I really don’t like sedimentary rocks…

I like sedimentary rocks. To a point.

I like the broad picture of sedimentary rocks. I understand the broad picture of sedimentary rocks. I like them because they’re a great look into the history of the earth. However, if you stick me in an environment where you give me a pile of sedimentary rocks and you ask me to identify them, and not just identify them, but REALLY identify them using modifiers like laminated and diamict, I will probably not like you much that day.

You know what sedimentary rocks I enjoy looking at and identifying? Sandstones. Everything else? Not so much. I will happily look at any variety of arenites you want to throw at me and I will drop acid on fossiliferous limestone samples all day, but when you ask me to classify this box of “shales” into siltstones, claystones, mudstones, etc… I quickly lose interest.

Here’s a picture of a lovely quartz arenite I found out in the woods one day.

Let’s be controversial…

This is what happens when non-scientifically inclined people try to raise awareness about something.

Here is what happens when non-scientifically inclined people get a hold of and promote the hell out of something like this.

I’ve watched ‘Gasland‘ as part of a Water Resource and Management class. I quite liked it. I am an environmentalist hippy at heart, and anything that challenges oil and energy companies, I love. Fortunately for me, however, I came armed with a whole lot of skepticism. As much as I love to stick it to the oil industry, nothing bothers me more than people who talk about things they don’t understand. This film deals with things I have some inklings of understanding about, namely geology and a wee bit of chemistry.

For those who don’t know what Gasland is about, it’s a documentary investigating the use of the process of hydraulic fracturing to mine natural gas, more commonly known as “fracking”. Simply, energy companies pump water at extremely high pressures into layers of impermeable rock in order to free their natural gas. The impermeable nature of those rocks doesn’t allow the natural gas to move within them (and therefore be extracted), so the high pressure water creates fractures in the rock that lets the gas move through the rock and be retrieved.

The documentary tackles the issue by looking at real concerns. Is the process of fracking causing the contamination of water supplies with hydrocarbons and “chemicals”? If you watch the film, you will undoubtedly reach the conclusion that it does indeed poison ground water. Like any good documentary on a controversial subject however, it’s one-sided and misleading.

First off, if you have an argument that involves using the word “chemicals” it better be in the form of “X contains these caustic chemicals that are proven carcinogens” and not “chemicals are bad for you! Do you want chemicals in YOUR water?” If you cannot display an understanding of what a chemical is (EVERYTHING IS A CHEMICAL) then your argument is flawed and until you refine it, it’s not worth listening to. Furthermore, I think most of our fears of “chemicals” is due to things like this. So if you cannot talk about chemicals in an intelligent manner, you have no business trying to argue about how bad they are for you. (If you’re not drinking distilled water, the water you’re drinking right now is LOADED with chemicals.)

In my structure class we’ve discussed using fracking as a method to measure stresses within the Earth, and inevitably the question was posed to my professor on what he thought about the environmental risks of fracking. So instead of me saying as much, I’ll let you hear his words on the subject (transcribed by yours truly from lecture recording).

“It depends on who you ask. I have a disclaimer: My advisor at Penn State is one of the two guys who started the whole gas rush in the Eastern US. He’s done a ton of research in this area and it suffices to say that wells have not been adequately tested prior to this stuff going on. Certainly there are chemicals in wells now, right? But, for example have you seen the movie ‘Gaslands’ where the guy lights his faucet on fire? Well, that well–that’s in Colorado– there’s no hydraulic fracturing within a few miles of that guys well. It was drilled through a coal bed, and so Colorado (whatever their environmental body is) determined that his well is not contaminated by anything due to hydraulic fracturing, because there is coal bed methane seeping into his well. So yeah, there’s methane in his well, but it has nothing to do with fracking.”

This is echo’d elsewhere by other professional geologists.

Another concern with groundwater contamination isn’t due to the fracking fluids, but the release of naturally occurring methane gas. This is thought to happen when induced fractures create pathways for the gas to “leak” out of a fracked geologic unit, and make their way into overlying aquifers and into our drinking water. There was a famous case, demonstrated in the documentary “GasLand“, where a homeowner turned on a faucet in their home and was able to light it on fire due to the amount of methane gas present. A number of homeowners have reported this problem following the commencement of nearby hydraulic-fracturing operations.

Two things to note. One: these are all properties where the residents have private water wells supplying their home, usually in deeper aquifers. So if you receive municipal water, you shouldn’t worry. Two: geology, geology, geology. Methane, as I mentioned, is naturally occurring (it is natural gas). In fact, it occurs all throughout the stratigraphic column in the areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia where these claims are common. A study by Penn State explains that sources of methane in water wells can range from gas wells, coal mines, landfills, and simply natural deposits.

Does this mean that hydro-fracking was not the cause of methane in drinking water supplies? No. But it also means it’s not definitely the source, either. In Pennsylvania, where the “fire faucet” was documented in “GasLand”, a number of the residents jumped on the bandwagon of blaming hydro-fracking for methane in their wells. However, in the same area, multiple residents reported that they’ve always had methane in their water, as long as they’ve lived there and well before hydro-fracking began. In the same area, methane deposits are naturally occurring in geologic units where it can easily be recovered by water wells.

Now back to my professor…

“In my opinion, the jury is still out on this stuff, but what needs to happen, or what should have happened a long time ago– There aren’t any baseline measurements for contamination in these wells for hundreds of years. Now people are going in and finding stuff– that there’s chemicals– but a lot of these chemicals are organics that are related to hydrocarbons, but those hydrocarbons have been there for millions of years. So, they didn’t ever do any baseline testing. So now just because you have a well that has contamination, to say that it’s from fracking is not entirely clear. Most of this fracking that happened is way below the water table and way below from where people are extracting water from. “

Neither of these accounts completely dismisses the possibility that fracking can cause contamination of ground water. Both of these people believe it’s certainly a possibility, but neither believe the evidence is sufficient.

Some evidence has come forth linking the two however.

The study in question has key bits of information that I think a lot of people who aren’t geologically inclined would ignore however.

There is little lateral and vertical continuity to hydraulically fractured tight sandstones and no lithologic barrier (laterally continuous shale units) to stop upward vertical migration of aqueous constituents of hydraulic fracturing in the event of excursion from fractures. Sandstone units are of variable grain size and permeability indicating a potentially tortuous path for upward migration.

This also means that their is very likely natural seeps of hydrocarbons into whatever aquifer is being dealt with.

The main issue to me, is that the wells drilled for fracking don’t have casing that go down far enough. This shallow casing probably is a point source for this pollution.

With the exception of two production wells, surface casing of gas production wells do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation. Shallow surface casing combined with lack of cement or sporadic bonding of cement outside production casing would facilitate migration of gas toward domestic wells.

This study is also very specific to one region’s geology. Not all regions are created equally and should be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Also, to go back to a link from up above…

Another study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, Jackson School of Geoscience (JSG) has already yielded preliminary results, which shows no direct link between hydro-fracking and groundwater contamination at any of the sites they studied. I believe the EPA study will show the same. Why is this? Most drinking water aquifers (porous, permeable geologic units which act as reservoirs for groundwater) are within several hundred feet of the surface while most hydro-fracking operations take place many thousands of feet lower. The chances that existing or induced fractures create hydraulically conductive pathways vertically between thousands of feet of rock is very slim, even with the induced pressures caused by hydro-fracking.

The JSG study did identify more likely sources of contamination. The first is surface spills of waste water associated with hydro-fracking operations. Any fluid used to “frack” the shale is recovered and either recycled for use in the next well, or disposed of. If this fluid is spilled on the ground, the same chemicals may seep down through the surface sediments and rock, eventually making its way into an unconfined aquifer.

However, if you’re going to look at surface spills for a reason to shut down hydro-fracking, you should also shut down sources of surface spills which can exceed those done by fracking operations. Dry cleaning facilities (perchloroethylene) and at least 80% of gas stations (BTEX compounds, methyl tertiary butyl ether, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and a host of other chemicals) have leaks all the time.

Right now, where hydraulic fracking can be linked to water contamination, it’s a result of sloppy work, not the actual process itself. Like I stated above, I hate the gas industry. Slap regulations on them, fine them, force them do their job as safely and efficiently as possible… Just don’t stretch the truth and mislead everyone to do it.

This got way too long, and I imagine it is poorly composed. Sorry. Don’t use this to defend fracking, go to the link I posted above. It has tons of great information.

The bottom line is that the jury IS still out on this, but the current lines of evidence we have DO NOT support the idea that fracking causes contamination of ground water. It certainly could be shown to be the case in the future, but the evidence being put forth by non-scientists currently does not hold up.

Decades

What came first? The music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns or watching violent videos that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

That’s apparently from the movie High Fidelity. I wouldn’t know as I don’t really watch movies. It’s sampled in a song by Decades, a Texas hardcore band. They’re pretty good, listen to them (that is a goddamn MySpace link). They put out a record on State of Mind Recording a few years ago, and I don’t think anyone bought it.

Anyway, that quote rings true to me. Young people like to insulate themselves in the despair glorified by every piece of media beamed at us daily.

If you’re depressed, unplug yourself and find the things that make you happy. If the things that make you happy are untenable, maybe you’re not looking at things from the right angle.

If I type anymore, I will betray my cynicism, anger and frustration. I just get angry when I read certain things.

I keep waiting too late in the day to post about geology. Or I get too lazy. I don’t like just posting pictures and calling it a day. I’ve got ideas brewing though, it’ll be alright.

Tharsis They

I am the guy who is creeping around your neighborhood at night. I’m not really that creepy though. I just enjoy the peaceful nature of the night.

I posted a few weeks ago about how Hollow Earth had me excited about hardcore in 2012. Tharsis They is one of the other bands that has me excited. They’re offering their record ‘Ominous Silence’ to download for free here, and I recommend doing so (you can also stream the album there).

Like Hollow Earth, the reason this band excites me is because they buck the current trends. Instead, they harken to an era that I am very familiar with and that I enjoy quite a bit. If you asked me to name the bands that I think influence this band, I would immediately offer Converge, Botch, Coalesce, Dillinger Escape Plan and other bands of that nature. It reminds me quite a bit of the early 2000’s when the discordant streak of chaos influenced metalcore reigned over the proverbial airwaves.

Even more, it feels like what that genre of music would have matured to had it not fizzled late in the decade. Vocally, it reminds me a lot of the New York band Architect (a band that is very characteristic of the reason the genre fizzled; very mediocre), but musically, it’s as if the genre survived to see the rise of bands like Trap Them and the flourishing of super technical metal such as Periphery.

I’m not sure if this kind of band can survive in the current ecosystem of hardcore and metal, but for my tastes it’s really good. Self-recorded, produced and released, I recommend checking out and supporting them. They’re going about things the right way in my opinion.

No moleste.

I have spent most of my day that wasn’t at school in a state of unconsciousness.

Check out these amazing pictures of volcanic things in 2011.

*crickets*

I left home at around 8am this morning to make it to my 9am class. 9 hours later, I left my physics lab and got in my car to head to work. Several hours later, I arrived home.

Here is me and my lady love.

That is kind of my set up for this semester, and being that I have homework that is due in the morning, I don’t have much to post about. I guess that is the danger of challenging myself to write something daily.

I think that Volcanology is quickly becoming my favorite class this semester. I knew I would enjoy it, but I’m finding myself more and more engaged with it. Currently, I am reading a paper on intraplate volcanism (as in, volcanic activity that doesn’t occur at plate margins) and it’s really interesting. If you have access to Nature, check it out here. I really recommend reading it if you’re into volcanism.

Lemuria came up on shuffle today and I’ve been listening to them all day as a result.

Brunton

A bunch of you people re-blogged my post from the other day on the Fish Canyon Tuff. Thanks, you have made me incredibly self-conscious. I accept any and all calling outs of inaccuracies or incorrect information. I also apologize for my poor, despite using it exclusively for 24 years, grasp of the English language. It’s a really good feeling to know that a lot of people were interested in what I had to say about something though. It’s weird to know that people have found my blog and actually read the words I put here.

Today I checked out a Brunton compass from school. We’re using them a lot for our Structure lab this semester and I have limited experience with them so I plan on becoming intimately acquainted with the instrument so I don’t have to bang my head against the wall while in lab. If you don’t know what a Brunton compass is for; in simplest terms a geologist uses it to measure the angles at which a bed slopes and in what directions. That is a terribly simple explanation, but if you really want to know, you can read more about it here.

My job/school schedule is really working against me at the moment. I need more sleep.

Star vomit.

For those unaware, the sun periodically throws off chunks of itself off at us in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Last night, it did just that in what is the most powerful flare and ejection in 7 years. Read it about here on Bad Astronomy.

What that means is that a lot more people that normal have the potential to see the aurora this evening. When the sun throws off it’s star stuff at us, it provides a lot of charged particles to interact with our magnetic field and upper atmosphere. That means larger than normal aurorae.

Read about the where and why you may be able to see it. Here is an image provided by NOAA that updates periodically showing where the aurora will be visible.

So, go out tonight and if the skies are clear you may be able to see one of the Earth’s rarer sites! Don’t sleep on your opportunity. They’re few and far in between.

Fish Canyon Tuff

Exploring another volcanology topic today. The Fish Canyon Tuff.

This, like yesterday’s post, is about a very specific volcanic occurrence, not a broad topic. Tuff, for those non-geologically inclined, is a type of rock that is formed by volcanic ash as it compacts and welds itself together as it is very hot (you know, having come from a volcano).

The significance of this in Fish Canyon is that there is a lot of it. So much of it, in fact, that if you measure it, look at it’s composition and infer what kind of eruption produced it, you end up with one of the largest, most confidently estimated, eruptions in the history of the Earth.

The Fish Canyon Tuff is the result of a supervolcano that formed a massive caldera near La Garita, Colorado around 28 million years ago. A caldera forms after certain types of eruption occur. The ground rises because of the eruption and then collapses upon itself after the eruption is finished leaving a large depression. Here is a cool animation I found on Wikipedia showing off how it works.

To deposit the amount of tuff it did, the eruption would’ve had to been a supermassive, explosive eruption… and it was. The energy released for this eruption is estimated to be the most energetic event on Earth since the asteroid that struck the Earth leading to the K/T extinction occurred 65 million years ago.

Another cool topic, but I’m not sure it’s for me. I WAS thinking supervolcanos when I first learned of the paper, but some of the other topics look a little more promising. Either way, it would be a cool looking place to visit.

Ol Doinyo Lengai

I have a Volcanology class this semester. Thus far it’s been pretty cool. We’ll go to the St. Francois Mountains later this semester, and it doesn’t seem to be that heavy of a course load for the class. The only thing of real importance is the 10-15 page term paper due at the end. We were given a list of topics to choose from and I haven’t decided what I wish to do yet so I’m just reading up on different ones.

One of the topics is Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, Africa. Most of the topics on the list are on there because of some sort of interesting property about it. There are a handful of volcano’s on the list, but most of the rest of them are more general topics of interest or extra-terrestrial things.

What is interesting about this volcano is that it’s magma is of a composition that isn’t very common to most volcanoes. It’s lava is natrocarbonitic in nature, meaning it is a volcanic source for the mineral carbonatite. As most lavas are very silica rich, this is kind of cool and unique. Not having much experience with carbonate minerals, this might be an interesting topic to tackle.

This makeup of these lava flows result in unique properties for the lava, including how it flows and looks. It seems pretty neat.