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Thursday, April 4, 2013

WRI working paper on methane emissions a must-read

The World Resources Institute has just released this must-read working paper: Clearing the Air: Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Natural Gas Systems that presents straightforward solutions to the crucial problem of minimizing fugitive methane emissions from natural gas production. 

The measures urged by WRI include
requiring “Green Completions” of natgas wells, applying existing technologies that minimize emissions, detect, and repair leaks, and using existing legal authority like the federal Clean Air Act to drive further reductions.

WRI’s paper is an essential document.  We must go further - and minimize high leakage rates in natgas distribution infrastructure.

Citigroup: Renewables and shale gas in a symbiotic relationship

This Dave Roberts piece in Grist is a must-read.  It describes a report issued by Citigroup last September entitled Shale & renewables: a symbiotic relationship that finds that, contrary to fears – largely unrealized – that  cheap shale gas could displace renewable energy generation, gas and renewables “could in fact be the making of each other in the short term” because renewables are reaching cost parity with conventional fuels in many parts of the world - driving additional demand for them – but also driving demand for more gas-fired peaking power, which is in many ways essential for (renewable energy’s) large-scale adoption.”

This echoes important work by the Worldwatch Institute on using gas strategically in energy policy to drive a low-carbon economy.

So, Citi see natural gas as a bridge to a renewable future – though in climate terms, it may more accurately be viewed as a hedge against the most catastrophic warming.

Roberts summarizes:

Shale gas will not swamp and displace renewables, it will help them. Renewables will become cheaper than fossil fuels in the medium- to long-term. It’s happening now in some places, it will happen in others soon. Obviously the rise of renewables could be accelerated by policy, and should be. It won’t happen fast enough to avert the worst of climate change without a policy boost.

That policy boost cannot come too quickly, or too aggressively.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

USGS issues another report on landscape impacts of PA natgas development

After documenting landscape changes resulting from natural gas development in Pennsylvania’s Bradford and Washington counties in 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey continues its great work, last week issuing another report measuring similar changes in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny and Susquehanna Counties

The study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Allegheny and Susquehanna, Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010," looks at landscape change resulting from construction of well pads, new roads and pipelines for natural gas and coalbed methane exploration, to help determine the potential consequences for ecosystems and wildlife.

Using highly accurate geospatial data and high resolution aerial imagery from 2004-2010, USGS researchers found that in Allegheny County, 647 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 531 hectares of disturbance, including 226 kilometers (140 miles) of new roads and 13 kilometers (8 miles) of new pipelines. 

In Susquehanna County, 294 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 705 hectares of disturbance, including 55 kilometers (34 miles) of new roads and 86 kilometers (53 miles) of new pipelines. 

What I wrote here about the Bradford and Washington county data also applies to Allegheny and Susquehanna counties: Even though the disturbance represents well less than one percent of the total land area of each county - and even though some of the disturbance will eventually be reclaimed when wells are completed; plus, cleared rights of way for pipelines and roads should shrink somewhat post-construction - these are very significant numbers

Plus, we are still in the early stages of shale gas exploration in Pennsylvania – as of this writing, 12,000 Marcellus gas wells have been  permitted in Pennsylvania, and 6,800 have been drilled, out of a potential of 200,000 or more wells over the next several decades.  The cumulative impacts of this development are - and will be - daunting.

Monday, April 1, 2013

National climate change adaptation strategy for fish, wildlife, plants released

Last Tuesday, the Obama administration released the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Adaptation Strategy, which contains recommendations for “natural resource administrators, elected officials, and other decision makers” on actions to address the threats climate change poses to wildlife and natural resources.

The Strategy begins with this model of understatement:

Our climate is changing, and these changes are already impacting the nation’s valuable natural resources and the people, communities, and economies that depend on them. These impacts are expected to increase with continued changes in the planet’s climate system, putting many of the nation’s valuable natural resources at risk. Action is needed now to reduce these impacts (including reducing the drivers of climate change) and help sustain the natural resources and services the nation depends on.

It then goes on, as summarized by this ClimateProgress article, to discuss seven important goals that would help wildlife adapt to climate change:

  1. Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions, including identifying new areas to protect;
  2. Update or develop agency species, habitat, and land and water management plans, programs and practices to consider climate change; 
  3. Enhance capacity for effective management in a changing climate by natural resource managers;
  4. Support adaptive management through integrated observation and monitoring of the impacts of climate change on natural resources and use of decision support tools like risk assessments for priority species and habitats;
  5. Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife, and plants to a changing climate; 
  6. Increase public awareness and motivate action to safeguard fish, wildlife, and plants in a changing climate; and 
  7. Reduce non-climate stressors like habitat degradation to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate.

These goals are imperative for any natural resource manager worthy of the name, and have been characterized as an “urgent call to action” for government officials.  But as described in the strategy, they are "non-binding" recommendations. That word, alas, timidly speaks for itself.

There is no question that we have already locked in an alarming level of climate disruption It is irreversible, and poses a threat to wildlife – and to human life – that goes far beyond non-binding recommendations.