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Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to school (personal)

It's the cusp of Labor Day weekend, and I'm looking forward to heading back to school.

It's always an honor to be invited to speak at colleges and universities - and especially so to be invited back. Two years ago, I spoke on a great panel on fracking at Elizabethtown College. I've been invited back to participate in their Social Justice and the Environment Week on September 24 to discuss the relationship between environmental policy decisions and environmental activism. 

Then, on September 29, I'm headed back to Princeton University to present a public seminar on unconventional natural gas extraction, and following that, to meet with students for an intensive session on the same subject.

And I already have a paper that's due.  I've written a chapter for a forthcoming book tentatively entitled  “Shale Gas and the Future of Energy: Law and Policy for Sustainability” based on the landmark September, 2013 shale gas conference at Widener University School of Law.

My chapter's tentatively entitled "Requiring Full-cost Accounting for Environmental and Social Impacts."  It's an expansion of my presentation at the conference, and my keynote address at the 2012 Howard Baker Forum Technology Workshop. 

We're still in the editing stages, but far enough along that it's fairly safe to look ahead. The book is scheduled to be sent to the publisher by mid-January, 2015. It's hoped that the book will enjoy an international audience, so there's an opportunity to influence the development of shale gas policy globally.

It'll be a fun Fall semester. Fortunately, without tuition payments.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

More groundwater contamination in SWPA from fracking wastewater impoundments

Leaking wastewater impoundments from unconventional natural gas development have already contaminated groundwater in Pennsylvania's Washington County.

Now, another leaking impoundment in Westmoreland County has contaminated drinking water for at least three homes, according to state officials.

The use of these impoundments is a severe risk - to soil and groundwater, to public health, and to the families whose life savings may be be embodied in the homes that suddenly lose most, if not all, of their value when their drinking water wells become contaminated. These impoundments also presents severe risk to company bottom lines.

There's no excuse for Pennsylvania failing to ban them and mandating closed-loop, closed container systems

As I asked three weeks ago, how many more contamination incidents will state regulators tolerate?  How many more family tragedies will they tolerate?  

And how many more of these completely avoidable pollution incidents will the citizens of Pennsylvania tolerate?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Federal investment in CCS needed (for starters)

Wyoming is the US’ largest coal-producing state – by a wide margin. So, the Cowboy State has a huge stake in the development of carbon capture and storage technologies that are essential to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. (So does another coal-producing state, not that you'd know it from official actions.)  A new paper published by the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources (SER) Institute for Carbon Management calls for increased Federal investment in CCS research and development.

Meeting Global Carbon Reduction Goals: A Technology Driven Climate Paradigm calls for ramping up federal spending on carbon capture research and development, and an aggressive effort to use existing, cost-effective technologies to reduce the release of black carbon and methane.

The paper notes that reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have concluded that strategies to achieve large global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are only practical with effective and affordable carbon capture and storage technologies. But such technologies are not ready for commercial application at coal-fired power plants, and a move to natural gas power generation wouldn’t generate sufficient CO2 emissions reductions. 
Major Federal support is certainly needed to develop cheaper capture technologies.  What’s “major”? That’s relative, but support for CCS has not been commensurate with its essential role in staving off climate disaster.  As the study notes: 
…the entire DOE FY14 budget for coal and CCS technology development was $392 million, and the Administration’s proposal for FY15 was $302 million. Compare these amounts to the capital cost of the Kemper County IGCC/CCS demonstration project: over $5 billion. Or, compare the CCS budget to other energy programs. The Congressional Research Service reports that FY2013 appropriations for energy efficiency and renewable energy technology development totaled $3.9 billion, and production tax incentives for wind energy alone were an equivalent amount. These figures seem even more out of balance when one considers that in 2013 the U.S. consumed over 10 times as much fossil energy as renewable energy. 
CCS technology development and urgent deployment are essential pieces of the CCS puzzle. We're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.  CCUS and what I prefer to call the Pennsylvania model to carbon networks are others.  All need support. 

Public budgets are expressions of priorities. Clearly, the Federal government's priorities on climate are not yet in order, despite heroic effort from President Obama. Our public priorities must change. But that's not enough. The private sector – investors, financiers, venture capitalists, banks, and utilities - must lead.



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Carbon emissions reductions will pay for themselves

Cutting carbon dioxide emissions will not only save us from the worst impacts of global climate disruption, but also simultaneously reduces toxic air pollution. That will save thousands of lives annually, as well as reduce rates of asthma, heart attacks, hospitalization and autism – here and around the world.  It will also save an immense amount of money. One 2010 study put the cost of the adverse public health impacts from coal combustion alone at $100 billion per year.

The idea of measuring the co-benefits of carbon reduction is part of the calculation of the social cost of carbon. While these estimation techniques are still emerging, it’s obvious that the benefits, when monetized, are huge - and must be included in how we as a society evaluate the real, all-in costs of cutting carbon. 

A new study from MIT researchers has looked at the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions in the US and found that the savings are big, and vary depending on the policies adopted.

A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies was published in Nature Climate Change. According to a university press release, the study is the most detailed assessment to date of the interwoven effects of climate policy on the economy, air pollution, and the cost of health problems related to air pollution. It:
compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program…
The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach.
Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program. At the other end of the spectrum, a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements is the most expensive policy, costing more than $1 trillion in 2006 dollars, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.
But it’s not necessarily that simple, as we've mucked up the atmosphere so much in history's largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment that:
“To manage climate change, we’ll have to make carbon cuts that go beyond the initial reductions that lead to the largest air-pollution benefits.”
Still, the study is further evidence that climate protection is a cheap investment.

Friday, August 22, 2014

EDF's Methane Detector Challenge

There's been lots of troubling research that points to unacceptably high methane emissions from oil and natural gas production.  The need for tougher regulations and ubiquitous monitoring is apparent, as readers of this blog know.

Colorado has blazed the regulation trail at the state level, and institutions like MIT have encouraged the development of new methane-sensing technologies.  But one organization has worked to propel the essential development of deployable methane monitoring technologies sooner, rather than later. 

The Environmental Defense Fund and seven oil and natural gas companies created the Methane Detectors Challenge "aimed at identifying next-generation technologies that will help better monitor methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations, with the intent to ultimately promote meaningful reductions of these gases."

The participating companies in the Challenge are Shell, Anadarko, Apache Corporation, BG Group, Hess Corporation, Noble Energy and Southwestern Energy.

Yesterday, EDF announced five finalists in the Challenge.

EDF continues to do great work on several fronts in grappling with this critical issue. They - and their partners - are demonstrating the power of collaboration. While no substitute for strong regulation and enforcement, the development of new monitoring technologies is the piece that's been missing in accurately assessing and coming to grips with the fundamental issue of fugitive methane from oil and gas production.