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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pacific Institute paper on fracking and water a good read


The Pacific Institute conducted interviews with a diverse group of stakeholders, including representatives from state and federal agencies, academia, industry, environmental groups, and community-based organizations from across the United States and has issued a paper: Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources: Separating the Frack from the Fiction.

The paper is focused on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas extraction on water resources.

The water-related concerns identified by the interviewees included water
withdrawals, groundwater contamination associated with well drilling and production, wastewater management, truck traffic and its impacts on water quality, surface spills and leaks, and stormwater management.

The paper provides a brief but excellent overview of these issues and comes to some not surprising conclusions:

  • A lack of credible and comprehensive data and information is a major impediment to identify or clearly assess the key water-related risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and to develop sound policies to minimize those risks. 
  • There are limited number of peer-reviewed, scientific studies on the process and its environmental impacts.  As a result, the discourse around the issue is largely driven by opinion. This hinders a comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental and public health risks and identification of strategies to minimize these risks.
  • The dialog about hydraulic fracturing has been marked by confusion and obfuscation due to a lack of clarity about the terms used to characterize the process. Additional work is needed to clarify terms and definitions associated with hydraulic fracturing to support more fruitful and informed dialog and to develop appropriate energy, water, and environmental policy.

More data.  More scientific research and analysis.  Common terms.  Dialogue. Transparency.  All are in in short supply. All are urgently needed.  All are essential to separating fracking fact from fiction.

How to protect 6 million U.S. jobs - conserve the public lands


A new report from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) demonstrates that outdoor recreation is a huge economic engine for the nation.  The report finds that 6.1 million American jobs are directly supported by the outdoor industry, and that Americans spend $646 billion each year on activities like camping, biking, hunting, and snow sports, generating almost $80 billion annually in tax revenue.  

The report contains some revealing statistics.  The outdoor recreation sector grew about 5 percent per year between 2005 and 2011 – in the depths of the deepest recession since the Great Depression.  Outdoor recreation employs more Americans than the real estate industry, information technology, oil and gas, education, transportation and warehousing, construction, or finance and insurance. Did you know that more American jobs depend on trail sports than there are lawyers in the United States?

OIA estimates that 140 million Americans recreate outdoors.  Where do all these folks recreate, and what is the resource base upon which over 6 million jobs depend?

The public lands - national parks and forests, state parks, state forests, and game lands, and local parks and conserved land.  As OIA says, “America’s public lands and waters are the very foundation of the national outdoor recreation system.”
 
The OIA report follows other analyses that highlight the essential importance of conserving our public lands.   A 2011 Wilderness Society report Rural Jobs and America’s Public Lands, found that America’s wild places are responsible for adding trillion dollars to the US economy every year.

A 2011 study for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Economics Associated with Outdoor Recreation, Natural Resources Conservation and Historic Preservation in the United States found that the combined value of outdoor recreation, nature conservation and historic preservation, are responsible for 9.4 million jobs nationwide, $107 billion in tax revenues, and a trillion dollars of gross domestic product. 

In Pennsylvania, outdoor recreation is responsible for about one sixth of Pennsylvania’s $33 billion tourism economy – the state’s second largest industry. Our state parks system alone is an economic engine, returning almost $10 to local economies for every dollar invested by the state, generating more than $1 billion in economic activity in nearby communities and support almost 13,000 related jobs.

And then there is the Pennsylvania Wilds. A glorious 12-county region of the state’s northern tier, the Pennsylvania Wilds is home to some of the finest outdoor experiences in the nation and to more than 2 million acres of public land – comparable in size to Yellowstone National Park – featuring 29 state parks, 50 state game lands, eight state forests and the Allegheny National Forest. Pennsylvania’s wilderness, too, shows documented success. 

These recent studies support what Pennsylvania has already powerfully shown: that conservation is economic development.  Any way you add it up, our great outdoors, in addition to restoring our spirits, helps to drive our economy. But we must, as OIA points out, “manage and invest in parks, waters and trails as a system designed to sustain economic dividends for America.” 

Manage and invest.

Here is Pennsylvania’s challenge.  Forty percent of the state forest in the Pennsylvania Wilds - 525,000 acres (and a third of the entire state forest) is leased for natural gas drilling.  State parks – in the Pennsylvania Wilds and across the state - are at risk of being drilled for natural gas.  Funding for conservation has been drastically reduced.

Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation money machine is at risk. We must conserve the public lands if we are to protect our economy.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NREL: Renewable Energy Can Supply 80% of US Electricity in 2050


Renewable electricity generation - from technologies that are commercially available today - is “more than adequate” to supply 80 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050, according to the Renewable Electricity Futures Study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

NREL says that the study is the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States. 

Reaching that lofty target involves huge challenges.  It will require a transformation of the electricity system involving every element of the grid, increased flexibility of the electric system, and expanded multi-state transmission infrastructure.  Costs will be high - "comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios.” Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies would have the greatest impact on reducing those costs. But there are no insurmountable long-term constraints to renewable electricity technology manufacturing capacity, materials supply, or labor availability, says the report.

The report says that the increased electric system flexibility that would be necessary to balance variable renewable energy supply with demand can be met by a portfolio of flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations. Natural gas would be a key to the success of the transformation, and not a barrier.

The NREL report lays out a fundamental challenge to our nation.  Will we be wise enough – and bold enough - to meet it?