Tag Archives: environment

What the frack is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing – the technical term for fracking – is a method of getting gas and oil from shale rock, that is, a sedimentary rock made of mud and minerals. First, a hole, called a “wellbore”  is drilled into the rock. Next, a high-pressure liquid –– usually a mix of water, sand and chemicals –– is injected into the wellbore to help the natural gas escape.

Okay, cool –– natural gas. That’s good, right?

Not quite.

Remember when we said the pressured liquid was a mix of water, sand and chemicals? According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates, each fracking session can require anywhere from 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. That’s 2,400,000 to 7,800,000 gallons.

Second, those chemicals required to frack? Yeah, not great for the environment (and, by extension, you). The chemicals used vary (fracking was protected under regulations imposed by Congress in the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act). Those chemicals can easily flow into potable water –– i.e., the water that you consume –– and ultimately, into your body.

Since, again, the specific chemicals aren’t regulated, frackers are technically allowed to use chemicals like methanol (also found in: antifreeze, vehicle fuel), formaldehyde (a carcinogen, once widely used to preserve specimens in laboratories), lead (another carcinogen that can also cause neurological disorders) and naphthalene (yet another carcinogen, most commonly found in mothballs).

But…it’s safer than coal, right?

Again, not quite.

While burning coal isn’t great for the environment, burning natural gas –– that is, the product of fracking –– releases other gases like methane. So while it’s true, burning coal gives off twice as many carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas, methane traps heat more than 100 times better than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. So ultimately, these methane emissions negate any benefits you’d reap from producing and using natural gas.

Oh, and all that drilling required? Surprisingly, not great for the rocks. Fracking has been credited with creating earthquakes, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown, Ohio on New Year’s Eve 2011.

In short, dear reader, hydraulic fracturing is a bad frackin’ idea.


  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3?op=1
  2. http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/home
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-ohio-fracking-earthquakes-idUSBREA3A1J620140411
  4. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2011/usc0007f7s/

Is your life too plastic? “Bag It” film screening next week.

Missouri River Relief, Sustain Mizzou and the Missouri River Communities Network will host a free screening of the award winning film “Bag It” on Monday, April 23rd at 7 p.m. in Strickland 204 on the MU Campus.

Try going a day without plastic.  Plastic is everywhere and infiltrates our lives in unimaginable and frightening ways.  Most of what we eat and drink, and the products we purchase, are packaged and wrapped in petroleum plastic – a material designed to last forever, yet used for products that most people use once and throw away.

In this touching and often funny film, we follow “everyman” Jeb Berrier, who is admittedly not a tree hugger, as he embarks on a global tour to unravel the complexities of our plastic world. What starts as a film about plastic bags evolves into a wholesale investigation into plastic as it relates to our throw-away mentality, our culture of convenience, our over-consumption of unnecessary, disposable products and packaging – things that we use one time and then, without another thought, throw away.

But where is away? Away is overflowing landfills, clogged rivers, islands of trash in our oceans and even our very own toxic bodies. We see how our “crazy-for-plastic” world has finally caught up to us and what we can do about it.

The average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year, for about 12 minutes each. This single-use mentality for plastics has contributed to the formation of a floating island of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. The North Pacific Gyre is an area roughly twice the size of Texas, some say as big as the United States.

Featuring interviews with scientists and experts from around the world, Bag It is a first-person documentary in the style of Michael Moore, asking how we can incorporate healthy, more environmentally friendly practices into our lives, our cultures, and our communities.

“I didn’t expect a movie about plastic bags to change my life in such a deep and profound way.  Gripping, funny, intelligent, and sure to change your life.”

–  Louie Psihoyos, Director of The Cove

This free and open to the public screening is brought to you by Missouri River Relief, Sustain Mizzou & Missouri River Communities Network.  Please join us on Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. to learn more about how plastic affects our world and what we can do about it as we kick-off Sustainability Week.  If you don’t do anything else on Earth Day this April, come see this film and bring a friend.

Fore more information about plastic in our environment and its effects, check out Melanie Cheney’s blog, Plastic Soup News.

Exploring Why Used Cars Are a Better Buy for You and The Environment.

Over spring break my father and I took my 1994 BMW 325is to Rennsport, our favorite local mechanic in my home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had Rennsport put on some new Bilstein shocks, and replace about half a dozen less significant parts on my car, which now has over 213,000 miles on it. Most people would have bought a new car long ago, the idea being that a new car would get significantly better mileage, that it would be better for the environment, and that the overall experience would be better. For the most part this idea is false.

When most people think of the impact that cars have on the environment they only look at the impact in the present tense, that is they only think of the emissions of the car. However, the greatest environmental impact related to a car is it’s production and disposal. Cars take a great deal of materials to be built and there are many byproducts of both the production of the vehicle and the materials it is made of. Think of Rolls Royce, for example (an EXTREME example), who uses 17 to 18 bull hides for the leather in a single vehicle. That’s 18 bulls that have been bred, fed, and processed. Cars also use a lot of complex synthetic materials whose components can be toxic when handled or disposed of improperly. Metals that make up our cars are also mined and go through many processes (many of which involve dangerous toxic substances) before ending up as a shiny new car on a dealership’s showroom floor.

Unfortunately many Americans have this idea in their head that a car is simply worthless after an arbitrary number of miles. Say 100,000 miles, for example. This is the main fallacy that needs to be confronted in terms of how we regard cars in our country. In Europe it is quite normal to meet someone who owns a Renault or Mercedes that has been driven half a million miles and is on its second engine or transmission and they never stop bragging about it. They simply love their car. It’s like an elderly couple telling you that they’ve been married for fifty years. The key is to find a car you love and stick with it.

You might argue that it’s cheaper to buy a new car, particularly because a new car is more economical with its fuel consumption (certainly not much more efficient than anything else made in the last 30 years) or that it’s too expense to maintain  used cars. While this is a lovely justification for purchasing a new car, it doesn’t hold much water. Say that you buy a new car that gets 30 miles per gallon over a used car that gets 20 miles per gallon, the payments (and the most likely higher insurance rates) on the new car will far exceed the savings of it being more fuel efficient than the used car. Furthermore, if you are the kind of person who just has to have a new car, you’ll probably move on to another car shortly after you finish paying off the new car.

Maintaining a used car is also significantly cheaper than buying a new car. Firstly because even new cars end up needing maintenance and even break down at times. My mother’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which she purchased new, had a major transmission repair before it even reached 50,000 miles, not to mention the fact that the brakes have had to be replaced about every 20,000 miles. While those particular problems may be specific to that model, every car has its issues.

Since buying my BMW for a mere $2,000 my father and I have probably spent another $4,000 replacing a slew of important parts that should allow the car to make it another 100,000 miles or so. Owning this car has also been a much better experience than I would have gotten if I had bought a new car. My father and I have done a lot of the work on the car ourselves and it was a great opportunity to spend time together.

As for the work we’ve had Rennsport do, I’ve heard of very few people receiving the same level of service that we’ve gotten by taking their car to a dealership. Many dealers are becoming less oriented towards servicing cars and more oriented towards selling news ones. Mechanics, on the other hand, almost exclusively service cars and therefore must give you a high level of service if they want to stay in business. When we took my car to Rennsport for the work I mentioned earlier they did the work in less than a day. They also gave us a list of other things that they suggested we fix next and discussed what they thought we could do ourselves, what we should probably have them do, and when we should have those tasks completed. They even offered to sell us a discounted copy of the same repair manual they use when working on my car. I remember the first time we took my car there and discovered that four of the car’s five previous owners had taken it there, and one of them was even a mechanic at the shop. They even printed out service records, for me, of everything they had ever done to my car.

Service like this is great for sustaining your car, your local economy, and for giving you a good experience with your car. For me, personally, it goes a long way toward boosting my faith in the humanity of the car industry, particularly after some repeated horrible experiences with the two car dealerships where my parents got their current cars.

So the next time you are in the market for a new car, stop and think about it. Ask yourself some questions. Do you really need a new car? Can you get a used one instead? Is there a cute little convertible, a big SUV, or a sporty hatchback that you’ve always wanted? Do a little research on the major things that go wrong with that particular car and what they cost to fix. Who knows? Maybe buying that sports car you’ve always wanted used can make it affordable and you’ll enjoy it just as much.

If you absolutely must buy a new car, you need to buy it with the understanding that to own a new car should be a long term relationship. And while you should factor things like good fuel economy, utility, and practicality into your decision, the most important factor should be how much you love your car. If you love the car that you buy, then you will take good care of it and it will last longer and you will have less impact not the environment in your lifetime . You wouldn’t get married to someone who you didn’t really like or get a pet that you don’t want so why would you buy a car that doesn’t make you happy? If you are one of those people who must have a new car, you could consider leasing (if that’s financially viable for you) or ,at the very least, make sure that the person you sell your car to when you’re done with it is someone who will love it.

Last-minute gift that will last the whole year: a Coffee Thermos

Each year my mother spends the weeks after Thanksgiving repeatedly asking me what I want for Christmas, and I never know what to ask for! I usually don’t tell her and I end up getting socks, some books that aren’t on my desired reading list, and other things I don’t particularly want. So when my mother asked me this year I set about thinking of practical items I could ask for that I would want to use in my everyday life. One such item was a Starbucks coffee thermos.

Judge if you will, but I can honestly say that I am a huge fan of Starbucks. I love that almost anywhere I go, I can get the same product at roughly the same price and have a familiar experience. I find that consistency rather relaxing, in fact.

I usually go to Starbucks every Monday morning, to kick start my week, as well as Friday afternoon, as a sort of reward to myself for making it through the week. I also go a few more times each month to have coffee with friends that I may not see on a regular basis. If you think about it, that’s around 100 to 150 cups of coffee each year. Or, if you’re being specific, 100 to 150 cups, lids, and straws or cup sleeves each year.

I found it a bit disturbing that I was creating that much waste with my habit of going to Starbucks. Meghan Eldridge, who also writes for Footprint, pointed out to me that all of these items are recyclable, but that didn’t make me feel much better. Hence my asking my mother for a Starbucks thermos.

The one I chose was a 16oz. model so that I can get a tall or grande beverage (depending on how much caffein I’m in the mood for). I will now also have a thermos that I can use for my favorite tea that I make at home. Furthermore, Starbucks gives me a ten cent discount each time I use my thermos, meaning the $20 thermos pays for itself after 200 uses or in my case one and a half to two years. I’ve now had my Sigg water bottle for about five years, so I’m sure I’ll have no trouble using my Starbucks thermos for double or triple the time it will take it to pay for itself.

For those of you who enjoy an occasional cup of Starbucks coffee but don’t generally go enough to justify buying a reusable thermos, there’s no need to fear! Starbucks does lots of cool things to help the environment. One of the major projects Starbucks is working on is making their coffee cups more sustainable. In fact, they have held several “cup summits” over the years to bring innovators together to find ways to make their cups more environmentally friendly. They also recycle most of the packaging behind the counter that the customers never even see. However, one of their initiatives that I found most interesting is that, upon request, Starbucks will give you a free 5lb. bag of used coffee grounds for your compost. Some of the locations even take their used coffee grounds to commercial composting companies nearby.

Obviously Starbucks isn’t perfect. There are still many things they could work on, but then so could all of us. It’s just nice to know a business that I frequent is making an effort to improve it’s sustainability and that I can take part in that.

To find out more about Starbucks’ sustainability efforts visit the following link: http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/learn-more/goals-and-progress

Download the Earth Day issue

Footprint Magazine presents . . .

Cover of Earth Day 2011 edition of Footprintthe EARTH DAY ISSUE, featuring lots of sustainable living content you’ve seen here online and a new original DIY piece on how to make your own coffee table.  It’s designed by journalism design student Theresa Berens, and it looks gorgeous.  Now with this e-file you can distribute it to all your friends!  Sustain Mizzou will also distribute copies at our summer welcome table.

[ Download the Earth Day Issue. ]

The (Environmental) Horror!

By Eddie Kirsch

Gulf Sounds flier
Happy Halloween!

Sustain Mizzou is hosting a benefit concert at the Blue Fugue called Gulf Sounds. Here is a little information regarding the concert:

When: Wednesday, November 3 — 8:30pm to 1:00am
Location: The Blue Fugue, 120 S 9th St., Columbia, MO
What to expect: People will pay $5 at the door and spend the rest of the evening dancing, chilling and having a good time.  Volunteers will sell raffle tickets to win gift certificates to all sorts of sweet places in the district (including a $50 gift card to Flat Branch Pub and Brewery).  They will also sell t-shirts and poster prints.  All of the money raised throughout the night will be donated to an organization of your choice:

1. National Wildlife Federation (wildlife)
2. Environmental Defense Fund (environment)
3. Greater New Orleans Foundation (community)”

If you need a little refresher on why the Gulf Oil Spill, here are five scary & interesting facts, in the spirit of Halloween:

1. According to the most recent data, a total of 6104 birds, 609 Sea Turtles and 100 mammals have been found dead.

2. According to thisweek.com, BP was celebrating safety on the Deepwater Horizon exactly when it exploded.From the website:
“In a curious twist, BP chose April 20 as the date for an onboard party to commemorate “Deepwater Horizon going for seven years without an accident.” A number of company executives reportedly flew out to the rig to take part in the festivities. The natural gas explosion that killed 11 crew members and eventually sank the rig ‘blew out the wall leading to the galley, where [the] party was being held.'”

3. According to tampabay.com, “205 million gallons spewed into the gulf over 87 days”.

4. From restorethegulf.gov, “Approximately 93 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline are currently experiencing moderate to heavy oil impacts-approximately 86 miles in Louisiana, 6 miles in Mississippi and less than two miles in Alabama and Florida.”

5. According to USA Today, by Oct. 1, BP had spent $11.2 billion on the Gulf oil spill