Field Notes:
Updates from the field of Natural Resource Management

25 June 2013

We've moved!

We have incorporated our blog into our new website:

Hope to see you there!

24 January 2013

Natural Gas and Energy Independance

On Monday, Jeff Rubin of The Globe and Mail asked the question, "Is there water enough for U.S. to frack its way to energy independence?"

I can’t consider the water footprint of energy independence without considering the folly in the notion of “energy independence”. First, the US consumes far more oil per day than we produce (15 million barrel (MB) versus 6 MB, respectively). At our historical peak output in the 1970s, US daily oil production was <12 MB. New finds (i.e., including oil associated with “unconventional” production methods) amount to ~0.5MB/day with no robust sense of how long such production rates can be sustained.

Second, there is a disconnect between terms such as resources, reserves, and supply; actual supply is the only meaningful parameter and domestic supply is, as indicated in first point, woefully short of consumption. Moreover, there is incontrovertible historical evidence that GDP growth requires growth in oil consumption.

Third, there is a massive cost associated with transforming our economy and culture from liquid transportation fuel (read: oil-based) to anything else. Changing US oil infrastructure necessitates transforming a $100T (trillion) industry with a 150 year history. Despite whatever short-term run-ups in natural gas (NG) production that are occurring due to unconventional sources (read: shale), there is no realistic probability that our economy can shift from oil to NG. There are spot plans to shift some electricity generation from coal to NG based on combination of NG pricing and disincentives of government regulation (i.e., curb air pollution), but such shifts will not result in net difference to energy independence since we do not import coal.

Fourth, oil, NG, and coal dominate (~60-65%) our energy consumption mix with nuclear providing another 10-12%. There is no meaningful way I can envision in which something else (wind, solar, hydro, biofuel) displaces our traditional energy mix, let alone something like NG nudging oil from its pre-eminent hold.

There’s no question that water is intrinsically tied to our energy portfolio and as energy supplies become tighter, more pressure will be brought on water and other “environmental” resources. But I think it’s disingenuous to pit water/environment versus energy. The reality is interdependence.

James Shallenberger, P.G.
Senior Geologist/Ecologist

James is also the author of, "The Marcellus Shale: Balancing Energy and Environmental Resource Interests," which can be found here:

James P. Shallenberger is a Pennsylvania-licensed Professional Geologist with nearly 15 years experience as a consulting geologist and ecologist with emphasis on water resource applications and ecological risk assessment.

23 March 2011

Environmentally Friendly Marcellus Shale Drilling?

Concerns over the negative effects to air, water, wildlife habitat, and land use are shaping one side of the public debate about U.S. domestic natural gas exploration and production - and Pennsylvania is at the cross roads of this subject. The Marcellus region is one of the country’s fastest-growing onshore gas production provinces.

While the number of wells is swelling, profits are falling; amid it all, the environment is being compromised. Regulations need to catch up with the gold rush to prevent further degradation to our precious land and water resources. There are a number of low-impact approaches to exploration and production to prevent natural resource damages including:

Use of Geographic Information System
Utilize(GIS) spatial mapping tools to minimize impacts.

Apply technologies that reduce waste
High volume fracking generates high volumes of wastewater that requires treatment when brought to the land surface. In-field and centralized processing plants enable re-use of gas field fluids.

Manage water resources sustainably
High volume fracking can require 3 to 5 million gallons of water per well. To reduce potential impacts of water diversion, plan for sources that lessen competition.

Limit disturbance effects
Reduce pad footprint size, deploy temporary drilling platforms, use small diameter drilling techniques, consider piping rather than trucking water to/from sites, minimize steep slopes and stream crossings for roads, deploy open-bottom culverts.

Implement sound restoration design
Minimize initial cut/ fill grading, restore land contours, remove pit liners and solid residue, employ “disappearing” road methods, re-meadow and re-forest with native plants, and apply performance standards for restoration outcome.

10 March 2011

Risk Awareness - Your Flood Preparation First Step

The New York and Philadelphia metro regions are experiencing two significant and consecutive rain events in a week and people are again concerned about how to assess vulnerability to flooding and how impending flooding compares to previous floods. The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service is a tool used by local and state offices of emergency management and provides past, current and updated river projections.

You can access this too; the website is Click on an area of the country and you will be moved to a Weather Forecast Office region - for the New York and Philadelphia region, you want the Philadelphia/Mt. Holly NJ region. This screen shows the current status of gages by color. Next click on one of the forecast points and the individual gage will appear. You will observe the current stage of the river in blue, the predicted stage through time in green and, scrolling down, a list of past major events and corresponding flood elevation to place the forecast into perspective. As a citizen, this tool provides information so that you can take appropriate action in moving valuables to higher ground and implement your flood plan. For more on a flood plan, see the website Focus on Floods:

Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service forecasts are updated as data becomes available and not before modeling is completed every six hours. At the bottom of the chart, the forecast time is posted and, unless an unusual situation develops, look for the next update six hours thereafter. It is important to realize that especially with early predictions, the modeling is performed on estimated rainfall. As rainfall is recorded by Doppler radar and rain gauges, and stream gages register the change in the stream stage, the model is refined. Times of peak stage and peak elevation will change over time and it is important to monitor. Also, you should heed the notices from your local emergency management coordinator as he or she is monitoring additional data and may have instructions for your safety - communities will have ways to communicate instructions though email, website and, if needing higher attention, reverse 911.

Risk awareness is your first step to prepare for a flood, and importantly, guides what mitigation or adaptation you can do to reduce your susceptibility to flooding in the future. Most often, the urge to improve resiliency is strongest immediately after a flood. Take advantage of this time, for in the next flood, you will be more confident in weathering the storm.

27 August 2010

Really, it's the least we could do.

There has been a growing number of people realizing that sustainable stormwater design can fill another very important function: habitat creation. In many regions where open space it at a premium and the creation of green space in urban areas has become paramount, using stormwater management facilities - large and small - to provide precious habitat opportunities is making more and more sense. In fact, some would argue (us included) that it's a no-brainer.

Beyond planting with natives, maintaining naturalized stormwater facilities reduces reliance on fossil fuels, improves air quality, maximizes pollution reduction, and can provide increased infiltration. Sadly, the push back to naturalization can be fierce. Concerns that anything but closely cropped lawn will harbor threats to human health and well-being are far-ranging - we've heard it all: rats, snakes, pollen (gasp!), and perverts. Yes; perverts.

Sadly, the sterilization of our environment has led to the widespread collapse of ecosystems and left us engaged in an endless war with invasive species. Humanity’s lack of understanding that we rely on a healthy environment for our own health and well-being is quickly sending us down a slippery slope; once we lower our species diversity and richness, it won't recover in this millennium.

The least we could do is offer up our stormwater spaces to buck the trend.

25 August 2010


sat·ire: noun 1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.

Recent Onion Headline:
"Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe"

15 June 2010

Long-term Effects of the BP Spill

In his paper titled “The Deepwater Horizon Accident”, James Shallenberger goes into great detail about the events leading up to the BP disaster, techniques to repair or close the well and ways to minimize current the effects and anticipated environmental impacts of the spill.

While we are inundated with horrific images of oiled animals and the immediate consequences to wildlife are indeed dire, there is reason to believe that the Gulf Coast’s natural systems may rebound relatively quickly from the initial effects of the spill. Gulf of Mexico crude oil, in general, is enriched in light weight compounds that readily evaporate and dissolve in water. The initial effects of spilled crude oil on wildlife are severe because oiling physically suffocates and reduces animal mobility, interferes with body temperature regulation, and light-weight hydrocarbons are more acutely toxic than heavier weight compounds. However, weathering processes considerably and quickly reduce the toxicity of crude oil and the year-round warm climate and biologically productive environment of the Gulf region will aid in the break-down of oil (in contrast to the heavier Alaskan North Slope crude oil and colder climate associated with the Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound).

Typically, early life stages are more sensitive to toxic exposure than adults. The resiliency of natural systems is tied to how quickly the surviving community members can reproduce and recruit their next generations. The BP oil spill impacts will be most lasting for those populations that include long-lived organisms that reproduce slowly - like sea turtles, marine mammals, some birds - and for those with life history needs that make them unable to avoid exposure at critical periods to the persistent toxic substances found in oil spill residue, like those that live, incubate eggs, and forage within the intertidal zones of beaches and marshes.

Unfortunately, the economic and cultural effects of the oil spill may be as or more devastating, lasting, and far-reaching. The human communities of the Gulf Coast, some with unique and deep-rooted local traditions that are intimately tied to the Gulf environment, will succumb to the immediate and near-term effects of the spill - and BP may never be able to sufficiently compensate for those loses.