October 8, 2013 11:25 am
America is now, or will soon be, the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, says the Wall Street Journal. Saudi Arabia is still the world’s largest source of oil alone. But Russia and the U.S. aren’t far behind at all. Russia puts out 92 percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil output. American pumps 88 percent as much. When you take natural gas into account, Russia and the U.S. leap far ahead of the Middle Eastern nation. The shale gas boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and high energy prices, has launched the U.S. towards the top spot, with all sorts of consequences, including upsetting long-established trade and political agreements. If you’re just looking at coal, though, the U.S. loses out to China. China makes nearly half the world’s coal. Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal or oil, and as the U.S. has started using more gas and improving energy efficiency, the country’s carbon emissions have steadily dropped. But, the coal that America replaced hasn’t gone unused—it’s just being shipped to Europe. American fossil fuel production, says the Wall Street Journal, “is about demand and the cost of production. Those are the two drivers.” For the climate’s sake, then, the idea that the global demand for fossil fuels may be waning—spurred by dropping prices for renewable energy and more efficient energy production—is a reassuring one. More from Smithsonian.com: Where in the World Will the Fracking Boom Visit Next? Oil May Finally Be Hitting Its Peak Researchers Find Fracking Might Cause Earthquakes After All Japan Just Opened Up a Whole New Source for Fossil Fuels
August 30, 2013 10:13 am
Methane, a gas that significantly contributes to global warming, comes from an array of sources associated with digestion and decay—like landfills, bogs, and the digestive tracks of the world’s cows. ”Cattle-rearing,” according to the UN News Center, “generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation.”
An unexpected hero has emerged to help contain this messy predicament, however. Dung beetles, it turns out, keep cow pats fluffy and aerated, preventing methane—which requires oxygen-free conditions—from forming. In a new study, researchers used a closed chamber to measure gaseous emissions from cow paddies both with and without beetles. The beetles, they found, significantly lowered the amount of greenhouse gases that seeped out of the cows’ waste.
“If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them -– and make sure to include them in our calculations of overall climatic effects of dairy and beef farming,” said study lead Tomas Roslin in a statement.
One of the authors warns, however, that our appetite for beef is on the rise, while many dung beetle populations are on the decline. But most of these dung beetle declines are linked to populations of mammals in distress—think elephants, rhinos or pretty much any other large, charismatic species that people like to shoot or push out of prime habitat. Many species of dung beetles are intimately linked to their hosts through particular dung preferences, so as those big animals decline, so, too, do the bugs.
Cow farms, on the other hand, aren’t going anywhere, so as long as we don’t douse fields with pesticides, the beetles will probably be there, steadfastly munching away and helping to prevent that would-be methane from forming. But still, even the most determined dung beetles can’t offset all of those emissions, especially since a significant portion come directly out of the cow (mostly as burps). So don’t feel too relieved about eating that steak or burger.
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June 26, 2013 12:05 pm
On the Marcellus shale, water wells within less than a mile of gas drilling sites are more likely to have higher concentrations of methane in them, a new study found, indicating that the drilling could be contaminating groundwater.
The study’s authors did not find traces in the water samples of the fracking chemicals used to extract shale gas, but the presence of methane does indicate that some of the gas is likely leaking out of cracks in the well casing. Nature News reports:
The study, led by researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, expands on an earlier analysis of drinking water in northeastern Pennsylvania, where energy companies have used hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to crack the Marcellus Formation and release gas. In that work, the researchers found that contamination rates increased with proximity to wells.
Their latest analysis, published on 24 June, goes a step further, by tying the chemical fingerprint of the groundwater contaminants to the gas being siphoned out of the ground some 2,000–3,000 metres below.
The team found methane in 115 of 141 sampled wells, which they traced back to shale gas using carbon-isotope ratios. While low levels of methane, as found in this study, do not necessarily represent a health threat, Nature News writes, at higher levels methane in water can lead to problems, including water from the tap becoming flammable.
The authors think the leakage is indicative of faulty well construction rather than fracking itself, and they told Nature News that they hope that their study serves as a wakeup call for the industry to increase its safety and regulation standards.
The Marcellus Formation spans beneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. While the Marcellus Formation is the largest shale gas basin in the States, more than two dozen other significant deposits are spotted around the States. The U.S. is increasingly counting on shale gas to meet energy needs and is also exploring the possibility of selling the gas abroad.
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June 20, 2013 10:30 am
Environmentally conscientious New Yorkers will soon be able to compost their organic food scraps without walking 20 minutes to the nearest Green Market or tending to a bucket of worms to create their own homegrown soil. Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he’s implementing a food composting program in the city. Like regular garbage and recyclables, the city will offer curbside pick-up of compostable food scraps such as banana peels, coffee grinds and wilted veggies.
Not everyone is on board, however. Some New Yorkers cite a fear of hypothetical vermin. The New York Post, for example, reports:
Skeptical city residents say Mayor Bloomberg’s new food-waste-recycling program is a great idea — if you’re a rat.
“Recycling, in general, takes a lot of effort,” said Geneva Jeanniton, 22, a hairstylist from East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
“People have to be willing to do it. We might not have room for compost inside. It’s difficult to make space for, and pests are definitely a concern.”
Of course, those organic scraps currently wind up in the garbage anyway. The New York Post doesn’t explain why they would be more likely to attract vermin stored on a separate container rather than in the trash bin. And while it’s true that following environmental regulations can be annoying, that’s not exactly a reason to discount them. Most would likely agree that the Clean Water and Air Acts, for example, were a good thing.
Space is another complaint that comes up, but compost advocates say it’s also a flimsy excuse. Even the most crowded New York apartment is garunteed to have space for a small bag of scraps, whether in the freezer, under a sink, in the back of a closet or on top of the shelves. Rebecca Louie, aka the Compostess, is a certified composter who helps New Yorkers deal with their greatest fears about composting (as in, producing their own compost rather than just putting their scraps out on the curb for the city to conveniently deal with). Most of people’s worries, she told Edible Magazine, are completely unfounded in reality:
“Whether you have a penthouse or a studio, I will find a space in your space where you can start doing this,” she says.
[She] calmly alleviates her clients’ fears about odors (save for the occasional “gentle onion breeze,” composting done right only produces perfumes of “beautiful earth”) and cockroaches (they can’t invade so long as the bin is properly sealed).
“Things can be done to prevent whatever people’s greatest fears are,” she says. “Like a personal trainer or accountant, I know that every client has his or her own schedule, set of needs, concerns and degree to which they want to engage with their compost system.”
Meanwhile, a research team raised eyebrows with results showing that a number of fungal species, including some that could be harmful to humans, turn up in compost made of rice, sugar cane and coffee, mixed with livestock poop. Of course, unless you’re mixing livestock poop in with your lunch, this study doesn’t really apply to NYC composters. That doesn’t stop some from worrying though. Here’s Inkfish:
Although the composts De Gannes studied weren’t quite what New Yorkers would be collecting in their kitchens—unless they’re keeping pet sheep too—some of the potentially dangerous fungi she found have also turned up in studies of all-plant compost.
Keeping a compost bucket in an enclosed space is “potentially risky,” Hickey and De Gannes wrote in an email. Fungal spores floating on the air can cause infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems. “Compost kept in an enclosed area like a small apartment would probably not have adequate ventilation.”
What Inkfish doesn’t mention is that these fungal samples were collected after the compost sat around for 82 days – a bit longer than the week or less that it will take the city to come collect your scraps.
So far, the thousands of people who already create their own compost in enclosed apartments do not seem to have fallen victim to a bout of eye and lung infections. And the residents of the cities of San Francisco and Portland, where compost pick up has long been offered by the city, haven’t complained much.
And if you’re really paranoid about fungus you’ve got some options. Simply freezing the scraps can alleviate any fears of fungal attack, and compost bins can also be installed alongside buildings’ garbage and recycling containers in the basement or on the curb, as they are on the West coast.
Plus, composting has some environmental benefits to consider: when organic matter decays in tightly packed, oxygen-poor landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas around 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Every day, New York produces around 12,000 tons of organic waste. Is putting a bag of wilted lettuce into a compost pick-up bin next to your garbage really so much to ask?
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June 11, 2013 2:24 pm
First developed in 1947 by Stanolind Oil, hydraulic fracturing took a long time to come into vogue. But in the past few years, the drilling technique, used to extract shale gas and oil, has transformed the United States’ production of natural gas and oil. Before the rise of fracking, natural gas and oil trapped in shale deposits were pretty much ignored. No one really knew how to get it out and, to the extent that they did, getting it out cost too much to bother.
But that’s changing. A global survey of estimated stores of shale gas by the U.S. Energy Information Administration has added a whopping 32 percent to the global estimated supply of natural gas, says the AFP. Shale oil boosts global oil reserves by up to 11 percent. In other words, there’s a lot of fossil fuel out there, trapped in shale, and it’s increasingly profitable to get it out.
The U.S. has been leading the charge in the fracking, and now the economic success of the American fracking boom is spurring other countries to see if they can replicate it. In its report, the EIA estimated the availability of shale gas and oil around the world. The top five countries for technologically recoverable shale oil are Russia, the U.S., China, Argentina and Libya. For natural gas, it’s China, Argentina, Algeria, the U.S. and Canada. The report says that it doesn’t necessarily make economic sense to go after all of this oil and gas. But that balance could shift if the prices of oil and gas go up, much as the high price of oil is driving the development of the Canadian oil sands.
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