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Friday, April 30, 2010
On April 1st, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a landmark decision to curtail pollution from Appalachian mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining operations. The EPA's planned actions are all geared toward providing improved guidance for the environmental review process and the Clean Water Act (CWA) permits issued to MTR operations. To achieve these aims, the agency plans to clarify the requirements of CWA Section 402 and 404 permits for pollutant discharges to its cooperating permitting authorities. As part of this decision the agency issued a memorandum acknowledging the detrimental ecological effects mountaintop removal operations have had in Appalachia, including the filling in of 2,000 stream miles since 1992 and the deforestation of a total land area as large as Delaware.
Mountaintop removal entails blasting off the tops of mountains with explosives to mine thin layers of coal. Current mining practices devastate the environment by altering the topography of entire mountain ranges, deforesting massive areas, causing erosion, displacing plants and wildlife, altering hydrological regimes, and polluting waterways. After a mountaintop is removed, mining operations fill in nearby valleys and their network of streams with excess rock and sediment. These "valley fills" require both Section 402 and 404 permits as they leach heavy metals into waterways, raising levels of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), conductivity, phosphates and selenium. Pollution from valley fills also pose risks to human health when heavy metal pollution contaminates drinking water and recreational waterways.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the new policy is the establishment of numeric criteria for conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of the amount of electricity conducted by water, and is measured by determining levels of ionic salts. Low conductivity levels indicate a stream is more hospitable to the microorganisms and macro-invertebrates that form the basis of the stream food web; high levels of conductivity render waterways uninhabitable to all but the most pollution tolerant aquatic organisms. After review of internal agency studies and a growing body of scientific work, the EPA concluded that streams with conductivity levels exceeding 500 microsiemens per centimeter (μS/cm) are "impaired," and that streams with conductivity between 300-500 μS/cm experience negative ecological impacts. Under the new guidance the EPA will block new permits for mining operations projected to raise downstream conductivity above 500 μS/cm. In a statement to reporters on April 1st, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson highlighted the extent of conductivity pollution in Appalachian streams, saying, "Some existing mountaintop mining operations are generating pollution levels as much as ten times the new standard."
Aside from scientific consensus underscoring the causal relationship between pollutants originating in MTR valley fills and a loss in both benthic species richness and diversity downstream, the memorandum lists another motivating factor behind the EPA decision. A 2009 focused Permit Quality Review of state-issued NPDES permits revealed a series of pervasive problems with permits that "warrant immediate attention" including: "serious issues with underlying data quality, such as erroneous field meter readings, biological samples collected outside of state index periods or during extreme low flows, and inclusion of non-endemic taxa in taxonomic lists." To remedy this situation the EPA is encouraging its regional offices to more closely review state-issued NPDES permits, work with states to write CWA and Section 401 compliant permits, and to raise objections when states are unable to produce acceptable permits.
"We are thrilled that EPA has taken steps to protect our streams and our communities. In issuing this guidance, EPA is doing what they are legally required to do: propose specific limits on pollutants discharged from mining operations into our water that protect human and ecological health under the Clean Water Act," said Judy Petersen, Executive Director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance.
River Network applauds the efforts of many Central Appalachian environmental groups and environmental law firms that have been hard at work advocating for such a policy shift for years, including Alliance for Appalachia,Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizen's Law Center,
Coal River Mountain Watch, Earthjustice, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Resources Council,Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Public Justice, Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and many others. These groups have spent years tirelessly pursuing legal action against MTR operations and permitting agencies, as well as promoting awareness of the devastating social and environmental impacts of Appalachian coal mining.
While it marks a definitive shift from the Bush administration's policies toward mining permits, this new policy does not ensure adequate protection for Appalachian communities and watersheds. The new conductivity criteria will apply only to the 79 new project permits currently up for EPA approval, future mining permits, and permit renewals. NPDES permits for MTR operations last for 5 years, after which time they must be renewed. While the guidance is immediately effective, the EPA will solicit public comments throughout 2010 and then reexamine the new guidance with public comments and additional scientific and technical reviews taken into account.
To learn more and read the EPA memorandum visit:
Deepwater Horizon Incident, Gulf of Mexico
Updated each evening
Situation: Thursday 29 April
Today the Deepwater Horizon incident declared a Spill of National Significance (SONS). A SONS is defined as, "a spill that, due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare or the environment, or the necessary response effort, is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge" and allows greater federal involvement. Estimates of the release rate increased to 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day based on surface observations and reports of a newly discovered leak in the damaged piping on the sea floor.
NOAA is assisting the Unified Command in evaluating a new technique to apply dispersants to oil at the source - 5000' below the surface, if successful this would keep plumes and sheens from forming. Work continues on a piping system designed to take oil from a collection dome at the sea floor to tankers on the surface; this technique has never been tried at 5000'. Drilling of a relief or cut-off well is still planned, but will not be complete for several months.
Dispersants are still being aggressively applied. Over 100,000 gallons have been applied. The test burn late yesterday was successful and approximately 100 barrels of oil were burned in about 45 minutes. Additional efforts are planned contingent on good weather.
With shore impacts looming, sensitive shorelines are being pre-boomed. Over 180,000 feet of boom have been deployed, and another 300,000 feet are forward staged. NOAA efforts have included: getting pre-impact samples surveys and baseline measurements, planning for open water and shoreline remediation, modeling the trajectory and extent of the oil, supporting the Unified Command as it analyzes new techniques for handling the spill. Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities are also underway.
- Forecasts indicate persistent winds from the southeast through the weekend which will push surface oil towards shore
- The State of Louisiana allowed shrimpers to start an early season today to get ahead of oil impacts
- NOAA's Assessment and Restoration Division (ARD) is evaluating concerns about potential injuries of oil and dispersants to fishes, human use of fisheries, marine mammals, turtles, and sensitive resources
- ARD is coordinating with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to evaluate plankton and trawl sampling efforts.
- Baseline aerial surveys to assess marine life were conducted today with personnel from NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), these will continue as needed.
For NOAA media inquiries, please contact: Keeley Belva at firstname.lastname@example.org 301.713.3066.
For response inquiries, please contact: Joint Information Center (JIC) at 985.902.5231 or 985.902.5240.
Deepwater Horizon Incident Volunteer Hotline: 866.448.5816.
The incident involves a deepwater drilling platform approximately 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. An explosion and subsequent fire damaged the rig, which capsized and sank on April 22, after burning for hours. It is unclear how much of the estimated 700,000 gallons (approximately 16,700 barrels) of #2 fuel onboard burned before it sank. The rig is owned by Transocean and under contract to BP.
|More Information about this Incident |
|Visual Resources |
Links to photo and video galleries related to this incident on other Web sites.
|Oil Spill Downloads |
|Fisheries Downloads |
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Exxon's got nothing on this one… Ixtoc I oil well spilled 139,832,000 – 147,840,000 gallons between 6/3/1979 and 3/23/1980… it took them almost 10 months to cap it.
The Ixtoc I oil well was a 2 mile deep exploratory drilling site. A blowout of oil and gas out of the well ignited on June 3rd, 1979 causing the platform to catch fire. After the burning platform collapsed there were great difficulties controlling the well, which continued to leak 10,000 - 30,000 barrels per day into the Gulf of Mexico until it was finally capped almost 10 months later.
The ocean currents carried much of the spill towards Texas and in total 260 kilometers (162 miles) of U.S. beaches were oiled. Marshes, mangroves and sand beaches - including some of the few remaining nesting sites for the critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle - were affected.
Kristian Gustavson has left a new comment on your post "5x times the original spill estimate per day":
So @ 210,000 G/D, this has about 50 days before it is worse than the 11,000,000 G Exxon-Valdez spill, right?
The only problem is, the flow is increasing and estimates are up to 90 days before they can put a lid on this thing.
Unless the well stops flowing on its own, I'm willing to bet that this will be at least twice as bad as the Exxon-Valdez spill and either way will be catastrophic to the Gulf of Mexico! Any takers?
Posted by Kristian Gustavson to Water News Network at April 29, 2010 8:31 AM
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Opportunities abound to reuse rather than quickly dispose and make room for more things to be consumed.
My girlfriend is in Haiti right now doing relief work and she sends me regular emails about the want of the most basic needs for survival. While she experiences resilience in the face of this, I sit comfortably in a country of apparent abundance yet we are still learning how to more fairly use our share.
Here is a great example of how our wastewater agencies can help Be The Solution, by making better use of the things they are charged with disposing of. It takes creativity, a little curiosity, but perhaps a well penned editorial to get the ball rolling.
Check out NY Times Editorialist Rose George's recent editorial Power From Sewage