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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today's lesson in irony

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering introducing new regulations that would require companies to disclose the composition of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) is warning that such a rule could jeopardise the trade secrets of its members, which include small businesses that manufacture chemicals used in oil and gas exploration.
Use FracFocus, goes the industry mantra - despite the obvious and well-documented shortcomings of that reporting mechanism.

Yet major hydraulic fracturing company Baker Hughes - starting today -
has implemented a new policy of disclosing 100% of the chemistry contained within its hydraulic fracturing fluid systems, without the use of any trade secret designations.
Baker Hughes' action - even though they are using FracFocus for disclosure - is exemplary, and so far singular.  The rest of the industry, in taking a social-license-to-operate-be damned stance,  justifies public suspicion of fracking and hampers better understanding of actions needed to minimize risks to public health and the environment from unconventional oil and gas development.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Study: Treated fracking wastewater could still threaten drinking water

Researchers from Duke University and Stanford University have found that if treated wastewater from unconventional oil and gas operations is discharged into rivers and streams that are used downstream as public drinking supplies, the chlorination of that water for drinking purposes can create carcinogenic chemicals in drinking water.

Their study, Enhanced Formation of Disinfection Byproducts in Shale Gas Wastewater-Impacted Drinking Water Supplies was published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.  As State Impact Pennsylvania reports: 
The research confirms what scientists have been warning about for some time. The high concentrations of salty brine, which flows up from deep underground once a well is fracked, are difficult to remove from the wastewater without the aid of an expensive technique called reverse osmosis or a cheaper method known as thermal distillation. If the wastewater is treated conventionally, which does not remove the bromides, chlorides or iodides, then it can be combined with chlorine at a drinking water facility, and create carcinogens such as bromines and iodines… 
What they found was that just .01 percent per volume of fracking wastewater, when combined with the disinfectant chlorine used by drinking water facilities, created trihalomethanes. The EPA limits the amount of these compounds in drinking water because of their link to kidney, liver and bladder cancer…
In 2011 the Department of Environmental Protection asked Marcellus Shale drillers to voluntarily stop sending their wastewater to conventional treatment facilities. The industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition pledged to stop. It’s unclear whether or not all of them are still complying with that request. The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to our questions...(E)ven if all of the Marcellus Shale drillers have stopped using these facilities, wastewater from the smaller, conventional drillers could still have the same impact. 
The "regulatory" history here is pertinent for 3 reasons. First, and obviously, requests and promises are not nearly good enough. This issue demands strong regulation, careful monitoring, and strict enforcement. 

Second, it's amazing - and disturbing - that no one has apparently bothered to verify or track the results of the meager request and resulting promises that were made 3 years ago.

Third, unconventional and conventional drillers alike must be held to a much tougher standard.  And that may be difficult. Because as State Impact Pennsylvania has also reported:
During July budget negotiations, state Republican leaders slipped controversial language into the fiscal code that requires state regulators to differentiate between “conventional” or shallow wells and modern, deep shale wells. 
Will the prospect of toxic municipal drinking water change anything?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Back to Princeton (personal)

I'm headed back to Princeton University today to discuss the technical and policy aspects of unconventional natural gas development in two separate talks.

At noon, I'll be presenting a lecture on "The Business Case for Sustainable Shale Gas Development" as part of The David Bradford Seminars in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy. The seminar is co-sponsored with the Princeton Environmental Institute.

Afterwards, I'll meet for a three-hour session with MPA students from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Ph.D. science and engineering students.  They're participating in an intensive workshop on state policy opportunities to reduce methane emissions from unconventional natural gas extraction in the US.  The students are working to identify best practices in state regulations overseeing hydraulic fracturing and to recommend policies appropriate for gubernatorial executive orders and principles for legislation.  

I'll be giving a lecture on hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania and suggesting a path forward to sustainability - embracing the methane issue and lots more - that greatly expands on my lunchtime topic. I'm looking forward to interacting with the students.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Study: only climate policies - not natgas - will save us

US carbon emissions have dropped, thanks in significant measure to natural gas.  But that decrease is illusory and likely temporary, because it has so far relied on the fickle free market

In the battle against global climate disruption, policy is everything.  

That's the finding of a new paper published in published in Environmental Resource Letters. 

The effect of natural gas supply on US renewable energy and CO2 emissions models the effect of natural gas supply on CO2 emissions and finds that abundant natural gas will not reduce GHG emissions and will compete with renewable energy:
more abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future. Without a climate policy, overall electricity use also increases as the gas supply increases...In our results, only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future CO2 emissions within the US electricity sector. Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, more abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies.
I'm quoted about the study in this piece in Science magazine.  

Natural gas can be a climate stabilization tool if we much more strongly regulate its production, minimize methane emissions across the full lifecycle from production to use, and leverage its attributes to aggressively propel renewable energy deployment. We have not come close to doing any of that yet.  It's also clear that if natgas is to have a long-term role in our energy generation portfolio, it can only happen if CCS/CCUS is required.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Etown bound (personal)

I'm speaking at 11AM today at Elizabethtown College at an event that's part of their Social Justice and the Environment Week.  

Along with 2 great co-panelists, I'll discuss the relationship between environmental policy decisions and environmental activism. 

I'm looking forward to my second visit to the college.