Clayton county rezones 746 acres for frack sand mining


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Great Plains Sand of Jordan, Minnesota mines and processes silica sand in a process that will mirror those in Clayton County. (MPCA Photos/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 17, 2016

The Clayton County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night to rezone 746 acres to allow for the underground mining of silica sand used in the hydraulic fracking process.

The zoning adjustment, requested by Pattison Sand Company, marks the end of a yearlong effort by the company to change the land from agricultural use to heavy industrial use. Citizens of Clayton County spoke up in favor and against the expansion of Pattison’s underground mining effort. Several of Pattison’s employees commended the company for its fair wages and good benefits. The workers also pointed out that the company and its employees help to stimulate the local economy.

Residents who live nearby voiced concern that the zoning change document does not mention the protection of human health, the local environment, or the aesthetic qualities of the bluffs that line the Mississippi River. According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), breathing in silica found in silica sands can cause a lung disease characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs, reducing their ability to intake oxygen. The report also said that silica can cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease. Workers who breathe in the silica sands every day are at the highest risk.

In contrast, University of Iowa professor Patrick O’Shaughnessy, presented research at the meeting which found little air quality risks associated with frack sand mining. O’Shaughnessy’s team of researchers did, however, recommend 16 zoning restrictions concerning air and water quality, noise pollution, and scenic preservation. None of these restrictions were adopted by the zoning board. Many speakers urged the board to table discussions or to adopt the researchers’ zoning restrictions, but restrictions were rejected and the board passed the zoning change 4-0.

On The Radio – Environmental activist Sandra Steingraber visits UNI


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Sandra Steingraber is an American biologist, author, and cancer survivor. Steingraber writes and lectures on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and environmental links to cancer. (Flickr)

Jake Slobe | September 26, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Sandra Steingraber and her recent visit to the University of Northern Iowa

Transcript: Long time environmental activist, Sandra Steingraber recently hosted a lecture, film showing and discussion at the the University of Northern Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Steingraber visited UNI to discuss three of her recent articles and give a lecture entitled “Be Arrested If Necessary.” She spoke about the role of environmental science as a catalyst for political and cultural change.

Sandra Steingraber, lives in Trumansburg, New York and has worked for years with government officials and other activists to bring about changes in her home state and around the country. She is a co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and New Yorkers Against Fracking and is currently the science advisor to Americans Against Fracking. In twenty-fourteen she led a successful campaign against fracking, resulting in the process being banned in the Empire State.

Steingraber is working hard to bring awareness to the effects of environmental degradation due to chemical contamination, fracking, shale gas extraction and climate change.

For more information on Sandra Steingraber and her environmental efforts visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

 

Estimate finds ethanol production may be worse for environment than Keystone XL


(futureatlas.com/Flickr)
(futureatlas.com/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | June 9, 2015

New estimates show that corn ethanol production could be worse for the environment than originally thought – even worse than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency date, the Environmental Working Group found that last year’s ethanol production process, including the conversion of millions of acres of arable land for use as corn crops, led to 27 million tons more carbon emissions than if Americans had used regular gasoline only. That’s compared to oil transmitted from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would emit 24 million tons of carbon per year.

The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that gasoline sold in the U.S. contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Critics argue that the promise of the standard to promote energy independence and reduce emissions was squandered by mass conversion of grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, releasing carbon stored in the earth and leading to decreased biodiversity. This also had massive implications for the food supply, with the proportion of U.S. corn crops dedicated to ethanol rising from 6 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2013. The conversion of more than 300,000 acres of wetlands between 2008 and 2012 alone released between 25 and 74 million tons of CO2 each year, according to an EWG estimate.

While the EPA predicts that emissions from ethanol production will be lower than that of gasoline by 2022 if ethanol plants use biomass as their energy source, critics are skeptical that plants won’t instead turn to cheaper natural gas. The EWG recommends cutting the ethanol mandate, while industry studies insist that ethanol production will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.

Research suggests babies born near fracking sites more likely to experience health complications


Nick Fetty | August 26, 2014
A natural gas fracking operation in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Daniel Foster/Flickr)
A natural gas fracking operation near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Daniel Foster/Flickr)

The first study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – on babies born near wells found that these infants are more likely to experience health risks.

While this study is still preliminary, the researchers found that congenital heart defects were more common for babies born near gas wells in Colorado, the state with the nation’s strictest oil and gas regulations. Babies born to mothers who live within a mile of 125 or more wells experienced a 30 percent increase in congenital heart defects compared to those with no wells within 10 miles. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives back in January.

A separate, non-peer reviewed study found that babies born near gas wells in Pennsylvania were more likely to experience low birth weight which can lead to developmental issues while local authorities in Utah are investigating after a recent spate of stillbirths, likely linked to unsafe levels of air pollution caused by the the gas and oil industry. The air quality in rural parts of Utah was comparable to the amount of exhaust from 100 million automobiles within a year. Infant mortality rates saw a major increase in Utah within four years with two deaths in 2010 compared to 12 in 2013.

The Colorado study was deemed non-conclusive because it did not account for “different types of wells, water quality, mothers’ behavior or genetics.” The American Heart Association has provided funding to conduct a similar study over the next four years.

Iowa City film fest to feature documentary about frac sand mining


Nick Fetty | August 21, 2014
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Caroll Mitchell/Flickr)
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)

The 8th annual Landlocked Film Festival will take place in downtown Iowa City this weekend and among the films being shown is a documentary that examines the affects that frac sand mining has had on the environment as well as the communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Price of Sand – directed by Minnesota native Jim Tittle – examines the recent boom in mining operations for pure silica. This silica is used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) operations as well as for manufacturing materials such as glass and toothpaste. The silica acts as a proppant or “a material used in hydraulic rock fracturing in order to keep the fissures open and thereby aid extraction.” The size and shape of different proponents play “a critical role in keeping fractures open and at the desired conductivity.”

These frac sand mining operations are most common along the “driftless area” – also called the Paleozoic Plateau – which “is a unique region of the Upper Mississippi River Basin with a landscape that is rich with ecological and economic opportunities. The area was by-passed by the last continental glacier and has differential weathering and erosion that results in a steep, rugged landscape referred to as karst topography.” The driftless area includes portions of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northwest Illiniois, and northeast Iowa. Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa currently have a “moratorium on mining.”

Proponents of the practice say that frac sand mining provides a valuable resource while creating jobs. Opponents say that it brings increased traffic as well as wear and tear on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to rural areas. Opponents are also concerned about the potential health effects associated with frac sand mining.

The viewing will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday August 22 in Room A at the Iowa City Public Library. It will be followed by discussion from a panel of experts from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.

“The size and the shape of silica make it a particularly dangerous substance. It is regulated as a human carcinogen. It causes siliceous, it causes tuberculous, it causes problems with kidney disease. According to studies on siliceous we can get a certain amount, maybe up to three micrograms per cubic meter, and we have no ill health effects but above that level, so if we have agricultural dust as well as dust coming from a sand plant, we may be above that threshold and then we may begin to see the scarring and the progression of disease associated with silica exposure.”

-University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Nursing Professor Crispin Pierce during an interview with Iowa Public Radio on August 21, 2014.

Proposed oil pipeline would run through 16 Iowa counties


Nick Fetty | July 10, 2014
An oil pipeline in Alaska. Photo by Sebastian Saarloos; flickr
An oil pipeline in Alaska.
Photo by Sebastian Saarloos; flickr

An 1,100-mile underground pipeline would run from Lyon County in the northwest corner of Iowa to Lee County in the southeast if it properly clears hurdles by various regulatory groups.

Energy Transfer Partners L.P. – a Dallas, Texas-based company – has yet to file a petition with the Iowa Utilities Board for regulatory review though hopes to meet with officials to discuss state requirements. The pipeline is expected to carry about 320,000 barrels of crude oil through 17 counties in the state each day.

This proposal comes on the heels of a booming oil production sector in North Dakota, particularly the Bakken region, which creates more than 1 million barrels per day. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies are often used to procure the oil. Environmentalists and other groups have been skeptical of these methods which have had adverse consciences in several instances.

Fright trains currently transport oil through nine counties in the northwest and northeast corners of the state. In 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic. Crude oil drilled in North Dakota’s Bakken region is considered “more flammable than other oil” which prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement stricter regulations with the transportation of the substance.

Energy Transfer Partners’ Board of Directors has already approved plans for the 30-inch diameter pipeline and expects operations to begin by the end of 2016.

Edit: Post originally stated that the pipeline would pass through 17 Iowa counties.

New UI course combines environment and politics


Nick Fetty | May 22, 2014
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Photo via UI Office of Sustainability

A recently introduced course at the University of Iowa teaches students about the interactions between environmental issues and politics.

The course – Iowa Environmental Policy in Practice – was offered last spring through the Department of Geological and Sustainability Sciences which is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students in the course spent their spring breaks in Des Moines “meeting with legislation from both the House and Senate, policy makers, and environmental groups.” Just some of the local environmental issues covered in the class included alternative energy methods, energy conservation and efficiency, water quality, and fracking. 

Read the full story in Iowa Now.