Bare Bones Biology 238 – Reflux

Congratulations to The Eagle and to Gunnar Schade for publishing an accurate, straightforward, and conservative op-ed describing facts and opinions related to fracking (posted below and at http://www.theeagle.com/opinion/columnists/cs-needs-proper-drilling-setbacks/article_5c06e1bc-abf2-5b67-87c8-9ae1fd6c5347.html )

Facts, by definition, are realities that we cannot change. Opinions, we can change. That means we cannot improve our lives by trying to change an unchangeable set of facts. It does not mean there is nothing we can do to improve our lives. It does mean we should study the facts and use the facts to help us decide what will work and what will not work to improve our lives, and then argue our opinions about the options that are actually available to us.

Bare Bones Biology http://FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com was created for just this reason: to clarify relationships among facts about biology, and opinions about biology so that we can make the wisest possible short-term choices that cause the least possible long-term harm to ourselves.
141115-JourneyStories-ASC_2648RS2s
We cannot change facts, but we can change our opinions about how to deal with the facts. For example, we cannot change what fracking is doing to the air that everyone in the community must breath. That’s a fact of Life. We can change what we choose to do about fracking. That’s an available human choice.

In making that choice, another fact of Life should be considered. That is, what goes around, comes around. It is a fact that all the substances of Life (the atoms and molecules) recycle in the Biosystem. The fact is, if we put poisonous substances into the air, water and soil, then at least most of us must breathe, drink and/or eat poisonous substances.

We all know it’s true, what goes around comes around in the Biosystem. We don’t like to deal with it (http://www.celdf.org/), but that doesn’t change the fact. The modern “systems” expert Fritjof Capra (http://www.amazon.com/Systems-View-Life-Unifying-Vision/dp/1107011361/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419440846&sr=1-1&keywords=capra) knows it is true, even though he may think of it more like a business plan than a law of nature. Hundreds of thousands of people during the green revolution came to understand how our earth system functions to provide for our needs, and they embraced the Ecosystem (note, system) as their family of origin. Farther back in time, earlier cultures understood the dangers of fouling our own nest; for example, lessons we have learned in Ladakh (http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/) and other places are now being applied to problems in many modern communities, even Houston (www.transitionhouston.org/).

Do we need more examples? It’s a fact of life. In the real world, what goes around comes back around to affect our future welfare, the up side and the down side of our welfare, and we can’t change the facts of Life. What we can do is choose how we respond to them.

Of course, we also know that some people do not agree. For example the Eagle also published an opinion entitled: “Fracking Bans in Cities Hurt Everyone.” We know that is not a fact because I am someone and I have been very greatly harmed, physically, emotionally, financially, and permanently by oil and gas development in the Brazos Valley, as have many other people. So the idea that we all benefit from fracking is not a fact. It is an opinion. Furthermore, the author of that letter makes some rather extravagant claims that he does not support with data or references. In my opinion he cannot support some of these claims. So it seems that we have an argument between two sets of statements, each of which is supported by some facts and some opinions, with or without supporting evidence.

141104-FirstFriday-ASC_2633RSsIt seems to me foolish to argue opinions against facts. We can’t change the facts anyhow; it’s a non-discussable issue, a waste of our time that could be used to do something that actually would work to maintain or improve the common welfare. We do know that fracking is toxic to the “commons.” The commons is the air we all must breathe, the water we all must drink, and the soil in which our food grows. That’s a fact. The poisons we throw into the commons will go around and come back to bite us in the end.

If our real goal is to benefit everyone in our community, it should not be difficult to make a list of the most useful facts that limit our options. We could consult unaffiliated, well-informed experts. We then could post this list on the wall in city offices, and stop trying to change facts, admit to the reality of natural law, and begin to rationally discuss our opinions, considering both the up side and the down side of the options that remain to us, under three headings: 1) What is best for everyone now; 2) What is best for the welfare of the entire community. That would of course include people outside the cities who provide services of various kinds. 3) What is best for the future welfare of the children born into this community.

Obviously such a discussion is not an either/or debate that someone wins and someone else loses, and that’s a good thing, because either/or arguments do not lead to win-win solutions. Discussion is not the easiest answer to any problem because discussing real, fact-based issues is difficult. But such an effort, carried out with good will, could genuinely bring us one step closer, at least in BCS, to Peace on Earth and the welfare of all our citizens.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS FM, 89.1 in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded at:

 

References:
http://FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com

http://www.theeagle.com/opinion/columnists/cs-needs-proper-drilling-setbacks/article_5c06e1bc-abf2-
5b67-87c8-9ae1fd6c5347.html

http://www.celdf.org/

http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/

http://www.transitionhouston.org/

http://www.amazon.com/Systems-View-Life-Unifying-Vision/dp/1107011361/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419440846&sr=1-1&keywords=capra

 

 

Copy of op-ed:

http://www.theeagle.com/opinion/columnists/cs-needs-proper-drilling-setbacks/article_5c06e1bc-abf2-5b67-87c8-9ae1fd6c5347.html

Posted: Saturday, December 20, 2014 12:00 am

By GUNNAR W. SCHADE

Special to The Eagle

While the shale boom is heralded as a new energy era and an economic windfall for all, the reality often looks much more mundane. Rarely in the mainstream news are there stories about the people directly affected by fracking operations near their homes, or the rapid degradation of air quality in those parts of the nation where fracking is dotting the landscape.

As geoscientists from across the world gathered two weeks ago in San Francisco for the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, there were several sessions on the air quality impacts of oil and gas extraction, especially as related to the “boom.”

And the news is bleak: Ongoing air quality measurements have shown for several years now that numerous hydrocarbons attributable to oil and gas industry emissions are tens to thousands of times higher in shale areas than what is considered clean air. The widespread hydrocarbon pollution creates secondary ozone pollution, even in winter, thus affecting people far removed from extraction areas, possibly erasing two decades of ozone air quality improvements. Air toxics emissions include known and suspected carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde, and neurotoxins such as xylenes.

The industry’s large well numbers per area with onsite pipes, valves, tanks, compressors and other equipment, together leak an enormous amount of gas and vapors into the air. Nevertheless, regulators treat each well as a minor emitter, and permits to drill are obtained easily.

In addition, Texas regulators allow onsite gas flaring with little oversight, which together with flaring in the Bakken shale has catapulted the U.S. into the top five flaring nations in the world, wasting more than 240 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year, emitting yet unquantified amounts of soot and formaldehyde. Living downwind of one or more well sites, especially when flaring, thus means intermittent to constant nuisances from air pollutants. Associated public health effects are becoming better documented and are consistent in shale areas, including headaches, nose bleeds, and eye, skin and respiratory tract irritations.

Through front groups such as Energy in Depth, the industry is denying responsibility and shedding doubt on the health effects. But the air quality data show otherwise. At Texas Commission on Environmental Quality monitoring stations in the Barnett shale area and since 2013 also downwind of the Eagle Ford, the widespread hydrocarbon pollution is well documented. In addition, the commission’s data bases contain numerous incidences of individual measurements taken near industrial sites in the Eagle Ford showing outlandishly high pollutant concentrations.

We have analyzed the Floresville monitor (the only current air quality monitor in the Eagle Ford region) data in detail, showing on average roughly 10 times above “normal” levels of hydrocarbons many miles downwind the shale area, with regular pollution plumes at much higher levels. Tracing these plumes suggests that, at times, acutely toxic concentration levels can exist at fence-lines of individual facilities. Independent air quality measurements and the commission’s own data thus contradict repeated statements by its leadership that there are no air quality levels of concern in the shale areas.

Is it thus surprising that residents in Denton and other Texas cities are objecting to wells inside their city limits, in their neighborhoods?

As the city of College Station is pondering changes to its oil and gas ordinance, it needs to consider the impacts of air pollution on the health and welfare of its residents. Despite new federal regulations taking effect on Jan. 1, the industry as a whole has not operated responsibly in the past, and we should not expect that it will do better — especially in Texas, where lax enforcement of the rules and a lack of deterring fines are commonplace. It is up to local communities to put in place and enforce rules protective not only of the air we breathe, but the associated property values and quality of life.

As College Station is impacted ever more directly through fracking sites in the surrounding county — and soon inside the city limits — its leadership has the opportunity to pass a stronger ordinance that addresses various air quality and other environmental concerns, such as via appropriate setbacks, and continuous air quality monitoring paid by the operators, including public availability of the data. The latter falls under the widely accepted “polluter pays” principle and can instill best practices by the operator.

No clear scientific guidance exists yet for the former, i.e. the allowable proximity of a facility to a residence. Toxicological evaluations of existing air quality measurements in shale areas, however, suggest that people living within 2,600 feet of well sites have a significantly elevated risk of cancer and other ailments from their exposure.

Since there is also legal precedent in other Texas city ordinances, it would be prudent to select at least a 1,500 feet setback to limit resident exposure during the inevitable times of poor pollutant dilution under unfavorable wind conditions.

Such setbacks, alongside other rules the ordinance does contain, may allow for responsible oil and gas extraction inside city limits.
• Gunnar W. Schade lives in College Station. He receives funding from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Research Program, though unrelated to the topic of this column.

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