Massachusetts’ Green Wave

A jar of weed grown in a commercial facility.

The mayor Holyoke, a small city in Western Massachusetts, is hoping he has found the golden ticket that will save the area’s economy, and it comes in the form of legalized pot. Effective December 15, 2016 Massachusetts became the first East Coast state that will allow the sale of recreational marijuana and many cities are hoping the new industry will jobs and money to poorer areas (Massachusetts Legislation, 201). When recreational marijuana was first made available in Colorado there was a large spike in commercial cultivation facilities to keep up with the demand. The first week that marijuana was legal in Colorado stores sold over $14 million worth of recreational marijuana and this number continues to grow as more user adopt the practice (KansasCityFed). By the end of 2016 Colorado had given out nearly 500 permits to sell recreational marijuana and 700 permits to grow it, resulting in $1.3 billion dollars worth of marijuana being sold (KansasCityFed). All of the marijuana sold in Massachusetts needs to be grown in Massachusetts which has resulted in 172 recreational cultivation license applications being submitted to Massachusetts’ cannabis control board from all across the state, showing that Mass is on track to follow Colorado’s cannabis boom (CCC).

These facilities are almost exclusively indoor cultivation facilities that are housed in warehouses or greenhouses. Indoor grow facilities are utilized because of their ability to deliver a high yield of crops year round while protecting plants from any adverse environmental conditions and keeping the grow area within precise environmental conditions (Baptista et al., 2017). Indoor grow facilities produce as much as ten times more crops compared to traditional farms, making them an obvious choice for growing expensive crops like marijuana (Barbosa et al., 2015). In Massachusetts indoor grow facilities are used almost exclusively for large operations because of the long winters and short growing season that would drastically impact the growers overall yield. Consumers also demand a very high quality product when they purchase marijuana from a store and these products can only be grown in intensly regulated facilities. Without the use of indoor grow operations marijuana cultivators would not be able to produce enough high quality product to yield a reasonable profit.  The major problem with controlled environment agricultural is the reliance on outside energy sources and the effect this energy consumption can have on the environment (Sanjuan-Delmás et al., 2017).

However, greenhouses use significantly more energy than more traditional open air farms. The amount of energy utilized fluctuates based on the individual greenhouse because of differences seen in technology and construction, but it is inevitable that greenhouses will use more energy than traditional open air farms due to the equipment needed to produce a high yield of crops. A recent study found that greenhouses use as much as 160.5 MJ/kg while more traditional outdoor growing options like open air farming only uses 0.8-6.9 MJ/kg (Ntinas et al., 2016). Marijuana cultivation is considered to be one of the most energy intensive industries in America today (Warren 2016). In the United States 1% of the entire country’s energy use is spent on marijuana cultivation  (Magagninia 2018). This can rise to 3% in cannabis rich states like California (Magagninia 2018). Most industrial grow facilities have large, overhead lights that replace the sun, bring water straight to the plants in the absence of rain, maintain precise air quality through the use of air filters and dehumidifiers. (NCLS). Each of these necessary tools needs a large amount of energy to function at peak performance.

To grow a high quality product facilities must employ very specialized lighting units that provide a specific wavelength of light to optimize production. Different lighting systems can produce very different effects on the plants that can change the height of the plant, the amount of product produced, and the amount of THC and CBD found in the marijuana (Magagninia 2018). Lighting can account for 76-86% of the entire facility’s energy usage, which toals 2283 kW/hr per kilogram of marijuana produced (Arnold 2013). Unfortunately, cutting back on lighting isn’t an option either. Because of marijuana’s intense cultivation needs any compromise in lighting quality can gravely impact the amount of product yielded and the quality of the product.

Another large consumer of energy within an indoor grow facility is the transportation of water to the facility and the method utilized to water the plants.  Most facilities utilize hydroponic systems because of their ability to maximize crop yield while minimizing the amount of water being used (Barbosa 2015). However, the addition of hydroponic systems can increase the amount of energy needed to effectively operate an individual greenhouse (Cannabis Control Commision). Extra water handling uses approximately 173 kW/h for every kg of cannabis yielded (Mills, 2012).

Large marijuana facilities are forced to use ventilation systems like air scrubbers or charcoal filters in their facility to help mitigate noxious gases or any other fumes associated with cultivation (Marijuana Facility Guidance 2016). These machines help remove any impurities from the air while maintaining safe working conditions for workers who will be subjected to the fumes all day. When studied these machines consumed 1848 kW/h for every kg of cannabis yielded (Mills, 2012). Despite their large energy draw, ventilation systems are imperative for maintaining a safe work environment while insuring the cultivation plants are not dumping a large amount of noxious fumes into the surrounding area.

Marijuana is a very climate dependant plant that requires specific temperatures to grow as productive as possible. Most facilities are need to use air conditioners for a large part of the year because of the immense amount of heat being produced by the equipment being used, however, in Massachusetts facilities would also need to provide heat in the winter. Without air conditioning the plants would overheat which can impact the amount of product yielded and they could even be at risk of dying. Massachusetts’ winters are so cold that it would necessitate additional heat sources be provided or the plants could again face decreased yields or death. It was shown that the average facility uses 1284  kW/h for every kg of cannabis yielded on air conditioning and 304 kW/h for every kg of cannabis yielded on heating (Mills, 2012).

When a system is continuously using large amount of energy the waste product of these systems needs to be considered.  The introduction of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is a leading cause of climate change that has been proven to warm the earth, resulting in melting glaciers, rising sea levels, warmer oceans, and more natural disasters (NASA). Indoor agriculture’s high energy needs often results in a high amount of carbon dioxide being produced as waste  (Sanjuan-Delmás et al., 2017). A 70 m2 greenhouse heated solely by natural gas produced 2.9 kg CO2 eq./kg more than one of the same size that was heated by natural gas supplemented by solar power (Hassanien et al., 2017). Most marijuana grow operations do not follow organic production standards which have a 35%-45% lower carbon footprint than organic farming (Bos et al., 2014). This carbon being pumped into the environment can negatively impact the Earth by promoting climate change. Thankfully, there are renewable sources of energy that can be harnessed that have a much smaller carbon footprint while still providing a quality source of energy.  

Large Legal Marijuana Farm Professional Commercial Grade Greenhouse Filled With Mature Budding Cannabis Indica Plants

Massachusetts has been slowly working towards more eco friendly energy solutions like energy that comes from solar panels, nuclear reactors, and natural gas. In 2017 68% of Massachusetts’ energy was produced by natural gas and only 4% of its energy from coal (eia). Solar panels are also gaining popularity and 1,867 megawatts of solar power was installed in Massachusetts in 2017 (eia) . Carbon emissions were also decreased by 19 percent from 1990 t0 2015 (Mass.gov). However, 27% of Massachusetts heating needs still come from oil (eia). Such a large and energy intensive industry that requires a large amount of heat could jeopardize Massachusetts goals to reduce carbon emissions and increase clean energy usage. One popular solution is the use of photovoltaic cells, also known as solar panels.  

 The use of technologically advanced solar panels would help offset the shortcomings of greenhouse growing maintaining a high agricultural yield without contributing to global warming by releasing greenhouse gases. When solar panels are placed on an area that covers  20% of the roof of a greenhouse it can replace 20% of the energy necessary to power the grow site (Hassanien et al., 2017). In Massachusetts standard solar panels are able to produce approximately 1130 kWh of energy per year (Solar-Estimate). A large marijuana cultivation facility can use an upward of 210,000 kWh of energy per year, which would require approximately 185 panels to completely run the facility off of energy generated by panels (CPR.org). Energy use is directly linked to size and not all facilities are as large and energy dependant; they can be as small as a few hundred square feet or as large as 100,000 square feet (Cannabis Control Commision).  Not only can greenhouse energy production be supplemented with renewables, but renewables could possibly meet all of a greenhouse’s energy demand. Previous marijuana grow sites have been able operate while only utilizing energy from solar arrays, making it likely that greenhouses in Massachusetts could do the same (Barok 2017).

By adding solar panels to grow sites the amount of fossil fuels  used will drop dramatically which will also combat the amount of carbon dioxide being produced which will ultimately help slow the rate of climate change. When compared to greenhouses that relied on fossil fuels alone to produce their electricity demand, ones that supplemented production with solar panels had a 29% lower carbon footprint (Ntinas et al., 2016). The potential for greenhouses to run largely off of solar energy while still producing a high yield of crops will result in a large cut to each facilities carbon footprint. The 240 solar panels they installed generated 440,000 kWh of energy in five years, which would have cost $88,000 and was more than enough to power the facility throughout the year (Barok 2017). A solar array of this size would make almost two times the amount of energy needed for an average facility that only consumes roughly 210,000 kWh of energy per year (CPR.org). Just one building was able to save 550,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere (Barok 2017).

Often times when considering the amount of energy used by indoor grow facilities it is tempting to offer solutions that involve less intensive cultivation practices that often use less energy. By using open air farming practices a cultivation site could use close to 23 times less energy than indoor growing facilities (Ntinas et al., 2016). The problem with less intensive production practices is that they often produce a lower yield of poorer quality cannabis. Growing outdoors leaves plants vulnerable to volatile weather, mold, and pests (Leafly). Massachusetts winters would also drastically limit the grow season for cultivators to just a few months a year, while indoor facilities could continue to produce products all year (Leafly). These drawbacks are not worth the potential energy savings.

Solar panels are the best option for cannabis cultivators that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint through the use of low emission energy, but putting these practises to use might not come naturally to companies that are usually focus solely on profit. The availability of solar panels in America is at an all time high with energy subsidies projected to reach between $43 and $320 per megawatt hour for solar panel produced energy coming from tax credits that cover between 30% and 60% of wholesale prices (Maloney, 2018). Subsidies provided for solar energy bring the costs of energy provided by solar panels down drastically and continue to do so (Maloney, 2018). To further incentivise solar usage Massachusetts towns and cities should give preference to indoor cultivation facilities that utilize solar panels as their main source of energy. Towns have a high level of control when granting permits to businesses that are trying to grow marijuana within town borders (CCC). If towns made it known that they gave preference to facilities that utilize solar energy then incoming businesses would be more likely to implement solar technology as a way to get gain an advantage over their competition. This would also empower those looking to get a license to include as much renewable energy as possible as a way to maximize the chance that they would be granted a permit.

Fossil fuels are not a clean source of energy and while reduction in use of electricity can help to lessen pollution, to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions more eco friendly energy sources need to be utilized. In an effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption, scientists have developed a multitude of systems that are able to produce large amounts of energy without releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere. One of the most common ways to harvest renewable energy is through the use of photovoltaic cells, more commonly known as solar panels. Because of the ease of production, limited drawbacks, and technological advancements surrounding solar panels it is widely thought that they will be the most abundant source of energy in the future (Schmalensee et al., 2015).

One way to encourage greenhouses to make the switch from fossil fuel powered grid energy to roof- or ground-mounted solar panels is for the government to provide subsidies to facilities that use solar panels to provide the majority of their energy demand. If subsidies are provided, more facilities will start using clean energy, bringing the industry’s carbon footprint down (Maloney, 2018; Sanjuan-Delmás et al., 2017). In China, a different subsidy was proposed to provide greenhouses with between $62 and $140 per megawatt hour of electricity produced with solar panels (Wang et al., 2017). Although there is currently no such policy in China, solar powered greenhouses will help lead sustainable development and reduce carbon emissions (Wang et al., 2017). It is clear that if subsidies for using solar panels for energy production are offered, it will attract more users and bring the costs down while at the same time provide clean energy not produced by fossil fuels.

These results could be replicated across Massachusetts as a way decrease the amount of carbon dioxide produced across the state.  

When considering ways to reduce our carbon footprint most Americans do not consider the role that agriculture plays in climate change. 60% of Americans believe that climate change is an ongoing issue but they tend to focus on emissions produced by cars, planes, and factories, rather than agricultural industries (Borick 2018). However, according to the Washington Post, “the nation’s booming marijuana sector is struggling to go green”. They state that analysts and state regulators say the cannabis industry, including states that have legalized recreational pot and those that offer it only for medicinal purposes,  is outpacing many other areas of the economy in energy use, racking up massive electricity bills as more Americans light up. The county’s Marijuana Energy Impact Offset Fund, which tacks on a 2.16-cent surcharge for each kilowatt-hour of electricity used by grow facilities, is something of a model for other states, cities and counties that also recognize the growing energy drain that has resulted from the rapid expansion of legal cannabis (Wolfgang, B., 2018). By introducing legislation now that rewards the use of solar energy Massachusetts can incentivise new businesses to build more sustainable greenhouses from the onset. These eco-friendly greenhouses will reduce the amount of fossil fuels used and could drastically cut their carbon footprint (Ntinas et al., 2016).

The one major hurdle for most growers is the initial cost of adding solar panels being prohibitive. They simply cannot afford the start up costs associated with adding solar panels to a facility and don’t believe that they can be a money saving investment in the long run. However, in one study done by Petru Maior University, they found solar panels payed for themselves in 6 years. After considering the initial costs of the system, yearly operating costs, taxes, and income a facility studied by Petru Maior University found that the initial investment was paid back after six years after saving money on their electricity bill and selling excess energy back to the electricity companies ( hydroponic greenhouse energy supply based on renewable energy). Solar panels also reduce cost because the energy is generated at the site where it is needed and there are no costs associated with transporting the power to where it needs to be (Borenstein 2008). Even when you consider the cost of yearly maintenance of solar panels, the amount of money saved with a reduction of the facility’s energy bill far outweighed the money needed to be paid (LG Energy). These savings jump quickly when you consider the high cost of electricity in Massachusetts where residents pay roughly 14.8 cents per kWh, the the ninth highest in the state (NPR :) ).

Greenhouse agriculture, including marijuana grow houses, is a quickly growing industry that requires high amounts of energy that is currently supplied primarily by fossil fuels which produce large amounts greenhouse gases when burned (Shen et al., 2018; Sanjuan-Delmás et al., 2017). A shift can be made in the industry from fossil fuels to clean energy if subsidies are provided to greenhouses that use solar panels to supply their energy demand. Subsidies will incentivize greenhouse operators to use solar panels and will help make them more affordable to operators who may have not been able to afford solar panels otherwise. Subsidies will result in a reduction in the cost of solar panels over time as more facilities start to use them (Maloney, 2018). A reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels to lower our carbon footprint is essential if climate change is to be mitigated. Solar panels are a great source of renewable energy that are becoming increasingly popular and if utilized by energy-hungry greenhouses can greatly reduce their carbon footprint.

By adding solar panels to grow sites the amount of fossil fuels  used will drop dramatically which will also combat the amount of carbon dioxide being produced which will ultimately help slow the rate of climate change.

A greenhouse growing marijuana intended for legal sales.

 

Works Cited

Baptista FJ, Guimares AC, Meneses JF, Silva AT, Navas LM. Greenhouse energy

consumption for tomato production in the iberian peninsula countries [electronic resource]. Acta horticulturae. 2012(9521):409-416. http://silk.library.umass.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=agr&AN=IND44639795&site=ehost-live&scope=site http://www.actahort.org/. doi: //www.actahort.org/.

Baptista FJ, Murcho D, Silva LL, et al. Assessment of energy consumption in organic tomato greenhouse production – a case study. Acta horticulturae. 2017(1164):453-460. http://silk.library.umass.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=agr&AN=IND605853021&site=ehost-live&scope=site http://dx.doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1164.59. doi: //dx.doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1164.59.

Barbosa, L. G., Gadelha, D. F., Kublik, N., Proctor, A., Reichelm, L., Weissinger, E., . . . Halden, U. R. (2015). Comparison of land, water, and energy requirements of lettuce grown using hydroponic vs. conventional agricultural methods doi:10.3390/ijerph120606879

Barok, J. (2017). Is it time to consider solar power. Cannabis Business Times. Retrieved from https://www.cannabisbusinesstimes.com/article/is-it-time-to-consider-solar-power/

Borenstein, B. (2008).The market value and cost of solar photovoltaic electricity production. University of California Energy Institute. Retrieved from escholarship.org/uc/item/3ws6r3j4

Borick, C., Rabe, B., Fitzpatrick, N., & Mills, S. (2018). Issues in energy and environmental policy. University of Michigan. Retrieved from http://closup.umich.edu/files/ieep-nsee-2018-spring-climate-belief.pdf

Felix, A. (2018). The economic effects of the marijuana industry in Colorado. Main Street Views.  Retrieved from www.kansascityfed.org/publications/research/rme/articles/2018/rme-1q-2018

Hartig, H., & Geiger, A. (2018). About six-in-ten americans support marijuana legalization. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/08/americans-support-marijuana-legalization

Hassanien, R. H. E., & Ming, L. (2017). Influences of greenhouse-integrated semi-transparent photovoltaics on microclimate and lettuce growth. International Journal of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, 10(6), 11-22. doi:10.25165/j.ijabe.20171006.3407

Holyoke, Massachusetts, is ready to welcome the marijuana industry with open arms. (2018). NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/holyoke-massachusetts-is-ready-to-welcome-the-marijuana-industry-with-open-arms/

Magagninia, G., Grassia, G., & Kotirantab, S. (2018). The effect of light spectrum on the morphology and cannabinoid content of cannabis sativa L. Med Cannabis Cannabinoids. 1:19–27. DOI: 10.1159/000489030

Maloney, B. (2018, March 23). Renewable Energy Subsidies — Yes Or No? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/uhenergy/2018/03/23/renewable-energy-subsidies-yes-or-no/#7afc6c206e23

Marijuana Facility Guidance. (2016). Colorado Fire Marshals Special Task Group. Retrieved from https://fmac-co.wildapricot.org/resources/Pictures/Marijuana_Guidance_Document_v.1_2016%2003%2016.pdf

Massachusetts Legislature. (2016). Section 76: Cannabis control commission; members; appointment; terms; chairman; secretary. Retrieved from https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleII/Chapter10/Section76

Mills, E. (2012). The carbon footprint of indoor Cannabis production. Elsevier. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.396.4759&rep=rep1&type=pdf

NASA. (n. d.) How climate is changing. NASA Science. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

Ntinas, G. K., Neumair, M., Tsadilas, C. D., & Meyer, J. (2017). Carbon footprint and cumulative energy demand of greenhouse and open-field tomato cultivation systems under southern and central european climatic conditions. Journal of Cleaner Production, 142, 3617-3626. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.10.106

Ronay, K., & Dumitru, C. (2015). Hydroponic greenhouse energy supply based on renewable energy sources doi://doi.org/10.1016/j.protcy.2015.02.099

Schmalensee, R., Bulovic, V., Armstrong, R., Batlle, C., Brown, P., Deutch, J., . . . Vergara, C. (2015). The future of solar energy an interdisciplinary MIT study. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://energy.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/MITEI-The-Future-of-Solar-Energy.pdf

Shen, Y., Wei, R., & Xu, L. (2018). Energy consumption prediction of a greenhouse and optimization of daily average temperature. Energies, 11(1), 65. doi:10.3390/en11010065

Warren, G. (2016). Regulating pot to save the polar bear: energy and climate impacts of the marijuana industry. Columbia J Environ Law 2015;40:385. Retrieved from http://www.columbiaenvironmentallaw.org/regulating-pot-to-save-the-polar-bear-energy-and-climate-impacts-of-the-marijuana-industry/

Wolfgang, B. (2018, January 7). Environmentalists alarmed at marijuana industry’s massive use of carbon-based electricity. Retrieved from washingtontimes.com

Where greenhouse gases come from. (n.d.) Ames Laboratory. Retrieved from https://www.ameslab.gov/esha/where-greenhouse-gases-come

(2015, January 1). Environment and Energy Facts and Figures. Retrieved from https://www.environment.admin.cam.ac.uk/facts-figures

Will Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge impact Arctic Ecosystems?

(Porcupine caribou majestically standing its ground against the dangerous oil drilling operations)

Authors: Matt Frey (Animal Science), Cameron Kononitz (Food Science),  Jess Sullivan (Animal Science), and Hannah McCollough (Earth Systems)

In 1980’s, Porcupine Caribou, a herd native to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), held its status as the 6th largest caribou herd in North America and it was projected to continue its vast growth (Clough, et al., 1987). However, those predictions couldn’t have been more wrong. In 1989, it was estimated that the Porcupine Caribou had a population size of 178,000, but since then they have been on a gradual decline dropping by 3.6% yearly from 1989 and 1998 and and show no indication of stopping. In 2001, it was estimated that there were only 123,000 caribou remaining (Griffith, et al., 2002). Continue Reading

Assessing and Combating the Enteric Methane Contributions of Ruminants

Authors: Melissa Bonaccorso (Natural Resource Conservation); Morgane Golan (Animal Science, Pre-Vet); Ben Phaneuf (Building Construction Technology)

In a new effort to better quantify the methane emitted by livestock, researchers are utilizing methane-collecting backpacks on cows.

Most of us have the best intentions when making decisions at the grocery store – we often try to choose what is best for our health, and many of us have environmentalism in mind, as well. It can be difficult to know what is best, and all the contradictory information out there can leave us frustrated and confused. It seems that every few months there is a new set of rules for how we are supposed to eat: vegan, vegetarian, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, cage-free, GMO-free; and when it comes to beef, grass-fed is now all the rage. Unfortunately, if environmental sustainability is your motive, grass-fed beef actually does more harm than good. Ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats, are animals that are able to subsist on plant matter because they have a stomach compartment, the rumen, in which microorganisms digest these cellulose products. However, this form of digestion, known as enteric fermentation, comes at a cost. The microbial ecosystem of the rumen generates methane as a byproduct of this fermentation, in a process called ruminal methanogenesis (Lassey 2006). Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas, and is of critical importance because it has a global warming effect that is 28-36 times that of carbon dioxide (EPA). Nearly half of all human-caused methane emissions come from agriculture, and livestock contributes nearly 70% of CH4 emissions from the agricultural sector (Vergé et al. 2008, p.132; Lassey, 2006; Wysocka-Czubaszek 2018). In the context of the US specifically, methane accounts for 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, and 26% of these methane emissions comes from enteric fermentation – the second-highest portion next to natural gas and petroleum systems (EPA). While its concentration in the atmosphere is much lower than that of CO2, methane is 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is, and has the potential to contribute 18% of the total expected global warming up to the year 2050, next to carbon dioxide’s 50%  (Milich, 1999). Thus, while CO2 tends to get the most public attention for its contributions to climate change, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas, which calls for more significant consideration.

An average of 30 million animals per year are slaughtered for the beef industry in the US, and an average of 2 million animals, with an additional 3.4 billion pounds of beef, are imported to the US from Canada annually (ERS, 2015). In addition, about 9 million milk cows are active in the US in 2016 alone (statista.com). In all, approximately 20 billion pounds of beef is consumed in the US each year, accounting for approximately half of the American dietary carbon footprint (Waite, 2018). The amount of CH4 emissions from ruminants in 2016 was equivalent to 170 million metric tons of CO2 (Center for Sustainable Systems, 2018). To put these numbers into context, the effect of greenhouse gas emissions produced by annual US beef consumption is equivalent to that which would result from a car driving around the entire Earth 22,000 times (space.com; ewg.org). In response to the severity of methane output via enteric fermentation, the scientific community has become increasingly concerned with identifying resolutions that are considerate of productivity within the agricultural sector, as well as environmental efficiency.

Significant enteric methane production, and the overall increasing trend in GHG emissions by the beef and dairy industries, are symptomatic of a high demands for livestock products (Place, 2016). Many environmentalists and animal-rights activists advocate for a drastic decrease in or even total elimination of beef and dairy consumption in the American diet. Reduction in meat and dairy consumption is certainly linked to a lower personal environmental impact: the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the average meat-eater’s diet are about 1.5 to 2 times those of vegetarians and vegans, respectively (Scarborough, et al. 2014). But most people are resistant to altering their diet in such a radical way, due to a plethora of social and physical barriers; global demand for meat products is actually increasing at a rate faster than land availability can accommodate (Kwan, 2011; Jenkins, 2004; Verge, 2008). In fact, demand for beef and dairy products in the US is expected to increase 70% within the next 36 years (Place, 2016). Although veganism and vegetarianism can help reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, we simply cannot rely on everyone to adopt these lifestyles if we are to make significant changes with haste. In addition, campaigns to reduce meat consumption pose a threat to cattle farmers’ incomes. Harsh restrictions on the beef and dairy industries, or campaigns to reduce the consumption of these products across the nation and world, are both insufficient and would also pose a threat to those whose livelihoods depend on these industries. For these reasons, research teams including veterinarians, environmental specialists and other invested individuals, are collaborating to identify strategies for reducing ruminal methane emissions, without harming invested parties. To minimize the impact of ruminal methane emissions without negatively affecting animal welfare and the livelihoods of stakeholders, we propose the integration of dietary supplements into ruminal feed to naturally inhibit methanogenesis.

One of the most promising methods of reducing ruminal methanogenesis without posing a threat to the industry or the animals is through supplementation of the animals’ diets. Since feed efficiency and methane production are intrinsically linked, ruminants reared on cellulose-based diet, such as those destined to become the beloved “grass-fed” beef, will produce more methane, and for a longer time than they might otherwise, since the cellulose-based diet is not conducive to optimal growth of the animals (Tirado-Estrada et al., 2018). Experts in the field have acknowledged that completely altering the diet of every ruminant on earth is not feasible: grain-based diets can be costly and are often inaccessible (Tirado-Estrada et. al., 2018). It is possible and cost-effective, however, to improve the digestibility of the livestock diet by replacing some of the fiber content with protein-rich concentrates, while still utilizing the typical pasture-based diet. Increasing the digestibility of the diet of dairy and beef cattle can reduce methane emissions in two ways: first, by helping these cows reach market weight sooner, thereby limiting the amount of methane that each cow can produce throughout its life, and second, by inhibiting the process of methanogenesis in the rumen. Any compound with a high protein/low fiber content would be a fine contender for the improvement of the ruminal diet, but those that are naturally sourced, readily available and less costly are most ideal for the animals, the environment, and stakeholders. An excellent option which meets this criteria has been identified: mangosteen peel powder (MSP). Mangosteen peel powder, or Garcinia mangostana, is very highly regarded among animal nutritionists, because it does not negatively affect the crucial microbial populations of the rumen, but can reduce the population of methanogens, the microorganisms most responsible for methane production, by up to 50% in a safe manner (Polyorach et. al., 2016). The utilization of MSP in feed has been found to significantly reduce methane production between 10-25% (Wanapat et al. 2015; Manasri et al 2012; Polyorach et al. 2016). Aside from reducing the population of methanogens, protein-rich plant concentrates present in mangosteen peels, called saponins and tannins, have also been found to minimize the growth and activity of methane-producing protozoa in the rumen, without inhibiting their function entirely (Wallace et al, 2002, Patra 2011). Supplementing the diet with naturally derived plant compounds such as this effectively reduces methane production, and does so without causing significant consequences to the animal’s microbial system or putting the animal at risk for ruminal disease (Patra, 2010).

Dietary additives are already widely used to supplement cattle feed, which makes further supplementation feasible once high-protein supplements, like MSP, are made readily available in the national market. For example, Rumensin is a feed additive that has been used in the cattle industry for over 4 decades (Greenfield et al., 2000). The active ingredient in Rumensin is a coccidiostat, meaning that it is an antibiotic specifically geared at killing coccidiosis bacteria in the animal body. Rumensin is an attractive product because of its prevention and control of disease, as well as its capacity to improve feed efficiency by 4% (“Data on Dairy Science”, 2012). Because of the traction and popularity associated with this feed supplement, which improves productivity while also combating a severe public health crisis, there is potential for MSP to be utilized in a similar manner, with the intent to mitigate the impending public health crisis of climate change.

In anticipation of concerns among farmers and other food animal industry leaders that dietary supplementation would be too costly, it is important to emphasize that methane reduction and productivity are not mutually exclusive; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Dietary manipulation, as a means by which to decrease methane emissions, may also have the attractive quality of improving feed efficiency and animal productivity (Lovett et al., 2003). Protein rich, plant-based supplements are capable of improving milk production and composition, daily weight gain, and feed conversion efficiency (Khan et al., 2015). In other words, with the use of dietary supplements, animals can be brought to their goal weight more quickly while producing higher-quality meat. The inclusion of such methane-inhibiting concentrates has been found to correspond directly with more rapid animal development and increased body weight while potentially reducing enteric methane by up to 40% (Benchaar et. al., 2001, Lovett et al., 2003). The investment in dietary supplements may therefore ultimately result in money saved that would otherwise be spent on longer rearing times to get animals to their goal weight. The inclusion of protein-rich plant concentrates also has the potential to not only decrease enteric methane production but also increase the fat content in milk when included in the diets of dairy cows (Tirado-Estrada et. al., 2018). Integration of protein-dense supplements into the diet may be the most feasible option for increasing productivity while decreasing enteric methane production by dairy and beef cattle. For this reason, dietary supplementation of this sort is considered the most appealing and cost-effective option to motivate farmers to adopt more sustainable practices (Patra, 2010).

In order to effectively address

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Beauchemin, K. A., Henry Janzen, H., Little, S. M., McAllister, T. A., & McGinn, S. M.  

(2010). Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production in western canada: A case study

doi://doi-org.silk.library.umass.edu/10.1016/j.agsy.2010.03.008

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Hydroelectric Power in The Snake River

 

Samantha Bruha: Animal Science

Shane Murphy: Horticulture

Jake Schick: Building Construction Technology

Ashley Artwork: Building Construction Technology

The Nez Perce people reside on the Snake River in North Central Idaho and still practice a hunter-gatherer way of life (Smith, 2018).  In 1855, The United States Government and five Native American tribes residing in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho signed the Treaty of Walla Walla (Smith, 2018)  Since the the original treaty, the Nez Perce Tribe has retained the right to fish, to hunt, and to graze livestock on unclaimed lands outside of the reservation (Smith, 2018).  Due to the addition of hydroelectric dams, beginning in the 1950’s on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the Nez Perce Tribe has suffered a great loss of fishing resources from the effects of dams on the Salmon populations (Quirke, 2017).  Elliott Moffett, a 65 year old member of the Nez Perce Tribe, fights for Salmon in the lower Snake River (Quirke, 2017). “‘I like to say we are like the Salmon, we need clean, cold, swift running water. And they don’t have that because the dams have impounded their river,’” Moffett states (Quirke, 2017).  Moffett and his fellow activists at the Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment organization, have dedicated their lives to defending the environment and the Nez Perce rights (Support|Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, 2018).  Every decision the tribe makes has “seven generations ahead” in mind and the scarcity of resources is making it harder and harder to teach future generations how to live off of the land (Support|Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, 2018).

  Continue Reading

Rooftop Solar in The Sunshine State

 

James Locurto-  Geology

Nicholas Pomella- Building Construction Technologies

KathrynPreston- Animal Science

Sierra Humiston- Natural Resource and Fisheries

Around the world today, many people are living in undeveloped communities and are left without the gift of electricity. This lack of electricity is seen especially within the rural areas of  Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia, where around 89% of the communities are living

 without any form of electricity. However, this lack of electricity in impoverished areas can be alleviated by an invention that has been utilized for many years, this invention being solar power. Specifically, in the year of 2007, 2.5 million homes located in undeveloped areas gained the gift of electricity through the development of solar power systems on their homes (Grimshaw & Lewis, 2010). The use of solar power has the incredible potential to save these communities from underdevelopment and can propel them into living a life that everyone deserves. Communities without access to electricity are reaching for a cleaner future through the installment of solar panels on rooftops while the wealthy continue to burn fossil fuels, which is overall the cheaper and more environmentally harmful option.

Burning fossil fuels is a primary driver of the greenhouse gas effect and global climate change. Over the past few decades, levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen dramatically. This rise is attributed to three major sectors in the United States, the most prevalent being the electric power sector ma

king up 33% of greenhouse gas emissions (Solar Energy Industries Association, 2018). The production of electricity is pivotal in the functioning of the United States economy, with the industry valued at $250 billion with a demand function projected to increase in coming years (Morgan et al. 2016). Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emission levels, currently produced by the United States by way of traditional carbon emitting methods of energy production, such as coal, are not sustainable (Morgan et al. 2016). It is imperative that actions be taken to reduce these harmful emissions. Continue Reading

Green Weed, Green Planet

Tyler Clements (Environmental Science), Rudy Marek (Geology), Mitch Maslanka (Natural Resource Conservation), Olivia Santamaria (Horticulture)

In 1996, California voted to become the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Fast forward to today, and the legalization of marijuana is now a seemingly unstoppable movement that is sweeping across the United States. With recreational and medicinal use being rapidly legalized all over the country, 29 states have already legalized marijuana medicinally and 9 have recreationally (Robinson, Berk, & Gould, 2018, para. 2). From the start of California legalizing marijuana, this new industry with seemingly endless potential was given the green light to begin at the commercial level. As of 2017, the industry has grown from $6.73 billion to $9.7 billion in North America (Borchardt, 2017, para. 1; Robinson, 2018, para. 6; Zhang, 2017, para. 2). The entrepreneurs of the country began to think of ways to create and expand a marijuana based business and one of the most important aspects of this process was how the marijuana itself was going to be grown. Continue Reading

Green Grass: An Eco Friendly Label for the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry

Marijuana grow sites can be incredibly large, which increases its already intense energy consumption (Image: forwardgro.com)

Britnay Beaudry: Environmental Science major

Colin Radon: Horticulture major

Pierce Strumpf: Natural Resource Conservation major

The legalization of  marijuana, which went into effect in Massachusetts on December 15th, 2016 was a triumphant victory for marijuana activists and state government. (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2018).  Support for this policy change can be seen in the record setting attendance of events like the Boston Freedom Rally, and Extravaganja (Hilliard & Crimaldi, 2017; Tidwell, 2018). But, while marijuana activists have been celebrating their new freedoms, the Cannabis Control Commission [CCC] has been busy writing draft legislation to regulate the budding marijuana industry (CCC, 2018). Starting July 2018, the CCC will begin reviewing applications of recreational marijuana growers (Hilliard & Crimaldi, 2017, para. 20). Many growers are eager for reform and see this as an opportunity to turn their operations legitimate. But before they can receive the necessary permits, they will be expected to reduce their notoriously high energy demands (Dumcius, 2018) The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs [EEA] and the CCC have been meticulously developing strict regulations to reduce the carbon footprint of marijuana production(EEA, 2018; CCC 2018)  Some growers fear that the regulations, which includes plans to force led lighting on new growers, will cripple the industry before it even has a chance to take off (Dumcius, 2018). “If the commission’s trying to ensure that Massachusetts is known as a state with poor-quality product and high prices this is a great way to do it” Says Kris Kane president of a cannabis consulting company known as 4Front Ventures (Dumcius, 2018, para. 4). Disagreement over environmental regulations threaten to delay the quickly approaching application process. If Marijuana growers refuse to compromise on the bill, the fate of the marijuana industry could go up in smoke. Continue Reading

Shifting Subsidies From Corn Ethanol to Solar

Evan Chakrin: Horticulture

Ryan White: Animal science

Tim Miragliuolo: Building and Construction Tech.

 

 

A sun tracking solar panel in a corn field. (http://www.shutterstock.com)

 

 

Nobody likes wasteful government spending on programs that don’t benefit consumers or the environment, but that is exactly what’s happened with decades of corn ethanol subsidies. The American taxpayer is forced to underwrite the production of an inefficient energy source, and forced again to buy its product when used in gasoline mixtures at fuel stations across the country. Gasoline-ethanol mixes cost consumers miles per gallon and clog the fuel systems of seasonal use equipment and recreational vehicles (Regalbuto, 2009; Patzek et al., 2005) and do little to help the environment (Vedenov & Wetzstein, 2008). After having cost US taxpayers over 40 billion dollars from 1978-2012 (Melchior, 2016), federal tax code supports over 26 billion in subsidies for corn ethanol through 2024 (“Federal subsidies”, 2015). It is time to shift federal incentives toward truly renewable energy systems, and solar photovoltaic [PV] technology provides an excellent answer to our future energy needs. Due to the relative land usage, flexibility of installation, and greenhouse gas emission efficiency of PV systems, we believe that all future corn ethanol tax incentives should be redirected toward the installation of photovoltaic solar panel systems either in isolated systems or through collocation with viable biofuels and vegetable crops. Continue Reading

Hydraulic fracturing: A hope for climate change reduction or a curse?

 

Since the industrial revolution, a substantial percentage of our society relies on energy sources to carry out daily activities. Though energy can now come from renewable sources (e.g., wind, hydro, solar, etc.), the most common way of obtaining energy is through the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., gasoline, coal, oil, and natural gas) in combustion reactions resulting in the production of carbon dioxide, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas (Ophardt, 2000). Greenhouse gases are needed to keep Earth’s atmosphere’s temperature balanced, but if excess gases accumulate in the atmosphere then it increases the temperature of Earth. Since the industrial revolution, increase in human activities have led to exceedingly large carbon dioxide emissions which is now accumulating in our atmosphere warming the planet rapidly. Models have shown that if steps towards climate change are not taken, the Earth could warm up to 2 degrees Celsius which will negatively affect Earth life to a great extent (IPCC, 2013).

While there are different options to obtain energy sources, some of them have harmful effects to our environment. One of the most popular ways to obtain energy is through the burning of coal. Coal based energy production accounts for more than 48% of domestic energy generation in the United States (Bligen, 2014 p. 893). The coal industry in the United States produced 782.4 million tons of coal in 2016 (EIA, 2017, page vii). From mining, to transportation to electricity generation, coal releases a lot of toxic pollutants into the air, water and land. The detrimental effects of coal use range from water pollution to health risks but the broader problem scientists observe is the impact to climate change due to the substantial carbon dioxide emissions. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of America’s carbon dioxide emissions-about the same as all transportation sources–cars, SUVs, trucks, buses, planes, ships and trains–combined (EPA, 2017, page ES-11). Coal is an important source of energy but it adds a significant amount of carbon dioxide per unit of heat energy more than the combustion of any other fossil fuel. In fact, coal combustion emits more than twice the climate changing carbon dioxide per unit of energy than natural gas production (EIA, 2017, Table #1).

At one point in their lifetime, the average American has used oil as an energy source, indirectly or directly. In addition to coal, the burning of oil has a large impact on our environment. About 40% of the energy consumed in the United States is supplied by petroleum (Bligen, 2010, p. 893). Since the amount of petroleum used varies depending on economics, politics and technology, estimates of carbon dioxide emissions are difficult to predict with certainty. Nevertheless, data has shown that the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning gasoline and diesel fuel was equal to 30% of total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (EIA, 2017). In addition to CO2, oil powered plants can also emit particulates NOx and SO2 which are strong gases with direct impact to public health. The economic impact of emissions from oil combustion to public health, including illnesses, premature mortality, workdays lost and direct costs to the healthcare system is equal to 13 cents per kWh (Machol & Rizk, 2013, p. 76).  

Since energy is essential for modern economic and social development, it is crucial that the energy sector look for processes that reduce the negative impacts to our climate. Due to the increased concern over carbon dioxide emissions, natural gas production has increased over the past decade. Natural gas, a combustible gaseous mixture of methane and other hydrocarbons, is used extensively in residential energy; more than half of American use gas for home heating. Natural gas is seen as more climatically beneficial and energy efficient than coal or oil because its combustion produces more energy per carbon dioxide molecule formed than coal (170%) and oil (140%) (Karion et al., 2013, p. 4393).

Conventional natural gas extraction involves retrieving gas from large pools by using natural pressure from wells to pump the gas to the surface (British Columbia). However, conventional gas reservoirs have been depleting, therefore the industry relies on unconventional methods to extract gas from shale rock formations.  Unlike conventional gas, shale gas remains trapped the original rock that formed from the sedimentary deposition of mud, silt, clay, and organic matter on the floors of shallow seas (UCS). Methods of extracting said gas include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process which is used to create cracks in shale rocks to allow air flow.

The rise of shale gas development can be traced back to the 1840s but the first experiment labeled as hydraulic fracturing occurred by late 1940s. By the 1960s companies such as Pan American Petroleum commercialized these techniques. In 1975, former president Gerald Ford promoted the development of shale oil resources as part of the overall energy plan to reduce foreign energy imports (Manfreda, 2015). The increase cost and climatic disadvantages that the oil and coal industry pose led to the sudden boom in the hydraulic fracturing industry. In 2000 shale gas represented 2% of United States natural gas production. By the end of 2016, it topped 60% (Brown, 2014, page 121; EIA, 2017)

Moreover, hydraulic fracturing also poses advantages to the economy in the United States. On average, the cost of gas extracted using hydraulic fracturing is two to three American dollars per thousand cubic feet of gas. This is 50-66 percent cheaper than production from other energy industries (Sovacool, 2014, page 253). Since conventional gas extractions have become more difficult because of depleting sources, natural gas prices could be 2.5 times higher in 30 years if unconventional gas extractions didn’t exist (Jacoby et al., 2012, p. 46). In addition, shale gas development has been proven to increase employment, revenue and taxes in production areas. Production on the Marcellus Shale brought 4.8 billion US dollars in gross regional product, created 57,000 jobs, and generated $1.7 billion in local, state and federal tax collections (Sovacool, 2014, p. 254). These benefits have prompted the United States to promote hydraulic fracturing as the new standard in the energy industry.

The process of hydraulic fracturing is presented to give a better understanding of how hydraulic fracturing works. The first step in hydraulic fracturing is finding a location with a shale rock formation that will produce natural gas. A shale rock formation is made up of fine grade sedimentary rocks that are are compressed into a clay, the shale that is used in fracking is black shale that is rich in organic matter. The  organic matter will undergo heat and pressure and some of it will transform into natural gas. Once the location is found the drilling begins. The drilling is broken into two parts the vertical drilling and the horizontal drilling. The workers first have to drill vertically to a depth around 1,000 feet underground when this is finished a steel casing is inserted into the well so the risk of pollutants won’t spread through the earth’s bedrock and won’t affect groundwater. After the vertical drilling is complete, the horizontal drilling extends out to about 1.5 kilometers through the shale rock formation. After the drilling of the well is completed a specialize performing gunshot is shot which in return creates small holes in the shale formation completing the drilling part of the well (Nacamulli, 2017).

Contrary to popular belief, hydraulic fracturing is not the process of drilling but rather a method used to extract gas after a hole is completed. It is a process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at a high pressure into a tight rock formation via a well to stimulate and boost gas flow (Schneising et al., 2014). The propellant in the liquid then goes into the small fractures which keeps them open and allows either the gas or oil to escape from the earth and go up the well and be collected (Schneising et al., 2014). After a well is drilled liquids, such as water and acid, and sand are pumped down the well at high pressures to crack rocks and stimulate shale gas flow. After the shale rock is cracked, the liquid is pumped back to the surface to retrieve the natural gas, this process is known as flowback (Allen et al. 2013). After natural gas is retrieved, the fracking liquid is either pumped back into a separate well and then the well is closed; transported to a water treatment facility or re-used for the stimulation of another well. Recycling the same chemicals with fluid used in new operations contaminates the fluid and creates a more harmful emission the next time around (Nacamulli, 2017). The last step of hydraulic fracturing is the abandonment and plugging of the well. This is done by plugging the well with cement.  

While natural gas does decrease carbon dioxide when used as fuel, there is a concern that the process of fracking leads to massive methane escapes, which is concerning since methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). GHGs are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. GHGs from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century (IPCC, 2013). The problem lies in the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere; if too much is in our atmosphere, then more heat is trapped which leads to the planet warming at an unbalanced state. Models have shown that if society doesn’t take the necessary precautions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth could warm up by 2 degrees Celsius which substantially impact Earth life as we know it (IPCC, 2013).

As mentioned before, methane is potent strong greenhouse gas with severe environmental impacts; it has a global warming potential (GWP) of 34 (IPCC, 2013). GWP for a gas is a measure of the total energy a gas absorbs over a particular time period compared to carbon dioxide. The larger the GWP, the more warming the gas causes. Methane has a GWP of 34 meaning that it will cause more warming than carbon dioxide. Methane, however, has a shorter life-time in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. Atmospheric lifetime refers to the amount of time a gas stays in the atmosphere before it is released into space. Methane stays in the atmosphere for a decade, carbon dioxide however is more difficult to measure because there is a myriad of biological processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere therefore carbon dioxide can actually stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Carbon dioxide is the focus on climate change reform because of its long atmospheric lifetime but some scientists claim that there is no way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in time. Even with major carbon dioxide reductions, Howarth argues that the planet could reach 1.5 degrees in 12 years and 2 degrees in 35 years (as cited in Maggill, 2016). Since the planet responds much more rapidly to methane, a reduction in methane emissions could potentially slow global warming. In order for hydraulic fracturing to provide a net climatic benefit, methane emissions must be lower than 3.2% (Alvarez, Pacala, Winebrake, Chameides, and Hamburg, 2012, page 6437.  However, studies have shown that methane emissions from operating shale gas formations emit higher percentages of methane than 3.2% (Alvarez et al., 2012; Caulton et al., 2014 ; Karion et al., 2013; Schneising et al., 2014). Methane emissions will continue to increase as fracking grows in popularity therefore reform in technologies need to be made in order to create cost and climatic benefits in energy production.

While fugitive methane leakages at fracturing sites are a recognized concern for climate change, methane emissions and leakage are challenges because they occur at various locations during gas extraction and processing. During flowback, we experience the largest amount of  methane emissions are exhibited. As the fracking liquid comes back to the surface, it brings methane released from the shale. During the flowback period, as much as 3.2% of the total natural gas extracted is emitted into the atmosphere (Howarth, Santoro & Ingraffea, 2011 , p. 681). The methane is either captured by emission control devices or emitted into the atmosphere (Allen et al. 2013). Research has shown that methane emissions from shale gas development might be a result of drilling through coal beds which are known to release large amounts of methane. Popular fracking sites, such as the Marcellus Shale formation, are located over coal beds. Another way methane can leak into the atmosphere is through the transportation of natural gas. As natural gas is transported from the well to the storage containers methane leaks through equipment, typically wells have 55 to 150 connections to equipment and make up nearly 90% of methane emission from heaters, meters dehydrators, compressors and vapor-recovery apparatus. (Howarth et al., 2011, Pg. 683) Researchers observed this by examining the unaccounted gas, which is measured by comparing the volume of gas at the wellhead and the amount of gas that was purchased. The estimate of leakage during this time is estimated at 2.5% of emissions (Howarth et al., 2011 Pg. 684-685). Even though it is difficult to trace methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing to just one stage, all of these leaks could be reduced by improving the equipment used. Research performed has shown that the cement used to prevent leaks from well equipments into the atmosphere fails due to installation and material problems (Ingraffea, Wells, Santoro, & Shonkoff, 2014). Since methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing need to be lower than 3.2%, it is crucial that the industry implement reforms to innovate fracking equipment.

Fortunately, methane leaks from fracking are not impossible to stop, and some states have already implemented stricter regulations in order to minimize them. In 2014 Colorado became the first state in the country to place limits on methane emissions from oil and gas operations (Ogburn et al., 2014). Most methane that is lost from fracking comes from leaks in the well infrastructure as well as leaks in the transportation process. In an effort to reduce methane emissions from fracking, Colorado adopted rules which required operators detect and fix leaks and install devices to capture 95 percent of methane emissions (Marmaduke, 2016). It was believed that nearly every step of the methane harvesting process resulted in some amount of methane leakage. In 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a rule that was based off of the rule that Colorado had already passed two years earlier. The EPA estimates that theses rules will cut methane emissions by 510,000 tons by the year 2025, which is equal to the amount of greenhouse gases generated by 11 coal fired power plants (Marmaduke, 2016). In the state of Colorado alone, the chief of health estimated that the new rules could cut overall air pollution by 92,000 tons, which is the equivalent of taking every car in the state of Colorado off the road for an entire year (Kroh, 2013). Colorado made significant changes to their emissions standards by requiring all fracking companies to install maximum achievable control technology (MACT). MACT is a set of standards set by the EPA for over 100 categories of different sources of air pollution (West Virginia, 2014). This means that for each of the sources of the pollution the EPA has observed they have set a standard for that source that the company needs to meet. In most cases these standards involve having to install new equipment and machinery that allows less leaks (West Virginia, 2014). In order to install the MACT technology, oil and gas companies will need to be prepared to devote serious financial resources to making it happen. Implementing MACT would force companies to upgrade technology by installing pollution controls, including activated carbon injection, scrubbers or dry sorbent injection, and upgrade particulate controls (Bipartisan, 2013).

The cost of implementing MACT will be high but the costs of climate change are even higher. The cost to implement the technology to meet these standards would be roughly 10.9 billion dollars per year for energy companies that are forced to comply (Bipartisan, 2013). This money would be made up by increasing utility for all customers of companies affected. The EPA estimates that rule would result in an electricity price increase of 3.7 percent and natural gas prices would increase by an average of 0.6 to 1.3 percent (Bipartisan, 2013). This would mean the average natural gas customer would see their yearly bill increase by between $5.95 and $12.90 and the average yearly electrical bill would increase by $49.98 (EIA 2016; Shannon, 2016). By increasing the prices of their customers the companies would be left with a small fraction of the actual cost of the technology and would therefore not have to take on such a financial burden.

The information provided has given use concrete examples and facts about the amount of pollution that’s being emitted into the earth’s atmosphere from fracking. We need to understand   that we need to find a way to make natural gas the great clean energy source that is wanted by many people. Some methane emissions are essential to regulate because of their threat to climate change now and in the future, as we look more for the use of natural gas energy. By understanding the negative impacts of the extraction of natural gas is very important to know how we need to fix the problem of fracking to make fracking clean er and less pollutant. Overall we need to take some emissions present and reduce them to produce natural gas the green energy that is supposed to be. We have seen significant improvements in Colorado act to clean up the methane emissions from fracking.

AUTHORS

Andrea Vázquez – Animal Science

Noah Marchand – Environmental Science

Shawn MacDonald – Geology

 

REFERENCES

Allen, D. T., Torres, V. M., Thomas, J., Sullivan, D. W., Harrison, M., Hendler, A., . . . Seinfeld, J. H. (2013). Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(44),

17768-17773. doi:10.1073/pnas.1304880110

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Drilling in the ANWR and the Arctic Porcupine caribou problem

Alaska, Caribou, North Slope oil fields, Rangifer tarandus, Porcupine herd, moving past Prudhoe Bay Arctic Drilling Rig, North Slope, Alaska, 1978

The Arctic porcupine caribou has traversed the same migration path for the past 27,000 years. Surviving the last two major glaciations, the Arctic caribou once stood alongside Mastodons, Wooly Mammoths and Sabre-Tooth Tigers, but today they are being threatened (Maher, P., 2017). Chevron, British Petroleum, Arco and Exxon have begun to fight for the land the caribou have called home for decades. These companies want oil. Under the Arctic porcupine caribou, lies huge reserves of crude oil. Completely oblivious of the multi-billion dollar companies vying for the land beneath their hooves, the Arctic caribou teeters on the edge of disaster.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) established in 1960 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, protects the Arctic’s “unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values” (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014). The ANWR expanses 19.64 million acres on the northern coastline of Alaska (National Park Service, n.d.). In 1980, this area’s future was solidified as President Jimmy Carter expanded the protection, designating much of it as “protected wilderness” under the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) (“A Brief History of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”, 2017). Protected wilderness, defined as the “wildest of the wild”, is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (“Why Protect Wilderness”, n.d.). It contains no roads or other kinds of human development. It is the highest level of conservation protection offered by the federal government.

Within ANILCA, Section 1002 mandated a comprehensive assessment of natural resources on the 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s Coastal Plain. This assessment included research into fish, wildlife, petroleum, and the potential impacts of petroleum and gas drilling on the region. Because the ANWR Coastal Plain is discussed in Section 1002 of ANILCA, it is now referred to as the 1002 Area (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, [USFWS] 2014)

Much of what we know today about animal species in the ANWR comes from the ANILCA natural resource assessment. The ANWR is home to an array of 250 species of wildlife, including polar bears, Arctic caribou, grizzly bears, and various species of waterfowl (Alaska Wilderness League, 2017). The ANWR is the only national conservation area where polar bears regularly den and has become increasingly important as polar bear habitat is lost to climate change (Refuge Association, 2017). Birds from the ANWR migrate to every US state and territory, and can be found on 6 continents. The porcupine caribou herd, the largest caribou herd within the ANWR, returns every spring to the Coastal Plain to calve and raise their young (Refuge Association, 2017).

The ANWR porcupine caribou herd is one of the largest caribou herds in the world, with approximately 197,000 members (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016). The ANWR is the only place on Earth that someone can find a porcupine caribou. The ANWR, home to a network of plains, waters and mountains, provides an environment unlike almost anywhere else. Its unique ecological composition makes it the perfect place for the porcupine caribou to live, raise their young and migrate throughout (“Frequently Asked Questions”, n.d.).

In the spring, the caribou leave their southern habitat and move north to the Coastal Plain of the ANWR. This is the preferred calving, or birthing, ground of the herd. Members of the herd travel anywhere from 400 to 3,000 miles to get to this area. After the caribou give birth in June, the herd remains on the Coastal Plain and forages until mid-July, allowing time for the calves to grow strong enough to journey south (Refuge Association, 2017).

The Coastal Plain is the preferred calving habitat of the porcupine herd for multiple reasons. The Plain has a small population of predators such as brown bears, wolves, and golden eagles. This gives calves a greater chance of survival in their youngest stages. The Coastal Plain also has an abundance of vegetation preferred by Arctic caribou. Vegetation thrives during the caribou calving period, providing pregnant and nursing caribou with the nutrition needed to survive the harsh conditions (Refuge Association, 2017). The ANWR Coastal Plain is the only place that the caribou could raise their young.

For thousands of years, the Gwich’in or “caribou people” of the ANWR have depended on the migrating arctic porcupine caribou for food, clothing, shelter and tools. The Gwich’in culture is so “interwoven with the life-cycle of the herd” that their survival as a people is completely dependent on the caribou (Albert, P., 1994). One fundamental Gwich’in belief is that “every caribou has a bit of the human heart in them; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.” Paul Josie, a member of one of the 13 Gwich’in villages, describes any “threat to the caribou is a threat to us… to our way of life” (Maher, P., 2017). Not only does the caribou satisfy these indigenous people’s spiritual needs, but the hunting and distribution of the caribou meat enhances their social interaction with other tribes in the area. The caribou has become a vital component of the indigenous people’s mixed subsistence-cash economy (Maher, P., 2017).

But the lives of both the porcupine caribou and the Gwich’in people are at risk. Oil development in the ANWR is threatening the migratory and birthing habits of the caribou, which in turn jeopardizes the Gwich’in way of life.

       If the ANWR was to be developed for oil production, it is estimated that 303,000 acres of calving habitat, or 37% of their entire natural calving habitat would be lost to human development (US Department of the Interior, p. 120). Furthermore, studies indicate there is a direct correlation between human development and a decrease in animal habitat quality of the ANWR. In areas within 4 km of surface development, caribou use of the land declined by 52% (Nelleman & Cameron, 1996, p. 26). There is an estimated 1,000 meter disturbance zone around oil wells and a 250 meter disturbance zone around roads and seismic lines (Dyer et al., 2001, p. 531). The most consistently observed behavior in response to these petroleum developments among calving caribou is avoidance of the petroleum infrastructure (Griffith et al., 2002, p. 34). Because the ANWR is currently undeveloped, drilling development would need to be widespread and has the potential to take up huge amounts of land. Roads, barracks, storage structures, well pads, and pipelines would all have to be created. The negative impacts on the caribou from human development would be amplified and enormous.

The human development would force calving caribou to move to other, less nutrient rich grounds outside of the Coastal Plain, but this would be disastrous. Caribou calf survival has been shown to be much lower in areas outside of the Coastal Plain (Johnson et al., 2005). In the late 90’s, snow cover reduced access to the foraging grounds of the Coastal Plain, forcing the Porcupine caribou herd to nearby Canada. When this happened, the calf survival rate of the herd dropped 19% (Griffith et al., 2002, p. 34).

Whether it is a good or bad thing, oil and gas are rooted in Alaskan society; oil drilling built Alaska. Much of what we know today about oil in Alaska comes from the same ANILCA research that looked into the porcupine caribou. Seismic exploration conducted to assess petroleum resources, determined that there are approximately 10.6 billion barrels of petroleum lying beneath the ANWR (U.S. Geologic Survey [USGS], 1998). For context, Alaska’s second largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay, contains only 2.5 billion barrels. (Harball, E. 2017). If drilling were to commence today, the ANWR would contribute about 2% of the total US daily oil production by 2020. By 2030, it would account for more than 10% of the US’s daily oil production. Between the years 2018 and 2030, the US would save $202 billion on foreign oil importation (Harball, E., 2016).

The impact of oil production on Alaska has been massive. Taxation on the North Slope has generated over $50 billion for the state. 80 percent of Alaska’s revenue comes from oil production. Statewide, the oil industry accounts for a third of all jobs, and is currently Alaska’s largest non-governmental industry (Alaska Oil and Gas Association [AOGA], 2017). Oil and gas generate 38% of all Alaskan wages. Even those who do not work in the oil industry benefit from Alaskan oil production. Today, Alaska’s citizens receive anywhere from $1000 to $2000 a year from the Alaska Permanent Fund. The Alaska Permanent Fund, created to ensure “all generations of Alaskans could benefit from the riches of the state’s natural resources” has paid out $21.1 billion to Alaskan residents since 1976. Oil has fueled Alaska’s meteoric rise to prominence, even catapulting the Alaska median household income to the second highest in the country (“Oil Payout”, 2015). If there was no oil, Alaska would be crippled.

A state already facing a $3 billion budget deficit, needs oil to function. With production from the North Slope already on the decline Alaska needs more oil. Alaska needs the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trans Alaska Pipeline, built to carry crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez (the northernmost point in America free of ice), stretches 48 inches in diameter. It was built this way to accommodate the large flow volumes from Prudhoe Bay, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where drilling was expected to begin shortly. At its peak, the pipeline would push almost 2 million barrels of oil a day. Today the pipeline is far below its optimum daily flow, averaging only about 515,000 barrels a day (Brehmer, E,. 2017). Around 1990, the North Slope, which supplies the bulk of the state’s oil production, peaked. Since then, oil production has been steadily decreasing and the flow through the Alaskan pipeline has been falling by 5 percent each year (Wight, P., 2017). With oil production slowing at Prudhoe Bay, the pipeline, and Alaska’s economy is in jeopardy.

With potentially ten billion barrels of oil in the 1002 region, pro-oil politicians throughout America and throughout Alaska call for the necessity to drill. They believe more drilling is the most immediate and easiest solution to the dwindling Alaskan oil production. Lisa Murkowski, the state’s senior senator and the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee responsible for America’s use of natural resources, argues that oil is what has allowed for the development and upkeep of Alaskan “schools and roads and institutions”. She argues that in order to stay relevant and “to stay warm” in the face of a dwindling oil supply, drilling needs to occur in the ANWR (Friedman, 2017).

Murkowski, hoping to work around Section 1002, advocates for using Section 1003 of ANILCA which states “production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from the [Refuge] shall be undertaken until authorized by an act of Congress” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS], 2014). Section 1003 basically states that ANWR can only be opened for drilling through an act of Congress.

In June, President Donald Trump announced his intention of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, which is an international treaty focusing on fighting global warming and climate change. While other nations take steps to combat climate change, America’s current presidential administration has committed itself to fossil fuels. Donald Trump, with hopes of lessening America’s oil dependence on foreign governments, has taken up the call to open the 1002 area. The current administration has encouraged legislation that supports domestic energy expansion and has made it clear that they would like to continue America’s tradition of reliance on fossil fuels (Liptak, K., 2017).

Senate discussions led by Senator Murkowski, lean very heavily in favor of opening up the area to drilling. A referendum on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was recently passed through Senate, authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR. Soon, energy companies will be able to search for, and extract oil and gas from the frozen tundra (Meyer, R., 2017). Murkowski and the Trump administration has made ANWR drilling an almost guaranteed occurrence. With this approval of both the President and the committee chair responsible for natural resources in America, environmentalists need to recognize the real threat.

Environmentalist’s need to shift their focus from not drilling at all, to how drilling can be done in an environmentally conscious way. A practice that has the possibility to satisfy these criteria by reducing the environmental impact of oil drilling is Extended Reach Drilling (ERD). ERD is the practice of drilling non-vertical, very long horizontal wells. Extended reach drilling is a more advanced way to extract oil and is more efficient than traditional vertical well boring. Studies show that the ERD horizontal reach extends twice as far as standard vertical drilling methods (Bennetzen et al., 2010). Whereas standard reach drilling sites can only reach 4 km horizontally, an 8 km well is now considered standard depths for ERD (Finer et al., 2013). With distances of over 8 km being the norm, drill pads can be distanced at 16 km away from each other.  (“Average Depth of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Wells”, 2017) ERD wells reduce the area required to set up and drain oil reserves due to the drills extended radius. There is no need to build large amounts of drill pads to extract every oil reserve within a small area (Finer et al., 2013). Using extended reach drilling can drastically reduce the amount of land disruption caused by vertical drill wells. Habitat fragmentation, normally common around drilling sites, will be drastically reduced. Arctic caribou migration will not be affected as drastically as it would have been with standard reach drilling.

Studies from the Western Amazon have shown that half the drill pads normally used for standard reach drilling will be needed for ERD. Platforms were planned to be placed 8km away from each other, however ERD is capable of doubling that distance. All wells within a 16 km radius, were eliminated from the plan (Finer et al., 2013). The original plan consisted of 66 platforms, but 31 could be eliminated with extended reach drilling (Finer et al., 2013). Implementing ERD sites over standard platforms can save huge expanses of land from being disrupted, which directly translates to lessened environmental impacts to the ANWR.

Reducing infrastructure by using ERD sites will immediately reduce disruption of the land. Each new drilling platform requires approximately 5 to 11 acres of land, with an additional 14 acres for production phase processing stations. For example, Block 67, an area of land in the Western Amazon planned to use non-ERD sites consisting of 3 processing stations and 21 drilling platforms. This would require an environmental footprint of over 1 square kilometer. After implementing ERD sites into this scenario, 18 drilling platforms and one processing facility were eliminated, reducing land disruption by over 75% (Finer et al., 2013). ERD could preserve many acres of land for foraging caribou in the ANWR.

One concern for oil companies is the economic feasibility of using ERD platforms. Because it is a new technology, many companies are wary of its practicality. But Exxon Mobil, a leader in the world of oil production, understands it’s unique benefits. In their Russian Sakhalin-1 Project, Exxon uses ERD because they recognized the importance of the technology. To date, Exxon has drilled 43 of the world’s 50 longest-reach wells (“Extended reach technology”, n.d.). In the California OCS Santa Maria and Santa Barbara-Ventura basins, oil companies are considering using ERD to tap into 16 billion barrels of oil that lies off the California coast (California State Lands Commission [CSLC]). These oil companies would utilize ERD as an “economically and environmentally acceptable alternative” to traditional drilling sites. Fewer wells, reduced noise and air emissions, and the elimination of many new platforms incentivize these companies to use ERD. The long reach would significantly reduce the impact to the marine biology and habitats along the coast (“Oil and Gas Leases”, 2015). There would be minimal adverse effects on the environments, with most of the damage occurring in the marine survey and pre-development stage. When comparing EDR to traditional drilling, the economic benefits are enormous (Bjorklund, 2007).

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Job Acts by the American senate and Alaska’s fossil fuel reliance, America has to prepare itself for drilling in the ANWR. America needs to understand and familiarize itself with the needs and necessities of the Arctic porcupine caribou. The caribou’s safety and livelihood must stay at the forefront of all drilling development conversations. Drilling needs to occur in the least consequential and most environmentally sustainable way possible. Extended Reach drilling is the answer. By reducing land disruption by 75%, and minimizing habitat fragmentation, ERD is the drilling practice that must be utilized to save the Arctic porcupine caribou. Alaska needs oil and the porcupine caribou need ERD.

AUTHORS

Justin Bates – Geology

Caitirn Foley – Environmental Science

Andrew Rickus – Building and Construction

 

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*The arguments/opinions expressed in this entry do not necessarily reflect the opinions/align with the author(s) own views.