United States Department of Energy

December 2, 2013

How pollution results in larger storm clouds, colder days and warmer nights

Source: Asian News International, November 27, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A new study has revealed how pollution causes thunderstorms to leave behind larger, deeper, longer lasting clouds.

Researchers had thought that pollution causes larger and longer-lasting storm clouds by making thunderheads draftier through a process known as convection. But atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan and her colleagues show that pollution instead makes clouds linger by decreasing the size and increasing the lifespan of cloud and ice particles.

Also, pollution can decrease the daily temperature range via such clouds: High clouds left after a thunderstorm spread out across the sky and look like anvils. These clouds cool the earth during the day with their shadows but trap heat like a blanket at night.

Pollution can cause clouds from late afternoon thunderstorms to last long into the night rather than dissipate, causing warmer nights.

Fan and colleagues decided to compare real-life summer storm clouds to a computer model that zooms deep into simulated clouds. The model included physical properties of the cloud particles as well as the ability to see convection, if it gets stronger or weaker. Most models run in days or weeks, but the simulations in this study took up to six months.

The researchers started with cloud data from three locations that differ in how polluted, humid and windy they typically are: the tropics in the western Pacific, southeastern China and the Great Plains in Oklahoma. The data had been collected through DOE’s ARM Climate Research Facility.

The team found that in all cases, pollution increased the size, thickness and duration of the anvil-shaped clouds. However, only two locations – the tropics and China – showed stronger convection. The opposite happened in Oklahoma – pollution made for weaker convection.

This inconsistency suggested that stronger convection isn’t the reason. Taking a closer look at the properties of water droplets and ice crystals within clouds, the team found that pollution resulted in smaller droplets and ice crystals, regardless of location.

In addition, the team found that in clean skies, the heavier ice particles fall faster out of the anvil-shaped clouds, causing the clouds to dissipate. However, the ice crystals in polluted skies were smaller and too light to fall out of the clouds, leading to the larger, longer-lasting clouds.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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November 26, 2013

Hanford nuclear site clean-up: The mess gets worse

Source: http://investigations.nbcnews.com, November 18, 2013
By: Rebecca LaFlure, The Center for Public Integrity

The government’s multi-billion-dollar effort to clean up the nation’s largest nuclear dump has become its own dysfunctional mess.

For more than two decades, the government has worked to dispose of 56 million gallons of nuclear and chemical waste in underground, leak-prone tanks at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State.

But progress has been slow, the project’s budget is rising by billions of dollars, and a long-running technical dispute has sown ill will between the project’s senior engineering staff, the Energy Department, and its lead contractors.

The waste is a legacy of the Cold War, when the site housed nuclear reactors churning out radioactive plutonium for thousands of atomic bombs. To clean up the mess, the Department of Energy (DOE) started building a factory 12 years ago to encase the nuclear leftovers in stable glass for long-term storage.

But today, construction of the factory is only two-thirds complete after billions of dollars in spending, leaving partially constructed buildings and heavy machinery scattered across the 65-acre site, a short distance from the Columbia River.

Technical personnel have expressed concerns about the plant’s ability to operate safely, and say the government and its contractor have tried to discredit them, and in some cases harassed and punished them. Experts also say that some of the tanks have already leaked radioactive waste into the groundwater below, and worry that the contamination is now making its way to the river, a major regional source of drinking water.…

November 13, 2013

Below-ground gas injection linked to Texas quakes

Source: AFP World News, November 4, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A method of storing harmful greenhouse gases by injecting them below ground has likely triggered a series of earthquakes in Texas, some larger than magnitude 3, a US study said Monday.

The findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences mark the first time that carbon storage has been linked to temblors ranging from 3.0 to 4.4 in severity.

Researchers warned last year in the same journal that carbon capture and storage risked causing earthquakes, but there had been no direct evidence of such quakes until now.

The study focused on seismic activity in petroleum fields in Scurry and Kent Counties in northwest Texas, known as the Cogdell and Kelly-Snyder oil fields.

A process called water flooding was used in the Cogdell field to boost oil production from 1957 to 1982, and previous research has found that the practice caused small quakes in the area from 1975 to 1982.

More recently, methane and CO2 have been injected into the oil field at high volumes, said the research by Wei Gan and Cliff Frohlich at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics.

It was done in an area where the US Department of Energy has funded research on the potential impacts of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a proposed technique for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by capturing CO2 and injecting it deep underground for long-term storage.…

July 25, 2013

Fracking Study Shows Water Not Contaminated by Chemicals

Read here about a study that showed that chemicals from natural gas drilling did not contaminate drinking water aquifers in Pennsylvania.…

February 28, 2013

OR Tank Leaks Lead to Investigation

Read here about an investigation into leaking underground waste tanks that has been launched by an Oregon Senator.

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July 13, 2012

Study targets fracking pollution in water

Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A new study being done by the Department of Energy may provide some of the first solid answers to an extremely controversial question: Can gas drilling fluids migrate and pose a threat to drinking water?

A drilling company in southwestern Pennsylvania is giving researchers access to a commercial drilling site, said Richard Hammack, a spokesman for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

The firm let scientists conduct baseline tests, allowed tracing elements to be added to hydraulic fracturing fluids and agreed to allow follow-up monitoring. That should let scientists see whether the drilling fluids move upward or sideways from the Marcellus Shale, which is 8,100 feet deep at that spot.

“It’s like the perfect laboratory,” Hammack said.

Hammack said he believes this is the first time such research has been done on a commercial gas well.

“Conceptually, it sounds like a really great idea,” said P. Lee Ferguson, a Duke University civil and environmental engineering professor who is not involved with the project. “I have wondered about this since I started thinking about fracking.”

The Marcellus Shale is a gas-rich rock formation thousands of feet under large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Over the past five years, advances in drilling technology made the gas accessible, leading to a boom in production, jobs, and profits — and concerns about pollution.

The gas is pulled from the ground through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected deep underground to break shale apart and free the gas.

Environmentalists have claimed the fluids associated with drilling could rise and pollute shallow drinking-water aquifers. The industry and many government officials say the practice is safe when done properly, but there have also been cases where faulty wells did cause pollution.

Ferguson cautioned that no single study will answer all questions.

Hammack said the study is designed to see whether the fracking fluids or naturally occurring salty brine from deep underground reach a testing area located at about 4,000 feet.…

February 3, 2011

Soil with mercury dumped at Hanford landfill

Source: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com, September 1, 2007

A government watchdog group is urging an investigation of a contractor at the Hanford nuclear reservation after soil contaminated with mercury was mistakenly dumped in a landfill.

There have been problems in the past at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a landfill that holds radioactive and hazardous chemical waste. It is operated by contractor Washington Closure Hanford under contract to the U.S. Department of Energy, which manages cleanup of the highly contaminated Hanford site.

The latest incident was uncovered by the Government Accountability Project, a government watchdog and whistle-blower protection group, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In an 18-page letter, the group urged the Energy Department to open an independent, full-scale investigation of the company and to hold it accountable.…