in an area where natural gas companies had used fracking. The epicenter of the quakes turned out to be about half a mile from a deep injection well under the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport used to dispose of the fracking fluid. The largest earthquake of the series measured 3.3 on the Richter scale, a very small earthquake. In a study that was published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, the researchers also reviewed records from US Geological Survey seismic-recording stations in Oklahoma and Dallas. It was concluded by the researchers that the fracking did not cause the earthquakes, but there seemed to be a relationship to the deep well injection of the fracking fluid to the earthquakes. The water caused the earthquakes.

This past spring, the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board was created to identify the measures that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact and improve the safety of shale gas production utilizing fracking. Dr. Mark Zoback of Stanford University was a member of the committee. He has studied the relationship of earthquakes to fracking and is a strong supporter of replacing coal with natural gas. He feels the risk of earthquake from fracking fluid disposal and all other risks from fracking are manageable. According to Dr. Zoback the risk could be mitigated by treating the water on the surface or shipping the water to a disposal well that isn’t near a fault. He felt the risk could be addressed by oil and gas companies identifying faults near potential well sites, and simply staying away from the faults.
http://www.ouramazingplanet.com/texas-earthquakes-natural-gas-mining-fracking-1152/
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/28/BU0L1KS4BU.DTL

Our ability to recover natural gas buried a mile or more beneath the earth has increased. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertically drilled well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracking, the pumping of millions of gallons of chemicals and water into shale at high pressure have increased our ability to recover natural gas from shale. Hydraulic fracking is a technology that was unknown 60 years ago. In the past decade the advances in drilling and fracking technology have been adapted to exploit gas in the Barnett shale in the Fort Worth Basin in Texas and applied to a series of major shale gas deposits that could not have been viable without the advances in drilling and fracking. The Fayetteville shale, the Haynesville shale, the Marcellus shale reserves all in the United States and the Horn River shale in Canada are now accessible. At the current rate of natural gas consumption North America is reported to have a 100-year supply of proven, producible reserves and even with expanded use of natural gas, there is more than a generation of currently accessible reserves. This natural gas could profoundly change the future of our nation and would we live in; however we need to be cautious about what other impacts fracking might have especially to hydraulic balance of groundwater.