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Friday, March 22, 2013

U.S. coal to gas switch stalls

As I wrote here, the recent major drop in U.S. CO2 emissions - thanks in part to cheap natural gas made available by the shale boom displacing coal as the fuel of choice for electricity generation - was likely temporary.  

As Jesse Jenkins writes today for theenergycollective, gas prices are rebounding, and as a consequence, so is coal consumption.  U.S. carbon emissions - and that of other harmful air pollutants - will go back up.

Just as the U.S. climate gains went up in smoke on a global level as the U.S. exported cheap coal to Europe and Asia, the recent U.S. carbon gains were temporary - and illusory - when they need to be large and permanent.

If the U.S. is to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, abundant shale gas is hardly enough. We'll need more than a reliance on commodity prices and short-sighted self-congratulation.  We need an aggressive, comprehensive energy policy.

CO2 fracking eyed as one waterless alternative

Today is World Water Day. So, let's talk fracking.

As I've argued repeatedly, there are huge potential benefits - environmental, public health, and business - to be gained by eliminating the use of water and chemicals for fracturing shale in pursuit of natural gas.

This article in MIT's Technology Review describes one alternative fracking method that uses carbon dioxide. The technique could be especially useful - if hurdles are overcome - in arid regions where gas potential is high but water availability is not - China, South Africa, and Australia, for example. Perhaps even in Texas and California, where water scarcity and competing uses are growing issues for natural gas drillers.  

There are other waterless technologies being developed or researched. That work, in my view, must accelerate, and find the broadest possible application in shale gas development world-wide to eliminate the use of "a fragile and finite resource" in fracking - and all of the risks (and costs) it involves.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Center for Sustainable Shale Development a giant step forward

This is an enormously important development that has global implications for shale gas development and a sustainable energy future.  The leaders of the effort, its funders, and all of the stakeholders who committed almost two years of hard work and collaboration, are to be congratulated - and emulated. 

Footnote: This post was quoted in this EnergyWire story.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

EPA schedules webinar on fracking chemicals

As part of EPA’s Study of Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources, the agency recently held a technical workshop on Analytical Chemical Methods for subject-matter experts the study. EPA will be hosting a one-hour public webinar on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:00AM EDST to provide a summary of the workshop. 

The webinar will cover hydraulic fracturing matrices; trends in chemical usage; chemicals of concern; and the use of chemical tracers and indicators.

Information on how to participate in the webinar is here. 

Workshop materials and presentations are available here. 

UK report calls for "smart gas"

A new policy brief published by  The Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London calls for "judicious" use of the UK's shale gas resources to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

A UK "dash"for smart gas says that that an assumption of low prices and large unconventional reserves in the UK is "a risky option," and calls instead for "smart gas." That is, in the short run, the UK’s emissions can be reduced by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas-fired power, which emit less than half the carbon dioxide of coal-fired plants. But in the medium to long term, the report says, reliance on gas-fired power stations would not be consistent with the UK’s carbon targets unless it’s accompanied by the widespread introduction of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – the application of which could transform gas into a near-zero carbon energy source.  That will require that the inherent difficulties with the technology can be overcome.

The report also says that exploration and production of gas in the UK will have to be subject to “strict environmental standards upstream (e.g. at the wellhead to prevent fugitive emissions) and downstream (e.g. to ensure carbon dioxide is captured and stored safely)” and “robust policies to minimise visual impacts and maintain strict environmental, health and safety standards in the production process.”

Smart gas, the report says, includes using its capabilities to accomodate more renewable energy into the UK grid, along with energy storage, grid interconnection and demand management.

The report sums up:

In sum, natural gas will continue to be important during the transition to a low-carbon electricity system. But if the UK is to meet carbon targets in a least-cost way, there is only a limited window for baseload generation from gas-fired power plants with unabated emissions, during which time it should replace coal. Gas can only play a more significant role beyond the 2020s if CCS technology is deployed on a commercial scale.

Future energy policy will require a coherent portfolio approach to be successful. To secure the investment needed in new power plants and infrastructure this decade it is critical that clear and consistent policy decisions about the UK’s electricity generation are made now. 

Good advice from our cousins across the pond.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Study: 80% cut in U.S. oil consumption, carbon emissions possible by 2050

The U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory have released a new study that finds the United States has the potential to reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector by more than 80% by 2050.

The Transportation Energy Futures (TEF) study includes nine reports that identify possible paths to a low-carbon, low-petroleum future in the U.S. transportation sector, which accounts for 71% of total U.S. petroleum consumption and 33% of U.S. carbon emissions.

The TEF study finds that there is no single “silver bullet” solution for cutting transportation-related energy consumption and GHG emissions.  Achieving this goal will require an approach that combines strategies to:

  • increase fuel economy for all types of vehicles;
  • reduce transportation demand through smart growth strategies, increased use of mass transit, tele-working, tele-shopping, carpooling, and improvement of vehicle performance and freight service; and
  • expand use of low-carbon fuels, including biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen.

The global climate has already irreversibly changed, and the peril grows without aggressive action to slash carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy. The TEF study lays out part of the solution - and a challenge for our nation to shift to a sustainable path.  Will it be met?