Monday, December 31, 2012 | By ShanB | Comments Off on EPA Launches “SepticSmart” to Prevent Costly Septic System Problems, Protect Environment
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched “SepticSmart,” a new program encouraging homeowners to take steps to maintain their home septic systems, preventing costly repairs, inconvenience and pollution to local waterways, which poses risks to public health and the environment. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 25 percent of U.S. households—more than 26 million homes—and almost one-third of new developments are serviced by septic systems.
EPA launched SepticSmart to promote proper septic system care and maintenance. This national program aims to educate homeowners about proper daily system use and the need for periodic septic system maintenance. SepticSmart also provides industry practitioners, local governments and community organizations with tools and materials to educate their clients and residents.
SepticSmart tips include:
Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day. Consider fixing plumbing leaks and installing faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Too much water use at once can overload your system, particularly if it hasn’t been pumped in the last couple of years.
Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain, which can clog your system.
Homeowners should have their septic system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor and have their tank pumped when necessary, generally every three to five years. Regular inspection and pumping of a septic system can save homeowners from costly repairs—on average, it costs homeowners $250 to pump their septic system, while the average cost of replacing a conventional septic system is $5,000 – $10,000. As the holidays approach, consider having your tank inspected and pumped.
Ask guests to only to put things in the toilet that belong there. Dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can clog and potentially damage septic systems.
Remind guests not to park or drive on your system’s drainfield because the vehicle weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow causing system backups and floods.
Friday, December 28, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on U.S. Bids Farewell to the 75-Watt Incandescent Light Bulb
As of January 1, traditional 75-watt incandescent light bulbs can no longer be manufactured in the United States, continuing a national transition to more efficient lighting by 2014.
The first phase of the new federal light bulb standards, as set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, went into effect last January with traditional 100-watt bulbs being phased out (though Congress de-funded the enforcement of those standards at the end of 2011). Under the regulations, all bulbs must be 27 percent more efficient. (See related post: “LED Holiday Lights Boost the Season’s Energy Efficiency.”) That means a bulb that used to use 75 watts must now use fewer than 53.
Conventional incandescent light bulbs tend to cost less up front, but waste more money and energy over the long haul. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of the electricity they use through emitted heat. On the cost front, Consumer Reportsfound, for example, that a $40 Philips AmbientLED bulb can save $160 in electricity and replacement bulbs when used in place of a 75-watt incandescent.
Shoppers in the U.S. are learning, via product labeling and public information efforts, to look for lumens (a measure of brightness) rather than watts (how much power the bulb uses) when buying light bulbs. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Energy-Efficient Lighting.“) The equivalent of an old 75-watt bulb produces a minimum of 1,100 lumens.
The EPA notes in a fact sheet that incandescents aren’t going away completely. Many halogen bulbs, which are incandescent, meet the new regulations (but they won’t last as long as LEDs and CFLs). To get a sense of the impact you can make by replacing traditional light bulbs with more efficient ones in your home, check out the Light Bulb Savings Calculator.
Friday, December 28, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on How Accurate Is the ‘Promised Land’ Portrayal of the Shale Gas Boom?
Fracking has now become so much a part of the fabric of American life that it has earned its first genuine Hollywood treatment. Promised Land, co-starring and co-written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, opens today in a limited number of theaters, with wider release next week.
While the energy industry has girded for battle against the film, fracking opponents are expressing disappointment that the movie will fail to turn hearts and minds against the drive for shale gas. If the film is short on details about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas—as its critics on both ends of the spectrum charge—that’s because it is not so much about an industry but about longing and community in post-industrial America.
Still, it’s fair to scrutinize the details the filmmakers use to illustrate their overarching themes. How accurate is the Promised Land’s portrayal of the shale gas business? The movie, in failing to please either the industry or its foes, actually captures some fundamental truths about the fracking boom—in particular, our collective ambivalence about this new energy bounty.
The Land Man Cometh. The protagonist of this tale, appropriately enough, is that reviled and mysterious figure that heralds the shale gas industry’s arrival in any U.S. town: the land man. As in real life, this industry advance team, played by Matt Damon and Frances McDormand, has the job of visiting the private properties atop the shale to extract from the owners the most expansive drilling rights obtainable at the lowest possible price. Also true to life, this duo fool only some of the people some of the time. When I visited southwestern Pennsylvania to write about the Great Shale Gas Rush, I heard many stories of the land men who came to town early to sign gas leases and were never heard from again. Just a few years later, though, many landowners are savvy about these dealmakers; a typical posting on the local pro-drilling activist site, GoMarcellusShale.com, said, “Leasing 101: The land man is not your friend.” Interestingly, the land man is a uniquely U.S. institution, as oil and gas mineral rights in other countries typically belong to the government, not to private property owners. We recently wrote about how this makes the public dialogue about fracking quite different in the United Kingdom.
“I’m not selling them natural gas. I’m selling the only way they have to get back.” Damon’s character is working out his own resentment at the lost American dream; his hometown, like the ones he is visiting on his lease-selling journeys, is a place where opportunity for a decent blue-collar living has dried up. If anything, the movie sugarcoats the reality of the economic decline that has unfolded in the small towns of my home state of Pennsylvania small towns these past four decades, as the old coal, steel, and manufacturing industries have died. After all, there are actually people walking the streets to wave at the fictional farmer played by Hal Holbrook as he drives past in his pickup truck. In reality, those downtowns are mostly shuttered; indeed, to film on location in Avonmore, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, the movie team had to build a mock bakery, hardware store, barbershop and VFW post in vacant storefronts and buildings to give it a feeling of a bustling vitality.
Guns, groceries, guitars, and gas. The movie does capture the entrepreneurial spirit that persists in these hard-hit communities, and that hopes to gain sustenance from the new shale gas business. The local businessman in the film, who has stayed afloat by cobbling together a disparate array of saleable wares, immediately brought to mind for me the story of Paul Battista, owner of Sunnyside Supply in Slovan, Pennsylvania. He was thriving when I spoke to him in 2010 because he had completely retooled a manufacturing-supply firm to cater to the new natural gas business. The towns of the shale boom are filled with stories of truck drivers, Iraq war veterans, and farmers who view the industry’s arrival hopefully.
How much money is underneath this ground? One myth that the film might help to perpetuate, however, is that there’s a fixed value on the shale gas stores lying beneath these communities. Damon’s character throws out figures—low ball, of course—as he negotiates his gas company’s entry into the fictional town of McKinley. But in reality, the value of the natural gas—and the profit that producers can pull from the ground—is ever-varying. The gas companies have driven down the potential returns for themselves and their investors by producing so much fuel that the market is awash in supply. The reasons for this are varied; often, the deals sealed by the real-world land men required that drilling take place within five years, or lease rights are lost. But in a larger sense, it is the same boom-and-bust story that has played out repeatedly over the centuries in every form of energy resource extraction. One of the reasons that the U.S. natural gas industry is now seeking to export fuel is in order to secure new markets to bolster its potential revenues.
Dead cows and flames. There’s not much detail on the fracking process or its potential hazards in this film. The anti-fracking argument is conveyed visually mostly through one image of collapsed cows in a farmyard, hoisted onto signposts throughout the community by the film’s environmentalist, played by The Office’s Krasinski. Krasinski, who developed the idea for the film drawing on his own father’s experience growing up in rural Pennsyvlania, gives the enviro a somewhat-eely feel. But the choice of dead cow as an avatar for the worst of fracking woes is grounded in reality. In Louisiana in 2009, 17 cows did die after exposure to fracking fluid. Although the cattle were not lying on the ground in Pennsylvania, a herd was quarantined in 2010 after coming in contact with hydraulic fracturing fluid that leaked from a holding pond. State officials were concerned about the public eating potentially contaminated beef from cattle that drank the salty contaminated water that flows out of shale gas wells. In the movie, Krasinski stages an over-the-top classroom demonstration of fracking setting a mock farm on fire. That doesn’t happen, but people have claimed that their well water is now flammable, contaminated by underground methane due to faulty well construction techniques.
Friday, December 28, 2012 | By ShanB | Comments Off on 12 Exciting Innovations from 2012
2012 was a great year for innovators. From solar soccer to poop power, inventions, innovations, and ideas for changing the world sprouted like daisies. The Sierra Club has compiled a list of some green technology you might have missed:
1. Recharge from a Distance: Wireless power can be transmitted under roads to electric cars, and rechargeable batteries can get a boost from anywhere in the house.
2. Solar Soccer Ball: The Soccket is a soccer ball that can generate and store energy when it’s kicked.
3. Manure into Gold: Manure from cows can be “digested” to make heat, electricity, animal bedding, and fertilizer.
4. Solar Incubator: In poor countries without access to the grid, solar-powered incubators can save infants’ lives.
Thursday, December 27, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on French Design Firm Gives House of Straw a Modernist Touch
Perhaps the first Little Pig was right all along. In a demonstration about how to build a simple structure made entirely of recyclable or reusable materials, a small Parisian architecture firm called Studio 1984 chose straw as the main building material, designing a cozy, 15-square-meter “nest” that even the Big Bad Wolf would have to admire.
The tiny structure, built earlier this fall for the Archi<20 Festival de L’Architecture in Alsace, France, used materials that are readily available at most farms, including compressed bales of straw, to form the walls and a wooden frame made of Douglas fir, larch and pine. The completed structure was then placed atop a foundation made of acacia wood, to allow for portability. The simple design echoes the architecture of traditional barns, connecting the structure more closely to the rolling countryside of eastern France.
The use of straw as a building medium is hardly new—the thermal insulation properties have been known and exploited for centuries in rural buildings around the world. The key, said cofounder Romain Gié on the Co.Design site, was to bind the individual bales as tightly as possible to eliminate gaps between the bales that would allow heat to escape and rodents to nibble their way in.
The corrugated, galvanized-metal roof also includes overhangs to provide protection from rain and shade in the summer. A second window in the side wall also provides cross ventilation to draw cool air in during warm days.
The group also gave the ancient concept a modern twist with a minimalist interior and a large glass window near the entrance to provide sweeping views of nature.
Gié and his team worked on the design for three months and built it in about three weeks. Currently, the building is owned by the House of Nature in Mutterscholtz, France, where there are plans to situate the little house on a river and convert it into a public facility for children to rent canoes and kayaks.
This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and has been republished with permission.
Thursday, December 27, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on Heat-Mapping Company Finds Thermal Gaps In Homes
It’s 10 p.m.—do you know where your insulation gaps are? As the winter months descend and much of the country braces for icy weather, a startup company in the Boston area called Sagewell is taking it to the streets to let homeowners know exactly where their heating dollars are escaping, and provides suggestions about how to make their homes more energy efficient.
Using special SUV-mounted infrared cameras, Sagewell crews have been cruising the streets of several northern cities at night to take pictures of people’s homes—up to 20,000 on a good night, the company says. The photos captured give a quick assessment of each structure’s thermal envelope and highlight areas where heat is escaping into the outside air. In blobs of color ranging from black (coldest) to purple, orange and yellow (hottest), the images can be used as a thermal map to prioritize areas that need extra insulation, usually around windows, eaves and crawl spaces between floors. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Home Heating“)
Sagewell, based in Woburn, Mass., takes a page from the Google StreetView playbook by driving around as many streets as possible in its camera-equipped hybrid SUV, heat-mapping whatever homes are visible on both sides of the street. The images are then processed on the company’s software and stored on a secure server. Homeowners can then type in their addresses to see if their homes have been covered and get a free assessment. Sagewell can then recommend local insulation companies, window installers and community organizations that can provide retrofits to help plug the gaps.
This service brings up obvious and sensitive privacy concerns, but Sagewell insists that its cameras cannot see through walls, trees or even windows. According to Brad Harkavy, chief operating officer of Sagewell, the only wavelength the cameras see is infrared that is emitted directly from the surface of the structures, so it is impossible to see people or objects inside the buildings. Also, the images are stored on a secure server and can only be accessed by the homeowners, if they choose to do so. Homeowners can also opt out of the program and have the photos deleted at their request. (See related story: “Who’s Watching? Privacy Concerns Persist as Smart Meters Roll Out“)
Citing U.S. Department of Energy figures, Sagewell says that 36 to 51 percent of household energy waste results from breaches in a home’s heat envelope. The company estimates that 20 percent of residential buildings can save $750 to $1,500 per year and eliminate 14,000 to 28,000 pounds of CO2 annually with a simple building envelope retrofit.
The company also reminds customers that many states and utilities offer significant discounts and rebates for adding extra insulation and storm windows on homes. In Massachusetts, for example, utilities will pick up 75 percent of the cost of home insulation upgrades and retrofits.
So far, Sagewell has managed to cover nearly 500,000 homes in a 10-state swath from New England through parts of the Midwest. By the end of the winter, Harkavy told Co.Design, he hopes to double that figure, focusing mostly in the colder northern states and coastal cities that tend to have progressive homeowner incentives for beefing up home insulation.
This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and has been republished with permission.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 | By ShanB | Comments Off on EPA Releases Update on Ongoing Hydraulic Fracturing Study
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently provided an update on its ongoing national study currently underway to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Results of the study, which Congress requested EPA to complete, are expected to be released in a draft for public and peer review in 2014. The update outlines work currently underway, including the status of research projects that will inform the final study. It is important to note that while this progress report outlines the framework for the final study, it does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, which will be made in the final study.
As the administration and EPA has made clear, natural gas has a central role to play in our energy future, and this important domestic fuel source has extensive economic, energy security, and environmental benefits. The study EPA is currently undertaking is part of EPA’s focus to ensure that as the Administration continues to work to expand production of this important domestic resource safely and responsibly.
Among the information released are updates on 18 research projects and details on the agency’s research approach as well as next steps for these ongoing projects and analyses. The update follows the public release, in November 2011, of the agency’s final study plan, which underwent scientific peer review and public comment.
EPA also expects to release a draft report of results from the study in late 2014. The study has been designated a Highly Influential Scientific Assessment, meaning it will receive the highest level of peer review in accordance with EPA’s peer review handbook before it is finalized. The 2014 draft report will synthesize the results from the ongoing projects together with the scientific literature to answer the study’s main research questions.
EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is forming a panel of independent experts which will review and provide their individual input on the ongoing study to EPA. The SAB will provide an opportunity for the public to offer comments for consideration by the individual panel members. For more information on the SAB process, please visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebCommittees/BOARD
Monday, December 24, 2012 | By EarthShare | Comments Off on Celebrating Success: 2012 Environmental Accomplishments
Success: 2012 Environmental Wins
In 2012, California's National Marine Sanctuaries were expanded with the support of EarthShare members (Photo: NOAA)
fuel efficiency standards for automobiles to landmark conservation protections, 2012
was a successful year for EarthShare member organizations, thanks to the
support of people like you. Here's a small sample of the accomplishments
you helped make possible in 2012:
Wildlife Federation: In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck
the East Coast of the United States, causing astounding devastation—in loss of
life, destruction of property, and widespread ecological damage—that will be
felt for years to come. NWF is working to pass policies to keep
people and wildlife safe from storms and floods, and working with on-the-ground
partners to protect and restore habitat in areas vulnerable to extreme weather
Farmland Trust stepped up efforts to implement the Nutrient BMP Challenge®
program that encourages on-farm conservation and helps reduce the amount of
fertilizer flowing from farm fields into waterways. Through the program,
farmers have reduced fertilizer use by 24 percent, lessened greenhouse gas
emissions by 69 percent and soil erosion by 78 percent on thousands of acres in
the Midwest alone.
Conservation Society: Five Chinese yellow-headed box turtles
hatched at the WCS Bronx Zoo in December 2012. The hatchings are a part of
WCS’s strategy to save some of the most critically endangered turtle species in
the world. Chinese yellow-headed box turtles are considered to be one of the 25
most endangered turtles in the world, with fewer than 150 individuals remaining
in the wild.
Natural Resources Defense Council: The Obama Administration issued clean car standards in August 2012 that will raise automobile fuel efficiency to the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon—on average—by 2025. That’s roughly twice the mileage our cars get today. NRDC has long advocated for improving fuel economy and documented the benefits of such a policy, from domestic job growth and reduced oil imports to less pollution.
Forests released the 2012 National Register of Big Trees, which shows
that despite the extreme weather in the U.S. over the last year, most of the
nation’s champion trees endured. The new register recognizes more than 760 of
the country’s biggest trees, many of which lived through massive destruction
over the last year. Since 1940, American Forests’ National Big Tree Program has
promoted the importance of planting and caring for trees and forests in helping
to sustain healthy ecosystems.
Conservation Fund: After nearly five years of hard work, The
Conservation Fund conveyed the final piece of Rocky Fork, the largest tract of
unprotected land in the southern Appalachian Mountains, to the Forest Service
in September 2012. Located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Rocky
Fork has nearly 10,000 acres of forest, blue-ribbon trout streams and
recreational opportunities that attract visitors and support the local economy.
European Parliament approved a strict ban on shark finning in 2012, closing a
crucial loophole in EU law by requiring that all sharks caught in EU waters,
and by EU vessels in international waters, be landed with their fins attached. This
is a monumental achievement for sharks and one that Oceana campaigned for. The
EU is the world’s largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong and mainland
China and the new EU rule represents a huge step forward in the conservation of
of Wildlife: On March 19, 2012, about 60 genetically pure bison were
relocated from a quarantine facility outside Yellowstone National Park to the
Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana. Defenders has been a long-time
proponent of restoring Yellowstone bison to their historic home on the Great
Plains. Defenders, through the generous support of their donors, helped the
tribes pay for fencing, purchase additional grazing allotments, and transport
the bison 500 miles to their new home. Defenders members also sent thousands of
letters to state officials, urging them to restore bison to Montana’s tribal
Defense Fund: California's landmark global warming law—the world's first
mandatory limit on greenhouse gas pollution—is crucial to fighting climate
change. After beating back a polluter attack on AB 32 in 2010, EDF is ensuring
California meets its emissions goals through a well-designed cap-and-trade
program that was implemented in November 2012.
Conservancy: This summer, the Shooting Star State Trail in southern Minnesota
added five miles on its western end. At 19 miles long, the paved trail offers a
beautiful array of countryside views as it follows the Upper Iowa River, enters
Lake Louise State Park, and continues through open prairie, wetlands and small
patches of woodland. RTC supported similar rail-trail projects around the
country in 2012.
Water Fund: The Clean Water Act turned 40 on October 18, 2012. Clean Water
Fund has played an important role helping implement, enforce and protect the
Clean Water Act. They've stopped illegal pollution by dischargers in dozens of
states, protected local waterways and our drinking water, and helped states and
local governments find new ways to reduce pollution from runoff.
Danskammer coal plant in the Mid-Hudson Valley will be retired and torn down.
The plant was purchased for just $3.5 million through a proceeding with the
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. The plant was
riddled with problems including a recent lawsuit over regional haze pollution
filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra
Club and National Parks Conservation
Association, the release of modeling showing how the plant contributed to
violations of federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide, workers on
strike and recent flooding damage from Superstorm Sandy.
Solar Energy Society: The ASES National Solar Tour continued
running the world’s largest grassroots solar event. More than 160,000
participants visited some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S.
in October 2012 to learn about renewable energy installations in their regions.
Wildlife Fund: Critically endangered Amur leopards received vital sanctuary with the
establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park in Russia. The park,
which WWF lobbied for, contains 60 percent of the cats’ remaining habitat.
Scientists estimate that fewer than 50 Amur leopards still exist in the wild.
WWF also helped finalize Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue standards that address environmental and social impacts
associated with salmon farming, while enabling the industry to grow
responsibly. They were developed in cooperation with more than 2,000
stakeholders, including Marine Harvest, the world’s largest farmed salmon
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide advocates helped achieve a moratorium on mining activities in Goa, India. Like West Virginia, Goa is a relatively small state, but it holds 60% of India’s iron ore, which is in high demand for construction. Shutting down the entire industry in the state is no small thing.
Friday, December 21, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on EPA Progress Report: No Conclusions on Fracking and Drinking Water, More Study Ahead
This map, released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides one of the best views yet of how hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil has spread across the United States. It is a snapshot in time, based on 24,879 wells that were “fracked,” or hydraulically fractured, between September 2009 and October 2010.
The EPA today released a 278-page progress report (pdf) on that study, including the map above. But the agency did not yet draw any final conclusions on the drinking water risks in today’s report. The agency now says that process will take at least another year, with a draft report expected to be released in 2014 for public and peer review.
Instead, the agency detailed 18 different research projects it now has underway to look at water impacts in five separate stages of the fracking process: how the industry acquires the water, chemical mixing at the site of a well, the injection of fracking fluid into the well, the flowback of frack fluid after the well is drilled, and wastewater treatment and disposal. (See interactive: “Breaking Fuel From Rock“)
High-volume hydraulic fracturing has been combined with horizontal drilling over the past decade to force oil and natural gas out of shale and other tight geological formations by fracturing the rock with high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals. The EPA said estimates at the volume required ranges from 65,000 gallons for shallow coalbed methane production, up to 13 million gallons for deep shale gas production. The agency noted that 5 million gallons of water is equivalent to the water used by approximately 50,000 people for one day.
Many of fracking’s opponents and proponents had hoped for more definitive conclusions by now from the EPA, which began the research last year after preliminary investigations in 2010. Glenn Paulson, the EPA’s science advisor, earlier this fall called the study of fracking and drinking water “one of the most aggressive public outreach programs in EPA history.” He said the progress report will show the “range and depth” of what EPA is looking at. Geographically, at least, that range can be seen in the map above, which shows that fracking has been underway in every region of the United States.
The progress report indicates that the EPA’s drinking water study will focus only on potential avenues of contamination of drinking water from surface spills and underground injection. It will not look at several other issues that have raised concerns–for example, the risk of small earthquakes from underground injection disposal of wastewater. (Related: “Tracing Links Between Earthquakes and Fracking“) The agency said it also will not be studying how fracking fluid might cause geochemical reactions in the subsurface, changing the fate and transport of substances in the subsurface; EPA said that matter is already being studied by the U.S. Department of Energy and other academic institutions. But the agency will be looking at issues like elevated methane levels or other contamination of drinking water. (Related: “Good Gas, Bad Gas“)
As it has in the past, the EPA opened its report with an affirmation of the importance of the energy development: “Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future,” it said.”…However, as the use of hydraulic fracturing has increased, so have concerns about its potential human health and environmental impacts, especially for drinking water.”