Colorado flooding – exposing the risks of riverside oil wells

Photo by: John Wark, AP

In the past month, it seems that environmental cataclysms are moving closer to home. The recent catastrophic floods in northern Colorado have done quite a bit of damage. Ten people died in the flooding, and about 18,000 houses were impacted by the floods. The residents are still attempting to clear up the damage from the floods, and it will continue to be a lot of work. However, besides these apparent damages, oil and gas wells were also affected. Weld County is the center of oil and gas drilling in Colorado, and it was unfortunately heavily affected by the flooding. The county contains about 20,000 oil and gas wells, many of which sit along the southern floodplains of the Platte River. The wells are supposed to be very sturdy, but the intense flooding swept debris down the river, breaking pipes and spilling about 37,000 gallons of oil (as currently estimated). The Colorado Oil and Gas Association argues that compared to all of the other damage, this amount of oil spilled should not be of concern.

Environmentalists take a different stance on this matter. They worry that water sources are now contaminated from this spillage, small as it may seem. Because most of the damaged oil and gas wells are on the floodplains of the river, the oil wouldn’t have to travel very far to seep into the water sources. In addition, any spilled oil could easily leak into groundwater no matter where it was. Environmentalists are taking this chance to point out the risks of riverside oil wells. They wanted all drilling to be stopped to take a look at damage, but currently only the 1,900 damaged wells have been shut down, while the rest continue to run to fuel our addiction to fossil fuels.

This fall, there are several towns in Colorado that are going to be voting on banning fracking, following suit of Longmont’s decision to ban it last year. It will be interesting to see whether this oil spill will have any effect on these ballot decisions. Unfortunately, I think it is these disastrous events that make people take action against climate change. When the dangers are close to home people tend to take more of an interest in doing something to make their homes safer. In this case, the potential contamination of water sources may make Colorado residents reconsider our system of continuously taking a nonrenewable resource out of our earth.

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Colorado Flooding:

Here are some crazy pictures of the flooding:

By Jessica Smyke, Zero Waste Team member

Throwing Away Energy

Confessions of a trash bin.

When you take out your trash, do you think about where it ends up? Most of the waste produced on the Fort Lewis College campus goes to a landfill 45 miles away in San Juan County, NM. Waste-related fees add up to $30,000-$35,000 annually, one of the many reasons why Fort Lewis aims to become a zero-waste campus in the future.

On a larger scale, the United States leads the world in both annual waste production and energy consumption. Combined, these factors present a serious issue for the U.S. What if there was some way to solve both problems in one stroke? What if the trash you put into the dumpster could turn into energy? In fact, it can and some places have been doing it since the 1980’s.

My hometown of Syracuse, NY, has been using waste resources to create energy for the city since 1995. The Waste-to-Energy facility takes in garbage from the surrounding area and burns it, using the heat to make electricity. The process dramatically reduces waste and simultaneously produces energy, conveniently solving both issues at once! Up to 990 tons of waste are burned each day, which generates around 35 megawatts (35,000,000 watts) of energy for the surrounding homes. This saves 7,330,000 barrels of oil annually- powering 380,000 homes throughout the year. This is just one of the reasons Syracuse is called the Emerald City.

So why doesn’t every city have one of these facilities? There are some questionable aspects, including, isn’t burning trash dirty and smelly? Actually, the Waste-to-Energy facility operates very cleanly. All of the fumes and smoke from the burning process are thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before their release into the atmosphere. Air pollution from the plants is still a concern, however. The ashes leftover after burning still must be put into a landfill (but at a 90% smaller volume than the trash would have taken up previously). These ashes are sometimes considered hazardous waste. Lastly, the plants can consume not all waste products; most hazardous waste cannot be burned. However, the pollution concerns are very small and are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

Over one hundred similar facilities currently exist in the U.S., handling fourteen percent of the total waste produced. None exist in Colorado and Florida has the most, with 11 facilities spread throughout the state.

What if Durango had one of these plants? The FLC campus could produce some of its own energy and fulfill the goal of becoming a zero-waste campus. Although such a facility is a huge investment, it could one day create huge benefits for the city of Durango. With enough support, a Waste-to-Energy facility and a more sustainable community could be in Durango’s future.

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By Erica Gilrein

Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs: The Best Choice

One of the most common subjects of living a sustainable life is energy and how we can conserve it. This subject is often linked to the easiest and one of the most effective ways in which to save energy, being lights, which leads to knowing that the best light bulbs are CFL, or compact fluorescent.

A CFL bulb uses around 1/4 to 1/3 the amount of energy that an equivalent incandescent light bulb uses.

One important consideration in choosing whether to use CFL or incandescent light bulbs is the amount of energy they both use. A CFL bulb uses around 1/4 to 1/3 the amount of energy that an equivalent incandescent light bulb uses.

And as you can see in this chart, those numbers hold true across different voltages.

Now, there is a lot more to the decision of using CFL’s than just saving energy; CFL bulbs also have a lower net amount of mercury than a normal incandescent light bulb. Mercury is a harmful pollutant when produced in emissions’ or other forms, especially if it enters the water table.  Net Mercury refers to the total amount of mercury that will be involved in the whole lifespan of the light bulb. Even though CFL bulbs contain Mercury and incandescent do not, assuming the electricity used is coming from a coal-fired power plant, the amount of mercury will be greater using and incandescent bulb due to the lesser efficiency of the incandescent bulb. Therefore, if the CFL bulb is recycled properly the Mercury is much lower due to most of the mercury pollution being able to be contained in the recycling process, rather than being relatively unavoidable in the form of emissions.

In conclusion, when you take into account which type of light bulb to use, while CFLs may be more expensive up front, the long term saving are well worth that investment.

~ Tazeus Steyskal

Energy in the Future

windturbineMost people have realized that the future of transportation relies heavily on alternative fuel sources.  The majority of experts agree that at some point we will run out of fossil fuel and will be forced to adopt new technologies in order to continue our ability to travel large distances in a short amount of time.  But where we will go from here?

According to the Durango Herald Colorado State University is experimenting with longer lasting batteries that may allow electric cars to be more efficient and cheaper to drive.  Colorado State University’s batteries are cheaper to make, last longer, and are more powerful than the lithium ion batteries that we use today.  This new battery could allow electric vehicles to travel hundreds of miles on a single charge.  Currently the lithium ion rechargeable batteries used in electric cars cost around $15,000 and can only power a car between 40 miles, for the new Chevy Volt, to 244 for the Tesla Roadster, which costs $45,000.  With this new technology we may see more affordable electric cars that can be driven as far as our modern gas powered ones.

Another method of fueling vehicles is by using Biodiesel.  According to there are many ways to create biodiesel, including using many of the same processes as making paper.  In Missoula, Montana, a paper mill has closed putting workers out of business and has led politicians and business owners to search for a new way to employ workers.  One idea is to convert the paper plant to produce biodiesel.  Whether or not this is a good idea is hard to say but if this does pass it would mean more jobs for people in Missoula as well as a new source for biodiesel in the area.

To prevent our world from falling apart lets continue to look for new ways to power our vehicles and, hopefully, we will be able to break our dependence on fossil fuels.

Ben Rogers