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EPA Plans to Allow Unlimited Dumping of Fracking Wastewater in the Gulf of Mexico

Mike Ludwig, Truthout
Waking Times

Environmentalists are warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft plan to continue allowing oil and gas companies to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and wastewater directly into the Gulf of Mexico is in violation of federal law.

In a letter sent to EPA officials, attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity warned that the agency’s draft permit for water pollution discharges in the Gulf fails to properly consider how dumping wastewater containing chemicals from fracking and acidizing operations would impact water quality and marine wildlife.

The attorneys claim that regulators do not fully understand how the chemicals used in offshore fracking and other well treatments — some of which are toxic and dangerous to human and marine life — can impact marine environments, and crucial parts of the draft permit are based on severely outdated data. Finalizing the draft permit as it stands would be a violation of the Clean Water Act, they argue.

The EPA is endangering an entire ecosystem by allowing the oil industry to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and drilling waste fluid into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Center attorney Kristen Monsell. “This appalling plan from the agency that’s supposed to protect our water violates federal law, and shows a disturbing disregard for offshore fracking’s toxic threats to sea turtles and other Gulf wildlife.”

The Center has a history of using legal action to stop polluters and challenge the government to enforce environmental regulations, so the letter could be seen as a warning shot over the EPA’s bow. Earlier this year, lawsuits filed by the Center and another group won a temporary moratorium on offshore fracking in the Pacific Ocean, and the groups are currently preparing to challenge fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel under the Endangered Species Act.

Offshore fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at extremely high pressure into undersea wells to break up rock and sand formations and clear pathways for oil and gas. Offshore drillers also treat wells with corrosive acids, such as hydrochloric acid, in a process known as “acidizing.”

The technologies have been used hundreds of times to enhance oil and gas production at hundreds of Gulf wells in recent years, and environmentalists say use of the technology could increase in the future as the industry seeks to maximize production in aging offshore fields. Still, little was publicly known about these “well treatments” until Truthout and environmental groups began filing information requests with federal regulators.

Regulators and the fossil fuel industry say offshore fracking operations have a good safety record and tend to be smaller in size compared to onshore operations, but environmentalists continue to worry about the chemicals used in the process because many of them are known to harm marine wildlife. Plus, dolphins and other species in the Gulf are still suffering from the lingering effects of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Under the EPA’s current and draft permits, offshore drillers are allowed to dump an unlimited amount of fracking and acidizing chemicals overboard as long as they are mixed with the wastewater that returns from undersea wells. Oil and gas platforms dumped more than 75 billion gallons of these “produced waters” directly into the Gulf of Mexico in 2014 alone, according to the Center’s analysis of EPA records.

These large volumes of wastewater cannot contain oil and must meet toxicity standards, but oil and gas operators are only required to test the waste stream a few times a year. Monsell said these tests could easily be conducted at times when few or no fracking chemicals are present in the wastewater.

The EPA expects these chemicals to have little impact on the environment because the large volumes of wastewater and the ocean dilute them, but the Center points out that much of the EPA’s data on the subject comes from studies prepared in the 1980s and 1990s. Offshore production technology has advanced since then and hundreds of frack jobs have occurred in the Gulf in the past five years alone.

“All they have to do is ask the Interior Department for this information, because they just compiled it all for us,” said Monsell, referring to the thousands of documents recently released to Truthout and the Center under the Freedom of Information Act.

These documents, released under a legal settlement between the Interior Department and the Center, show that regulators approved more than 1,500 frack jobs at over 600 Gulf wells between 2010 and 2014 with permit modifications that were exempted from comprehensive environmental reviews.

Monsell said the EPA’s permit is just another example of a federal agency “rubber-stamping” permits for offshore fracking without taking a hard look at how the technology impacts the environment. The EPA, she argues, should prohibit the dumping of hazardous fracking chemicals and other wastes directly into ocean altogether.

“It’s the EPA’s job to protect water quality from offshore fracking, not rubber-stamp the dumping of the wastewater from this dangerous, disgusting practice,” Monsell said.

The draft permit does prohibit the dumping of oil in the Gulf and proposes a new rule that would require oil and gas operators to keep an inventory of the fracking and acidizing chemicals kept on board. This inventory must be made available to regulators upon request. The government’s most up-to-date list of offshore fracking chemicals is now 15 years old, and the Interior Department regulators are currently working to update it.

Monsell worries, however, that these inventories would not track how much of the chemicals are dumped overboard, and the public will not be able to access them unless the EPA or Interior Department requests copies first. Even then, watchdogs may have to wait on the government to process more information requests in order to make those inventories public.

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Planet Earth

Meteor Fireball Seen over Parts of New York State [VIDEO] 

The American Meteor Society is reporting that a meteor was spotted over parts of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania Tuesday morning at around 2:35 a.m.

As of now, there are eighty seven reports on the AMS website about the fireball, which can be seen streaking across the sky in the video above.

The video was also shared on the AMS Twitter account, and was taken from the Elmira Corning Regional Airport.

According to the website, some of the sighting reports are places across the Hudson Valley such as Beacon, Staatsburg, Woodbourne, and Middletown.

Did you happen to see the fireball?

wpdh.com

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Marijuana is a Lot More Than Just THC

James David Adams, The Conversation
Waking Times

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states as of November 2018. Yet the federal government still insists marijuana has no legal use and is easy to abuse. In the meantime, medical marijuana dispensaries have an increasing array of products available for pain, anxiety, sex and more.

The glass counters and their jars of products in the dispensary resemble an 18th century pharmacy. Many strains for sale have evocative and magical names like Blue Dream, Bubba Kush and Chocolope. But what does it all mean? Are there really differences in the medical qualities of the various strains? Or, are the different strains with the fanciful names all just advertising gimmicks?

I am a professor in the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. I have lived in California a long time and remember the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love. While in graduate school, I worked with professor Alexander Shulgin, the father of designer drugs, who taught me the chemistry of medicinal plants. Afterwards, while a professor at USC, I learned Chumash healing from a Native American Chumash healer for 14 years from 1998 until 2012. She taught me how to make medicines from Californian plants, but not marijuana, which is not native to the U.S. Currently, I am teaching a course in medical marijuana to pharmacy students.

If there is one thing about marijuana that is certain: In small doses it can boost libido in men and women, leading to more sex. But can marijuana really be used for medical conditions?

Rafael, a Chumash who shared Californian Native American cultural knowledge with anthropologists in the 1800s. Leon de Cessac

What are Cannabinoids?

New research is revealing that marijuana is more than just a source of cannabinoids, chemicals that may bind to cannabinoid receptors in our brains, which are used to get high. The most well-known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is a particularly rich source of medicinal compounds that we have only begun to explore. In order to harness the full potential of the compounds in this plant, society needs to overcome misconceptions about marijuana and look at what research clearly says about the medical value.

The FDA has already made some moves in this direction by approving prescription drugs that come from marijuana including dronabinol, nabilone, nabiximols and cannabidiol. Dronabinol and nabilone are cannabinoids that are used for nausea. Nabiximols – which contain THC, the compound most responsible for marijuana’s high and cannabidiol, which does not induce a high – are used to treat multiple sclerosis. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also used to treat some types of epilepsy.

Marijuana, originally from the Altai Mountains in Central and East Asia, contains at least 85 cannabinoids and 27 terpenes, fragrant oils that are produced by many herbs and flowers that may be active, drug-like compounds. THC is the cannabinoid everyone wants in order to get high. It is produced from THC acid – which constitutes up to 25 percent of the plant’s dry weight – by smoking or baking any part of the marijuana plant.

THC mimics a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called anandamidethat works as a signaling molecule in the brain. Anandamide attaches to proteins in the brain called cannabinoid receptors, which then send signals related to pleasure, memory, thinking, perception and coordination, to name a few. THC works by hijacking these natural cannabinoid receptors, triggering a profound high.

Tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid, another cannabinoid, can constitute up to 10 percent of the dry weight. It is converted to another compound that probably contributes to a high, tetrahydrocannabivarin, when smoked or ingested in baked goods. Potent varieties like Doug’s Varin and Tangie may contain even higher concentrations.

Medical Properties of Marijuana

But not all cannabinoids make you high. Cannabidiol, a cannabinoid similar to THC, and its acid are also present in marijuana, especially in certain varieties. But these do not cause euphoria. The cannabidiol molecule interacts with a variety of receptors – including cannabinoid and serotonin receptors and transient receptor potential cation channels (TRP) – to reduce seizures, combat anxiety and produce other effects.

Marijuana also contains several monoterpenoids – small, aromatic molecules – that have a wide range of activities including pain and anxiety relief and that work by inhibiting TRP channels.

Myrcene is the most abundant monoterpenoid, a type or terpene, in marijuana. It can relax muscles. Other terpenes such as pinene, linalool, limonene and the sesquiterpene, beta-caryophyllene are pain relievers, especially when applied directly to the skin as a liniment. Some of these terpenes may add to the high when marijuana is smoked.

What Do All These Varieties Do?

Many different varieties of marijuana are on the market and are alleged to treat a range of diseases. The FDA has no oversight for these claims, since the FDA does not recognize marijuana as a legal product.

Strains of marijuana are grown that produce more THC than cannadidiol or vice versa. Other varieties have abundant monoterpenoids. How do you know that the strain you choose is legitimate with probable medical benefits? Each strain should have a certificate of analysis that shows you how much of each active compound is present in the product you buy. Many states have a bureau of cannabis control that verifies these certificates of analysis. However, many certificates of analysis do not show the monoterpenoids present in the marijuana. The analysis of monoterpenoids is difficult since they evaporate from the plant material. If you are looking for a strain high in myrcene or linalool, ask for proof.

Certificate of analysis. CC BY-SA

Marijuana can improve several conditions, but it can also make others worse and can have nasty side effects.

As recreational use has become more widespread, marijuana hyperemesis syndrome is becoming more of a problem in our society. Some people vomit uncontrollably after smoking marijuana regularly. It can be treated by rubbing a cream made from capsaicin, from chili peppers, on the abdomen. Capsaicin cream is available in pharmacies.

Also, high THC varieties of marijuana, such as Royal Gorilla and Fat Banana, can cause anxiety and even psychosis in some people.

Researchers have also shown that anxiety can be effectively treated with strains that have more cannabidiol and linalool. It may be best to rub a cannabidiol balm or lotion on your cheeks to relieve anxiety.

Other conditions that studies have shown are improved by marijuana are: cancer induced nauseaType 2 diabetestwo forms of epilepsyHIV-induced weight gainirritable bowel syndromemigrainesmultiple sclerosisosteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritispainchronic painpost-traumatic stress disordersleep disorders and traumatic brain injury.

For some of these conditions, studies show that eating or topically applying marijuana products rather than smoking is recommended.

Clearly, more research is needed from the scientific community to help guide the appropriate, safe use of marijuana. However, the FDA does not recognize the use of medical marijuana. This makes funding for research on marijuana difficult to find. Perhaps the cannabis industry should consider funding scientific research on marijuana. But conflicts of interest may become a concern as we have seen with drug company-sponsored studies.

About the Author

– Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Southern California

**This article (Marijuana is a Lot More Than Just THC – A Pharmacologist Looks at the Untapped Healing Compounds) was originally featured at The Conversation.

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China Needs to Build Eight Nuclear Plants Annually to Meet Goals

Clean Construction

If China wants to keep pace with the rest of the world, it needs to start building more nuclear reactors.

According to a Chinese official, the nation will need to launch a staggering eight new reactors every year to meet the global average for nuclear energy generation by 2030 — and meet its own electricity demands without pumping more environment-destroying pollutants into the atmosphere.

Start Building

On Wednesday, Asia Times reported that Liu Wei, general manager of China Nuclear Power Engineering, a clean energy company under the supervision of the Chinese government, told reporters that China’s total power consumption will reach 10.5 trillion kilowatts by 2030.

If the nation wants 10 percent of that electricity generated by nuclear plants — a rate in line with the global average — it will need to launch eight high-capacity nuclear reactors every year between now and then.

China’s Choice

China already has 46 operational nuclear reactors, with more than 20 others under construction. The nation is reportedly capable of building a reactor in just 60 months, and according to an MIT Technology Review story published in December, it has the ability to build 10 to 12 reactors annually.

That’s if it wanted to. But the Asia Times article doesn’t note whether China actually plans to construct eight new units every year for the next decade.

Given the speed at which its economy is growing, though, it will need to put in place some sort of plan to meet its increasing electricity needs without further damaging its environment. Maybe nuclear power could provide that path.

READ MORE: Nation needs eight new nuclear power units annually, official says [China Daily]

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