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The Tragedy of Hydraulic Fracking

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The documentary “GasLand” presents a compelling argument against the production of natural gas resources, commonly known as fracking, throughout various regions of the United States.  The creator of the film Josh Fox is a resident of Pennsylvania which sits on one of the world’s largest shale deposits. Mr. Fox weaves an unpredictable picture that reflects the negative effects of the instant fortunes natural gas drilling can bring.  In order to understand why Mr. Fox felt compelled to create his film, we must first have a basic understanding of shale and the process of natural gas drilling.

The Marcellus Shale covers portions of eight states with the largest portions being located within New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  According to Geology.com the Marcellus Shale, also referred to as the Marcellus Formation, is a Middle Devonian-age black, low density, carbonaceous (organic rich) shale that occurs in the subsurface beneath these states.  This shale exists in most places one mile or more underneath the surface.  Most companies use a method called Hydraulic Fracturing, which is often referred to as fracking.

Geology.com (2012) describes the process as follows:

Hydraulic fracturing uses high-pressure water or a gel to induce fractures in the rock surrounding the well bore.  To prevent the fractures from closing when the pressure is reduced several tons of sand or other “propant” is pumped down the well and into the pressurized portion of the hole. When the fracturing occurs millions of sand grains are forced into the fractures. If enough sand grains are trapped in the fracture it will be propped partially open when the pressure is reduced. This provides an improved permeability for the flow of gas to the well.

The unnerving part of this process is not knowing the exact material used in the proppant which is typical sand or another mixture suspended in water or another fluid to maintain the opening to the surface.  There are several chemicals that are used by various companies and no one company uses the exact same chemical mix.  Some of the chemicals used are as follows: Diluted Acid, Biocide, Breaker, Corrosion Inhibitor, Crosslinker, Friction Reducer, Gel, Iron Control, and KCI.  Many of these chemicals are used in household, commercial and medical cleaning products.  Hydraulic Fracturing also requires enormous amounts of water during the process.  In most cases upwards of some 3 million gallons of water per treatment may be required.  Once this water is mixed with the drilling and “proppant” chemicals, it becomes a toxic mixture that has to be disposed of properly or it could mean ecological disaster for the surrounding area.

In some areas of our country, fracking has been going on for years as shown in the movie “Gasland”.  The states of Colorado, Montana, and Texas have been dealing with this issue and have seen ramifications of this practice for decades.  Many residents of these states can no longer utilize their water at all and have been provided water filtration systems by the same gas companies that say “fracking” does not have negative affects on the environment.  One resident reportedly was able to light his water on fire because of the amount of natural gas that as seeped into his water supply.  The ANGA (America’s Natural Gas Alliance) (2012) has since come out and attempted to refute much of what is shown in the movie “Gasland” by stating the following:

According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which tested Markham’s water in 2008, there were “no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.” Instead the investigation found that the methane was “biogenic” in nature, meaning it was naturally occurring and that his water well was drilled into a natural gas pocket.  This is one of several examples where the film veers from the facts. A second depiction of a flaming faucet in the home of Renee McClure also misleads viewers about the connection between natural gas development and methane in water wells. McClure’s well was sampled by the state of Colorado and it, too, showed only naturally occurring methane.

The major problem surrounding this issues in most states is that this is a cash driven industry that has lobbying organizations like the ANGA that will go to great lengths to make “fracking” seem as harmless as possible.  This issue raises grave concerns when it comes to Pennsylvania and New York especially because of the geographic location of the Marcellus Shale.  The Marcellus Shale sits on a water supply that supplies water to the largest number of American’s in the country, the Delaware River Basin.  The Delaware River Basin supplies water to over 15 million people between New York, Northern New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Not to mention the wildlife that inhabits numerous national and state parks throughout the region.  There is current legislation that is being debated regarding this issue in every state mentioned above.  Some drilling has already begun in parts of Pennsylvania and is already affecting families’ drinking water much like those in Colorado.  Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett has taken a different stance on the issue and has focused his concerns and around the economic impact instead of the ecological impact.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (2012) on Feb. 8 the legislators met regarding the fees associated with the Marcellus Shale.  The bill, which was sent to the Gov. on Feb. 8th, states the following:

Under the bill, the fee would fluctuate depending on the price of natural gas and, starting in 2013, on the rate of inflation. If the price of natural gas is between $3 and $5, the fee would be $310,000 per well over 15 years. That fee would be lower if the price of gas falls below $3, and would increase if the price of gas rises above $5. The price now is less than $2.50, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The maximum fee a company would pay is $355,000 per well, if gas stays above $6 – and that does not account for inflation. The minimum would be $240,000, not counting inflation.

Clearly, the Pennsylvania governor is more concerned with the economic welfare of his constituents than their health.  Maybe all of their newfound money will help them pay for their potentially expansive health issues once the drilling begins.  One thing that is for sure is that once you begin putting chemicals into the earth there is no sure or safe way to get them back out.  This practice can and will place thousands of Pennsylvania residents at risk.

Jeffrey Lee is a News Correspondent for Social Work Helper. He holds a Bachelors of Business Administration from Eastern Michigan University as well as a Masters degree in Multi-Cultural Education from Eastern University. He wrote and published his first self-published novel “Ghetto Haze” in 2002. Jeffrey currently works as an English Teacher and co-founder of the Hope Initiative Party where he is a writer and editor of the organizations blog.

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Child Welfare

How to Support Foster Children

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When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.

Listen

Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.

Celebrate

Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.

Playdates

Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,

Getaway

Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

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Global

A Student Perspective: Social Work and First Responders

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It may be rare for a social work student to reflect on an assignment as something inspirational rather than a stressful experience with a deadline, but at the end of  3rd year of my social work degree, one assignment was a challenge filled with hope. The assignment allowed me to contribute to a program that will give insight to other helping professionals about the mental health of first responders: police, firefighters, paramedics and others who respond to emergencies on the frontline.

The University of Newcastle has a particularly effective way of integrating workplace experience based learning with academic learning throughout the degree. The program options offered in third year which allow students to develop a program for a real agency was the most useful for me. To know your work might form a foundation for a real program in the community was a great honour and challenge to work on.

In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from the program development project. I was apprehensive about working with a professional capacity with a real agency, but I was excited also to learn more and try something new. There were diverse programs offered- from gardening programs to developing group projects designed for children and developing a program for professionals working with first responders.

The university gave us a chance to preference our interests and I was fortunate enough, with some other amazing women to be selected for the first responders team. The aim of our project was to put together a draft training package for helping professionals to enhance understanding of first responder mental health.

This topic drew my interest as it was beyond my scope of knowledge and I have a keen interest in mental health, so it was intriguing to me on both a personal and professional level. On starting, I very quickly became aware that I had actually put very little thought into the work first responders do in our communities to keep us all safer.

I learned just how complex the actual work of first responders can be, I learned the challenges that first responders face as a consequence of their work, the most traumatic of which is often invisible to the communities that they protect. I learned how repetitive exposure to trauma can complicate all aspects of first responder’s lives if they don’t or can’t seek or obtain support. I learned how much awareness is lacking within the multiple levels of the community, which is needed to enact change for first responders and their families.

Also, I learned the difficulties that can be faced by first responders and their families when attempting to access help. Whilst organisational supports are in place for some of the services, the stigma, shame and potential for the loss of their profession is very real. I heard stories about those medically discharged dealing with the grief and loss of their profession and identity.

My part in the group was to examine the supports already in place for first responders. I was concerned at the limited avenues for assistance and the extent of the difficulties for first responders to seek help. Besides limited services, stigma and organisational culture are barriers to effective help seeking. I found attempting to identify potential services to be frustrating, especially when looking for options within communities rather than those which are employer organisation based. My mind quickly went to how this frustration might feel for someone who was attempting the same whilst being unwell.

Gaining insight and recognition into the role first responders play, the impacts on their mental health, their relationships and all aspects of their lives and the flow on effect to their wider social ecology,  I  realised just how large the scale of first responder post-traumatic stress and other mental health consequences have on our community overall.

The hardest part of this learning experience was seeing the end of the project. The topic is so significant, it is hard to not to explore the topic further.  To me, this feels like a core social work and social justice issue, yet one which is invisible much of the time. My learning from this project has given me a totally new perspective. I have a renewed respect and a much deeper understanding of the issues faced by police, firefighters, paramedics and all others who work on the frontline in emergencies.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the knowledge it takes to work with first responders and enact positive change in their lives. I hope more research is completed and potentially more opportunities for training and professional development come up for social workers, whether it be integrated into core teaching within university programs or externally in workplaces.

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Education

Need to Learn a New Language: Modern Technologies That Will Help Beginners

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The first time people thought of using computers. Previously called Computer-Assisted Language Instruction and the Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), the general concept has its humble roots in the 1960s. With the invention of the microcomputer, the CALL technologies moved away from the mainframes of major universities and into the wider population. Today, when most people have a supercomputer, they are proliferated to include everything from a gamma to a virtual reality.

With the list of ever expanding options, here are some of the most popular technologies that can help all language learners:

Video calls help connect the world

There is no way to underestimate the effect of Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Before these technologies became widespread, meeting and having a face-to-face conversation with somebody from another country. Now, you can find a conversation in your target language in the blink of an eye and having online lessons has never been easier. There are all platforms dedicated to finding and setting up your first online language exchange or lesson. All of this makes the language in your living room easy and comfortable.

A recent development that language learners might want to use with video calls is the Skype Translator. Especially for beginners, it can help (almost) real-time video calls. While it might be considered cheating, it can also prove to be a great tool for you.

Gamification makes learning fun

A surprising benefit of being always connected to the internet. When “language learning” is used to mean cramming vocabulary and grammar, these apps have very successfully gamified learning, making it more addictive than ever. These certainly help Although the most beginners, they’re also a great way of squeezing in some language practice in between lessons and keeping your brain active and focused on your target language.

The ruling king of language learning apps right now must be Duolingo, but you can also give busuu a try. Memrise is a great way to learn new vocabulary, especially if you prefer a lot of repetition. The newcomer Lingvist promises to teach you a language in 200 hours, although their selection of languages is currently quite limited.

New types of translators

Naturally, you do not need to be a language learner to use translators. Indeed, most of the time, text translators are used by people. But you can also use translators to assist you with learning. Picking up new vocabulary is the easiest when you have a handy device that can translate new words quickly and conveniently.

Starting with the (almost) real-time Skype translator, tech companies have been pouring money into new types of translation services, including text and visual translation. There’s the much-used and known Google Translate which is useful even without its more exciting add-ons. Once you download their app, once you download their app, once you get their Google app, you can use Google’s visual translations – just take a picture of whatever (road sign, menu item, sentence, etc.) English. Other companies are taking these technologies even farther, providing almost instant speech-to-speech and speech-to-text translations.

While, in the long term, these technologies can instantly be translated, for, they can surely help.

Artificial Intelligence – the way of the future

Artificial Intelligence has had another hot topic these past few years. From being hailed as the salvation from everyday labor to us. For us, AI can also be herald as a new era in Computer-Assisted Language Learning. Although, so far, the machines still find a human language rather confusing, so much so that they’ve even led to their own bot-talk to communicate. Be that as it may, the implications are still groundbreaking.

For example, the European Union is currently funneling money to get AI robots teaching preschool children a second language. On a less ambitious scale, AI can be used to also take language learning apps to the next level. Imagine programs that take into account your personal learning style and adapt appropriately, teaching you-specific vocabulary. Although this technology might still be a bit further down the road, Duolingo has already started engaging its users with AI-powered chatbots, a sign of things to come.

Virtual reality will transform immersion

It’s generally agreed that total immersion is an effective way to learn a language. The idea is simple. So far, the only way to really immerse yourself, however, is to travel to the country. Thanks to virtual reality, this is now changing.

There are already apps that make use of virtual reality to create a quick back-and-forth, much like an actual conversation with a native and definitely a step above Duolingo’s chatbots. The future regards virtual reality and language learning. ImmerseMe is a language start-up that is planning on creating authentic virtual realities to help you immerse in your target language. Since culture and travel are such good motivators for learning a foreign language, it’s easy to see why people are getting excited.

Conclusion – technology can make language learning more exciting and enjoyable

Already, several scientific studies have been provided with evidence on how to assist in acquiring a second language. While some of the technologies mentioned above are still just getting started, video calling and visual translators have already made language learners. Only time will tell how much simpler acquiring a second language can become.

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