Abracadabra – Water from Thin Air!

Technologies are now available which can create water from air – or so they say.  The idea may not be so far-fetched. After all, clouds are merely water vapor floating in the sky. But is this technology viable? Can the sky’s moisture really be harnessed in quantities large enough for human consumption? Let’s take a look.

abracadabra-pix

About a decade ago an Australian man, Max Whisson, garnered a lot of attention for his wind powered machine which could produce water from air. His contraption, initially called the “Whisson Windmill”, harnessed wind to turn vertically aligned blades on his uniquely designed windmill. The turning blades were cooled with refrigerant and had a special coating applied which allowed the condensate (water) to run-off the blades and be collected.  Whisson claimed his machine could produce 2600 gallons of water from the air per day.1

Some people discounted Whisson’s claims and calculations. On the “SkepticForum” website, blogger “Major Malfunction” contested Whisson’s production estimates of “around 7,000 liters per day, even in a light breeze”.2 Using math “which a 16-year-old school kid should be capable of doing in a matter of minutes”, Major Malfunction showed Whisson was off by three orders of magnitude in his production calculations.3

The skeptical blogger may have been onto something. In spite of the flurry of press Whisson received for his invention, he apparently never got any financial backing to bring his idea to fruition. The website related to his patented invention, MAX WATER at “waterunlimited.com” essentially goes nowhere and doesn’t provide any useful information. However, there is a wiki site (PESwiki.com) that offers some additional insight on Whisson’s patents and provides a listing of 2007 news reports on his windmill idea.4

Another water-from-air technology which made US headlines in 2006 is called AquaMagic. Jonathan Wright and David Richards developed “a machine that filters air, condenses the moisture in it, purifies the water and then dispenses it from a spigot on the side” of a trailer. 5 Their intention was to “help first responders and emergency personnel get the hydration they need to do their jobs” at large-scale events, such as Hurricane Katrina.6 The inventors toured 183 cities within the hurricane zone of the United States and also went to South Africa to see if there machine would work well in that environment.7

The AquaMagic machine is pricey with machines staring at $35,000. While they can produce about 120 gallons (1,000 16 oz bottles) of water per day, they use 50 gallons of diesel fuel during the process, making this technology less sustainable than Whisson’s Windmill which solely relies on wind power.8 Scientists and Public Health professionals pointed out that while the AquaMagic machine does have merit, “there are cheaper and easier ways to provide large-scale water purification if cleanliness is the main issue.”9

A broader online review of water-from-air technology shows very few viable options. Most of the designs referenced on the web went to non-functioning websites or broken links. The assumption being these ideas never got any traction. (See “The Conscious Media Network” referencing designs by airwatercorp.com, vapaire.com, globalrainbox.com and others.10)

However, could we have stumbled upon a new conspiracy theory? Maybe the designs were so innovative the patents were bought by international corporate water interests and squashed in perpetuity to maintain a worldwide strangle-hold on water markets. After all, financial projections for the bottled water industry expect the demand to reach $279.65 billion US dollars by 2020.11 Sounds almost believable, doesn’t it?

As it stands now, the only water-from-air technology which seems to have a current market is manufactured by Aqua Sciences of Florida. Their technology runs air over a salt compound which attracts and binds water molecules. A “proprietary hygroscopic water extraction process” removes the salt concentrate from the liquid to create pure water.12

A quick review of the Aqua Sciences website reveals award-winning technology which was field tested during the disastrous Haitian earthquake in 2010 and also in the Saudi Arabian deserts. Their website implies a contract with the US Military on their “Our Products” page and boasts of coverage by major television networks such as Fox News, CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Could Aqua Sciences really be a viable and scalable option to pull water from the sky? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. While the Aqua Sciences website is still up and running, the most recent online news seems to be from 2015. Wonder if they’ll be bought out by global water interests too?

References

  1. Josh Clark “Why can’t we manufacture water?” Posted 2 November 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. Accessed 6 February 2017
  2. The Skeptic Forums Society. “Whisson’s Windmill” blog by “Major Malfunction.” Posted 11 June 2007. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Munsey, Andrew (editor). “Directory: Max Whisson’s Gust Water Trap Apparatus.” Posted 14 June 2016. PESWiki.com. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  5. Struglinski, Suzanne. “Make water out of air? Utahn goes with the flow” Posted 1 October 2006. Deseretnews.com. Accessed 7 February 2017.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Tresnor, Jules (web master). “The Conscious Media Network.” Posted 2007. Tesla3.com “Human > Water from Air”. Accessed 7 February 2017
  11. Transparency Market Research. “Bottled Water Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2016 – 2024.” Posted 13 October 2016. transparencymarketresearch.com. Accessed 7 February 2017
  12. “Aqua Sciences – Global Leader in Atmospheric Water Generation” Posted 2015. com. Accessed 7 February 2017

Cow-tastrophe in the Making – Environmental Impacts of the Cattle Industry.

Years ago I remember reading reports on the connection between the cattle industry and global warming.  The articles spoke about how cow flatulence (cow farts) produced excessive amounts of methane, one of the worst gases contributing to global warming.  I dismissed the stories mainly because the reporters’ irreverent slants on cow farts impacting our atmosphere seemed laughable.  Now I’m not so sure.

Recently I watched the document “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and was shocked by some of the information revealed. I’ve watched many, many documentaries and have been involved in the environmental movement for decades, but Andersen’s movie left me with an immediate visceral impact. If true, the cattle industry is one of the leading causes of not only climate change but habitat destruction, water pollution and other impending ecological crises.

How could I have missed this HUGE ominous impact to our global ecosystem? Was I living under a rock? I had to know more.

I set to work researching peer-reviewed scientific information on the environmental impacts of this industry. I wish I could report Andersen’s movie was off-base but I can’t. In fact, the information I found was personally devastating. It immediately made me question some of my own behaviors which may be having a bigger impact on the environment than I could ever imagine.  After years and years of conserving, recycling and being an environmental advocate, it seems my good intentions have been short sighted.

Recently, my blogs have been focusing on water use and contamination issues from hydraulic fracking.  I know the fracking industry uses a huge amount of water – 100 billion gallons of water every year in the US – but I was shocked by Andersen’s disclosure that animal agriculture uses 34 TRILLION gallons of water annually in the US – 340 times that of fracking! WOW!

He points out that our personal (domestic use) of water in the US accounts for only 5% of the total water use but agriculture uses 55% of all the water in the economy. Yet all the conservation efforts proposed by the EPA and other groups are focused on getting us to reduce our personal consumption of water. Clearly the focus needs to be elsewhere.

Recent attention has been given to the concept of “embedded water” which is the hidden water needed to create a product. A National Geographic website page called “The Hidden Water We Use” reveals that 1,799 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef. This figure includes 6.6 pounds of grain for feed plus irrigation water, 36.2 pounds of roughage or grasses for feed plus irrigation water and 18.6 gallons of water for drinking and processing per pound of beef.

According to the Home Water Works Organization website, the average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts 8.2 minutes.  If we assume a quarter pound burger uses 450 gallons of water, then just one burger is equivalent to almost one month of daily showers. What an eye-opener!

Consider the larger impact on our globe. McDonalds sells 6,480,000 burgers per day world-wide. If we assume they are all quarter pound patties, then 2.9 billion gallons of water have been used to produce this daily allotment. Now multiply that by all the other burger chains and restaurants selling hamburgers. Now add the steakhouses… Get the picture?  It’s the domino effect on our water supplies.

Clearly our conservation focus should also be on our food consumption habits and not just our home. I’m not saying don’t conserve water at home. Let’s face it, wasting water is wasting water. There’s no need for it. However, if we can make a greater impact on protecting our water resources by changing our diet, isn’t it worth it? Especially when almost all nutritionists purport that a plant based diet is better for our health and is also environmentally sustainable, unlike cattle production.

Of course the water resource issue of the cattle industry is just one small piece of the bigger environmental puzzle. I encourage you to watch Kip Andersen’s “Cowspiracy” documentary for some startling conclusions to this controversy. You can stream it on Netflix or purchase it online.

Also, consider downloading the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options” (2006). This information is too important not to know.

What if by changing our diet we could nip climate change in the bud? Would you do it?

Aquifer Exemptions – the Legal Way to Pollute Groundwater

There is a little known provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA) called an “Aquifer Exemption” that allows oil, gas and mining industries to legally impact groundwater – including some aquifers set aside for drinking water.  While these industries have purported to install wells and perform activities with no leakage and permanent protection, in truth, nothing is ever permanent. Seals and casings can and will fail over time and begin impacting some of the more pristine aquifers the wells may already penetrate. How did this risky loophole get placed into the SDWA?? A quick look at history may be our guide.

In 1974 America was going through an energy crisis. The OPEC oil nations sanctioned an oil embargo which stopped the US in her tracks. People “frequently faced around-the-block lines” at gas stations when filling-up.1 Gas guzzling V-8’s and V-6’s were the standard American-made cars.

During the same time period, the country was suffering from self-inflicted environmental degradation. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, published in 1962, brought the dangers of prolific pesticide use to light and initiated a grass roots movement to save the environment. By the early 1970’s, several legislative Acts focusing on protecting the environment were created. One of these was the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974.

The goal of the SDWA was to “ensure the purity of the water we consume.”2 However in light of the energy crisis, “Congress added language to the Act mandating the EPA not “interfere with or impede” oil and gas production unless it is “absolutely essential” in order to protect underground sources of drinking water.”3

To accommodate the Congressional mandate, the EPA developed a set of regulations for Underground Injection Control (UIC) in 1980. The UIC regulations included provisions for an “Aquifer Exemption” program which “allows water that would otherwise be defined as a source of drinking water to be exempted from the prohibition on injection.”4 Aquifer Exemptions were deemed necessary for the oil and gas industry to continue exploration.5 For every barrel of oil produced, 15 barrels of oil wastewater is generated and the easiest way to dispose of it is by underground injection.6

The original goal of the Aquifer Exemption program was to identify aquifers or portions of aquifers that are exempt from the definition of an Underground Source of Drinking Water (USDW); develop rules for EPA review and approval and describe delineation procedures for exempted aquifers.7 However, what has resulted over the last 36 years is a mish-mash of state Aquifer Exemption programs with limited Federal oversight allowing the oil and gas industry as well as the uranium mining industry to freely pollute drinking water aquifers.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation found “Federal officials have given energy and mining companies’ permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.”8 Their investigation cited worrisome examples in Wyoming, California, Texas and Denver.

The travesty behind some of these examples is that Aquifer Exemptions are being allowed in areas where underground aquifers are at a premium. For example, some drought-stricken communities in Texas are so desperate for water they are looking to treat brackish water to make it potable and the cities of San Antonio and El Paso are considering building desalinization plants to supply drinking water. At the same time, environmental officials have “have granted more than 50 exemptions for waste disposal and uranium mining” in Texas.9 A similar situation has played out in California. Areas with the greatest need for groundwater are the same ones where underground injections of oil wastewater have been allowed.10

The misuse of the Aquifer Exemption program has been repeatedly brought to light in recent years.  The issue became so controversial that the General Accounting Office (GAO) was tasked to do a report for Congress. The GAO report found 1) EPA “safeguards do not address emerging underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids” and therefore may not “fully protect underground drinking water”11; 2) “EPA is not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities”12; 3) “EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations”; 4) the data EPA collects is “not reliable”, meaning complete or comparable on a national basis13 and probably most frightening  5) the EPA has not incorporated state requirements and changes into federal regulations and “may not be able to enforce all state program requirements”14 In other words the EPA would have a hard time preventing individual states from doing what they are currently doing.

Even more telling are the sheer numbers of class II underground injection wells in some states. As of 2012, Texas had 52,977 class II wells, California had 49,783, Kansas had 16,965, Oklahoma had 11,134 and there are thousands in many other states. While only a small number of these wells have Aquifer Exemptions, the primary concern for any injection well over the long term is leakage and cross contamination of aquifers. In spite of what well-drillers might say, no well cap, casing or seal is permanent. Time always gets its way and when it does, we better be ready.

 

References:

  1. Myre, Greg. “Gas Lines Evoke Memories of Oil Crises In The 1970s”, NPR 10 November 2012, Web. 13 December 2016.
  2. Agee, James L. “Protecting America’s Drinking Water: Our Responsibilities Under the Safe Drinking Water Act”, EPA Journal, March 1975, EPA Archives. Web. 12 December 2016.
  3. Thorp, Lynn W. and Noël, John. “Aquifer Exemptions: Program Overview and Emerging Concerns”, Journal American Water Works Association, 107:9, September 2015, p. 53.
  4. Ibid, p. 53.
  5. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  6. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx Media. No date. Web. 14 November 2016.
  7. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  8. Lustgarten, Abrahm. “Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply”, ProPublica Inc. 12 December 2012. Web 12 December 2016.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. General Accounting Office. “Drinking Water – EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated With Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement” GAO-14-555. July 2014.
  12. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  13. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  14. Ibid, GAO Highlights.

What to do with Fracking Wastewater?

Wastewater from hydraulic fracking has been in the news quite a bit lately and not for good reason.  Concerns over wastewater injections creating or inducing earthquakes and contamination from chemicals in fracking wastewater are a growing concern.

In mid-November, Uproxx.com released a story about wastewater from oil production being sold to drought-stricken California farmers in Kern County at a discount for use on food crops.1 The main concern is the chemicals in the wastewater are considered “proprietary.” Therefore no one really knows what chemicals are being applied to our foods and whether or not they are making their way into the food chain.  Since California grows 40% of our nation’s food should we be concerned?

Andrew Grinberg, Special Project Manager at Clean Water Action, considers the application of oil wastewater on Kern County crops a “chemical experiment on our food supply.”2 Adam Scow, California Director of Food and Water Watch, believes “it’s a bad idea to use water contaminated with chemicals, such as benzene, on crops and to recharge groundwater.”3 This practice has apparently been going on for 20 years.

This isn’t the first time the oil and gas industry has been under scrutiny in California.  In 2015, the California’s Department of Conservation, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources came under fire because they “inadvertently allowed oil companies to inject wastewater — from fracking and other production operations — with high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, into hundreds of wells in protected aquifers, a violation of federal law.”4 The EPA found this oversight of the Safe Drinking Water Act “shocking”.5

In Oklahoma and southern Kansas underground wastewater injections from hydraulic fracking processes have been linked to earthquakes.  A Forbes.com article noted “some areas in north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas now have hazards from fracking-related induced earthquakes that are similar to parts of California where earthquakes are caused by natural tectonic forces like plate collisions and volcanism.”6

Residents of those two states have responded to the tremors by purchasing earthquake insurance. Insurance purchases in Oklahoma are “up 500% from just five years ago in 2011.”7 Unfortunately coverage of man-made earthquakes is a grey-area for many insurance companies. So it’s best to do some digging and confirm any policy or endorsement covers earthquakes resulting from fracking activities.8

The oil and gas industry is the Titan of the American economy. For every barrel of oil produced, 15 barrels of wastewater are created.9 Given the immense volumes of oil, gas and the resulting wastewater produced, it is imperative we find better solutions for disposal. We can’t continue to pretend that current techniques aren’t impacting the environment. Clearly they are and its time for a change.

 

References

  1. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016. Web. 6 December 2016.
  2. Uproxx Reports. “Oil Wastewater”- video. Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016. Web. 6 December 2016.
  3. Uproxx, Ibid.
  4. Cart, Julie. “Lawmakers grill state oil regulators on oversight failures.” Los Angeles Times. 10 March 2015. Web. 6 December 2016.
  5. Cart, Ibid.
  6. Conca, James. “Thanks To Fracking, Earthquake Hazards in Parts of Oklahoma Now Comparable To California.” Forbes Media LLC. 7 September 2016, Web. 6 December 2016
  7. Conca, Ibid.
  8. Hickman, Bobby. “Fracked! Are you covered for man-made earthquakes?” com. Quinnstreet Inc. 10 May 2012. Web. 6 December 2016
  9. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016.

“Protein Gets Out Protein”

Do you remember the Era Plus detergent commercial from 1987 which touted the use of protein as an ingredient to help get out protein stains like grass and food? Essentially what they were saying is “like dissolves like.”  Even though water is known as the “universal solvent” because it has both a positive and negative charge, there are some things water simply won’t dissolve, like oils and grease.

So why am I mentioning it? Fracking is occurring at alarming rate around the country. The process uses a water-based concoction of chemicals to force oil and natural gas out of tight shale formations. If oil and water don’t mix then what are the chemicals they include to help extract the oil from the formation? Well most of the oil companies will tell you that’s “proprietary” information – meaning they it’s a trade secret and they don’t have to tell you.

Dr. Dave Healy of the University of Abedeen, U.K. noted in a July 2012 study that while there isn’t a lot of peer reviewed scientific research into the potential environmental impacts of fracking, he believes “there are potentially significant risks from the nature and fate of the fluids used in the drilling and fracturing processes as well as the effects of the natural gas released.”

The FracFocus online chemical disclosure registry states “although there are dozens to hundreds of chemicals which could be used as additives, there are a limited number which are routinely used in hydraulic fracturing.”  On their website they list 58 chemicals commonly used in hydraulic fracking.1 Some of these are petroleum distillates or oil derivatives that act as “carrier fluids” or lubricants to help transport materials into or out of the wellbore; essentially they are petroleum products which help get out petroleum products.

Petroleum distillates are a class of hydrocarbon solvents which include mineral spirits (paint thinners), kerosene, naphtha (used in moth balls), and Stoddard solvent (dry cleaning solvent). They are controversial among environmental and water advocates because of known or suspected health impacts. Naphtha, for example, may have chemical components which are carcinogenic or teratogenic such as benzene and toluene.

Do these chemicals sound like anything you’d like deliberately pumped into the ground under high pressure?

References:

  1. Healy, Dave. “Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts”. University of Aberdeen, UK. July 2012.
  2. “What Chemicals are Used?” FracFocus. No date. Web. 27 November 2016.

Is Fracking America’s Crack Cocaine?

Most of us know the horrors of crack cocaine addiction.  Many of our jails, half-way houses and streets are filled with people who cannot get enough of this dangerous drug. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) website reports “a person can become addicted after his or her first time trying crack cocaine.” Users quickly develop a tolerance for the drug and need more and more to sustain their high. They often resort to all sorts of risky behaviors to obtain their drug of choice.1 Is America doing the same thing with its dependence on oil?

Gone are the easily accessible oil fields which fueled our nation in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Prolific reminders of their powerful influence scatter the country side with their rusted, iron bones. Abandoned oil and gas wells are everywhere.  NPR’s StateImpact website reported “There are probably around 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania. We know where just a slim fraction – probably four percent – of these wells are.”2 How many more are there across the country? No one knows for sure.

As America’s dependence on oil continues to grow, our nation engages in riskier and riskier behaviors to get its oil fix. No one can forget the havoc created by the Deepwater Horizons incident that began on April 20, 2010 and continued a full 6-months until September 19, 20103. That one spill delivered a toxic shock of 154,000,000 gallons of crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico.4 According to a BBC.com news story released November 15th, 2016, “researchers in Louisiana have discovered traces of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the feathers of birds eaten by land animals.”5 In other words, oil has entered the Gulf’s food chain.

Our insatiable thirst for oil has led us to create some controversial technological cures to support our habit – fracking being the main one. Conflicting health and environmental reports are everywhere. It should come as no surprise that a recent comprehensive report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute (API) by Catalyst Environmental Solutions plainly stated it found “Quantitative Support for EPA’s Finding of No Widespread, Systemic Effects to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing.”6 Yep, as the title suggests and the US EPA has reported there’s no drinking water impact from fracking!7 Seems a little unbelievable to me.

Also released this month was a report prepared by two groups of physicians the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social Responsibility with completely different results. Their document titled “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)”8 highlights several public health concerns. Their article reviews the “scientific literature available from 2009-2015—which… included 685 peer reviewed papers—69 percent of original research studies on water quality found potential for, or actual evidence of, water contamination; 87 percent of original research studies on air quality found elevated air pollutant emissions; and 84 percent of original research studies on human health risks found signs of harm or indication of potential harm.”9

Doesn’t it make you wonder how the EPA did their assessment? 

 

References:

  1. Patterson, Eric, “Crack Abuse”; Drug Abuse. No date. Web. 19 November 2016
  2. “Perilous Pathways: The Danger Of Drilling Near Abandoned Wells”; StateImpact NPR. No date. Web. 19 November 2016
  3. “Deepwater Horizon oil spill”; Wikipedia. no date. Web. 19 November 2016.
  4. Gill, Victoria, “BP Deepwater Horizon oil in land-animal food chain”; BBC News.  16 November 2016. Web. 19 November 2016.
  5. Ibid, Gill.
  6. “Quantitative Support for EPA’s Finding of No Widespread, Systemic Effects to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing”; report for American Petroleum Institute by Catalyst Environmental Solutions, November 2016.
  7. “U.S. EPA. Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft)”. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015.
  8. “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)”, compiled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, Fourth Edition, November 17, 2016.
  9. Ibid, p. 4