IAPMO’s industry update: Hurricane woes

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Dain HansenDain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry.

Here is an edited version of his update September 15, 2017

Congressional Update.

This week: The House passed a comprehensive bill to fund government agencies and operations for fiscal year 2018. The Senate debated the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018.

Next Week: The House will be on recess in observance of Rosh Hashanah and return to Washington on September 25. The Senate will continue its debate on the defense authorization bill in an abbreviated week.

Cities Swimming in Raw Sewage as Hurricanes Overwhelm Systems. Hurricane Harvey took aim at one of the nation’s most industrial regions, releasing a stream of toxic pollutants from chemical plants, refineries and Superfund sites in Texas. But when its bigger sister Irma slammed into Florida, environmental alarms rang over a different kind of discharge: raw sewage. Millions of gallons of poorly treated wastewater and raw sewage flowed into the bays, canals and city streets of Florida from facilities serving some of the nation’s fastest-growing counties. More than 9 million gallons of releases tied to Irma have been reported as of mid-week as inundated plants were submerged, forced to bypass treatment or lost power. Such overflows, which can spread disease-causing pathogens, are happening more often, as population shifts and increasingly strong storms strain the capacity of plants and decades-old infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated last year that $271 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater pipes, treatment plants and associated infrastructure, says Hansen.

Hurricanes Can Turn Back The Development Clock By Years. According to studies conducted by the World Bank some 26 million people – the equivalent of the combined population of Chile and Bolivia – fall into poverty each year due to natural disasters. The studies show that disasters, such as the hurricanes that have hit the US this week, impact the poor much more than the rest of the population. In terms of total economic cost, it is very difficult now to calculate an exact number for the impact of Hurricane Irma, but historically hurricanes have caused a great damage in the Caribbean. In 1979, Hurricane David caused damages of over 117% of GDP in Dominica. Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, caused losses in excess of 200% of GDP in Grenada. In just a few days, countries can lose more than the income of an entire year. These studies show that generally, the most vulnerable infrastructure is the poorest. In the Caribbean, between 60% and 70% of construction is informal. The photos coming out of Barbuda, especially, show that the houses have been largely destroyed. It is also important to note lack of construction codes also impact other structures such as communication towers, says Hansen.

Forget Oil, Water Is New Ticket for Pipeline Growth in Texas. The torrent of dirty water coming out of almost every American oil well is becoming a growing concern for the oil industry. Getting rid of wastewater from onshore wells has become an increasingly costly problem for oil producers as U.S. crude output surged in recent years, especially in the new shale fields from Texas to North Dakota. Drillers typically get about seven barrels of water for every one of oil, and some struggle to deal with the overflow that is mostly sent by truck to disposal sites miles away. To get a sense of just how much water is involved, consider the forecasts for rising oil output in the Permian Basin, the busiest field in Texas and a big beneficiary of increased investment in shale reserves. It currently pumps 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, but production could grow to a peak of as much as 10 million in future years. At the current rate of disposal in the area, that would mean 30 million to 50 million barrels of dirty water every day, enough to fill the Empire State Building eight times a day. Disposal can be expensive, especially with oil prices around $50 a barrel, half the price in 2014. Most drillers hire oilfield-service companies to get rid of the wastewater. Trucks dump the water into holes dug deep underground that lead to porous formations, thousands of feet below the drinking-water table. In Texas, the service costs about $1.50 to $2.50 a barrel. The industry’s water use isn’t without controversy. In Oklahoma, where as many as 20 barrels of water are produced for every barrel of oil, heavy injections of wastewater underground have been blamed for all the earthquakes in the state. Some are looking at using pipelines to help address that problem, by providing access to areas better suited for disposal, says Hansen.

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