Opinion

River Dams in Maine NOT Clear Flowing

Activists in Maine advocate shutting down river dams, at least for a few months.  The Atlantic salmon run, from mid April through early June, is severely hindered by the use of river dams. According to Ed Friedman, the spokesman for Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, these salmon are on the verge of extinction on the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers and dams used to power hydro-electric turbines slaughter nearly half the passing salmon on their expedition to the ocean.

The dams in question are located in Brunswick, Waterville, Skowhegan and Fairfield Maine. These dams are used to help produce electricity for surrounding power grids. However, shutting down the turbines will only have a minimal impact on the energy production because of the many other alternative energy resources available in today’s power grid.

River dams have been here in Maine for hundreds of years, primarily used as a means to create electricity. Dams are also used to regulate water level and fish population on the river. The first dams were much more primitive than that of today, severely limiting the ability of fish to migrate amongst their natural paths. In recent years, new dams have been designed with special fish ladders and fish lifts.

We need to find a compromise where we can still keep the dams for additional electricity production but not limit the migration patterns of a keystone species in the local ecosystems.

Originally, dams were a necessity to power the mills and plants nearby. Today it’s not the case; technological advances enable even the most remote of factories to have a reliable and constant flow of electricity.

If we eliminate river turbines and replace them with alternative energy stations such as solar panels we can have all the advantages of having river turbines, creating electricity to supplement the local power grid and at the same time there won’t be any of the negative impacts on local animal species.

The Atlantic salmon are a very important animal to the ecosystem in the rivers of Maine and to those in the surrounding area. People don’t understand the full effect of eliminating one species and what the impacts include. “Salmon are important to the local ecosystem; they are a major food source for animals such as the bear. Eliminating salmon will not be very good for the Maine rivers health”, said Elmer DeForge, studying Conservation Law Enforcement. The health of the rivers in Maine impacts the health of surrounding ecosystems as well. They all are interdependent on each other.

Fortunately today, some dams are being removed due to the undeniable environmental impacts they have on their surroundings, such as the Edwards dam in Augusta Maine. The future of river dams here in Maine and the survival of the Atlantic salmon is at the mercy of the federal judge and where they stand on the issue. The citizens of Maine need to advocate helping stop the slaughtering of one of our keystone species here in Maine!

-Arthur Nerzig

Keystone XL: The Choice is Clear

We live in a capitalist country – a place where those who can, provide services to those who can’t. This is a place where growth and progress are valued, and where innovation and technology are not only valued, but respected. It seems only natural then that one might think newer innovations in how we access our energy technology should be welcomed with open arms in this country.

In the case of the tar sands oil slated to be pumped through TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, however, nothing could be further from the truth, nor should it be.

Innovation and technology, though important to our cultural identity, are not the only things that count, nor are they the only things that mark our character as a nation. Pristine natural offerings like the gushing geyser basins of Yellow Stone National Park, and the throng of migratory birds and wetland wildlife who find a home in Florida’s Everglades also underscore important considerations of our society.

Once looked to as a beacon of light willing to lead the world in matters of freedom, charity, and equality, the United States has suffered some severe blows to its reputation over the last few decades in regard to choices in foreign and domestic policy. We can again become forward thinking leaders of the world stage, however, if only our president and State Department are willing to listen to leading climate scientists and environmental experts speaking on the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline.

James Hansen, NASA’s longtime expert of climate science, in no uncertain terms told us a year ago in a New York Times editorial that if we approve this project it will mean “game over for the climate.”

In an atmosphere where 350 parts per million or less of carbon is what is considered compatible with life as we know it on this planet, we now see levels as of this past April of over 398 ppm, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. We need to ask ourselves then why the idea of continuing to develop carbon emitting fossil fuel sources is even considered innovative at all at this point.

In a recent letter to the State Department the Environmental Protection Agency cited tar sands oil as “significantly more GHG [(greenhouse gas)] intensive than other crudes.” This is a sobering thought for those worried about the steadily rising carbon output infiltrating our atmosphere.

Among the dirtiest of all sources of energy on the planet, the wealth of tar sands oil sitting beneath Canada’s boreal forest, one of the Earth’s largest and most vital carbon sinks, if tapped to capacity, will add an estimated 120 ppm of carbon to our atmosphere while simultaneously stripping us of a vital defense system in the carbon cleansing vegetation of the boreal forest.

If we want to recapture the status of not only celebrated world leaders, but of truly innovative technicians of the future, we are going to need to abandon last century/millennium thinking on this issue and embrace as well as bolster our development of cleaner, safer, greener sources of energy.

If it’s innovation and technology we want, there’s a nearly untapped, endless resource in green energy just begging at our fingertips. If the future we’re leaving our children is of any consequence, the choice is clear.

-Sass Linneken

Fracking

Everywhere people are getting ready for summer, for barbeques and barefoot kids running through the grass, for trips to the coast and fun in water. However, for the communities affected by hydraulic fracturing, their summer looks bleaker. They will be up all night listening to the constant hum of giant compressors and drinking from Water Baffaloes, white containers filled with clean water from the gas companies, because their wells have become contaminated.

Fracking is a serious issue that needs to be more regulated. Companies using hydraulic fracturing have been given the okay by our government to pump harmful mixtures of chemicals and water, fracking fluid, into the ground, and, under the Halliburton Loophole, they do not have to conform to the safe water act.

Some people may be thinking that there is no proof that hydraulic fracturing does contaminate water, so there is no real reason to stop using this technology. Well, let’s not even mention the people living near fracking sites who have gotten ill, as documented in the short film Gasland, no let’s talk about the water. Our country has been plagued by a water shortage in recent years. There have been outbreaks of forest fires and news stories have constantly covered the lack of water in the western parts of the US during the summers. Unfortunately fracking involves water, and a lot of it.

In order to get the natural gas out of the ground, water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped at least 5,000 feet below ground. This mixture builds up so much pressure that it breaks the shale rock inside natural gas wells, and releases the gas. It takes 5 million gallons of water to create this fracking fluid. That amount of water is equivalent to the amount of water it takes to water 6.25 acres of corn for an entire growing season.

Now approximately 30 to 70% of this fracking liquid is not re-extracted and remains underground and is not biodegradable.  The liquid that is extracted remains in a pit on site where it sits until it is evaporated into the atmosphere. To help speed up the process, companies spray this water into the air so that the sun will evaporate it faster. This evaporated liquid can lead to an increased chance of acid rain.

But there is still hope. Hydraulic fracturing is not a new concept. Companies have been using it to obtain natural gas for a while now. The only difference is that now, companies have to drill deeper into the Earth to reach these natural gas reserves and this is a messy business. Without regulations, fracking will cause harm to the environment and people.  The government needs to get rid of the Halliburton loophole, and make fracking a safer process. So this summer as you are getting ready to turn on you sprinkler or water you garden, remember that fracking is still happening, is still a problem, and is a threat not only to people but also to the one of our most vital resources, water.

-Michelle Plance

Tar Sands: The Wrong Direction

On March 29th of this year, a tar sands pipeline leaked black oil through a wide stretch of residential area in Mayflower, Arkansas – a timely visual to indicate what an oil leak is like. Even now, the U.S. government is working to decide whether to allow the same tar sands to be piped from Canada to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the public concern about oil leaking out somewhere along the 1,700-mile stretch is one of the main arguments against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The possibility of a leak is, from a broader perspective, almost beside the point. Why would anyone want tar sands – the sludgy cousin of our regular heating oil – to be taken anywhere? Why would we want to pursue this avenue of energy? Not only does it produce massive CO2 emissions as a fuel, but the process of preparing tar sands for use required large amounts of energy as well.

Alternative energy sources must be made available to the United States and the world. If there was ever a right time for tar sands and fossil fuels, it is past.

Fossil fuels are destroying us. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently expressed concern over the potential damage caused by CO2 emissions associated with tar sands, stating that over fifty years of running at the maximum amount of tar sands per day (830,000 barrels), 936 million metric tons of CO2 could be added to the already warming atmosphere. The EPA also noted that the energy alone to transport the tar sands along the pipeline would be harmful to the environment.

All of this is only numbers and estimations, however. The bigger picture here is the fact that so many people seem ready to commit to using fossil fuels in the long-term. Arguing over how to transport tar sands seems irrelevant when really we should not be transporting it at all. Would it be so difficult to just walk away and leave it where it is? Yes, of course. Tar sands are tempting.

The people who want this pipeline have solid reasoning to back them up. After all, the pipeline would create jobs, as republican representative Paul Ryan pointed out last March. “20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs” sounds like a dream come true. (These numbers were refuted by a Cornell University study, which stated that that estimate was unsubstantiated and that there would, in fact, be only 2,500-4,650 direct jobs created by the pipeline.) Ryan also emphasized American energy independence, the importance of which is something that most people would not argue.

But at what cost? Should we panic for fuel now, open the floodgates on millions of gallons of tar sands, and wait to see what happens? Would we risk our environment and our future by taking this step towards fossil fuel dependence and away from cleaner alternatives? This is too big a gamble to take. Nothing less than our world hangs in the balance.

-Julia Clapp

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