Category Archives: Groundwater

Oceans of Water Beneath Our Reach

Image: tomburke.co.uk

Image: tomburke.co.uk

A study published yesterday in the journal Science suggests oceans of water are locked in rock about 400 miles below Earth’s surface. It’s not liquid, ice or vapor, but rather hydrogen and oxygen embedded in the molecular structure of mineral rock. Researchers think it may help explain some things about how the planet formed, and how oceans gathered on the planet’s surface, which is great. But for many observers the first question is, how do we get at it? And the answer is a flat no, we don’t get anywhere near this stuff, much less turn it into a usable form, because it’s far too deep in the mantle. It’s 400 miles down, and the deepest humans have ever drilled is less than 10 miles.

Read more:

Dehydration melting at the top of the lower mantleScience

Water discovered deep beneath Earth’s surfaceUSA Today

New evidence of oceans of water deep in the Earth – Phys.Org

Oceans of water locked 400 miles inside Earth – Discovery News

Related posts:

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Groundwater, Oceans, Research, Science, Water Resources

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Watercyclesummary

The world has a finite supply of accessible freshwater. By some estimates, less than 1% of the naturally occurring freshwater on earth is accessible to humans; the rest is locked up in ice or too deep and dispersed in the ground for us to get. The phrase “peak water” refers to the point at which we’re consuming available freshwater faster than it can be replenished by nature through the hydrologic water cycle to the usual sources, such as lakes, rivers, and shallow underground aquifers, many of which are already dangerously depleted.

Whether we’re nearing the point of peak water, already there, or well past it is a question under ongoing discussion. One point of confusion is that water volume and use vary widely by region. Some areas are nearing or past peak water, others aren’t. Another factor is that climate change is throwing the status quo of water abundance or scarcity by region into flux. Look at the 2013 research showing that heavy pollution from the U.S. and Europe from the 1960s into the 1980s effectively changed weather patterns, becoming a primary cause of Africa’s long, widespread, and deadly Sahel Drought. What will happen because of today’s pollution from the world’s most prolific sources? (e.g., China).

And those who don’t see water and climate change as parts of the same series of problems should note: “The hydrologic cycle is the climate cycle,” says hydro-climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, in a video interview that lays out overlapping problems. Water, climate change, and energy production are all inextricably linked. In fact, links between water and energy make up the theme of this year’s World Water Day, coming up on March 22.

It’s worth noting that water scarcity is a crucial element of the resource crises cited in the upcoming NASA-funded study predicting a “perfect storm” within a few decades that could end global civilization. The study looked closely at the fall of previous complex societies, such as the Mayans and Romans, and found parallels with our unsustainable overuse of resources — particularly the massively unequal use by wealthy versus poor.

However close to “peak” we may be, no sustained sense of urgency over water scarcity is apparent in mainstream media. In part this is because water supplies are local or regional, not global, and in part it’s because these problems take a long time — and a much longer attention span than a 24-hour news cycle has — to address. So you see localized articles about regional droughts and potential conflicts over resources, though rarely anything that puts the worldwide water crisis in perspective and looks ahead to cross-cutting solutions (e.g., large-scale renewable-energy power production that requires much less water than nuclear or fossil-fuel-based power, combined with modern and far-reaching conservation measures addressing agricultural, industrial, and residential water use and re-use).

Compared to today’s world, our near-future planet will have double the human population, even more-severe climate change, and yet the same old freshwater, redistributed. Perhaps it’s too easy to push off the worry, as we think we’ll get serious about conservation before it’s too late. Or that governments and industry will join together to provide desalinated water wherever necessary — somehow without the troubling environmental costs of today’s practices — before vast human populations must migrate or die.  Or that those fresh and brackish aquifers recently discovered under the oceans will push the point-of-no-return a few decades further into the future. Well, someday, after the fights over the rights, maybe somebody will throw billions at drilling into those aquifers. Because someday they’ll have no choice. And then those reserves will be sucked dry, too.

You might say we have no choice other than to better manage our freshwater.

Read more:

UPDATE: CHARTS: How power generation threatens water supplies, and climate change threatens both – ClimateProgress

UPDATE: NASA-funded study: Industrial civilisation headed for “irreversible collapse”? Natural and social scientists develop new model of how “perfect storm” of crises could unravel global systemThe Guardian

Are we on the path to peak water? – Climate Central (with infographic)

Peak water is here – Daily Kos (links to video interview with Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute)

Peak water (background) – Wikipedia

Pollution in Northern Hemisphere helped cause 1980s African drought – Washington University

Related posts:

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Alexis C. Madrigal’s new piece in The Atlantic, which he tweeted is his most ambitious yet, is a good read. It has great descriptions of California’s ongoing, larger-than-life efforts to stay hydrated in a place where nature simply won’t cooperate. The article centers on Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes to dig two tunnels under the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If built, they’ll be longer than the Chunnel connecting England and France under the English Channel.

Read more:

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga
A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Recent related posts:

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Agriculture, Conflicts, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, Water Shortage

As Fracking Booms, Wastewater Concerns Grow

Image: insurancequotes.org

Image: insurancequotes.org

With hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas continuing to proliferate across the U.S., scientists and environmental activists are raising questions about whether millions of gallons of contaminated drilling fluids could be threatening water supplies and human health.

– Yale Environment 360

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Filed under Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources

WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

Image: WaterLex

Image courtesy of WaterLex

One of the benefits of living in Geneva, Switzerland, is that I have access to the United Nations and international organizations that work with it. WaterLex, for example, is an international NGO that partners with UN Water. It takes an interesting, forward-looking, “lawyerly” approach to working on issues related to freshwater scarcity. The group, with a staff of seven based here, helps water-governance stakeholders in various countries establish policies and standards that comply with the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS). To do its work, the staff consults with more than 100 international experts in water management, development and law.

Many water NGOs work on access to water, helping people in water-stressed communities survive by delivering clean water, digging wells, installing pumps, and so forth. WaterLex attacks the problem close to its root and in a way that helps enable water security for future generations: It trains lawmakers and others with influence over water resources in a community, or a country, on how to implement new legal frameworks in which the human right to water is central.

WaterLex Executive Director Jean-Benoit Charrin co-founded the organization in 2010, the same year the human right to water and sanitation became fully recognized. I spoke with him on Tuesday at the WaterLex offices down the street from the Palace of Nations (UN). The rest of the staff, a mix of lawyers and operations experts, were away on missions. Although I would have liked to meet them, I’m glad they were off doing their work.

“There are four things we never want to hear people say again,” Charrin said. “That they didn’t know there was a problem. That they know there is a problem, but they don’t know how to deal with it. That they know there is a problem and how to deal with it, but they don’t know how to get the money. And finally, that they know there is a problem but they don’t care.” He paralleled the four statements succinctly with four WaterLex work areas:  providing assistance with information, capacity-building, budgeting, and accountability. Learn more about the group’s work below.

WaterLex tools (naturally, these are also on the Water Resources page):

WaterLex Legal Database on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

WaterLex Toolkit: Integrating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in Development Practice

Examples of WaterLex activities:

  • Worked with 10 universities to develop its online Legal Database (link above), a reference tool for policy makers that enables them to harmonize their legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Trained more than 40 members of the Pan African Parliament on the integration of national legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Partnered with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to advise the government of Niger on designing a decentralized cooperation strategy that complies with human rights obligations.
  • Drafted a resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights clarifying legal responsibilities of states in the management of water as a result of human rights commitments.
  • Worked with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) to develop a toolkit and field training for water program managers in Nicaragua, Moldova and Mozambique.
  • Assisted the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in the design of an Equity Score Card to help governments assess their population’s relative access to safe and affordable drinking water.

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Filed under Africa, Conservation, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, South America, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Fracking Compounds Worries Over Water Shortages

Fracking sites in Colorado. Image: Susan Heller/Getty Images

Fracking sites in Colorado. Image: Susan Heller/Getty Images

A new report by the nonprofit group Ceres, which advises on green investment, indicates that 55% of hydraulic fracturing in the United States since 2011 has taken place in drought-stricken areas, such as California, Colorado and Texas.

And 47% of the wells are in regions with high or extremely high water stress. “High” water stress means that between 40% and 80% of a region’s surface and groundwater are already allocated for other uses (residential, agricultural, industrial); “extremely high” water stress means that more than 80% is spoken for.

The report’s findings are significant because fracking uses a lot of water. Each well can require up to 10 million gallons of water in the drilling process, which pumps chemicals and water into shale deposits thousands of feet underground to break up the rock and release natural gas or oil. According to the report, 97 billion gallons of water went into the ground at 39,300 sites between January 2011 and May 2013.

The oil and gas industry points out that its use of water is comparatively small. In many states, fracking draws well under 1% of all water used, according to sources. The industry also says it will increase the amount of recycled water used (from none or next to none in most places to … some, presumably). Finally, there is some evidence from a University of Texas study that fracking reduces water use overall because it decreases reliance on water-intensive coal production, as it pushes utilities to use more natural gas power.

Read more:

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers” – Ceres

Report: Fracking raising water supply worriesUSA Today

California drought sets up fracking face-offSan Francisco Chronicle

Fracking depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas The Guardian

Fracking for natural gas may help us save waterTime

Related posts:

U.S. Shale Map: Could Be a Lot of Fracking Drilling in the Lower 48

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

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Filed under Drought, Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Research

U.S. Shale Map: Could Be a Lot of Fracking Drilling in the Lower 48

Image: Duke University

Image: Duke University

See the website for the Duke University study on shale gas and fracking, Avner Vengosh research group, Duke Nicholas School of the Environment.

OTHER RELATED LINKS AND POSTS:

Duke study suggests cutting fracking waste’s radioactivity with acid drainage from mines – The Associated Press (Jan. 13, 2014)

Duke fracking tests reveal dangers driller’s study missed in Texas – Bloomberg (Jan.  10, 2014)

Drilling Down on Fracking: Latest News Plus Background (Jan. 6, 2014)

Fracking Across the Pond: In the UK (Jan 8, 2014)

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January 14, 2014 · 10:26 am

Fracking Debate: How Once-Cooperative Attitudes Died

Many U.S. states with stalled fracking legislation — and probably some countries — are watching as comprehensive regulatory plans for hydraulic fracturing unfold in Illinois and California. A year ago, Illinois state legislators, industry officials and environmentalists appeared to be getting along as the state’s first regulations for the natural gas drilling process were passed, but good relations have since dissolved in mistrust. In California, after some relative harmony early on, environmental groups are trying to put the brakes on pending legislation in favor of further study. Any surprises here, as lawmakers struggle with “comprehensive” regs that try to please everyone? Not so much. Associated Press business writer Tammy Webber does a nice job of describing the situations.

RELATED NEWS: Duke fracking tests reveal dangers driller’s study missed in Texas – Bloomberg

See previous posts:

Drilling Down on Fracking: Latest News Plus Background (Jan. 6, 2014)

Fracking Across the Pond: In the UK (Jan 8, 2014)

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Filed under Environment, Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Technology

Fracking Over the Pond: In the UK

Seismic fracturing, aka fracking, is controversial in the U.S. Proponents say the natural gas drilling method creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil; opponents say it’s a filthy polluter and the consequences of it have yet to be known because not enough research has been done and not enough regulation is in place. The links from The Telegraph and The Guardian below are not direct responses to each other, but they are two sides of a coin, Should Britain follow the U.S.?

Torries: Do you realise fracking is nastier and messier than wind turbines? – Jenny Jones, The Telegraph

Why the UK should embrace fracking – Chris Breitling, CFO, Breitling Energy Corporation, vis a vis The Guardian

News UPDATE, Jan. 13: PM Cameron promises tax boost as incentive to drill – BBC News

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Filed under Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, Pollution, Research, Technology, Water Resources

Drilling Down on Fracking: Latest News Plus Background

Image: insurancequotes.org

Image: insurancequotes.org

Not to be too Mr. Moto* about it, but it’s no exaggeration to say that the expansion of fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing, has been extremely controversial. The relatively new drilling practice, developed about 60 years ago but widely employed only within the past decade or so, involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at each drill site to break up shale and release natural gas that had previously been inaccessible. It’s the subject of much protest over groundwater contamination and other potential ill effects. The fracking industry says the practice is safe and praises it for reducing oil imports, while environmental activists loudly warn of eco-catastrophe-for-profit and a disastrous delay in the quest for renewable energy sources amid worsening global warming.

Perhaps you’ve seen actor Mark Ruffalo at the anti-fracking forefront (here’s his CNN opinion piece with Greenpeace exec Phil Radford, from April 2013). And then there’s the feature film “Promised Land,” written by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant. Previously, Josh Fox’s HBO documentaries about the largely unregulated industry, “GasLand” and “GasLand 2,” saw some acclaim. The fracking industry responded in kind, underwriting the film “TruthLand,” a pro-industry rebuttal to Fox. The likes of Popular Mechanics Scientific American and Discover have tried to clarify points of contention.

Meanwhile, a new study finds that more than half of Americans still know nearly nothing about fracking (below). I, for one, still have a lot to learn. It strikes me as an under-policed industry racing for purchase and profit ahead of federal, state and local regulation that should, eventually, mitigate fear and damage done — hopefully sooner than later (again, Mr. Moto speaks). But some say it’s already too late for regulation, and only bans will be effective.

Recent fracking news:

Fracking contamination found in water wells in 4 states – The Associated Press

In at least four U.S. states that have nurtured the nation’s energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review of complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen. The lack of detail in some state reports could help fuel public confusion and mistrust.

U.S. EPA unlikely to step up fracking enforcement efforts for now, say analysts – Reuters

Federal regulators are unlikely to step up enforcement of potential water contamination cases linked to natural gas drilling — despite new concerns about water safety — given a lack of political will and limited resources to pursue such cases, analysts said.

Study shows fracking is bad for babies – Bloomberg

Researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6% to more than 9%. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5%.

Study finds few know what fracking really is – Caspar Star-Tribune (Wyoming, U.S.)

A survey published by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason and Yale universities found that more than half of respondents reported knowing little or nothing of fracking. And almost 60% said they had no opinion on the subject.

Colorado communities could ban fracking under new proposed amendment – The Huffington Post

A proposed amendment to Colorado’s constitution that would give municipalities the power to ban or restrict fracking and other industrial activities would be the first of its kind nationwide if it passes.

(*Moto = Master of the Obvious)

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Filed under Environment, Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Technology