By: Mia Safaee
July 23, 2014
Is Water Worth More Than Oil?
Los Angeles, Ca- Climate change is only inevitable if we do not cooperate to help sustain our planets natural resources from disintegration, and contamination by our own hands.
Nature works in harmony and in balance. In throwing off the balance, we provide an influx of chaos within Planet Earth.
“Each year in the United States…more people will suffer illness or early death due to environmental pollution than will suffer physical injury due to violent street crimes,” said authors of the book, State- Corporate Crime Wrongdoing at the Intersection of Business and Government by Raymond J. Micltalowki and Ronald C. Kramer.
People who live near fracking sites all over America found out that the water they cook with, drink, and bathe in has chemical contaminants known as fracking fluid.
They have even recorded themselves on YouTube setting their tap water on fire to shed light on the extreme ramifications of environmental abuse and injustice they face. www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LBjSXWQRV8
According to the U.S. Geological Survey website the findings shown from a sample of approximately 2100 private wells across the country many different contaminants exists within the water. Everything from Chloride a vital electrolyte found in the human blood to chemicals making up gasoline. http://water.usgs.gov/edu/gw-well-contamination.html
Scientist Leslie Desimone of the USGS Water Science School quoted saying, “We found that, while most of the wells did not have any of these contaminants at levels of potential health concern, about 23 percent of them did have one or more contaminants at a level of potential health concern.”
-Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey
Even though extracting natural gas is a safer form of alternative energy it is hard to believe it is safe any longer.
Oil and gas companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract oil and natural gases from the ground. According to the National Resource Defense Council, fracking takes place near large bodies of water like streams, lakes, and rivers, often in close proximity to schools, homes, and businesses.
Fracking so close to rural areas poses a sever threat to groundwater contamination and raises public health issues. Hydraulic fracturing involves two to three million barrels of fresh water injected into each fracking-well each month. That is the equivalent of 24 to 36 million barrels of fresh water injected into each well in one year.
Not only is water used, but also mixed with chemicals such as Methanol, Formaldehyde, and lead. These are just some of the chemicals identified by the U.S. House of Representatives committee on Energy and Commerce, as known or suspected carcinogens.
The fluid injected into the well at high-pressure causes the hydrocarbon-bearing formation to crack allowing natural gases and oils to flow up the well. Due to the intense pressurized system, the well walls begin to crack causing the fracking fluid to leak into the ground water. Leaks also occur during transportation of contaminated water to treatment plants.
“Leaks on the surface from tanks, valves, pipes, etc… as a result of mechanical failure or operator error at any point during these processes have the potential to contaminate groundwater and surface water,” said Mall, Sinding, and Mordick members of the Natural Resource Defense Council.
“Scientists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned about groundwater and surface water contamination that maybe associated directly or indirectly with fracking,” said Mall, Sinding, and Mordick.
The NRDC urges the use of key management practices to minimize the risks associated with fracking this includes: Federal regulations of all hydraulic fracturing under The Safe Drinking Water Act, regulations of toxic oil and gas waste under The Federal and State Hazardous Waste Laws, and stronger standards and enforcement under the Federal Clean Water Act and State Laws. (http://water.epa.gov).
Fracking fluids if not treated properly can continue to contaminate water sources and lead to sever health and respiratory problems if ingested. Knowing these risks the oil and gas companies’ negligence to fix this problem is in violation of our human rights.
Access to safe drinking water is essential to human health and a basic right for every human being. By 2050, the worlds’ population will increase by 8 billion people. Developing countries where the majority of the population is dependent on local renewable resources will increase by 90 percent.
The article Where Water and Oil Do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and Future Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, these regions define with past struggles over territory, ideology, colonialism, nationalism, religion, and oil.
A Small percentage of the domestic political elite politicizes and controls the regions renewable resources leaving the majority population to struggle. If present population and economic trends continue, future conflicts throughout these regions will lead to environmental scarcity of renewable resources, such as arable land, forests, and fresh water.
According to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Report of 2012, the global population of 783 million remains without access to clean sanitary water. The UN estimates that majority of water in The Middle East and North African region is lost through leaking pipes for irrigation.
Two major bodies of water the Nile and the Tigris/ Euphrates flow through the Middle East and Northern Africa, if these regions cannot resolve conflicts and cooperate the countries will face environmental degradation and resource depletion. Water is fundamentally essential to life and scarcity can result in conflicts in larger parts of the region.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in the last stanza of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, water, water everywhere and nor a drop to drink. His words expressed the conflicting shift water has on our environment. The impact water can have to save a life or threaten one.
“Claims over water have led to serious tension, to threats and counter threats, to hostilities, border clashes, and invasions,” said Associate Professor of Political Science at Marshall University Jason J. Morrisette and Associate Professor in the Defense Analysis Department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School Douglas A. Borer authors of the article Where Water and Oil Do Mix.
The constant competition over water resources presents a potential conflict. International law concerning water resources remains rudimentary. Water is a vital issue especially when it is in severe shortage.
The worlds’ rapid population growth is creating a scarcity of renewable resources and creating physical and environmental strain on our planet. This can escalate to civil and international conflicts.
Failed cooperation and the greediness of individuals throughout the regions will lead to the dilemma of water scarcity. Water scarcity derives from three sources: Structural scarcity- occurs when different groups in a society face unequal access to renewable resources. Supply-induced scarcity- occurs when environmental factors such as, pollution, deforestation, water contamination, and other environmental factors play a role in the countries degradation of renewable resources, and demand induced scarcity- occurs when the increase of a countries population out numbers the countries supply of renewable resources.
Countries typically feel compelled by security concerns to have terrain security, which also means having control over the water, on or underneath the ground. This provides a dilemma in terms of sharing water resource and cooperating to help eliminate water scarcity resulting in structural scarcity.
In the article Where Oil and Water Do Mix a pattern of structural scarcity is shown occurring in Mauritania one of Algeria’s neighbors.
In the 1970’s and 80’s countries bordering the Senegal River to the south built a series of dams to boost agricultural production. The dams caused agriculture to flourish in the south, while the Mauritanian Moors in the north had to abandon their livelihood and traditions to migrate to the south near the river.
As a result, the Moorish political elite controlled the Mauritanian government re-writing the legislations on citizenship and land rights. By declaring blacks as non-citizens, the Islamic Moors managed to capture the lands structural means.
High levels of violence arose where hundreds of thousands of black Mauritanians driven from their land became refugees.
Not only can countries show a pattern of structural scarcity but also, bordering neighbors can pose a threat by causing them unsustainable land conditions. Ecological marginalization or supply-induced scarcity can also occur within the countries own people just as it happened in the Philippians.
The Philippian population growth forced many peasants to settle in the marginal soils of mountains terrains. Lands that could not sustain the lowland slash-and-burn farming practices they brought with them creating supply-induced scarcity in the form of water pollution, soil erosions, landslides, and changes in land capacity.
Supply-induced scarcity is also happening in San Joaquin Valley, California. Farmers are experiencing first- hand the massive economic toil the drought has as they drill ground water to keep crops alive. Structural scarcity can likely occur in the valley, as California’s Ground Water Rights does not restrict the amount of ground water used.
The riparian right does not require permits, licenses, or government approval, but it only entitles landowners to use a share of the natural water flowing past their property, it does not allow the diverting or drilling of water.
This provides a dilemma as farmers are pulling permits to drill to avoid crop lose to be able to sustain their livelihood throughout this drought.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development Strategy to Manage the Drought Related Crisis in California San Joaquin Valley – 2014, the valley is one of the highest economic agriculture producing regions in the world distributing to California’s vast central valley.
The drought can have a devastating effect on the economy as food prices may rise, also causing changes in the natural water flow causing massive drought in other nearby areas.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey California produces 11 percent of the total U.S. agricultural value, making it the largest agricultural producing state in the nation.
“The Central Valley of California, which includes the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento Valley, and the San Joaquin Delta, producing about 25 percent of the nation’s table food on only 1 percent of the country’s farmland,” said Devin Galloway and Francis S. Riley of the U.S. Geological Survey. Authors of the Journal San Joaquin Valley, California: Largest human alteration of the Earth’s Surface.
Countries also may be susceptible to face ecological marginalization through demand-induced scarcity’s of their natural resources. Countries can increase in population, causing a deprivation of natural resources to help sustain the growing population.
According to the Public Reference Bureau website, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa shows a pattern of demand-induced scarcity. The population of 177 million in 1950 rose to 657 million in 2000. The extreme increase in population caused the scarcity of natural resources in that region.
In the case of Rwanda, the extreme increased population created a life-threatening environmental scarcity leading to the 1994 genocide.
Water scarcity has not reached this extreme in the United States but disputes over water have a long standing between The United States and Mexico.
The Water Diplomacy Website on the Trans-boundary Dispute Resolution: U.S.-Mexico Shared Aquifers shows to this day demand-induced scarcity of shared resources of the Colorado River.
Between the border of the United States and Mexico lays the Colorado River. In 1944, the U.S. and Mexico wrote and signed the U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty, which allows for the shared resources to the Colorado, Tijuana River, and the Rio Grande.
The treaty gave full responsibility to the International Boundary Water Commission to carry out the treaty and ensure both sides meet obligations and maintained rights within the treaty. The treaty set standards for the use of the aquifers, including the construction of international and independent storage dams by both governments, an outlined payment method, and neither government held responsible for damages caused by flooding discharge and other emergency water managements, but both parties should share information regarding such occurrences.
Yet, according to the website both the U.S. and Mexico found difficulties managing shared surface water, and trying to allocate ground water.
In the early 1960’s the U.S. irrigation district started drilling near the Colorado River. The saline run-off from the irrigation sites began draining into the Colorado River affecting the quality of groundwater. The saline from the irrigation rose the groundwater and contaminating the shared aquifers. This in turn affected Mexico’s share of fresh water in response to this contamination of the aquifers Mexico began a crash program to re-supply the loss of fresh water.
According to a Case Study done by Oregon State College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospherics Studies after three decades the issue has not been resolved.
Humanities most valuable resource is being wasted and contaminated at a rapid speed. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, twenty-five more countries will join the twenty countries that are currently suffering from water scarcity.
In order to survive, most countries have addressed issues of environmental scarcity by cooperating to develop policies to increase water supply, although, increasing water supply in one country creates an environmental scarcity problem in another.
“If Turkey builds dams, Iraq and Syria are vulnerable. If Ethiopia or Sudan builds dams, Egypt feels threatened,” said Morrisette and Borer.
The world so far has avoided mass conflicts and wars over interstate water due to economic interplay between oil and virtual water. Despite the shortage and conflicting polarized power over renewable resources, the Middle East and North Africa’s primary cause of war is over oil not water.
Virtual water plays a dramatic role in combating the irrigation requirements needed to feed the growing population of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Virtual water said Morrisette and Borer is water contained in food that is imported by the United States, European Union, and other major food exporting countries as a means to ease the confrontation over water.
Despite the conflicting shortage and politicizing of the lands renewable resources, the Middle East and Northern Africa are still at war over oil not water. The World Bank Vice President Isamil Serageldin said,
“Many of the wars of the 20th century were about oil, but wars of the 21st century will be over water.”
The USGS Water Science School study calculated the world’s fresh water source at approximately 2.5 percent. 1.2 percent of which is from a retrievable water source: Lakes, rivers, and streams, the rest trapped in ice glaciers making the access of usable fresh water very scarce.
Because of the political, environmental, and public health issues equated with fresh water, the UN added a new article to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 31 The Right to Water:
Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstances.
Water is a natural resource that should be a right for everyone not a privilege. Contempt lies with humans-beings for contaminating Earth’s most valuable natural resource, Freshwater.
Nearly one-third of all humans around the world rely on ground water. In most countries, the main providers of water for families are women and girls. Women have to leave their children alone for hours walking for miles to retrieve water from a nearby water source, often denying themselves and their daughters’ access to education.
The website water.org, women spend nearly 200 million hours a day collecting water for consumption and sanitation purposes. The water usually comes from an unreliable source, but without access to this water, their families would have to go without.
This need for water will drive humanity to gather water from anywhere they can access it. Most of the times the water they drink comes from contaminated sources, breeding grounds for pathogenic microbes causing a variety of waterborne diseases.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Website statistics shows that unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and hygiene lead to 88 percent of diarrhea cases worldwide. Diarrheal illnesses are among several other life-threatening illnesses caused by contaminated water.
Dehydration results in 1.5 million deaths each year mainly in young children, but other non-diarrheal diseases may occur such as malnutrition, skin infections, and organ damage. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other international relief organizations are working together with the help of host countries to eradicate waterborne illnesses and provide safe drinking water.