Category Archives: Environment

Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

A community farm in Detroit, which has been a leader in green urban renewal.

Gary, Indiana is joining Detroit and other fading U.S. industrial centers in an effort to turn abandoned neighborhoods and factory sites into gardens, parks, and forests. In addition to the environmental benefits, these greening initiatives may help catalyze an economic recovery.

By Winifred Bird

Beaver County Blue via Environment 360 Yale.edu

May 31, 2016 – Depending on how you look at it, Gary, Indiana is facing either the greatest crisis in its 110-year history, or the greatest opportunity. The once-prosperous center of steel production has lost more than half its residents in the past 50 years. Just blocks from city hall, streets are so full of crumbling, burned-out houses and lush weeds that they more closely resemble the nuclear ghost town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl, than Chicago’s glitzy downtown an hour to the northwest. Air, water, and soil pollution are severe.

Yet in the midst of this, Gary has quantities of open space that more prosperous cities can only dream of, and sits on a stretch of lakeshore where plant biodiversity rivals Yellowstone National Park. Now, the big question for Gary, and for dozens of other shrinking cities across the United States’ Rust Belt — which collectively have lost more than a third of their population since the middle of the 20th century — is how to turn this situation to their advantage.

The answer that is beginning to emerge in Gary and other cities of the Rust Belt — which stretches across the upper Northeast through to the Great Lakes and industrial Midwest — is urban greening on a large scale. The idea is to turn scrubby, trash-strewn vacant lots into vegetable gardens, tree farms, stormwater management parks, and pocket prairies that make neighborhoods both more livable and more sustainable.

These types of initiatives have been evolving at the grassroots level for decades in places like Detroit and Buffalo; now, they are starting to attract significant funding from private investors, non-profits, and government agencies, says Eve Pytel, who is director of strategic priorities at the Delta Institute, a Chicago environmental organization active in Gary and several other Rust Belt cities. “There’s a tremendous interest because some of these things are lower cost than traditional development, but at the same time their implementation will actually make the other land more developable," she said.

Or, as Joseph van Dyk, Gary’s director of planning and redevelopment, put it, “If you lived next to a vacant house and now all of a sudden you live next to a forest, you’re in better shape.”

Van Dyk noted that city planning in the U.S. had long been predicated on growth. But, he added, “That’s been turned on its head since the Seventies — Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Flint, Gary have this relatively new problem of, how do you adjust for disinvestment? How do you reallocate your resources and re-plan your cities?”

Detroit, which has at least 20 square miles of abandoned land, has been a leader in envisioning alternative uses for sites that once would have been targeted for conventional redevelopment. The city has 1,400 or more urban farms and community gardens, a tree-planting plan so ambitious the local press says it “could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide,” and $8.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement green infrastructure projects and install solar panels on other vacant lots.

But while demolition itself has added an estimated

$209 million to the equity of remaining homes in Detroit, Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of Michigan Initiatives for the Flint-based Center for Community Progress, said hard data on the value of greening projects is more difficult to come by.

“There’s opportunity in Detroit to see an impact in surrounding property values, and therefore people’s interest in that area,” said Lewinski, who has been involved in land-use planning there. “The key, though, is that it needs to be done in a way that is strategic and links to other attributes that would attract a person to move into a neighborhood. My concern is that green reuse, absent a connection to a broader vision, may not be nearly as successful from an economic value standpoint.”

In Gary, the broader vision is to concentrate economic development in a number of “nodes,” each of which would be surrounded by leafy corridors of “re-greened” land. The corridors would separate the nodes, helping to give each neighborhood a more distinct identity, as well as bring residents the benefits of open space and serve as pathways for wildlife moving between existing natural areas. A land-use

plan for preserving Gary’s core green space is already in place, and officials are currently revising the city’s Byzantine zoning regulations to make redevelopment of the nodes easier. Continue reading Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

Everything Goes Somewhere: Yet Another Argument for Green Energy

State records miss half the waste pumped into injection wells

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG, April 16, 2015 — State environmental officials didn’t account for half the waste pumped into injection disposal wells last year, a comparison with federal data shows.

The state’s injection wells took 330,000 barrels of waste left over after natural gas drilling last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about six truckloads a day.

The state Department of Environmental Protection only accounted for 167,500 barrels, according to its records.

That means about three truckloads of waste per day are unaccounted for in the state’s tracking system.

The discrepancy “begs the question of whether Pennsylvania should let the industry expand,” said Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator for Earthworks Action, an environmental watchdog.

Pressure is mounting for more disposal wells to serve the burgeoning gas drilling industry.

Steinzor’s group released a report earlier this month that criticized efforts of Pennsylvania and three other states — Ohio, West Virginia and New York — in managing waste generated by the industry.

Injection wells are a conventional way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking, the process in which drillers use pressurized water and chemicals to release underground reservoirs of gas.

Controversy stems from studies that have blamed injection wells for earthquakes. Neighbors of proposed well sites also raise fears about pollution to water supplies and problems related to truck traffic.

Continue reading Everything Goes Somewhere: Yet Another Argument for Green Energy

U.S. Geological Survey: Fracking Waste Is the Primary Cause of the Dramatic Rise in Earthquakes

By Jen Hayden
Beaver County Blue via DailyKOS

Feb 23, 2015 – The U.S. Geological Survey has backed-up what scientists have been suggesting for years–that deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes:

    Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

    Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S. 

    “The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection,” said coauthor Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist.

Emphasis added. In the last five years alone, Oklahoma has detected a staggering 2500 earthquakes. Scientists involved in the study are calling for a dramatic increase in transparency and cooperation:

    “In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity,” said lead author of the study, USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr. “In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on.”

Where Is Plan B? How About Manufacturing for Clean and Green Renewables if the ‘Cracker’ Fails? Or Even if It Doesn’t?

Site of proposed Shell ‘cracker’ plant across from Beaver and Vanport

Shell Acquires Pennsylvania Shale Gas Rights as Part of a $2.1B Deal

By Alex Nixon
Tribune Review

Aug. 14, 2014 – Royal Dutch Shell is shuffling its portfolio of natural gas holdings to increase attention on the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in northern Pennsylvania.

The energy giant announced on Thursday that it is selling drilling rights to mature gas producing areas in Wyoming and Louisiana in separate deals in exchange for $2.1 billion in cash and 155,000 acres in Potter and Tioga counties, where it operates gas wells.

The announcement followed a deal on Tuesday in which Shell said it was selling 208,000 acres in Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio to Rex Energy for $120 million.

“They already know what they have” in Potter and Tioga counties, said Lyle Brinker, director of equity research at IHS Energy in Norwalk, Conn. “It’s an area where they already know what they’re getting into.”

Shell spokeswoman Destin Singleton said the seemingly contradictory moves in Pennsylvania are part of the company’s regular review of its mix of energy production assets to improve value for its shareholders. Shell is working to focus its onshore drilling program on a few of the more prolific formations in an effort to boost profitability. The company wrote down the value of its shale acreage in the United States by $2.1 billion last year amid lower natural gas prices.

“We continue to restructure and focus our North America shale oil and gas portfolio,” Marvin Odum, Shell’s Upstream Americas Director, said in a written statement. “We are adding highly attractive exploration acreage, where we have impressive well results in the Utica, and divesting our more mature, Pinedale and Haynesville dry gas positions.”

In one of the two deals announced on Thursday, Shell said it will sell its Pinedale acreage in Wyoming to Houston-based Ultra Petroleum for $925 million plus the land in Potter and Tioga counties. Shell and Ultra have been partners in a joint venture in northern Pennsylvania. Shell will acquire 100 percent of the joint venture.

In the second deal, Shell will sell its gas assets in northern Louisiana, known as Haynesville, to Dallas-based Vine Oil & Gas LP for $1.2 billion.

Shell and other major oil and gas explorers regularly sell rights to fields where production is flat or declining. They then use that cash to fund exploration programs designed to discover new or more prolific fields that oil giants need to fuel growth. The Pinedale and Haynesville formations produce dry gas, which is less profitable than oil or so-called natural gas liquids, at relatively moderate rates.

“It’s a good sign that they’re still committed to the Marcellus,” Brinker said.

Continue reading Where Is Plan B? How About Manufacturing for Clean and Green Renewables if the ‘Cracker’ Fails? Or Even if It Doesn’t?

Why We Need Solar and Wind

Drilling in Pennsylvania has damaged the water supply 209 times in last seven years

frackwell_marcellusshale

By Heather Smith

Beaver County Blue via Grist

July 24, 2014 – Whether or not you think that’s alright depends on your perspective. According to Patrick Creighton, those numbers are pretty good – so many oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past seven years that 209 problem wells is a mere 1 percent of the total. But Creighton happens to be the spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group composed of natural gas drillers. So there’s that.

According to Steve Hvozdovich, 209 is a lot. “You are talking about somebody’s drinking water supply.” But then Hvozdovich works for the environmental group Clean Water Action. He would like clean drinking water.

However you feel about the 209 “instances,” that number wasn’t an easy one get. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is legally required to get to the bottom of drilling-related water complaints, report its findings to the owner of the affected property, and issue orders to clean up or fix the damage — all within 45 days of the first complaint.

Continue reading Why We Need Solar and Wind

Western PA: Fracking Study Finds New Gas Wells Leak More Than Old Ones

By SETH BORENSTEIN

Beaver County Blue via Associated Press

WASHINGTON DC, July 3, 2014 — In Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom, newer and unconventional wells leak far more often than older and traditional ones, according to a study of state inspection reports for 41,000 wells.

The results suggest that leaks of methane could be a problem for drilling across the nation, said study lead author Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, who heads an environmental activist group that helped pay for the study.

The research was criticized by the energy industry. Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Travis Windle said it reflects Ingraffea’s "clear pattern of playing fast and loose with the facts."

The Marcellus shale formation of plentiful but previously hard-to-extract trapped natural gas stretches over Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

The study was published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of four scientists analyzed more than 75,000 state inspections of gas wells done in Pennsylvania since 2000.

Continue reading Western PA: Fracking Study Finds New Gas Wells Leak More Than Old Ones