23 Nov 2008

Resources versus Environment

Water is a resource, but it's also an environmental good, and sometimes water quality is abandoned in the name of harvesting another resource. For example, when miners use water to blast away hills (the reason California has the "right of prior appropriation"), when mining destroys surface or groundwater supplies, and when processors use massive amounts of water to refine tar-sands into oil.

So I knew the answer when I saw this headline: "Does Natural-Gas Drilling Endanger Water Supplies? A debate is heating up over whether the fracturing technique used in natural-gas drilling could result in chemicals contaminating drinking water"

Here's a good excerpt (but read the whole story):
A close look at the EPA's 2004 study reveals that the agency may have played down evidence of health dangers. And now some regional EPA officials say it's time for the industry to disclose precisely what it's pumping into the ground.

Energy companies are taking a tough stance. Last summer, Houston-based Halliburton threatened to cease natural-gas operations in Colorado if regulators there persisted in demanding the chemical recipe used in a common drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing.
Since Halliburton loves kitties, I know that they are not doing anything wrong, so I guess that my initial idea is incorrect. :)

Speaking of nice people, this article points out how agricultural runoff is causing about $4 billion/year in damages to freshwater supplies. (Thank god for ethanol!)

Speaking of ethanol, it looks like the Indy 500 will be run on Brazilian ethanol (!), because (?) "...the economics of [American] corn-based ethanol right now are terrible. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is cheaper to make (and most studies say it is also more environmentally-friendly), but imports into the U.S. face a stiff tariff."

Bottom Line: Water quality regulations mean nothing unless they are enforced.

hattips to DB and DS

Addendum: Another story on how bad the tar-sands are.


  1. I read that it takes four barrels of water to produce one barrel of tar sands oil or the equivalent amount of natural gas.

  2. I saw your post about hydraulic fracturing and was a little surprised about the hubbub surrounding it. I'm no friend of the petrochemical industry, but I did spend a summer interning for Schlumberger in the late 90's and was posted on a frac boat in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary ingredient in the fracturing fluid? Beans. They used guar beans mixed with water to form a slime viscous enough to suspend large "sand" pellets a few millimeters in diameter. There were some additives used, such as a "cross-linker" which polymerized the guar gel, and then a corresponding chemical that later broke down the polymer so that the slime would clear the fractures and the hydrocarbons could flow freely. So, long story short, there might be a few chemicals that aren't great to have around, but the operation seemed pretty innocuous for the most part. My guess is that the majority of contamination is coming from a different aspect of the drilling operations.


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