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Last week, we attempted to understand what exactly the folks who are opposed to Natural Gas Fracking were really opposed to. I came down on the side that they simply didn’t want to see any energy development, nor the prospect of anyone getting rich just by having the good fortune to own property on top of a gas field.

One of the most common (and plausible) environmental concerns of the Fractivists is that the large volumes of water used in the fracking process end up back in reservoirs and local aquifers. Indeed this is true, though town, county and state environmental and water authorities have sanctioned such water disposal in the past, and the number of cases of damage due to this “polluted” water have been low (indeed, I am not aware of any).

I imagine that many folks who are opposed to fracking get a kick out the idea of supporting local farmers, particularly those who grow corn, so that we can have a clean, renewable, “natural” fuel to power our vehicles. But consider this: Congress has mandated that by 2022, we produce 36 billion gallons of ethanol, and we produce roughly 10 billion gallons today. So, what’s the big deal? Well, among the myriad other well-known environmental problems with ethanol (soil erosion, corrosion of prime movers, low energy return, increased stress on land, expansion of farming into natural areas and areas not suitable for corn growing, leaching of nitrates into the rivers and seas) what is less well-known, or indeed forgotten entirely by the supporters of ethanol, is that the corn has to be distilled.

And what do you need to distill corn?

Lots of water. And I mean lots of water. Not only does the distillation process require volumes of water that dwarf the amount needed for irrigation (we already are stressing this important aquifer), much of this water ends up as wastewater. That’s right folks. The very wastewater that natural gas fracking generates, with a different mix of chemicals for sure, comes out of the “green” ethanol distilling plants.

And just how much wastewater are we talking about? How about ten to thirteen times the volume of the produced ethanol. In today’s world, this means we are producing roughly 100 Billion to 130 Billion gallons of wastewater, and we are mandating that by 2022 we produce as much as 468 Billion gallons of ethanol wastewater per year. How much wastewater is that? It’s about the amount of water the entire US drinks in 10 days. Not an insignificant amount.

For your reference, the best estimates that I can find for an annual amount of wastewater generated by fracking in the Northeast? 680 Million gallons.

4 Responses to “Four Legs Bad, Two Legs Good”

  1. Rod says:

    No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.

    For years the greenies have been after farmers for manure runoff, which means poopie in the watershed. The watershed, as opposed to the shed, used to be the catch-all (literally) reason for absolutely no human-being-created pollution anywhere, as if mankind itself is a toxin to the great earth mother Gaia. The greenies picked this idea up from the original civilization haters, Zero Population Growth. (Arnold would say “Plain Sero Population Grrowth.) Then came along the global warmers, who abhor the gas created by mammal and other animal respiration. This covers everything.

    My question is, “Where do the raccoons go?”

    For years, raccoons were the heros of the animal world for washing their hands before they touched food. But why did they have to wash their hands? After using little raccoon toilets? Just what does the watershed do with the raccoon poop? And the fish. Where do the fish go? We have a serious environmental crisis developing here, and we’ll have to fund zillions of studies to investigate it. University professors, unite!

  2. Rod says:

    Actually, I see fracking and the wealth that would ensue from it as one of the few remedies left to restore our economy and to maintain and improve Americans’ standard of living. It could also go a long way toward subsidizing public schools in New York and Pennsylvania if both states would exploit the potential wealth on state-owned land. (I’m not for taxes on the gas itself, a measure that would only increase the cost to consumers.)

    But no, New York and its legislature follow superstition and ignorance whenever the possibility of pollution is raised, even in the midst of an economic crisis that could lead to “fundamental change.”

  3. Harry says:

    After reading wintercow’ s piece I went lazily to a website in Kansas that describes their process for making corn lickker.

    I will email wintercow the link, I hope.

    The process requires big stainless steel tanks, heaters, filters, and pipes. The technology of converting corn into sugar has improved with enzymes and milling technique, but the yeast that eats the sugar to produce 30-proof moonshine has been around for a long time. You then distill the alcohol, ending up with 90 percent alcohol, and then they push that mixture through a fine filter (molecular-sized) to get rid of the rest of the water. They then “add a small amount of denaturant” before pumping it into a big tank to prevent anyone from bring his jug over.

    This is done to assure that whoever is killed by drinking half a mason jar kills himself by poisoning his system with methyl alcohol, and not an overdose of ethyl alcohol.

    As far as the water is concerned, much of it is returned to the system. If one of the byproducts, brewers grains, can be fed to cattle (I never had it available, but have watched a hungry cow eat brewers grains enthusiastically) or dried into cakes. Either way, the water goes into the cow or evaporates, to rain on us again.

    You put the fracking water into perspective, wintercow. Depending on where you are, water can be a problem, or no problem at all, depending on what you compare it to.

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