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Friday, November 15, 2013

CCUS networks beginning to take shape – outside the US

While myopic coal-state lawmakers in the US question the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage technology, the rest of the fact-based world moves on to deploy the technology and will reap the jobs and industrial development that accompany it.

This article describes the Middle East's first commercial scale carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) project, scheduled to come online in 2016 and store up to 800,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.  The United Arab Emirates project will use a 50 km-long pipeline to connect a steel plant with oil fields where the CO2 will be used to enhance oil recovery. It’s intended to be the first phase of an "industrial-scale CCUS network" in the UAR.

The utilization of captured CO2 – selling it to enhance oil production - is one way to create a revenue stream that offsets some of the currently high costs of the technology.  In one Canadian province, for example, wider deployment of CCS technology for EOR has been estimated to have the potential to store 30 to 40 megatonnes of CO2 per year and add over $1.5 billion annually in EOR revenues.  

What about the US?

According to this report from the Global CCS Institute, using CO2 for EOR in North America has been going on for more than 40 years, and was responsible for about 5% of U.S. oil production in 2006.  The US Department of Energy has estimated that currently, over 48 million tonnes per year of CO2 are used for EOR. About 80 per cent of that comes from naturally occurring geologic sources.  Only 20 per cent is captured from emissions from coal-to-natural gas, ammonia production, and natural gas separation and processing operations. DOE has also estimated that 45 billion barrels of additional domestic EOR production is economically recoverable. The production would require about 12.5 billion tonnes of CO2.

The domestic oil industry should be incentivized with smart policies to leave naturally-occurring CO2 deposits in the ground, and to meet their current needs – and the requirements of producing those additional 45 billion barrels of oil – from CCS.

Using captured CO2 for EOR is likely to be the cutting edge of how initial large scale CCS systems will be deployed. It will help to drive costs down further and enable wider deployment of a technology that is arguably vital if we are to save the planet - and our children - from the most disastrous effects of warming.

When and where will we see CCUS/CCS networks proposed in the US (besides the one PA proposed four years ago)?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Three new international reports, but same story

Last week, I wrote about a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis that found that the world is on pace to blow through its carbon emissions budget in two decades.  Three other new reports tell the same depressing story.

Actual global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. 
Yet, the report also finds: 
the increase in global CO2 emissions in that year slowed down to 1.1%...which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. This development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving. 
So in 2012, the runaway emissions train may not have accelerated quite as fast as in previous years. Does that really signal anything? After all, emissions are still growing.

While trying to be hopeful about the reported decrease in emissions growth, The Guardian’s Duncan Clark points out that there are real questions about the accuracy, comprehensiveness and reliability of the data. Plus, one year does not a trend make.  And remember, too, that ours is an inequitable world of considerable energy poverty. As I mentioned here, globally over 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. Reducing that energy poverty will require immense amounts of new energy to be generated.

Two other reports are without such glimmers of hope.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2013 finds that we are on pace to almost double the internationally-accepted target of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which would avoid some of the worst impacts of climate disruption: 
In our central scenario, taking into account the impact of measures already announced by governments to improve energy efficiency, support renewables, reduce fossil-fuel subsidies and, in some cases, to put a price on carbon, energy-related CO2 emissions still rise by 20% to 2035. This leaves the world on a trajectory consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of 3.6 °C, far above the internationally agreed 2 °C target. 
And the difficulty, cost, and risks of insufficient action are all growing. The United Nations Environment Programme released its Emissions Gap Report 2013 that finds:
as emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise rather than decline, it becomes less and less likely that emissions will be low enough by 2020 to be on a least-cost pathway towards meeting the 2° C target. As a result, after 2020, the world will have to rely on more difficult, costlier and riskier means of meeting the target– the further from the least-cost level in 2020, the higher these costs and the greater the risks will be. 
 It’s hard to be hopeful about the world we’re leaving to our children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

PA House Committee advances terrible endangered species bill

The PA House Game and Fisheries Committee today approved a truly bad bill that would eviscerate protections for endangered species in the Keystone State.  The bill would take the protection of endangered species out of the hands of trained biologists and other professionals and place it in the hands of politicians.

The bill - and frankly, the motivations that are behind it - are cynical, ugly, and destructive.  It is, in the words of PA Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway, "critically flawed," and "a huge step backward in Pennsylvania's conservation history." 

It is also a self-inflicted wound that the the natural gas industry and others will come to regret if it's approved and signed into law. 

It's not too late to stop the industry-funded advance of this terrible, destructive policy idea. Contact your state representative today and urge them to oppose this truly bad bill. Hold those who vote in its favor to account.  Or accept the consequences.

Wood Mackenzie: fracking faces global water risks

A new study by the global energy, mining, and metals consulting giant Wood Mackenzie finds that many of the countries with the greatest promise for developing shale oil and gas suffer from water shortages.  That is a troubling reality for an industry that relies on a technology that requires millions of gallons of water to develop each well it drills.

Troubled waters ahead? Rising water risks on the global energy industry (abridged) finds that more than 60 percent of shale reserves are in countries with medium to high levels of water stress, such as China, Australia, and South Africa. That fact – coupled with United Nations estimates that fresh water supplies may fall as much as 40 percent below overall global demand by 2030 - will increase the conflicts over water use for human consumption, agriculture, mining, energy development and generation. That will result in more limits on access to water sources, rising costs, tighter regulations, and possible litigation, Wood Mackenzie said.

The growing – if not ominous – competition for water also looms larger here in the US. Ceres has found that half of the unconventional oil and gas wells drilled in the US in 2011-2012 were drilled in water-stressed areas.

Recycling of water, use of brines or other nonpotable water sources like acid mine drainage in PA can help to ease water conflicts.  But they will not come close to eliminating them. Can the oil and gas industry afford these risks?  Can they afford to be shut out of new development opportunities? Can they afford not to drive to waterless fracking?  The business case for moving urgently in that direction grows clearer by the day. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Can bats survive White Nose Syndrome and a renewable energy future?

White Nose Syndrome has killed around 6 million American bats in the last seven years. Bat populations in Pennsylvania and at least 21 other US states and 5 Canadian provinces have been devastated with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent. The outlook for bats from this menace is grim

But the news for bats gets worse.

A new study published in the journal BioScience estimates that more than 600,000 bats died from interactions with wind turbines in the continental United States last year alone – and that estimate is almost surely on the low side.

Can bats survive this double blow?

During my time at Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), I started and led the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative – an effort that involved federal and state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, and the wind power industry.  Over four years of work by PWWC led to a voluntary cooperative agreement between wind companies and the PA Game Commission, and the nation’s first comprehensive siting standards for wind power development. But even that groundbreaking work to find the delicate and elusive balance that preserves the natural world and allows climate-saving technology to be deployed may not be enough in the face of the challenges bats face.

Clearly, we must preserve existing bat habitats - not only caves, but forests. This is critical, to provide conditions that would support population recovery. Voluntary agreements may need to become requirements.  But we also need to expand – or at least not dismantle - protections for endangered species.  There’s an extraordinarily ill-advised bill moving in Harrisburg that would severely compromise those protections. It would be very bad public policy to weaken protections for endangered species, or limit the state's ability to add species - like more kinds of bats - to the list. 

On existing wind farms, we need to move to regulations that stop turbine blades from spinning during predictable, high-risk periods, like when wind speeds are low.  That has demonstrated reductions in bat fatalities of up to 93%, with only marginal losses in total annual energy production.  And we need to urgently advance R&D for using acoustic deterrents to limit bat/turbine interactions. There have been promising results, but the technology is apparently not yet ready for deployment.

But there’s another reality that needs to be faced. Without these measures – and perhaps more - a renewable energy-dominated future will vastly increase the risk to bats.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has concluded that it’s possible to get 80% of America’s energy from renewables by 2050.  Wind currently provides about 3.5% of US energy. In NREL’s 80% renewables scenario, wind would provide more than 40% of the nation’s electricity, a more than eleven-fold increase over the next four decades.

That would come on top of an immense amount of landscape industrialization - construction of 110-190 million miles of new transmission and 47-80,000 miles of new intertie capacity. Habitat destruction and fragmentation would be unavoidable and widespread.

Can bats survive White Nose Syndrome and a renewable energy future? We must urgently find ways to answer "yes" for both.

Monday, November 11, 2013

MIT's Climate CoLab posts video of geoengineering and hydraulic fracking panel

MIT's Climate CoLab has posted the livestream broadcast of the Geoengineering & Hydraulic Fracturing breakout session from last week's superb 2013 Crowds & Climate conference.  I participated in the session virtually.

Our breakout session was very interesting and provocative.  It featured intriguing proposals, with great co-panelists and presenters. However, the livestream - inexplicably, from a bit after the 32 minute mark on - is composed mostly of the view from my webcam. So, for far too much of the broadcast, I loom electronically like the Great and Powerful Oz. Just listen to the audio.