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Friday, December 20, 2013

The immense value of conservation in a changed, disrupted climate

I’ve blogged about the job-creating value of public lands conservation, the competitive advantage afforded to regions that conserve their natural assets, and the ecosystem service value that conservation provides.

Now, Resources for the Future has published an important and exemplary study that quantifies the value of conservation in a world imperiled by global climate disruption.

Flooding and Resilience: Valuing Conservation Investments in a World with Climate Change looks at the Meramec Greenway in Missouri – a 108-mile long area of mostly forested protected lands along the Meramec River.

In the twentieth century, flooding caused more deaths and property damage in the United States than any other natural disaster. Most climate models predict that flooding will worsen in the future, a prospect that is leading a growing number of communities to explore the use of natural areas as protection against extreme events. These areas are currently providing flood mitigation benefits. They store floodwaters and lessen the flow to area streams and rivers; in coastal areas, they may protect against storm surge and flooding from hurricanes.

Perhaps most important, by remaining undeveloped, they reduce exposure to storms. But how much more valuable will the lands become if floods are more frequent or severe in the future

(T)he greenway provides a substantial flood mitigation benefit right now, even before considering increased risks from climate change. According to our estimates, the current protected lands yield an average annual benefit in the form of avoided flood damages of $13.1 million a year, or about $6,000 per acre. If climate change causes peak discharges to rise by 30 percent, an increase consistent with some of the (limited) literature on how climate change will affect flood risks in the region, the benefits of the greenway are $4.5 million higher. If peak discharges rise by 50 percent, which we look at as an upper bound, the benefits of the greenway are $7.9 million higher. If the frequency of flood events doubles, the benefits double. And finally, if the frequency of only the worst events doubles (the 100-, 250-, and 500-year events), we find that the benefits increase by just $1.2 million, or 9 percent.
The climate resilience benefits of conservation are very real - and huge. Consider that these "returns" to the citizens of Missouri from this single greenway will go on - and will likely rise substantially - year after year. It sure beats the stock market.

Now consider the climate resilience benefits of conservation in a state like Pennsylvania – one of the most flood-prone in the nation.  

RFF has provided a model for smart communities, states, and other levels of government to use, refine, and apply for their own protection - and for their long term prosperity. Citizens get it.

How can we not afford to invest in conservation? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PA Supremes declare gas drilling's local zoning preemption unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared key provisions of the state's Act 13 of 2012 which eliminated local control over shale gas drilling unconstitutional

The Court's decision can be found here.

The decision is an important elucidation of the state Constitution's environmental rights amendment, contained in Article 1, section 27.  See pages 114-119 of the decision.
The court also found unconstitutional another section of Act 13 that allowed the Department of Environmental Protection to grant waivers for setback requirements from water sources, and sent the issue of the Act 13's "physician gag rule" back to a lower court.

The Court said many important things in this decision, among them:
By any reasonable account, exploitation of the Marcellus Shale
Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the
people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the
public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal
Somewhere, George Santayana is smiling.

New study on shale gas development and property values finds mixed results

A new study from Resources for the Future finds that shale gas development affects the value of nearby homes differently, depending on distance from a well, how long ago the nearby well was drilled, and whether the home relies on a well for its water supply.

The Housing Market Impacts of Shale Gas Development used data from New York and Pennsylvania and finds that: 
For homes that depend on groundwater, the closer they are to a shale gas well, the worse off they are (e.g., at 1.5km, a shale gas well decreases values by 4 percent but at 1km it decreases values by 22 percent).
For homes that have access to piped water, being within 1.5km or 2km increases their value (by 3 to 6 percent), likely due to royalty payments, but being closer (i.e., within 1km) does not affect values.
At a regional level (within 20km), recently drilled wells have a positive effect on property values. This “boomtown” effect, however, is temporary and fades one year after the well’s drilling.
The results are not surprising, but the research is important to understanding the complex impacts of shale gas development.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Report: transporting and using shale gas for industrial purposes has big GHG impact

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project says that projects that have been proposed over the last two years to transport shale gas or use it as a feedstock or fuel in industrial processes could increase greenhouse gas emissions by 91 million tons - equal to the emissions from 20 coal-fired power plants.

The shale gas boom has unleashed a tidal wave of proposals to build new compressors and pipelines, and expand chemical, fertilizer, and petroleum plants that depend on natural gas for feedstock or fuel. Since January 1, 2012, these industries have proposed or already obtained Clean Air Act permits that authorize a 91 million ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions — as much as the output from twenty large (500 megawatt) coal-fired power plants. This total does not include new emissions from proposed gas-fired power plants or the multitude of smaller wells, gas processing plants, compressor stations, and flares springing up across the landscape in shale-gas rich states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
The true climate impact of the shale gas revolution is complicated.  This sobering report points out further complications from natgas transmission and downstream use. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New research: fracking chemical spills can disrupt human hormones

This story from NationalJournal reports on new research published in the journal Endocrinology that finds that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing "can disrupt the body's hormones, namely reproductive hormones. Such chemicals seep into drinking water at natural-gas drilling sites during spills or accidents, and can interfere with endocrine functions when they enter the body".

This risk can be avoided or minimized by replacing these chemicals with with benign chemicals and waterless fracking technologies.

What will be the regulatory response?  When will the business case for pursuing these twin solutions reach the tipping point to bring them into standard use?

Monday, December 16, 2013

In search of benign fracking chemicals

This article describes Apache Corporation's efforts to reduce the volume and toxicity of chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing operations. It's an excellent primer on fracking chemicals and the search for safer alternatives. 

The article says that the amount of chemicals used in a frack job is "minute": "Water and sand make up 98 to 99.5 percent of the hydraulic fracturing fluid, with the exact formulation varying from well to well." So, the remaining 0.5 to 2 per cent is comprised of chemicals. 

But these small percentages translate into big volumes of chemicals. If the average frack job used five to six million gallons of water - as it does it the Marcellus play, for example - that means that each operation uses between 25,000 and 120,000 gallons of chemicals

The article points out a number of co-benefits of reducing hazardous chemical use to exploration and production companies. Reduced chemical volumes not only save money outright but translate into fewer truck trips - saving more money, local air quality, reducing damage to local roads, and improving public safety. Further, eliminating volatile organic compounds would sharply reduce the risk of public health impacts (as would a requirement to use closed-loop, closed container systems for fluid handling).  

These cost and risk reductions are part of the strong, growing business case for sustainable shale gas development.

Apache's search for more benign chemicals is exemplary. The industry must embrace a race to the top on benign chemical use. And start a similar race to waterless fracking