science


Date: 11-Mar-10
Country: US
Author: Jon Hurdle

Obama Aide Urges Listing Of Gas-Drilling Chemicals Photo: Jon  Hurdle/Files
A worker at EnCana’s Frenchie Draw gas-drilling rig in central Wyoming guides sections of steel pipe into an 11,000-foot well in this September 19, 2009 file photo.
Photo: Jon Hurdle/Files

President Barack Obama’s top environmental adviser urged the natural gas industry on Tuesday to disclose the chemicals it uses in drilling, warning that the development of massive U.S. shale gas reserves could be held back otherwise.

Joseph Aldy, special assistant to the president for energy and the environment, said concerns about water contamination from drilling chemicals could lead to states requiring disclosure and that could deter additional investment.

“You can’t leave this in the status quo if you think we are going to have significant shale gas development in the United States,” Aldy told Reuters after a natural gas conference.

Some energy companies decline to publish lists of toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract natural gas from shale beds far underground.

Companies have been under pressure from critics of fracturing and from some lawmakers, who say the technique is damaging the water supplies of people who live near gas rigs.

Aldy said it is unclear whether fracturing chemicals are fouling groundwater but acknowledged the industry is under pressure from those who say the process leads to contamination with chemicals that can cause a range of illnesses.

“I don’t think we have the information to assess that,” he said.

Aldy said the industry could disclose the chemicals voluntarily, as some companies already do, or through regulation.

He declined to say whether the Obama administration supports the “Frack Act,” a Congressional bill that would require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals and give the Environmental Protection Agency oversight over the industry, which is now regulated by the states.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on Monday she was “very concerned” about the composition of fracturing fluids and that she hoped the agency would conduct a study this year if it obtained funding.

U.S. shale gas reserves are estimated to contain enough of the clean-burning fuel to meet national demand for at least a century. A current boom in development has been made possible by fracturing technology that injects water, sand and a mix of chemicals to fracture the shale at high pressure.

(Editing by John O’Callaghan)

by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York on 01.27.10

eats radioactive waste

Photo via Science Daily

// Nuclear waste is probably the most dreaded substances in existence, in part because it’s proved so difficult to effectively clean up and store. But a stunning new breakthrough has just surfaced that may make cleaning up radioactive waste easier and much more efficient–and the solution takes its inspiration from one of everyone’s favorite creepy plants. Researchers have developed a material that opens its pores to let in its intended prey–the radioactive ion cesium–then “snaps shut” to entrap it, according to Science Daily. It’s a Venus Flytrap that eats radioactive waste instead of flies.

The flytrap-like material is evidently a snythetic material made from “layers of a gallium, sulfur and antimony compound,” and was developed by researchers at Northwestern University.

The radioactive ion cesium, found in nuclear waste, is very difficult to clean up. And that’s because the ratio of harmless sodium ions to dangerous radioactive cesium ions is 1,000 to 1. There’s tons more sodium than cesium–one scientist on the project even said that looking for the radioactive material in nuclear waste is “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” But the material the scientists developed turned out to be extremely adept at removing the cesium from a sodium-heavy solution–thanks to its Venus flytrap-like qualities.

SD explains:

It is, in fact, cesium itself that triggers a structural change in the material, causing it to snap shut its pores, or windows, and trap the cesium ions within. The material sequesters 100 percent of the cesium ions from the solution while at the same time ignoring all the sodium ions.

Which is pretty amazing–a material that can selectively snag and confine only the radioactive ions in nuclear waste could be instrumental in nuclear waste cleanup. Especially since there are over a hundred nuclear power plants across the US keeping their radioactive waste in storage onsite.

excessive radioactivity

One of the most fascinating things about the discovery is how it can trap literally every single radioactive cesium ion without bothering to absorb any sodium ions–sort of like how a Venus Flytrap doesn’t bother with drops of rain or debris that falls into its ‘mouth’ and attacks only the flies. Again, SD explains how this works:

The snap-shut Venus flytrap mechanism occurs because ‘soft’ materials like to interact with each other. A cesium ion is big and soft, and the metal-sulfide material is soft, too. The cesium ions are attracted to the material, specifically the sulfur atoms, and together form a weak bond. This interaction causes the material to change shape, close its windows and trap the cesium — like a juicy insect in a flytrap. Sodium, which is clothed in water molecules, can’t trigger the response.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this develops, and if this can successfully be transformed into a major new way to cleanup nuclear waste.

SOURCE:   http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/01/venust-flytrap-snares-radioactive-waste.php?campaign=daily_nl

More on Nuclear Waste Cleanup
E. Coli Can Be Used To Clean Up Nuclear Waste
Plan to Import 20000 Tons of Italian Nuclear Waste into Utah
Will South Carolina Become the Nation’s Premier Nuclear Waste Depository?

Date: 11-Jan-10
Country: US
Author: Richard Cowan

Beleaguered U.S. Climate Bill Seeks Obama Lift Photo: Shannon Stapleton
The Valero St. Charles oil refinery is seen during a tour of the refinery in Norco, Louisiana August 15, 2008.
Photo: Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech to Congress could indicate how badly he wants a global warming bill, which opponents say will cost U.S. jobs and raise prices — a scary prospect for politicians trying to ride out a horrible economy in an election year.

Obama, who played a dramatic role in negotiating a nonbinding international climate change accord last month in Copenhagen, now faces a tough economic and environmental balancing act to win the climate change legislation in 2010.

Administration officials insist it can be done despite the political difficulties in an election year. “President Obama and this administration … expect that a comprehensive energy bill, which includes a climate portion, to be passed this year,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters Wednesday.

For that to happen, Obama must put a “job-creation focus” on the bill to build a U.S. economy that would run more on alternative energy than dirty-burning coal and oil, said Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress. “The more specifics the better” in the State of the Union speech, Weiss added.

On Friday, Obama announced new tax credits to encourage investments in clean energy development that he said would help combat climate change and create jobs.

“This initiative is good for middle-class families. It is good for our security. It is good for our planet,” Obama said.

A House-passed bill is floundering in the Senate, where Obama has to convince 60 of 100 members to back a bill.

In one area — government incentives for expanding nuclear power — Senate sources said progress has been made in closed-door talks in search of a “sweet spot” for a compromise on the legislation that they hope to pass in coming months.

Even so, Senate backers and environmentalists off Capitol Hill say they are uncertain of climate change victory in 2010.

Difficult negotiations are expected between senators who want to require industries to cut their carbon emissions and those who see a climate bill as a vehicle for also helping domestic producers of nuclear power and oil and natural gas.

And, many Republicans are working hard to cast doubt on claims the climate change bill will create jobs.

Within the next few weeks, Senator Lisa Murkowski could force a Senate vote to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions as a fallback if more comprehensive climate legislation is not enacted.

“This is a vote about the economy, not about the climate — whether these regulations will harm the economy,” said a Senate Republican aide.

If Murkowski, whose state of Alaska is a major oil and gas producer, manages to get a strong vote, even if less than needed to pass her measure, some undecided Republicans and Democrats could have second thoughts about voting later this year on a more comprehensive climate bill.

SENATORS SEEKING COMPROMISE

Despite all the hurdles, a bipartisan group of senators is forging ahead on a bill to cut carbon emissions by utilities, refineries and factories over the next four decades by 17 percent from 2005 levels.

Senator John Kerry, who is leading the effort, expects to be recovered from surgery and back in Washington when the Senate reconvenes on January 20, to huddle with independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, according to a spokeswoman. The two are key to winning support from moderates and conservatives.

One Senate staffer said 17 pro-nuclear senators have had input into what could become a major provision of the bill aimed at luring Republican votes. “That part (nuclear power) ironically is in fairly good shape at this point.”

While nuclear power plants do not emit the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, the industry has been weighed down by prohibitively high construction costs and controversy over nuclear waste storage.

Expanding domestic oil and gas drilling is another important goal for Republicans and that component of a climate bill is “still 100 percent in flux,” said the Senate source.

While producing more oil and gas here will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would reduce dependence on foreign oil and potentially lure Republican votes.

On the sidelines of the U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen, Kerry left open the possibility that the core of the climate bill could be scrapped. That is the “cap and trade” system for reducing carbon emissions through ever-dwindling pollution permits that could be traded on a new exchange.

A carbon tax and a “cap” without the “trade” component are among possibilities. But for now, Kerry, Lieberman and Graham are sticking with cap and trade, aiming to quell nervousness over the scheme by including tougher market controls.

(Editing by Jackie Frank and Bill Trott)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

by Sami Grover, Carrboro, NC, USA on 11.21.09

Image credit: Cedar Consulting

Contradictory science is nothing new within the green movement—from those who claim that solar energy could power the world to those who argue that nuclear power could solve the energy crisis, from those extolling biochar for carbon sequestration and soil improvement to those who say it could destroy the biosphere. In fact, it’s in the very nature of science to constantly question, deliberate and reexamine the evidence available, and consequently there are almost always differing opinions and seemingly contradictory studies. But at some point we have to make decisions based on the science we have. At some point we have to act.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since a commenter on my post about green living as passive aggressive preaching asked for “absolute PROOF that all of these intrusive laws that are going to take my family’s and my own personal choices are 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, going to ‘save the earth’ and all of its inhabitants.”

I could not, of course, provide her with any, any more than anyone—scientist or not—can provide absolute proof of what might happen in the future. (The same commenter said in advance that she did not want “models” or “educated guesses”, which rules out most methods for predicting the future that I know.) I didn’t lose too much sleep over this particular issue. While the argument rumbles on for some, with Exxon now accepting the existance of man-made climate change, and with the climate skeptic’s favorite scientist actually being a vocal climate action proponent, I’m ready to move on until someone shows me convincing evidence of this elaborate hoax I keep hearing about.

But accepting that man made climate change is real, and knowing what to do about it, are too different things. What if the nuclear folks are right? What if solar power is the only way? Or what if ocean iron fertilization really can sequester massive amounts of carbon? How the heck do we, as interested lay people, environmentalists, activists, or even experts, decipher all the different studies, research papers and marketing claims that are out there?

Ultimately I don’t have an answer, except that we need to keep the debate going, and we all need to become literate in a broad range of disciplines. I do know that we need to assess all arguments and evidence, not just for what is being said, but also by who is saying it and where it is being said. (A peer-reviewed paper by an independent scientist is a very different beast to a marketing document from a solar company.) And I do know that our regulations should, where possible, regulate for outcomes, not promote specific technologies—a price on carbon will be much more effective than a ban on the light bulb. (See my post on why gardening is the best metaphor for everything for more ramblings in that vein.)

We also need to be aware of our own prejudices and preconceptions—some of us will favor big, bold technological solutions, others of us will be more inclined to the small is beautiful approach. All directions are valid for consideration, but the urgency of our task requires decisive action. So let’s keep learning. Let’s keep debating. And let’s keep demanding hard evidence. But above all, let’s keep taking action.