Letters From The Earth

Wanted: due diligence

By Calvin Frost | January 24, 2014

We just finished reading Psalm 46 the other Sunday morning in church. Our pastor had begun his sermon and I was urging myself to listen. But something from Psalm 46 kept tugging at me. I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking of verse 7, which reads:

The nations made much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

God has spoken and the earth shall melt away.

How could I concentrate on John’s sermon when all could think about was, “and the earth shall melt away?” I wondered if that’s what’s happening: rising oceans, dead zones, so much CO2 that it’s no longer possible to sequester Petcoal by-product storage without concern for environmental consequences, and last but not least, non-recyclable by-product, generated by industries associated with the packaging supply chain, being landfilled instead of diverted into more sustainable solutions. Wow, how could I concentrate on the sermon with all those visions? All I could think of was the significance of “the earth shall melt away.” Religion aside, the phrase that caught my attention is analogous to just about everything I’ve been writing about. Indeed, I think it’s a great way to introduce my 2014 messages, which will include:
  • Positive culture creates compliance with safety regulations
  • How focus and voices can cause change
  • China’s Green Fence and what it means for the recycling industry
  • Grass to Gas: Gasification
  • Bioplastics to Bio-waste
  • Where do all the chemicals go?
The messages, in general, will look at cause, effect and solution.

The message will be the antithesis of God’s message that the earth shall melt away, but only if we change behavior, culture and common practices. We have to use common sense, practice transparent activities, and believe in a harmonic way of life. Easy, right?

Two examples immediately come to mind, fracking and the harvest of palm oil. What is the root cause of these? Why is there an unprecedented demand for natural gas and palm oil? The age old curse, money, caused by greed!

In the case of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, the jury is still out on the long term environmental effects. However, recent studies and lawsuit documentation suggest that the use of chemicals in the fracking process is contaminating soil and water tables. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has precedent and could enforce change in the fracking industry.  Instead, they worry about political rhetoric and innuendo. The EPA, through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), forces disclosure of all chemicals supplied by chemical companies as materials and formulations. This is law. If the formula is proprietary and a trade secret, the manufacturer still must disclose the materials on the TSCA list but does not have to publically disclose the formula. So the materials are disclosed. A full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking industry would find that the chemicals used in the manufacturing process, the actual fracking, are pretty benign. They are polyacrylates or polyacrylamides and/or natural gum or synthetic modified gum, like guar gum. Or, hydrox propyl guar, which is a cellulosic methyl cellulose or hydroxyethyl or hydroxypropyl cellulose. These are all pretty natural.

The bad stuff is not the brew forced by hydraulic pressure into the pay zone under enormous tanker pressure, with tankers lined up providing this pressure in parallel flanges to the well bore. The bad stuff is what is released from the well along with the hydraulic fracking fluid. These are gas liquids and are low carbon hydrocarbons like ethane, methane, propylene, pentane, hexane, and even small amounts of benzene, toluene, and xylene (also known as BTX), the carcinogen being benzene.

This waste stream has to be regulated and we need full disclosure from the EPA. They have the power. Suppliers of fracking chemicals should be able to document a full list of chemicals that they are selling to the processors. One of them, Range Resources, claims they “have been unable to obtain from the suppliers the ingredients in the products they are selling.” Rubbish. This information, by law, by TSCA requirements, is available.

In a news blast the other day in Endocrinology a study has found “elevated levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals” in water samples collected at sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas. The study shows the pressure of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer. Nice, huh?

Look, all I’m asking for is appropriate due diligence before we cause irreparable harm. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Instead, the gas barons see a fast buck and surely, if they and we continue with this approach, the earth will melt away. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point.

Palm oil is a similar story. It is a common cooking ingredient, particularly in Southeast Asia, the tropical belt of Africa, and parts of Brazil. It is used in many commercial foods in other parts of the world, largely due to low cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying.

Like fracking, the jury is still out on the health issues associated with the use of palm oil in foods. It is very popular for commercial food manufacturers because of cost. In fact, where vegetable oils are used, palm oil represents about 50% of all oils by volume. It is used in baked goods, confectionary, cosmetics, baby products, cleaning agents, soaps and industrial lubricants. It is composed of fatty acids, esterified with glycerol like all fat. Unlike all fat, it is high in saturated fatty acids, which are sold at room temperature.
Something to keep in mind is that “according to the World Health Organization, evidence is convincing that consumption of palmitic acid increases risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, placing it in the same entire category as trans fatty acids. (Trans fats are also sold at room temperature.)

Regardless of the debate on the virtues of palm oil, it is not so much its use in cooking ingredients as the way it is harvested, hence the analogy to fracking. In the Asia Pacific region, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, and in sub-tropical parts of Africa, companies are grabbing land by dubious means and clear cutting for palm oil. There is a wonderfully written, but sad and disturbing story in the winter issue of On Earth that describes the horrific situation in Northern Liberia. The land is plundered, no reforestation, and life destroyed, all for palm oil production. If you do research on palm oil you’ll learn that “sustainable” palm oil is available.
Unfortunately, there is still not enough trickle-down from the buyer, Walmart and others, and ultimately you and I, demanding that only sustainable palm oil should be used. If you study food and cosmetic labels, you can read which products are using palm oil and which vegetable oil. But the debate will rage because you can’t determine which is sustainable and which is not. The story about Liberia and palm oil describes greed, dishonesty, slave-like manufacturing conditions and disharmony, “and the earth shall melt away.”

Whether it is fracking or palm oil manufacturing or providing pressure sensitive labels we must require full disclosure. We must follow certifiable, sustainable protocol. At the end of the day, you and I are the only ones who can create and demand change. I don’t want the earth to melt away and am willing to make sacrifices that will make it a better place. What about you?
Another Letter from the Earth.  lnw

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.