Follow me on Twitter: @JohnHQuigley

Friday, February 1, 2013

50/50 gas and renewables in 30 years?

This post at Climate Desk says it might be possible: 

Natural gas and renewables complement each other very nicely,” Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said this morning at a press conference for the release of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s 2013 Factbook, an exhaustive analysis of the state of clean energy in America...The report, based on a blend of original and existing government research, is unequivocal in placing natural gas in the same “clean energy” boat as renewables, a new arrangement Resch and Dave McCurdy, head of the American Gas Association, agreed they were happy to see.

RAND: PA must go BACT to the future on natgas air pollution

The Rand Corporation has issued an important study that provides “a first-order estimate” of air pollutant emissions (excluding CO2 and methane) from unconventional shale gas development in Pennsylvania. 

Estimation of regional air-quality damages from Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania examined four sources of air pollution from natural gas production: truck traffic, emissions from well sites during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the use of diesel engines, fugitive emissions from the wellhead, and emissions from compressor stations. It measured four pollutants related to gas drilling activity: volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter.

RAND’s key finding is that compressor stations are responsible for 60% to 75% of air pollution from gas activities in the Keystone State.  But there is a caveat, at least as it related to the subject of fracking.

It is worth stressing that a substantial portion of emissions estimated here are not specifically attributable to the ‘unconventional’ nature of shale gas. Natural gas compressor stations are necessary to produce and distribute natural gas from any source, from conventional to biomethane.

The study offers this perspective:

While statewide emissions from the extraction industry are relatively small compared to some other major sources of air pollution in the state (e.g., SO2 from GW-scale coal-fired power plants), these emissions sources are nevertheless a concern in regions of significant extraction activities.

RAND offers advice to regulators:  

Our estimates indicate that regulatory agencies and the shale gas industry, in developing regulations and best practices, should account for air emissions from ongoing, long-term activities and not just emissions associated with development, such as drilling and hydraulic fracturing, where much attention has been focused to date.

That is sage advice, for two reasons.  First, as RAND points out:

…most development activities do not constitute ‘major sources’ under federal air-quality regulations. Especially for those counties that already suffer from high levels of air pollution (i.e., those in or near Clean Air Act non-attainment status), these new activities may make meeting federal air-quality standards more difficult…Existing regulations may therefore not be well-suited for managing emissions from a substantial number of small-scale emitters.

Secondly, there is the much larger, looming long-term issue.  Shale gas development is still in its infancy in Pennsylvania. 11,500 Marcellus wells have been permitted and 6,700 shale wells drilled so far.  That number could grow to over 200,000 wells (a conservative number, in my view). The number of compressor stations will similarly grow, as will the air pollution from them – unless strong, forward-looking regulations are put into place, now. 

RAND urges that regulators require the use of Best Available Control Technologies (BACT) for compressors, “these include lean-burn engines, non-selective catalytic reduction, or electrification, measures.”  That advice must be heeded.

On the same day, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection released new air quality permit rules for natural gas production sites.  DEP’s proposed rules bear very close scrutiny in light of RAND’s fortuitously-timed findings.  Pennsylvania’s future – and the health of its citizens – depend on it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What is the cost of not using renewable energy?

Frequent readers of this blog (there are a few of you) know that I often write about new studies. They’re usually voluminous and sometimes chock full of ugly equations sending those that click through hyperlinks hurriedly scrolling to find the executive summary.

But today I’m noting something a little different – a 10-page study.  And that’s including the bibliography.

I found this by reading David Roberts, writing in Grist. Roberts reports on a “clever” new study from Germany’s World Future Council.  The study - The Monetary Cost of the Non-Use of Renewable Energies- A First Study - attempts something novel – quantifying the financial costs of not using renewable energy.

The idea is pretty simple. When we use finite fossil fuels to generate energy, rather than the inexhaustible, renewable alternatives, we make those fossil fuels unavailable for non-energetic uses (think petrochemicals) in the future. In other words, when we burn fossil fuels for energy, we are needlessly destroying valuable industrial capital stock…

Here’s the conclusion:

Protecting the use of increasingly valuable fossil raw materials for the future is possible by substituting these materials with renewables. Every day that this is delayed and fossil raw materials are consumed as one-time energy creates a future usage loss of between 8.8 and 9.3 billion US Dollars. Not just the current cost of various renewable energies, but also the costs of not using them need to be taken into account. [my emphasis]

Got that? Every day we use fossil fuels for energy, we steal $9 billion from future people who will need those fossil fuels for non-substitutable industrial uses.

The exact numbers here are, like numbers in all economic modeling, probably going to turn out to be wrong. [It is, as the authors state explicitly, a first study – JQ.] My guess is they are on the low end, but there are so many assumptions required that, really, who knows.

Roberts points out that the paper highlights an important conceptual point.  The costs of shifting to more sustainable practices and technologies usually dominate analytical approaches:

But the choice is not costs or no costs: the status quo carries costs too. Every day we stick with the status quo, we are increasing the costs our descendants will pay for the inevitable, unavoidable transitions to more sustainable systems. (Relatedly: the cost of reducing carbon emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming rises every year.)

The question is not costs or no costs, but about the balance of costs and benefits, and perhaps more importantly, who pays the costs and who receives the benefits. Right now we are imposing huge and growing costs are our descendants in exchange for temporary, unsustainable benefits today. That is the farthest thing from “fiscal conservatism.”

Worth thinking about.  Hard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NWF Report: Climate change happening much faster than wildlife able to respond

A new study by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says animals - already stressed from the effects of pollution and habitat loss - are struggling to adapt to global climate disruption - "the biggest threat wildlife will face this century."

NWF’s Wildlife in a Warming World says that while animals have adapted to natural climate variation since the beginning of time, now, with the climate warming rapidly, many animal and plant species are shifting their ranges to colder areas - at a rate two to three times faster than scientists anticipated.  But the climate changes are happening much faster than they are able to respond:

"The underlying climatic conditions to which species have been accustomed for thousands of years are rapidly changing, and we are already witnessing the impacts…Already there is evidence that climate change is causing declines in species populations and localized extinctions…Exactly how many species go extinct will depend on how much the planet warms during the coming decades, with much higher extinction rates projected for higher temperature increases."

Consider the impact of an almost unimaginable 11 degrees of warming by 2100.

The report says:

We must embrace forward-looking goals, take steps to make our ecosystems more resilient, and ensure that species are able to shift ranges in response to changing conditions. At the same time, we need to protect our communities from climate-fueled weather extremes by making smarter development investments, especially those that employ the natural benefits of resilient ecosystems.

It recommends a four-pronged approach:
  1. Cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030;
  2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels;
  3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation; and
  4. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.
There is an economic cost to this unfolding catastrophe. Wildlife contributes "hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs each year to the U.S. economy.  Bats, for example, contribute up to $3 billion of pest control services each year – $250 million of that in Pennsylvania alone.

But this issue goes vastly beyond economics.  Mankind is conducting the largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment in history – changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere - what Peter Gleick has aptly described as “a thin film…around the planet only ~10 miles high.”

The decimation of wildlife from climate disruption is fundamentally and profoundly a moral issue. What will our response be?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

U.S. EPA seeks experts to participate in hydraulic fracturing study technical workshops

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled the  final four technical workshops for its study of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. EPA is seeking subject-matter experts to participate in the workshops. Nominations will be accepted through February 22, 2013.

The workshops:
  • Well Construction/Operation and Subsurface Modeling – April 16-17
  • Wastewater Treatment and Related Modeling – April 18
  • Water Acquisition Modeling: Assessing Impacts Through Modeling and Other Means – June 4
  • Hydraulic Fracturing Case Studies – June 5

Following the workshops, EPA will schedule technical roundtables "to discuss outcomes from the process."