Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.
Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.
With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.
Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.
Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.
And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.
Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.
Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.
Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.
We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022
Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.
Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.
Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.
Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.
Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.
“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022
A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.
NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.
The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.
Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article
FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.
In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.
[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.
“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.
In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.
One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.
It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.
The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions
By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022
One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.
An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.
Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022
In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.
Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”
It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.
[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.
Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.
[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.
“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.”
» Read article
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022
Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.
She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”
Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022
Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.
This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.
“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.
Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.
The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022
Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.
The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.
EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.
And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.
The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.
And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.
“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”
[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.
“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022
Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.
Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.
“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.
At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.
Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.
“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”
E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022
[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.
But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.
Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES
U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022
The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.
The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.
Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.
Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.
[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.
But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.
[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.
Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.
[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.
One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022
“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”
That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.
Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”
The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.
A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022
Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)
How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.
Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.
Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.
Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”
That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022
Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.
The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.
The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.
Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.
With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.
The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.
“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022
Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.
The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”
PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.
After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.
In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.
And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.
While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”
That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022
Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.
The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”
He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022
While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.
“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.
Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.
Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.
The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.
However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022
A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.
Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.
The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.
But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022
Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.
The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.
“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.
“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.
“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”
[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.
[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.
[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.
The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.
[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.
Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.
The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.
Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter
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