Happy 99th Birthday National Park Service!

The United States National Park Service celebrated it’s 99th birthday this Tuesday, and with that came free admission to all 408 of the parks, monuments, and other landmarks within the NPS system. In celebration, we have included a slideshow with stunning aerial imagery of our beautiful park system.

Alcatraz Island, CA Source: USDA

Alcatraz Island, CA
Source: USDA

Arches National Park, UT Source: USDA

Arches National Park, UT
Source: USDA

Big Bend National Park, TX Source: USDA

Big Bend National Park, TX
Source: USDA

Dry Tortugas National Park, FL Source: USDA

Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
Source: USDA

Ft. Pulaski National Monument, GA Source: USDA

Ft. Pulaski National Monument, GA
Source: USDA

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ Source: USDA

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Source: USDA

National Mall, Washington D.C. Source: USDA

National Mall, Washington D.C.
Source: USDA

Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, NY Source: USDA

Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, NY
Source: USDA


Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO Source: USDA

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO
Source: USDA

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA Source: USDA

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
Source: USDA

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Environmental industry news roundup – August 2015

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Gold King Mine Spills Toxic Waste

Animas River Aug. 6, 2015 (Photo: Jerry McBride, AP)

Animas River Aug. 6, 2015
(Photo: Jerry McBride, AP)

This past Wednesday, a team of EPA employees entered the Gold King Mine near Durango Colorado. According to CNN, instead of pumping and treating the wastewater within the mine, the EPA team accidentally released the contaminated water into the Animas River. As of Monday, the mine had released an estimated 3 million gallons and continued to discharge at a rate of 500 gallons per minute.  The EPA waited almost a day to report the spill. Continue reading

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Topographic Maps Through History…and Beyond!

The U.S. Geological Survey and their predecessors have been providing topographic maps of the United States for over 125 years, and have worked to integrate new technologies into their practices along the way.

According to their official website, the U.S. Geological Survey, more commonly known as USGS, was established on March 3, 1879 through a bill signed at the end of the final Congressional session by President Hayes. Since then, USGS programs have focused on recording geologic data on all regions of the U.S. across many disciplines, with topography being one primary focus. USGS has provided topographic maps at varying scales, with the most familiar being the 1:24,000 or 7.5 minute quadrangle map. Throughout time, cartographers at USGS have migrated from hand-drawn maps pulled from field sketching in the late 1800s, to utilizing early electronic instrumentation in the mid-20th century, and are now able to create detailed maps using GIS.

USGS Topo Map

Sample Topographic Map from USGS.gov

This summer, USGS has debuted a new program, topoView, which offers unprecedented accessibility to these topographic maps, or topos, through an easy to use online interface. TopoView allows users to search topos from 1880-2010 anywhere in the U.S. using a sliding timeline bar and straightforward map of the country. Know the exact location you’re looking for, or scale you would prefer? You can also customize your search by entering that information in the respective search areas. If you encounter any issues along the way, USGS has conveniently provided an introductory video to walk you through the process here.

Hannah Weaver
Program Manager
Aerials & Environmental Research
hweaver@banksinfo.com

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RI Offshore Wind Project Underway

On Monday, July 27, Deepwater Wind took the first steps toward building North America’s first offshore wind farm.

Success in the Deepwater project may lead to larger North American offshore wind harnessing projects in the future.

Success in the Deepwater project may lead to larger North American offshore wind harnessing projects in the future.

Deepwater Wind will install the first five offshore North American turbines over the next year off the coast of Rhode Island. This initial build is intended to provide 30-megawatts of wind energy and will primarily serve as a power source for 17,000 nearby homes on Block Island and mainland communities.

While the offshore wind industry has been embraced by European countries, previous attempts at North American offshore wind farms have not yet been successful. This project is different from others in that it already has the backing of state and federal government officials as well as local residents, clearing both regulatory and community concerns more easily. Additionally, this project aims to install five turbines, whereas some previous attempts at reaching this first offshore milestone have aimed at projects with over 100 turbines. The more limited project scope has allowed for easier financing of this initial build.

As is often the case when discussing the wind energy industry, offshore wind farms have experienced opposition from conservationists. Concerns with the offshore wind farms include both whale and bird conservation. However, Deepwater has said it will “do the pile driving only when migrating whales are not in the area,” clearly aiming to ease these concerns.

Deepwater Wind and U.S. officials hope that this installation will be the first step towards expanding the offshore wind energy industry in the North Americas. Resulting larger projects may lead to opportunity for more cost-efficient production and energy capture. World leaders continue to have energy discussions and make commitments to goals of lower emissions. If this project is successful, North American officials may turn to the offshore wind industry as one part of the solution needed to meet these imminent goals.

To read more about the project, check out the articles linked below or visit Deepwater Wind’s Block Island project website.

World Energy News

Washington Post

environmental dataMeghan Juedeman
mjuedeman@banksinfo.com

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BLM Hydraulic Fracturing Rule Expected September 2015

This past March the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released new rules on hydraulic fracturing activities on federally managed lands. The BLM oversees and performs regulatory duties on around 700 million subsurface acres of federal mineral estates and 56 million acres of Indian mineral estates. The new rule aimed to review and update regulations of oil and gas development on public and tribal lands first established in the 1980s. BLM studied current state/tribal regulations, consulted with environmental experts, and reviewed 1.5 million public comments. According to the BLM press release the key components of the rule include the following:

  • Provisions for ensuring the protection of groundwater supplies by requiring a validation of well integrity and strong cement barriers between the wellbore and water zones through which the wellbore passes
  • Increased transparency by requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to the Bureau of Land Management through the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations
  • Higher standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife
  • Measures to lower the risk of cross-well contamination with chemicals and fluids used in the fracturing operation, by requiring companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth, and location of preexisting wells to afford the BLM an opportunity to better evaluate and manage unique site characteristics

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How to map points from Excel in Google Earth Pro

Environmental professionals often use Google Earth as an inexpensive way to view and analyze data. In February, we wrote about the relaunch of Google Earth Pro as a FREE program available to anybody with a computer. One of the key advantages to using the professional version, is that Google Earth Pro can import huge tables and place your information on the globe. Did I mention that it was FREE?

In this post I will teach you how to take latitude and longitude data from within an excel table and turn it into a placemark within Google Earth Pro. In addition, I will teach you how to save your points as a KMZ file for use in Google Earth. Continue reading

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USGS Study: Water Use in Fracking

Water Used for FrackingOur city of Austin has seen a much wetter summer than many of us expected. That being said, drought and water use continue to be major issues across the country. The USGS recently released a study on water use in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” across the US. The study was conducted in order to better understand where and to what extent water is being used in this industry. Continue reading

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Happy 4th of July!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July! While you’re winding down the work week, check out a few of our recent tweets from our twitter feed.

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Vapor intrusion

This month the EPA released a final technical guide to aid environmental professionals in effective investigation and mitigation of vapor intrusion. The new technical guide, Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion (VI) Pathway from Subsurface Vapor Sources to Indoor Air, recommends a framework for assessing VI and systems for monitoring and terminating building migration. Additionally, the EPA also released a technical guide for Addressing Petroleum Vapor Intrusion (PVI) At Leaking Underground Storage Tank Sites. This guide provides specific recommendations on addressing vapor intrusion releases of petroleum-based fuels and the technical information to support the recommended actions.

Vapor Intrusion is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “the migration of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from contaminated groundwater or soil into an overlying building.” If the vapors accumulate in the building they can potentially put human health at significant risk.

W&M Environmental recently held a webinar “Vapor Intrusion – It’s Not Just Hot Air.” An expert in environmental and geotechnical engineering projects in the Northeast and Southwest, Frank Clark, P.E., P.G., analyzed the issue of Vapor Intrusion.This webinar discusses important issues related to the investigation, evaluation, and mitigation of vapor intrusion. You can watch the webinar on YouTube.

Webinar Highlights

  • Chemicals of Concern/What chemicals to focus on
  • Mechanisms for Vapor Intrusion
  • Where vapors originate
  • Triggers of Vapor Intrusion study (RECs)
  • Evaluating VI Potential
  • Difficulties in evaluating
  • Sampling: groundwater, soil gas, & sub-slab soil gas & indoor air
  • Gradients vs. critical distances to search
  • Continue reading

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    What is a Texas Municipal Settings Designation (MSD)?

    Texas MSD report

    Houston Public Works Department – MSD Contaminant Plume Diagram

    A Municipal Settings Designation, or MSD, is a voluntary regulation that prevents contaminated groundwater from being used beneath a specific property. This means that a property owner can voluntarily request a city ordinance to prohibit future use of the groundwater beneath a property from being used as a potable water source. Once a property obtains an MSD designation, the water beneath it is restricted from being used to drink, shower, bathe, cook, or irrigate food crops. Continue reading

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    The Vortex: A New Take on Wind Turbines

    VORTEX Bladeless windmills

    Find the idea of wind energy appealing? I certainly do. How about the idea of wind energy without the massive blades that currently allow a wind turbine to collect that energy? Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel to me! Continue reading

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    EPA releases fracking report for public comment

    This week the EPA released its draft assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water resources. The findings are now available for public comment and expert peer review.
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    Happy World Environment Day!

    Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972, World Environment Day is celebrated annually on June 5 as the UN’s “principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment”. The number of nations participating in the holiday has grown to over 100, with thousands of activities planned around the globe each year.WED_2

    The 2015 WED theme and motto is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.”, and encourages sustainability and living within planetary boundaries. This year, Italy is serving as the host country, headquartered at the Milan Expo .  The Expo will run from  May 1 through October 31, and visitors will find a variety of activities, as well as environmentally friendly new technologies to check out.

    Can’t hop a flight to Italy? Follow this link to find events taking place in your area, or create and register your own!

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    Duke Energy Corp. pleads guilty

    Last year, tens of thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River from a closed power plant previously operated by Duke Energy. The spill occurred when underground storm water pipes broke and an estimated 39,000 tons of waste emptied into the river.

    Dan River Power Station Google Imagery 36.491514, -79.719610

    Dan River Power Station ( 36.491514, -79.719610)
    Google Imagery

    The Associated Press reports that Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty this past Thursday to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Duke has been sentenced to five years’ probation and must pay $68 million in fines and $34 million on miscellaneous environmental projects that will benefit local rivers and wetlands. Additionally, if Duke violates the terms of its probation and breaks the law within the next five years they could be subject to further action by the court. Continue reading

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