Weekly News Check-In 12/13/19

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Enbridge continues with preliminary construction activities at the Weymouth compressor station, prompting more protests and arrests. Residents expressed renewed concerns over soil contamination and Congressman Joseph Kennedy demanded that FERC halt the project.

Protesters gathered in Concord, NH last weekend to demand cancellation of the Granite Bridge pipeline, and in other actions protesters blocked a trainload of coal bound for the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow.

We found lots of climate news, including direct video evidence of massive methane leaks from fracking operations in the Texas Permian Basin. Meanwhile, the global stew of greenhouse emissions continues to rise – hitting another record in 2019 – while the Arctic thaws and ocean oxygen levels plummet.

We offer an important article on energy efficiency in building codes, and how an obscure state agency is slowing progress toward zero energy buildings.

Our sections on clean energy alternatives and regional energy developments concentrate largely on the mounting proof that it’s time to trim back our natural gas infrastructure. It’s a theme that surfaces again in news from the fossil fuel industry. That section concludes with an excellent 5-part series exploring why we continue to build natural gas power plants even though alternatives are less expensive and more reliable.

We finish with an excellent video op-ed from the New York Times on plastics recycling, explaining how that system is so completely broken.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

truck stop - Weymouth
Congressman Joseph Kennedy demands halt to Weymouth compressor station construction
By Ed Baker, wickedlocal.com
December 12, 2019

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III is demanding a stop to the construction of a compressor station in the Fore River Basin by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Kennedy said FERC should issue a stop-work order and review its previous approval of certificates to Enbridge Inc. due to a reduced demand for natural gas.

“Federal energy regulators should have never approved construction of the Weymouth compressor station, and decreased market demand only underscores their initial mistake,” Kennedy said in a letter to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

Kennedy said two energy firms (National Grid and Eversource) recently indicated the compressor station is unnecessary to meet their customer demands and “federal regulators must immediately halt construction and review outdated, faulty approvals.

“It is time for these regulators to listen to the voices and concerns of the citizens and community who will be impacted most by their oversight,” he said.
» Read article

keep it in the ground
Protest Group: 6 More Arrested At Weymouth Compressor Station
The group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said six protesters were arrested for blocking entrance to the station.
By Scott Souza, Patch
December 11, 2019

WEYMOUTH, MA — For the second time in a week, the group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said protestors were arrested for blocking entrance to the station. Last Thursday, four people were arrested during the hours-long protest. The group said two more were taken into custody Wednesday morning after they laid down in front of the gates of the compressor station, followed by two additional arrests about an hour later.

The group said two additional people were arrested later in the morning with all six set to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.
» Read article

bricks and asbestos
Neighbors Want More Asbestos Testing at Compressor Site

By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 9, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Residents fighting the construction of a natural-gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River want excavation of contaminated fill at the site halted until regulators order more testing for asbestos, a microscopic mineral fiber known to cause cancer.

Weymouth resident, Margaret Bellafiore, says a firm hired to evaluate contamination on the site did not adequately test bricks that were dumped on the property years ago after being removed from an incinerator across the street. She recently called on state Department of Environmental Protection regulators to block the excavation of fill at the compressor station site until more testing is complete.

Bellafiore said the firm TRC Environmental Corp. tested eight bricks found at the site for asbestos, four of which came from the furnace of the now defunct Edgar coal plant. Small pieces of burned coal and tan-colored burner bricks used as the furnace lining at the plant were dumped there for decades and are still visible on the beach along the Fore River.

Bellafiore said members of a citizens group, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, researched the manufacturer stamped on the furnace bricks and found that the company, A.P. Green Industries, was known to use asbestos and was sued for asbestos contamination. Bellafiore said she has called and emailed several officials from the state about the finding but has not received a response.

“We’re asking for more than just looking at four bricks. Even if you were doing a school science project, they wouldn’t allow testing of four bricks,” Bellafiore said. “We’ve gotten no answers, nothing from the DEP, and that’s what they’re supposed to be doing — oversight of the contamination. It’s a designated waste site.”
» Read article 

arsenic and dieselArsenic And Diesel As Thick As Peanut Butter: What’s Below The Future Weymouth Compressor?
Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 6, 2019

On the banks of the Fore River in Weymouth, just west of Kings Cove Park and north of Route 3A, there’s a triangular plot of fenced-in land. The future home of a natural gas compressor station, the space looks like any other grassy area. But just below the surface, a legacy of pollution from power plants fired by coal, oil and gas lingers.

Documents filed with the state show the dirt contains arsenic and coal ash, the lightweight, heavy-metal rich substance left after coal burns. And below ground, there’s a pool of old diesel fuel that one environmental expert working on the site said could have the consistency of peanut butter.
» Read article

» More on the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

science is real
Concord Climate Strike Protests Liberty Utilities’ Granite Bridge Pipeline Plan
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
December 6, 2019

Protesters at a climate strike in Concord Friday called on state lawmakers to oppose a natural gas pipeline plan from Liberty Utilities. The rally was part of another global day of protests, tied to a major United Nations climate change summit taking place in Spain.

Dozens of activists, many of them teenagers, gathered outside the State House to call for more action on climate in New Hampshire. Then they marched across Concord’s Main Street to continue protesting outside an office of Liberty Utilities.

The company’s proposed pipeline would connect Manchester and the Seacoast and could go up for state approval next year. Liberty has said the project is necessary to meet current natural gas demand and serve new customers in the area.
» Read article

» More about the Granite Bridge Pipeline

ACTIONS & PROTESTS

Bow coal plant protesters
Protestors block train carrying coal to Bow power plant
By David Brooks, Concord Monitor
December 8, 2019

Climate activists blocked a train carrying coal to the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow this weekend, leading to a number of arrests.

Groups from the Climate Disobedience Center and 350NH say they blocked a train carrying coal north in Massachusetts for several hours, first in Worcester on Saturday and then in Ayer at about 4 a.m. Sunday, then on a railroad bridge over the Merrimack River in Hooksett on Sunday afternoon. They say that more than 16 people were arrested for trespassing on railroad territory during “peaceful” protests.

Merrimack Station is the largest coal-fired power plant in New England that has no plans to close.
» Read article      

» More on protests and direct actions

CLIMATE

methane super-emitters
Exposing a Hidden Climate Threat: Methane ‘Super Emitters’
By Jonah M. Kessel and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
December 12, 2019

To the naked eye, there is nothing out of the ordinary at the DCP Pegasus gas processing plant in West Texas, one of the thousands of installations in the vast Permian Basin that have transformed America into the largest oil and gas producer in the world.

But a highly specialized camera sees what the human eye cannot: a major release of methane, the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that is helping to warm the planet at an alarming rate.

Two New York Times journalists detected this from a tiny plane, crammed with scientific equipment, circling above the oil and gas sites that dot the Permian, an oil field bigger than Kansas. In just a few hours, the plane’s instruments identified six sites with unusually high methane emissions.
» Read article

Greenland glacier
Greenland’s ice melting faster than first feared – exposing millions more to flooding
By Jamie Roberton, ITV News
December 10, 2019

Greenland’s ice is melting faster than first feared – exposing tens of millions more people to a greater risk of flooding, according to a stark report from the world’s leading climate scientists.

In what is described as the “most complete picture of Greenland ice loss to date”, the major new study has painted a far bleaker picture of the consequences of climate change and its potentially devastating impact on communities, particularly those in low-lying coastal areas.

Researchers say Greenland is losing ice seven times faster than in the 1990s and is following the UN’s “high-end climate warming scenario”, the model which predicts the potential future effects of global warming.
» Read article

lake in Greenland
Climate Change Is Ravaging the Arctic, Report Finds
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
December 10, 2019

Warming temperatures were just one of the concerning changes documented in the report. Ninety-five percent of the Greenland ice sheet thawed this reporting year, buoyed in part by the onset of an earlier-than-usual melt, prompting growing concerns over sea level rise. A separate study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature found that Greenland was losing ice seven times faster than it did in the 1990s, a pace that would add roughly three additional inches of sea level rise by century’s end.

Arctic sea ice — which helps cool the polar regions, moderates global weather patterns and provides critical habitat for animals like polar bears — continued to decline this year, matching the second lowest summer extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979. (It was tied with 2016 and 2006.)
» Read article          
» Read report

gasping for breathWorld’s Oceans Are Losing Oxygen Rapidly, Study Finds
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
December 7, 2019

The world’s oceans are gasping for breath, a report issued Saturday at the annual global climate talks in Madrid has concluded.

“The ocean is not uniformly populated with oxygen,” he added. One study in the journal Science, for example, found that water in some parts of the tropics had experienced a 40 to 50 percent reduction in oxygen.

“This is one of the newer classes of impacts to rise into the public awareness,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and director of the global change program at Georgia Tech, who was not involved in the report. “And we see this along the coast of California with these mass fish die-offs as the most dramatic example of this kind of creep of deoxygenation on the coastal ocean.”
» Read article          
» Read report

Saddleridge fire
California Bans Insurers From Dropping Policies Made Riskier by Climate Change
By Christopher Flavelle and Brad Plumer, New York Times
December 5, 2019

“People are losing insurance even after decades with the same company and no history of filing claims,” Ricardo Lara, California’s insurance commissioner, said in a statement. “Hitting the pause button on issuing non-renewals due to wildfire risk will help California’s insurance market stabilize and give us time to work together on lasting solutions.”

One consequence of global warming is that it intensifies natural disasters such as fires and floods, but insurers have struggled to anticipate the spiraling costs. Natural disasters in 2017 and 2018 generated $219 billion in payouts worldwide, according to Swiss Re, a leading insurance company.
» Read article

» More on climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Cracking the climate code: Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

While much attention has been focused on reducing emissions from power plants and cars, commercial, residential, and industrial buildings in Massachusetts collectively spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than either the power or transportation sectors. Commercial and residential buildings in Massachusetts emit about as much harmful gas into the air as the entire transportation sector.

» Blog editor’s note: Excellent overview of the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector, and efforts in Massachusetts, New York, and California to improve building energy codes. Article describes arguments being made for and against moving toward net zero energy buildings.
» Read article

» More on energy efficiency

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

gas is the past
Brookline’s ban on natural gas connections spurs other municipalities to consider the idea
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
December 11, 2019

When Brookline banned new natural gas hookups last month, many in the business community worried it would be the first of many dominoes to fall.

Well, here they go.

Next in line: Cambridge, and then Newton.

On Wednesday, a Cambridge City Council committee held a hearing on a proposed ordinance that would block natural gas connections in new buildings or major reconstruction projects; a Newton City Council committee discussed advancing a similar measure last week.

And officials in more than a dozen other municipalities, such as Lexington and Arlington, have started to consider bans. All this activity reflects the growing concern that not enough is being done to rein in carbon emissions and address the climate crisis.
» Read article

gas off
Sacramento Wants to Electrify Its Homes, Low-Income Families Included
How does a municipal utility committed to eliminating carbon from buildings ensure its most disadvantaged customers aren’t left behind?
By Justin Gerdes, Green Tech Media
December 6, 2019

“No one has more to gain from electrification than low-income and moderate-income households.”

With that, Scott Blunk set the agenda for a small team that had gathered at a Utah ski resort earlier this year to address a thorny challenge: How does a not-for-profit municipal utility that has committed to eliminate carbon from buildings ensure that its most disadvantaged customers aren’t left behind during the transition?

Blunk, a strategic planner with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), had assembled a diverse group of stakeholders with expertise in energy policy, green building, energy efficiency retrofits and program implementation.
» Read article

» More on clean energy

REGIONAL ENERGY

Despite shutdown of Pilgrim nuclear plant, New England has enough electricity thanks to solar and efficiency
By David Brooks, Concord Monitor
December 7, 2019

New England has more than enough electricity on hand even if extreme weather hits this winter, according to an estimate from the organization that runs the six-state power grid.

The announcement, while not a surprise, is important because this is the first winter since Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shut down last May. The closure of large power plants like Pilgrim has led to some concern about electricity supplies during extreme cold spells, when natural gas that would otherwise be fueling electric plants is needed for heating.

“The Pilgrim retirement coincided with several new resources coming online, including three dual-fuel plants capable of using either natural gas or oil to produce power, as well as solar and wind resources,” noted ISO-New England in its announcement.
» Read article

» More about regional energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Exxon walks
New York Loses Climate Change Fraud Case Against Exxon Mobil
By John Schwartz, New York Times
December 10, 2019

A New York state judge on Tuesday handed Exxon Mobil a victory in the civil case brought by the state’s attorney general that argued the company had engaged in fraud through its statements about how it accounted for the costs of climate change regulation.

After some four years of investigation and millions of pages of documents produced by the company, the judge said, attorney general Letitia James and her staff “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence” that Exxon violated the Martin Act, New York’s powerful legal tool against shareholder fraud, in the closely watched case.
» Read article

Aramco low-ballHow Aramco’s Huge I.P.O. Fell Short of Saudi Prince’s Wish
As investors balked, some bankers and Saudi officials still hoped to achieve the crown prince’s target price of $2 trillion. They wound up settling for less.
By Kate Kelly and Stanley Reed, New York Times
December 6, 2019

On Thursday, Saudi Aramco priced the I.P.O at 32 riyals, or $8.53, a share, valuing the company at $1.7 trillion. The offering is expected to raise $25.6 billion — a fraction of the $100 billion that Prince Mohammed originally imagined. The company’s shares are set to begin trading Wednesday on Saudi’s stock exchange, known as the Tadawul.

The result was not what Saudi officials had in mind. Rather than being listed in New York or London, shares of Aramco are being sold primarily to investors in Saudi Arabia and in neighboring countries. Some of the international banks hired to underwrite the deal have instead taken on secondary roles, with the I.P.O. share sales being overseen by two Saudi banks and the British bank HSBC.
» Read article

gas flare image
Natural gas drives record emissions in 2019, more
By Michelle Lewis, Electrek Green Energy Brief
December 5, 2019

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Natural gas may not be as toxic as coal, but it is still very much a fossil fuel. And it’s natural gas that’s driving up carbon emissions this year.

Authors of the Global Carbon Project attributed this year’s rise in emissions to natural gas and oil growth, which offsets the falls in coal use.
» Read article

The False Promise of Natural Gas
By  Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Brita E. Lundberg, M.D.,
New England Journal of Medicine
December 4, 2019

Gas is associated with health and environmental hazards and reduced social welfare at every stage of its life cycle. Fracking is linked to contamination of ground and surface water, air pollution, noise and light pollution, radiation releases, ecosystem damage, and earthquakes (see table). Transmission and storage of gas result in fires and explosions. The pipeline network is aging, inadequately maintained, and infrequently inspected. One or more pipeline explosions occur every year in the United States. In September 2018, a series of pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts caused more than 80 fires and explosions, damaged 131 homes, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, injured 25 people, including two firefighters, and killed an 18-year-old boy. Gas compressor stations emit toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. Wells, pipelines, and compressor stations are disproportionately located in low-income, minority, and marginalized communities, where they may leak gas, generate noise, endanger health, and contribute to environmental injustice while producing no local benefits. Gas combustion generates oxides of nitrogen that increase asthma risk and aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Compounding these hazards are the grave dangers that gas extraction and use pose to the global climate. Gas is a much more powerful driver of climate change than is generally recognized.
» Read article  

overpowered-1
Overpowered: Why a US gas-building spree continues despite electricity glut
This is the first of a five-part series exploring oversupply in the power sector and the factors driving a glut of natural gas-fired power plants.
By  Stephanie Tsao & Richard Martin, S&P Global
December 2, 2019

Utilities, faced with a steady stream of coal plant retirements and the allure of historically low natural gas prices, have continued to build new gas plants despite flat electricity demand and rapidly falling prices for energy from renewable sources. That building spree has led to a glut of generation capacity in many regions. And it continues today, because natural gas is cheap and because business models and regulatory structures reward many U.S. utilities for building new infrastructure, whether it is economically viable or not.

But many experts believe that these plants are likely to become stranded assets well before their planned lifetimes are over. And if the boom continues, it will eliminate any possibility that the U.S. will meet the targets set out by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
» Read article
» Read the other installments:
Overpowered [2]: PJM market rules drive an era of oversupply
By Stephanie Tsao and Richard Martin, S&P Global
December 3, 2019
Overpowered [3]: In Virginia, Dominion faces challenges to its reign
By Darren SweeneyRichard MartinKrizka Danielle Del RosarioCiaralou PalicpicJose Miguel Fidel Javier, S&P Global
December 4, 2019
Overpowered [4]: Hailing renewables, NextEra bet big on gas in Florida
By Author Michael CopleyAnna DuquiatanCiaralou Palicpic, S&P Global
December 5, 2019
Overpowered [5]: Eyeing zero-carbon grid, California seeks a gas exit strategy
By Author Garrett Hering, S&P Global
December 6, 2019

» More about the fossil fuel industry

PLASTICS RECYCLING

The Great Recycling Con
The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products.
By Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza, New York Times Opinion
December 9, 2019

This holiday season, the United States Postal Service expects to ship almost one billion packages — cardboard boxes full of electronics and fabric and plastic galore. And the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generate 25 percent more waste in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than during the rest of the year, an additional one million tons per week.

But hey, most of it is recyclable, right?

Well, not really.
» Watch video

» More about plastics recycling

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