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Earth Sense: 21st century actions threaten environment
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Some of the environmental problems we’re seeing in the 21st century started in the previous one. But they are gaining in urgency.

On May 7, 2015, the town of Venus, Texas, was rattled by a strong earthquake. Measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale, the quake did not inflict the catastrophic damage on that area 30 miles southwest of Dallas that we’ve seen after the recent Nepal quake. Nevertheless, some damage occurred, and local residents are asking why there has been a string of tremors just in recent years.

The Greater Dallas region isn’t considered an area of high seismic activity. Yet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, 120 shakings have occurred since 2008, 27 of those in the winter of 2013-14.

A growing number of articles attribute the quakes to fluid injection into deep wells, a process common in oil and gas drilling operations. Such injections are used regularly in a procedure called hydraulic fracking, especially the northern Plains. A mixture of sand, water and chemicals is injected into the bedrock at high pressure, fracturing it and releasing natural gas. Oil-bearing shales can be extracted with the same method.

Critics of fracking point to the risk of artificially produced earthquakes. Additionally, the chemicals used in the process can find their way into drinking water wells. A study published by the National Academy of Sciences this month identified such chemicals in the wells of three homes in Pennsylvania.

Concern over the opposite, the disappearance of important chemicals, leads us to the southern part of our land mass: the tropical rain forests. Deforestation and conversion of huge areas into agricultural regions of relatively meager productivity depletes a resource that’s not immediately obvious. Exotic trees and species are important, but the most vital item is the variety of tropical mushrooms growing in the rain forests of Brazil and elsewhere. They are nature’s storehouse of pharmaceuticals. Chemotherapy for cancer treatment, birth control and many more medical uses rely on the compounds harvested in the tropics.

There are success stories as well, such as recent reforestation projects in South America. Movies showing the good, the bad and the beautiful of these and other topics will be on the big screen at Brenau University Downtown Center during the 2015 Wild & Scenic Film Festival, a public event offered by the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Organization on May 30. More information is available at http://chattahoochee.org/wildscenic2015.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University.

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