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Posts Tagged ‘environmental impact’

SpiroFlo reviews the recent pollution of the Animas River and why the Environmental Protection Agency is unable to respond quickly.

The big environmental story this week is the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in the Animas River. If you aren’t familiar with the story:

  • The Animas River—named by a Spanish explorer as the “River of Souls”—is part of the Colorado River System. At 126 miles long, the river begins in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and flows into New Mexico.
  • Silverton, Colorado was a gold mine town (until the last mine closed in 1991). On August 5th, while working on the Gold King Mine near Silverton, an EPA-contracted company accidentally broke the dam holding back a tailing pond (a somewhat neutral term for a pond full of metals and waste from mining). Their intended task was to pump out and treat the contaminated mine water.
  • Over 3,000,000 gallons of this wastewater and tailings (the non-revenue materials/minerals from mining) flooded the Animas River. As of August 11th—six days after the initial breach—acidic water drainage from the metal mine continued to flow out at a rate of 500-700 gallons per minute. The pollution rates were updated (for the worse) and will likely continue to be so as the story progresses.
  • The wastewater spill affected waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of the Navajo Nation (in those areas).

As a result of the spill, the Animus River, which usually looks like this…

AnimasNormal

…turned orange within 24 hours…

AnimasOrange

…and later turned green:

AnimasGreen

Although the EPA has taken responsibility for the environmental disaster, they have been criticized for waiting a day before telling anyone. Other criticisms include giving inaccurate information (it’s usually the EPA who releases the numbers on spills like this—they’re just usually not also responsible, thereby creating a conflict of interest).

At first, there was no testing of the river contents. Some say this came about due to the changing water conditions; others noted that problems such as lead poisoning can be hard to detect. What we do know is that lead poisoning is linked to slowing child development and increasing learning disabilities (there are good reasons why lead paint got banned from homes). Given what’s in a gold mine, heavy metals are a guarantee—the kind of minerals that the EPA rightfully regulates away from air, earth, and water.

The Denver Post reported that, when river water was tested 15 miles downstream from Durango, Colorado, iron levels were 326 times the domestic water limit allowed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Iron levels were recorded at 100 times above the limit. CNN noted these iron levels as being 12,000 times higher than normal. CNN also noted the Animas River had “extremely high levels of arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and mercury. It also contained zinc, iron and copper.”

As a result of this, several people are deciding whether to sue the EPA. However, many believe this course of legal action won’t even be possible. Some have labeled the EPA the Environmental Pollution Agency and believe that if a private corporation had done that they’ve done, they’d have the CEO’s picture posted everywhere as a villain, and the EPA would be pushing for punitive justice. Now that the EPA is responsible, that pursuit of justice is a lot more leisurely.

Farmington, New Mexico has 90 days’ worth of drinking water before they have to pump in from elsewhere. However, some claim that, even within a week, water toxicity levels around the Durango area were back to pre-catastrophe levels. Brings to mind that old slogan “Dilution is the solution.” Regardless, many believe the impact of this polluted water won’t be fully seen for months, and that the EPA is moving too slow in the clean-up process.

So why does this clean up seem to be taking so long? There are two main reasons:

  • Bureaucracy: I know it’s a term that’s thrown around often, but when you’re dealing with a government agency that usually has to wait to go through public hearings and approval processes (all while some believe they wind up promoting their greased palm connections anyway), it makes it hard to respond to emergencies. You would think there would be an emergency protocol, and even if there is, that’s subject to abuse, too. Suddenly every project is an emergency…
  • Any private company that helps with the clean up becomes liable for its success. That’s right: While the EPA will likely not be held liable for the mess they made, if your company helps clean it up, you could be held responsible for the mess you didn’t make. While I understand there must be some standards for any company that’s signing up for a lot of important work, you can understand why plenty of viable technology companies would say no thanks. The EPA might as well put up a sign that reads “Now hiring scapegoats.”

The really scary thing is, thanks to several industries, there are hundreds of thousands of retaining ponds just like this (which the EPA were trying to fix), usually in pristine areas. The SpiroFlo series of companies has solutions for spinning these toxic minerals out of water, but we’re not looking to break into the scapegoat business. Sorry.

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As always, sources are in the comments.

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo shares the far-reaching effects that environmental technologies need to consider.

Whenever the holidays roll around, I like to look up all the awkward green approaches, but this last 4th of July, I noticed that the fun is gone. While I’ve previously noted that being green often coincides with my tendency to be a cheapskate, I’ve found the approaches to a green Thanksgiving—save the ultimate horror of tofurky—are rather dull.

NOfurky

Do you really need a reminder that it’s environmentally friendly to eat all your leftovers, or is the family cook threatening to kill you if you don’t eat turkey sandwiches for a week the main motivation?

Exactly. I welcome thee, Turkey Sandwich Apocalypse.

So again, what happened to all the fun green holiday ideas?

One of the big problems is that people started to think through what the complete process costs the environment. Suddenly wasting an entire morning on a green project that’s not all that impactful doesn’t seem so worthwhile (and that’s before signing up for the grind of the afternoon/evening meal with your extended family).

So sorry, Mother Earth, I’ve got a Mother-in-Law to deal with first.

Let’s go bigger: Given that we work on environmental issues, we get to hear how everyone and their mom has the greatest green idea ever!!!!! Until, you know, you actually start to work it through.

So, for example, Harry has an idea to reuse Chain Store X’s trash as an alternative fuel. He believes the store should give it to him for free, and that this process will solve landfill issue while displacing fossil fuels with a cleaner, energy-efficient fuel. In addition, Harry will create jobs and make gobs of money while making Mother Earth happy with his trash-to-fuel process.

Sounds great, until you start looking at the complete process. Once this happens, Harry will find that:

  1. Chain Store X will not give him their trash for free because, a) they don’t want to be held responsible for what some crazy unknown entity will do with their stuff (and the PR havoc that could cause); and b) once something has economic value it is no longer simply trash.
  2. Even if Harry can convince Chain Store X to give him their trash, he discovers that in order to go pick up enough trash, he has to get a fleet of gas guzzling dump trucks to route to his facility that runs on fossil fuels. He searches for alternatives but discovers that there are no economically viable energy sources—at least not any that are reliable and scalable enough—and that he doesn’t have nearly enough access to capital to develop his own. In calculating the carbon footprint of his facilities and transportation, Harry realizes that he’s essentially undoing the good he’s creating with his process.
  3. Harry again debates using his own super trash fuel for the above issues, but discovers that scaling the fuel starts to mess with supply and demand, that suddenly his fuel isn’t profitable at this level, and that no venture capitalist is willing to back his growth with the abysmal track record of cleantech startups that have blazed the same trails and burned up with the same mistakes.
  4. Finally, Harry discovers that his process creates a nasty byproduct that can’t be used anywhere. In addition, even the landfills won’t take this byproduct because it’s so toxic, so his great, clean fuel has created a series of problems that he didn’t know about until the process is already in motion, leaving him with a business model that no longer applies.

And so on and so on.

This kind of example sounds ridiculous, but corn ethanol facilities ran on fossil fuels (and that’s before they got into the associated water waste from such an inefficient process that created an unusable bounty of ugly byproduct).

However, more than likely, Harry will never get past complaining about the unfairness of big oil, greedy venture capitalists, and the monopolistic tendencies of the energy world. At best, he will turn a blind eye to the inefficiency he creates with his old, beat-up, alt-fuel pickup truck that runs for four days at a time without breaking down.

The reality is that you can make an alternative fuel from just about anything, but it’s a matter of:

  • How efficient the fuel is
  • How it scales to larger use
  • How economically viable it is to build/maintain the process/end-user device; and
  • How bad you’ll stink driving down the road

(The last one seems to apply the least to the “creative fuel” drivers I’ve met.)

So maybe this isn’t the thankful post I should be writing this time of year, but I’ve just seen a hundred too many cutesy environmental technology ideas that never really go anywhere while wasting a lot of time, money, and credibility. In the meantime, viable (yet in-progress) technologies get nitpicked by the very environmental crowd that will never support them anyway.

If you find the perfect technology, let me know. You should find it alongside a perfect relationship and an alternate reality where the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series.

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Okay, okay, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for… just not in this post. Have a great Turkey Day / mediocre Tofurky Day!

 

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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