News broke just after the lackluster COP26 climate summit concluded, that the Biden administration would offer up the largest offshore oil and gas drilling lease in history. It was a huge carbon bomb lobbed at the climate, and it made the environmental community furious. Lawsuits came swiftly, and now we’re thrilled to report that the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia has revoked those leases. The ruling states that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of fossil fuel extraction. Pipeline projects are bogging down in similar legal thickets, partly because of climate impacts, but also for direct environmental harms and safety hazards posed by their construction and operation.
Stanford scientist Robert Jackson took some of the shine off our beloved gas stove with a peer-reviewed study showing considerably higher rates of methane leakage than were previously understood. It’s challenging to send gas through pipes, valves, fittings, and appliances without at least a little bit leaking, and a little bit from a lot of places adds up to a serious problem. This new data bolsters the gas ban movement.
Food for thought: natural gas – methane (CH4) is a huge molecule compared to hydrogen (H2). We obviously don’t have a system that adequately contains methane, but the gas industry is pushing hard to send various mixtures of methane and hydrogen, and eventually all hydrogen, into our homes to perform the same functions currently served by natural gas. You good with that?
Sometime during the recent period of sustained environmental assault by the federal government, America was nudged toward greatness again (in some minds) by delaying the planned phase-out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs. The effect on greening the economy wasn’t much, but it perversely served to raise the cost of living for people already struggling to get by. This is a good example of choices we make as we address the climate and environmental crises. There are obvious good or bad moves, and then there are unintended consequences – plus entrenched interests eager to game the system to their advantage. We’re seeing these dynamics play out in efforts to modernize the grid, source and site renewable resources, implement a meaningful system of carbon offsets and reforestation, and figure out an appropriate role for carbon capture and storage.
We’re keeping an eye on pushback within the European Union regarding attempts to classify natural gas and nuclear as sustainable energy. Meanwhile, the most blatant EU boondoggle of swapping coal for “carbon neutral” biomass took a hit, as its biggest offender, Drax Group, was booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. And while we’re thumping the EU, what is going on with minimum flight benchmarks that are causing airlines to fly nearly-empty planes just to maintain airport slots?!!
Closer to home, Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing the Baker administration to finalize new energy efficiency standards in the building code. And we found some just plain good news in the latest press on Energy Vault’s gravity-based, long-duration energy storage system. We’ve featured this California company’s technology before, because it’s a standout in terms of simplicity, durability, and minimal environmental impact.
We’ll wrap up with a couple things to keep watching closely. First, the scope of cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s abandoned and orphaned wells is rising now that the government has offered substantial funds for the task. We predict that cleanup costs will only grow – the mess is worse than industry and regulators have admitted. We’re also tracking growing concern about the prospect of someone implementing solar geoengineering in some form, in a desperate attempt to cool the planet.
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
Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change
A judge ruled that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before awarding leases.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 27, 2022
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday canceled oil and gas leases of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling that the Biden administration did not sufficiently take climate change into account when it auctioned the leases late last year.
The decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a major victory for environmental groups that criticized the Biden administration for holding the sale after promising to move the country away from fossil fuels. It had been the largest lease sale in United States history.
Now the Interior Department must conduct a new environmental analysis that accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the eventual development and production of the leases. After that, the agency will have to decide whether it will hold a new auction.
“This is huge,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that brought the lawsuit.
“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Ms. Hardy said, adding, “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”
Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency was reviewing the decision.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to pause the issuing of new leases.
But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order, and also ruled that the administration must hold lease sales in the Gulf that had already been scheduled.
Biden administration officials have said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland risked being held in contempt of court if the auction was not held. Environmental groups, however, argued that the administration had other options, including doing a new analysis to examine the ways that the burning of oil extracted from the Gulf would contribute to climate change.
» Read article
» Listen to coverage on NPR
» Read the U.S. District Court decision
» More about protests and actions
Mountain Valley Pipeline loses permit to cross through Jefferson National Forest
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
January 25, 2022
For the second time, a federal appeals court has thrown out government approvals for a natural gas pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest.
A written decision Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest of many setbacks for the Mountain Valley Pipeline since construction began in 2018.
A three-judge panel of the court found that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict — and to prevent — erosion and sedimentation problems caused by building the massive infrastructure project.
Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the panel’s unanimous decision that the agencies “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route.”
The ruling sends the permit back to the Forest Service and BLM for reconsideration. The first time the court did that, in July 2018, it took two years for the agencies to approve a second permit — which now has also been found lacking by the Fourth Circuit.
» Read article
Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
January 7, 2022
An oil and gas expert warned Michigan utility regulators not only would a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline not be a failsafe replacement for the underwater section of the line, but possible accidents could cause a catastrophic underground explosion.
But Enbridge doesn’t even want the possibility considered by decision-makers.
The Canadian oil and gas pipeline company wants much of that expert testimony tossed from the record in the state’s ongoing tunnel permit case review before the Michigan Public Service Commission. An administrative law judge will decide next week.
Enbridge argued the oil and gas expert’s testimony on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community shouldn’t be considered because of a legal technicality – that nobody has suggested a tunnel explosion before now so it can’t be considered rebuttal testimony.
The company also objected to official statements from a slew of others, including experts who testified on behalf of tribal governments and nonprofit environmental groups opposed to the tunnel proposal and continued use of the existing pipeline.
A Chicago-based lawyer for the Bay Mills tribe said the expert’s testimony is, in fact, intended to rebut prior testimony from MPSC employees who contend the proposed tunnel is a basically foolproof solution to the risk of oil spills from the dual pipelines that currently run across the Great Lakes bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.
“We saw what was being submitted in the case with respect to how the tunnel was being characterized – and specifically the pipeline running through the tunnel – and there was a repeated theme from witnesses offered by the MPSC staff, that the tunnel was going to eliminate a risk of a spill or catastrophic event in the Straits,” said Christopher Clark, of nonprofit Earthjustice which is working pro bono on behalf of the state’s Indigenous tribes with co-counsel Native American Rights Fund.
» Read article
» More about pipelines
Your gas stove is always polluting, even when it’s turned off
Scientists may have just found a source of missing methane in cities.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
January 27, 2022
When we fire up a gas stove, we’re releasing a powerful climate pollutant into kitchens and beyond. But a new study found that this isn’t just happening when the stove is on. Even when turned off, a typical gas stove will send methane up to the atmosphere.
The new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, helps answer a particular question that’s been nagging scientists for years. The puzzle has been accounting for all the sources of methane as concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to record levels. They know the natural gas industry, and specifically leaks from its pipelines, is the biggest contributor (natural gas is mostly methane). Other well-documented sources are livestock and landfills.
But there was a mystery when it came to urban environments: In one study in Boston, researchers noted that pipeline leaks couldn’t explain the high levels of methane emissions they detected. There had to be other leaks, most likely from gas-burning appliances inside homes.
So Stanford scientist Robert Jackson, one of the study’s coauthors, set out to track down this missing methane inside homes and buildings. And he was surprised at what his team found.
Basically all stoves “leak a bit when they’re burning,” Jackson said. “And they all leak a bit when you turn them on and off, because there’s a period of time before the flame kicks in. The most surprising was almost three-quarters of the methane that we found emitting from the stoves came from when they weren’t running.”
In other words, the gas stove, a feature of 40 million American homes, is likely always releasing a greenhouse gas. Gas stoves are still a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they aren’t even the biggest gas-guzzling appliance in buildings — gas furnaces and water heaters use much more of the fuel through the day and night. But the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year, the researchers found.
» Read article
» Read the study
» More about gas bans
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores
A Trump administration weakening of climate rules has kept incandescent bulbs on store shelves, and research shows they’re concentrated in shops serving poorer areas.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
January 23, 2022
For years, Deborah Turner bought her light bulbs at one of the many dollar stores that serve her neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.
But the bulbs for sale were highly inefficient, shorter lasting, incandescent ones — the pear-shaped orbs with glowing wire centers — meaning that over time Mrs. Turner, who lives in a neighborhood where a quarter of the residents are below the poverty line, would spend hundreds of dollars more on electrical bills, because of the extra power they use, than if she’d purchased energy-saving LED lights.
It’s a pattern repeated nationwide. Research has shown that lower-end retailers like dollar stores or convenience shops still extensively stock their shelves with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs, even as stores serving more affluent communities have shifted to selling far more efficient LEDs. One Michigan study, for instance, found that not only were LED bulbs less available in poorer areas, they also tended to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than in wealthier communities.
“You just don’t see them in places like Dollar General,” said Mrs. Turner, a semi-retired addiction-treatment counselor.
The continued prevalence of incandescent bulbs in the United States is one result of a successful effort during the Trump presidency, by an industry group representing the world’s biggest light-bulb makers, to stall energy efficiency standards in the United States. By contrast, in the European Union, those same companies have adhered to a phaseout of incandescent bulbs.
The delay has enabled manufacturers to prolong profits from an inefficient technology, often at the expense of lower-income households, which end up having to replace the short-lived bulbs more frequently, while also paying more to power them.
» Read article
» More about greening the economy
EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments
Lobbyists and an alliance of some EU governments push gas and nuclear in a sustainable investing guide. Scientific experts are “deeply concerned.”
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
January 25, 2022
The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”
In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.
In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.
Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.
» Read article
» More about clean energy
Lawmakers want Baker to move faster on new code for green buildings
By WBUR News & Wire Services
January 19, 2022
Frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging from the Baker administration, lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on bills that would give cities and towns the power to ban natural gas, heating oil or propane infrastructure in new buildings.
State law currently prohibits local governments from banning gas and oil hookups in new construction projects. But the state’s ambitious climate law passed last spring is supposed to change that, allowing communities to “opt in” to a stricter building code.
The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.
“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”
At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Barrett said the lack of a draft is a “discouraging early sign of whether or not we’re on track” to live up to the 2021 climate law.
» Read article
» More about energy efficiency
We Can Store Our Excess Renewable Energy In An Energy Vault
The company, Energy Vault, has commercialized the ultimate energy storage technology that will build the foundation of a clean energy future – brick by brick.
By James Conca, Forbes
January 27, 2022
The Energy Vault stores excess electrical energy by efficiently transforming it into gravitational potential energy using 35-ton bricks that can be raised and lowered at will, and that can sit still storing the energy for any amount of time, before transforming the energy back to electrical energy when needed.
It is not a battery that can degrade over time. It does not need water or rare elements like Li or Co. It does not depend on the weather and is not affected by extreme weather. It can withstand Cat 4 hurricane winds and magnitude 8 earthquakes (tested at the California Institute of Technology).
It uses common materials like dirt to make the bricks, even solid waste, that can be obtained locally and does not use cement to bind them together. It does not use ten times the steel and concrete that renewables use relative to nuclear or gas. And it has one of, if not the, lowest carbon footprints of any energy generation or storage system.
And this technology comes just in time. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge Market Report 2020, the World Energy Council, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg NEF and Lazard, the projected grid-related storage deployments between now and 2030 needs to be about 830 GWh. The cumulative investment in this grid-related storage required over this time period is about $270 billion.
I know that game-changer is an overused term, but this technology really is a game-changer. With it, we can achieve a low-carbon future by mid-century. And we don’t need to waste lithium.
» Read article
» More about energy storage
MODERNIZING THE GRID
Opponents appeal East Boston substation’s waterfront license
By Walter Wuthmann, WBUR
January 27, 2022
Environmental advocacy groups and East Boston residents are making a renewed attempt to stop construction of an Eversource electrical substation in the neighborhood.
On Monday the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, saying the state should not have granted a waterfront license for the project.
“This waterways license is yet another example of our state agency making the wrong decision and Eversource Energy not making a good decision,” said Staci Rubin, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice. “There is a pattern of our governmental decisions granting permits to pollute in communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and places with limited English-proficient residents.”
Neighbors have long opposed the substation site, which sits on a flood-prone area near Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground, and near tanks of jet fuel for Logan Airport.
Eversource says it needs a new substation in East Boston to meet the neighborhood’s increasing electrical demands. Substations are key components of the grid, converting high-voltage electricity from power plants to a lower voltage for residential use.
» Read article
» Read background reporting
» Read assessment and alternatives from Union of Concerned Scientists
» More about modernizing the grid
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES
MassDOT finds an unusual place to hang solar panels: highway sound barriers
New panels along Route 128 will generate enough power for up to 120 homes
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 25, 2022
Solar developers are finding interesting places to put their panels: landfills, parking garages, warehouses, shopping malls.
Now, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is adding a particularly unusual spot to the list: highway sound barriers.
On Monday, MassDOT announced it had signed a letter of intent to create the first such solar “photovoltaic noise barrier,” or PVNB, by mounting solar panels on an existing sound barrier along Route 128 in Lexington in the coming months. The 638-kilowatt project could provide enough power for up to 120 homes. Solect Energy will finance, install, and maintain the 3,000-foot-long project, while Ko-Solar, a Natick startup owned by Koray Kotan, is developing it. Kotan said Ko-Solar is in talks with transportation agencies in several states but the MassDOT project will be the first of its kind in the United States.
A MassDOT spokeswoman said the agency expects to receive a financial benefit of about $23,000 a year over the course of a 25-year lease period, from a combination of lease payments and electric utility savings from the credits the agency will receive for providing the power for the area’s electric grid. The state Department of Energy Resources awarded a $345,000 grant to help subsidize this pilot project.
» Read article
In a battle between this endangered flower and a lithium mine, who should win?
The decision about whether to allow a mine supplying the materials to build batteries on the habitat of a rare flower exposes questions about how we manage the tradeoffs between preserving nature now versus protecting the climate in the future.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
January 25, 2022
In a remote corner of Nevada a four hour drive north of Las Vegas, there’s a small yellow flower that exists nowhere else in the world: Its entire global habitat takes up a chunk of federally-owned land a little smaller than two football fields. That land also happens to be the site of a proposed lithium mine, which could produce enough lithium each year for the batteries in 400,000 electric cars.
Later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on whether to list the wildflower, called Tiehm’s wild buckwheat, on the Endangered Species List. And the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for granting mining leases on federal land, will decide whether the mine can move forward, potentially destroying 90% of the rare plant’s habitat. It’s one example of a recurring challenge: How far should we go to speed up the energy transition if that also threatens the environment in other ways?
The site is unique, as one of only two places in the world known to contain large amounts of both lithium and boron. In fact, the mining company plans to produce much more boron than lithium. (While lithium is a key ingredient used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, boron plays less of a starring role in the energy transition, though Ioneer has pointed out that boric acid is used in things like magnets in electric cars and wind turbines.) Because the company can mine both boron and lithium simultaneously, it helps substantially lower the cost of production.
Some people living in the area support the mine because it would bring new jobs and tax revenue. And the mine could help with the supply of lithium, which currently can’t keep up with demand, forcing battery costs higher at a time when the car industry needs to switch to electric vehicles to reduce climate risks. Other proposed lithium projects in the U.S. are also facing opposition because of environmental impacts.
“I think we need lithium,” [Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has been fighting in court to protect the flower for more than three years] says. “It’s not a foregone conclusion we need open pit lithium mines. And we definitely don’t need open pit lithium mines that drive species extinct. That’s not a green technology. That’s just the same old way of doing business that got us to the place we are today. We’re on the brink of the climate crisis and ecological collapse because we drive species extinct, right? You need a new way of doing business.”
» Read article
» More about siting impacts of renewables
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
Shell’s ‘Milestone’ CCS Plant Emits More Carbon Than It Captures, Independent Analysis Finds
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
January 24, 2022
The federal government is looking into independent analysis claiming that carbon capture at a highly-touted Shell Canada demonstration project in Alberta is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than it prevents, The Energy Mix has learned.
The report issued late last week by London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness acknowledges that Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility near Edmonton captured five million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, in what the company celebrated as a major milestone in July 2020.
But Global Witness came up with rather different numbers. “Our new research reveals that Quest is in fact emitting more than it is capturing,” the organization states. Despite the five megatonnes captured, the facility “has emitted a further 7.5 million tonnes of climate-polluting gases during the same time,” the equivalent of 1.2 million internal combustion cars per year.
Shell says it captured emissions equivalent to 1.25 million cars over a five-year span.
Global Witness’s analysis concludes that Quest captured just 48% of the emissions from hydrogen production at its Scotford bitumen upgrader and refinery—far less than the 90% standard promised by fossil executives and lobbyists. That’s because, while the CCS system captured 80% of the emissions from the steam methane reforming (SMR) production process to which it’s attached, it didn’t touch the 40% of total emissions that go into the atmosphere as flue gas, Global Witness says.
“When the plant’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are factored in, such as methane pollution from the fossil gas supply chain, only 39% of its emissions are captured,” the report adds.
For that result, Global Witness says Shell invested US$1 billion in the facility, including US$654 million in government subsidies, despite sustained opposition from many Indigenous communities focused on the industry’s “severe environmental damage”.
Shell maintains the plant has exceeded expectations, capturing more than its target of a million tonnes per year at lower cost than expected. But “Global Witness believes these claims about the CCS facility are misleading,” the report states. “They create the impression the hydrogen plant is less damaging for the climate than is actually the case, while Shell’s promotional materials give no sense of the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted” by Quest.
» Read article
Decarbonisation tech instantly converts CO2 to solid carbon
Researchers have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon, to help advance the decarbonisation of heavy industries.
By RMIT University, Melbourne
January 18, 2022
The carbon dioxide utilisation technology from RMIT researchers is designed to be smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes.
Decarbonisation is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.
The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.
The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.
Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst.
“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.
The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.
The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120°C.
Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.
As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.
“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.
» Blog editor’s note: the “liquid metal” isn’t specified. But mercury comes to mind as an obvious low-temperature liquid metal. Whatever is used, toxicity and environmental impact could be a real issue if this process is scaled up.
» Read article
» More about CCS
Efforts to dim Sun and cool Earth must be blocked, say scientists
By Shanna Hanbury, Mongabay
January 24, 2022
Blocking the sun’s rays with an artificial particle shield launched high into Earth’s atmosphere to curb global temperatures is a technological fix gaining traction as a last resort for containing the climate crisis — but it needs to be stopped, wrote a coalition of over 60 academics in an open letter and article released in the WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) Climate Change online publication on January 17.
“Some things we should just restrict at the outset,” lead author Aarti Gupta, a professor of Global Environmental Governance at Wageningen University, told Mongabay. Gupta placed solar geoengineering in the category of high-risk technologies, like human cloning and chemical weapons, that need to be off-limits. “It might be possible to do, but it’s too risky.”
The color of the sky could change. The chemical composition of the ozone layer and oceans may be permanently altered. Photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, may slow down, possibly harming biodiversity and agriculture. And global weather patterns could change unpredictably.
Despite the potential dangers, no mechanism exists today to stop an individual, company or country from launching a solo mission, said Gupta. To prevent this, the open letter suggests five urgent protective measures: no outdoor experiments, no implementation, no patents, no public funding, and no support from international institutions such as the United Nations.
» Read article
» Read the open letter
» More about solar geoengineering
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Abandoned oil well counts are exploding — now that there’s money on the table
$4.7 billion released by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has states rethinking their abandoned oil well tallies.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
January 21, 2022
From 2020 to 2021, the number of wells that the state of Oklahoma listed as abandoned — and therefore the government’s responsibility to clean up — jumped from 2,799 to a whopping 17,865. In Colorado, the orphan well tally hovered around 275 from 2018 to 2020 but increased by almost 80 percent last year. In California, the tally almost doubled in the last two years. (It started even lower in 2019, when the state identified just 25 abandoned wells.)
What changed? In 2020, Congress began seriously considering sending states money to plug orphan wells. The proposal had support from both political parties and was ultimately included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November, which set aside $4.7 billion for this purpose. States have long known that their orphan well tallies are outdated and incomplete, but without a source of funding to clean up the wells, many didn’t invest the resources required to identify abandoned wells. That changed as the funding slowly became a reality over the past couple of years.
Orphan oil and gas wells are a climate and public health menace. Abandoned by companies who abscond after fraudulent activity or fall into bankruptcy, these wells quietly belch the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pose a threat to public safety. Last year, a Grist and Texas Observer investigation found that the abandoned well count in Texas and New Mexico is poised to balloon by nearly 200 percent in the coming years. It’s widely accepted that cleanup costs run in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars nationwide — but both the true cost and the true count are unknown. The EPA estimates the unplugged orphan well count could be as high as 2.1 million across the U.S.
» Read article
» More about fossil fuels
Tree-burning Drax power plants dropped from green energy index
The world’s largest biomass-burning power generator faces doubts over the sustainability of burning of wood pellets as a replacement for coal
By Adria Vasil, Corporate Knights
January 11, 2022
Here’s a green riddle for you: if a tree falls in the forest and it’s chipped, then shipped to be burned for electricity, is it carbon neutral?
It’s a question that’s been tripping up national carbon calculators around the globe since the days of the Kyoto Protocol. From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.
But doubts regarding the science behind those claims and the sustainability of the practice have been mounting as more countries ramp up the burning of woody biomass as a replacement for coal.
In October, the world’s largest biomass-burning power generator, Drax Group, was one of 15 companies booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. S&P also ditched the French bioenergy firm Albioma. The reason given: their “carbon-to-revenue footprint” was too large.
That same month, a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.
The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).
Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 – even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”
Meanwhile, the carbon accounting loophole has fuelled a boom in the biomass industry in Europe, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., where it’s highly subsidized. In the EU, biomass accounts for about 59% of all renewable energy consumption.
» Read article
» More about biomass
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