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Friday, September 20, 2013

UCS: There’s a climate ceiling on natgas use for electricity

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists affirms what other smart energy thinkers and the International Energy Agency have concluded: that a transition from a coal- to a natural gas-dominated electricity system would not be sufficient to meet U.S. climate goals. Instead, UCS finds that a diversified electricity system—with much greater roles for renewable energy and energy efficiency and a “modest” role for natural gas— would “both limit the threat of climate change and mitigate the risks of an overdependence on natural gas.

Gas Ceiling: Assessing the Climate Risks of an Overreliance on Natural Gas for Electricity asks the question: is there an appropriate role for natural gas in a low carbon future?

The answer is yes – but a qualified one. Steve Clemmer, UCS’  director of energy research, Clean Energy, writes about the study in this blog:
While simply replacing coal with natural gas in the electricity sector would not be an effective long-term climate strategy, natural gas does offer some important advantages in the near to medium term. With sufficient regulatory oversight, burning natural gas instead of coal could help reduce air pollution, providing immediate public health and environmental benefits.  And because natural gas generators can be ramped up and down quickly, they could support the integration of wind and solar, provide increased flexibility to the electricity system, and continue to be used to meet peak demand. Natural gas plants that generate both heat and power— which are up to twice as efficient as plants that only generate electricity— and plants that deploy carbon capture and storage technology could also play a role in reducing global warming emissions from natural gas.
The UCS report makes a number of important policy recommendations on power plant emissions, clean energy, leveling the energy playing field, better resource planning, and a favorite of mine - stronger regulation of natgas production.  It's essential reading. 

There is a limited - and short-term - role for natural gas in a low carbon future.  Even with new regulations coming on GHG emissions from power plants, the role of natgas in our energy future can be larger and longer only if CCS is required on natgas plants.   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Study: Failure to tackle climate disruption now risks global near-depression

A new study from scientists from Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, University of Melbourne, The Technical University of Berlin, and the Mercator Research Institute, published in Environmental Research Letters, warns that delaying CO2 emission reduction policies to confront global climate disruption would make emission reduction efforts more expensive and more than triple short-term mitigation costs, leading to severe economic consequences. 

The study, Economic Mitigation Challenges: How Further Delay Closes the Door for Achieving Climate Targets, estimates a 2% reduction in economic growth if a global agreement on an effective climate regime is reached by 2015.  But if countries delay til 2030 in adopting comprehensive emissions reductions and fail to act to ensure “full availability” of climate-saving technologies, a 7% reduction in global economic growth is likely.  

Lead author of the study Gunnar Luderer of Potsdam Institute said that those impacts “are comparable to the costs of the financial crisis the world just experienced." 

USGS releases latest studies of PA landscape industrialization from natgas development

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has published two new reports – the latest of a larger series - that document and quantify the landscape disturbance from Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling industry.

The latest studies look at 4 counties with comparatively little drilling activity.

Agricultural and forested areas are being converted to natural gas extraction disturbance. Beaver County had little natural gas development between 2004 and 2010 and, therefore, little related disturbance. On the other hand, Butler County had more, although not extensive, natural gas development divided relatively evenly between Marcellus and non-Marcellus drilling. Despite the small amount of natural gas development in Butler County, it has slightly altered the landscape structure and forest conditions.  
Neither Lackawanna County nor Wayne County was the location of substantial natural gas development. While the few sites developed were located in forest or on agricultural land, the effects of such development were too small to register with the metrics in use.  
As I’ve written when earlier studies in this series came out, this is important work, even in these early years of the Keystone State’s shale gas era. Pennsylvania’s future depends on how well this latest wave of Pennsylvania resource extraction is planned, executed, and regulated.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

UCS publishes summary report of fracking forum

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a summary of its forum on Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking that was held in Los Angeles in July. 

The summary provides details on the wide-ranging discussions of the working groups and the public forum.  Along with videos from the event and a fracking information toolkit, these resources are great additions to the public discussion of unconventional oil and gas development. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New report supports low estimates of methane emissions from drilling

A new paper on methane emissions from natural gas production that was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that estimates of methane escaping from gas drilling made by the Environmental Protection Agency are fairly accurate.  Indeed, the findings - the study is the most comprehensive done to date - suggest that they are 10% lower than EPA estimates - putting production-related methane emissions at 1.6-1.7% of production. That is far lower than some indirect studies of leakage that rang climate alarm bells.

Andy Revkin of The New York Times has written this extensive, must-read blog about the study.  I can add little - except to say that the latest results neither absolve the gas industry from further action nor diminish the case for stronger rules and tougher enforcement to minimize fugitive methane emissions from gas drilling - and throughout the value chain.  The results certainly validate the efficacy and importance of EPA's rule requiring green completions beginning in 2015. They should take effect earlier.  

This study is not the last word.  As Revkin notes, more studies are forthcoming.  They are essential, timely, and urgently important.  More data, and better, comprehensive monitoring techniques are needed to understand the issue and drive regulation, compliance, and enforcement.