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Friday, September 27, 2013

Speaking today at Widener University Law School

I'm speaking today at Widener University Law School in Harrisburg at a first-of-its-kind conference on sustainability and Marcellus Shale development.  I’ll be a panelist for a discussion on Environmental Sustainability. 

In particular, I'll be talking about making the business case for environmental sustainability.  It involves creating a way to fully recognize and account for all of the risks and costs of unconventional oil and gas development, and how to value water in that process. 

I believe that this kind of approach could propel advances in technology and best practices - and improve regulators' response to this rapidly evolving practice.  These improvements could minimize - and maybe even eliminate - most of the current, much-debated risks of the unconventional oil and gas development. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How will EPA’s new carbon limits impact coal in PA?

StateImpact PA has posted this article asking that question.  

I'm quoted in the article, discussing what I believe is the essential path for coal - and natural gas - to have a future in our energy mix if we are to avoid disastrous climate disruption. That path is to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) in carbon management networks.

CCS technology is available and working today. But there are huge hurdles to be overcome in deploying it at commercial, planet-saving scale.  CCS is expensive to build and to operate.  It reduces electricity output from plants that would use it.  It requires massive storage capacity - capacity that is available, but which can be difficult to assemble.  For those reasons, and others, CCS has been painfully slow to develop.

Under Governor Edward G. Rendell's leadership, Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) - partnering with the Clinton Climate Initiative - did some of the most advanced work in the nation, and indeed the world, on CCS.  I was privileged to lead that work.  We proposed the world's first carbon management network - multiple emitters connected to a shared pipeline and a centralized storage facility.  The Pennsylvania network was estimated to have the ability at its inception to capture ten percent of the state's carbon emissions (PA is the #3 CO2 emitting state and emits 1% of the planet's CO2 emissions).  The network at full operation would have been able to cut the state's emissions by a third. 

By taking advantage of economies of scale and sharing infrastructure, the Clinton Climate Initiative estimated that the costs of a Pennsylvania carbon management network would be significantly lower than any CCS project in operation or proposed at the time - anywhere in the world. The economics could have been further improved by selling some of the captued CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and enhanced gas recovery. DCNR's work found that both are possible in Pennsylvania, and the opportunities for EOR especially are huge in many parts of the country.

Here are links to the reports prepared by DCNR:

How will EPA’s new carbon limits impact coal in Pennsylvania, and elsewhere? The answer to that question depends on whether, how, and when CCS technology can achieve commercial scale. Other nations pursuing CCS are embracing the model that was developed in Pennsylvania four years ago.  The roadmap has already been drawn. 

Will it be followed?  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Studies: full climate and health costs of energy make renewables and natgas no-brainers, and switch save millions of lives

Two new studies strongly – and urgently - argue for a more realistic accounting of the true costs of energy and reducing global warming pollution.

The first study, published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (JESS), says that wind, solar and natural gas are cheaper electricity sources than coal-fired plants if climate change costs and health impacts are measured.

The study used official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels.  It concluded that if the costs to climate and public health of coal-fired power – what economists call externalities - were included in cost calculations, replacing coal plants with cleaner energy sources is a no-brainer.

Study co-author Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains the results of the study in this blog:
For existing generation, we find that after taking into account all their costs, including climate change and health impacts, it would be less costly to replace many existing coal plants with new cleaner generation than to keep them operating. Replacement power from wind, natural gas, and natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be justified based on the climate and health damages avoided by switching to these cleaner options. Under some scenarios, so would solar photovoltaic and coal with CCS.
Another new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, puts a human face on the same issue.  It says that greenhouse gas mitigation efforts would pay for themselves in health benefits alone.  The study finds that reduced emissions would prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year and save up to three million lives annually by the end of the century.

The paper says:
The benefits of avoided air pollution mortality [from particulates that aggravate illnesses such as asthma and emphysema, and ground-level ozone, a component of smog which triggers respiratory problems] justify substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, apart from other benefits of slowing global climate change.
The paper calculates health savings of up to $380 for every ton of CO2 removed from the earth’s atmosphere – and far higher in densely populated areas experiencing rapid industrialization. In China, emission reductions could deliver health savings as high as $840 per ton of CO2, according to the study.

Recognizing all of the costs of energy production – internalizing the externalities - is a huge regulatory, political, and societal challenge.

Do we have the wisdom and the will to meet it?  Millions of lives depend on it.