Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hot Air: Natural Gas and Climate Change

By Patrick Robbins

The last year has witnessed a growing publicity campaign around the notion that natural gas can act as a “transition fuel” – an energy source with a smaller effect on the earth’s climate, an energy source we can use as a substitute for dirty coal or oil while we begin the transition to wind and solar. This idea has a particular appeal after Hurricane Sandy: as climate change ravages our forests with droughts and fires and batters our coastlines, we would be fools not to begin a transition to low-impact fuels using the closest low-impact fuel at our disposal, and that means using natural gas. Or so the argument goes.
There are plenty of holes in this argument, but let’s focus on the biggest one: per unit, natural gas has not been demonstrated to have a lower greenhouse effect on the Earth’s climate in comparison with coal and oil. Indeed, if a recent study by NOAA scientists published in the journal Nature is to be believed, the facts could be the exact opposite, at least in the short term.
You see, what we call “natural gas” is mostly methane. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. While CO2 stays in the atmosphere longer and is therefore more troubling over the long term, methane traps a lot more energy during its time in the atmosphere. Compared to Carbon Dioxide, Methane traps 72 times as much heat over a 20-year period and 25 times as much heat over a 100-year period (according to the IPCC). Unlike coal or fuel, the biggest area of concern for natural gas is not emissions at the point of the fuel’s use—such the CO2 emitted when you drive a car—but the gases emitted at the point of extraction. Even small amounts of methane leakage at the point of extraction could negate the global warming benefits of methane as compared to coal or oil.
The study in Nature, published in January 2013, found 4% methane leakages at a production site in Colorado and 9% methane leakages at a production site in Utah, both well above the EDF's 3.2% leakage threshold after which methane starts actually being worse for the climate than coal. It would be poor science indeed for us to extrapolate general leakage rates from a mere two sites. However, both the comparatively high numbers and the comparatively wide difference between them are telling. In a recent article in Daily Finance, one EDF scientist conjectured that the difference could be attributed to the regulatory environment – Colorado has a more stringent regulatory environment than Utah, and has been dealing with the natural gas issue for a longer period of time.
At the end of the day, this is an argument for better science. We have to understand what our extraction practices mean for our environment, so that we can craft germane legislation, which would in turn encourage better reporting in a virtuous cycle. But the cycle has to start somewhere. In the absence of real science, propaganda takes its place in the public discourse, to the detriment of both our discourse and our planet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pipeline Haiku

A haiku about the Spectra pipeline, which is currently under construction in the West Village:

The Spectra pipeline:
Calamity in waiting?
Google "San Bruno".

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First US Tar Sands Mine receives approval in Utah

Bad news reached us the other day through the interweb via our friends at Waging Non-Violence.
State Regulators in Utah have approved the first Tar Sands Mine in the United States. 
Here is an excerpt from an article from the Salt Lake Tribune:

The nation’s first fuel-producing tar sands mine, planned for the wild Book Cliffs in eastern Utah, has gotten a final go-ahead from state regulators.
The Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining released its decision Friday to allow Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands to move forward with the first stage of its mine on 213 acres in the arid high country between Vernal and Moab.
He added that the project will be a "strong example of environmental performance" and praised the "strong leadership" of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other decision-makers."This is not unexpected," said Cameron Todd, company CEO. "We’ve been working long and hard on this and dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s."
But John Weisheit, director of the environmental advocacy group Living Rivers, called the decision "arbitrary." His Moab-based group, which has fought the project not only before the oil and gas board but also before the Utah Water Quality Board, contends the strip mine is a threat to the air and the water, especially the nearby White, Green and Colorado rivers.
"We have another avenue [to fight the mine] and that’s the appeals court," he said, "and that’s where we’ll go."
Todd said his company has been working on the project since 2005, doing tests and exploration on a 5,900-acre lease site that is thought to hold as much as 190 million barrels of oil. It will use a citrus-based chemical called d-limonene.
But recent approvals, in October by the Water Quality Board and on Friday by the oil and gas board, apply only to a smaller project site. When production gets under way next year, the initial 200-acre project area is expected to generate around 2,000 barrels a day for a total of 10 million barrels.
The main question for both state panels was whether the mine endangers the water — an important question in the nation’s second-driest state.
The oil and gas board earlier gave preliminary approval to the project pending a decision by water quality regulators on whether the project needed groundwater-pollution permit. In its October decision, the water board determined there is no groundwater to pollute.
This, of course, is written from a biased perspective. Our Activist friends in Utah have a completely different perspective. Check out their website here:

Naomi Klein on TarSands

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Last night, some of our fractivist brothers and sisters went to film the fracking wells out in Pennsylvania near their children's elementary school. Please watch this video to see what is the dreadful source of these horrific pipelines. We don't want to be a customer to this. Stop all pipelines now.

"I had to experience that because I am afraid for the kids that attend the school. I can not get that smell out of my nose, even after sleep. It burnt my nose, it was LOUD, hard to breathe, and this has not appeased my fears in anyway, only confirms just how sickening and dangerous this is. This is a modern day holocaust."