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Plastic Bombastic Earth Day

Our world’s awash in plastic!

Texas is a big state covering a huge chunk of real estate.

The evening news recently reported an area of plastic, twice the size of Texas, floating in the ocean. Some of this plastic will last for hundreds of years, longer than our Nation is old! It will last for generations upon generations.

Today, Earth Day 2018, has been officially dedicated to this plastic disaster, so let’s look at our local picture...

What is Pennsylvania doing about it, taking a lead role in ridding the world of plastic? No, actually quite the opposite. The latest industrial revolution in Pennsylvania (and our tri-state area which includes Ohio and West Virginia) has gone gangbusters with drilling and fracking to create MORE PLASTIC.

   Large cryogenic plant in Washington County, Pa. used to separate gas liquids like ethane. This huge processing facility has continued to increase in size since this 2014 photo. Construction of multiple cryogenic gas processing plants continues in western Pennsylvania.

Large cryogenic plant in Washington County, Pa. used to separate gas liquids like ethane. This huge processing facility has continued to increase in size since this 2014 photo. Construction of multiple cryogenic gas processing plants continues in western Pennsylvania.

That’s right, the Commonwealth has encouraged and enabled (with jaw-dropping tax incentives) a huge cracker plant to be constructed by a foreign corporation just north of Pittsburgh to ‘crack’ ethane to make plastic pellets. This ‘plastic fantastic’ is due to be online in a couple years and may be joined by the construction of up to four more cracker plants further down the Ohio River.

   Early in the 21st century, scores of cryogenic plants have been developed in eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to process gas liquids like propane, butane and ethane from the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale with much of it targeted for export.

Early in the 21st century, scores of cryogenic plants have been developed in eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to process gas liquids like propane, butane and ethane from the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale with much of it targeted for export.

As huge as the world’s plastic problem already is, you have to realize that plastic is only part of this problem. That’s because it is “only” the end product of drilling and fracking shale to extract the ethane in the gas. Each shale well that's drilled is a major project requiring huge expenditures of natural resources while compromising and destroying the environment in major ways.

   Gas pipeline construction has resulted in ongoing bentonite spills into small streams. Bentonite suffocates aquatic life with gills and smothers fish eggs.

Gas pipeline construction has resulted in ongoing bentonite spills into small streams. Bentonite suffocates aquatic life with gills and smothers fish eggs.

Large areas of forest are decimated to create well pads and roadways. Over 1,000 diesel truck trips are often required to put each well into production, adding huge volumes of PM2.5 particulate air pollution. Vast quantities of chemicals, sand and water are consumed to frack wells that can reach down and out for miles. Newer well pads have been designed for more than 20 wells each.

   Huge frac wastewater impoundments began to populate western Pennsylvania early in the 21st century resulting in Pa DEP fines for the many that leaked through plastic liners. Temporary pipelines carrying this toxic wastewater to new gas well sites were known to leak or rupture causing spills and fish kills. Lawsuits related to water well contamination from these huge frac pits were typically settled out of court with litigants 'gagged' by nondisclosure agreements.

Huge frac wastewater impoundments began to populate western Pennsylvania early in the 21st century resulting in Pa DEP fines for the many that leaked through plastic liners. Temporary pipelines carrying this toxic wastewater to new gas well sites were known to leak or rupture causing spills and fish kills. Lawsuits related to water well contamination from these huge frac pits were typically settled out of court with litigants 'gagged' by nondisclosure agreements.

Over one million gallons of toxic liquids return to the surface from EACH well, posing ongoing problems for safe disposal. The extreme radioactivity of this flowback waste from some Washington County gas wells has required that waste to be shipped to the same special facility in Utah taking nuclear waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

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RADIOACTIVE

Special waste containers on a Marcellus shale well pad.

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DOT-SP 11406 Label

Shippers and carriers of liquid or solid waste with low levels of external radiation who are approved by state radioactive material control officials registered with the Office of the Executive Director of the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors (CRCPD), Frankfort, Kentucky.

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MORE CONTAINERS

Ra226 and Ra228 are most commonly associated with shale waste radioactivity.

Other gas well drilling waste has been solidified, covered with plastic, and buried in place (at least 18-inches deep) on local well pads for posterity, under special permitting ("Alternative Waste Disposal") by the Pa. DEP.

   Flow pits were buried at multiple gas well sites inside Cross Creek County Park, the premiere Washington County park which also features a large fishing lake.

Flow pits were buried at multiple gas well sites inside Cross Creek County Park, the premiere Washington County park which also features a large fishing lake.

Massive quantities of low level radioactive drilling and fracking waste are being deposited in numerous tri-state area landfills. During 2014, one southwestern Pennsylvania landfill took in 41,000 tons of drill cuttings, 42,546 gallons of drilling fluid waste, 665 tons of flowback fracturing sand, and 12 tons of general O&G waste.

   Dozens of roll-off containers awaiting disposal at a western Pennsylvania landfill. Sensors at the entrance to landfills alert workers to containers with levels of radiation exceeding acceptable limits.

Dozens of roll-off containers awaiting disposal at a western Pennsylvania landfill. Sensors at the entrance to landfills alert workers to containers with levels of radiation exceeding acceptable limits.

Radon is another legitimate concern. Wellhead concentrations of radon-222 in Marcellus shale are up to 70 times the average in other natural gas wells in the U.S. Being an inert gas, radon is not destroyed when that natural gas is burned in a kitchen stove. Whatever radon is delivered to homes is released to the home environment from space heaters and kitchen stoves. Reports indicate that radon levels in the lower levels of Pennsylvania homes have been increasing in recent years. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

   With the roar of a jet engine this candlestick flare lights up the night sky for miles around. "Flaring" is yet another controversial practice related to oil and gas production due to the resulting air pollution and wasted gas.

With the roar of a jet engine this candlestick flare lights up the night sky for miles around. "Flaring" is yet another controversial practice related to oil and gas production due to the resulting air pollution and wasted gas.

Once in production, each well pad needs to be connected by a gathering pipeline to a massive, growing infrastructure that moves and processes the gas. These gathering pipelines have not historically been required to be mapped on the nationwide '811 Call Before You Dig' network, making them much more vulnerable to excavation accidents.

   Compressor stations have continued to increase in size and number during the early years of shale gas production in western Pennsylvania. The cumulative effect of all the air pollution from dozens of compressor stations within the same county is rarely taken into consideration when more facilities are permitted.

Compressor stations have continued to increase in size and number during the early years of shale gas production in western Pennsylvania. The cumulative effect of all the air pollution from dozens of compressor stations within the same county is rarely taken into consideration when more facilities are permitted.

Drilling more wells equals more compressor stations and other infrastructure required for the compression needed to move gas products through pipelines, as well as cryogenic processing plants for separation of gas liquids like ethane, propane and butane.

   In a region extensively undermined from the extraction of coal it remains to be seen what mine subsidence problems will do to the extensive network of new gas pipelines. Long wall mining of coal continues in the region.

In a region extensively undermined from the extraction of coal it remains to be seen what mine subsidence problems will do to the extensive network of new gas pipelines. Long wall mining of coal continues in the region.

Then even more pipelines fragment forests, farmland and real estate for export of these gas products to all points on the compass. Methane leaks, estimated to be over 5-percent in some studies using industry data, and venting of raw gas into the atmosphere, exacerbate global warming.

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For these cracker plants to operate for the next 50 years it will likely require the drilling and fracking of another 100,000 wells in the tri-state area, partly because shale gas wells are infamous for their short lifetimes of decent production. This fast drop in production is what leads to a drilling treadmill that will be required to keep pipelines full and these huge cracker plants cracking.

   Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" requires massive volumes of water, chemicals and sand, with most wells requiring over 1,000 diesel truck trips just to put one well into production, adding greatly to regional PM2.5  particulate air pollution. Rows of 2,500 horsepower frac pumps run days on end to create the 9,000 to 15,000 p.s.i. required to fracture shale and release the trapped gas that is typically over one mile deep in western Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" requires massive volumes of water, chemicals and sand, with most wells requiring over 1,000 diesel truck trips just to put one well into production, adding greatly to regional PM2.5  particulate air pollution. Rows of 2,500 horsepower frac pumps run days on end to create the 9,000 to 15,000 p.s.i. required to fracture shale and release the trapped gas that is typically over one mile deep in western Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.

The Pittsburgh region has recently received failing grades on air quality once again, and this drilling treadmill will only make matters worse if it is even possible to score any lower than an “F.”

   On this May morning in 2015 we see a 'black veil' over Marcellus shale drilling and fracking territory in northern Washington County, Pa. With prevailing westerly winds, air pollution also reaches our county from Ohio and the Panhandle of West Virginia, where extensive shale gas production activities are also on the increase.

On this May morning in 2015 we see a 'black veil' over Marcellus shale drilling and fracking territory in northern Washington County, Pa. With prevailing westerly winds, air pollution also reaches our county from Ohio and the Panhandle of West Virginia, where extensive shale gas production activities are also on the increase.

While the course may be already be 'set in plastic' for the Pittsburgh tri-state area, there are still things we can all do this Earth Day moving forward...

Use less plastic. Recycle more.

Plant some trees. Organic garden and compost.

Consume less fossil fuels. Install solar and wind.

Buy energy efficient appliances and vehicles.

Switch all your light bulbs to LED’s.

Turn off the lights when leaving a room.

Tell your grandkids what you did to save their Planet Earth.

Bob

Spring Soul

The disappearing Tulip