Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

New Analysis Shows Global Exposure to Sea Level Rise

Read the full story from Climate Central.

Climate Central just completed a novel analysis of worldwide exposure to sea level rise and coastal flooding. We found that 147 to 216 million people live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century, assuming emissions of heat-trapping gases continue on their current trend. By far the largest group — 41 to 63 million — lives in China. The ranges depend on the ultimate sensitivity of sea level to warming.

But even these figures may be two to three times too low, meaning as many as 650 million people may be threatened.

Drinking Water: Characterization of Injected Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production

Download the document.

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, including oversight and regulation of injection wells associated with oil and gas production called class II wells. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, these wells are subject to regulation to protect underground drinking water sources. EPA has approved 39 states to manage their own class II well programs and EPA regions are responsible for managing the programs in remaining states.

Information collected by EPA and select states on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells varies. Class II programs in seven of the eight states GAO reviewed require permit applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells prior to permitting, but the specificity and frequency of the information applicants are required to provide varies from state to state. Specifically, all of the states GAO selected except for Ohio require applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells, but the specific constituents to be reported differ by state. While Ohio’s regulations do not require operators to provide information on the characteristics of fluids injected, the regulations narrowly define what fluids can be injected into class II wells. According to state officials, Ohio also conducted research on the characteristics of produced water in the state’s oil and gas producing formations, and samples fluids injected into class II wells during well inspections. In addition, while all of the states GAO reviewed but Ohio require applicants to provide information on fluid characteristics when the well is permitted, five of the programs in eight states GAO reviewed require that well operators conduct additional analyses of fluids injected into class II wells after the well has been permitted.

According to EPA officials, fluid characterization requirements for class II wells are designed to ensure that no chemicals are injected that could potentially damage the wells. In addition, EPA officials told GAO that the agency does not prescribe a set list of constituents that state and EPA-managed class II programs should monitor. As a result, state programs and programs managed by EPA regions have discretion to monitor the injection fluid constituents that they deem critical to protect underground sources of drinking water in their respective states or regions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Every day in the United States, at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into underground formations to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. Water that is injected underground for disposal or to enhance recovery is regulated under EPA’s UIC program and approved state programs. EPA developed safeguards to prevent fluids that are injected into underground formations from endangering underground drinking water sources, including monitoring of the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. Domestic production of oil and gas has increased dramatically in the last several years, with corresponding increases in the wastewater resulting from production processes. Because a significant percentage of the population gets its drinking water from underground aquifers, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

GAO was asked to describe the information that EPA and states require injection well operators to provide on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. GAO reviewed and summarized state class II fluid characterization requirements from a nongeneralizable sample of eight states–California, Colorado, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas–selected on the basis of shale oil and gas regions and the highest number of class II wells. GAO also interviewed EPA and state officials.

EPA Is Cracking Down on Dentists

Read the full story in The National Journal.

Your dentist wants you to clean your teeth. The federal government wants your dentist to clean his office.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday released a proposal to cut down on the amount of mercury that winds up in the water supply as a result of a routine dental procedure.

New technology tracks tiniest pollutants in real time

Read the full story from Georgia Tech.

Researchers may soon have a better idea of how tiny particles of pollution are formed in the atmosphere. These particles, called aerosols, or particulate matter (PM), are hazardous to human health and contribute to climate change, but researchers know little about how their properties are shaped by chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Unraveling this chemistry could someday lead to more effective policies to protect human health and the Earth’s climate.

A team of six faculty members at the Georgia Institute of Technology has been awarded a Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award, totaling approximately $700,000 from NSF and Georgia Tech’s office of the Executive Vice President for Research, will allow the research team to purchase a state-of-art, gas-particle high resolution mass spectrometer that can identify the components of gases and aerosol particles in real time.

Documents offer peek inside EPA’s climate rules sales pitch

Via the National Journal’s daily e-mail newsletter dated September 25.

The road to a final carbon-emissions regulation is paved with meetings and phone calls. Lots of meetings and phone calls.

A bunch of documents newly or recently posted in the online docket for EPA’s draft power-plant rule list meetings and calls that EPA officials held in the weeks after the early June release of the plan.

It’s a detailed tally of the state officials, environmentalists, corporations, and other “stakeholders” that EPA officials spoke with and fielded questions from on the regulation, which is aimed at cutting nationwide power-plant emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The documents about discussions in June and July range from very general meeting listings to rather granular stuff. For instance, there’s a list of detailed questions to the head of EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a coalition of northeast and mid-Atlantic states that has a cap-and-trade program for power-plant emissions.

Several documents describe the blitz of talks that came right after EPA released the plan on June 2 and was fielding questions about it. A sample: Joe Goffman, the senior EPA counsel for air quality, met June 5 with an Exelon exec to discuss nuclear power’s role and the same day with the nonprofit Clean Energy Group (those are just two of several Goffman meetings noted). Top air regulator Janet McCabe and Goffman met or had calls with officials from an array of states that week.

On July 14 McCabe and Goffman met with the Union of Concerned Scientists, while the next day Goffman took questions from “utility investors” on a call organized by Bernstein Research analyst Hugh Wynne, the documents show. Both Goffman and McCabe had multiple state meetings that week too.

And some of the listings are about EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s talks, such as a June 6 call with the head of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents for-profit utilities. It’s not all domestic either. There’s a July 7 meeting between EPA and the Danish ambassador to the U.S., and other July meetings with officials from Poland and New Zealand.

Two Forces Moving Business Closer to Climate Action

Read the full post from the HBR Blog Network.

This week, CEOs and world leaders met at the UN to talk climate. In the run-up to these high-level talks, many companies and some relatively new voices from the business community have been sounding both the alarm and the rallying cry for action. At the same time, the cost of renewable energy has dropped very far, very fast. It’s a perfect storm bringing us to two important tipping points: one of belief and commitment to action, and one of economics.

But there’s still a major disconnect happening in one other area: the relationship between business and citizen consumers.

Delta Backwaters Can Capture Field Runoff Pollutants

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

In the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta, sediment accumulation can cut off segments of meandering river channels from the main channel. These isolated segments eventually become the oxbow lakes and backwater wetlands that are scattered across the Delta landscape. Agricultural Research Service ecologist Richard Lizotte believes these oxbow lakes are more than just a fisherman’s retreat or an alligator’s lair; he thinks they help improve water quality by trapping and removing agricultural pollutants lost from adjacent croplands.

Results from his research have been published in River Research and Applications, Science of the Total Environment, and Ecohydrology.