What Does a Scientist Look Like?

by Lisa Donahue

Thirstin's water cycle

 Thirstin’s water cycle

Recently, I had the opportunity to be the introductory speaker for Girls in Science Day at a local public elementary school.  As the auditorium filled with a diverse group of girls and boys in kindergarten through fourth grades, I asked them to think, “What does a scientist look like? What does a scientist do?”  The young students shared their ideas: wears a white lab coat, works with chemicals, wears safety goggles, blows things up.  All good answers! I have no lab coat, but I have goggles, a hard hat, and safety shoes for field work.  I don’t, however, blow things up.

The goal of the students’ day was science exposure, so I talked about all the different disciplines I’ve studied and used in my job as an environmental scientist here in EPA’s mid-Atlantic drinking water enforcement program.  We talked about all of those “ologies” – biology, meteorology, toxicology, geology – and chemistry – and why you need to know about all of them to understand the water cycle and how contaminants move through the environment.

We also talked about where and how environmental scientists work: we work inside and outside; using computers and our scientific knowledge to ask questions and make good decisions about the environment. I even talked about the data we gather from public water systems to find out if they meet drinking water standards.

During my career as a scientist, I have spoken in classrooms countless times, and participated in events designed to foster girls’ interests in STEM topics.  The organizers always thank me for my time, emphasizing the importance of having a “real scientist” talk to the students.  Still, I always wonder: Will they remember anything about water pollution?  Will they absorb my enthusiasm for my work?

During this presentation, I was asked a question I wasn’t expecting: “At your work, who does the most important science, boys or girls?”  What a question!  For me, the answer was easy: I said that we all work together, because I work with so many men and women who do the important work of protecting human health and the environment.  I hope both the girls and boys remember that.

 

About the author:    Lisa Donahue is an environmental scientist in EPA’s regional office in Philadelphia, and has degrees in biology and environmental education.  In addition to her work in the Water Protection Division, she chairs EPA’s Federal Women’s Program National Council.  She’s proud to be one of the many men and women scientists in public service.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

An Important Milestone for Secure Carbon Dioxide Storage

Joseph Goffman Joseph Goffman

By Joe Goffman

If we are to address climate change effectively, we need to reduce emissions of the carbon pollution that is causing our earth to warm, leading to far-reaching impacts upon our health and environment. One strategy that can allow large emitters of carbon dioxide – such as power plants or large industrial operations – to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is to deploy carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

CCS is a suite of technologies that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) at the source and inject it underground for sequestration in geologic formations. Enhanced oil recovery (where CO2 is injected to facilitate recovery of stranded oil) has been successfully used at many production fields throughout the United States and is a potential storage option.

As CCS has grown in promise and practice, we have developed standards and guidelines to protect our health and ensure that the CO2 injected underground remains there safely. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, we have comprehensive rules for both traditional enhanced oil recovery injection wells, and for wells engaged in large-scale sequestration, to ensure that CO2 injected underground does not endanger our drinking water. Our Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) has also developed a rigorous – and workable – accounting and monitoring system to measure the amount of greenhouse gases that are injected safely underground rather than emitted as air pollution. The GHGRP complements the injection well standards, and requires reporting facilities to submit a plan for reporting and verifying the amount of CO2 injected underground. Once the plan is approved, facilities report annual monitoring activities and related data. The GHGRP air-side monitoring and reporting requirements provide assurance that CO2 injected underground does not leak back into the atmosphere. Together, the comprehensive regulatory structure achieved through the injection well standards and GHGRP assure the safety and effectiveness of long-term CO2 storage.

The milestone that we’re marking is that the first such “monitoring, reporting, and verification” plan under the GHGRP was submitted by an enhanced oil recovery facility located in Texas and managed by Occidental Permian, Ltd., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation (or “Oxy”). We have recently approved the plan, which allows Oxy to begin reporting annual data to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, starting with data for 2016.

Oxy voluntarily chose to develop and submit a comprehensive plan in order to track how much carbon dioxide is being stored over the long-term. Oxy’s plan shows that our Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program framework provides value to companies, as well as to EPA and the public, to help track how much carbon dioxide is being stored and provide confidence that the carbon dioxide remains securely underground over time. Strong and transparent accounting methods are critical for measuring progress towards our nation’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. As more power plants and large facilities consider CCS as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have at the ready a proven framework to ensure accurate accounting for CO2 stored underground.

For more information on the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, see: https://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting

To see Oxy’s MRV plan, see: https://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting/denver-unit

For more information about EPA’s activities to address climate change, see: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/EPAactivities.html

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.