Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is Manganese in Drinking Water a Neurotoxin?

In the March 3rd 2014 Time Magazine, Alice Park reminds us that low level exposure to many substances can impact development in children. One of the substances cited, almost as a throwaway is manganese in drinking water. Manganese is an essential nutrient involved in the metabolism of amino acids, proteins, and lipids, but in excess can be a potent neurotoxicant as demonstrated in studies of acute exposure. Manganese concentration in drinking water is not regulated in the United States, but the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a health-based “guideline” of is 300 µg/L maximum level. However, EPA recommends a "secondary maximum contaminant levels" for manganese for aesthetic considerations, such as taste, color and odor of 50 µg/L of manganese in drinking water. The World Health Organization recommends a limit of 400 µg/L of manganese.

There have been very few studies of the possible neurotoxic impacts from chronic low level exposures, the kind of exposure to manganese that would occur from drinking water supplied from groundwater. The largest study (involving 362 children from 251 families) was performed in Canada using communities with a public water supply and private water supplies from groundwater with a natural manganese levels from the bedrock geology and not human activities. The tap water concentration of manganese ranged from 1 to 2,700 µg/L manganese. (MMT the gasoline additive containing manganese has been banned in Canada since 2004, but the highest concentrations of manganese found in that study seem very high. In New England, 45% of wells for public use have manganese concentrations greater than 30 µg/L. According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, about 5% of domestic household wells in the United States have manganese concentrations greater than 300 µg/L.)

The study, “Intellectual Impairment in School-Age Children Exposed to Manganese from Drinking Water,” was published in 2010 in Environmental Health Perspectives, the Canadian journal and is fully cited below examined possible neurotoxic effects from manganese at concentrations they claim are commonly found in North American aquifers. The scientists assessed the relationship between exposure to manganese from drinking water and IQ of school-age children living in communities relying on groundwater. In addition, they examined the relations between manganese concentration in hair follicles and estimated manganese intakes from water consumption and from the food.

Until recently, exposure to manganese from water consumption has been of little concern, because the intake of manganese from ingestion of water is small compared with that from foods, except in the case of infants. In the Canadian study they discovered though manganese consumption from water was very small compared with the amount ingested from foods (by more than two orders of magnitude), yet only consumption from water was significantly associated with manganese concentration in the hair follicles of the children. The mechanism of manganese uptake into hair is not well understood, but it has long been postulated that its affinity for melanin, a protein present in hair, skin, and the central nervous system, could be involved. Though the children had all lived at the same locations for at least 12 months, the duration of that level of exposure is not known.

The scientists found that IQ scores decreased steadily with increasing manganese concentrations in the drinking water. Children in the highest manganese concentration quintile (median, 216 µg/L) scored 6.2 IQ points below those in the lowest quintile (median, 1 µg/L). It is not known whether exposure during a critical developmental period is responsible for their observations. Interestingly enough, manganese concentrations in drinking water were was lower in houses with private wells than houses served from the public well (8 µg/L versus 55 µg/L ). Concentrations of manganese from food and ingestion was estimated.
from Bouchard et al
On March 31, 2014 the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Office will be holding a drinking water clinic for well owners in Prince William County as part of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. Samples will be analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria and costs $49. I have tested my well water consistently and know that my manganese level is 1 µg/L, but I will be testing again to monitor for changes in my water quality.

Maryse F. Bouchard, Sébastien Sauvé, Benoit Barbeau, Melissa Legrand, Marie-Ève Brodeur, Thérèse Bouffard, Elyse Limoges, David C. Bellinger, Donna Mergler. Intellectual Impairment in School-Age Children Exposed to Manganese from Drinking Water. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2010; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1002321

Monday, February 24, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline Roundup

The Keystone XL pipeline remains in the news. Last week Nebraska judge Stephanie F. Stacy struck down a state law (LB1161) on Wednesday that allowed Governor Dave Heineman to approve the Keystone pipeline's path through the state back in January 2013.
from TransCanada

First a little background:
In November 2011, the State Department announced it was delaying its decision on the original 2008 TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline application for a Presidential Permit to cross the Canadian/United States border. That route passed through some environmentally sensitive areas of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States. Then on January 18, 2012, President Obama denied TransCanada's Presidential Permit application.

On April 18,2012, TransCanada submitted a new "Initial Report Identifying Alternative and Preferred Corridors for Nebraska Reroute" to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, NDEQ, for evaluation of rerouted Keystone XL Pipeline project under the requirements of Nebraska law LB 1161 which allows pipeline carriers to seek and obtain approval of a proposed pipeline route from Nebraska's Governor, following a self-funded environmental review by NDEQ. This application for a NDEQ review of a new route was followed in May 4th 2012 by a new application to the United States Department of State for a Presidential Permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL Pipeline. The President has not yet acted on TransCanada's new application.

LB 1161 (the law that Judge Stacy struck down) was an amendment to the Major Pipeline Siting Act, MOPSA. At the time of its enactment in November 2011, MOPSA did not apply to any major oil pipeline that had submitted an application to the United States Department of State under Executive Order 13337 prior to MOPSA's effective date. The only oil pipeline to fit within this exemption was the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Under LB 1161 a pipeline carrier submits a route for evaluation by NDEQ and receives the Governor's approval instead of obtaining approval from, the Public Service Commission, PSC, under the requirements of the MOSPA. The MOSPA process includes review by the Nebraska Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources, Revenue, and Roads, the Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Nebraska State Historical Society, State Fire Marshal, and Board of Educational Lands and Funds and also requires the PSC to schedule a public hearing within 60 days of receiving an application.

On January 22, 2013 Governor Heineman of Nebraska signed the recommendation to the U.S. Department of State for a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the international border after the Nebraska DEQ recommended approval of the revised route selected (with their guidance) for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It was LB 1161 that enabled the Governor to do this.

The three Plaintiffs in this case are residents and taxpayers of the State of Nebraska. Each Plaintiff owns land or is the beneficiary of a trust holding land that was, or still is, in the path of one or more proposed pipeline routes for the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Defendants are the Governor, the Director of the Nebraska DEQ and the Nebraska State Treasurer. The Defendants argued that the Plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge LB 1161 and the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and should have dismissed the case.

Siding with three plaintiffs, Judge Stacy found that under Nebraska’s State Constitution, exclusive regulatory control over pipelines like the Keystone XL must be exercised by the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC), and cannot be given to the Governor. Judge Stacy found LB 1161 must be declared unconstitutional and void. Though the Judge stated in her opinion that “such a declaration should not be misconstrued as an indictment of the work done by NDEQ in conducting the comprehensive evaluation required by LB 1161, or the conclusions reached by the Governor after reviewing NDEQ's Final Evaluation Report and approving the Keystone XL Pipeline route.”

Judge Stacy’s decision will probably be appealed to the Nebraska Supreme court, or the Keystone XL Pipeline route could be subjected to the review process by the PSC under MOPA. Either way this decision serves as yet one more delay to take federal action on the Keystone XL pipeline. Which is once more awaiting federal action. Presidential Permit review process is now focused on whether the Keystone XL Pipeline serves our national interest, though maybe it is focused on how long you can drag out a difficult decision.

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. The executive summary states that Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.” In other words, no matter what action the Administration chooses to take on this portion of the pipeline-approve, reject, or stall- the oil sands are not staying in the ground in Canada. There is world demand for heavy crude oil and it will be met. The Texas refineries are optimized for heavy crude either from South America or Canada. The crude oil will come by pipeline, boat, truck or rail road. As Marcia McNutt, the editor in chief of the AAAS journal Science stated in a recent editorial moving the Canadian crude by pipeline is the least environmentally damaging and safest method of transporting oil.

The Department of State opened a 30 day comment period on February 5, 2014 where members of the public and other interested parties can submit comments on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Though Secretary Kerry is empowered to make the final decision, the next step will have input from the White House. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 Water Clinic in Prince William- Come Get Your Well Tested

The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Office will be holding a drinking water clinic for well owners in Prince William County as part of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. The Prince William VCE welcomes our well, spring and cistern owners as well as our neighbors in Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fauquier (and anyone else in Virginia willing to drive to the clinic to join us) because it is a statewide grant from USDA Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education Service that allow Virginia to hold and subsidize the analysis cost of the analysis for the water clinics. To sign up for the program please call 703-792-7747 or email Please register as soon as possible so that the Prince William VCE can order enough test kits.

The program consists of two meetings- one to get instructions and pick up test kits, and the other a month later to get results and provide interpretation and recommendations. Samples will need to be dropped off at the VCE Prince William Office for analysis a day and a half after the first meeting. The samples will be analyzed for 14 chemical and bacteriological contaminants and cost only $49. Comparable analysis at a private commercial lab would cost $150-$200. Samples will be analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria.

The Kickoff Meeting will be on March 31, 2014 at 7 - 8:30 pm at the Old Courthouse, 9248 Lee Avenue in Manassas, VA 20110
A brief presentation will be given to discuss common water quality issues in your area and instructions for how to properly collect the water samples from your tap. Water sampling kits will be distributed with written sampling directions and a short survey about your water supply for data gathering purposes. Checks (or money orders) for $49 to cover the cost for the analysis and sampling kits will be collected. A friend or neighbor may drop off your check and pick up your sampling kit.

The samples should be taken early Wednesday morning and then dropped off on Wednesday April 2, 2014, between 6:30am and 10am at the VCE Prince William Office, at 8033 Ashton, Suite 105, Manassas 20109
Results Interpretation Meeting will be held on April , 7-8:30 pm once more at the Old Courthouse 9248 Lee Avenue, Manassas, VA 20110
Participants will receive their confidential water test results. A presentation will be given that explains what the numbers on the test report mean and what possible options participants may consider to deal with water problems. Experts will be on hand to answer any specific questions you may have about your water and water system. I will be one of volunteers present to help with the program. Come join us.

Just because your water appears clear doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to drink. You cannot taste bacterial contamination from human and animal waste, nor nitrate/ nitrite contamination which can in excessive levels be deadly to newborns and infants. Since bacterial contamination cannot be detected by taste, smell, or sight, all drinking water wells should be tested at least annually for Coliform bacteria and E Coli. Testing is the only way to detect contamination in your water. Testing is not mandatory, but should be done to ensure your family’s safety. The Virginia Private Well Regulations only specify construction requirements. There are no requirements for maintenance or water testing after a well is approved. Maintenance and ensuring that water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the owner.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act the U.S. EPA requires that all public water supplies be tested for a list of 80 primary contaminants on a regular basis and meet these minimum standards. In addition, EPA has secondary standards for less hazardous substances based on aesthetic characteristics of taste, smell and appearance, which public water systems and states can choose to adopt or not. Neither the primary nor secondary safe drinking water standards apply to private wells, but these standards can be used as guidance to determine what levels of water constituents is too much and should be addressed. Contamination from human and animal waste and chemicals can be real health hazards and should be addressed immediately. However, most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination or impurities. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color and be annoying and persistent problems and EPA has established secondary standards that can be used as guidance. Excessive levels of sodium, total dissolved solids, harness, can be an annoyance and impact appliances. Several of the naturally occurring contaminants that commonly appear in well water are primary contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act and can be a health hazard- nitrate, lead, arsenic, floride, and copper. The VCE Drinking Water Clinic will test for these.

The goal of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program is to educate well owners, improve the water quality and protect the health of Virginians with private water supplies, such as wells, springs and cisterns. This all begins with testing and understanding your water and properly maintaining your water system. In 60 of Virginia’s 95 counties more than half the households rely on private wells, springs, and cisterns. In total there are more than 1,500,000 households in Virginia with private water supplies. Homeowners relying on private water supplies are responsible for all aspects of their water system’s management, but may lack the knowledge and resources to effectively and properly manage and maintain their wells and water systems. Until a big problem arises, many homeowners ignore their private water systems sometimes accepting sub-optimal treatment or taste. All wells should be routinely tested every 1-3 years. If there is a pregnant woman or infant in the home the water should be tested. If there is any change in the taste, appearance, odor of water or your system is serviced or repaired then water should be tested to confirm that no contaminants were introduced.

In addition running the drinking water clinics VCE has established the Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON), a group of Virginia Cooperative Extension educator/agents and screened volunteers trained in proper well construction and location, appropriate maintenance and protection of wells and springs, interpretation of water tests, and water treatment options. These educator/agents and volunteers form an excellent resource base for homeowners. If you are a private water system owner, consider contacting a Master Well Owner in your area if you cannot join us for the water clinic.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tough Choices Need to be Made in California

President Obama visited California last week appearing in Fresno, California in the heart of California’s agricultural central valley. California produces almost 18 % of all U. S. crops and 7 % of livestock and livestock products (by revenue). In addition, California produces about half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, several of the crops are currently only grown in California. In the central valley of California three crops a year can be grown and crop production is only limited by the amount of water delivered for irrigation. To make up shortfalls in annual water allocations farmers have for generations pumped groundwater- unsustainably. So much water has been pumped that the land above the aquifer in the central valley has subsided and can never recover. The water level in these aquifers has fallen hundreds of feet in the past few generations. Nonetheless farmers continue to plant almond trees and fruit trees that require year round irrigation in wet years and dry years.

After viewing the impact of the worst drought since the 1970’s on the community the President gave a speech where he called for the creation of a $1 billion climate change fund to research the projected effects of climate change and helping Americans prepare with new technology and infrastructure. That is unlikely to increase rainfall in California which already has the largest water storage and transportation system in the world. With 1,200 miles of canals and nearly 50 reservoirs, in an “average” year the system captures enough water to irrigate about four million acres and provide water to the almost 38 million residents of the state. Even with all this water management California is at the limit of their water resources, and without enough rain and snow in the Sierra Mountains there is simply not enough water.

In the meantime, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency and called for voluntarily water conservation, and is using the drought crisis to move forward a proposal to drill two 35 mile, highway-sized water tunnels beneath the California Delta. This project is estimated to cost at least $25 billion (though the Bay Bridge ended up costing multiples of the original estimate) and California has struggled with multibillion dollar budget deficits in recent years, saved by drastic cuts by Governor Brown and a surge in IPO (initial public offering) and technology and other capital gains. The water tunnel plan is opposed by environmentalists who say it will all but destroy Delta estuary and the agricultural community is reported to be divided on the water tunnels.

Environmentalists say the tunnel project would suck more water from the already fragile delta, the hub of the state's water-delivery system. Critics of the proposal say it would further harm the delta's fisheries, increase the cost of water and devastate the agricultural economy by lowering river levels and allowing salt water from the San Francisco Bay to invade. In addition, these tunnels would not sure up the aging infrastructure of the existing water infrastructure.

After three years of below-normal rainfall, California looks to be facing its most severe drought in decades and needs to face some harsh water truths. Neither studying climate, moderating greenhouse gases change or by passing the Delta add more water to California. Something fundamental has to change. To change the fundamental water equation in California where agriculture uses between 75%-80% of water the Pacific Institute who has studied this issue extensively recommends that of 1.3 million acres of impaired lands in the Central Valley be removed from irrigation and agricultural use. This land which is already impaired represents less than 5% of the agricultural land in California, but would save 3.9 million acre-feet of water per year, while also reducing polluted surface water runoff and impacts to groundwater. This water savings represents 9% of the water used in California and is equal to two thirds of the total water used for urban residential use.

Removing these lands from agricultural production is not going to happen without government action and disruption of lives. Something similar has happened in Canada. As reported in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, the fishing industry in Newfoundland has been disappearing for a quarter of a century. In the late 1980s, the industry employed around 13% of the province's workers. Today the fish industry employs only 3% of the province’s workers. Over fishing and poor ecological management caused the fish stocks plummet and the Canadian government put a moratorium on cod fishing about 20 years ago. Despite the moratorium on fishing, the cod population has not recovered and the way of life for those fishing communities is gone. According to the provincial government about 28,000 people relocated between 1954 and 1975 for better jobs and lives.

Sixty years ago, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador began offering its shrinking communities money to close down and move on to eliminate the need to provide utilities and community services to the shrinking and dying towns. After a nearly four-decade lull, the number of communities seeking resettlement has picked up, as the older generation fades and the government has raised the value of its offers. Though ending a way of life, is sad, the cod stocks could no longer support these communities or their way of life, through mismanagement and lack of planning. The water in California can no longer support all the farm communities every year.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Charleston they Need to Investigate and Remediate

For about a week in the middle of January Charleston (and the surrounding communities) was without drinking water when a leak was discovered in a former fuel storage tank that was being used to store MCHM. By all accounts about 10, 000 gallons (previously estimated at 7,500 gallons) of MCHM was released into the Elk River a mile and a half up river from the water intake for the drinking water supply for Charleston, West Virginia. MCHM is 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol an alcohol with a licorice or mint smell at extremely low concentrations, and though there are limited studies it is believed to have relatively low toxicity. Now a month later, MCHM has been once more detected in the water supply and forced a closing of Charleston schools. The New York Times reports a “Crisis of Confidence,” “emotional public meetings,” and politicians and the U. S Environmental Protection Agency “listening” and “sharing” the public’s concern.

When the MCHM leak was first discovered the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, found a MCHM storage tank with a hole in it sitting within an unlined concrete block containment dike. The DEP inspectors noted a 4 foot wide stream of liquid flowing across the dike and into the ground. So here’s what happened, the MCHM leaked from the tank into an unlined cinderblock containment area and then into the ground through which it began leaching into the Elk River and flowing about a mile down to the Charleston West Virginia water intake for the American Water drinking water treatment plant. MCHM will continue to appear in the drinking water as it continues to leach into the river until the site is remediated.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, the state and federal regulators, the water company need to do a little less talking and listening and a little more remediation. This is the drinking water supply for 300,000 people, old, young, healthy, sick, and pregnant- the entire spectrum and the drinking water supply is a potential chronic long term low level exposure to MCHM for years. Ultimately they will end up taking steps to address the public concern, do it now. It is an inelegant solution, but a quick one to remove the tank or tanks and dig up and remove all the contaminated soil to be remediated at a different site away from a drinking water supply. Though in most instances, I would not recommend excavate and haul for a remediation approach because it simply moves a contamination problem, in this instance that is what should be done for the public good, peace of mind of the entire community and safety and security of the water supply. Move all the soil contaminated with a moderately toxic substance away from the drinking water supply. When dealing with a drinking water supply and public concern, a brute force and fast cleanup might be the best answer. Worry about cost and liability later; restore the water supply and the public’s trust in the ability to supply reliable and pure water.

The chemical storage facility is owned by a private company, Freedom Industries, Inc. that primarily appears to distribute chemicals. The site of the leak was once a Pennzoil-Quaker State gasoline and diesel storage terminal that was sold in 2001. These old tanks (reportedly installed around 1938) were apparently put to new use storing chemicals. Though it was common in the past to have fuel storage tanks on rivers, it was not the safest of ideas; however, the fuel arrived by barge. When Pennzoil-Quaker State closed the facility and sold it, the new owners though it was okay to store MCHM in an old 35,000 gallon above ground riveted storage tank that clearly had inadequate secondary containment to prevent a spill into the river. This was all legal, but it should not have been. Chemicals and fuel storage tanks both above and below ground should be permitted for a set number of years that is less than the expected life of the containment system. Instead tanks are allowed to remain in use until they fail. In addition, there are very limited requirements for secondary containment on ASTs and no lifetime limits on equipment age. This metal tank was 75 years old.

We as a nation have lost respect for stewardship and engineering. Politics runs the country and businesses. This is what happens when a nation’s infrastructure is not maintained and it is only going to increase. There are hundreds of examples of mechanical, design and structural failure turning up every day, but only the multi-million dollar problems make the news. The EPA needs to stop focusing all their energies on global issues and refocus their attention on maintaining water quality and availability. As a nation we need to focus on maintaining and improving water, sewage, electricity, roads and essential infrastructure in the United States.

Every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s. Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions based on: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Our grades average Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories. We are a nation of infrastructure deniers.

Monday, February 10, 2014

No Propane Conserve What You Have

US is a net exporter of Propane
One morning last week the propane delivery truck backed down my driveway. My propane delivery had arrived as scheduled, I breathed a sigh of relief. However, due to the propane shortage here and in much of the Midwest; my propane supplier, Southern States, is low on propane. They only delivered 125 gallons filling my tank to the two thirds level. Southern States determined that every contract customer would get their tank filled to the two thirds level, for many that is about what they use in a month, for others that could carry them until spring. A uniformly imposed rule is how Southern States is dealing with their propane supply shortage. Southern States is reportedly only receiving the quantity of propane they bought earlier in the season under contract as pipeline companies try to stretch their dwindling inventories and now with the very cold winter, demand is up.

I belong to a homeowner buying group that has a contract with Southern States and a group price. So I got some propane (I understand that people without contracts did not get any propane) and we paid slightly under $3 a gallon. Overall, not too bad, but my tank is only two-thirds full and I have no idea when there will be more propane available. I’m fairly certain that by mid-April I will be able to buy all the propane I want, but I do not know if I will get a delivery next month. I have to make the propane in my tank last as long as possible. So, I lowered the thermostat to 64 degrees, lowered the hot water heater, discontinued use of my gas fireplace and I'm thinking about how to use less gas in cooking. Don’t feel too sorry for me, I have plenty of electricity. Though I had been trying to live within the electricity produced by my solar panels, I am tied to the grid and can use as much electricity as my budget will allow. I have dug out of the basement a couple of ceramic heat cubs and electric heating pads for the cat in addition I have an electric Brevelle countertop oven and an electric induction burner. We will survive in our fleece jackets and wooly socks.

The propane shortage is not due to a lack of propane. The growth in natural gas liquids production from shale gas and tight sands resources is rapidly increasing propane production. Three years ago, the U.S. propane market relied on imports to meet domestic demand. Today, domestic production exceeds demand, with exports rising quickly as production increases. Pipelines that once transported propane from the Texas coast to Oklahoma were reversed a year or two ago to carry oil and gas to the Texas coast. In 2012, propane produced in the U.S. from domestic natural gas and crude oil exceeded total U.S. consumer propane demand, and we became net exporters of propane. In 2012 net exports of propane were almost 1.0 billion gallons. What is causing the current shortage is a big surge in demand in the fall and winter and a lack of investment in excess storage and pipeline capacity in recent years. The pipeline companies were never able to transport propane at peak winter demand levels. They depended on in system storage to cover the shortfall. Increased demand in the fall by farmers to dry crops and artic cold snaps drained all the storage by early winter and the pipelines cannot catch up with the increased winter demand.

Residential demand represents almost 60 % of total consumer propane sales and average residential propane use per customer has been declining due to improvements in energy efficiency and conservation. Most of the demand for propane is in the winter, though propane’s share of the residential space heating market has been falling since 2007. Much of the loss is due technology improvements in electric heat pumps. New generation heat pumps are much more efficient than older units. In addition to improved operating characteristics at low temperatures, the heat output from new heat pumps has increased, improving the comfort they deliver. Equipment reliability and lifespan also have been improved, so more heat pumps have sold than propane heaters. In addition, geothermal heat pumps are spreading to markets that were too cold for conventional heat pumps to be effective.

These factors have combined to reduce the domestic market for propane. After peaking in 2003, nationwide consumer propane demand fell by more than 10 % through 2006. Although propane demand rebounded in 2007 and 2008 due to colder weather, propane consumption continued to decline in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Total consumer propane sales declined by more than 17 % between 2009 and 2012. Propane demand fell by 3% in 2011 and 11% percent in 2012. According to the U.S. Department of Energy the declines in 2011 and 2012 were due primarily to much warmer than normal weather and conservation. So pipelines were diverted and storage was not increased. We as a nation were ill prepared to respond to the surge in demand that happened this winter. Overall, there is plenty of propane, just not where you need it and when you want it. So, it’s 64 degrees in my office and 61 degrees in my home gym.
forecast for propane demand from May 2013

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Don't Frack the Potomac Watershed

The 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest sits on the eastern portion of the Marcellus shale formation. Now, as reported in the L.A. Times and Washington Post, the U.S. Forest Service is deciding whether to open up the national forest to oil and gas leases allowing hydraulic fracking at the source of the Potomac River, the lifeblood of our region. The Forest Service proposes to revise the 1993 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Forest. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement on file, describes seven alternatives and the Forest Service has identified Alternative G as the Agency’s Preferred Alternative. This alternative as can be seen in the chart below would allow further development of the oil and gas resources in the Forest. This should not happen at this time.
from US Forest Service
The Potomac is the major source of drinking water for more than 4 million people, and the headlands and watershed are within the eastern edge of the forest along the edge of the Marcellus shale formation. The entire Chesapeake Bay region is under a mandated pollution diet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is considering allowing activities that could increase sediment runoff and potentially release pollution to the Potomac River.

The Washington Aqueduct Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fairfax County Water Authority and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission furnish about 95% of the metropolitan region's water from the Potomac River. For more than two centuries the waters of the Potomac seemed unlimited, but regional growth, pollution and drought proved that was not true. Congress created the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, ICPRB, to address the pollution of the river, but now their primary job is to manage the allocation of the Potomac’s Waters especially in times of drought. The idea of diverting millions of gallons of water to be used in hydrofracking and even the smallest risk of pollution to the river from spills and leaks is an unacceptable risk to the water supply for the region.

Drilling requires large amounts of water to create a circulating mud that cools the bit and carries the rock cuttings out of the borehole. After drilling, the shale formation is then stimulated by hydro fracking, using 2-5 million gallons of water mixed with chemicals. For gas to flow out of the shale, all of the water not absorbed by the formation during fracking must be recovered and disposed of. Though less than 0.5% by volume, the proprietary chemicals used in fracking represent 15,000 gallons of unknown chemical compostion in the waste water recovered from the typical hydro fracking job. The chemicals serve to increases the viscosity of the water to a gel-like consistency so that it can carry the propping agent (typically sand) into the fractures to hold them open so that the gas can flow.

The oil and gas industry has failed to determine proper methods for the safe disposal of the large quantities of this fracking fluid that may also contain contaminants from the geological formation including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organic contaminants. This must be accomplished before even considering expanding fracking into important watersheds. In addition, the impact of so much waste water on our water resources must be monitored and addressed.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently engaged in a review of hydraulic fracking and that should be completed before fracking is further expanded into ecologically sensitive areas.

While geologists and engineers believe that in hydraulic fracturing the intervening layers of rock prevent a fissure from extending into the water table, they base this on the “typical” geology where there are thousands of feet between the water table and the fracking location and does not account for any potential impacts from human error or carelessness or on the hydraulic balance in a watershed. The problems seen in drinking water wells near hydro fracking jobs have typically occurred when fracking fluid seeps into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells and from accidental release or improper storage of recovered fracking fluid.

The oil and gas industry has outpaced regulators and knowledge of the consequences from forcing oil and gas from the earth. It is essential to determine the vertical and horizontal separation that is necessary to protect the drinking water aquifers and watersheds from the environmental impacts from fracking before watersheds are damaged or destroyed or the U. S. Forest Service allows vastly expanded development of oil and gas resources in the National Forests. The oil and gas will still be in the ground when we have more knowledge, then fracking can be expanded with increased oversight to ensure that this separation is maintained, improved well-design requirements are developed and ensure their consistent implementation and require the appropriate handling, treatment and recycling of drilling waste water.

The deep well injection commonly used in Texas to dispose of fracking water may have consequences beyond small earthquakes and is not appropriate in all geologies. Sewage treatment plants are designed to separate solids and use bacteria to treat biological waste. They are not equipped to remove or neutralize the contaminants in used hydro fracking fluid. In 2009 and 2010, public sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania directly upstream from drinking-water intake facilities accepted wastewater that contained radionuclides at levels hundred even thousands of times the drinking-water standard despite the fact that these plants (and most sewage plants) were exempt from monitoring for radiation. Local regulators and gas producers believed the waste was not a threat because it would be diluted by treatment in the sewage treatment plants or the river itself, without sampling to verify this. They guessed at the environmental impact and safety of the public drinking water supply. Water resources are primary to life, energy resources are secondary.

Finally, care must be taken to avoid degradation of watersheds and streams from the equipment, machinery and operation of the oil and gas industry as large quantities of heavy equipment and supplies are moved on rural roads and placed on concrete pads changing the runoff quantity, velocity and quality while exposing the watershed to potential sources of hydrocarbon contamination. The watersheds that supply the water that is the life of our region must be protected first and foremost. Over the years there have been reports from several states noting contamination of drinking water wells in association with fracking, though no definitive proof because of lack of adequate testing and difficulties in understanding groundwater, the full extent to which hydro fracking fluids have contaminated or might in the future contaminate groundwater is unknown. However, many cases of associated contamination have been confirmed.

The Potomac River is an irreplaceable source of drinking water for millions of people and should be protected. All of the Potomac River watershed needs to be designated by Congress as withdrawn from availability for oil and gas leasing until such time that we know how to ensure with certainty the availability and purity of the Potomac.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline Update

On Friday, January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the eleven volume Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. If you recall, back on May 4th 2012 TransCanada Corporation made a new application for a Presidential Permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL Pipeline after the Department of State rejected their original 2008 application in January 2012. At the time, the Department of State was under a deadline imposed by Congress and rejected the application because of inadequate time to determine the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline.

TransCanada Corporation turned around and on May 4th 2012 announced a new application for a Presidential Permit to build the northern most section of the Keystone XL pipeline (Phase IV) from the Canadian Border from where Saskatchewan meets Montana using a route that would cross South Dakota and a route (that would be determined later) to cross Nebraska and meet up with the Keystone Phase II which runs from Steel City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma. On January 22, 2013 Governor Heineman of Nebraska signed the recommendation to the U.S. Department of State for a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the international border after the Nebraska state regulators recommended approval of the revised route selected (with their guidance) for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

There is currently a pipeline Keystone I that runs east from Hardesty Saskatchewan to Manitoba and then south through the Dakotas to Steel City, Nebraska. It is a less direct route and is a lower volume pipeline. Keystone II runs from Steel City to Cushing, Oklahoma at the Oklahoma storage facilities. Keystone III running from the Cushing Oklahoma to the Nederland, Texas began delivering crude oil from Cushing, OK, to the oil refineries in Texas on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. The Gulf Coast Project, Keystone III, did not require a Presidential Permit because it does not cross an international border.

I did not review the 11 volumes of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. I read the 38 page Executive Summary and though I spent a large portion of my professional career preparing and reviewing environmental reports, my eyes glazed over at reading more than the executive summary. Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.” In other words, no matter what action the Administration chooses to take on this portion of the pipeline-approve, reject, or stall- the oil sands are not staying in the ground in Canada. There is world demand for heavy crude oil and it will be met. The Texas refineries are optimized for heavy crude either from South America or Canada. The crude oil will come by pipeline, boat, and truck or rail road.

There is strong opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. However, as the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement argues the pipeline will not determine if the oil sands resources in Canada will be mined. To account for uncertainties about oil production, consumption, and transportation, the Environmental Impact Statement modeled 16 different scenarios that combine various supply-demand assumptions and pipeline constraints. Under most scenarios examined in the report whether or not the pipeline is built had limited impact on development of the oil sands. Oil sands production and development will slow or accelerate depending on oil price trends, regulations, and technological developments. The Canadian oil sands have been known for decades, but until oil prices rose and technology improved these oil deposits were too expensive to exploit beyond the limited scope of surface mining. Advances in technology in both oil sand extraction and refining techniques and rising oil prices altered the economics and have made the extraction of oil sand possible. While the advances in extraction techniques have quadrupled recoverable oil reserves and moved Canada into second place in proved world oil reserves, it requires more energy to produce the oil and increases the carbon footprint of the crude as compared to fracked light sweet crude from Montana.

Now that the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is complete the Presidential Permit review process will now focus on whether the Keystone XL Pipeline serves our national interest. The Department of State is opening a 30 day comment period on February 5, 2014 where members of the public and other interested parties can submit comments on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Though under the executive order currently in place, Secretary Kerry is empowered to make the final decision, the next step requires consideration of: energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations and issues. During this time, the Department will consult with, at least, the eight agencies identified in the executive order: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, TransCanada’s proposed pipelines to Canada's West Coast, the Northern Gateway, would carry crude oil from Alberta to the Pacific port of Kitmat, for export to Asia is also facing opposition from environmentalists and the aboriginal Yinka Dene Alliance and Coastal First Nations. TransCanada is also moving forward with an east-west pipeline, the Energy East Pipeline project. The Energy East Pipeline project would convert a redundant 1,864 mile portion of the TransCanada's Canadian Mainline natural gas distribution pipeline to a crude oil pipeline and build the additional 870 miles of new pipeline to reach the port in Saint John, New Brunswick. This pipeline has more public support after the Lac-Mégantic train disaster that killed 47 and obliterated sections of the town last year and the incident this month when 19 cars derailed in New Brunswick.

The cylindrical DOT-111 rail cars used to transport oil have come under scrutiny in recent years for some of their design flaws. Last month the Canadian Minister of Transport announced proposed regulatory amendments to improve the safety of transporting oil by rail. She announced plans to alter DOT-111 regulations, requiring that all new cars be built with thicker steel, include a reinforced top fitting, and a head protection shield to lessen the risk of puncture. The new regulation does not require that older tank cars be retrofitted to come into line with new regulations, but that is expected to happen gradually. DOT-111 tank cars are non-pressurized, cylindrical railcars designed to transport a variety of liquids. They are also the most common tank cars in service with an estimated 265,000 of them operating in Canada and the United States.