Weekly News Check-In 10/8/21

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Welcome back.

Now that tar sands oil from Alberta is flowing through the hotly contested Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the many protests and actions that stood in its way – and prepare for the next round. We also look at some of the arguably unethical tactics used against Water Protectors during the struggle. Meanwhile, thousands of miles of leaky gas pipelines are being replaced in Massachusetts at ratepayer expense – and it’s time to reconsider whether resources might be better applied toward non-emitting alternatives.

Boston just passed  blockbuster legislation to guide many existing buildings toward net-zero emissions by 2050. While only 4% of buildings are affected by the new law, they contribute an incredible 42% of total emissions from all sources. An estimated 85% of these buildings will still be standing at mid-century – so it’s imperative to clean them up. News on the national scene is less encouraging, as Corporate America mounts a full-on lobbying assault of President Biden’s climate initiatives.

Key to the energy transition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is sharpening its scrutiny of proposed gas infrastructure projects. Many pipeline projects have been approved in the past without having established a legitimate need for the energy they’re built to transport, and Chairman Richard Glick is attempting to set the bar higher.

We just experienced a summer in which just about everyone felt they’d received too much or too little rain. It’s true – and our Climate section makes sense of it. This year’s Nobel Prize winners in Physics helped make that possible – with research showing how to understand big systems with enormous uncertainties.

We have lots of good news this week, including a forecast for continuing decreases in clean energy costs, some optimism that the carbon intensity of concrete can be reduced and managed, and exciting news that ESS’s long duration iron flow battery technology is attracting investors and orders. Heads up for a possible wrong turn in clean transportation, as Michigan – pothole capital of the Midwest – prepares to build a stretch of roadway to test wireless electric vehicle charging on the go. We wish them success, but it seems like a gamble.

We’re introducing a new section devoted to deep-seabed mining, an extreme and risky emerging resource extraction model motivated in large part by the huge projected demand for scarce metals needed to power mind-boggling numbers of electric vehicles. What we know is that we’re really quite ignorant of the deep ocean, its ecology, how it sustains the broader web of life, and how it affects the carbon cycle. We’re calling this a Very Bad Idea, and have included four excellent articles to help you get up to speed.

Recall that we began this week’s post with a look at the nasty fight over Line 3. Keep that in mind as you check out the fossil fuel industry’s pricey, happy-making Times Square ad buy – huge billboards extolling Americans to “choose friendly oil”. Including fanciful images of colorful maple leaves wafting from gas pumps. Yup – it’s our friends up north pushing this drivel, greenwashing the very same high carbon tar sands sludge they’re shoving down Line 3, across treaty-protected fragile ecosystems in northern Minnesota. Shut it down.

A much longer-running ad campaign by the natural gas industry created a deep and abiding love of gas cookstoves in this country. Consumer reluctance to switch that one appliance to electric is hampering attempts to swap out other appliances like water heaters, furnaces, and clothes dryers for their electric counterparts – and ultimately to ban gas hookups altogether. Time for us to talk about it.

Massachusetts is set to approve a liquefied natural gas facility in Charlton, MA – a project opposed by the town. The plant will produce up to a quarter million gallons of LNG per day, and will primarily serve winter peak demand. The need for that can be debated, but this is certain: The LNG will be loaded on tanker trucks and distributed via public roadways to various offloading stations. While the safety record of LNG truck transport is pretty good so far, “If an LNG tanker were breached and a vapor cloud ignited, an explosion could send projectiles hundreds of feet as well as set off a fire that can burn as high as 2,426 degrees – more than twice the flame temperature of gasoline.” according to Delaware Currents reporting.

Since we’re talking about burning stuff, we’ll close with a report on biomass – and have a look at the industry’s claim of carbon neutrality.

button - BEAT News For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletter from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no parking any time
Oil is now flowing on Line 3. The fight to stop it isn’t over.
Anti-pipeline activists promise to continue holding polluters and policymakers accountable.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 1, 2021

Months of protests and a six-year legal battle culminated on Thursday, when the Canadian oil company Enbridge announced that work on its controversial new Line 3 pipeline was “substantially completed,” and that oil would begin flowing across northern Minnesota on Friday.

Line 3 “will soon deliver the low cost and reliable energy that people depend on every day,” said Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, in a press release.

The $3 billion project was billed by Enbridge as a replacement for its existing pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and had begun to corrode. The new Line 3 will double the pipeline’s capacity, enabling the company to transport 760,000 barrels a day from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest — traveling through Anishinaabe territory in the process.

Line 3 opponents argue that the expanded pipeline will exacerbate climate change and contaminate Minnesota waterways. More than two dozen drilling fluid spills were reported over the summer, and activists say that oil spills are inevitable over the 800 wetlands and 200 bodies of water that lie along the pipeline’s route. The largest accident to date, a 24-million-gallon groundwater leak near Clearbrook, Minnesota, led the state’s Department of Natural Resources to fine Enbridge $3.32 million.

Because the risk of an oil spill is so high, attorneys representing the region’s Indigenous people also argue that the pipeline violates Anishinaabe treaty rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice. A Line 3 oil spill could contaminate hundreds of acres of land covered in the treaties of 1854, 1855, and 1867, jeopardizing Anishinaabe rights to “make a modest living from the land.”

Despite the setback, many advocacy groups vowed to keep pressuring the Biden administration, Democratic lawmakers, and Enbridge in an effort to see the pipeline ultimately shut down. “The Line 3 fight is far from over, it has just shifted gears,” wrote the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We will continue to stand on the frontlines until every last tar sands pipeline is shut down and Indigenous communities are no longer targeted but our right to consent or denial is respected.”
» Read article                  

hired hands
Revealed: pipeline company paid Minnesota police for arresting and surveilling protesters
Enbridge picked up the tab for police wages, training and equipment – and let county police know when it wanted demonstrators arrested
By Hilary Beaumont, The Guardian
October 5, 2021

The Canadian company Enbridge has reimbursed US police $2.4m for arresting and surveilling hundreds of demonstrators who oppose construction of its Line 3 pipeline, according to documents the Guardian obtained through a public records request.

Enbridge has paid for officer training, police surveillance of demonstrators, officer wages, overtime, benefits, meals, hotels and equipment.

Enbridge is replacing the Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota to carry oil from Alberta to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. The new pipeline carries a heavy oil called bitumen, doubles the capacity of the original to 760,000 barrels a day and carves a new route through pristine wetlands. A report by the climate action group MN350 says the expanded pipeline will emit the equivalent greenhouse gases of 50 coal power plants.

The project was meant to be completed and start functioning on Friday.

Police have arrested more than 900 demonstrators opposing Line 3 and its impact on climate and Indigenous rights, according to the Pipeline Legal Action Network.

It’s common for protesters opposing pipeline construction to face private security hired by companies, as they did during demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. But in Minnesota, a financial agreement with a foreign company has given public police forces an incentive to arrest demonstrators.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates pipelines, decided rural police should not have to pay for increased strain from Line 3 protests. As a condition of granting Line 3 permits, the commission required Enbridge to set up an escrow account to reimburse police for responding to demonstrations.

Enbridge told the Guardian an independent account manager allocates the funds, and police decide when protesters are breaking the law. But records obtained by the Guardian show the company meets daily with police to discuss intelligence gathering and patrols. And when Enbridge wants protesters removed, it calls police or sends letters.

“Our police are beholden to a foreign company,” Tara Houska, founder of the Indigenous frontline group Giniw Collective, told the Guardian. “They are working hand in hand with big oil. They are actively working for a company. Their duty is owed to the state of Minnesota and to the tribal citizens of Minnesota.”

“It’s a very clear violation of the public’s trust,” she added.
» Read article                  

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

pipe replacement
As Massachusetts envisions a fossil fuel-free future, gas companies are quietly investing billions in pipelines
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
October 3, 2021

More than 21,000 miles of aging gas pipelines lie under the streets in Massachusetts, nearly enough to encircle the earth. When researchers began discovering about a decade ago that tens of thousands of leaks across that vast network discharged tons of hazardous methane into the air, the Legislature went to work. A law was passed, and in short order, gas companies embarked on a massive, years-long upgrade.

Since then, the gas companies have slogged through a slow, expensive process of digging up pipes and replacing them with new ones meant to last more than half a century. Costs soared. And something else happened: The state passed a climate law that effectively called for the end of natural gas.

Now, a detailed analysis of the cost and effectiveness of the program, to be released Monday, is raising questions among some experts about whether the program should be modified or even scrapped, potentially allowing money to flow to other climate-related needs.

“The question people need to ask is: The world has changed; does this program really make sense any more given climate change, the fact that we’re moving toward a low-carbon economy, and that the Commonwealth has very aggressive climate mandates?” said Dorie Seavey, an economist who conducted the study on behalf of the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies, a coalition of scientists, activists, and environmental organizations working to reduce methane emissions from natural gas.

Senator Mike Barrett, who reviewed an early copy of the report, called it a watershed analysis that should leave residents wondering: “When do we stop investing in what is essentially as-good-as-new infrastructure, when what we really must be about is walking away from the natural gas enterprise as we know it?”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who in 2020 called on the state to investigate the future of the natural gas industry in light of Massachusetts’ climate goals, said, “The questions raised in this report … warrant a fresh statewide look at this program.
» Read article                 
» Read the analysis               

Just Say NO
PennEast Pipeline Cancelation Could Signal ‘End of an Era’ for Unnecessary Fossil Fuel Projects
The pipeline would have crossed more than 88 waterways, 44 wetlands, 30 parks, and 33 conservation easements. Experts say the cancelation demonstrates that federal regulators must stop approving gas pipelines that fail to show they are needed in the first place.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 30, 2021

A major natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania was canceled this week in the face of a thicket of legal obstacles and intense local opposition. The cancelation may punctuate what could be the end of a decade-long pipeline building frenzy in the U.S. as federal regulators begin to heed calls from activists and local communities to increase scrutiny over unneeded pipelines crisscrossing the country.

The PennEast pipeline would have carried Marcellus shale gas from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River and to Mercer County, New Jersey. But the developers of the project canceled it on September 27, citing its inability to obtain state-level water quality permits from New Jersey. The decision came three months after the company won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court related to the corporation’s ability to seize state land using eminent domain authority.

The cancelation highlights the obstacles that several other high-profile projects currently face. For instance, the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia still needs state-level environmental permits, as does the Pacific Connector gas pipeline in Oregon, which would feed the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export project. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is under construction but still faces many more hurdles standing in the way of its completion. Jordan Cove is all but dead.

But the fate of PennEast is not simply a story about a pipeline stopped by state regulators over water permits. It also represented the “systemic ostrich-like refusal” by federal regulators to assess whether there is market demand for gas before approving pipeline projects in the first place, Megan Gibson, an attorney at the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., told DeSmog.

Natural gas pipelines that cross state lines must obtain approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which grants a certificate if the project is deemed to be in the public interest. Typically, if a project shows that there is a commercial need for the gas, FERC simply approves the certificate.

But in many cases, the need for the gas is highly suspect. An industry trend in recent years saw developers of natural gas pipelines make deals with subsidiaries or affiliates of themselves, and use those agreements to demonstrate that a pipeline is needed.

“FERC has in the past assumed that if the company wanted to build it, then it must be needed. It’s not such an unusual thing to think if you don’t think through how the money works,” Suzanne Mattei, an energy policy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), told DeSmog.

The pipeline “doesn’t have to be needed for them to make money off of it,” she said.

That is because gas pipelines are guaranteed a rate of return for building the projects – the pipeline builder recoups the cost of construction plus extra for profit – so pipeline companies can make money whether or not the gas is actually needed. In the end, gas ratepayers are saddled with the costs of a superfluous pipeline.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

pedestrian walking
Boston just enacted its ‘single most impactful initiative’ to curb greenhouse gas emissions
The new measure, dubbed BERDO 2.0, requires large buildings to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
By Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com
October 5, 2021

In the midst of a heated mayoral race and in the shadows of two much-hyped local sports events, Boston may have just taken one of the biggest steps of any major city in the country toward reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed an ordinance Tuesday that will require existing large buildings in Boston to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Technically an amendment to a 2013 ordinance that required all commercial and residential buildings that are at least 35,000 square feet in size or have at least 35 units to report their energy and water use, the measure — dubbed BERDO 2.0 — expands the city’s authority to set emission and reporting requirements for buildings greater than or equal to 20,000 square feet or with at least 15 units.

In a statement, Janey called the ordinance a “monumental achievement that will have positive impacts on our residents for generations to come.”

In a press release, her office was even more blunt: “This policy is the single most impactful initiative to curb Boston’s carbon emissions.”

How so?

As much as climate change conversations often focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, 70 percent of Boston’s emissions comes from buildings.

And while the new policy only affects 4 percent of the city’s buildings, those large buildings account for 60 percent of building emissions — or roughly 42 percent of all citywide emissions.

The ordinance requires affected building owners to submit plans setting forth their path to carbon neutrality by 2050 with emission reduction targets every five years. They have a number of options to get there: pursue energy efficiency improvements, switch from gas to electric heating, incorporate clean energy systems like solar, and/or purchase carbon offsets.

(City officials have estimated that 85 percent of the buildings that will be standing in Boston in 2050 are already standing today, so it wouldn’t be enough to apply the net-zero targets on new developments.)
» Read article             

captured
US corporations talk green but are helping derail major climate bill
Apple and Amazon are among dozens of companies whose lobbying groups are fighting to stop the Democrats’ reconciliation package.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 7, 2021

Folded into the Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar budget reconciliation package is some of the U.S.’s most far-reaching climate legislation ever. Even scaled back from its originally proposed size of $3.5 trillion, the bill could go a long way toward helping the nation meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

But corporate opposition has been fierce. In recent months, powerful lobbying groups have unleashed a storm of advertisements, reports, and targeted donations meant to stop the package from passing. And while many of these efforts have been spearheaded by the usual suspects — Koch Industries front groups, for example — others have been quietly backed by the U.S.’s largest and ostensibly greenest companies.

Disney, AT&T, Deloitte, United Airlines, and some of the country’s biggest tech firms — including Apple and Microsoft — are among dozens of the country’s most powerful corporations helping to block the passage of President Joe Biden’s landmark climate legislation, according to a new report from the corruption watchdog group Accountable.US. Their contributions to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which is fighting tooth and nail against the reconciliation package — are undermining what many advocates have called our “last shot” for meaningful climate policy during this decade.
» Read article              
» Read the Accountable.US report

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

EPA advice
FERC Chair Glick calls for tougher reviews of natural gas projects as commission staff reject EPA advice
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
September 30, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to bolster its reviews of how proposed natural gas infrastructure projects could affect the climate as well as environmental justice communities while also making sure they are needed to keep its decisions from being overturned by courts, according to agency head Richard Glick.

In the last several years, FERC often cut corners in its environmental reviews, Glick said in a letter, released Sept. 27, to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member.

“That dramatically increases the risk that the courts will invalidate the commission’s decisions, which in turn adds substantial risks for the infrastructure developers who rely on commission orders when investing millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in new projects,” Glick said.

Glick’s letter highlights flaws in FERC’s review process for gas infrastructure that should be addressed as soon as possible by updating the agency’s decades-old natural gas certificate “policy statement,” according to an attorney with New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity.

Since he joined FERC four years ago, Glick has argued the agency isn’t taking a sharp enough look at how gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities affect the climate as well as environmental justice communities, or whether the proposed facilities are even needed.

It is unlikely FERC will approve major gas projects until the agency revises its process for reviewing them, according to Gillian Giannetti, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
» Blog editor’s note: this quote clearly highlights the critical need for opponents to file comments on EVERYTHING: “Glick said he understood pipeline and LNG companies want prompt decisions on their proposals, which is why he has moved forward with projects that no one filed protests over and therefore cannot be appealed in court, even in cases where he had concerns about their environmental analysis.”
» Read article               

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

WMO water report
World Meteorological Organization Sharpens Warnings About Both Too Much and Too Little Water
With global warming intensifying the water cycle, floods and droughts are increasing, and many countries are unprepared.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
October 6, 2021

The global supply of fresh water is dropping by almost half an inch annually, the World Meteorological Organization warned in a report released this week. By 2050, about 5 billion people will have inadequate access to water at least one month per year, the report said.

Overall, global warming is intensifying the planet’s water cycle, with an increase of 134 percent in flood-related disasters since 2000, while the number and duration of droughts has grown by 29 percent over the same period. Most of the deaths and economic losses from floods are in Asia, while Africa is hardest hit by drought.

“The water is draining out of the tub in some places, while it’s overflowing in others,” said Maxx Dilley, director of the WMO Climate Programme. “We’ve known about this for a long time. When scientists were starting to get a handle on what climate change was going to mean, an acceleration of the hydrological cycle was one of the things that was considered likely.”

Researchers are seeing the changes to the hydrological cycle in its impacts as well as in the data, Dilley said.

“And it’s not just climate,” he said. “Society plays a major role, with population growth and development. At some point these factors are really going to come together in a way that is really damaging. This summer’s extremes were early warnings.”
» Read article              
» Read the report

physics nobel 2021
Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Study of Humanity’s Role in Changing Climate
The work of Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi “demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation,” the committee said.
By Cade Metz, Marc Santora and Cora Engelbrecht, New York Times
October 5, 2021

Three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for work that is essential to understanding how the Earth’s climate is changing, pinpointing the effect of human behavior on those changes and ultimately predicting the impact of global warming.

The winners were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome.

Others have received Nobel Prizes for their work on climate change, most notably former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said this is the first time the Physics prize has been awarded specifically to a climate scientist.

“The discoveries being recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations,” said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Complex physical systems, such as the climate, are often defined by their disorder. This year’s winners helped bring understanding to what seemed like chaos by describing those systems and predicting their long-term behavior.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

cheaper faster
The decreasing cost of renewables unlikely to plateau any time soon
Early price forecasts underestimated how good we’d get at making green energy.
By Doug Johnson, Ars Technica
October 3, 2021

Past projections of energy costs have consistently underestimated just how cheap renewable energy would be in the future, as well as the benefits of rolling them out quickly, according to a new report out of the Institute of New Economic Thinking at the University of Oxford.

The report makes predictions about more than 50 technologies such as solar power, offshore wind, and more, and it compares them to a future that still runs on carbon. “It’s not just good news for renewables. It’s good news for the planet,” Matthew Ives, one of the report’s authors and a senior researcher at the Oxford Martin Post-Carbon Transition Programme, told Ars.

The paper used probabilistic cost forecasting methods—taking into account both past data and current and ongoing technological developments in renewables—for its findings. It also used large caches of data from sources such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and Bloomberg. Beyond looking at the cost (represented as dollar per unit of energy production over time), the report also represents its findings in three scenarios: a fast transition to renewables, a slow transition, and no transition at all.

Compared to sticking with fossil fuels, a quick shift to renewables could mean trillions of dollars in savings, even without accounting for things like damages caused by climate change or any co-benefits from the reduced pollution. Even beyond the savings, rolling out renewable energy sources could help the world limit global warming to 1.5° C. According to the report, if solar, wind, and the myriad other green energy tools followed the deployment trends they are projected to see in the next decade, in 25 years the world could potentially see a net-zero energy system.

“The energy transition is also going to save us money. We should be doing it anyway,” Ives said.
» Read article              
» Read the report: Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition

» More about clean energy              

BUILDING MATERIALS

low-carbon concrete
Concrete’s role in reducing building and pavement emissions
MIT researchers find emissions of U.S. buildings and pavements can be reduced by around 50 percent even as concrete use increases.
By Andrew Logan, MIT News
September 16, 2021

As the most consumed material after water, concrete is indispensable to the many essential systems — from roads to buildings — in which it is used.

But due to its extensive use, concrete production also contributes to around 1 percent of emissions in the United States and remains one of several carbon-intensive industries globally. Tackling climate change, then, will mean reducing the environmental impacts of concrete, even as its use continues to increase.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of current and former researchers at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) outlines how this can be achieved.

They present an extensive life-cycle assessment of the building and pavements sectors that estimates how greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategies — including those for concrete and cement — could minimize the cumulative emissions of each sector and how those reductions would compare to national GHG reduction targets.

The team found that, if reduction strategies were implemented, the emissions for pavements and buildings between 2016 and 2050 could fall by up to 65 percent and 57 percent, respectively, even if concrete use accelerated greatly over that period. These are close to U.S. reduction targets set as part of the Paris Climate Accords. The solutions considered would also enable concrete production for both sectors to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.

[Low-carbon concrete strategies include recycled content, carbon capture in cement production, and the use of captured carbon to produce aggregates and cure concrete.]

Despite continued grid decarbonization and increases in fuel efficiency, they found that the vast majority of the GHG emissions from new buildings and pavements during this period would derive from operational energy consumption rather than so-called embodied emissions — emissions from materials production and construction.
» Read article              
» Read the research paper

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

better mousetrap
ESS, SB Energy reach major deal for flow battery technology with 2 GWh agreement
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
October 4, 2021

The deal is a significant volume for the flow battery technology. The vast majority of battery storage on the market — 85% of newly installed storage around the world, according to a 2020 report from Navigant Research — is based on lithium-ion technology. While that technology is relatively cheap and well-tested, the batteries do carry concerns about their fire risk, their slow charging time and the supply chain impact of extracting minerals.

ESS’ flow batteries, on the other hand, rely on common materials and don’t carry the same safety risks. The five-year partnership with SB Energy acts as a major vote of confidence for the technology, said ESS CEO Eric Dresselhuys.

“This deal is really the culmination of years of work to show that there’s a better mousetrap out there that solves more problems and is better for where the grid is going,” Dresselhuys said. “Once people see that we’ve been vetted and tested and approved by partners like SB, that provides a lot of confidence.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

on the go
Michigan plans to build the country’s first wireless EV charging road.
Will it work?
By Jena Brooker, Grist
October 5, 2021

To help Michigan reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced last month that the state will construct the nation’s first wireless electric vehicle charging road — a one-mile stretch in the Metro Detroit area.

“Michigan was home to the first mile of paved road, and now we’re paving the way for the roads of tomorrow,” Whitmer said in a press release, “with innovative infrastructure that will support the economy and the environment.”

A wireless EV road works like this: As a car drives over it, the vehicle’s battery is charged by pads or coils built under the surface of the street using magnetic induction. It doesn’t give the car a full charge, but it helps add some additional mileage to a vehicle before its next complete powering up.

The project is still in the very early stages: The Michigan Department of Transportation began accepting proposals for the project on September 28. Until one is selected, it’s unknown exactly where the road will be, what it will look like, the precise cost, or how soon it could be operational. But some are questioning whether the project is worth it. Is it the best use of funds in a state with poor transit and crumbling infrastructure? And how will it even work, particularly in a place with harsh weather extremes like the Midwest?
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

SCONZ ruling
New Zealand ruling against deep-sea mining set a global precedent – now Ardern should ban it
Last week’s court decision affirmed the view that seabed mining is too dangerous, too risky and too harmful to the environment
By Phil McCabe and James Hita, The Guardian | Opinion
October 4, 2021

The decision by New Zealand’s Supreme Court last week against a giant seabed mining proposal in the South Taranaki Bight is a wake-up call for the world’s would-be seabed mining industry, both in the deep oceans of international waters and for countries contemplating such activities off their own coasts.

The mining operation, proposed by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR), would have dug up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for 35 years, targeting 5m tonnes of iron ore and dumping the remaining 45m tonnes back into the ocean.

The decision sets an important global precedent favouring environmental protection over damaging seabed mining.

This was the third seabed mining application in New Zealand since 2013, all three have now been declined. It was this company’s second attempt. A 2014 application to mine the deep seabed of the Chatham Rise, east of New Zealand’s South Island, was refused due to the potential harmful environmental effects.

This Supreme Court decision means that seabed mining causing “material damage” to the environment, in effect, cannot be approved under New Zealand law.

It affirms views held by an impressive spectrum of ocean-loving people who have engaged with this issue over the last decade. That seabed mining is too dangerous, too risky and would bring too much harm to the environment.
» Read article               

antithetical
‘Antithetical to science’: When deep-sea research meets mining interests
By Elham Shabahat, Mongabay
October 4, 2021

The high cost of studying deep-sea ecosystems means that many scientists have to rely on funding and access provided by companies seeking to exploit resources on the ocean floor.

More than half of the scientists in the small, highly specialized deep-sea biology community have worked with governments and mining companies to do baseline research, according to one biologist.

But as with the case of industries like tobacco and pharmaceuticals underwriting scientific research into their own products, the funding of deep-sea research by mining companies poses an ethical hazard.

Critics say the nascent industry is already far from transparent, with much of the data from baseline research available only to the scientists involved, the companies, and U.N.-affiliated body that approves deep-sea mining applications.
» Read article               

not yours
‘False choice’: is deep-sea mining required for an electric vehicle revolution?
Deep sea mining firms claim their rare metals are necessary to power clean tech – but with even major electric car firms now backing a moratorium, critics say there is an alternative
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
September 28, 2021

Douglas McCauley, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, says the potential impact of deep-sea mining keeps him up at night.

Electrification of vehicle fleets is a “positive pathway” to reduce carbon emissions, says McCauley. But he accuses deep-sea mining companies of a “false narrative” that we must mine the ocean to meet renewable energy’s demand for metals.

“There are some very significant questions being raised by scientists about the impacts of ocean mining,” he says. “How much extinction could be generated? How long will it take these extremely low-resilience systems to recover? What impact will it have on the ocean’s capacity to capture carbon?”

Campaigners highlight the uncertainty in assumptions behind often wildly different projected metal demand. In July, Greenpeace researchers showed many projections for metal demand by 2050 assumed ongoing use of cobalt and nickel-dependent lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and storage, despite alternatives being developed, including Tesla’s use of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which require neither metal.

Kevin Bridgen, senior scientist for Greenpeace Research Laboratories, says: “People are saying ‘we are not going to have enough metals if we carry on doing as we’ve always done’, but changes are already taking place.”

Increasingly, car companies are joining in the revolt. In March, BMW and Volvo, with Google and Samsung, became the first global companies to sign up to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. In backing the call, WWF says, the companies committed to not sourcing any metals from the seabed, to exclude them from their supply chains and not to finance deep-sea mining, until the risks are better understood and the alternatives exhausted.

In calling for a ban, Claudia Becker, BMW’s expert in sustainable supply-chain management, says she fears mining the deep sea could have “irreversible consequences”.
» Read article               

cutting machines
Race to the bottom: the disastrous, blindfolded rush to mine the deep sea
One of the largest mining operations ever seen on Earth aims to despoil an ocean we are only barely beginning to understand
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
Photo: Nautilus Materials
September 27, 2021

A short bureaucratic note from a brutally degraded microstate in the South Pacific to a little-known institution in the Caribbean is about to change the world. Few people are aware of its potential consequences, but the impacts are certain to be far-reaching. The only question is whether that change will be to the detriment of the global environment or the benefit of international governance.

In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen). Innocuous as it sounds, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans.

In the three months since it was fired, the sound of that shot has reverberated through government offices, conservation movements and scientific academies, and is now starting to reach a wider public, who are asking how the fate of the greatest of global commons can be decided by a sponsorship deal between a tiny island and a multinational mining corporation.

The risks are enormous. Oversight is almost impossible. Regulators admit humanity knows more about deep space than the deep ocean. The technology is unproven. Scientists are not even sure what lives in those profound ecosystems. State governments have yet to agree on a rulebook on how deep oceans can be exploited. No national ballot has ever included a vote on excavating the seabed. Conservationists, including David Attenborough and Chris Packham, argue it is reckless to go ahead with so much uncertainty and such potential devastation ahead.
» Read article               

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

tar sands operation
Alberta’s ‘Friendly’ Oil is Most Carbon-Intensive in New International Index
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
October 5, 2021

A team of international analysts is pointing to a Canadian tar sands/oil sands operation as the most carbon-intensive by far in an index of major oilfields around the world, even as Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre launches a Times Square ad campaign touting the country’s “friendly” oil.

“Choose friendly oil. Cleaner. Closer. Committed to Net Zero,” the C$240,000 video billboard campaign proclaims. But the ads landed just as S&P Global Platts unveiled a new monthly calculation of the carbon intensity and resulting carbon offset premiums for 14 major crude oil fields, including the 140,000-barrel-per-day Cold Lake facility, which Imperial Oil touts as “the longest running oil sands operation in Northeastern Alberta”.

The S&P Global Platts analysis adds another distinction to Cold Lake’s longevity: at 81.87 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per barrel as of July 2021, Cold Lake is by far the most carbon-intensive of the 14 fields the firm looked at in North America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Latin America. Next up was the Kirkuk field in Iraq, at 58.84 kilograms per barrel, followed by North Dakota’s Bakken field at 30.86. The lowest-emitting, Norway’s Jan Sverdrup field, produced only 3.73 kilograms.

As a group, the 14 fields averaged 25.11 kilograms of CO2e per barrel, less than one-third of Cold Lake’s emissions intensity.

Those numbers didn’t seem to make it into the messaging from Canada’s Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen. “We’re right here next door. And we’re cleaner. We’re closer and we’re committed to net zero. So turn your eyes our way,” he told CBC News. “We think we should meet the demand for energy that the United States needs over and above what they produce domestically. And frankly, for the rest of the world.”
» Read article               

choose friendly oil
Alberta energy ‘war room’ launches Times Square ad, expert questions campaign
Campaign promotes Canada’s clean energy in U.S., but Andrew Leach says it’s still emissions heavy
By Elise von Scheel, CBC News
September 28, 2021

Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre has launched an ad campaign in Times Square to promote the country’s oil and gas industry in the United States.

The initiative from the province’s so-called energy “war room” is spending $240,000 to push Canada’s sector as the solution to “cleaner energy and lower gas prices,” according to its website.

The centre operates as a private corporation, created by the United Conservative Party government, to promote Alberta energy. It has been beleaguered with branding and messaging problems since its launch.

“We’re right here next door. And we’re cleaner. We’re closer and we’re committed to net zero. So turn your eyes our way,” CEO Tom Olsen told CBC News.

“We think we should meet the demand for energy that the United States needs over and above what they produce domestically. And frankly, for the rest of the world.”

The video billboards in New York City feature maple leaves pouring from a gas pump nozzle with the caption “Choose Friendly Oil.” About 96 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas exports go to the U.S., according to Natural Resources Canada.

And the centre is asking Americans to write to the Joe Biden administration urging the U.S. government to lean on cleaner Canadian energy instead of requesting more production from Russia and OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia — as surging U.S. gas prices recently reached a seven-year high.

But one expert says it’s disingenuous to call the Canadian industry clean.

“You can read their statement of saying oilsands have gotten cleaner, but the oilsands barrels themselves relative to a global average are still pretty emissions intensive. So there’s not really a good way to reconcile what they’re saying at Times Square with what we know from the data,” said Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta.

“All of our data says that the average Canadian barrel is getting more emissions intensive.”
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuel

GAS BANS

cookin with gas
We need to talk about your gas stove, your health and climate change
By Jeff Brady, NPR
October 7, 2021

Americans love their gas stoves. It’s a romance fueled by a decades-old “cooking with gas” campaign from utilities that includes vintage advertisements, a cringeworthy 1980s rap video and, more recently, social media personalities. The details have changed over time, but the message is the same: Using a gas stove makes you a better cook.

But the beloved gas stove has become a focal point in a fight over whether gas should even exist in the 35% of U.S. homes that cook with it.

Environmental groups are focused on potential health effects. Burning gas emits pollutants that can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses. Residential appliances like gas-powered furnaces and water heaters vent pollution outside, but the stove “is the one gas appliance in your home that is most likely unvented,” says Brady Seals with RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute.

The focus on possible health risks from stoves is part of the broader campaign by environmentalists to kick gas out of buildings to fight climate change. Commercial and residential buildings account for about 13% of heat-trapping emissions, mainly from the use of gas appliances.

Those groups won a significant victory recently when California developed new standards that, once finalized, will require more ventilation for gas stoves than for electric ones starting in 2023. The Biden administration’s climate plan also calls for government incentives that would encourage people to switch from residential gas to all-electric.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

town objections ignored
Over town objections, $100M Charlton natural gas pipeline and facility slated for final approval
By Katherine Hamilton, Worcester Business Journal
October 1, 2021

A pipeline and natural gas liquidation plant proposed in Charlton was recommended for approval on Sept. 20 and will go up for a final vote before the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board next week, according to a notice on Mass.gov.

Northeast Energy Center, LLC, which is registered to Philadelphia energy infrastructure company Liberty Energy Trust, is proposing construction of a liquefied natural gas facility and pipeline in Charlton. The project will cost $100 million, including the cost of land acquisition, according to the siting board’s tentative decision report.

The plant would liquefy pipeline natural gas, store the LNG, and load tanker trucks. It would be capable of storing 2 million gallons of LNG and producing up to 250,000 gallons per day, according to the siting board’s tentative decision.

The siting board’s tentative decision, which recommended approval of the project, said it will consider and compare two sites for the project, one along Route 169 and one along Route 20.
» Blog editor’s note: The LNG from this facility, up to 250,000 gallons per day, will be carried away on tanker trucks, over our roadways and through our neighborhoods, to wherever the fuel is needed. Drive safely!
» View final comments by No Fracked Gas in Mass and BEAT
» View final comments by Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN-NE)

» Read article               

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Enviva plant NC
Biomass is promoted as a carbon neutral fuel. But is burning wood a step in the wrong direction?
Many scientists and environmental campaigners question the industry’s claims to offer a clean, renewable energy source that the planet desperately needs
By Rebecca Speare-Cole, The Guardian
October 5, 2021

Biomass has been promoted as a carbon-neutral energy source by industry, some countries and lawmakers on the basis that the emissions released by burning wood can be offset by the carbon dioxide taken up by trees grown to replace those burned.

Yet there remain serious doubts among many scientists about its carbon-neutral credentials, especially when wood pellets are made by cutting down whole trees, rather than using waste wood products. It can take as much as a century for trees to grow enough to offset the carbon released.

Burning wood for energy is also inefficient – biomass has been found to release more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal or gas, according to a 2018 study and an open letter to the EU signed by nearly 800 scientists.

This CO2 is theoretically reabsorbed by new trees, but some scientists suggest relying on biomass could actually end up increasing emissions just at the time when the world needs to sharply reduce emissions and reach goals of becoming net zero by 2050. “During these decades, warming increases and permafrost and glaciers continue to melt, among other permanent forms of climate damage,” said Tim Searchinger, a senior energy and environment research scholar at Princeton.

Over the last decade a wave of biomass plants have opened their doors or ramped up production across the US south, where they have access to the region’s vast hardwood and other wetland forests, many of which are on unprotected private lands.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

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