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Friday, November 22, 2013

USGS releases two more reports on PA landscape industrialization

Two new reports from the U.S. Geological Survey document landscape change resulting from natural gas and coalbed methane development in Pennsylvania’s Sullivan, Wyoming, Armstrong and Indiana counties. That brings the total number of counties analyzed in USGS’ ongoing study of landscape disturbance in Pennsylvania to 18.

Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Sullivan and Wyoming Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010 that found that in Sullivan County, 8 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 59 acres of disturbance, including 1.5 miles of new roads. In Wyoming County, 22 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 145 acres of disturbance, including 2.8 miles of new roads and 1.4 miles of new pipelines. 

Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Armstrong and Indiana Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010 found that in Armstrong County, 1,912 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3,400 acres of disturbance, including over 320 miles of new roads and more than 39 miles of new pipelines. In Indiana County, 1,875 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3,689 acres of disturbance, including more than 355 miles of new roads and over 44 miles of new pipelines.

Spatially explicit data on the level of landscape disturbance…is critically important to the long-term study of the potential impacts of natural gas development on human and ecological health. 
Results of studies on 17 more counties in Pennsylvania will be released in the coming months. 

USGS’ work is vital. Pennsylvania’s future depends on how well this latest wave of Pennsylvania resource extraction is planned, executed, monitored and regulated.

November 22nd

November 22nd has always be a date when - for at least a moment or two - I reflect.

I grew up with a portrait of John F. Kennedy hanging on the dining room wall in our house - like many children of Irish Catholic families in the early 1960's (and much later).

My earliest memories in life are of November 24 and 25, 1963.  I was four years old.  I sat on the coffee table in the living room, next to my Mom, watching on our black-and-white television as John Kennedy's flag-draped coffin was moved from the East Room of the White House to the Capitol rotunda to lie in state. We watched the mourners stream into the Capitol that night.  And the funeral the following day.

Now, fifty years later, I can still see the flag-draped coffin atop the horse-drawn caisson. The riderless horse trailing behind, with boots reversed in the stirrups.  I can still hear the drums' haunting, mournful beat.  

I also remember the commemorative edition of Life magazine and the memorial books that were stored away in our attic. And I remember showing them - and that portrait - to my own son when we visited his grandparents.

John Kennedy's words and the dozens of books I read about him growing up - and since - shaped my interest in public service - and with it, much of my life.  

Heroes are often larger in death than they were in life, especially when death comes so suddenly and tragically. History can be a cruel - or at least a cynical - judge. But vision that endures and leadership that continues to inspire are true marks of greatness. They transcend cynicism, and put our present troubled democracy into stark relief. Through their example, heroes can provide the spark that keeps lit the torch that we must pass to future generations of Americans. In the final analysis - one of President Kennedy's favorite phrases - how brightly that flame still burns is our responsibility as citizens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Today's totally unsurprising headline: Jobs impact of shale drilling exaggerated

A new must-read study of six gas-drilling states - Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia - finds that the jobs impact of shale drilling has been exaggerated by both the industry and its supporters.

I'm shocked. Shocked.

The two most productive natgas wells on earth...

...may be in Pennsylvania.

Even at today's low natgas prices of $3.35 per thousand cubic feet of gas, the top well produces over $100,000 worth of gas per day.

And these wells are not necessarily unique. As The Wall Street Journal has reported:
Natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale region is growing faster than expected...
Marcellus production has now reached 12 billion cubic feet a day…That's the energy equivalent of about 2 million barrels of oil a day, and more than six times the 2009 production rate.
For perspective, if the Marcellus Shale region were a country, its natural gas production would rank eighth in the world. The Marcellus now produces more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, and that glut has led to wholesale prices here that are about one-quarter of those in Japan, for example.
Policy always takes time to catch up to reality, but the astounding productivity of unconventional gas development in the Marcellus play begs some questions.  Here are four of them:

Will this productivity last? 

Is it economically sustainable?

Are we as a nation using this bounty wisely (and there are varying interpretations on this subject) to advance a climate-safe, renewable energy future?

Should the arguments against additional, more stringent regulation and taxation of the industry - at either the state or Federal levels - because they might inhibit development, really be taken seriously?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Natgas crucial to CA's renewable energy standard

California law requires that the state obtain 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020. A new report prepared jointly by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the California Independent System Operator Corporation describes the potential operating challenges of integrating variable sources of power into the state’s electricity system, which supports the ninth-largest economy in the world.

NERC and CISO say that “a 33-percent mix of renewables will make it difficult for the system operator to balance supply and demand in real time unless there are changes to existing practices,” and goes on to describe their recommendations. One of them is for generators in California to build or keep in service flexible power plants like natural gas-fired units that can quickly ramp up and down in response to changes in renewable power output.

Texas has reached a similar conclusion and pegged natgas as a tool to achieve a low-carbon economy.  CISO chief Steve Berberich says: 
Renewable generation provides a great basis for greening the grid and reducing the electric industry’s greenhouse gas footprint. Their intermittency can be supported by a clean and flexible gas generation fleet, which California is currently transitioning to. 
The Golden State  is again leading the nation and demonstrating wise use of natural gas to propel renewable energy, and build a short bridge to a renewables-based future. We need similar national energy policies - and a requirement for CCS for natgas plants.