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WINTER NIGHTS 2016

Every day of my life, I feel proud of my church community and grateful to be a member of St. Anselm’s.  I feel blessed by God to have been “led” here, quite by chance.  October has produced a lot for us to be proud of.  At the Harvest Festival we raised a record amount of money for the homeless program at Trinity Center.  Then came Winter Nights, our annual housing of homeless families in Jackson Hall for two weeks. Both are also opportunities to feel gratitude that we have the means to help.

We started with three families, adding another one by the end of the first week, then two more the second week. By then we were full.  We had eight adults and nine kids, ranging in age from 15 years down to 15 months.  Most of them fell in the age range of nine to four. Happily, they got along most of the time.  They played games together. They had fun with the toddler, who was very outgoing and energetic.  They loved pushing her around in the baby cart, lent to us by the preschool. Every evening, when the tutors came, they did their homework, read books.  The adults also got along. It wasn’t Nirvana. There were bumps to be worked out, which happened with the help of the skilled Winter Nights staff.

I hope you got to see the thank-you card that they all signed and left for us in Jackson Hall.  In it they expressed the gratitude that I was hearing every day – and the vulnerability.  When they talked, it was often of the fear they had felt for their children as the housing options gradually disappeared.  A couple of the families, who didn’t have cars, were sleeping in the park.

They spoke of how welcome we all made them feel. Our volunteers (as well as those from St. Matthews, those from other organizations, like the Scouts, the Boys’ Team Charity, and Eva’s friends and family) treated them as equals, as important guests, not just with the quality of the meals we served, but with joining them at those meals.

This year, as every year, I am struck by how “normal” these families are. They aren’t the “other”.  I am reminded of our common humanity and vulnerability.  I may not be in danger of being homeless, but I am vulnerable – to disease, to the results of aging, to the death of those I love.  My grandson, currently unemployed, his girlfriend, and their toddler are living with me while he looks for work in his field of expertise – high-end tuning. He is fortunate to have family able to help in his time of need.

This campaign season has been full of rhetoric about “the other”, whether immigrants, Muslims, or “deplorables”.  (In Christ’s day they were tax collectors and prostitutes.)  Our first night, a Muslim woman, none of us knew, showed up with a salad.  She had seen an e-mail that Eva had written, asking for meal volunteers. One morning Michael Hollinger arrived for breakfast team, wearing an “I Am A Deplorable” button. Winter Nights is a reminder to us all, every year, of our humanity, vulnerability, and vast good fortune. We are, none of us, the “other”. I feel so blessed and grateful to be part of a community that sees the common humanity in us all.

Anne Brown

 

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Every once in a while someone in our church makes a dish that’s  so scrumptious that we want to know how to make it ourselves.  Here are recipes that for dishes that grabbed our attention.

Joan Yao’s Special Wonton Soup

Art Clarke’s Outrageous Brownies

Sara Swimmer’s Mexican Soup

STEPHEN MINISTRY

St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church has an active Stephen Ministry group. The Stephen Ministers at St. Anselm’s are: Gene Bozorth, Naomi Chamberlain-Harris, Ina Merrill, Judy Peak, Gerry Starr, and Sara Swimmer. Vicki Pappas is the Stephen Ministry Leader. Stephen Ministers have received 50 hours of specialized training so that they can provide one-to-one Christian care to people who are experiencing grief, loneliness, divorce, hospitalization, job loss, and many other life difficulties. All care-giving relationships are absolutely confidential. We listen, care, encourage and pray for our Care Receivers. We walk alongside those who are going through a difficult time. We hope that you will consider asking for a Stephen Minister when you or someone you know has a need. It is not necessary for the person to be a member of St. Anselm’s. We also have a relationship with a consortium of churches so we have people from other churches who can act as Stephen Minsters for our church members. We are a small church, so some of you may be more comfortable with someone you don’t know. We also hope that you will consider becoming a Stephen Minister. For more information please speak with Father John or Vicki Pappas.

 

OFFICE CHANGES

The following office changes became effective Tuesday, May 30th

  • Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday  9:00 AM to 1:00 PM

THANK YOU!

Sara Nelson was the brains behind the hugely successful idea of having sliders, hot dogs, soda and beer to help us honor the Dads.   She carried through on all the shopping and cooking for our Father’s Day celebration at St. Anselm’s.  Thanks too to all those who helped with the clearing and clean-up.

FIAT LUX! 

In addition to fixing our irrigation system at the church, we are soon to start adding lighting for the parking lot and the courtyard in front of the church.  On the evening of Wednesday July 12th at 8:30 PM, our contractor, Admiral’s Choice, will be simulating two iterations of how we might install that lighting.  If you are interested, you are invited to be present and provide your input.  If you need a ride, let Father John know and we will coordinate finding you one.

WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE?

People are increasingly asking “Why all the construction cones, yellow tape, and ditches on the west side of the church?”  The short answer is “It’s an irrigation system re-do.”   There’s more to the story, of course.   Earlier this year, Admiral’s Choice (AC) was hired to develop a lighting upgrade for the church courtyard and parking lot. The first part of its work included mapping the church’s electrical circuitry, which included the irrigation-system circuits, which involved some digging.  This led to the discovery of many irrigation system inefficiencies, including broken and leaking pipes, failed and ancient control valves, and a system greatly in need of reorganization.   So AC is fixing all that, providing a centralized flow-control system, and extending lines to areas that might be landscaped in the future.    The irrigation upgrade has priority, as hot weather is approaching.   AC hopes to finish it in June.  When it’s completed, AC will resume work on the courtyard/lighting project.

  PAINTING EXHIBIT

Joan Yao will be exhibiting some of her paintings at the Moraga Public Library throughout June.  The library is open Tuesday through Sunday.

RECIPE OF THE MONTH
We are trying something new in the Canterbury Tales. On a monthly basis we will publish what we are calling the “Recipe of the Month”.  Where do the recipes come from?  Anyone in the Parish is welcome and encouraged to submit as many recipes as they desire. Here are some guide lines:  Recipes must be easy to prepare for anyone with basic cooking skills, must not take too long to prepare (say 20 minutes or less), be aimed at the diner meal, be such that left overs for 1-2 nights will be available, and of course  must be nutritious and good tasting. Thanks in advance for your participation.  Please submit your recipes to Dick Orear by clicking here or by mail to Dick at 237 Overhill Road, Orinda, CA 94563.

 2017 COFFEE HOST OPPORTUNITIES

Once again, a big thank you to all who have hosted the 10 o’clockers’ coffee hour throughout the past months.   There are some great opportunities for resourceful bakers and/or TJ’s shoppers in the coming weeks/months and the sign-up sheets are in the kitchen awaiting your name[s].   Please take a moment to find a date that suits your schedule at any time during 2017.   It would be appreciated by all.If you have any questions contact Sara Swimmer, who has offered to manage this part of our Parish Life program.   She can be reached at by filling out this form or 925-216-9890    Thank you for your support.

ST. ANSLEM’S SAILING CLUB

Have you ever wanted to go sailing on the bay? Join us on Saturdays this summer. The cost is about $75 per person with six people in a party. Interested? Dates to be announced. Sign-up in Jackson Hall. Questions?? Contact Jim Morrison or Foster Lipscomb. Come have some fun! (There’s a video posted on St. Anselm’s website from a couple of years ago of  the Vestry trip)

CONTRA COSTA CHILD CARE COUNCIL

Established in 1976, the Contra Costa Child Care Council is a nonprofit organization that is the only child care resource and referral agency serving all of Contra Costa.   Our mission is to provide leadership to promote and advance quality care and early education. Innovative programs, free or low cost services and child development expertise help parents work and children grow, learn and fulfill their potential.  Contact us for assistance and/or support our work for children and families (925)676-5442; www.Cocokids.org

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Celebrate your Harvest                                                                                                                                                                  October 8th

  Harvest Festival Graphic, 2016                                     Join the Festival

 

 

After last year’s blockbuster fundraiser with close to $30,000 raised for Trinity Center, it’s time to get going for 2016. The Annual Harvest Festival will be held on October 8th starting at 5 PM. Marty Fischer and his team are putting together an amazing list of silent and live auction items combined with games and activities to raise as much money as possible and to have a fun evening for all.

All proceeds go to Trinity Center to provide support for those in our community that have no roof over their heads. Every dollar spent at the Harvest Festival goes to help the homeless in Contra Costa. This year we will have an expanded outreach to add even more dollars to help Trinity Center and its mission. Here’s how you can help in addition to attending the dinner:

 Live & Silent Auction: You can offer up wines, antiques, collectibles, condos and timeshares, meals, gift baskets, services and other items for our congregation silent and live auctions. If you have such an offering, please contact John Powers.

Sponsorships:  We are helping Trinity Center build a loyal base of  “Friends” and Sponsors. You or your organization can become a sponsor when you make a tax-deductible contribution of $500 or more. If you wish to explore this please see or call Marty Fischer.

Matching Money: Make a pledge or cash donation now to be matched by others the evening of the event. This will help us to double your contribution and it’s all tax deductible! If you are interested see either Father John, Marty Fischer or John Powers!

Volunteer:  Trinity Center is always in need of help with services at the center, seeking gifts and supporters and enlisting the support of the local community. If you are interested, please see John Powers or Marty Fischer.

Last year we raised close to $30,000….let’s beat that by a bunch in 2016! More on how you can help will follow in the weeks and months ahead.

 

 

FRACKING – FRIEND OR FOE?

About 10 years ago my brother, who lives in Marcellus Shale country in Pennsylvania, asked me what I thought about hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), a relatively new process to increase oil and gas production economically.  At that time fracking was in its infancy and I had no opinion.  But even then it was controversial.  Recently I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself.    What follows is my assessment of the fracking phenomenon.

WHAT IS FRACKING?

Fracking is a well-stimulation method enabling previously inaccessible oil and/or gas residing in shale deposits or “tight” rocks to flow easily to the earth’s surface.  A well is drilled first vertically to the depth of the oil or gas deposit, just as with a conventional well.   (Click on the figure below to bring it into sharper focus).  The drill is then turned 90 degrees, running laterally for distances as long as a mile.  The lateral stretch provides access to much more of the gas or ImageForArticle_18(1)oil field than would a conventional vertical well.   Next a steel pipe is fitted into the well bore.  Then cement is poured into the annulus between the pipe and the rock, forming a liner that prevents gas and fluid from leaking through the annulus to the surrounding environment.  Next the steel and cement lining are perforated.

Then a “fracking fluid” (primarily water, containing sand or other particulate materials suspended with the aid of thickening agents) is injected under high pressure into the pipe and through the perforations to create cracks in the surrounding rock formations.  When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, the particulate materials hold the fractures open.  This allows gas, oil and brines to flow freely from the rock pores, through the perforations, into the pipe and then to the surface, where the gas and/or oil are captured and treated so they are suitable for ultimate use.  This return stream is called “flowback’.

Strictly speaking the term “fracking” applies only to the high-pressure injection operation.   However, I have lumped all these operations into that term for economy of wording.

The scope of fracking in the U.S. is enormous. Over 50,000 fracked wells have been developed per year for the last 15 years.  During that period, natural gas and oil production have surged with resulting lower oil and gas prices and their attendant economic benefits.  But an awareness of fracking’s real and imagined problems has risen concomitantly.

WHAT PROPONENTS SAY

Fracking is well on the way to making the U.S. energy self-sufficient.  Green (2016) cites U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) data showing the U.S. is well on its way to energy self-sufficiency.  In 2005 domestic production accounted for 69% of the U.S. energy demand.  In 2014 it accounted for 89%.  Green says, “There’s not a lot of mystery about the components of America’s energy renaissance: vast reserves of oil and natural gas, safely produced from shale and other tight-rock formations with advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Shale energy has rewritten the U.S. energy narrative while boosting the economy.” He notes that fossil fuels accounted for 55% of the U.S. energy demand in 2005 but had grown to 70% in 2014.  Energy independence means energy security because we’re less dependent on others for our energy supply.

Comment: Green lumps all forms of energy into one number to make his point.  However the U.S. is still far from energy independence in one energy component (oil). The U.S. still imports 43% of its oil, but this number has fallen from 59% since the advent of fracking.

Natural gas is a bridge fuel.  Figure 2 from Green’s report shows primary energy[1] production over the years 1949-2014.  (Click on Figure 2 to bring it into sharper focus). (Comment:  Footnotes, denoted by [1], [2], etc. are shown at the end of this article). The surge in crude oil and natural gas production began with the onset of fracking about 2005 and is continuing.  Equally noteworthy is the concomitant decline of coal production.  Coal, still a major fuel for electric power plants, is being displaced by natural gas, which generally costs less per unit of electricity produced, emits about half of coal’s carbon dioxide per unit of heat released, and produces far fewer toxic pollutants (PM2.5[2], NOx, SO2, and mercury, for example) when burned.   Proponents of fracking recommend continued and accelerated exploitation of natural gas resources, calling natural gas a bridge fuel to sustain our electricity needs until the day that renewables  (primarily wind and solar) overtake coal. USEIA predicts renewables will have that capacity by 2029; in some areas with good sun and/or wind, the displacement is already happening.

Figure 2.  Primary Energy Production (Quadrillion BTU) by Source, 1949-2014

Primary enegy production by source 1949 to 2014 (1)

Fracking invigorates the economy and saves consumers money.   The cost of natural gas has fallen from $6 to $13 per million British Thermal Units (BTU) in 2005 to $2 to $3 per million BTU in 2015.  (Comment: Oil costs have fallen as well, not entirely as the result of fracking, but also because of the glut of foreign oil). According to Green, lower prices at the pump allowed each licensed driver to save an average of $550 in 2015.  USEIA estimates the average American household has saved almost $750 per year in annual energy costs since 2008 (EIA, 2016).

Fracking has helped to decouple the economy and greenhouse gas emissions.  This statement contradicts the long- held notion that emissions of greenhouse gasses (particularly CO2) must rise in tandem with a rising economy.  Green says growth in U.S. energy output has been accompanied by lower carbon emissions, thanks primarily to increased use of clean-burning natural gas in power production. He cites USEIA data that show CO2 emissions have declined 12% since 2005, despite the fact that our economy increased 15%.

WHAT OPPONENTS SAY

Opponents say fracking should be eliminated or at least paused.   Here’s why.

Natural gas is a bigger climate threat than had been previously believed.  Natural gas, a product of natural gas wells and a byproduct of oil wells, is about 95% methane (CH4).  The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now estimate that, over a 20-year time frame, methane can, pound for pound, trap 86 times more heat than can CO2.  This estimate is sharply higher than a previously used value (28) which was diluted by using a more extended time frame (100 years).

Furthermore, data from Howarth (2014) suggested real-world methane leakage rates greatly exceed earlier estimates and that leakage from unconventional (fracked) systems are higher than leakage from conventional systems.   His leakage estimates, expressed as percentages of system production, range from 1.7 to 6.0% for conventional systems and 3.6 to 7.9 % for fracked systems.  He attributed the larger emissions from fracked systems to methane venting when the wells were completed and during the flow-back period after high volume fracturing.  Howarth’s data was roundly attacked by fracking proponents who said much of the data were piece meal and cherry picked to make a case.  They cited other studies (often conducted with industry supplied data) which showed lower leakage rates.

However, a recent Harvard University study (Turner et al, 2016) provided new information backing up claims by fracking opponents.  The study (using satellite data from across the country over the period 2002-2012) estimated that U.S. methane leakage had not held steady or decreased (as the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA’s] calculations had suggested) but had actually increased 30% over that time. In March, 2016, EPA head Gina McCarthy admitted “methane emissions are substantially higher than we’ve indicated” (McKibben, 2016).

Bill McKibben combined Howarth’s high numbers for methane leakage and the 20-year values of methane’s higher global warming capacity (86) to estimate methane contributions to the greenhouse gas inventory.  His calculations suggest methane leaks had more than wiped out gains from CO2 reductions over the last decade.   A calculation using a more moderate 50-year value for methane’s heat trapping capability indicated methane  release had wiped out more than three fifths of the CO2 gains the US has been claiming.  McKibben said “We’ve closed coal mines and opened methane leaks and the result is things have gotten worse.”

The solution to the leakage problem is obvious — reduce the leakage.  Doing so will convert fugitive methane emissions to a valuable product, helping gas producers’ bottom lines and reducing the climate effect.  It’s easier said than done, however.  McKibben reported that a Canadian government team examined the whole process a couple of years ago and came up with despairing conclusions.  “Consider the cement seals around drill pipes,” says Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, who was a member of the team: “It sounds like it ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is “an unresolved engineering challenge.” The technical problem is that when you pour cement into a well and it solidifies, it shrinks. You can get gaps in the cement. All wells leak.”

Fracking uses a lot of water, a problem when water is in short supply.   Fracking often requires several million gallons of water per well.   This water is lost to the general fresh water supply, because after being used for fracking, it’s usually too contaminated to return to the water cycle. The problem is aggravated where there are many wells and water is in short supply.   In California fracking operations compete with the water needs of 38 million people and agriculture.

However, some fracking proponents (Muller and Muller, 2013) have suggested that fresh water use could be minimized by instead  fracking with water from deep saline wells, treating the flowback, then recycling the treated flowback. They note this technique has been used in Canada and Texas by the Apache Company.

Fracking can and has led to groundwater contamination.  Fracking uses harsh and often toxic chemicals to open up shale and tight sand.  These as well as contaminants picked up from the rock formations (naturally occurring arsenic, boron, radioactivity, and volatile organic compounds, for example) are components of flowback.   Flowback is nasty stuff.   It can’t be dumped in a sewer (if there is a sewer) because conventional municipal treatment plants can’t remove many of the contaminants.  Indeed, these contaminants may wipe out the treatment plant.   Flowback requires specialized treatment.  But too often it is spilled accidentally, dumped on the ground, discharged into rivers or streams, or stored in leaky ponds, all leading to groundwater contamination.   Desmog (2016) cited a Duke University study that discovered there had been 3,900 spills in the Bakken shale region since 2007.  In California, state regulators admitted they had mistakenly allowed oil companies to inject drilling wastewater into aquifers containing clean, potable water (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2015).  Also in California, the combination of drought and lack of disposal options has resulted in diversion of fracking wastewater to farms for crop irrigation, raising concerns about its effects on food crops and groundwater.

Researchers in Texas found 19 different fracking-related contaminants – including cancer-causing benzene – in hundreds of drinking water samples collected from the aquifer above the heavily drilled Barnett Shale (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2016).  In Pennsylvania, a solvent used in fracking fluid was found in drinking water wells near drilling and fracking operations known to have well casing problems.

Groundwater contamination is a problem that cannot be easily remedied because pollutants are not readily accessible as they would be in lakes and rivers.   In-situ techniques have been used to inject bacteria, oxidants, or treatment chemicals into the aquifer with varying levels of success.   Alternatively, the water can be brought to the surface, treated, and then reinjected into the aquifer.   However, prevention is a much better option than treatment.

Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to air pollution at levels known to have adverse health impacts.  Such emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog (ground level ozone) at levels known to have health impacts.   Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2016) states that two independent reports from California determined that fracking occurs disproportionately in areas already suffering from air pollution and can drive ozone and other federally regulated air pollutants to levels that violate air quality standards.   With an average of 203 high-ozone days a year, intensely fracked Kern County is the fifth most ozone-polluted county in the nation.

Air near gas wells in rural Ohio had levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that surpassed those in downtown Chicago.   They were also 10 times higher than levels found in rural areas without fracking operations, raising the lifetime risk of cancer living near the well pads by 45%.

Problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational health and safety problems, are increasingly well documented.  Problems among residents living near drilling and fracking operations include increased rates of self-hospitalization, self-reported respiratory problems and rashes, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, and low birth weight among infants (Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2016)).

The Aliso Canyon episode in Southern California, while not connected to fracking, is a particularly egregious example of what can go wrong with natural gas systems.  “It was a mega-leak, one of the biggest ever recorded,” says Tim O’Connor, California Oil & Gas Director for the Environmental Defense Fund (Rich, 2016).  Over the course of four months, 97,100 metric tons of natural gas were released from a storage reservoir near the Porter Ranch housing development.   Porter Ranch residents said that gas fumes were causing headaches, respiratory problems, nosebleeds, and vomiting.   Nearly 6,000 households, about half of Porter Ranch’s population moved to  hotels, apartments and houses in surrounding neighborhoods until the leak was fixed.

Studies have confirmed a causal link between earthquakes and the injection of fracking wastewater in deep disposal wells.  Earthquakes are a consequence of drilling and fracking-related activities in many locations.    The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher has increased in Oklahoma since the advent of the fracking boom, with fewer than two per year before 2009 to more than 1,000 predicted to occur in 2015 (Concerned Health Professionals of New York, (2016)).

Regulations are not capable of preventing harm.  EPA has promulgated federal regulations for new wells drilled on public lands and is in the process of acquiring information that could lead to development of regulations for existing wells.   However, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over drilling on private and state-owned lands, where the vast majority of fracking is done.  The administration hopes the federal legislation will serve as a models for the states with no or limited regulation.

However, growing evidence suggests that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm.  Concerned Health Professionals of New York, 2016 states, “some of fracking’s many component parts – which include the subterranean geological landscape itself – are just not controllable.  Compounding the problem, the number of wells and their attendant infrastructure continue to proliferate, creating burgeoning cumulative impacts.”  It notes “the injection of extreme volumes of fluids – now typically three to five million gallons per well, create significant deformations in the shale that are translated upward, a mile or more, to the surface.  Along the way, these “pressure bulbs” can impact in unpredictable ways faults and fissures in the overlying rock strata, including strata that intersect fresh water aquifers.  Such pressure waves may mobilize contaminants left over from previous drilling and mining activities.  No set of regulations can obviate these potential impacts to groundwater,.

The glut of low-priced natural gas and oil has undercut the market for renewables.  Low gasoline prices have dampened enthusiasm for electric cars.  Low natural gas prices have made wind and solar less cost competitive.  Cheap, abundant fossil fuels are a drag on the world’s sustainable future.  But in the end, that’s where we need to be.  Energy conservation, low-carbon heating and power generation, and a vast electrification of society are hallmarks of this new world.

There are already glimmers of hope.  In California, rapid reductions in wind and solar energy costs are making them cost-competitive with natural gas and their use is surging.  The surge is forcing closure of independent natural gas plants built to reduce electricity shortfalls during the 2002 energy crisis.  California is way ahead of the curve on renewable energy.   I hope the rest of the country can catch up.

Comment: Natural gas is going to be around for a while.  It will be needed in electric power production as backup for intermittent renewables like wind and solar.  These sources don’t generate power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.  However, as techniques to deal with the intermittency problem are developed, the power industry’s dependency on natural gas should fade.  Natural gas will be needed for home heating until that task can be taken over by alternative methods, such as electric heating or heat pumps.  It will continue to be used for industrial purposes (heating and chemical feedstocks), hopefully not in the quantities used today.  With dwindling demand, conventional methods of gas production should suffice.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The scope of fracking in the US is enormous. Since fracking began, gas and oil production have surged with resulting lower oil and gas prices and their attendant economic benefits.  But an awareness of fracking’s real and imagined problems has risen concomitantly.

Fracking proponents say:

  • Fracking is well on its way to making the U.S. energy self-sufficient, thus less dependent on others for our energy needs.
  • Natural gas is a low-cost, climate friendly, minimally polluting fuel that can sustain our energy needs until renewable resources can displace coal in the production of electric power.
  • Fracking increases the supply of natural gas and oil, reducing their costs, saving consumers money.
  • Fracking has helped refute the notion that greenhouse gas emissions must rise in an expanding economy.

Fracking opponents say fracking should be eliminated or at least paused:

  • Natural gas’ primary component (methane) is a bigger climate threat than previously believed. Some calculations suggest that methane leaks over the last 15 years have wiped out CO2 reductions made over the same period.
  • Fracking uses a lot of water, a problem when water is in short supply.
  • Fracking can lead to poisoning of groundwater, a problem which cannot be easily remedied.
  • Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to air pollution at levels known to have adverse health impacts in areas near these operations.
  • Problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational and safety problems, are increasingly well documented.
  • Studies have confirmed a causal link between small earthquakes and injection of fracking wastewater into deep disposal wells.
  • Growing evidence suggests that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm because some of fracking’s many component parts, which include the subterranean landscape itself, are simply not controllable.
  • The glut of low-priced natural gas and oil has undercut the market for renewables.

I don’t dispute the proponents’ numbers.  They’re credible.  In the end, though, I cast my lot with those opposing fracking.  While the energy industry provides a vital service, the environment is not its first concern.  It is one of mine, however.  Global warming is happening and its projected consequences are so stark they overwhelm economic arguments.  I believe that fracking will exacerbate global warming.

Fracking can and has contaminated groundwater, an essential resource for much of our country.  Strong regulations are insufficient to prevent it.  We should not provide it more opportunities.  The state of New York has banned fracking.  We in California should do so too.

At this time we should be putting our money and effort in developing and expanding renewables, not fossil fuels.  The day when renewables can supply all our energy needs is coming.  Gas and oil must serve as bridge fuels until that time.  Let’s make that bridge as short as possible.

 

Doug Merrill

References:

Concerned Health Professionals of New York (2015), Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms Of Fracking (Unconventional Gas And Oil Extraction), http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/

 

Desmog, (2016), Duke Study Finds a “Legacy of Radioactivity”, Contamination from Thousands of Fracking Wastwater Spills, http://desmogblog.com/2016/05/08/duke-university-study-finds-legacy-radioactivity-water-and-soil-contaminated-thousands-fracking-wastewater-spills

 

Green, Mark (2016), Growing U. S. Energy Self-Sufficiency, http://www.energytomorrow.org/blog/2015/04/06/growing-us-energy-self-sufficiency.

 

Howarth, R. W. (2014), A Bridge to Nowhere:  Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas, http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/publications/Howarth_2014_ESE_methane_emissions.pdf

 

McKibben, Bill (2016), Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry, https://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/

 

Muller, R. A. and E. A. Muller, (2013), Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking,
https://www.cps.org.uk/files/reports/original/131202135150-WhyEverySeriousEnvironmentalistShouldFavourFracking.pdf

 

Rich, Nathaniel, (2016), The Invisible Catastrophe, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/magazine/the-invisible-catastrophe.html

 

Turner, A. J., et al (2016), A Large Increase in U.S. Methane Emissions Over the Past Decade Inferred from Satellite Data and Surface Observations, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL067987/abstract

 

U.S. Energy Information Administration (2016), Today in Energy, http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=26072

 

Footnotes:

[1] Primary energy is energy found in nature that has not been subjected to any conversion or transformation process.  For example, coal and natural gas are forms of primary energy but electricity (which has been generated by burning coal or natural gas) is not.

[2] PM2.5 refers to a category of particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter.  These tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and where they are adsorbed into the blood stream and lead to cardiorespiratory disease. Muller and Muller (2013) say they are responsible for about 75,000 deaths per year in the US and were responsible for about 3.2 million deaths worldwide in 2010.  They also contribute significantly to global warming.

FRACKING – FRIEND OR FOE?

About 10 years ago my brother, who lives in Marcellus Shale country in Pennsylvania, asked me what I thought about hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), a relatively new process to economically increase oil and gas production. At that time fracking was in its infancy and I had no opinion. But even then it was controversial. Recently I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself. What follows is my assessment of the fracking phenomenon.

This article describes fracking and presents the conclusions of my study. It’s a condensation of a larger version that presents the reasoning that led to my conclusions but which exceeds this newsletter’s space limitations. To see the full version, click here.

What Is Fracking?

Fracking is a well-stimulation method enabling previously inaccessible oil and/or gas residing in shale deposits or “tight” rocks to flow easily to the earth’s surface. A well is drilled first vertically to the depth of the oil or gas deposit, just as with a conventional well. (Click on the figure below to bring it into sharper focus).  The drill is then turned 90 degrees, running laterally for distances as long as a mile. The lateral stretch provides access to much more of the gas or ImageForArticle_18(1)oil field than would a conventional vertical well. Next a steel pipe is fitted into the well bore. Then cement is poured into the annulus between the pipe and the rock, forming a liner that prevents gas and fluid from leaking through the annulus to the surrounding environment. Next the steel and cement lining are perforated.

Then a “fracking fluid” (primarily water, containing sand or other particulate materials suspended with the aid of thickening agents) is injected under high pressure into the pipe and through the perforations to create cracks in the surrounding rock formations. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, the particulate materials hold the fractures open. This allows gas, oil and brines to flow freely from the rock pores, through the perforations, into the pipe and then to the surface, where the gas and/or oil are captured and treated so they are suitable for ultimate use.

Strictly speaking the term “fracking” applies only to the high pressure injection operation. However I have lumped all these operations into that term for economy of wording.

Summary and Conclusions

The scope of fracking in the US is enormous. Over 50,000 fracked wells have been developed per year for the last 15 years. During that period, natural gas and oil production have surged with resulting lower oil and gas prices and their attendant economic benefits. But an awareness of fracking’s real and imagined problems has risen concomitantly.

Fracking proponents say:

Fracking is well on its way to making the US energy self-sufficient thus less dependent on others for our energy needs. In 2005 domestic production accounted for 69% of the US energy demand. In 2014 it accounted for 89%.

Natural gas is a low-cost, climate friendly, minimally polluting bridge fuel that can sustain our energy needs until that time that renewable resources can displace coal in the production of electric power. Experts project that time to be 2029 nationally; in some areas with good sun and/or wind, the displacement is already happening.

Fracking increases the supply of natural gas and oil, reducing their costs, thus saving consumers money.  Since 2008, the average American household has saved almost $750 in annual energy costs.

Fracking has refuted the notion that greenhouse gas emissions must rise in an expanding economy.  Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, declined 12% since 2005, despite the fact our economy increased 15%.

Fracking opponents say fracking should be eliminated or at least paused. Here’s why:

Natural gas leakage is now recognized as a major climate problem. Natural gas’ primary component (methane, CH4) is a more powerful greenhouse gas than previously believed. Studies have also shown real-world methane leakage rates greatly exceed earlier estimates and that leakage from unconventional (fracked) wells is significantly higher than from conventional wells. Some calculations suggest that methane leaks (fugitive emissions) over the last 15 years have wiped out most or all CO2 reductions made over the same period.

Fracking uses a lot of water, a problem when water is in short supply, as it has been recently in California.

• Fracking can and has led to contamination of groundwater, an essential resource for many Americans. Groundwater contamination is a serious problem that cannot be easily remedied.

Fracking emissions contribute to air pollution at levels known to have adverse health impacts, particularly in areas near these operations.

Public health problems associated with fracking, including occupational and safety problems, are increasingly well documented.

Studies have confirmed a causal link between small earthquakes and injection of fracking wastewater into deep disposal wells.

Growing evidence suggests that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm because some of fracking’s many component parts, which include the subterranean landscape itself – are not controllable.

The glut of low-priced natural gas and oil has undercut the market for renewables, slowing their adoption.

 

I don’t dispute the proponents’ numbers. They’re credible. In the end, though, I cast my lot with those opposing fracking. While the energy industry provides a vital service, the environment is not its first concern. It is one of mine, however. Global warming is happening and its projected consequences are so stark that they overwhelm economic considerations, at least in my mind. I believe that fracking has and will exacerbate global warming.

Fracking can and has contaminated groundwater, an essential resource for much of our country. We should not provide it more opportunities. Strong regulations are insufficient to prevent groundwater contamination. The state of New York has banned it. We in California should do so too.

At this time we should be putting our money and effort into developing and expanding opportunities for renewables, not fossil fuels. The day when renewables can supply all our energy needs is coming. Gas and oil must serve as bridge fuels until that time. Let’s make that bridge as short as possible.

Doug Merrill

 

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EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

For the past two years in this column, Doug and I have mixed articles on environmental issues with practical tips on saving energy and water.  The results have been terrific – others in the parish have described their successes in saving water and reducing their carbon footprints.

But what if you’re not the “do it yourself” type?  What if there was some service that would help you by changing those out-of-reach light bulbs for you?  What if someone would come to your home and install that low-flow shower head?  And what if it was all FREE?

While it may sound too good to be true, such a service exists right here in our neighborhood, and it is indeed free (or more correctly, you’ve already paid for it as part of your PG&E bill).  Rising Sun Energy Center employs local youth (ages 15-22) each summer to make Green House Calls on PG&E customers in many Bay Area communities.  When you schedule a Green House Call (see below), two trained youth energy specialists will come to your home, install compact fluorescent and/or LED light bulbs, install low-flow faucets, and provide personalized recommendations for even more savings.

My son Evan was a youth energy specialist with some of his friends last summer, and enjoyed the experience very much.  He met some interesting characters and always had good stories about his interactions at the homes he visited.  This organization has already made over 33,000 Green House Calls in 20 Bay Area communities, installed over 275,000 free high-efficiency light bulbs, helped their customers reduce CO2 emissions by over 100,000 tons, and trained over 1,300 local youth in important job skills.

To find out more about Rising Sun Energy, go here:

www.risingsunenergy.org

To schedule a Green House Call, call 510-665-1501 extension 5, or go here:

http://risingsunenergy.org/green-house-call-form/

 

John Powers

 

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