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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.