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Monday, December 29, 2014

As I've been saying

This Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article reports on the ongoing search for and testing of waterless fracking technologies. And this sponsored article reports on a plasma technology being applied to existing wells.

Frequent readers of this blog will find the material familiar - especially the comment by one service company official who told the Trib that his company's "technology can compete economically with water-based fracking when the cost of sourcing and disposing of water and potential environmental impacts are factored in."

I think that when it comes to deploying waterless fracking technologies, full recognition of and accounting for all of the costs and risks associated with the use of water and chemicals in fracking is the key. It's also the key to smart regulations governing the practice.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

New York bans fracking

Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks.

The New York State Department of Health's report on its review of fracking is here. And here's an annotated version of the same report from StateImpactPA.

Here in Pennsylvania, the New York report should add great weight to the already self-evident case for tougher, more comprehensive regulation - and for the urgent study of the the many unanswered questions about the public health, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Researchers: more study on fracking biocides needed

The subject of the use of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing has led to misleading headlines, and calls for vastly improved disclosure, for comprehensive reporting, for closing existing loopholes on chemical use, and for caution and more study. Now, a study on one class of fracking chemicals - biocides - underscore the need for caution and further study.

Biocides are chemicals that are added to hydraulic fracturing fluid to kill bacteria that can corrode well casings, reduce efficiency of oil and gas extraction, and produce (highly toxic) hydrogen sulfide gas. University researchers haves completed "the most comprehensive review to date of the environmental fate and toxicity of the biocides most commonly used in hydraulic fracturing fluids" and found that they are "largely unknown."

Biocides in Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids: A Critical Review of Their Usage, Mobility, Degradation, and Toxicity was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. According to a University of Colorado press release, the review of "more than 200 research papers, studies, and other literature" found that:

  • [L]ittle is known about what happens to these biocides if they are accidentally spilled on agricultural soil, enter surface or groundwater, or are exposed to the high temperature and pressure conditions in well boreholes...
  • None of the 16 major biocides used in hydraulic fracturing are specific to the oil and natural gas industry. All of them are used in other industrial processes and/or commercial products...
  • Of the 16 major biocides used in fracking, nine have been reported to have chronic toxicity effects (such as developmental, reproductive, mutagenic, carcinogenic, or neurological effects). Of the seven that have not shown any evidence of chronic toxicity, three may transform into intermediate products with toxic potential.
  • Based on currently available data, surface spills appear to be the most likely cause for environmental contamination by fracking fluids...
  • If inadvertently released into the environment, some biocides will primarily contaminate water and will thus be more mobile but also break down faster. Others will stick to soil and be less mobile and thus take longer to break down.
  • Many biocides degrade naturally in the environment, but some may transform into more toxic or persistent compounds.
  • Hardly anything is known about transformation, sorption and transport of fracking chemicals once injected into these deep formations, which have high temperature, pressure, salt and organic matter concentrations. Consequently, little is known about the type and toxicity of the compounds that return to the surface with produced/flowback water. More research is critically needed to understand these processes.
  • Several biocide alternatives exist but are rarely used because of higher costs and high energy demands or potential formation of toxic disinfection byproducts such as chloroform.
  • Environmental and human health risks associated with the use and disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids are not well understood due to lack of research.
Additional research is surely needed.  As is a drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking. Industry innovation can get us there; for example, according  to this publicity piece (caveat emptor), new technologies are being developed to replace water and chemicals for enhanced oil recovery from existing wells.  That innovation can be driven by better accounting and coupled with next-gen regulations to get us there faster. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Report: oil and gas industry has a long way to go on disclosure to investors

As regular readers of this blog know, the need for better disclosure of the chemicals used and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing is a frequent topic. Disclosure serves the public interest - and the industry's social license to operate

Demands for thorough disclosure by investors is a movement that merits close watching, if for no other reason than the weak industry response to it, according to a report issued last year.  Has it gotten any better since?

According to a just-released analysis, there's been some dramatic improvements at some companies, but the oil and gas industry as a whole has a long way to go.

Disclosing the Facts 2014 is a joint effort of As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management, and The Investor Environmental Health Network. Using publicly available information that the companies provide on their websites or in financial statements or other reports linked from their websites, the report benchmarks the public disclosures of 30 oil and gas companies on 35 key performance indicators and assesses five areas of environmental, social, and governance metrics:
  1. toxic chemicals; 
  2. water and waste management; 
  3. air emissions; 
  4. community impacts; and 
  5. management accountability, emphasizing quantitative disclosure
The findings for 2014:
As was the case with the 2013 scorecard, the results of this year’s scorecard demonstrate a widespread industry trend of underperformance in disclosing key performance metrics. Across the board, companies are failing to provide investors and the public with sufficient quantitative information to adequately understand and compare the risks and opportunities these companies present regarding their shale play operations.
Although industry-wide performance continues to lag investor expectations, several companies have significantly improved their disclosures over the past year. This change is consistent with continued close investor, public, and regulatory scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing activities as well as broader patterns of innovation within the industry, where companies deploy better practices and other companies follow in what we hope is a race to the top for best performance. Investors plan to continue pressing companies to adopt effective practices for managing the risks and impacts, and thus capturing the full value, of their hydraulic fracturing operations.
Companies should report data associated with their operational impacts using quantitative metrics, on a play-by-play basis, in order for investors to be able to rigorously assess company practices...
The report's conclusion is - or at least should be - self-evident: 
We believe companies implementing current best practices in operations and providing thoroughly transparent information about these efforts will: enhance the likelihood of securing and maintaining their social license to operate; reduce regulatory and reputational risks; reduce liabilities associated with poor performance, spills, contamination, and lawsuits; and thereby increase their access to capital.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Studies identify big targets for methane emissions reductions

Two new studies focus on big targets for substantially reducing methane emissions resulting from oil and gas drilling.

The first is a study of methane emissions from abandoned wells in Pennsylvania – a draft of which I blogged about here. The now-completed study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania finds significant methane emissions from 19 wells studied.  Scaling those results suggests that abandoned wells may account for between four and seven percent of methane emissions in Pennsylvania. 

More importantly, when the results are scaled up further to the estimated 3 million abandoned wells nationally, as lead researcher Mary Kang of Stanford University writes,  “the cumulative emissions from abandoned wells may be significantly larger than the cumulative leakage associated with oil and gas production, which has a shorter lifetime of operation.”

The paper calls for additional research to quantify these emissions nationally.  And while we’re at it, these wells must be systematically found and plugged.  

The second study, Methane Emissions from Process Equipment at Natural Gas Production Sites in the United States: Pneumatic Controllers, was published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. It was funded by the Environmental Defense Fund, which is doing superb work on the methane issue, along with ten oil and gas producers. 


According to this report, the study:
says two parts of the production process should be targeted for reduced methane emissions. Researchers…concluded that pneumatic devices and liquid unloadings pose the most risk to fugitive methane. And just a small percentage of each device tested account for the bulk of emissions.
More about the study, which supports the regulatory action of states like Colorado - and the case for strong, simple, and cost-effective Federal methane emissions regulations - here.

The two reports identify big targets for reducing methane emissions beyond EPA's green completion requirements that go into effect next year. Will regulators hit those targets?




Thursday, December 4, 2014

Researchers predict shale gas bubble - UPDATED, AGAIN...AND AGAIN

A team of petroleum engineers at the University of Texas at Austin has found that, contrary to Federal government estimates, Marcellus Shale production could peak in just five years, plateau, and then tail off quickly.

The results were reported in the journal Nature, and summarized by StateImpactPA:
shale gas production among the big four plays, including the Marcellus, is expected to level out in 2020. The EIA forecasts a shale gas plateau in 2040…
Bursting shale bubble predictions are not new. But the article may be the first to compare the government’s analysis of data with academic results.
“What we found surprising is that the best academic estimates that are being done today are more pessimistic than the best information used by the U.S. government,” said Rich Monastersky, an editor for Nature.
The news could put policy makers in a bind when it comes to making decisions on everything from projected state revenue to Philadelphia’s plans to become the East coast “energy hub.”
The bottom line?
“What this article shows is there’s a considerable amount of uncertainty in how much natural gas will be produced in the future in U.S. shale formations,” said Monastersky.

Dec. 16, 2014 update: EIA has responded in a letter to Nature that the article "provides a very misleading view of this important subject."

Dec. 18, 2014 update: Nature fires back.

Dec. 19, 2014 update: Petroleum geologist and energy consultant Arthur Berman weighs in on the side of the Nature piece.





Friday, November 28, 2014

MD Guv proposes nation's toughest fracking rules yet

Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has proposed some of the nation’s strictest regulations on unconventional gas development after a comprehensive 3 1/2-year review process.

In the last of a series of reports, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative’s Findings and Recommendations proposes an exhaustive list of requirements and practices. I’m very proud that they include a number of recommendations - including mandatory comprehensive gas development plans - which result from my work on the Governor’s initiative with the professionals of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Other highlights of the proposed requirements:

The report concludes: 
It is the judgment of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources that provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level. Some of the proposed best management practices have not been tested, and although we are confident that they will reduce the risks, some risks will remain, as is the case with all industrial activities. Best practices and rigorous monitoring, inspection and enforcement can reduce the risks to acceptable levels, but can not completely eliminate all the risks. Because knowledge and technology are continuously advancing, it will be necessary to adaptively manage shale gas development by requiring additional newly developed best management practices that provide improved protection for public health and the environment.
What will happen to these recommendations? Incoming governor-elect Republican Larry Hogan has criticized the lack of drilling in the state’s two shale gas counties. Ultimately, then, whether or not Maryland enacts the nation’s toughest fracking regs will be up to its citizens.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

World Bank: "the new climate normal" is anything but

A new report from the World Bank finds that the world is already locked in to warming that's 1.5°C above pre-industrial time, and without concerted action to reduce emissions, the planet is on pace for 2°C  warming by mid-century - and 4°C (7°F) or more “by the time today’s teenagers are in their 80s.”

Turn Down the Heat – Vol. 2 focuses on the risks of climate change to development in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Central Asia. It follows 2012’s Volume 1 that I blogged about here and a 2013 report that focused on the risks of climate change to development in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia.

Volume 2 says plainly:
The data show that dramatic climate changes, heat and weather extremes are already impacting people, damaging crops and coastlines and putting food, water, and energy security at risk...If the planet continues warming to 4°C, climatic conditions, heat and other weather extremes considered highly unusual or unprecedented today would become the new climate normal—a world of increased risks and instability. The consequences for development would be severe as crop yields decline, water resources change, diseases move into new ranges, and sea levels rise. The task of promoting human development, of ending poverty, increasing global prosperity, and reducing global inequality will be very challenging in a 2°C world, but in a 4°C world there is serious doubt whether this can be achieved at all. Immediate steps are needed to help countries adapt to the climate impacts being felt today and the unavoidable consequences of a rapidly warming world. The benefits of strong, early action on climate change, action that follows clean, low carbon pathways and avoids locking in unsustainable growth strategies, far outweigh the costs. Many of the worst projected climate impacts could still be avoided by holding warming to below 2°C. But, the time to act is now.
Clearly, the impacts and consequences of climate disruption will be unevenly and inequitably felt, with the poorest nations suffering the most. That is ethically unacceptable, and by itself demands vastly more of affluent nations.  But the impacts will be felt by all of us. Are we willing to allow the world that our children inherit to be a completely different world than we are living in today?


Monday, November 24, 2014

Simple steps can cheaply cut oil and gas methane emissions in half

Major US environmental groups have detailed how the federal government could cost-effectively cut methane emissions from oil and gas facilities by as much as 48 percent annually.

Waste Not: Common Sense Ways to Reduce Methane Pollution from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry is a summary of a report that will be released later this fall.  It's aimed at shaping new standards for methane pollution that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue later this year.

The summary was prepared by the Clean Air Task Force, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club and has been endorsed by the Environmental Defense Fund, Earthworks and Earth Justice.

The report’s key findings:

The oil and gas industry is the nation’s largest industrial source of methane… and the oil and gas sector is the second largest industrial contributor to overall climate pollution. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that the industry is releasing a lot more methane than is currently accounted for in government inventories.
EPA could reduce the sector’s methane pollution in half in a just few years by issuing nationwide methane standards that require common sense, low-cost pollution controls for the sector’s top emitting sources.  
They include: 
  • Require oil and natural gas companies to control leaks from all equipment at wellpads, gas processing plants, compressor stations, and large aboveground distribution facilities by regularly carrying out leak detection inspections. 
  • Require proven methane control technologies and practices for all equipment—both new and existing—throughout the industry. 
  • Require well operators to capture natural gas that would otherwise be released and sell it or use it on-site, instead of releasing it or flaring it. 
The report says that its estimates of the methane abatement potential of these steps
are conservative estimates based on government inventories. They don’t account for the research indicating that actual emissions could be twice the inventory estimates, or higher. The problem and the upsides of controlling it—are likely much greater.
Further,
The standards we recommend in this report would also significantly reduce emissions of other air pollutants, specifically smog-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic pollutants like benzene that cause cancer and are associated with a host of other health problems.
The cost of the recommended standards would be low—less than one percent of the industry’s sales revenue.
The report should be required reading for Federal – and state – regulators.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

UN: world (as we know it) needs net zero GHG emissions by 2100 at latest

A new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) finds that in order to limit global temperature rise to 2 degree Centigrade and head off the worst impacts of climate disruption, global carbon neutrality must be achieved by mid-to-late century.

Missing that mark would increase the risk of severe, pervasive, and in some cases irreversible climate change impacts, and drastically increase the costs of any possibility of still meeting the 2 degree goal.

Emissions Gap Report 2014 builds on the findings of the IPCC synthesis report issued earlier this month. It finds that greenhouse gas emissions must peak within the next ten years and fall by half by mid-century.  In the second half of the century, the world must achieve carbon neutrality between 2055 and 2070, followed by net zero of all greenhouse gas emissions between 2080 and 2100.

There's little new in this latest report. The challenge is immense.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Setting and achieving fracking chemical disclosure goals

Hot on the heels of yesterday's blog about Halliburton's acquisition of Baker Hughes and the uncertain future of the latter's exemplary full disclosure policy on fracking chemicals, a new article published in the Natural Resources Journal offers valuable guidance to officials charged with designing a disclosure regime.

Goal-Oriented Disclosure Design for Shale Oil and Gas Development was written by Kate Konschnik, Policy Director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law Program. Kate is an authority on the subject of chemical disclosure and last year published a seminal study of the serious shortcomings of FracFocus as a regulatory compliance tool.

The article suggests that ineffective disclosure requirements "risk undermining public confidence in the disclosure process and waste an important opportunity to put these disclosures to work." Officials designing disclosure requirements should clearly define their "goals for disclosure, the information end users need to target in pursuit of each goal, and the feedback loops those end users can trigger." 


The article helpfully walks through the design process for a disclosure regime that "fully informs" first responders and medical professionals.

A Harvard news release sums up the suggested approach:

By thinking through when target audiences need information, how they use information, and where they get their information, disclosure law designers can draft disclosure laws that will hit their mark.
That mark has so far been badly missed by state and federal regulators. The article is a must-read. 


Monday, November 17, 2014

Making a big deal an even bigger one

Earlier this year, Baker Hughes, a major provider of services for the oil and gas industry,  announced plans to begin disclosing all the chemicals it uses in fracking fluid, without exceptions for trade secrets. The exemplary policy went into effect on October 1st.

Now, another major service company - Halliburton - has purchased Baker Hughes.

At $34.6 billion, this is a big deal.  It would be an even bigger one - for the industry's social license to operate and for public confidence - if Halliburton adopted the Baker Hughes chemical disclosure policy.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Toothpaste and ice cream

A study of one component of fracking fluid - surfactants - has found chemicals used in ice cream, laxatives and toothpaste, according to new research from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback and Produced Waters Using Accurate Mass: Identification of Ethoxylated Surfactants was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry. It led to this misleading headline and simplistic story in The Washington Post:

Study: Fracking chemicals found in toothpaste and ice cream
Why misleading and simplistic? First, the article says that "Though the fluid is mostly water and sand..." That's true - on its face. But a typical frack job, in Pennsylvania at least, uses four to six million gallons of water - and that number is growing. And if you do the math, each frack job uses on the order of 25,000 to 120,000 gallons of chemicals. So, while the fluid is "mostly water," I'm not convinced that the use of tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals - even diluted, and some that are "no more toxic than common household items" - is inconsequential.

Much more importantly, surfactants are only one component of the fracking cocktail. The nature of the other chemicals are of serious concern. See, for example, this and this.


The Post story, in my opinion, did not perform a pubic service.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Support for fracking waning?

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that more Americans oppose hydraulic fracturing than support it.

The Pew post-election poll found that Americans oppose fracking by a margin of 47 percent to 41 percent - a turnaround in public opinion from March 2013, when more Americans (48 percent) favored expanded use of fracking than opposed (38 percent).

Surely, the unanswered questions on the impact of fracking on public health and climate disruption, and lack of transparency on chemical use and waste disposal, and general lack of confidence in regulation of the practice all played a role in this turnaround. 


One consequence of all of this is a growing movement to ban fracking locally, and to crowdsource oversight and monitoring of the industry. Clearly, the oil and gas industry's social license to operate is seriously fraying. 

Strong regulation of unconventional oil and gas development has been recognized as the key to economic growth. As current trends show, it's also the key to the industry's survival.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sobering climate - and other - realities on Veteran's Day

This post is about global climate disruption - but it applies to a lot more.

Coal has been the world’s fastest growing energy source for a decade - making large-scale CCS deployment - a matter of political will - all the more urgent.  If that's possible

Meanwhile in the US, ideology continues to blind on confronting the existential crisis of climate disruption, and grinds our politics to a destructive halt. Indeed, apathy generally reigns in our tattered democracy (despite the anomalous bright spot).


Today is Veteran's Day. Did generations of noble Americans serve and sacrifice so that we can abdicate our responsibilities as citizens - as the majority of us are doing? (Maddeningly, this post was categorized by the NYT as humor - but there's nothing funny about it.) 

All of which lead me to ask again: are we cooked - in more ways than one?


Monday, November 10, 2014

The global status of CCS

The Global CCS Institute has released its annual report on the state of CCS technology – technology that’s essential to avoiding catastrophic global climate disruption. Its central message is that CCS is no longer experimental, and it’s time to move to large-scale deployment “as part of a least-cost approach to climate change mitigation.”

The Global Status of CCS 2014 finds that there are: 
22 large-scale CCS projects in operation or construction around the world – double the number at the beginning of the decade.
There are a further 14 large-scale CCS projects in advanced planning, including nine in the power sector, many of which are anticipated to be in a position to make a final investment decision during 2015.
The report points out that now enhanced oil recovery is the main driver of CCS projects because of daunting economics, but the majority of CO2 will eventually have to be stored in dedicated geologic reservoirs.  Further, CO2 transportation infrastructure that will need to be built in the coming 30-40 years is "roughly 100 times larger than currently exists." These are two issues that, in my view, the Pennsylvania CCS model and its goal of carbon management networks could help address.

The report makes five key recommendations for moving CCS into large-scale global deployment: 
  • Financial and policy support for research, development, and demonstration of CCS technologies, and for full-scale CCS projects
  • Strong emission reduction policies that encourage CCS
  • Funding for exploration of storage capacity
  • Assistance to developing countries to deploy CCS and incentivizing the development of CCS technology development in carbon-intensive industries like cement, iron and steel and chemicals
It's past time for the world to commit to CCS technology as part of the toolkit of technologiespolicies, and approaches that can avoid the grim results of history's largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Waterless fracking getting closer?

This article is a good summary of some of the latest developments in what it calls "the next energy revolution" - waterless fracking. Specifically, it discusses the growing interest in using CO2 to deliver proppant downhole instead of water. There's some evidence to suggest that using CO2 instead of water could improve well productivity, according to the piece.

There's also a growing business case to drive waterless fracking technologies, as readers of this blog know. As I wrote hereI've argued - repeatedly - that full-cost accounting of all of the risks and costs associated with the use of water in fracking may make that business case for waterless technologies and get them deployed a lot sooner than under the current business-as-usual paradigm. And that the same accounting should drive the development of regulations that encourage the growth of these technologies.

By focusing on the essential issue of fracking's water use (and moving with equal speed to smart planning), there's an immense opportunity to advance sustainable unconventional oil and gas development and to strike the needed balance between energy development and natural systems.




Thursday, November 6, 2014

PA, ten years in

Pennsylvania's first shale gas well was drilled ten years ago

How time flies.

Here's where Pennsylvania stands today - by the numbers, from Marcellusgas.org
  • 15,507 permitted unconventional PA wells
  • 13,794 are horizontal wells 
  • 8,664 are drilled or under development
  • 5,547 have reported production values
  • 475 have been plugged
  • 80 new wells added in the last 21 days
  • 4,446 well-pads are permitted in the state

A third of the state's land area is leased for drilling. Pipeline and gathering line development, dotted by compressor stations, has yet to catch up to drilling.

Where will we be ten years from now? Seventy?





Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting the boom, avoiding the bust

This excellent blog Desmogblog.com post by Sharon Kelly vividly illustrates the wide gaps between the hype and the reality of Pennsylvania's shale gas boom. Areas of the state still caught in the bust part of previous boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction have not seen much improvement even though drilling is now occurring. Statewide, shale gas development is not driving job growth, and Pennsylvania has fallen to dead last in job creation among US states since January, 2011.

What's to be done? For starters, as I wrote here, officials at all levels must start thinking ahead - to not only plan for the inevitable day when the drill rigs go away, but to develop proactive plans to start diversifying the local and state economies. Now.

At the state level, that includes using Federal climate rules to our advantage - leveraging natural gas development - and driving the development of new technologies - and new industries - that could call Pennsylvania home.

It also demands forward-looking tax, savings, and investment policies. Other states like Texas that have created endowments for things like public education with some state revenue from drilling. West Virginia's new Future Fund, created with a portion of the state's severance tax, will fund education, workforce development, economic development, infrastructure and tax relief projects. (See this analysis of the original concept, and this one of the proposal as enacted, by my friend Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.)

And there's the obvious need to not only conserve our natural resource endowment, but to use it to our long-term economic advantage. Creating a conservation trust fund could endow statewide investments in the public lands, environmental improvement, and public recreation - and the immense number of sustainable jobs that come with them. Indeed, investing in community quality of life may be the surest way to make the state more attractive to high-growth businesses and entrepreneurs.

There's plenty that Pennsylvania can do - here and now - to avoid the boom and bust treadmill and create sustainable economic growth in all areas of the state. The only question is - will we?


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are we cooked?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage from climate disruption unless most of the world's electricity is produced from low-carbon sources by 2050 - and almost all of it by 2100.

The IPCC's Synthesis Report says that if global warming is to be limited to two degrees Centigrade - the internationally-recognized threshold of dangerous climate change - low-carbon sources of energy must increase from their current global share of "approximately 30%" to more than 80% by 2050. And to 90% by 2100.

Note that IPCC refers to "low-carbon" energy sources. We're kidding ourselves, alas, if we think renewables alone can save us. IPCC's list of essential technologies includes not only renewable energy, but also nuclear energy, fossil-fueled energy with CCS, and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). In fact, you basically can't get close to the two degree Centigrade target without CCS. Indeed, according to IPCC, all fossil-fueled power generation without CCS must be phased out almost entirely by 2100 .

We’re a long way from any of those targets, and funding for research, development, and deployment of necessary energy technologies falls far, far short of what's needed.

Does the world have the political will to transform our energy supply and save life as we know it? Or are we cooked?




Monday, November 3, 2014

I’m voting for Tom Wolf for PA Governor

Pennsylvania is a frequent topic of this blog, and there’s nothing more important to the future of the state than tomorrow’s elections.

Tomorrow, I’m voting for Tom Wolf for Governor.

The current governor’s record is a sorry one across the board – marked by equal measures of destructive ideology and outright incompetence. There’s his climate change denial and lip service to technologies that would help save the climate - and the state’s coal industry.  His energy “plan” that’s little more than a collection of platitudes. Then there’s his record on shale gas development – including a failed attempt to eliminate local control, inadequate regulation of that development and associated facilities, and further abuse of the public trust embodied in our state parks and forests. And failed tax and economic policies.

And all that’s before his de-funding of public education and hostility to affordable healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, and the right of everyone to marry the person they love.

I could go on.

But all that said, I’m not voting against Tom Corbett.  I’m voting for Tom Wolf.

I’ve known Tom for years. I had the honor of serving with him during the Rendell Administration.  He’s brilliant and self-effacing; honest, principled, and progressive. He’s committed to getting shale gas, energy, and climate policies right. And to building a stronger middle class and a stronger, cleaner, healthier future for all of us living in the Keystone State.

Tom Wolf’s vision of a fresh start for Pennsylvania is exactly what we need.  It would be a powerful, hopeful example to the nation.

That’s what I’m voting for tomorrow.

Will Pennsylvania get the fresh start we need and deserve?  If you live in Pennsylvania, the answer to that question is up to you.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Study finds dangerous air pollution near oil and gas sites

A new, peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Health, has found "potentially dangerous” levels of local air pollution near oil and gas drilling and transmission sites.

Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study found:
 
Air concentrations of potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures are frequently present near oil and gas production sites...
Levels of eight volatile chemicals exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances. Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels…
The study monitored air at locations in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, sampling air near a mix of sites, including compressor stations, production pads and condensate tank farms. Some but not all of the sampling sites were associated with hydraulic fracturing. 
It used trained local residents to gather air samples, because: 
Deploying residents allowed for quick monitoring in places where they suspected something was wrong, based on bad odors, symptoms such as nausea or other problems.
The study's sampling was done as a snapshot—air at one moment in time, or in the case of formaldehyde, over the course of at least eight hours. [Lead author David O.] Carpenter said that's not how states have typically handled their own monitoring, the results of which have suggested little cause for alarm or weren't detailed enough to determine whether a health risk existed.
By averaging the results over days, weeks or months, state monitors risk missing the sporadic emission spikes that can harm exposed people, he said. 
"Our results indicate that the longer-term monitoring misses peak concentrations, which may be very important," Carpenter said. 
Toxic substances in 20 percent of the 76 samples taken for the study exceeded safe levels for brief exposure while another 20 percent exceeded standards for longer-term exposure. The study authors said they thought both were appropriate comparisons in part because residents picked areas to sample where odors and health complaints were common.  
There are several implications from this and similar studies. As another lead author, Gregg P. Macy noted,
"The key takeaway is we really need to start sampling at the scales dictated by community concerns, the same concerns that are sometimes lodged in county and state agencies as complaints but that are experienced daily"...
Better air quality monitoring near oil and gas sites and facilities is obviously needed, and the community-based model used here is worth serious consideration as - in the authors' words - a "supplement" to state monitoring regimes. And while there's also a need for more research, incomplete understanding of the pubic health impacts of oil and gas development should not preclude action. At minimum, those actions should include requiring best available control technology on all natgas drilling and transmission equipment and banning open impoundments for storing any drilling-related fluids.

Oct. 31, 2014 update: Here's a link to the full study.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Increased LNG exports lead to increased natural gas prices

The US Energy Information Administration has released its study of the impact on liquified natural gas exports on domestic prices and found that - surprise (not) - exports will increase domestic natgas prices.

Effect of Increased Levels of Liquefied Natural Gas Exports on U.S. Energy Markets confirms what any Econ 101 student should know - that increased demand for a commodity will likely push up its price.  The study finds:
projected U.S. natural gas prices increase in each of the five baseline cases. The price paths depend on the assumptions made regarding the resource base and advances in production technology, economic growth, and natural gas demand. In the Reference case, the average Lower 48 state supply price more than doubles between 2013 and 2040, ultimately reaching $7.25/Million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2040. In contrast, under the more optimistic resource assumptions of the [high oil and gas resource] case, prices increase by only 38% by 2040 and never rise above $4.34/MMBtu. Under the more pessimistic resource assumptions of the [low oil and gas resource] case, prices reach $10.08/MMBtu in 2040.
EIA notes understandable caveats:
projections of energy markets over a 25-year period are highly uncertain and subject to many events that cannot be foreseen, such as supply disruptions, policy changes, and technological breakthroughs. This uncertainty is particularly true in projecting the effects of exporting significant LNG volumes from the United States...
Natural gas exports will raise prices and impact domestic consumers, utilities, and manufacturers. That has been a concern raised by legislators and business leaders. How much of an impact there will be remains to be seen.  There have been thoughtful analyses of this issue, and some perhaps less thoughtful. But any way you slice it, you can't repeal the laws of economics.  EIA's basic result is not surprising.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Tracing the problem

While hydraulic fracturing itself has yet to be proven to have contaminated groundwater, faulty wellsleaking impoundments, and spills have. Better methods to detect contamination and its source are needed. A study published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has identified new tracing tools that can fill that bill.

New Tracers Identify Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids and Accidental Releases from Oil and Gas Operations finds that hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment can be reliably identified by using certain chemically-stable tracers with distinctive chemical fingerprints.

According to this article on the study, the tracers - based on elements that occur naturally in shale formations - allow scientists to track the presence of frack fluids in the environment and tell them apart from naturally-occurring background water and wastewater that comes from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells.

The tracers appear to be a valuable tool – for both regulators and the industry - to differentiate among sources of contamination and guide efforts to mitigate - and prevent - environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.  Will these new tools be used?



Friday, October 24, 2014

Drillers use loophole to avoid permits for using dangerous chemicals in fracking - UPDATED

This story from The Columbus (OH) Dispatch is essential reading. It reports on a study from the Environmental Integrity Project that finds that, despite a federal ban on the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing without a permit, some oil and gas companies are exploiting a Safe Drinking Water Act loophole to frack with petroleum-based products containing even more dangerous toxic chemicals than diesel - without any permits.

Fracking's Toxic Loophole finds that thanks to what's commonly referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole,” oil and gas producing companies are routinely injecting chemicals more toxic than diesel during hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 11 states. The list does not include Pennsylvania.

While fracking itself has yet to be proven to have contaminated groundwater, faulty wellsleaking impoundments, and spills surely have. 

The industry should have enough sense to stop using diesel and petroleum-based chemicals in fracking.  But since they apparently don't, the only way to eliminate the risk inherent in using them - both environmental and financial - is to outlaw it.  Now. And, while we're at it - if we're really serious - industry practice and regulations must drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking

October 26, 2014 update: While Pennsylvania was not on EIP's list, it's worth noting that diesel-based drilling fluids are apparently in use - and being spilled - here.