Don’t Drop that Straw !

Earth Day effort exposes plastic straws as a scourge


Young Spanish boy drinking milk with a straw : Stock Photo








Straws are among the pieces of plastic that litter Chicago beaches, cleanups have found. 
Straws are convenient for stirring cocktails or coffee, slurping down sodas and popping holes in juice boxes. But the small pieces of plastic can add up to a big problem for the environment.
In honor of Earth Day on Saturday, Shedd Aquarium is launching the “Shedd the straw” campaign to raise awareness that single-use plastic straws litter beaches, pollute lakes and rivers, and harm the animals that live in them.

The effort is one of several conservation activities planned across the Chicago area this weekend, including cleaning up neighborhood parks, vacant lots and the viaducts below The 606 trail.
Straws are among the many items — including water bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts — that pollute Chicago’s beaches and waterways.

About 87 percent of the more than 40,000 pounds of trash picked up at beaches by volunteers last year throughout the Great Lakes region was plastic, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Cleanup events by residents help build a culture of care and stewardship that can continue past Earth Day, said Stephanie Smith, the alliance’s vice president of operations. The group has organized Adopt-a-Beach cleanups for Saturday, as it does year-round, to help keep the shoreline healthy and litter-free. Also on Saturday, Friends of the Chicago River is pitching in to clean up the river on a canoe trip in Evanston.
“Our individual practices can shift as a result of being involved,” Smith said, such as using reusable water bottles or requesting drinks without straws.
At two cleanups last year, Shedd volunteers collected more than 400 plastic straws and stirrers at 12th Street and 63rd Street beaches in Chicago. Straws, which are made of a petroleum byproduct called polypropylene mixed with colorants and plasticizers, are not biodegradable, according to the Shedd.
“We use (a straw) for a short period, and it’s out of our hands and ends up in a landfill or as litter,” said Jaclyn Wegner, Shedd’s manager of conservation partnerships and programs. “Looking at how we can change our daily habits to protect our animals around us is a priority.”
The aquarium, which no longer uses plastic straws or lids for beverages at its cafes, is urging people to turn down straws at restaurants and switch to reusable glass or metal straws or biodegradable alternatives like paper straws.
Shedd has partnered with a dozen Chicago-area restaurants to go straw-free Saturday.  At the Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, that policy will continue beyond Earth Day, said co-owner Sarah Stegner. The restaurant will no longer offer plastic straws but will provide paper straws to customers upon request, she said. On the back of the card listing the restaurant’s dining specials will be an explanation of the Shedd’s initiative.
The aquarium approached the restaurant about participating in the campaign, which is similar to other initiatives across the country. An estimated 500 million disposable straws are used daily in the U.S., a figure provided by nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle based on information from straw manufacturers.
“The numbers are staggering,” Stegner said. “If I can make a little difference, I want to do that.”
Stegner said she saw a viral YouTube video of a sea turtle getting a plastic straw extracted from its nostril, showing the impact straws can have on marine life.
“It’s something we just don’t think about,” she said. “Now we’ve been made aware of it, we have to do the right thing.”

Goverment Twists Fracking Report


Image result for photos fracking


EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

Restoring Wild Habitat Here

Restoration boosting turtles, other wildlife

Nonprofit, scientists work together  to benefit several riverbank habitats

A great blue heron sits on a branch this week at the Skokie Lagoons nature preserve in Glencoe. Friends of the Chicago River worked on 8 acres there. (GARY MIDDENDORF/DAILY SOUTHTOWN)

By Patrick M. O’Connel   Chicago Tribune  11.26.16

A collaboration between a nonprofit group and forest preserve scientists aims to boost the area turtle population, while also benefiting bats, ospreys and riverbank habitats throughout the Chicago region.

While projects to help native species have been ongoing for decades, an effort led by Friends of the Chicago River has led to immediate improvements in turtle nesting areas in Cook County’s wetlands and woods.

“I’m thrilled out of my mind,” said Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

By clearing forest lands of invasive plants such as buckthorn — which choke out native sedges, rushes and reeds and also block sunlight from reaching the ground — the group and the forest preserve have improved soil conditions in wetlands along the Chicago and Calumet rivers, essential land for turtles to lay their eggs.

Transmitters placed on turtles let scientists know that the animals were returning quickly to cleared native habitat. (ERIN HOOLEY/CHICAGO TRIBUNE )
 Turtles, including the snapping, painted, stinkpot and soft-shell varieties, need soft soil in protected, sunlit areas for successful nests, Anchor said. When the riverbank areas are under siege from invasive plants, the turtles are forced to find other open spaces, often along busy roads and trails. Those locations make the nests easy targets for predators such as raccoons and opossums, who lurk to eat the eggs, Anchor said.

Using an anonymous $750,000 gift, the Friends of Chicago River partnered with the forest preserve on a three-year effort to restore acres of land to native conditions. Since 2014, staff and volunteers have cleared about 78 acres of brush at area forest preserves.

Group members earlier this week worked on 8 acres at the Skokie Lagoons, near the East Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Friends also have worked clearing areas of Chipilly Woods south of Dundee Road in northern Cook County, Watersmeet Woods near Northfield, Wampum Lake Woods near Thornton and in the Sag Quarries area near Lemont.

The habitat restoration efforts improve the conditions of woods, prairie lands and wetlands, in addition to helping bats and osprey. As part of the project, the Friends and forest preserve have been building bat houses and platforms for ospreys, which are hawklike birds who often nest atop trees near rivers, creeks and lakes.

“We enable them to reproduce more successfully. That’s the foundation of the whole thing,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “What they’re lacking is actual maternity habitats. These are species that with relatively little intervention, we can help them.”

Berries are seen on a tree stump this week at the Skokie Lagoons nature preserve in Glencoe. (GARY MIDDENDORF/DAILY SOUTHTOWN)

The restoration project also has the trickle-down effect of helping attract butterflies and bees, while aiding storm runoff, Frisbie said.

The forest preserve has worked hand in hand with Friends and has aided the efforts with prescribed burns and additional brush clearings throughout the county. While Friends took part in a prairie seeding effort this week at Skokie Lagoons, Anchor said manual seeding after clearing is usually unnecessary. Many native wetland plants have hard-capsule seeds that can rest in the ground for 40 to 80 years, waiting for the appropriate time to grow.

“That’s the beautiful thing about the wetlands,” Anchor said.

Anchor, who has worked with the forest preserve since 1981, said this was a rare example of an organization following through on its idea, bringing muscle to the project in the form of dollars and manpower.

He said the restoration efforts at Chipilly Woods reaped nearly immediate dividends. Using a pair of turtle-tracking devices, Anchor discovered two female snapping turtles that had been laying eggs along Dundee Road quickly found the newly cleared native habitat in the woods and safely made nests.

“The response was immediate,” he said. “It was fantastic.”

Twitter @pmocwriter


Image result for photo suspicious face  Heard on the radio today:

There are are more subscribers on Facebook now than there were in the whole world 200 years ago.

Let’s check.

Number of people in the world year 1800:    913,000,000   source

Number of people on Facebook:   As of the third quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.79 billion monthly active users. In the third quarter of 2012, the number of active Facebook users had surpassed 1 billion. source

Fact-checking is a new industry, and so helpful !  Whenever a politician makes a speech, the checkers are on it immediately.  And they check everything–it’s fun to read.

Here is a list of fact-checking web sites for politics, hoaxes, scams, myths, conspiracies, etc.

Cooling Earth (and the way it used to be)

When our kids were kids, they were annoyed by my referring to our fridge as “ice box”.  I had that habit because when I was their age, we had in the kitchen a  box cooled by ice put in  at the top.  The melting ice cooled the contents of the box and the water had to be removed at the bottom.

The Lincoln Ice Company’s yellow truck came once a week.  The delivery man often gave us a piece of ice to suck. He handled the blocks of ice with tongs.

Much ice came from frozen lakes, stored in the summer  packed in straw.

The  Lake County museum has photos of harvesting ice from Diamond Lake with teams of horses.

Now we use refrigerators and air conditions releasing a gas that warms the planet.  RJN

Image result for photo antique ice boxImage result for photo ice delivery man with tongsImage result for photo ice delivery man with tongsImage result for photo ice delivery man with tongs

GOOD NEWS:    In “one giant swoop,” over 170 countries agreed to cut a planet-warming chemical used in air-conditioners and refrigerators   source

Negotiators from more than 170 countries on Saturday reached a legally binding accord to counter climate change by cutting the worldwide use of a powerful planet-warming chemical used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
The talks in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, have not drawn the same spotlight as the climate change accord forged in Paris last year. But the outcome could have an equal or even greater impact on efforts to slow the heating of the planet.


Walrus are Here!


Image result for photos walrus herd

Alaskan Town: Walruses Are Here, Now Stay Away

By Associated Press    Oct 14 2016 06:56 AM EDT

source  with VIDEO

Alaskan Town Awash with Walruses

A small town in Alaska urges tourists to stay away, as hordes of walruses invade the area. 

Instead of trying to attract visitors, Point Lay, a remote village on Alaska’s northwest coast, has begun a reverse tourism campaign urging people to stay away. 

In recent years, Pacific walrus by the thousands have come ashore in early fall near the Inupiat village of Point Lay, including about 6,000 last week. People have dropped by in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the marine mammal phenomenon brought on by climate change and disappearing summer sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.

However, the small town of 270 people has no hotel or restaurants and walruses are a major food source for the residents, not a curiosity. Disturbances by boats or airplanes can spook the animals into stampedes that crush the smallest walruses.

So Point Lay is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on an information campaign: Thanks for the interest, but please don’t stop by.

“They’ve had people come and had no place to accommodate them and they ended up having to tell the person to get back on the plane and head out,” said Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the agency in Anchorage. “I would imagine it’s a very awkward situation for them.”

The walrus can’t even be seen from the village.

“You have to travel across a cove to get to where the animals are,” Medeiros said. Visitors would need a ride from a resident and the trip can be hazardous.

“They’re actually on a barrier island,” she said.

In the September 2013 photo above, walruses gather to rest on the shores of the Chukchi Sea near the coastal village of Point Lay, Alaska.(Ryan Kingsbery/United States Geological Survey via AP)

Walrus started coming ashore on the northwest Alaska coast in 2007. In September last year, 35,000 packed a rocky beach near Point Lay. The carcasses of more than 130 mostly young walruses were counted after a stampede in September 2009 at Icy Cape.

Walrus prefer spreading out on sea ice, where they can monitor the approach of predators such as polar bears.

Many adult male walrus stay south of the Bering Strait year-round. However, females with calves stay on the edge of pack ice, where the young can rest as mothers dive for clams.

As the sea ice melts, the edge moves north, providing a moving platform over the shallow Bering and Chukchi seas.

In recent years, as Arctic temperatures have warmed, the edge of the sea ice has receded far to the north over water too deep for walrus to dive and reach the ocean bottom. Walrus have the choice of resting on ice over deep water or moving to shore, joined by thousands of other animals.

Remnant ice floating in the Chukchi gave walrus a safe platform this year until Friday, when about 6,000 of them came ashore near Point Lay. They appear to have since moved on, likely to Russia, Joel Garlich-Miller, a walrus biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a Tuesday statement.

Leo Ferreira, Point Lay Tribal Council president, in an interview with Sitka radio station KCAW last year urged the media to keep its distance and reacted angrily when a photographer flew near the walrus. He issued a statement Friday reiterating a “no media” policy while walrus are on shore.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with the Federal Aviation Administration to discourage airplanes from flying near walrus.

The agency also has received a two-year, $140,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help Point Lay.

The grant will pay to train Point Lay young people in photography, videography and film production that could be used on a website about walrus coming ashore. The goal is to keep people informed while warning them of the hazards and discouraging them from visiting.

The grant also will pay for villagers to monitor walrus coming ashore over about 50 miles of ocean beach, and to collect data including the age, sex and cause of any walrus deaths.

Walrus herds are just one change brought to Point Lay by climate change. The frozen ground on which the village is built is melting. Over the summer, soil weakened ground between a river and the lake where Point Lay drew water. A canal developed and drained the lake. The community has water in storage tanks that should last about a year, giving residents time to find a new water source.

Point Lay residents are trying to adapt.

Gar Will Control Carp?


Once-reviled fish seen as weapon against Asian carp

An Illinois state biologist holds an alligator gar collected during a lake sampling survey. The second-largest U.S. freshwater fish was mistakenly believed to hurt sport fish. (Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2015)

By Tammy Webber  Associated Press   Chicago Tribune 8.1.16

(Check article in Wikipedia.)

CHICAGO — It’s a toothy giant that can grow longer than a horse and heavier than a refrigerator, a fearsome-looking prehistoric fish that plied U.S. waters from the Gulf of Mexico to Illinois until it disappeared from many states a half-century ago.

Persecuted by anglers and deprived of places to spawn, the alligator gar — with a head that resembles an alligator and two rows of needlelike teeth — survived primarily in southern states in the tributaries of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico after being declared extinct in several states farther north. To many, it was a freak, a “trash fish” that threatened sport fish, something to be exterminated.

But the once-reviled predator is now being seen as a valuable fish in its own right and as a potential weapon against a more threatening intruder: the invasive Asian carp, which have swum almost unchecked toward the Great Lakes with little more than an electric barrier to keep them at bay. Efforts are now underway to reintroduce the alligator gar in the northern part of its old range.

“What else is going to be able to eat those monster carp?” said Allyse Ferrara, an alligator gar expert at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, where the species is relatively common. “We haven’t found any other way to control them.”

Alligator gar, the second-largest U.S. freshwater fish behind the West Coast’s white sturgeon, have shown a taste for Asian carp, which have been spreading and out-competing 

native fish for food. The gar dwarf the invaders, which themselves can grow to 4 feet and 100 pounds. The largest alligator gar caught was 81/2 feet and 327 pounds, though they can grow larger.

A mistaken belief that they hurt sport fish led to widespread extermination throughout the 1900s, when they were often shot or blown up with dynamite.

“Some horrible things have been done to this fish,” said Ferrara, adding that sport fisheries are healthier with gar to keep troublesome species like carp under control. “It’s similar to how we used to think of wolves; we didn’t understand the role they played in the ecosystem.”

Gar now are being restocked in lakes, rivers and backwaters — sometimes in secret locations — in several states. In May, Illinois lawmakers passed a resolution urging state natural resources officials to adopt regulations to protect all four gar species native to the state.

But the extent to which gar could control carp now is not well understood, and some people are skeptical.

“I don’t think alligator gar are going to be the silver bullet that is going to control carp, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Rob Hilsabeck, an Illinois biologist who says the best hope is that carp will sustain an alligator gar fishery to draw trophy hunters.

Others are more optimistic about the impact once the larger fish is established, which might require cutting notches in canals to give them access to spawning sites.

Asian carp reproduce more quickly, but alligator gar also grow fast: Alligator gar stocked in one Illinois lake six years ago already are more than 4 feet long.

Quinton Phelps, a Missouri state fish ecologist, said the only way to effectively control carp is when they’re smaller, before they can spawn, which is where alligator gar come in.

“There is potential for them to be a wonderful weapon, but it’s just potential right now,” he said.

One challenge is that huge gar could become a temptation for trophy fishermen, even before they’re old enough to spawn.

“It will be interesting to see if fishermen have enough integrity to pass up a 7-foot fish that’s 200 pounds,” said Christopher Kennedy, a Missouri fisheries supervisor who’s working on catch regulations. “We’d love to create a self-sustaining population that we can turn into a trophy fishery.”

Still, the fish has a public relations problem in some circles, including a boating group in Illinois, whose members recently questioned reintroduction efforts.

But avid angler Olaf Nelson, who in 2013 was the first to catch an alligator gar in Illinois in 50 years — a 2-footer in a stocked lake — said they’re important whether anyone wants to fish for them or not.

“They’re a natural part of the Illinois ecosystem,” he said.

– See more at:

Cats Go to Work on Rats


JOSE M. OSORIO/TRIBUNE   A feral feline adopted through Cats at Work, a rat-abatement program, patrols a Chicago yard.

Feral cats enlisted in urban rat battle
Humane Society program has wait list of 2-4 weeks
By Alexis Myers Chicago Tribune 4,8.16

   A year ago, it wasn’t unusual for Andrea Swank to look outside her Lincoln Park home and see hundreds of little rat footprints in the snow. This year she hasn’t seen a single track in her yard.   The difference? Swank took in three feral cats, and the results are indisputable.   “If I put a loaf of bread in my backyard, it would be untouched,” she said.   Tree House Humane Society created the Cats at Work program several years ago after the organization’s feral cats cleared out a Cicero business’s rat problem.

Now there are 500 feral cats in the program, and there is a wait list of two to four weeks.   “This is nature taking care of nature,” said Jenny Schlueter, director of development at the nonprofit Tree House. “It’s a whole lot safer for the environment and ends up being more cost-efficient over time in comparison to rat poison and other abatement traps.”  

Rats are to be expected in an urban area, but planned demolition projects like the former Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park and the Edgewater Medical Center, plus a warm winter, have residents concerned about an explosion in the rodent population.   According to the city of Chicago, 30,000 rat complaints were filed in 2015. As of April 7, 2015, 4,702 rat complaints were filed. By that same date this year, 7,618 rat complaints were filed.  

Some residents are hoping the feral cats may be the answer to the rising number of rat complaints.   “The cats have proven to be 100 percent effective,” said Paul Nickerson, the manager of the Cats at Work program. “They scare the rats away with their pheromones and natural predatorlike instincts.”  

Before any cats are sent to requested sites they are sterilized, vaccinated and spayed or neutered. All of the feral cats are micro-chipped and have a clipped ear to indicate they belong to someone and are not a threat to the community.   Last year 150 feral cats were adopted through the work program. Nickerson said he placed over 50 cats on the North Side last month, and more than 50 cats are patrolling Lincoln Park.   Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, has focused on reducing the rodent problem in her Lincoln Park neighborhood, especially in anticipation of the redevelopment of the hospital site, as well as other ongoing construction projects, such as the DePaul University music hall and the Lincoln Centre apartment building.   Smith said it will take the entire community doing its part to keep the rat problem at bay. 

  “This is an issue that is everybody’s responsibility,” Smith said. “The most effective thing on a systemic basis is to pick up after our pets, keep our dumpsters closed, have our trash and waste picked up frequently enough and to kill them.”  

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation has been baiting areas within two blocks of the former children’s hospital site.   But some residents don’t like the idea of rat baits and poison.   Swank said the last straw was when she tried to shoot a stick of poisonous gas that looked like a firecracker into a rat hole — she thought it was revolting and couldn’t do it.   “As a kid I had pet rats, I have huge respect for them,” she said. “They are doing what they are supposed to be doing. If we weren’t so filthy, there wouldn’t be so many.”   Swank said she is also concerned about rat poison leaking into the streets when it rains and how it might affect children and pets. She said she prefers a more organic approach.  

The Cats at Work program began in 2011 when businessman Howard Skolnik noticed rats running around his metal drum factory, Skolnik Industries. He reached out to Tree House about feral cats. Since then, he said, he hasn’t seen a single rodent, and the program has taken off.   “The outcome is excellent, we look at Max and King as employees at Skolnik; they have a job to do and as a result we take care of them,” Skolnik said. “It makes me happy to see Tree House’s mission being understood and implemented all across Chicago.” 

  “There’s been a lot of efforts put toward refocusing how people think about these cats,” Schlueter said. “They used to be considered just as much of a nuisance animal as the rats, and it didn’t occur to people that they can provide a service and have a role in the urban ecosystem. The more we have been able to emphasize that, the more it has been catching on.” 


JOSE M. OSORIO/CHICAGO TRIBUNE PHOTOS Victoria Thomas, of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, swears by Tree House Humane Society’s Cats at Work program.

  Although more people are open to the idea of using feral cats, not everyone approves of the program.   Nathaniel Miller, director of conservation at Audubon Chicago Region, said next to habitat loss, feral cats are a main contributor to bird mortality.   “It would be bad for birds in Chicago,” Miller said. “Starting now in the spring, we have hundreds of different species of birds migrating through. So places like Chicago are actually really important for birds in general, especially for migratory birds.”   Keri Lynch, of Ravenswood, lived in Uptown for 17 years and volunteered at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary every month. She has been a bird enthusiast for more than 20 years.   “I’m concerned about feral cats patrolling the streets,” Lynch said. “There’s so many birds to be seen in the city, I would hate to see them disappear.”   But Schlueter said there are a lot of misconceptions about feral cats. 

  “It’s important to realize these cats would prefer to hunt rodents rather than birds because they are easier to catch.   And part of Tree House’s mission is to give cats that would otherwise be euthanized a purpose. The group collects cats from Animal Control after other organizations select the more adoptable animals.  

Nickerson said acclimating the cats is the most important part of the resettlement process. When the cats realize where their main food source comes from and form bonds with the other cats, they want to stick around.   Feral cats are typically brought in pairs or in groups of three, said Nickerson, and are acclimated in oversized dog crates for three to four weeks. “Cats don’t usually like to share, so each cat gets his or her food and water dish, litter box and heated bed,” he said.   “Sometimes owners find dead rats outside of the cages before the cats are even released,” he said. “That’s how efficient these animals are.”  

“We have expectations for the caretakers, they are adopting these cats from us, so we expect them to provide ongoing care, food shelter and medical care as needed; we don’t want to give people the wrong impression that these are second-class kitties,” Schlueter said.   “Even when people are skeptical, we found that a lot of people are actually surprised of the bond that they form with these cats,” she said.   Two to three cats can be adopted from Tree House for $500 to $600, which includes feeding dishes, litter boxes, shelters and setup. 

  The organization prefers to relocate cats that know each together so they can form a colonylike bond, Schlueter said. This helps prevent them from running off.   In Lakeview, Victoria Thomas says her neighbor’s backyard was crawling with more than 400 rats a couple of years ago because of dog feces, and in two weeks the rats were gone thanks to three feral cats she adopted from Tree House.   “It was such a nightmare,” said Thomas. “But then when we got our cats, within a couple of weeks the rats stopped coming — it was instant, dead rats were everywhere.”   Thomas had to pay for new cats when her three ran off, but she said they’re worth every penny.   “When I have to think about what I went through before the cats, there’s no price tag on that,” she Twitter @alexisomyers

Employing feral cats to get rid of rats has its benefits, many agree, but critics point out that cats also hunt birds.


Salt, Ice to Store Solar Energy



Solar And Wind Energy May Be Nice, But How Can We Store It?

SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant, located near Tonopah, Nev., features an array of 10,347 mirrors arranged in a circle 1.75 miles across. A 640-foot-tall tower glows when the sun’s energy is concentrated and directed to the top.


Renewable energy like solar and wind is booming across the country as the costs of production have come down. But the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t blow when we need it to.

This challenge has sparked a technology race to store energy — one that goes beyond your typical battery.

Heat Storage: Molten Salt And A Giant Solar Farm

Batteries are often used to store solar power, but it can be a costly endeavor.

A company called SolarReserve may have found a solution: It built a large solar plant in the Nevada desert that can store heat from the sun and generate electricity for up to 10 hours even after sundown.

You can see the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant from miles away. There’s a 640-foot-tall tower surrounded by 10,347 mirrors. The heliostats, as they’re technically called, are arranged in a circle that is 1.75 miles across. They direct heat from the sun to the top of the tower, which glows white hot.

“This is really the first utility-size project of this type in the world,” says SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith.

Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve, stands in the control room of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant. “This is really the first utility-size project of this type in the world,” he says.  Jeff Brady/NPR

He says the key to the plant’s ability to store energy is molten salt. You can’t see this special kind of salt because it’s contained in a system of pipes and insulated storage tanks.

“It actually looks like water. It’s clear — it flows like water,” Smith says.

He says the molten salt has to remain above 450 degrees Fahrenheit to stay liquid. It’s sent up the tower to the glowing tip where it’s heated further. When the salt comes back down, it is 1,050 degrees.

The molten salt is used to make steam to power a generator. The facility can continue to produce electricity for up to 10 hours after the sun goes down. Smith says that flexibility is very important to the local utility.

Billboard-sized mirrors arrayed in a large circle follow the sun as it moves across the sky. The heliostats, as they’re known technically, direct the sun’s energy to the top of a tower.  Jeff Brady/NPR

“That’s the whole concept here is that this facility would operate just like a natural gas, or a coal or nuclear facility — turn us on and off when they want,” he says. “We have energy in storage so that we can generate at night.”

At full capacity, he says, the $997 million plant generates enough electricity to power 75,000 Nevada homes.

There was a problem with the plant briefly last year. During a test, observers recorded a video of birds flying into heat from the mirrors and being incinerated.

The plant is on federal Bureau of Land Management property, and the agency says the company fixed the problem by adjusting where mirrors are pointed at certain times. The BLM says biologists have documented fewer than five bird deaths a month since then.

The group Basin and Range Watch is suing the agency to get more detailed data biologists have collected.

Laura Cunningham, co-founder and executive director of Basin and Range Watch stands near her home in Nevada. Her group has taken legal action against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to learn more details about the number of bird deaths associated with Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant. Jeff Brady/NPR

Executive Director Laura Cunningham says she supports solar. “So we’re in a little bit of an unpopular position of trying to defend solar but then criticizing some solar,” she says. Cunningham says in addition to the bird issue she believes facilities like this should be built closer to where people live and away from wild areas.

Another issue with this plant is cost. The utility NV Energy is buying all the electricity from Crescent Dunes for the next 25 years at 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s much more than the same power would cost from a natural gas plant.

Smith says his company learned a lot from building this first project and he says subsequent plants will be cheaper. That’ll reduce the cost of electricity because once the plant is built, the fuel is free. The ability to store solar power will also add value to the plants.

“We really think we’ve cracked the code here with energy storage and we can take this technology and bring it worldwide,” Smith says.

SolarReserve expects to begin work soon on the company’s second solar plant with heat storage that will be built in South Africa.

Compressed Air: A Cheaper And Longer-Lasting Alternative To Batteries

The challenges of renewable energy are becoming apparent in California, where the state’s ambitious goals are driving a boom in solar power. Earlier this spring, there was so much electricity on the grid that solar companies were told to turn off their production.

To cope with the higher demand for power in the evening, electric utilities are being requiring to add energy storage to the grid, which would store the extra electricity that solar farms generate during the daytime.

One startup — LightSail Energy — experimented with compressed air.

Steve Crane of LightSail Energy in Berkeley, Calif., has developed energy storage technology that compasses air in large tanks, so it can generate electricity when needed.  Lauren Sommer/KQED

“So what you’re looking at really is best described as a giant scuba tank,” says Steve Crane, pointing to a 25-foot tank in the warehouse of his company, LightSail Energy in Berkeley, Calif.

A scuba tank is the inspiration for his technology, which compresses air.

“The electrical energy is hard to hold on to,” Crane says. “Compressed air is relatively easy to store for hours or even days.”

Here’s how it works: When there’s extra electricity, Crane turns on a giant air pump. It fills the tank, compressing the air by 200 times.

Then when electricity is needed, the air is released to drive an electric generator. The hard part has been dealing with all the heat this makes.

“Any air compressor that you use, even a bicycle pump, creates heat,” Crane says. “A bicycle pump will feel warm after you’ve used it for a while.”

Crane’s technology uses water to capture some of the heat, so the energy isn’t lost.

The technology is still in the early stages, but he says it could have an edge over batteries because it’s likely cheaper and lasts longer.

“If you have a laptop or cellphone, you know that after two to three years, you start to see significant deterioration,” he says.

Ice Energy: A Thermal Battery That Brings Down Electricity Demand

Traditionally, batteries store energy in chemical form, but a thermal “battery” uses temperature.

A California-based company is using the concept to build Ice Bear, a thermal energy storage unit that can both reduce energy demand and store energy during the night.

Greg Miller, executive vice president of Ice Energy, poses next to the “Ice Bear,” his company’s invention. The equipment cools down air conditioners in the day and stores energy at night.  Leigh Paterson/Inside Energy

An Ice Bear can save up energy in a 450-gallon tank of water, for example, by turning it into ice. That energy is used later on to cool down the building next door during the hottest time of the day and into early evening.

“So essentially what we’re doing is we’re shutting air conditioners off during the day, consuming energy at night and displacing that peak load for the utility company,” says Greg Miller, executive vice president of the company, Ice Energy.

Peak load refers to the time of day or year when we’re using the most electricity. In Fort Collins, Colo., that’s in the summer, between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Ice Bear brings down the total amount of electricity needed during those busy peaks.

In 2014, the company got its first big order from Southern California Edison for 25.6 megawatts of storage, which is around 1,800 Ice Bear units. The California utility won’t disclose how Ice Energy’s thermal storage stacked up to the other companies that also won storage contracts. Ice Energy also has a deal in process on the island of Nantucket, Mass.

In Colorado, there is an important limitation to Ice Bear’s technology. During winter, the demand for air conditioning is low, so there is no need for the Ice Bear’s services. Miller says that during cold months, the unit just sits idle.

The Ice Bear, unlike compressed air or molten salt storage, saves up energy for temperature control but can’t feed electricity back onto the grid.

But when temperatures soar in the summer, the Ice Bear goes to work.

More Monarchs !


On a sunny fall day in Glenview, the monarch migration came through our yard. For a few minutes the air was full of butterflies, thousands, and we walked among them as they fluttered around us, working south toward sanctuaries in Mexico mountains.


Monarch Butterfly Population Soars, Thanks To Conservation Efforts

Their population has increased, but more needs to be done.

In this close up, a monarch is seen feeding on the nectar of a penta flower at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.

Social butterflies, indeed.

The World Wildlife Fund has announced that upon the monarch butterflies’ return to its winter grounds — a cluster of mountain forests in Mexico City — last October, the population had increased dramatically over the past year.

The orange-and-black winged beauties are counted by the amount of area a rabble (their cute collective noun) covers. This year they have blanketed 10 acres of land — a huge jump from 2014 when they took up only 2.8 acres.

Monarch butterflies hang from a tree branch, in the Piedra Herrada sanctuary, near Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

“The good news coming from Mexico makes me enormously enthusiastic,” Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a press conference this week, according to CNN. “It indicated that we have the capacity to save the monarch butterfly of North America.”

Though this is a massive improvement from 2013, when the monarch butterfly population hit an all-time low at 1.66 acres according to The AP, 10 acres still isn’t as much as the population covered 20 years ago.

The milkweed plant.

According to World Wildlife Fund, in 1996, the iconic species occupied 45 acres. The decrease in population was due to unpredictable weather conditions, illegal logging in Mexico and a dwindling amount of milkweed — which is the only plant the insects use to breed and is the main source of food for their developing larvae.

During the butterflies’ annual 1,200 to 2,800 -mile migration from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico each year, butterflies breed along the way, and the journey south of the boarder is completed by their offspring which are dependent on milkweed. (The individual butterflies that fly south are not the ones that fly north.  rjn)

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed leaf.

According to The New York Times, 2015’s butterfly boost is due to a few conservation efforts. Profepa, an environmental watchdog in Mexico, has given farmers who live in a 140,000-acre reserve where butterflies travel, equipment to keep watch of illegal logging. The U.S. has also been trying to replace 7.5 million acres of milkweed by stopping the use of pesticides which kill it, or replanting it. The damaged area gained 250,000 acres of milkweed last year.

“But there is much more we need to do and it will take a coordinated citizen effort on a scale never before seen,” Discovery News quoted Ashe saying at the press conference.

He urges everyone to help, simply by planting milkweed, in order to reach the goal of 250 million monarchs by 2020.  (Must be milkweed native to the region where planted,   I learned that somewhere else.  rjn)

“A simple stand of native milkweed can make every backyard, school, community center, city park and place of worship a haven for breeding or migrating monarchs, and together we can bring about the greatest citizen conservation victory of our generation,” he said.

The iconic species is doing better, but they still need help.

If you want to help the monarch butterflies thrive, you can adopt a butterfly or join the World Wildlife Fund’s Monarch Squad, here.