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Friday, May 16, 2014

Study: Shale gas neither a climate hero nor villain - it's all about policy

A new study from Duke University finds that “abundant natural gas by itself is neither a climate hero nor a climate villain” and will not cause a substantial change in total greenhouse gas emissions.

Implications of Shale Gas Development for Climate Change was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. This article summarizes the results:
(S)o far increased natural gas has mostly taken the place of coal, but looking forward there also may be increased consumption for sectors such as industry, as well as some degree of displacement of zero-emission sources such as renewables and nuclear…The net effect on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions appears likely to be small in the absence of policies specifically directed at greenhouse gas mitigation.
The fact that increased shale gas doesn’t have a huge climate impact on its own doesn’t mean it’s not important. If broad climate policy is enacted, having abundant natural gas could be very helpful by making it cheaper for society to achieve climate goals...If natural gas is expensive, then it will be more costly to switch away from fuels that have higher greenhouse gas emissions, such as coal and oil. But keeping methane emissions low is essential to maximizing the potential benefits of natural gas.
If there are a lot of methane emissions, the positive benefits of using natural gas are mitigated; however...recent evidence suggests methane emissions may be higher than the EPA currently estimates, it’s not clear how this new information will affect those estimates...Reducing methane emissions is important, but even if methane emissions from natural gas systems are significantly higher than current EPA estimates, we did not find this significantly alters the impact of abundant natural gas on long-term national or global greenhouse gas emissions pathways.
The bottom line is that, with or without shale gas, we must have policies and regulations that specifically – and aggressively – lower all greenhouse gas emissions, and – as rapidly as possible – transition to a renewable energy future.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A footnote in an important story (personal)

Yesterday, I had the privilege of recording an audio interview for the Pennsylvania Conservation Heritage Project.

During the interview - conducted by a professional historian - I talked about my background, how I came to work at DCNR, the work that I led or contributed to, and the challenges that I faced in leading an agency that is the chief steward of Pennsylvania's natural resources.  

I told a few stories that will grow safer - for me, anyway - with the passage of time. 

The conversation brought back to me the golden interval when I was privileged to work on behalf of a noble mission and with the finest public servants - and some of the best people - I've ever encountered. 

The interview will be transcribed and preserved in the collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives, and some of the contents could find its way into a future book on the history of conservation in Pennsylvania.

It’s an honor to be even a footnote in the story of the visionary leaders who gave birth to and led the conservation movement in the state where that movement began. 

The thoughtful people behind both this project and the Goddard Legacy Project are doing incredibly important work to preserve our state’s conservation heritage – and to inspire future generations in the foresighted utilization, preservation and/or renewal of forest, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Three wrongs don't make a right

This story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on a talk given by Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor James Cawley, standing in for his boss, at PIOGA’s Eastern Oil & Gas conference.

The talk contained two bits of very bad news and a straw man.  
The Lieutenant Governor said that his boss will soon announce the impending leasing of more state forest land and - for the first time ever - state park land for oil and gas development. He will also propose some “legislative fixes” to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Act 13.
The story goes on to say that:
Mr. Cawley also used the pulpit [appropriate when preaching to the choirto rail against proposals by Democratic gubernatorial candidates to levy a severance tax on the oil and gas industry, his delivery escalating in volume and frustration.
 Enter the straw man, in defense of the Keystone State’s anemic impact fee:
“When anyone looks at one particular industry and says, ’ah, we should tax them because they’re successful and they create jobs,’” he said, “the true meaning of what it is they’re saying is you should be penalized for being successful. And that’s wrong.”
Cawley’s argument is laughable on its face, but here are three things in Pennsylvania that actually are wrong.
Burning the furniture to heat the house - leasing state parks and more state forest land for gas development to raise money for the state budget - is wrong.
“Fixing” a decision that for the first time upheld the environmental rights guaranteed to every Pennsylvanian by the state Constitution - so that the gas industry can continue to have its way with Pennsylvania - is wrong. 
And excusing the natgas industry from paying a tax that they pay in every other state in which they do business - is wrong. 

Each of these three wrongs can be righted by the General Assembly. What will they do? And what will their bosses - the citizens of Pennsylvania - demand? The answers to those questions will say a lot about our state's future.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Speaking at River Rally in Pittsburgh on May 31

I’ll be speaking at River Rally, the largest international gathering of water protection advocates, on Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Pittsburgh, PA. 

The Rally is co-hosted by River Network and Waterkeeper Alliance.

I’ll be a panelist at the plenary session, entitled Fracking: Impacts, Science, Advocacy, discussing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on our waterways and economy, the science behind the process, and alternatives for becoming less reliant on fossil fuels. 

I’ll also be participating in one of the intensive discussion sessions immediately following the plenary, on Shale Gas & Oil Transport. We'll explore how the federal government and the states analyze the potential risk to communities and environmental health in allowing pipeline and compressor station placement in populated areas – as well as the pros/cons for alternatives.

I'm looking forward to being with people who do such important work.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Insurer look at climate disruption - and gulps

Ideology, ignorance, and vested business interests are the triplets that fuel climate disruption denial and block action in the face of onrushing catastrophe.

But one industry whose existence and continued profitability depends upon a rational response to our ongoing atmospheric chemistry experimentinsurance – has taken a sober, cleared-eyed look at the grim future it faces with global climate disruption. And John Nelson, the chairman of the venerable Lloyd’s of London, is calling on the insurance industry to adopt “catastrophe modelling.”

Lloyd’s has issued a report- Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change - that slams home the facts that the scientific evidence on climate disruption is “conclusive,” and that climate disruption "will accelerate."  That has the potential to affect extreme weather events, and therefore the insurance industry.

The study points out that  insurance industry and others use catastrophe modelling extensively now, but because these models rely on historical data, they may not capture the increasing severity of losses that the industry faces from extreme weather with accelerating climate disruption. The study cites this example: 
The approximately 20 centimetres of sea-level rise at the southern tip of Manhattan Island increased Superstorm Sandy’s surge losses by 30% in New York alone.
Nelson concludes: 
Change will touch all of us. I firmly believe that understanding and incorporating climate change into future modelling has become essential for anyone making long-term financial commitments, be that investing in infrastructure, housing or indeed policy.
Ultimately, insurance exists to pick up the pieces and pay the claims when the likes of a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy strike. But to continue to do this, as Lloyd's has done since 1688, insurers must factor climate change into modelling, and develop the tools we need to understand and evaluate its impact.
Catastrophe modelling will surely affect insurance policies and business investment. Will it move policymakers and public opinion as well?