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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Study: Marcellus drilling could choke on its own waste

The volume of drilling wastewater from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is growing and much of it is disposed of in deep injection wells in Ohio.  But a study from Ohio’s Kent State University published in the journal Water Resources Research says that could overwhelm Ohio’s disposal capacity and threaten natural gas development in Ohio’s Utica Shale.

The study, which analyzed Pennsylvania state data on gas production and wastewater generation for 2,189 gas wells, found that Pennsylvania generated about 20 million barrels (over 840 million gallons) of wastewater in 2011 , 7 million barrels (294 million gallons) of which were shipped to Ohio injection wells.  Ohio is projecting that its injection wells handled nearly 14 million barrels in 2012, more than half of that volume came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Pennsylvania does not have the geology necessary to accommodate deep well waste disposal.  There are only 5 such wells in PA.  Ohio can’t limit or ban the importation of the wastewater because the activity is protected under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.  

While the industry claims increased prevalence of wastewater recycling, the trend, if it continues, could be a real problem for Ohio, for Pennsylvania, for West Virginia - and for the natural gas industry.

As a side note, the study interestingly reported that Marcellus Shale horizontal wells are producing only about 35 percent as much wastewater per unit of gas recovered as conventional wells.  That is, on average, shale gas wells produced about 10 times the amount of wastewater as conventional wells, but they also produced about 30 times more natural gas.

The disposal dilemma is one of many factors that, in my view, should drive the natural gas industry to waterless, chemical-free fracking.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Study finds evidence of harm to animals from exposure to fracking wastewater; more study needed

A study from the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine has reported cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in farm animals and domestic pets that were exposed directly - through ingestion, respiration or skin contact - to the wastewater produced by fracking, or to groundwater or well water contaminated by produced water – brine-laden wastewater that comes out of the well after production begins.

The study, published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policyreportedly examined the claims of animal owners seeking answers to the death or ailments of animals in six states: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania Louisians, Colorado and Texas and found 24 cases where animals were “likely” affected by exposure to fracking operations.

The study said that making a direct link between animal harm and exposure to fracking wastewater is not possible, citing inadequate data stemming from the limited disclosure of fracking chemicals and non-disclosure agreements in lawsuits that seal testimony and evidence when they are settled. The study said that the lack of credible and comprehensive data and information is a major impediment to a robust analysis of the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

The study makes several recommendations to provide better assessments of potential health impacts of fracking:

·      prohibiting nondisclosure agreements “when public health is at stake;”
·      increasing food safety testing and research;
·      improving the monitoring of routes of exposure, including in water, soil and air; and
·      fully testing the air, water, soil and animals prior to drilling and at regular intervals after drilling is completed, and disclosing fully the chemicals used when hydrofracking.

The study, at minimum, seems to me to be an argument for the elimination of open wastewater pits and a requirement to use closed-loop, closed-container fluid handling systems in fracking operations, which minimize - but not eliminate - the potential for contamination. Such systems are in use by some drilling companies, particularly those that recycle drilling wastewater.
Clearly, more and better research is needed to fully assess the water-related risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and to develop sound policies, practices, and regulations to minimize them.

Report: CCS emission savings may be lower than predicted

International NGOs and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have called for rapid commercialization and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in the battle against climate change. But researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have released study, published in the journal Energy Policy, that claims that coal-fired power stations fitted with CCS could even have a greater overall impact on the environment than conventional natural gas-fired plants without CCS.

The study finds that CCS – if it’s ever deployed at commercial scale - may remove 90 per cent of CO2 emissions directly from coal and gas fired power plants, but only results in a 70 per cent cut in overall emissions produced on a life-cycle basis - once fuel processing and transport-related emissions, as well as leaks of methane from mines, wells, and pipelines are considered.

While a 70 per cent cut is still a significant CO2 emissions reduction, the authors warn that their findings result in "seriously underestimate(ing) the challenge of achieving a decarbonised electricity sector."

The authors note that if other environmental factors such as human toxicity, particulate matter formation, and fossil fuel depletion are taken into account, coal with CCS actually has a higher environmental impact than conventional gas-fired power. Still, they join with the rest of the world in calling for faster deployment of CCS technology.

The true CCS prize, in my view - if methane leakage is minimized - is gas-fired power with CCS, which could achieve near-zero carbon emissions, and emit no mercury, lead, or arsenic, and little soot

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Penn to launch fracking public health study

A coalition of researchers led by The University of Pennsylvania will study the impacts of natural gas fracking on public health.  

Like other studies - notably one proposed by Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System Foundation (to whom I have consulted in the past) - the Penn effort is dependent of receiving funding.

These studies, in my view, are urgently needed.

Swiss Re: global 92% low-carbon power possible; will we do it?

Global insurance giant Swiss Re has issued a report: Building a sustainable energy future: risks and opportunities that begins and ends with questions.  The first:

With an expanding population and world economy powered by oil, coal and gas, fossil fuels have become a large part of our daily lives. But this has come at a price: greenhouse gas emissions, which adversely affect our climate. How much higher will this price rise before we achieve a more sustainable energy system?

The report’s answers are at once hopeful and deeply troubling.   

International policymakers have set a target of 2°C as the maximum permissible increase in global warming. Even that may be disastrously highTemperature rises above 2°C, Swiss Re says, would lead to "irreparable" ecological damage and consequent harms to people, businesses, and economies.

The report analyses different future energy mix scenarios ranging from a future with no attempt to curb global warming; to more moderate scenarios of a “slow greening” of the economy and varying technological advances and political action.

In the report’s best-case scenario, low-carbon technologies could supply 92% of the global power supply by 2050.  But – and this is a big but - this would cap the global temperature increase at 3°C, a full degree above the international target. 

In the rest of the scenarios, emissions also exceed the 2°C limit, with unimaginable temperature increases of up to 5°C by the end of the century.

Swiss Re thus expects costly adaptation to be a major part of a global response to climate change. Swiss Re says that without any adaptive measures, climate risks “could become uninsurable in the most exposed locations.”

The report says:

If we want to tackle climate change while providing energy for a growing and developing world, there is no alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will require a fundamental change in the way we produce and consume energy. Based on the analysis of future climate and energy markets, renewable energy is set to become an increasingly important part of the electricity generation mix. But fossil fuel energy will remain the dominant energy source for power generation for quite some time. Supporting best practice approaches, efficiency gains and carbon capture and sequestration technologies are therefore of great importance to limit emissions as much as possible.

The report, providing a glimpse of what our global energy mix could look like in less than four decades, ends with another “fundamental question: which scenario will we opt for?”

The report has no answer for that.

New Energy Dimensions article posted

Energy Dimensions has published my article based on two recent blog posts: Gas Metaphors, Clear Thinking, and Avoiding Climate Catastrophe.

Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama on climate change

In his second inaugural address, President Obama has eloquently declared that tackling climate change and creating a sustainable energy future is central to our national purpose:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries we must claim its promise.

That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.

There is no more urgent national priority.