Follow me on Twitter: @JohnHQuigley

Thursday, November 29, 2012

MIT study: Methane emissions from fracking lower than thought

A new peer-reviewed study by MIT researchers based on an analysis of 4,000 shale gas wells drilled throughout the U.S. in 2010 says that the amount of methane emissions caused by shale gas production has been largely exaggerated.

The study - Shale gas production: potential versus actual greenhouse gas emissions - found emissions levels closer to U.S. EPA estimates - and apparently higher than some industry claims.  It says that "Although fugitive emissions from the overall natural gas sector are a proper concern, it is incorrect to suggest that shale gas-related hydraulic fracturing has substantially altered the overall GHG intensity of natural gas production."  

The study provides support for the idea that natural gas can be our best available climate stabilization tool and underscores strong support for EPA's new methane emission regulations.

Study: Western public lands a job-generator and lessons for PA

A new report: “West Is Best: How Public Lands in the West Create a Competitive Economic Advantagefinds that the national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands in 11 western U.S. states - Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming - offer a competitive advantage to high-tech and service industries. 

The recreational and cultural opportunities offered by the public lands are are identified by the study as a major reason why the western economy has outperformed the rest of the U.S. economy in key measures of growth–employment, population, and personal income–during the last four decades.  The study found that between 1970 and 2010, these western states grew 52 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country. Health care, real estate, high-tech, and finance and insurance industries created 19.3 million net new jobs in those eleven states over the last four decades. 

Strikingly, the study found that Western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of the county’s land base in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments, wilderness, and other similar designations increased jobs four times more than counties with no protected public lands.  Jobs in public lands-rich counties grew by 345 percent over the last 40 years, compared to 83 percent job growth in similar counties with no protected federal public lands.  As a result, the study found that per capita income in 2010 in western non-metropolitan counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands is $4,360 higher than per capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.

The study says that entrepreneurs and talented workers are choosing to work where they can enjoy outdoor recreation and natural landscapes.  Increasingly, chambers of commerce and economic development associations in every western state are using the region’s public lands as a tool to lure companies to relocate, and high-wage services industries themselves also are using those same lands as recruiting and talent retention tools.

The report echoes previous studies and presents something that Pennsylvania has known and been a national leader in practicing - that conservation is economic development.  The Western report underscores the dramatic economic gains made possible by a commitment to public lands conservation.  But Pennsylvania's documented success - and the potential to duplicate the West's success - is threatened by budget cuts and shale gas development that is already affecting state forests and that could impact state parks

Pennsylvania's 2.5 million acres of state parks and forests must be conserved if we are to grow the state's economy.   

Monday, November 26, 2012

Report: UK CCS could be cost competitive by early 2020s - and proof that the Rendell Administration was ahead of its time on CCS

A task force of the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has validated an approach to more rapidly deploying carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that was first explored by Pennsylvania more than four years ago.  The task force says falling costs could allow gas and coal-fired power plants using CCS to produce energy at a comparable cost to other low-carbon generation sources by the early 2020s.

The task force’s report -The Potential for Reducing the Costs of CCS in the UK: Interim Report – says that to achieve these levels of cost reduction, progress in five key areas is essential: 

  • Investment in large carbon storage “clusters” to supply multiple storage sites;
  • Investment in large shared pipelines with high utilization;
  • Investment in large power stations with increased carbon capture capability;
  • Exploitation of synergies with CO2-based enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the North Sea; and
  • Reduction in the cost of project capital through reduced risk and improved investor confidence

The report was released on the same day that the UK government awarded GBP20 million in funding to 13 carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects.

The report says that an investment in CCS would “enable long-term use of fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained economy, alongside renewable and nuclear power…and to drive UK economic growth, to retain and grow employment opportunities, to protect and grow the UK’s manufacturing base and to gain significant competitive advantage in manufacturing costs over other countries in Europe.”

Scale, shared infrastructure, and an interconnected, right-sized CCS network are keys to achieving the cost reductions projected by the task force.  As the report says: "Both utilisation and scale are important…Multiple large generation plant supplying CO2 to a hub will allow the storage development costs to be shared across large volumes of CO2 stored…The unit costs of transporting CO2 by pipeline decreases as scale increases...Once CCS is established, significant reductions in electricity cost will be available through scaling up” plant sizes.

These are precisely the central tenets of the 2009 Pennsylvania CCS model that was developed with the help of the Clinton Climate Initiative during my tenure at the Department of Conservation and Natural ResourcesDCNR undertook some of the most advanced work on CCS in the nation, including three assessments on the viability of large-scale, integrated commercial CCS network in Pennsylvania: 

The concept was intended to get CCS to scale faster than planned by other state and Federal efforts by capturing both economies of scale through the use of shared infrastructure and the economic development benefits that would accrue to a state in a leadership role in deploying CCS.  While identifying barriers to network development – chiefly the assembly of mineral rights - DCNR found that an integrated, at-scale CCS network would be cost-competitive compared to both proposed and existing international CCS projects.

Governor Rendell and former President Clinton were far ahead of their time on CCS.  The world needs to catch up to them.

November 27 update: This post has also been published by Energy Dimensions.