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Friday, May 9, 2014

Another rendezvous with destiny

Tuesday’s release of the National Climate Assessment was, it seems to me, a non-event.

The contents of the report were frightening. Our climate has already changed. And it will get unimaginably worse without immediate, sweeping action to change our energy mix, mitigate the damage we’ve already inflicted, and moving aggressively to adapt to the unavoidable warming we’ve baked in to our overheated globe.

The report itself was extremely well-presented – a simple, comprehensive, and comprehensible distillation of the draft report released in January of this year.

But will it wake us up?

I wish I could be more hopeful. 

In the end, our nation's response to the existential threat of global climate disruption is as much about leadership as it is about survival. The reptilian Right dismisses a unilateral national effort - even as, for example, cities watch the waters rise and face increasingly severe flooding, and the insurance industry sounds the alarm

US leadership - thanks to The Greatest Generation - saved the world once.  It can do it again, by catalyzing international action. 

And states like Pennsylvania can lead our nation in this all-important work. Or not.  

This generation of Americans - like my parents' generation - has a rendezvous with destiny. Will we - or will we not - face, and lead the world in defeating, a truly global threat?



Thursday, May 8, 2014

Another study, another high methane leak rate

Another study of methane emissions for oil and gas production – conducted in Colorado - suggests a leakage rate of between 2.6 percent and 5.6 percent – perhaps triple US EPA estimates.

No single study can be the last word on this critical issue. But leakage makes no economic sense, and is almost entirely avoidable, with the imposition of the right regulations.  Indeed, as this must-read blog post from EDF points out: 
There’s absolutely no reason to wait on establishing policy that pushes operators to cut emissions of methane system-wide and nationwide. 
So, what are we waiting for?


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Traffic fatalities spike with fracking boom

The Associated Press has analyzed traffic deaths and other data in six US states where unconventional oil and gas development is occurring. While most American roads have become safer as the population has grown, states where hydraulic fracturing is underway have seen spikes in traffic fatalities – in some areas, roadway deaths have more than quadrupled since 2004.

The AP found:
  • In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43 percent over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350 percent. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state.
  • In 21 Texas counties where drilling has recently expanded, deaths per 100,000 people are up an average of 18 percent. In the rest of Texas, they are down by 20 percent.
  • Traffic fatalities in West Virginia's most heavily drilled counties…rose 42 percent in 2013. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8 percent.
  • Traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania drilling counties rose 4 percent over that time frame, while in the rest of the state they fell 19 percent.
  • New Mexico's traffic fatalities fell 29 percent, except in drilling counties, where they only fell 5 percent.

AP’s findings are no surprise. A 2013 study from Resources for the Future (RFF)  found that shale gas development is linked to traffic accidents in Pennsylvania.  RFF found:
a significant increase in the number of total accidents and accidents involving a heavy truck in counties with a relatively large degree of shale gas development as compared to counties with less (or no) development.
…with one additional well drilled in a county, the number of accidents involving a fatality increases by 0.6 percent (on average there are 1.8 fatalities per county per month).
Some of the causes of all this carnage are obvious.  Hydraulic fracturing requires thousands of heavy truck trips - as many as 4,000, according to AP - for every well drilled, to haul equipment, water, sand, gravel, chemicals, and wastewater. Water is by far responsible for the most truck trips.  All that traffic and the sheer pace of development overwhelm the capacity of rural roads and bridges, traffic control, and public safety infrastructure – leading, unfortunately, to more roadway deaths.
But as RFF pointed out, it’s not just because there are more trucks and more people on the road:
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 27% of fatalities among oil and gas extraction workers in the United States from 2003 to 2006 were from highway motor vehicle crashes(t)here are reasons why increased shale gas truck traffic could increase the probability of an accident; there are oil field exemptions  from highway safety rules created in the 1960s that allow truckers in the oil and gas industry to work longer hours than drivers in other industries. Furthermore, it has been shown that an increase in the number of light—trucks in the vehicle fleet increases annual traffic fatalities.
Recycling more drilling water is of very limited value in preventing roadway fatalities.  Building more pipelines for fresh water delivery may be of significantly greater value here. And eliminating the exemptions enjoyed by the oil and gas industry would also help. But they all miss the bigger question.

Why haul water and wastewater at all – especially when the economic and human costs are so high - if there are alternatives?

There is a business case for squeezing the water out of unconventional oil and gas development.  Clearly, there is also a case of simple humanity.