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Thursday, June 27, 2013

USGS: US could store 500 years worth of power plant emissions underground

On the heels of President Obama’s unveiling of his national climate change action plan, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has released the first-ever detailed assessment of national geologic carbon sequestration potential – how much carbon dioxide could be safely and permanently stored using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The USGS finds that the U.S. has the potential to store about 3,000 metric gigatons of CO2 in geologic basins throughout the country. The total storage potential in 36 basins around the country is more than 500 times the 2011 annual U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.

The assessment is the first to identify technically accessible carbon storage capacity - those that can be accessed using today's technology and pressurization and injection techniques. The most common method is to pressurize CO2 gas into a liquid, and then injecting it into subsurface rock layers for long-term storage.

USGS says:
This assessment goes further than all previous assessments in considering the viability of sequestration.  For example, all areas with groundwater sources that are considered freshwater by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards were eliminated from consideration for carbon storage resource potential in this assessment.  In addition, the rock layers included in the assessment were limited to those determined to have sufficient natural seals to prevent CO2 from escaping.  This assessment also focused only on rock layers located at depths at which CO2 would stay under sufficient pressure to remain liquid.
The study did not evaluate economic viability or the accessibility of storage resources due to land-management or regulatory restrictions.

The geologic carbon sequestration assessment includes these publications:

USGS continues to refine the science that must underpin the application of CCS to power plants and industrial facilities. Amid loud and continued calls for the advancement of CCS to combat the looming catastrophe of global climate disruption, the multi-faceted question of its economic viability must receive urgent attention.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will PA and the nation heed the President's climate change action call?

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a strong and ambitious Climate Change Action Plan.  I applaud and thank him for his leadership and courage in the face of certain opposition from "The Flat Earth Society” that's comprised of fossil fuel interests and much of the Republican Party, and an abdication of leadership by Congress.  The President will need the support of all Americans to move his plan forward.

In his inspiring speech, the President noted that “Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  Pennsylvania has a climate change action plan, but - while it's probably included in the President's total - it unfortunately appears that little action has been taken to implement it; indeed, the current Governor seems not to know anything about it

That plan could be a model for the nation.

Pennsylvania emits one percent of the entire planet’s greenhouse gas emissions and four percent of the U.S. total due to its reliance on coal-fired electricity.  It's also the nation's number four coal producer.  Despite - more than because of - those credentials, my former boss Governor Ed Rendell signed the bi-partisan Act 70 of 2008 -The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, which created a Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC) and required the preparation of a climate change action plan for the Commonwealth.

I had the privilege of serving as Vice Chairman of CCAC  during my tenure as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  During that time, CCAC developed a robust, detailed Climate Change Action Plan that promised a 30 percent reduction in Pennsylvania's greenhouse gas emissions below year 2000 levels by 2020.

For a "coal state" like Pennsylvania, that would be an immense achievement. But even larger reductions are possible.  The plan was written before the Keystone State's rise as "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas" with the advent of the Marcellus Shale boom.  Given the prominence the President gave to natural gas and its potential - smartly used - as our biggest available climate stabilization tool - even greater climate gains are possible. 

If Pennsylvania could do it, so could the rest of the nation.

The President said, "there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth."  Indeed, Pennsylvania's Climate Change Action Plan promised, in achieving that 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020, to create 65,000 new full-time jobs and add  more than $6 billion to the Commonwealth’s gross state product. That too, was pre-Marcellus, and even more economic gains are now possible while slashing emissions.

If Pennsylvania could do it, so could the nation.

The President said: 
The hard truth is carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades now. And even if we Americans do our part, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. The seas will slowly keep rising and storms will get more severe, based on the science. It’s like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop and then can shift into reverse. It’s going to take time for carbon emissions to stabilize.
So in the meantime, we’re going to need to get prepared. And that’s why this plan will also protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid. States and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready. 
As an outgrowth of Act 70, Pennsylvania has also developed a Climate Change Adaptation Plan.  It needs to be continually refined and immediately implemented.

If Pennsylvania can do it, so can the nation.

Pennsylvania is prepared to heed the President’s call. But will it – and the nation – and the world – act, and “refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing”?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Duke study finds methane in NEPA drinking water

A new study from researchers at Duke University has found elevated levels of methane and other stray gases in drinking water near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale region.

Previous peer-reviewed studies by Duke scientists found direct evidence of methane contamination in drinking water wells near shale-gas drilling sites in the same region, as well as possible connectivity between deep brines and shallow aquifers, but no evidence of contamination from fracking fluids.

The latest study again finds no evidence of fracking fluids migrating into drinking water supplies.

The probable cause of the methane contamination, the study says, is improper gas well construction - leaking steel pipes and poor cementing of natural gas wells.  Still, naturally occurring methane is ubiquitous in water wells throughout the study region - a fact corroborated by a recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. So, the picture still is not crystal clear.

The bottom line – Duke’s work is solid and important.  It points to several conclusions:

  • There is an acute need for baseline water quality testing before drilling occurs to identify drinking water characteristics. Pennsylvania and most of the rest of the nation are woefully behind on that front, and the lack of baseline data will continue the controversy.  
  • There is a need to monitor water quality as drilling occurs and long afterwards.  
  • Most importantly, natural gas drillers must perform at the highest level - every well, every time - and avoid mistakes that can lead to contamination. Failure is not an option, and is inexcusable.
  • There is a co-equal need for state regulations, inspections, and enforcement to be equal to the task of protecting drinking water.  That includes - in Pennsylvania, at least - the need to regulate the currently unregulated construction of private water wells.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The President's climate plan could be a huge opportunity for natural gas

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to announce a plan to reduce the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels. That could present a huge opportunity for natural gas’ prospects globally.

The opportunity can be seen in two reports.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that natural gas will continue to increase its share of the global energy mix, growing at 2.4% per year between now and 2018. However, that projected growth rate is lower than the IEA’s forecast last year of 2.7%.   

IEA’s Medium-Term Gas Market Report sees gas emerging as a significant heavy-duty transportation fuel, driven by abundant supplies as well as concerns about oil dependency and air pollution, once the dearth of fueling infrastructure is addressed.

While the report projects growth in gas’ share of the global energy mix, IEA says that gas faces challenges. In the United States, in the absence of policy constraints on coal-fired plants, recovering gas prices will prompt coal to regain some of its share of the power market, putting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions from the power sector back on a growing track. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that is already happening - natural gas consumption by U.S. power plants has dropped 10% in 2013, and is projected to fall by an additional 12% in 2014.  
The policy landscape is about to change.
  • Non-conventional production will remain a North American phenomenon in the medium term. The United States alone represents over one-fifth of the global increase in gas production, benefiting from technological developments and cost-efficient field services. Exploration in other regions continues, but is hindered by geology, infrastructure and environmental constraints as well as lack of social acceptance.
  • Natural gas plays a major role in addressing air quality concerns in China. China will account for 30% of the growth of global gas demand. Despite the country’s impressive progress on domestic production, this still puts China on a path of increasing import dependency: In the next five years, China absorbs the entire production increase from Central Asia as well as one-third of the global increase in LNG [liquid natural gas] supply.
  • The tightness of LNG supply enables some recovery of Russian exports to Europe. Nevertheless, in the longer term, Russia will be able to maintain its premier position in the world of gas only by developing the resources and infrastructure for large-scale Asian exports.   
The Invisible Hand is not an effective energy or climate policy.  The President’s plan will bear close scrutiny, and will need support - perhaps especially by the natural gas industry.