Category Archives: Energy

So, how do I comment on the SGEIS?

Courtesy: New York Department of Environmental Protection

Some simple tips on how to have your voice heard during the hydrofracking debate

While the comment period on the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) and draft fracking regulations, ends on Dec. 12, there is still time to comment and have your voice heard.

In order to become informed about the issues, download the following two documents provided by Riverkeeper:

Fact Sheet on DEC Fracking Proposal

New York’s Rush to Frack Presentation

If you feel that you cannot make a comment on the SGEIS or the draft fracking regulations, there is still the opportunity to attend a public hearing on fracking. While there are only two more hearings left, these hearings are a great way to learn more about the issues and voice your opinion.

Here is a list of the upcoming hearings:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is required to read all of the comments they receive, you’re allowed to comment more than once but most comment before Dec. 12. While these two documents are extremely lengthy, environmental organizations that have read over both documents, such as Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club, have filed detailed comments. For guidelines on what to comment on, here is a document that details the top ten problems with fracking: ‘Top 10’ flaws with the fracking environmental impact statement.

According to Riverkeeper’s website this is how to submit comments:

How to submit comments:
Type out your comments. Whether you submit your comments online or send them in the mail, it will be easier if you type them ahead of time. (The DEC does not accept comments by phone, fax or email.)

Mail your comments to Attn: dSGEIS Comments, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510. Include your name, address, and affiliation (if any).

Submit your comments online: If you prefer to comment online, visithttp://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html.

Looking at the DEC’s comment page, you’ll see that there are three proposals to comment on. The most important proposal to comment on is the revised draft environmental impact statement (called “2001 rdSGEIS”). You can also comment on the proposed regulations which are called, “Proposed HVHF Regulations.”

Big-Portion Sustainability

This year, McDonalds will expand its international chain with over 1,100 new locations. And this is great news for the environment. Surprising? Many ecologically aware eaters talk about small and local initiatives: independent farms, CSA produce boxes, and farmers’ markets. But large-scale environmental benefits can be achieved through changing our existing, large-scale food system.

Without a doubt, the dialogue started by the sustainable food movement has had an influence on how McDonald’s presents itself. At least some of the initiatives McDonalds has taken towards sustainability are there to appease societal demands that corporations have a conscience.  McDonald’s website offers emotional video clips about how the company supports the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Food Animal Initiative, funding research on how to make commercial scale agriculture sustainable, and the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, looking for sustainable approaches to an industry that has contributed to deforestation in Malaysia.


In a world of greenwashing, corporations’ environmental initiatives come across as insincere, self-serving marketing tools. But when it comes to large-scale business sustainability, there is more than just marketing at play: sustainable choices to reduce consumption and waste are also easy ways to cut costs, creating a strong, profit-based commitment to wiser use of resources. And a company as large as McDonalds can institute changes that have wide-reaching influence.

As Joshua Brau, a Yale Business School student who has worked with McDonald’s explains, “Shareholders typically have a single concern: maximizing returns. And these companies see there is a substantial business case for reducing environmental impact,” going on to say that, at McDonald’s, “the sincere interest in doing good is in line with company objectives. Less energy consumed and higher efficiency translates to increased profits”.

In McDonalds restaurants, LED lights and efficient fryer fireups save energy, and sustainable building practices are being incorporated into new locations. When purchasing from suppliers, McDonalds uses a Supplier Environmental Scorecard to measure packaging waste, maximize recycled materials, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using this index, companies that produce food for McDonalds, such as East Belt Bakery, were able to improve their input to output ratios– making food more efficiently and saving money in the process. Pleased with the results, East Belt introduced this index to the North American Bakery Council and helped 50-60 similarly large bakeries use less energy and resources in production. In 2007, the Australian Food Company, a supplier to McDonalds, cut their water use 30% through practices such as rainwater collection and new cleaning systems as suggested by the Environmental Scorecard. And in Canada, suppliers using the scorecard cut water use 56%, energy consumption 67% and waste production 67% between 2005 and 2006.

Good environmental choices are often good business choices, and companies as large as McDonald’s have huge environmental impact when they make money-saving changes. As McDonald’s VP of Corporate Social Responsibility Bob Langert explains in an interview on Daily Finance, “We as a company spend $1.7 billion on energy around the world. Energy efficiency can cut that cost. The other big issue is waste. That includes packaging that turns into waste and other waste in general. We spend $1.3 billion on processing waste. So reducing our packaging and figuring out ways to divert waste will be necessary and help our bottom line. It’s the right thing to do, but its also business related”.

These figures beg  the question of how genuine environmental intentions must be: is sustainability at McDonald’s of a lesser value because it self-serving? Does sustainability have to be a grassroots initiative?

The reality is that environmentalism has been ignored for too long, in part because the private sector views it as a financial burden. By equating wise use with profit maximization, an environmental consideration of how we eat can reach a wider eating public. Environmental eaters should promote and patronize farmers’ markets and co-ops, but also applaud the corporate sustainability measures, even if incidental, that are creating a large-scale norm of efficiency and ecological consciousness.

Hydrofracking in West Virginia

West Virginians upset about fracking on their farms

Image Courtesy: National Geographic, "Looking at Lives Affected by 'Fracking'"

In a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) video, titled “Battle for Wetzel County,” two West Virginians explain why their believe it is unfair for large gas companies (such as Shell, Exxon, and Chesapeake Energy) to have mineral rights on their land. The only compensation these farm owners have is that gas companies must pay them for “damages.” These farm owners are outraged because not only are they losing valuable land, but they also claim they are exposed to dangerous chemicals that have contaminated their water supply. Furthermore, one farm owner believes that toxic waste was buried on his property. Even though hydrofracking is an impressive technology, it interrupts farmers not only during the extraction process,  but also with the equipment that remain on the “pad” (the site where the natural gas is extracted).

There is currently legislation in West Virginia to address the problems associated with hydrofracking, yet according to several sources, the legislation insufficiently addresses the problems associated with drilling. Last Wednesday, Nov. 16, a special House-Senate committee endorsed proposed drilling rules in the Marcellus Shale, but a top aide to West Virginia’s Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office says the bill isn’t ready for special session. Chief of Staff Rob Alsop told Business Week that his staff will work over the next few weeks with legislative leaders and stakeholders “to see what they’re comfortable with, and see what we’re comfortable work.” According to Alsop there are some issues that need to be worked out before the bill is presented during a special session.

Some of these issues include, the amount of leeway that is granted to the Department of Environmental Protection, the overseer of gas drilling. Advocating greater flexibility for DEP, industry groups have similar concerns. Surface owner and environmental groups, believe that there needs to be strong and detailed regulatory language in the books.

From Dec. 12-14 there will be a series of study meetings on the subject, during which time Governor Tomblin believes is a good time to convene a special session, if prior meetings can create a bill that could pass.

The draft of the bill includes many subjects which emerged from efforts to develop the natural gas reserve through hydrofracking, a controversial process which can potentially contaminate water supplies. Included in the bill are increased permit fees, which will fund more field inspectors and office staff; agreements between operators and surface property owners of drilling sites; lastly, buffer zones that would separate shale wells  from homes, livestock and drinking water. The bill would also allow the Department of Environmental Protection to hire their own inspectors.

For more information here is a report directly from the West Virginia Legislature.

What goes in to the fracking fluid?

Image Courtesy Halliburton

Halliburton executive becomes the first person to drink fracking fluid.

According to many news sources, in Aug. a Halliburton executive drank fracking fluid at a keynote speech at conference presented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Halliburton’s CEO Dave Lesar, raised a glass of fracking fluid, made from materials from the food industry, he then asked a fellow executive to show how safe the fluid was by drinking it. What this executive apparently drank is a fluid called CleanStim, which was created by Halliburton this past year.

According to Halliburton’s website, CleanStim includes an enzyme, exthoxylated sugar-based fatty acid ester, inorganic acid, inorganic salt, maltodextrin, organic acid, organic ester, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, polysaccharide polymer, and sulfonated alochol… yes these are big words. The table below better explains what each of these chemicals are, and puts them in terms we can all understand.

Image Courtesy Halliburton

In keeping with their mission to make fracking fluid more environmentally friendly, Halliburton did in fact choose common household ingredients, which seem fairly harmless. The catch is that this is not in fact the case. As a Scientific American article titled “What’s in This Fracking Water?”, points out “the CleanStim fluid system should not be considered edible.”

While Halliburton has given a general list of what’s included in fracking fluid, a study on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) website has a more comprehensive list of chemicals included in fracking fluid. These chemicals include: a friction reducer (KCl or petroleum distillate), a biocide (glutaraldehyde), an oxygen scavenger (ammonium bisulfide) or stabilizer (N,n-dimethyl formamide), to prevent corrosion of metal pipes, a surfactant, a scale inhibitor (ethylene glycol), HCl acid to remove drilling-mud damage near the borehole, a breaker (sodium chloride, a little salt never hurts), a gel (guar gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose), and an iron controller (2-hydroxy 1, 2, 3-propanetricaboxylic acid). These chemicals are harmful to humans, so it is good that gas companies are trying to make fracking fluid with better chemicals.

The most comprehensive list though, is in a report issue in April by the Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The report describes 750 chemicals that are used by 14 leading oil and gas service companies. According to the committee though, the report is incomplete because: “in many instances, the oil and gas service companies were unable to provide the Committee with a complete chemical makeup of the hydraulic fracturing fluids they used … [in] 279 products that contained at least one chemical or component that the manufacturers deemed proprietary or a trade secret.”

While it has been a practice to keep the contents of the fracking fluid a secret, things are slowly changing. Wyoming, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have fracking-fluid disclosure rule. Other states, as well as Congress have proposed rules that are waiting for legislative action. More companies are also disclosing information about their fracking fluid. This website, created by the industry allows users to search for a particular well in a given country or state. While things are moving in the right direction, until the industry can do away with dangerous chemicals, hydrofracking will continue to present serious environmental problems.

Taking a Leaf Out of Europe’s Compost Heap

What can the United States learn from Europe’s treatment of organic waste?

When it comes to sustainability, Europe is generally far more advanced than the United States is.  The situation in the arena of composting is no different; the countries across the Atlantic are clearly winning, with many more extensive composting programs in place, programs that America could use as models to raise itself to a new level in the global fight for sustainability.

The largest compost heap in Europe, Brentford, England. Photo courtesy of ajschu/Flickr Creative Commons

According to the European Compost Network, “source separation of organic residues from households and gardens is a success story of most European countries, thereby helping to meet recycling and climate change targets and market requirements.”  E. Favoino’s report “Composting across Europe” separates European regions into four categories of participation when it comes to composting, with Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands having “strategies and policies [that] are already fully implemented nationwide.”  Next come Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Catalonia (a nationality of Spain), and Norway, where policies are “fully outlined” but the programs themselves are still being developed.  In Finland, France, the United Kingdom, and Wallonia (a region of Belgium), programs are just getting started but may already have written policies.  The remainder has not yet shown any inclination to begin a source separated organic waste disposal program.  While composting has not yet reached its full potential in Europe, when one considers that the same practice is largely a personal one in the United States with only around 90 municipalities currently implementing programs, it becomes clear that Europe’s organics are being treated much more sustainably.

A biogas purification plant in Lund, Sweden. Photo courtesy of P1r/Flickr Creative Commons

In addition to your average composting, Europe is also a forerunner when it comes to anaerobic digestion, the breakdown of organic materials in an oxygen-free setting that allows for the production of carbon dioxide and methane, the main component of natural gas.  These byproducts of the decomposition process are known as biogas, a form of renewable energy that can be used to replace global climate change-causing fossil fuels.  Anaerobic digestion is also a means of capturing greenhouse gases that if produced in a non-controlled anaerobic environment like a landfill would be released to the atmosphere, where they would contribute to global warming.  A plant in Amiens, France claims to be the first in the world to subject organic waste to anaerobic digestion.  It deals with the waste stream of two cities and has been selling the biogas to Gaz de France since 1987.  Many other European areas have since begun similar programs, such as Salzburg, Austria, Zurich, Switzerland, and Elsinore, Denmark.  According to Albert Morales of Renewable Energy World, “higher energy prices and government incentives have spurred widespread adoption of this technology [in Europe].”  Biogas in the United States, on the other hand, “has never had the sort of political support or constituent base to mobilize action in Washington.”  American biogas receives only $1 of subsidy per unit of energy (mmbtu) generated, compared with $2 for solar and wind and $8.55 for biodiesel from agri-fuels.

Global sustainability is not a competition; ultimately there is one Earth that both “winners” and “losers” will have to share.  At present Europe is far ahead of the United States, but it is not in the lead because it’s an Olympian – it’s in front because we’re standing in our own way.  Achieving a more sustainable country – partially through an increase in composting and anaerobic digestion – will not be easy and may very well require a restructuring of our government’s priorities, but Europe is proof that all the pieces exist and are perfectly capable of fitting together to form a fully functioning, ecologically sound system.

Omnivore’s Solution

Vegetarianism seems oppositional to American life; as a culture, we stand fiercely loyal to fast food, barbecues, and steak knives. It is such a part of our national gastronomic tradition that even its proven harm to health cannot deter our meat-eating ways. We have long ignored that saturated fat from animal-protein is connected with cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
But in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations produced a document that would change the world’s understanding of how our food affects our environment. Livestock’s Long Shadow announced “livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport”, creating emissions from feed production, cultivation of feed crops, organic matter losses, feed transport, animal production, and product transportation”.

Even still, most Americans continue their meat-based diet because, simply put, they like meat. Regardless of objective arguments for removing meat, or just beef, from the diet, only 3.2 percent of the American population adheres to a vegetarian diet, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive Service Bureau for Vegetarian Times in 2008.

But in addition to this small population of strict vegetarians, the Harris study found another 10 percent of American adults follow a “vegetarian-inclined” diet, and another 5.2% are “definitely interested” in adopting a vegetarian-based diet.
For many, meat is becoming a lesser, rather than absent, part of the diet. Al Gore, arguably the nation’s most vocal and visible environmental advocate has said, when asked why he doesn’t adopt a vegetarian diet for the environment, “I’m not a vegetarian, but I have cut back sharply on the meat that I eat”. Even an environmentalist can find it hard to give up meat, but more eaters are seeing that just taking steps in the right direction is an important part of addressing the environmental harm of beef.

As Barnard biology professor and food specialist Hilary Callahan states, “A key and incontrovertible ecological principle is that eating lower on the food chain saves energy and makes more food available for more people. This applies for terrestrial systems (avoid beef, pork, chicken, others) and for marine systems (avoid eating predatory fish)”.

Considering that transporting, processing, producing, retailing, storing, and preparing 1 kilogram of beef, cheese, and pork creates as much as 30 kilograms of CO2 while fruits and vegetables are associated with 2.5 kilograms of emissions per kg of edible end-product, even moderate dietary reassessments could dramatically change the food system’s impact on global warming. Regardless of “vegetarian” or “meat eater” labels, a part-way shift from carnivorous to herbaceous meals could have appreciable impacts.

A variety of organizations, from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Humane society to Stanford University are advocating a new, but practical diet. They invite a wider range of eaters by reporting the environmental and health advantages of reducing meat consumption, while understanding that quitting cold “turkey” can be too much to ask.

This trend, dubbed “flexitarianism” has produced a bevy of cookbooks, including The Flexitarian Diet, The Healthy Hedonist, and Everyday Flexitarian, as well as recognition on The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post.

As Vegetarian Resource Group Consumer Research Manager John Cunningham observes, “There have always been “meat reducers”, people who try to limit meat in their diets even if they are not strict vegetarians, but the emergence of the word “flexitarian” in the last 5 years has created a demographic for vegetarian restaurants and products that marketers are excited about, and has made it socially more convenient to be a vegetarian”

Mainstream eaters are being challenged to eat more vegetables, try cooking just one vegetarian meal a week, or buy sustainably-raised, grass-fed beef. The focus of flexitarianism is to introduce a form of vegetarianism that is easy and approachable.

Polls on Hydrofracking in New York Released

New York State residents express their opinions on this controversial issue

Image courtesy: http://freethegreenmonster.com/environment/sign-stop-fracking-karoo-petition

New York State residents are divided on whether they approve of hydrofracking in the Catskills region.  According to a Sept. 21, Quinnipiac University Poll, “New York State voters support by a thin 45 – 41 percent margin drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale because they think economic benefits outweigh the environmental concerns.” Voters in upstate New York City, however, are divided on the issue with 47 percent opposed because they are more worried about the environment and 43 percent support hydrofracking.

While this poll was conducted by an independent organization, some polls are more biased.  In areas where hydrofracking is most likely to occur, there is an opposition of about two-thirds or more to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, due to the injection of chemicals and massive amounts of water into shale to extract natural gas. An Oct. 20, Pulse Opinion Research poll, shows that 72% of Delaware County residents and 69% of Sullivan County residents are against hydrofracking in their town.

In a New York Times blog post, “The Fracking Divide: Who Will Prevail in N.Y.?,” Ken Jaffe of Slope Farms Beef of Meredith, NY, commented on the Pulse Opinion Research poll saying, “The story is the overwhelming local opposition, and the plan of the governor to ally with the gas companies to act against local voters and their governments, and attempt to eviscerate local land use regulation that is guaranteed by the N.Y. State Constitution.”

By looking at more Pulse Opinion Research Data, Jaffe’s comment certainly holds true. When asked “Would you support your town enacting zoning ordinances to restrict natural gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing,” 69% of both Delaware and Sullivan counties said yes.

Some New Yorkers are so fed up with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stance on fracking that they’ve signed petitions which state, “I pledge that I will never vote for Andrew Cuomo for any public office, ever, if he tries to force us to exist with hydrofracking in New York.” While this may seem harsh, many New Yorkers fully support this point of view. One Change.org petition, titled “Cuomo Pledge” takes on this position with 473 out of their goal of 10,000 signatures. On this website, those who sign the petition can explain their reasoning. One particularly troubled New Yorker, Mary Sweeney, stated her very strong opinion:

Gov. Cuomo says he wants to base the fracking decision on science, not emotion or politics. But there has been no study of the cumulative environmental and economic effects of drilling and fracking the tens of thousands of shale gas wells that are projected to be constructed in NY. Even more shocking, despite reports of numerous health problems at drilling and fracking sites around the country, there has been no comprehensive study of the health effects of shale gas extraction. So if Gov. Cuomo allows hydrofracking in NY, he will be making guinea pigs of everyone who lives in a fracking area or downwind of a fracking area or who drinks water from a fracking area. Is this the sort of leadership we want? Please, Gov. Cuomo–stay true to your word and base this decision on science, not politics.

With these opinions in mind, it is no wonder that this is hotly debated issue in New York State.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

At my urban university where students are informed when they are allowed to sit on the lawn and when they are not, it is often difficult to remember nature. However nature, particularly in the form of trees, is never far. From pop culture (Grandmother Willow in Disney’s Pocahontas) to folklore (Johnny Appleseed) trees are deeply embedded in our society.

Johnny Appleseed Surrounded by Trees SVadilfari/Flickr Creative Commons

Trees have become a symbol of nature at large, and an emblem for the green and environmental movements. Not only that, but trees have been of great inspiration for scientists who are looking to nature for solutions to environmental problems. This inspiration can be used to help us bring more sustainable and green technology to the Big Apple itself.

Returning to our Roots

Researchers at SolarBotanic have gone even further than being inspired by trees, they have created artificial trees that, among other things, harness solar, heat and wind energy and filter the air just as trees do. These biomimetic energy sources can be “planted” anywhere from the desert to urban environments and their realistic designs bring nature’s beauty along with nature’s power. SolarBotanic trees utilize nanoleaves that effectively absorb light waves in both the visible and invisible spectrum. This means that the nanoleaves cannot only transform light into energy like other solar cells, but they can also transform infrared rays (in other words, heat) into energy. This way electricity can be provided to a home or a car straight from a “tree” in your front yard.

SolarBotanic Trees, Rebuildingdemocracy/Flickr Creative Commons, Photo Courtesy of Solar Botanic

Nanoleaves are thin, like actual leaves, so they can blow in the wind while remaining attached to the tree. The movement of the leaf flapping back and forth is mechanical energy, which is harnessed by the SolarBotanic tree, providing even more energy and electricity.

Trees do not merely capture light as energy, they also provide us with cleaner air. The SolarBotanic tree does something similar by using a facilitated transport system modeled after our lungs, another inspiration from nature. In the tree there is an “agent” that separates out the CO2, effectively removing it from the air. SolarBotanic is truly paying homage to the tree, and using an already perfect design to provide a beautiful (and effective) form of alternative energy.

Mother Nature Knows Best

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and global warming are an extremely serious issue in the modern world. We need CO2 for everything from oil drilling to blood banks, but too much CO2 in our atmosphere is poisoning our planet at an alarming rate. The government is seriously looking at carbon sequestration, which involves collecting CO2 from the air (mostly from smoke stacks) and injecting it underground, as a method to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

ZScott-Singley/Flickr Creative Commons

However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, even if the carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques that are being explored today are 90% efficient, about half of the world’s carbon CO2 emissions will still be released into the environment. Therefore, it is extremely important to find other approaches as well.  Dr. Klaus Lackner and Dr. Allen Wright, researchers at Columbia University’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, have come up with a remarkable, biomimetic alterative—recycling CO2. They have developed a “tree” made of plastic that absorbs CO2, just as trees do, but 1000 times more efficiently. In addition to its efficiency, the plastic resin that absorbs CO2 when it is dry, releases that same CO2 when it is wet. This means that the industries that need CO2 (for oil drilling or carbonated drinks) can purchase recycled CO2. It is also a possibility that recycled CO2 can be converted into gasoline and then the gasoline emissions can be recollected as CO2. This would allow us to still use our cars but ensure that the net level of CO2 in the atmosphere stops rising so drastically.

Dr. Allen Wright, the Senior Staff Associate at the Lenfest Center, pointed out to me that “observing that plants do in fact perform ‘air capture’ did prove at the outset that it was possible” however he also says that the “pine branch shape” of the resin is “purely coincidence.” As he says, “A pine branch shape worked well for that because the ‘needles’ would compress nicely.  It is not a particularly useful geometry for many reasons.  The term ‘artificial tree’ is use to help people understand what we are doing.  A practical device deployed in the field for air capture will not likely look like anything found in nature…more perhaps like a carousel sitting on top of a shipping container.”

The Carbon Cycle timmeko/Flickr Creative Commons

Recycling carbon is exactly how nature works. CO2 is produced as a byproduct but it is recycled throughout nature (through the carbon cycle). This technology takes nature’s foolproof method or “recycling” carbon dioxide and applies it to the excess CO2 in our atmosphere. As Dr. Wright explained to me, “the goal of air capture is to remove roughly 10-30% of the CO2 in the air passing through the collector, not to produce CO­2 free air. That would put the air exiting collector at a pre-industrial level of CO2.” Therefore plants can still grow and participate in the carbon cycle without being affected by the CO2 emissions people are producing.

This video elaborates on how this plastic “tree” could dramatically change our world.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/27163710[/vimeo]

With sustainable technology like this we can continue to live our city lives while still changing how we interact with the environment.

Biomimicry in the City

New York is a large city with the majority of its greenery confined to parks. Yet the city is making an effort to incorporate green energy and biomimicry into its urban ways and Clean Energy Connections is making an effort to help provide the network to make this transformation possible. On November 3rd, there will be a fascinating panel called Biomimicry in the Big City: Can Nature Inspire Cleantech Solutions?

It is not always easy to remember the trees when you are surrounded by the bright lights and steel of New York City (or any urban environment). But the innovations and inspiration trees provide us can keep our cities—and our world—cleaner, more energy efficient and more sustainable.

Oil is the Color or my Skin

Oil and Cultural genocide

“We grew maize beans, rice. We built our homes communally. We built a health center, a room for meetings, a little school, two houses to train health promoters, and a communal kitchen for gatherings. We had three launches, two with motors; and an electric plant that functioned from 6 to 9 PM and for two hours during the day it provided refrigeration in the communal store…the little we had we had achieved with many years of work and sacrifice. The work in the jungle is very hard. Now we had to abandon all that was our life…because of the persecution and killings that the soldiers carry out; they attack us as if we were at war” Reginaldo Aguilar

Why must you take everything for oil?

This week I am going to take you to Consuelo and El Arbolito Peten, Guatemala. A place that was once highly populated with indigenous populations now remains a ghost town with little communities left. Entire populations were ravished of their lands after the discovery of nickel and oil in the area in 1976. Before this no one paid much attention to these communities. They were referred to as the “selva” or in English “the jungle”. The selva was a place where the uncivilized Garifuna and Maya indigenous communities lived, now it is dominated by oil reserves.

Guatemala is located on an old geological belt where 75% of the world’s oil reserves can be found. In 1981 President Lucas Garcia announced that the government had granted permission to allow the extraction of 8,000 barrels per day. A 10-inch pipeline was built eastward to the Atlantic coast, which transports the oil. In the first six months Guatemala oil exports totaled 390,000 barrels. Oil reserves in Guatemala have been compared to those of Alaska.

According to Oil watch Mesoamerica, Guatemala is a place where there are a poorly hidden black markets for buying and selling oil. The oil companies that established themselves in Guatemala include Guatemala Limited, Compañía General de Combustibles, Petro Latina Guatemala Corp. (Peten) and Petro Energy S.A, all work under complimentary conditions. These oil companies have very little environmental or governmental regulation. Perenco, is an independent Anglo-French oil and gas company with a headquarters in London. This company has greatly distinguishes itself from the rest of the group, with policies that upholds an environmental friendly business that focuses on sustainable development. As quoted directly from Perenco website “wherever we operate, every effort is made to improve the quality of life while preserving traditional cultures and values”. However, what they forgot to include is the fact that they support their own monopoly by owning 98% of the concessions in Guatemala, they have widespread political power, and have participated in oil and cultural genocide in the western part of Petén. Induced by a plan to start oil development and in the process wipe out indigenous populations in the way. Does this seem environmental friendly to you?

To date there has been more that 70,000 Guatemalans who seek asylum in Mexico and other part of Central America. This was the after the Guatemalan government’s plan to develop the country in 1976, involved indigenous people being kicked off of their of their land. After oil was discovered in their areas, land values significantly increased. Not only because of the oil, but because an infrastructure of roads (most importantly the main east/west road), communication networks, and hydroelectric power plants have connected this one-time impenetrable area to the rest of the country. In addition a $30 million airport, all became apart of the governments plan.

However, many places like the indigenous in Peten stood in the way by refusing to give up their land to oil companies. Instead they were handled with force by the Guatemalan military, which were backed by oil companies and recieved $85 million dollars of militant support from the United States. The objective was to use fear tactics or do whatever necessary to occupy the territory. Many indigenous people were tortured and even killed by the military. Over 1,901 people from 19 communities had sought refuge in Mexico after battling the dense jungle and crossing the Usumacinta River, which separates the countries. They left their homes and life behind them. The government got what they wanted and as the people fled oil production began.

Today the indigenous communities continue to battle with oil companies. Recently, in September 2010. Perenco condemned the lack of consultation with the 37 settlements located in Laguna del Tigre about Perenco’s extension, a procedure that is called for by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Perenco’s plans consist of extending oil refines and having their own protected pieces of land. Most of the land Perenco wants is called Laguna del Tigre, which is the home to many indigenous and peasant populations. The oil company has already paid off the government officials to evict the people from their homes.

Perenco argument is that they have a right to evict these communities, which are in protected areas that they own. The indigenous communities refuse to go and claim that “the government established the Protected Areas law—without informing nor consulting us.” “Now we are not even allowed to participate as a population, or even just communities, in the administration and development of these protected areas, something, which the same law is supposed to allow for. The only option it gives us is to abandon our land.” This is proof of Pereco’s political abilities to sway the government in getting what they want.

The Guatemalans in Laguna del Tigre are aware that standing their ground comes with a price. Countless of the bloody deeds have already been carried out by “Perenco’s hit men”—as Robert Arias called them in 2006 in his La Hora column, after the murder of Mayco Jonatán García—against those who have denounced the company. The oil companies always wins and still many indigenous people remain displaced from the land that their people have owned for centuries. For Guatemala cultural genocide is a reality of the past and it continues to haunt them in the future. In Guatemala there is a saying “el petróleo es como sangre”. This mean is oil is the same as blood.

Organizations believe hydrofracking regulation is rushed

Riverkeeper opposed to state’s process

Photo courtesy: Riverkeeper, http://www.riverkeeper.org


Although hydrofracking has proven to be a controversial issue, New York State is undergoing the process to legalize it. As a result, the state must regulate the new industry. The way in which New York is engaging in this process is being criticized and opposed by a number of environmental organizations. One such group is Riverkeeper; founded in 1966,  Riverkeeper advocates for clean water in New York City.

While hydrofracking itself is controversial, the process under which New York is considering it has also proven contentious. On July 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a memo to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) ordering them to release this draft, even though it was incomplete. “That draft was not available for public comment and it was missing the community and economic impact sections,” noted Mackenzie Schoonmaker, a staff attorney at Riverkeeper. On Sept. 7, the DEC released a fully revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) for public comment, which will end on Dec. 12. In the midst of this controversy, the DEC has also decided to create hydrofracking regulations. The DEC didn’t anticipate having to release these regulations on Sept. 28. Even though environmental groups wanted them to release the regulations, they did not want them released until after the SGEIS was complete. The comment period for these regulations will also end on Dec. 12.

They’ve identified the problem as: “the state’s rush to frack.” The organization has used this name because of the short public comment period (96 days) on a 1600 page document, and because of the concurrent 75-day comment period on the draft regulations. Schoonmaker said, “[Riverkeeper believes that] by putting out the regulations before the Environmental Impact Statement is complete we feel that DEC is really robbing the public of an opportunity to have their comments on the Environmental Impact Statement and inform the regulations.” In the July 1 version of the SGEIS, the DEC acknowledged that this is a problem. Schoonmaker stated, “They essentially deleted this language entirely from the September version and decided they were taking the all at once approach instead.” She continued, “In addition to not being what the law intended, it’s problematic because it puts a pretty heavy burden on the public, [which] is now forced to comment on the Environmental Impact Statement and regulations, which are lengthy documents, at the same time.”

Schoonmaker summed up the organization’s position on hydrofracking, “Riverkeeper’s position is we’re demanding fracking regulations that are promulgated the proper way that is after the SGEIS is finalized. We want [the DEC] to fully prevent any potential harm to human health and the environment. And [we] are prepared to stop any fracking before such regulations are [in place] and backed by regulatory enforcement personnel.”