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Friday, December 27, 2013

Does fracking-enabled fuel switching save water?

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have estimated that fracking for natural gas actually saves water in the drought-prone and water-stressed Lone Star State - a counterintuitive conclusion for a process that consumes four to six million gallons of water for every frack job.

The study's gross calculation of water savings may be correct, and the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post is yes - IF water use is narrowly defined. However, there are important nuances to consider here.  Consumptive water use for power plant cooling ultimately returns the water withdrawn to the overall water cycle - though it clearly has localized impacts. But as much as 80 percent of the water used in the fracking process remains underground - permanently removed from the water cycle.  I have yet to see an analysis of the cumulative impacts of that fact on the overall water cycle.

Clearly, the impacts of hydraulic fracturing are complex. This UTA study points out that end-uses need to be considered.

The finding - significant as it is - doesn't negate the myriad other water-related risks associated with hydraulic fracturing – from earthquakes to impacts on public health.

Nor, in my view, does it undermine the business case for waterless fracking.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pennsylvania's Marcellus questions

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision on Act 13  may not slow the natural gas industry's pace, will the industry accept it

Will it double down and launch another push to have its way with the Keystone State? 

Will the gas industry shoot itself in the foot again and press for conditioning receipt of anemic impact fee payments on passage of industry-friendly model ordinances?

Will Pennsylvania's elected officials be so shortsighted as to go along with them again - at their mutual peril?

Or will the industry - along with the Governor and the General Assembly - acknowledge the wisdom of Pennsylvania's Constitution?

There is a better way to engage with municipalities. 

There are better ways to engage with Pennsylvania.

What will the natgas industry do?

The answer to these questions will shape Pennsylvania's future in profound ways.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The immense value of conservation in a changed, disrupted climate

I’ve blogged about the job-creating value of public lands conservation, the competitive advantage afforded to regions that conserve their natural assets, and the ecosystem service value that conservation provides.

Now, Resources for the Future has published an important and exemplary study that quantifies the value of conservation in a world imperiled by global climate disruption.

Flooding and Resilience: Valuing Conservation Investments in a World with Climate Change looks at the Meramec Greenway in Missouri – a 108-mile long area of mostly forested protected lands along the Meramec River.

In the twentieth century, flooding caused more deaths and property damage in the United States than any other natural disaster. Most climate models predict that flooding will worsen in the future, a prospect that is leading a growing number of communities to explore the use of natural areas as protection against extreme events. These areas are currently providing flood mitigation benefits. They store floodwaters and lessen the flow to area streams and rivers; in coastal areas, they may protect against storm surge and flooding from hurricanes.

Perhaps most important, by remaining undeveloped, they reduce exposure to storms. But how much more valuable will the lands become if floods are more frequent or severe in the future

(T)he greenway provides a substantial flood mitigation benefit right now, even before considering increased risks from climate change. According to our estimates, the current protected lands yield an average annual benefit in the form of avoided flood damages of $13.1 million a year, or about $6,000 per acre. If climate change causes peak discharges to rise by 30 percent, an increase consistent with some of the (limited) literature on how climate change will affect flood risks in the region, the benefits of the greenway are $4.5 million higher. If peak discharges rise by 50 percent, which we look at as an upper bound, the benefits of the greenway are $7.9 million higher. If the frequency of flood events doubles, the benefits double. And finally, if the frequency of only the worst events doubles (the 100-, 250-, and 500-year events), we find that the benefits increase by just $1.2 million, or 9 percent.
The climate resilience benefits of conservation are very real - and huge. Consider that these "returns" to the citizens of Missouri from this single greenway will go on - and will likely rise substantially - year after year. It sure beats the stock market.

Now consider the climate resilience benefits of conservation in a state like Pennsylvania – one of the most flood-prone in the nation.  

RFF has provided a model for smart communities, states, and other levels of government to use, refine, and apply for their own protection - and for their long term prosperity. Citizens get it.

How can we not afford to invest in conservation? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PA Supremes declare gas drilling's local zoning preemption unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared key provisions of the state's Act 13 of 2012 which eliminated local control over shale gas drilling unconstitutional

The Court's decision can be found here.

The decision is an important elucidation of the state Constitution's environmental rights amendment, contained in Article 1, section 27.  See pages 114-119 of the decision.
The court also found unconstitutional another section of Act 13 that allowed the Department of Environmental Protection to grant waivers for setback requirements from water sources, and sent the issue of the Act 13's "physician gag rule" back to a lower court.

The Court said many important things in this decision, among them:
By any reasonable account, exploitation of the Marcellus Shale
Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the
people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the
public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal
Somewhere, George Santayana is smiling.

New study on shale gas development and property values finds mixed results

A new study from Resources for the Future finds that shale gas development affects the value of nearby homes differently, depending on distance from a well, how long ago the nearby well was drilled, and whether the home relies on a well for its water supply.

The Housing Market Impacts of Shale Gas Development used data from New York and Pennsylvania and finds that: 
For homes that depend on groundwater, the closer they are to a shale gas well, the worse off they are (e.g., at 1.5km, a shale gas well decreases values by 4 percent but at 1km it decreases values by 22 percent).
For homes that have access to piped water, being within 1.5km or 2km increases their value (by 3 to 6 percent), likely due to royalty payments, but being closer (i.e., within 1km) does not affect values.
At a regional level (within 20km), recently drilled wells have a positive effect on property values. This “boomtown” effect, however, is temporary and fades one year after the well’s drilling.
The results are not surprising, but the research is important to understanding the complex impacts of shale gas development.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Report: transporting and using shale gas for industrial purposes has big GHG impact

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project says that projects that have been proposed over the last two years to transport shale gas or use it as a feedstock or fuel in industrial processes could increase greenhouse gas emissions by 91 million tons - equal to the emissions from 20 coal-fired power plants.

The shale gas boom has unleashed a tidal wave of proposals to build new compressors and pipelines, and expand chemical, fertilizer, and petroleum plants that depend on natural gas for feedstock or fuel. Since January 1, 2012, these industries have proposed or already obtained Clean Air Act permits that authorize a 91 million ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions — as much as the output from twenty large (500 megawatt) coal-fired power plants. This total does not include new emissions from proposed gas-fired power plants or the multitude of smaller wells, gas processing plants, compressor stations, and flares springing up across the landscape in shale-gas rich states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
The true climate impact of the shale gas revolution is complicated.  This sobering report points out further complications from natgas transmission and downstream use. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New research: fracking chemical spills can disrupt human hormones

This story from NationalJournal reports on new research published in the journal Endocrinology that finds that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing "can disrupt the body's hormones, namely reproductive hormones. Such chemicals seep into drinking water at natural-gas drilling sites during spills or accidents, and can interfere with endocrine functions when they enter the body".

This risk can be avoided or minimized by replacing these chemicals with with benign chemicals and waterless fracking technologies.

What will be the regulatory response?  When will the business case for pursuing these twin solutions reach the tipping point to bring them into standard use?

Monday, December 16, 2013

In search of benign fracking chemicals

This article describes Apache Corporation's efforts to reduce the volume and toxicity of chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing operations. It's an excellent primer on fracking chemicals and the search for safer alternatives. 

The article says that the amount of chemicals used in a frack job is "minute": "Water and sand make up 98 to 99.5 percent of the hydraulic fracturing fluid, with the exact formulation varying from well to well." So, the remaining 0.5 to 2 per cent is comprised of chemicals. 

But these small percentages translate into big volumes of chemicals. If the average frack job used five to six million gallons of water - as it does it the Marcellus play, for example - that means that each operation uses between 25,000 and 120,000 gallons of chemicals

The article points out a number of co-benefits of reducing hazardous chemical use to exploration and production companies. Reduced chemical volumes not only save money outright but translate into fewer truck trips - saving more money, local air quality, reducing damage to local roads, and improving public safety. Further, eliminating volatile organic compounds would sharply reduce the risk of public health impacts (as would a requirement to use closed-loop, closed container systems for fluid handling).  

These cost and risk reductions are part of the strong, growing business case for sustainable shale gas development.

Apache's search for more benign chemicals is exemplary. The industry must embrace a race to the top on benign chemical use. And start a similar race to waterless fracking

Friday, December 13, 2013

The handwriting is on the wall

The link between induced seismicity and the disposal of wastewater from unconventional oil and gas development is neither a theory nor a surprise, despite recurring media reports and seeming official uncertainty. It's as obvious as it is preventable.

More stringent regulations - on the siting of disposal wells, on wastewater injection, and of the volumes disposed - and tougher enforcement are needed in light of the nation's hydraulic fracturing-driven oil and gas boom. 

What's perhaps more obvious is the need to drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking technologies that minimize or avoid this risk entirely.

When will industry practice and state/Federal regulations catch up to the obvious? When will society demand it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fixing leaks in U.S. natgas infrastructure requires $82 billion

As I wrote here, leaking natgas infrastructure is an existential threat not only to the climate and the world as we know it, but to the natgas industry.

What will it take to fix the problem of methane leakage from our aging infrastructure?

Besides political will and vastly tougher regulations, about $82 billion.

Our nation has failed to tackle the issue of crumbling infrastructure generally. Will we have the will to invest in this fix - or enact the measures necessary to make natgas customers pay for it? Will the natgas industry flex its considerable political muscle to advance this urgent effort - even if it raises the cost of their product closer to its true cost to society?  The natgas industry has so far has failed to advance its long term stake in our energy mix.  Will it be smarter here?   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quoted in Inside Climate News report on PA's pipeline boom

Inside Climate News has published this must-read story: Gas Pipeline Boom Fragmenting Pennsylvania's Forests and an accompanying must-see slideshow.  I’m quoted extensively in the piece. 

I’ve blogged frequently about the issues discussed in the report: pipelines, landscape industrialization, habitat fragmentation, cumulative impacts, the need for landscape planning in unconventional oil and gas development, impacts on charismatic species, public lands conservation and the industry's social license to operate.  As the growing spider web of gas infrastructure continues to be spun across Penn’s Woods, the issues are assuming ever-greater importance and urgency.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Natgas as bridge fuel gets boost

A new report from Lux Research finds that solar power will become competitive with natural gas-fired electricity globally by 2025, and - as others have found - that solar and natgas could form a symbiotic relationship with the development of hybrid technologies that use both sources.

The results are summed up here:
"On the macroeconomic level, a ‘golden age of gas’ can be a bridge to a renewable future as gas will replace coal until solar becomes cost competitive without subsidies,” Lux research associate Ed Cahill said in a statement. “On the microeconomic level, solar integrated with natural gas can lower costs and provide stable output."
That integration of solar and gas is described by Think Progress as: 
hybrid plants that combine solar and natural gas power through a variety of methods. The solar portion of the system would protect against price swings for natural gas, while the natural gas portion would ensure a reliable electricity supply on days when sunlight is intermittent. Lux even raises the possibility of gas-powered microturbines that can be installed in an individual home and integrated with a rooftop solar array as a form of distributed generation.
This symbiotic use of solar and natgas cold significantly advance the adoption of renewable power generally:
(T)his sort of piggybacking could bring intermittent renewable power to 25 percent of the U.S. grid’s power supply without compromising stability — with the possibility to go as high as 45 percent.
A bridge to a renewable future can be built - if we have the will, and the right energy and regulatory policies. Will we build it?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Voters strongly value conservation over natgas development

Voters in the Applachian region value conserving natural areas over natural gas development.

That's the take-away from a new poll commissioned by The Nature Conservancy that surveyed voters in seven states - New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The poll finds a remarkable prevalence - and persistence - of collective wisdom and common sense around natgas development

TNC's release says:
A clear majority of voters (68 percent) consider Central Appalachian forests “critical to the local economy” and more than three-quarters of voters in the region consider their forests a “national treasure.”
When offered a choice, a majority (54 percent) of voters prioritize conserving forests, natural areas and wildlife habitat over natural gas development—even if doing so would lead to higher energy costs.
To protect forests, rivers, and streams from the potential negative effects of natural gas development in the Central Appalachians, robust majorities of voters in the region support establishing strong environmental safeguards as a condition on further natural gas development, including:
  • Requiring natural gas developers, before they start drilling, to prepare regional plans for locating their wells and pipelines to reduce impacts on wildlife habitat and water quality (93 percent)
  • Requiring natural gas developers to prevent or fix any negative impacts that drilling, pipelines, and roads may have on forests or water quality (92 percent)
  • Requiring companies that drill for natural gas to follow guidelines based on sound science to guide their decisions about where to put natural gas wells (91 percent)
Voters must translate these strongly-held beliefs into action.  They must hold their elected officials accountable for their stewardship - or lack thereof - of our natural resources. Landscape industrialization and other impacts of development clearly place the industry's social license to operate at risk.

Elected officials and the natgas industry ignore these results at their peril. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

In DC and environs tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in a meeting of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, where I serve as an alternate Federal Commissioner. From there, I'll be heading to the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to speak with members of the U. S. House of Representatives Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC). We'll be discussing hydraulic fracturing and state/federal regulation. My co-panelists will include experts from Colorado, Illinois, and California.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New methane emissions study: it may be much worse than we thought

A new study reported on here by The New York Times' Andy Revkin find that methane emission levels are 1.5-1.7 times higher than estimated by U.S. EPA.

Data on this issue have varied widely, and while more studies are forthcoming, these latest results are very troubling. One reason is that the study looked at atmospheric concentrations of methane in 2007-2008, tracing them to known emissions-producing sites, such as landfills, livestock ranches, and oil and gas facilities.  
That pre-dates a surge in unconventional oil and gas development.

Another reason is that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that methane is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale - a nearly 40% increase from the IPCC’s previous estimate of 25.

EPA has recognized the need to obtain more accurate data on methane emissions. But the new study raises some urgent questions.  

EPA recently reduced its estimate of methane emissions from natgas production.  Will these latest  results change that estimate? 

EPA's green completion rules go into effect in 2015. That is arguably not nearly soon enough. What can be done in the meantime?

Colorado has just announced aggressive steps to regulate methane emissions. Are they enough - even if copied by other states, which lag far behind?

What is clear is that the true level of methane emissions from all sources and across the natgas value chain must be definitively quantified as soon as possible. A robust and accurate monitoring system must be put into place as soon as possible - perhaps using some innovative methods. And methane emissions from all sources must be driven as close to zero as possible - by any means necessary.   

Friday, November 22, 2013

USGS releases two more reports on PA landscape industrialization

Two new reports from the U.S. Geological Survey document landscape change resulting from natural gas and coalbed methane development in Pennsylvania’s Sullivan, Wyoming, Armstrong and Indiana counties. That brings the total number of counties analyzed in USGS’ ongoing study of landscape disturbance in Pennsylvania to 18.

Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Sullivan and Wyoming Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010 that found that in Sullivan County, 8 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 59 acres of disturbance, including 1.5 miles of new roads. In Wyoming County, 22 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 145 acres of disturbance, including 2.8 miles of new roads and 1.4 miles of new pipelines. 

Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Armstrong and Indiana Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010 found that in Armstrong County, 1,912 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3,400 acres of disturbance, including over 320 miles of new roads and more than 39 miles of new pipelines. In Indiana County, 1,875 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3,689 acres of disturbance, including more than 355 miles of new roads and over 44 miles of new pipelines.

Spatially explicit data on the level of landscape disturbance…is critically important to the long-term study of the potential impacts of natural gas development on human and ecological health. 
Results of studies on 17 more counties in Pennsylvania will be released in the coming months. 

USGS’ work is vital. Pennsylvania’s future depends on how well this latest wave of Pennsylvania resource extraction is planned, executed, monitored and regulated.

November 22nd

November 22nd has always be a date when - for at least a moment or two - I reflect.

I grew up with a portrait of John F. Kennedy hanging on the dining room wall in our house - like many children of Irish Catholic families in the early 1960's (and much later).

My earliest memories in life are of November 24 and 25, 1963.  I was four years old.  I sat on the coffee table in the living room, next to my Mom, watching on our black-and-white television as John Kennedy's flag-draped coffin was moved from the East Room of the White House to the Capitol rotunda to lie in state. We watched the mourners stream into the Capitol that night.  And the funeral the following day.

Now, fifty years later, I can still see the flag-draped coffin atop the horse-drawn caisson. The riderless horse trailing behind, with boots reversed in the stirrups.  I can still hear the drums' haunting, mournful beat.  

I also remember the commemorative edition of Life magazine and the memorial books that were stored away in our attic. And I remember showing them - and that portrait - to my own son when we visited his grandparents.

John Kennedy's words and the dozens of books I read about him growing up - and since - shaped my interest in public service - and with it, much of my life.  

Heroes are often larger in death than they were in life, especially when death comes so suddenly and tragically. History can be a cruel - or at least a cynical - judge. But vision that endures and leadership that continues to inspire are true marks of greatness. They transcend cynicism, and put our present troubled democracy into stark relief. Through their example, heroes can provide the spark that keeps lit the torch that we must pass to future generations of Americans. In the final analysis - one of President Kennedy's favorite phrases - how brightly that flame still burns is our responsibility as citizens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Today's totally unsurprising headline: Jobs impact of shale drilling exaggerated

A new must-read study of six gas-drilling states - Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia - finds that the jobs impact of shale drilling has been exaggerated by both the industry and its supporters.

I'm shocked. Shocked.

The two most productive natgas wells on earth...

...may be in Pennsylvania.

Even at today's low natgas prices of $3.35 per thousand cubic feet of gas, the top well produces over $100,000 worth of gas per day.

And these wells are not necessarily unique. As The Wall Street Journal has reported:
Natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale region is growing faster than expected...
Marcellus production has now reached 12 billion cubic feet a day…That's the energy equivalent of about 2 million barrels of oil a day, and more than six times the 2009 production rate.
For perspective, if the Marcellus Shale region were a country, its natural gas production would rank eighth in the world. The Marcellus now produces more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, and that glut has led to wholesale prices here that are about one-quarter of those in Japan, for example.
Policy always takes time to catch up to reality, but the astounding productivity of unconventional gas development in the Marcellus play begs some questions.  Here are four of them:

Will this productivity last? 

Is it economically sustainable?

Are we as a nation using this bounty wisely (and there are varying interpretations on this subject) to advance a climate-safe, renewable energy future?

Should the arguments against additional, more stringent regulation and taxation of the industry - at either the state or Federal levels - because they might inhibit development, really be taken seriously?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Natgas crucial to CA's renewable energy standard

California law requires that the state obtain 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020. A new report prepared jointly by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the California Independent System Operator Corporation describes the potential operating challenges of integrating variable sources of power into the state’s electricity system, which supports the ninth-largest economy in the world.

NERC and CISO say that “a 33-percent mix of renewables will make it difficult for the system operator to balance supply and demand in real time unless there are changes to existing practices,” and goes on to describe their recommendations. One of them is for generators in California to build or keep in service flexible power plants like natural gas-fired units that can quickly ramp up and down in response to changes in renewable power output.

Texas has reached a similar conclusion and pegged natgas as a tool to achieve a low-carbon economy.  CISO chief Steve Berberich says: 
Renewable generation provides a great basis for greening the grid and reducing the electric industry’s greenhouse gas footprint. Their intermittency can be supported by a clean and flexible gas generation fleet, which California is currently transitioning to. 
The Golden State  is again leading the nation and demonstrating wise use of natural gas to propel renewable energy, and build a short bridge to a renewables-based future. We need similar national energy policies - and a requirement for CCS for natgas plants.

Friday, November 15, 2013

CCUS networks beginning to take shape – outside the US

While myopic coal-state lawmakers in the US question the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage technology, the rest of the fact-based world moves on to deploy the technology and will reap the jobs and industrial development that accompany it.

This article describes the Middle East's first commercial scale carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) project, scheduled to come online in 2016 and store up to 800,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.  The United Arab Emirates project will use a 50 km-long pipeline to connect a steel plant with oil fields where the CO2 will be used to enhance oil recovery. It’s intended to be the first phase of an "industrial-scale CCUS network" in the UAR.

The utilization of captured CO2 – selling it to enhance oil production - is one way to create a revenue stream that offsets some of the currently high costs of the technology.  In one Canadian province, for example, wider deployment of CCS technology for EOR has been estimated to have the potential to store 30 to 40 megatonnes of CO2 per year and add over $1.5 billion annually in EOR revenues.  

What about the US?

According to this report from the Global CCS Institute, using CO2 for EOR in North America has been going on for more than 40 years, and was responsible for about 5% of U.S. oil production in 2006.  The US Department of Energy has estimated that currently, over 48 million tonnes per year of CO2 are used for EOR. About 80 per cent of that comes from naturally occurring geologic sources.  Only 20 per cent is captured from emissions from coal-to-natural gas, ammonia production, and natural gas separation and processing operations. DOE has also estimated that 45 billion barrels of additional domestic EOR production is economically recoverable. The production would require about 12.5 billion tonnes of CO2.

The domestic oil industry should be incentivized with smart policies to leave naturally-occurring CO2 deposits in the ground, and to meet their current needs – and the requirements of producing those additional 45 billion barrels of oil – from CCS.

Using captured CO2 for EOR is likely to be the cutting edge of how initial large scale CCS systems will be deployed. It will help to drive costs down further and enable wider deployment of a technology that is arguably vital if we are to save the planet - and our children - from the most disastrous effects of warming.

When and where will we see CCUS/CCS networks proposed in the US (besides the one PA proposed four years ago)?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Three new international reports, but same story

Last week, I wrote about a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis that found that the world is on pace to blow through its carbon emissions budget in two decades.  Three other new reports tell the same depressing story.

Actual global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. 
Yet, the report also finds: 
the increase in global CO2 emissions in that year slowed down to 1.1%...which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. This development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving. 
So in 2012, the runaway emissions train may not have accelerated quite as fast as in previous years. Does that really signal anything? After all, emissions are still growing.

While trying to be hopeful about the reported decrease in emissions growth, The Guardian’s Duncan Clark points out that there are real questions about the accuracy, comprehensiveness and reliability of the data. Plus, one year does not a trend make.  And remember, too, that ours is an inequitable world of considerable energy poverty. As I mentioned here, globally over 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. Reducing that energy poverty will require immense amounts of new energy to be generated.

Two other reports are without such glimmers of hope.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2013 finds that we are on pace to almost double the internationally-accepted target of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which would avoid some of the worst impacts of climate disruption: 
In our central scenario, taking into account the impact of measures already announced by governments to improve energy efficiency, support renewables, reduce fossil-fuel subsidies and, in some cases, to put a price on carbon, energy-related CO2 emissions still rise by 20% to 2035. This leaves the world on a trajectory consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of 3.6 °C, far above the internationally agreed 2 °C target. 
And the difficulty, cost, and risks of insufficient action are all growing. The United Nations Environment Programme released its Emissions Gap Report 2013 that finds:
as emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise rather than decline, it becomes less and less likely that emissions will be low enough by 2020 to be on a least-cost pathway towards meeting the 2° C target. As a result, after 2020, the world will have to rely on more difficult, costlier and riskier means of meeting the target– the further from the least-cost level in 2020, the higher these costs and the greater the risks will be. 
 It’s hard to be hopeful about the world we’re leaving to our children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

PA House Committee advances terrible endangered species bill

The PA House Game and Fisheries Committee today approved a truly bad bill that would eviscerate protections for endangered species in the Keystone State.  The bill would take the protection of endangered species out of the hands of trained biologists and other professionals and place it in the hands of politicians.

The bill - and frankly, the motivations that are behind it - are cynical, ugly, and destructive.  It is, in the words of PA Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway, "critically flawed," and "a huge step backward in Pennsylvania's conservation history." 

It is also a self-inflicted wound that the the natural gas industry and others will come to regret if it's approved and signed into law. 

It's not too late to stop the industry-funded advance of this terrible, destructive policy idea. Contact your state representative today and urge them to oppose this truly bad bill. Hold those who vote in its favor to account.  Or accept the consequences.

Wood Mackenzie: fracking faces global water risks

A new study by the global energy, mining, and metals consulting giant Wood Mackenzie finds that many of the countries with the greatest promise for developing shale oil and gas suffer from water shortages.  That is a troubling reality for an industry that relies on a technology that requires millions of gallons of water to develop each well it drills.

Troubled waters ahead? Rising water risks on the global energy industry (abridged) finds that more than 60 percent of shale reserves are in countries with medium to high levels of water stress, such as China, Australia, and South Africa. That fact – coupled with United Nations estimates that fresh water supplies may fall as much as 40 percent below overall global demand by 2030 - will increase the conflicts over water use for human consumption, agriculture, mining, energy development and generation. That will result in more limits on access to water sources, rising costs, tighter regulations, and possible litigation, Wood Mackenzie said.

The growing – if not ominous – competition for water also looms larger here in the US. Ceres has found that half of the unconventional oil and gas wells drilled in the US in 2011-2012 were drilled in water-stressed areas.

Recycling of water, use of brines or other nonpotable water sources like acid mine drainage in PA can help to ease water conflicts.  But they will not come close to eliminating them. Can the oil and gas industry afford these risks?  Can they afford to be shut out of new development opportunities? Can they afford not to drive to waterless fracking?  The business case for moving urgently in that direction grows clearer by the day. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Can bats survive White Nose Syndrome and a renewable energy future?

White Nose Syndrome has killed around 6 million American bats in the last seven years. Bat populations in Pennsylvania and at least 21 other US states and 5 Canadian provinces have been devastated with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent. The outlook for bats from this menace is grim

But the news for bats gets worse.

A new study published in the journal BioScience estimates that more than 600,000 bats died from interactions with wind turbines in the continental United States last year alone – and that estimate is almost surely on the low side.

Can bats survive this double blow?

During my time at Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), I started and led the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative – an effort that involved federal and state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, and the wind power industry.  Over four years of work by PWWC led to a voluntary cooperative agreement between wind companies and the PA Game Commission, and the nation’s first comprehensive siting standards for wind power development. But even that groundbreaking work to find the delicate and elusive balance that preserves the natural world and allows climate-saving technology to be deployed may not be enough in the face of the challenges bats face.

Clearly, we must preserve existing bat habitats - not only caves, but forests. This is critical, to provide conditions that would support population recovery. Voluntary agreements may need to become requirements.  But we also need to expand – or at least not dismantle - protections for endangered species.  There’s an extraordinarily ill-advised bill moving in Harrisburg that would severely compromise those protections. It would be very bad public policy to weaken protections for endangered species, or limit the state's ability to add species - like more kinds of bats - to the list. 

On existing wind farms, we need to move to regulations that stop turbine blades from spinning during predictable, high-risk periods, like when wind speeds are low.  That has demonstrated reductions in bat fatalities of up to 93%, with only marginal losses in total annual energy production.  And we need to urgently advance R&D for using acoustic deterrents to limit bat/turbine interactions. There have been promising results, but the technology is apparently not yet ready for deployment.

But there’s another reality that needs to be faced. Without these measures – and perhaps more - a renewable energy-dominated future will vastly increase the risk to bats.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has concluded that it’s possible to get 80% of America’s energy from renewables by 2050.  Wind currently provides about 3.5% of US energy. In NREL’s 80% renewables scenario, wind would provide more than 40% of the nation’s electricity, a more than eleven-fold increase over the next four decades.

That would come on top of an immense amount of landscape industrialization - construction of 110-190 million miles of new transmission and 47-80,000 miles of new intertie capacity. Habitat destruction and fragmentation would be unavoidable and widespread.

Can bats survive White Nose Syndrome and a renewable energy future? We must urgently find ways to answer "yes" for both.