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Friday, December 21, 2012

U.S. EPA issues fracking study progress report


The U.S. EPA has issued a 278-page Progress Report on its study of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.  The report outlines the framework for the final study, but does not draw any conclusions.  Those will be made in the final study.

The Executive Summary says that the work is arranged around the five stages of the hydraulic fracking water cycle and questions about the possible impacts on drinking water resources of: 
  • large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters;
  • hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads;
  • the injection and fracturing process;  
  • flowback and produced water surface spills on or near well pads; and  
  • inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater
The report describes 18 research projects underway to answer these research questions.  There are five different types:
  • analysis of existing data on chemicals and practices; data is drawn from nine companies that hydraulically fractured 24,925 wells between September 2009 and October 2010, and additional data on chemicals and water use for hydraulic fracturing from over 12,000 well-specific chemical disclosures in FracFocus.  EPA is evaluating data on causes and volumes of spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and wastewater drawn from state spill databases in Colorado, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, and from the National Response Center national database of oil and chemical spills;
  • scenario evaluations, including potential impacts to drinking water sources from withdrawing large volumes of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin and the Susquehanna River Basin; 
  • laboratory studies on potential impacts of inadequately treating hydraulic fracturing wastewater and discharging it to rivers;  
  • toxicity assessments of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids from 2005 to 2011 and chemicals found in flowback and produced water; and 
  • case studies of locations in Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania (in Bradford and Washington counties), and Texas

EPA is also reviewing scientific literature relevant to the study’s research questions.

Results of the study are expected to be released in a draft for public and peer review in 2014. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Frog in pot of boiling water to turn up heat



MCMR finds that coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to rise; coal demand continues to rise globally, led by China and India; and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source.  All without meaningful progress in developing or deploying carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) or other technologies.

IEA’s notes that the United States is the exception to the rule of rising global coal demand, as coal here is being displaced by natural gas. However, while U.S. domestic coal consumption has fallen, exports of U.S. coal have risen.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said that “the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared to today – equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined.”

That works out to an additional 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year.

MCMR assumes the continued unavailability of CCS. In a significant understatement, Ms. Van der Hoeven said, “CCS technologies are not taking off as once expected.”  She offered a four-pronged approach to reducing emissions from coal use, all of which will require massive investment:

  • Deploying the most efficient coal combustion techniques;
  • Enacting a meaningful carbon price and using cheap natural gas to encourage replacement of coal by lower-emission energy sources.  In the absence of a high carbon price, only “fierce competition from low-priced gas” can effectively reduce coal demand, CO2 emissions - and consumers’ electricity bills – “without harming energy security,” Ms. van der Hoeven said.  “Europe, China and other regions should take note.”

I would add a fifth element to this approach which is perhaps implied by Ms. Van der Hoeven: using cheap natural gas to drive alternative energy development.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Climate disruption is a “stress test” for the insurance industry


Insurance is the world’s largest industry with U.S. $4.6 trillion in revenues - 7% of the global economy - according to Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  It is also an industry that is acutely threatened by climate disruption. 

In a study published in the journal Science, Mills says that insurers now pay an average of $50 billion a year in weather- and climate-related insurance losses, including property damage and business disruptions.  He says that such claims have been doubling every decade since the 1980s.

In the face of those loses and certainty that they will mount, Evans says that the insurance industry has chosen to invest about $2 trillion (44% of industry revenues) in a variety of initiatives in 51 countries: 

  • supporting climate research;
  • developing climate-responsive products and services;
  • raising awareness of climate change;
  • reducing their own in-house emissions;
  • quantifying and disclosing climate risks;
  • incorporating climate change into $25 trillion (with a “t”) worth of investment decisions; and
  • engaging in public policy

These activities have grown since 2008, when the global economic downturn began. Mills told the Los Angeles Times that, rather than repeating the tired “political rhetoric” that it cannot afford such measures now, the industry instead “believes it can't afford not to” make these investments.

That is the attitude that other industries and governments fail to adopt at our peril.