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Friday, June 7, 2013

The pesky 58%

The Los Angeles Times reports today on a statewide poll in California that contains some ominous numbers for the shale oil industry – numbers that echo concerns here in Pennsylvania about shale gas development. The Times writes:

More than half of voters — 58% — say they favor a moratorium on the process of injecting chemicals deep into the ground to tap oil and natural gas deposits embedded in rock until an independent commission has studied its environmental effects. More than seven in 10 say they either want the process banned outright or more heavily regulated, according to the poll by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times.

Almost three in five voters said fracking should be prohibited in areas immediately surrounding sources of groundwater.

Last month, in a poll by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College, an identical 58% of Pennsylvania voters supported "strongly" or "somewhat" a moratorium on gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

There are a lot of reasons for those numbers.  Lack of both information and transparency. Incidents and accidents. Weak government oversight. And industry insistence on drilling in special places.

The stakes are high.  Pennsylvania has been referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas”, and California is home to one of the world's largest deep-shale oil reserves, according to the Times, “accounting for roughly two-thirds of such oil reachable by fracking nationwide.” 

The shale industry’s social license to operate is clearly in jeopardy. There is an urgent need for more study of potential impacts of unconventional drilling on human health, the environment, and the climate.  The industry needs to plan better, perform at ever-higher levels, and innovate faster.  Governments – state and Federal - need to enact stronger regulations,  enforce them, and continuously evaluate their effectiveness. Otherwise, that pesky 58% could grow enough to halt the unconventional gas [and oil] revolution in its tracks.”  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

USGS releases 4th study of PA landscape industrialization from natgas development

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has published the fourth study in its excellent  series of quantitative analyses of landscape disturbance from natural gas development in Pennsylvania.

Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Fayette and Lycoming Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010 found that in Fayette County, 1297 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 4,360 acres of disturbance, including 290 miles of new roads and 2 miles of new pipelines.

In Lycoming County, 83 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 1,040 acres of disturbance, including 22 miles of new roads and 45 miles of new pipelines.

USGS noted in releasing the report that "Large-scale landscape disturbance can have a significant impact on ecological resources and the services they provide.”  The data from these reports will be used to assess the effects of disturbance and land-cover change on wildlife, water quality, invasive species and socioeconomic impacts, among other investigations.

As I’ve said, at this early stage of Pennsylvania’s shale gas era, we are looking at the tip of the development iceberg.  What will Penn’s Woods look like when this era ends? Our state’s future depends on how well this latest wave of Pennsylvania resource extraction is planned, executed, and regulated.

Natgas and climate: It’s all about leverage

A new study from The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) finds that increased domestic use of natural gas as a replacement for other fossil fuels such as coal or oil can continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but gas must ultimately be used to support the deployment of more renewable energy to effectively combat climate disruption.

Leveraging Natural Gas to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions reaches a number of conclusions and recommendations that should be familiar to readers of this blog:

The expanded use of natural gas—as a replacement for coal and petroleum—can help our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near- to mid-term, even as the economy grows.
Substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels cannot be the sole basis for long-term U.S. efforts to address climate change because natural gas is a fossil fuel and its combustion emits greenhouse gases. To avoid dangerous climate change, greater reductions will be necessary than natural gas alone can provide. Ensuring that low-carbon investment dramatically expands must be a priority. Zero-emission sources of energy, such as wind, nuclear and solar, are critical, as are the use of carbon capture-and-storage technologies at fossil fuel plants and continued improvements in energy efficiency.
Along with substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels, direct releases of methane into the atmosphere must be minimized. It is important to better understand and more accurately measure the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production and use in order to achieve emissions reductions along the entire natural gas value chain.
The report makes a number of sector-specific conclusions and recommendations:
  • Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar can be complementary components of the power sector. Natural gas plants can quickly scale up or down their electricity production and so can act as an effective hedge against the intermittency of renewables. The fixed fuel price (zero) of renewables can act a hedge against potential natural gas price volatility.
  • It's important to encourage the efficient direct use of natural gas in buildings, where natural gas applications have a lower greenhouse gas emission footprint compared with other energy sources.
  • The efficient use of natural gas in the manufacturing sector needs to be continually encouraged, and policy – especially at the state-level - is needed to overcome existing barriers to deployment of combined heat and power systems.
  • Natural gas-related technologies, such as microgrids, microturbines, and fuel cells, have the potential to increase the amount of distributed generation used in buildings and manufacturing. These technologies can be used in configurations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared with the centralized power system.
  • The greatest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using natural gas in the transportation sector is through fuel substitution in fleets and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Transmission and distribution pipelines must be expanded to ensure adequate supply for new regions and to serve more thermal loads in manufacturing, homes, and businesses. 

As the report clearly demonstrates, natural gas can be an effective tool in the fight against climate disruption, but it is no substitute for - and must be used effectively in - a comprehensive and smart energy policy