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Friday, January 17, 2014

Can we preserve historical/cultural resources in the shale gas era?

Shale gas development industrializes the landscape. While the focus has been on its very significant impacts to the natural world, to public health, and to industries like agriculture and tourism, there are other resources that need to be considered. Specifically, archaeological, cultural and historical resources are too often disturbed and destroyed in the process of development - and not just in Pennsylvania.  Preserving those resources, too, is – or should be - an inherent part of the industry’s social license to operate.

Can we preserve our cultural resources and still develop this resource efficiently?

Some answers to that question will be offered at a first-of-its-kind summit: “Bridging the GAPP” Summit - Honoring our History… Fueling our Future,” to be held on March 21, 2014 in Pittsburgh, PA. Leaders from the energy industry and the historic preservation field will come together to discuss strategies to identify and manage historic and cultural resources while encouraging efficient energy development.

The conference is sponsored by the Gas and Preservation Partnership.

The Summit Goals, according to GAPP, are:
  • Educate the energy industry about the importance of cultural resource preservation
  • Educate the preservation community about the importance and science of energy development and independence
  • Affirm the business case for working together voluntarily in the absence of regulation
  • Develop model voluntary practices for the protection of cultural resources informed by experiences in other extractive industries
  • Collect success stories and lessons learned from energy experts and preservationists working in the Marcellus region and beyond.

I’ll be moderating the morning plenary session.

This is an important issue. Indeed, as the PA Supreme Court recently ruled, “the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment” is a right for every Pennsylvanian. Current preservation regulations are at best weak. Voluntary practices are a good starting point, but the preservation of our rights may well demand more. It’s in the industry’s interest to get ahead of this issue – and to set the preservation bar high.

This is an important issue, and an important inaugural event.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The path we are on is bleak and black

Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, has written a succinct, blunt op-ed for CNNMoney in which she says that while there is endless talk of a clean energy-fueled, sustainable future,  
(T)he path we are currently on is bleak -- and black...(I)f current energy policies do not change, coal will overtake oil as the world's primary source of energy in the foreseeable future...This carries grave implications for climate change, for in its current form, coal is simply unsustainable...Radical action is needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions -- especially those from coal -- yet that radical action is disappointingly absent.  
I've written frequently about carbon capture and storage technology, the lack of progress in deploying it at scaleinnovative approaches like the one I led in Pennsylvania that could advance the technology, and the need and the opportunity to apply CCS to not only coal, but natural gas-fired generation as well.

There are endless studies, talks, and pronouncements about all of this. But little concrete action. If that situation is not, as van der Hoeven says, radically altered, the future of the world as we know it is indeed bleak.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

World needs to triple renewable energy investment to stave off climate disaster

Global investment in renewable energy is nowhere where it needs to be to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, according to the United Nations’ chief climate officer.

In an interview with the Guardian (UK), the UN's Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, made some sobering observations: 
What we need to have invested in the energy sector and in the green infrastructure in order to make the transformation that we need in order to stay within 2C is one trillion dollars a year and we are way, way behind that.
Last year, we had $300bn, and in the same year we had double that amount invested in exploration and mining in fossil fuels. So you can see that the ratio is not where it needs to be. We need to be at the opposite ratio.
From where we are to where we need to be, we need to triple, and we need to do that – over the next five to 10 years would be best – but certainly by 2030.
Two-thirds of the fossil fuels we have will have to stay in the ground (to avoid warming beyond 2C). 

US carbon emissions rose 2.1 percent in 2013, and are likely to rise again this year. Despite repeated wake up calls, renewables investment lags. And the world moves closer to the climate abyss.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Trade secret claims hurt oil/gas industry

An influential national voice on the subject of shale oil and gas development says that the oil and gas industry is hurting itself by withholding information about the chemicals used in the process.
John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who led the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), says that allowing some ingredients to be withheld from public disclosure as "trade secrets" erodes public confidence. He said, "The industry, by saying, 'We're going to hold something back,' is paying a cost."
Deutch has been selected to head a SEAB task force on FracFocus, the privately-run fracturing chemical disclosure site that a number of states use and that the Obama administration has proposed using for disclosure of fracturing chemicals on federal land. The site allows some ingredients to be withheld as "trade secrets."
Deutch is not alone in citing FracFocus shortcomings and its failure as a compliance tool.  Voluntary reporting and self-policing don't work, and serve only to further erode public confidence about unconventional oil and gas exploration. Opacity does the industry no good.
There is no substitute for government regulation and laws requiring full disclosure and full transparency about the industry's chemical use.