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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Speaking to Valley Forge Chapter of SAF about energy extraction, environmental impact

I’ll be speaking at a meeting of the Valley Forge (PA) Chapter of the Society of American Foresters this evening in Downingtown, PA.  My topic is "Energy Development in Penn's Woods."  

I'll discuss how the forests of Pennsylvania are being altered by energy development - with a particular emphasis on shale gas extraction.  I'll talk about what we know - and don't know - about what’s happening to wildlife as the result of these changes, and other environmental concerns. I'll also discuss the state of shale gas development on Pennsylvania's public lands.

I spoke to this great group of professionals years ago during my DCNR days about work that I led on sustainable wind energy development. I’m looking forward to being with them again. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is CO2 fracking a long way off?

I’ve blogged frequently about the need to drive to waterless fracking and the business case for it.

Waterless fracking technologies employ carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or propane. They’re typically viewed as too risky (propane can explode) or too expensive - carrying a cost premium of as much as twenty five percent, according to one estimate – to deploy outside of well fields that have certain specific geologic conditions. There are other challenges inherent in deploying these technologies widely.

General Electric Company, the ecomagination folks, are saying that CO2 isn’t likely to replace water in fracking any time soon.  They cite the technical challenges facing CO2 fracturing, and note that another big hurdle to overcome is a lack of infrastructure to transport CO2 to well fields from power plants and industrial sources that could be equipped with carbon capture technology.

The latter problem could be addressed with the carbon network approach whose development I led while in state service in Pennsylvania. Such networks are beginning to take shape in other countries. Until they begin to grow here, and until CO2 and other waterless technologies become the standard, stress on water supplies from fracking in dry American states will continue. And shale gas development in western China and other water-stressed regions will be at least delayed.

Is CO2 fracking really a long way off?  Or will oil and gas companies accelerate the development of another technology – besides CCS - that serves their interests?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Asymmetric stupidity and climate disruption

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."
-- Thomas Jefferson
CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the most widely-watched cable news networks in the U.S. And Fox draws more viewers than all the others combined.  

So if Jefferson is right, we’re doomed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a report on the accuracy of US cable news outlets in covering climate science.  The results are not encouraging.  

Science or Spin? Assessing the Accuracy of Cable News Coverage of Climate Science (2014) analyzed the networks' climate science coverage in 2013 and found that each network treated climate science - UCS says kindly, if not euphemistically -  “very differently":
Fox News was the least accurate; 72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. CNN was in the middle, with about a third of segments featuring misleading statements. MSNBC was the most accurate, with only eight percent of segments containing misleading statements.
UCS says:
The public deserves climate coverage that gets the science right. Media outlets can do more to foster a fact-based conversation about climate change and policies designed to address it, rather than contributing to a broken and inaccurate debate about the established facts of climate science.
We live in a nation, as Paul Krugman says, of asymmetric stupidity.

We deserve better than infotainment, intellectual pablum, ideological chest-thumping, and political tribalism. But that's what we're getting.  Our democracy’s survival – and our own – depend on whether we have the capacity to evolve beyond that - and quickly.

So, what will we demand? 

Because, ultimately, we will get what we deserve

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lots of info, little illumination on oil/gas waste management

U.S. EPA has released two new reports on the waste generated by oil and gas exploration and production - waste which is exempt from federal regulation. The reports are, respectively, compilations of existing state regulations and existing “best practices” on the subject.

…specifically focused on surface storage and disposal facilities managing produced waters, drilling muds, drilling cuttings, hydraulic fracturing return fluids and various other waste streams intrinsically related to oil and gas E&P…

The report doesn't attempt to classify states according to regulatory stringency, but does identify commonalities and notable shared shortcomings:
Amongst [the] common characteristics was the presence of some liner requirements for pits or impoundments, secondary containment requirements for tanks, setback requirements for solid waste management facilities from critical infrastructure or inhabited development, minimum freeboard requirements for fluid levels in pits, impoundments, and tanks, various inspection, operation, and maintenance requirements, permitting of solid waste management facilities requirements, and closure and reclamation requirements. Some regulatory parameters that were not typically encountered were groundwater monitoring requirements for solid waste management facilities, leachate collection requirements, air monitoring of solid waste management facilities, and waste characterization requirements.

The second report is a companion to the first.  Compilation of Publicly Available Sources of Voluntary Management Practices for Oil and Gas Exploration & Production (E&P) Wastes As They Address Pits, Tanks, and Land Application reviews more than 80 publicly available sources of voluntary management practices. Again, EPA says that it didn’t evaluate the adequacy or protectiveness of any of the voluntary management practices summarized in the document. All it would say, essentially, is:
Based on the results of the review, EPA agrees with the recommendation of the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) that the federal government should encourage the development of additional and improved “best practices.”
The Subcommittee favors a national approach including regional mechanisms that recognize differences in geology, land use, water resources, and regulation.

These two studies provide a lot of information, but little illumination. As NRDC’s Amy Mall writes in her blog post on these studies:

…the document with the voluntary practices is a lot longer than the document with the state-mandated practices. Some of the voluntary practices are recommended by industry sources, so why shouldn't they be required?

Indeed, EPA’s compilations leave many aching questions.  Such as: 
  • Are any of the BMPs really “best”?  Shouldn’t they be compared and evaluated for stringency and protectiveness?
  • What companies are using what set(s) of BMPs?  And which ones are not?
  • What states are requiring the use of somebody’s BMPs?  And what about the federal government when it leases on public land for resource development? And are any "best" practices they might be using the right ones? 
There must be objective, science-based standards to measure and assess the protectiveness of any set of guidelines that calls itself “best.” Disclosure and reporting on their adoption and use by governments and companies should be expected.  And those standards should not be static.  They need to continuously improve as more data and experience accumulates – something else that the Shale Gas Subcommittee of SEAB called for.

More fundamentally, I agree with Amy that development of yet more BMPs is not nearly enough. They are not a substitute for strong, continuously-improving regulations that are based on the best available evidence and practice.