Tag Archives: ConocoPhillips

Weekly News Check-In 8/21/20

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Welcome back.

Natural gas positions its brand as both clean and safe. That’s pretty effective marketing, but (climate issues aside) those claims get wobbly under evidence of health and safety burdens borne by communities all along the line from extraction to the blue-flame point of use. Gas can hurt you, slowly or quickly. Activists continue to draw attention to the fact that pollution and safety risks disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, and that any real progress must be founded on climate justice. Even as some major pipeline projects continue to move toward completion in these changing times, opposition intensifies.

Transition to a more equitable, green economy requires changes within stakeholder groups. In Gloucester, MA, a state grant program is helping the fishing community explore ways to work with and benefit from the coming offshore wind industry.

This week’s climate news includes new evidence of unabated global temperature rise, a tipping point passed for Greenland’s ice sheets, and a description of the recent “derecho” wind storm that flattened crops and buildings from Nebraska to Indiana.

The clean energy press has buzzed lately about a carbon free, renewable energy source well-suited to certain industrial processes and heavy transport. We offer more insight into what the green hydrogen industry will look like, and when it might arrive. Meanwhile, five major automakers struck a blow for clean transportation by rejecting the Trump administration’s lax national emissions standards and committing to comply with California’s stricter requirements.

Interest in public ownership of electric utilities continues to gain momentum in Maine, with the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly providing arguments for the greater resiliency of customer-focused community ownership compared to the corporate model with management beholden to distant shareholders. A companion essay suggests an advocacy role for the Department of Public Utilities.

New Jersey may soon become the next state to sue the fossil fuel industry for climate-related damages. And we found what may be the perfect example of why this industry won’t quit till it’s forced to. ConocoPhillips could soon lay chiller pipes beneath its roads and drilling pads in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to re-freeze permafrost melting from climate change. The company’s sagging infrastructure is slowing efforts to extract more climate-changing fuel.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule allowing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail. Deeming public safety considerations woefully inadequate, environmental advocates sued. Also from the Department of Bad Ideas, we found reporting from Japan calling for the development of “energy forests” to support their growing biomass-to-electricity industry. The article is interesting (and suspect) for its total failure to acknowledge current climate science. Closer to home, the Springfield City Council voted against the state’s plan to subsidize the planned biomass power plant as part of its new climate legislation.

We close with alarming news that there appears to be much more plastic in the marine environment than previously thought – with micro fibers and particles even turning up in human organ tissue. Plastic will comprise a distinct and permanent worldwide geological layer marking the Anthropocene era.

— The NFGiM Team

NATURAL GAS HEALTH RISKS

gas flare preemies
The Risk of Preterm Birth Rises Near Gas Flaring, Reflecting Deep-rooted Environmental Injustices in Rural America
By Jill Johnston, University of Southern California and Lara Cushing, University of California, Los Angeles, in DeSmog Blog
August 20, 2020

Through the southern reaches of Texas, communities are scattered across a flat landscape of dry brush lands, ranches and agricultural fields. This large rural region near the U.S.-Mexico border is known for its persistent poverty. Over 25 percent of the families here live in poverty, and many lack access to basic services like water, sewer and primary health care.

This is also home to the Eagle Ford shale, where domestic oil and gas production has boomed. The Eagle Ford is widely considered the most profitable U.S. shale play, producing more than 1.2 million barrels of oil daily in 2019, up from fewer than 350,000 barrels per day just a decade earlier.

The rapid production growth here has not led to substantial shared economic benefits at the local level, however.

Low-income communities and communities of color here bear the brunt of the energy industry’s pollution, our research shows. And we now know those risks also extend to the unborn. Our latest study documents how women living near gas flaring sites have significantly higher risks of giving birth prematurely than others, and that this risk falls mainly on Latina women.
» Read article         
» Read the study

» More about nat-gas health risks

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Baltimore explosion captured
Baltimore gas explosion: Morgan State student found dead among rubble; BGE says no leaks found
By Wilborn P. Nobles III and Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun
August 11, 2020

A second victim, a 20-year-old Morgan State University student, was found early Tuesday in the rubble of a gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore as BGE said the blast wasn’t caused by one of its gas mains.

Workers continued to investigate and clean up the scene of the explosion that also killed one woman and seriously injured at least seven other people. It ripped Monday through several row houses in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, displacing 30 people.

As officials continued to assess the cause of the blast — a process that could take months — BGE said that it found no leaks in an inspection Monday of the homes’ gas mains, and that company data indicated “some type of issue beyond the BGE meter on customer-owned equipment.” Investigators were analyzing the new information, BGE said.
» Read article          

» More about what can go wrong            

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Citgo sign makeover
Climate activists hang banner on Boston’s iconic Citgo sign
By the Gloucester Daily Times
August 11, 2020

Members of an activist group hung a banner that read [“CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW”] on the iconic Citgo sign near Boston’s Fenway Park, leading to eight arrests, police said.

The group unfurled the banner Monday evening as the Red Sox began their game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway. A spokesman for the group, Extinction Rebellion Boston, told The Boston Globe that it was hoping to bring attention to environmental issues.

“We think the ultimate values of the city of Boston would say climate justice is more important than fossil fuel profits,” Matthew Kearney said. “We’re giving the Citgo sign a makeover — just temporary, of course — an update to the Boston skyline that matches the values of the city.”
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions           

PIPELINES

tiny house warriors
Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
August 14, 2020

In 2018, a group of Secwepemc and Ktunaxa people built six small houses on wheels and positioned them along the pipeline route to block construction near the community of Blue River in British Columbia. The immediate aim was to prevent the pipeline from moving forward, but the broader goal of the “Tiny House Warriors” was to assert authority over unceded traditional land, where Indigenous title has not been given up or acquired by the Crown in Canada.

“That’s what Tiny House Warriors is. It’s where we face off with the colonial government and their assumption of jurisdiction and authority over our Secwepemc territorial authority and jurisdiction,” said Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous activist who is Secwepemc and Ktunaxa and a leader of Tiny House Warriors.

In an interview with DeSmog, Manuel described a pattern of harassment and intimidation from industry, oil and gas workers, police, and the state. The determination of Manuel and other Indigenous groups to assert their rights over unceded land has been met with stiff, and sometimes violent, opposition.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines           

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Gloucester recruiting
In Massachusetts, offshore wind opens up job training, economic opportunities
Efforts are underway to train locals for the state’s burgeoning new industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Robert Laliberte  / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 17, 2020

In a northern Massachusetts fishing town, an advocacy group that has opposed an offshore wind farm is opening up to economic opportunities the project could provide.

As part of a $1.3 million state grant program, a partnership between fishing advocacy group the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Northeast Maritime Institute will enroll commercial fishermen in a certification course that will qualify them to transport people and supplies to wind turbine sites for the Vineyard Wind project. Gloucester has traditionally been a major New England fishing port, but the industry has been hard hit by declining fish stocks and regulations designed to prevent overfishing.

Though the program has not started actively recruiting participants yet, word of mouth has raised some interest and there are already five names on the waiting list, said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the organization.

The Gloucester group has spoken out against Vineyard Wind from the start, but recognizes offshore wind is likely to be a reality. The group wants to help the fishermen it serves adapt to whatever comes next, Sanfilippo said.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy         

CLIMATE

state of climate 2019Annual planetary temperature continues to rise
More than 500 scientists from 61 countries have again measured the annual planetary temperature. The diagnosis is not good.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 17, 2020

Despite global promises to act on climate change, the Earth continues to warm. The annual planetary temperature confirms that the last 10 years were on average 0.2°C warmer than the first 10 years of this century. And each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the decade that preceded it.

The year 2019 was also one of the three warmest years since formal temperature records began in the 19th century. The only warmer years – in some datasets but not all – were 2016 and 2015. And all the years since 2013 have been warmer than all other years in the last 170.

The link with fossil fuel combustion remains unequivocal: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019 alone. These now stand at 409 ppm. The global average for most of human history has hovered around 285 ppm.

Two more greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and methane, both of them more short-lived – also increased measurably.

The study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a sobering chronicle of the impact of climate change in the decade 2010-2019 and the year 2019 itself. It is the 30th such report, it is signed by 528 experts from 61 countries, and it is a catalogue of unwelcome records achieved and uncomfortable extremes surpassed.
» Read article         
» Read State of the Climate in 2019 Report               

ice out Greenland
Going, Going … Gone: Greenland’s Melting Ice Sheet Passed a Point of No Return in the Early 2000s
A new study finds that the accelerating retreat and thinning of Greenland’s glaciers that began 20 year ago is speeding the ice sheet toward total meltdown.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 15, 2020

The Greenland Ice Sheet managed to withstand the warming brought by the first 150 years of the industrial age, with enough snow piling up each winter to balance the ice lost to spring and summer melting. But, according to a new study, that all changed 20 years ago.

Starting in 2000, Greenland’s glaciers suddenly began moving faster, their snouts rapidly retreating and thinning where they flow into the sea. Between 2000 and 2005, that acceleration led to an all-but irreversible “step-increase” of ice loss, scientists concluded in the new research, published this week in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

If the climate were to stop warming today, or even cool a little, Greenland’s ice will continue to melt, said Ohio State University Earth scientist Ian Howat, co-author of the research paper. “Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” he said. “Even if we were to stabilize at current temperatures, the ice will continue to disintegrate more quickly than if we hadn’t messed with the climate to begin with.”
» Read article        

derecho skylineExtreme weather just devastated 10m acres in the midwest. Expect more of this
Unless we contain carbon, our food supply will be under threat. By 2050, US corn yields could decline by 30%
By Art Cullen, The Guardian
August 17, 2020

I know a stiff wind. They call this place Storm Lake, after all. But until recently most Iowans had never heard of a “derecho”. They have now. Last Monday, a derecho tore 770 miles from Nebraska to Indiana and left a path of destruction up to 50 miles wide over 10m acres of prime cropland. It blew 113 miles per hour at the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River.

Grain bins were crumpled like aluminum foil. Three hundred thousand people remained without power in Iowa and Illinois on Friday. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were devastated.

The corn lay flat.

Iowa’s maize yield may be cut in half. A little napkin ciphering tells me the Tall Corn State will lose $6bn from crop damage alone.

We should get used to it. Extreme weather is the new normal. Last year, the villages of Hamburg and Pacific Junction, Iowa, were washed down the Missouri River from epic floods that scoured tens of thousands of acres. This year, the Great Plains are burning up from drought. Western Iowa was steeped in severe drought when those straight-line winds barreled through the weak stalks.
» Read article             

» More about climate         

CLEAN ENERGY

wait for it
As Europe’s Green Hydrogen Excitement Grows, Profits Look a Long Way Off
Utilities and power generators are lining up to invest in green hydrogen projects, but executives say profits could be a decade away.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
August 18, 2020

Green hydrogen is the talk of the power sector these days, but it will be at least a decade before it becomes a major line item on the books of European utilities and generators, executives say.

Gigawatt-scale green hydrogen projects have sprung up on three continents recently, including the world’s largest plan so far, a 4-gigawatt plant in Saudi Arabia. Governments are rushing to publish coherent strategies as they compete to build hydrogen hubs.

The European Union is sending strong long-term signals for green hydrogen with a dual electrolyzer target: The EU wants 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers installed within its own borders by 2030 and another 40 gigawatts in nearby nations to export into the EU — with North Africa one potential candidate given its proximity to Southern Europe and vast solar resources.

A range of European utilities, oil majors and gas infrastructure firms are increasingly focused on the hydrogen opportunity ahead. But various power-sector executives have added a dose of reality to expectations that green hydrogen will drive serious revenue or profits anytime this decade.
» Read article          

propelling the transition
Propelling the transition: Green hydrogen could be the final piece in a zero-emissions future
For the many things renewables and batteries don’t do, green hydrogen can be the zero-GHG alternative.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
August 17, 2020

Renewables-generated electricity and battery energy storage can eliminate most power system greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially in the near term.

But fueling heavy-duty vehicles, serving the unique needs of steel, chemical and other industries, heating aging buildings, and storing large amounts of energy for long durations are major challenges electricity cannot readily meet. Hydrogen extracted from water with renewables-generated electricity by an electrolyzer could be the best GHG-free alternative, analysts told Utility Dive.

“The best way of doing long duration, massive volume storage is by transforming electrons into molecules with an electrolyzer,” ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley, who is building the world’s first GW-scale electrolyzer plant, told Utility Dive. “Green hydrogen molecules can replace the fossil-generated hydrogen used today.”

In Europe, renewables over-generation is “already driving economies of scale in electrolyzer manufacturing” that are “driving down electrolyzer capital costs,” said Renewable Hydrogen Alliance Executive Director Ken Dragoon. “The 10 million tons of hydrogen produced annually in the U.S., mostly with natural gas, can be replaced with green hydrogen because, like natural gas, it can be ramped, stored and delivered on demand.”

Economic sectors like chemical and industrial manufacturing, air travel, ocean shipping, and long distance, heavy duty transport will likely require some synthetic fuel, like green hydrogen, to eliminate GHGs, Dragoon said. And green hydrogen may be the most affordable and flexible long duration storage option for any of those applications, he added.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

auto tailpipe deal with CA
Defying Trump, 5 Automakers Lock In a Deal on Greenhouse Gas Pollution
The five — Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo — sealed a binding agreement with California to follow the state’s stricter tailpipe emissions rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
August 17, 2020

California on Monday finalized a legal settlement with five of the world’s largest automakers that binds them to comply with its stringent state-level fuel efficiency standards that would cut down on climate-warming tailpipe emissions.

Monday’s agreement adds legal teeth to a deal that California and four of the companies outlined in principle last summer, and it comes as a rejection of President Trump’s new, looser federal rules on fuel economy, which would allow more pollution into the atmosphere.

Mr. Trump was blindsided last summer when the companies — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — announced that they had reached a secret deal with California to comply with that state’s standards, even as the Trump administration was working to roll back Obama-era rules on fuel economy. A fifth company, Volvo, said in March that it intended to join the agreement and is part of the legal settlement that was finalized on Monday.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation            

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

push to munis
In Maine, pandemic hasn’t stopped push for a publicly owned electric grid

While lawmakers disagree on the likely costs and benefits, one proponent says COVID-19 has made the case for a state-owned utility even stronger.
By Tom Perkins, Energy News Network
Photo By Creative Commons   
August 20, 2020

A wave of campaigns seeking to set up publicly owned electric utilities seemed to be picking up steam heading into 2020, fueled by frustration over investor-owned utilities’ rates, service, and slow transition to renewables.

Then the pandemic hit. Its economic fallout cast uncertainty on the efforts, but proponents say the campaigns will move forward, and the pandemic only underscores the need for change.

“For cities setting out on their municipalization efforts now, the pandemic may well be the first setback, but I do not believe it is enough to derail a campaign altogether,” said Maria McCoy, an energy democracy research associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit think tank that favors community-controlled utilities.

Publicly owned utilities are better positioned to weather an economic storm because they don’t need to generate huge profits for investors, McCoy added, and she and others say the proposals are more urgent than ever because they’re job creators that would provide much-needed economic stimuli.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities             

MA DEPT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

electric blue background
Thoughts on the advocacy of regulators
They all advocate – the real question is for whom?
By Joel Wool, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 15, 2020

Responsible utility regulators could take a cue or two from the “brazen” social justice advocacy of members of the [Cannabis Control Commission (CCC)], by standing up for ratepayers, defending workers, and promoting clean energy rather than penalizing it. Instead, the MA DPU has actively opposed efforts toward social and economic equity, rejecting energy efficiency incentives intended to bridge socioeconomic divides and throwing up roadblocks to solar access. It has approved ratepayer funding for interstate gas facilities and effectively denied its obligations to combat climate change. It has enabled a form of regulatory capture, as regulated utilities seek ratepayer dollars for membership to trade associations that lobby against clean energy and for fossil fuel interests.
» Read article         

» More about MA DPU               

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NJ eyeing legal action
New Jersey Should Sue Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Costs, Panel Says
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Advocates for holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for the substantial costs of climate change are urging New Jersey to sue oil majors like ExxonMobil, as over a dozen municipal and state governments have done over the past three years.

A month after a New Jersey senate committee passed a resolution calling on the state to take this kind of legal action, New Jersey’s Monmouth University hosted a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday, August 19 titled “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives.” The discussion was intended to outline the case for New Jersey to file a climate accountability lawsuit ahead of the full state senate voting on the resolution, which could come later this month.

New Jersey Democratic State Senator Joseph Cryan, one of the lead sponsors of Senate Resolution 57, said during his opening remarks Wednesday that he is hopeful the resolution will pass the full state senate this month. The resolution specifically calls on New Jersey’s governor and attorney general “to pursue legal action against fossil fuel companies for damages caused by climate change.”
» Read article         

CP irony
The irony: ConocoPhillips hopes to freeze thawing permafrost to drill more oil
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
August 19, 2020

Living on a heating planet always comes with some ironies. For one thing, the people who are most to blame for global warming (the rich and powerful) are also shielded from its worst effects. Meanwhile, airlines push fossil-fuel burning tourist flights to see Antarctica’s melting ice, and cruise companies hype energy-intensive trips to see polar bears in the Arctic before they’re gone.

The latest plan by ConocoPhillips may top them all. The Houston-based energy giant plans to produce 590 million barrels of oil from a massive drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. But climate change is melting the ground in the reserve so fast that the company may be forced to use chilling devices to keep the ground beneath roads and drilling pads frozen.

Yes, you read that right: An oil company is prepared to freeze melting permafrost in order to keep extracting oil. And it just so happens that ConocoPhillips is ranked 21st among the 100 companies responsible for most of humanity’s carbon emissions over the past several decades.
» Read article         

EU big oil turning
Europe’s Big Oil Companies Are Turning Electric
Under pressure from governments and investors, industry leaders like BP and Shell are accelerating their production of cleaner energy.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 17, 2020

This may turn out to be the year that oil giants, especially in Europe, started looking more like electric companies.

Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a vast wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, France’s Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain and is joining Shell and BP in expanding its electric vehicle charging business.

At the same time, the companies are ditching plans to drill more wells as they chop back capital budgets. Shell recently said it would delay new fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea, while BP has promised not to hunt for oil in any new countries.

Prodded by governments and investors to address climate change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy — usually electricity, sometimes hydrogen — and promoting natural gas, which they argue can be a cleaner transition fuel from coal and oil to renewables.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels               

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG train bomb suit
Environmental Groups Sue Trump Admin to Stop LNG Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups against the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), challenging a recently finalized Trump administration rule to allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Jordan Luebkemann, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo.

As DeSmog has reported, the Trump administration has fast-tracked rolling out the rule to allow LNG-by-rail without requiring any new safety regulations beyond a slightly thicker tank shell for the rail cars.

The potential consequences of an accident involving a train carrying LNG could be far greater than the already catastrophic and deadly accidents that have resulted from the rail industry moving large amounts of volatile crude oil and ethanol in recent years.
» Read article          

» More about LNG           

BIOMASS

bad advice in Japan
Japan eyes “energy forests” for woody biomass power generation
By KYODO NEWS
August 19, 2020

As part of efforts to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the Japanese government is considering securing “energy forests” for the specific purpose of growing sources for woody biomass power generation, officials said Wednesday.

Greater dependence on woody biomass is believed to help mitigate climate change as the growing of forests absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and the use of renewable wood raw materials, as a replacement for fossil fuel products, reduces the volume of new CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

At present, Japan uses biomass fuel derived from the thinning of forests and from branches removed in preparing lumber for building materials. Exclusively using a forest to grow woody biomass fuel is expected to cut labor and silviculture costs by one-third as the work of thinning forests will become unnecessary, the officials said.
Blog editor’s note: This article, lacking a named author, appears to be an unscreened list of biomass-to-energy industry talking points. Even the biomass-dependent Europeans know its “sustainability” is a charade.
» Read article    

Spfld biomass not clean renewable
Springfield City Hall opposes biomass incinerator part of state climate bill
By Sy Becker, WWLP Channel 22
August 13, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield City Council is set against the state subsidizing a Biomass incinerator as part of a state climate bill, the legislature’s considering.

Ten city councilors agree with fellow councilor Jesse Lederman the state should listen to the results of a hearing attended by hundreds at Springfield’s Duggan Middle School.

There, they shot down a proposal for the state to subsidize a Biomass plant in Springfield.
» Read article          

» More about biomass             

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

northern fulmar
Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought
Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 20, 2020

The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.
» Read article         
» Read the study

scraping the neuston
Could a Solution to Marine Plastic Waste Threaten One of the Ocean’s Most Mysterious Ecosystems?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
August 15, 2020

The neuston, from the Greek word for swimming, refers to a group of animals, plants and microorganisms that spend all or large parts of their life floating in the top few centimeters of the ocean.

It’s a mysterious world that even experts still know little about. But recently, it has been the source of tensions between a project trying to clean up the sea by skimming plastic trash off its surface, and marine biologists who say this could destroy the neuston.

“Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable,” The Ocean Cleanup declares on its website.

But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup’s proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.

One focus of Helm’s studies is where these organisms congregate. “There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we’re trying to figure out why,” says Helm.

One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. “Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life.”
» Read article         

» More about plastics in the environment           

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Weekly News Check-In 4/10/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Pipeline protesters in a growing number of states have experienced aggressive moves to criminalize nonviolent direct actions against infrastructure projects. This week, we bring news of a potential doubling down on that disconcerting trend, under the guise of COVID-19 response. Meanwhile, a study by Synapse Energy Economics determined that the planned Transco pipeline carrying fracked natural gas across New Jersey to New York City is unnecessary and unjustified – a now-familiar assessment of gas pipeline projects and a prime motivation for all those protests.

In divestment news, Boulder County in Colorado has become the first in the nation to warn its insurance carrier to drop its fossil fuel investments or lose the Boulder account. This fits with the Insure Our Future campaign, which seeks to apply broad pressure on the insurance industry to divest from fossil fuels.

Our climate section includes coverage of a new study in the journal Nature warning that our planet is dangerously close to major ecosystem collapse from global warming. And while many greenhouse gas emissions have been temporarily reduced by the current economic shock, methane emissions in the Permian Basin appear to be growing at an alarming rate – in part due to relaxed regulatory oversight during the coronavirus crisis.

We found good news on clean energy. Two articles explain how state governments are working singly and together to strategize their transition to 100% renewables. On a smaller scale, we show how residential solar installers are learning how to sell a product online that has long relied on face-to-face interaction. And we end this section with an article that considers how wind power and wildlife can coexist through careful siting.

On the electric power beat, we found a report describing how publicly-traded utilities are grappling with their climate-related risk exposure, and finding that it’s no longer an issue they can ignore.

The fossil fuel industry isn’t letting the pandemic crisis go to waste – unleashing armies of lobbyists to beg a receptive federal government for aid and relief. We found a bright spot in these otherwise dismal reports – turns out that decommissioned coal plants are great sites for clean energy like battery storage, with robust grid-connection infrastructure already in place.

Finally, in the broad intersection where fracking meets the plastics industry, we offer a cautionary report for those in the Ohio River Valley working to develop a new petrochemical hub much like the gulf coast has hosted for decades. That history includes a long and alarming list of fires, explosions, cancers, and violations of environmental regulations.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

critical infrastructure designation
How Fossil Fuel Might Use the COVID-19 Pandemic to Criminalize Pipeline Protests
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
April 2, 2020

Last week we mentioned the pandemic wish list the American Petroleum Institute sent to President Trump as Congress negotiated the $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill.

The first item on that list, critical infrastructure designations for the entire fossil fuel supply chain, may sound like standard Washington bureaucratese. The wording is significant, though, because it could set up oil and gas companies to tap into a $17 billion pot of COVID-19 relief money targeted at industries deemed essential to national security.

But that’s just the beginning. If the Trump administration grants API, and the industry it represents, this favored designation, it may speed up the criminalization of protest against fossil fuel projects, a trend that’s been underway since long before the coronavirus pandemic.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

OTHER PIPELINES

Raritan Bay
No need for natural gas pipeline across Raritan Bay, environmental report says
By Bob Makin, Bridgewater Courier News
April 9, 2020

A natural gas pipeline proposed across Raritan Bay is an oversized, costly answer to a New York problem that does not exist, a report by Synapse Energy Economics, a Massachusetts-based research group, says.

Newark-based Eastern Environmental Law Center recently released the report that says Oklahoma-based natural gas supplier Williams’ proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement of its Transco pipeline is not needed.

The project would transport fracked natural gas through New Jersey from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to energy markets in New York City. The report rebuts National Grid’s Long-Term Capacity Report submitted to New York State.

“National Grid has not shown that it faces a supply and demand gap,” the report says. “In fact, National Grid is expected to have a substantial surplus of supply capacity by 2034/35.”
» Read article      

pipeline construction slows
Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Some Pipeline Projects Push Forward While Others Falter Nationwide
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

Nationwide, pipeline companies had already trimmed $1.9 billion from their 2020 budgets, according to a March 23 Houston Chronicle report. “Noble Midstream Partners, Rattler Midstream, Targa Resources, EnLink Midstream, Oneok, and Pembina Pipeline made the budget cuts over the past two weeks — representing an overall 30 percent cut in planned capital expenditures for new pipeline and storage projects in 2020,” according to a research note from energy investment firm Simmons Energy, the Chronicle reported. “Canadian pipeline operator Pembina made the largest cut of the six companies, slashing nearly $700 million, or 43 percent, from its nearly $1.6 billion budget.
» Read article      

» More about other pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Boulder CO ultimatum
Boulder County Wants Insurance Companies To Ditch Their Fossil Fuel Investments
By Grace Hood, Colorado Public Radio
February 14, 2020

Boulder County Commissioners have made the decision to start to move away from insurance companies that invest in oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels — becoming the first county in the U.S. to do so.

“We can’t be investing in things that are detrimental to our constituents, our community, our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones.

Right now, local governments spend millions on insurance like worker’s compensation. Those companies, in turn, invest those dollars into portfolios that can include fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change. The country’s 40 largest insurers hold combined investments of over $450 billion in the coal, oil, gas and electric utility sectors, according to an analysis by Ceres.

The proclamation by Boulder County fits into a campaign by environmental groups called Insure Our Future, which asks insurance companies to divest from fossil [fuels].
» Read article
» Read Ceres analysis

» More about divestment        

CLIMATE

collapse
Unchecked Global Warming Could Collapse Whole Ecosystems, Maybe Within 10 Years
A new study shows that as rising heat drives some key species extinct, it will affect other species, as well, in a domino effect.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Global warming is about to tear big holes into Earth’s delicate web of life, pushing temperatures beyond the tolerance of thousands of animals at the same time. As some key species go extinct, entire ecosystems like coral reefs and forests will crumble, and some will collapse abruptly, starting as soon as this decade, a new study in the journal Nature warns.

Many scientists see recent climate-related mass die-offs, including the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and widespread seabird and marine mammal mortality in the Northeastern Pacific linked to a marine heat wave, as warning signs of impending biodiversity collapse, said lead author Alex Pigot, a biodiversity researcher at University College, London. The new study shows that nowhere on Earth will escape the impacts.
» Read article     
» Read the study          

great bleach-out
Great Barrier Reef Is Bleaching Again. It’s Getting More Widespread.
New data shows example after example of overheating and damage along the 1,500-mile natural wonder.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
April 6, 2020

New aerial data from Professor Hughes and other scientists released on Monday shows example after example of overheating and damage along the reef, a 1,500-mile natural wonder. The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.

The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.
» Read article      

Permian emissions rising uncontested
In Texas, Pandemic-driven Deregulation Is Actually Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled Podcast Extra
April 3, 2020

Flares are not lit. And so it becomes a vent pipe that vents uncontested hydrocarbons into the atmosphere in huge quantities. The tanks and the tanks are venting. It’s just methane and volatile organic compounds blasting from everywhere.

Texas does have regulations that are supposed to prevent a lot of this, not entirely prevent it, because the system, the oil and gas design is it is designed to vent intentionally. So at this point, they cannot completely stop all of the methane and VRC emissions because they have to have pressure releases. So but we do have regulations in place to lessen that. And unlit flares are not legal. But the problem with regulations is they are words on paper. And in Texas, they’re not enforced. And especially in the Permian Basin, the oversight seems especially lax.
» Access podcast and transcript               

a question of trust
EPA rebukes COVID-19 compliance flexibility backlash; FERC gives regulated entities leeway
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
April 3, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushed back on Thursday against federal lawmaker complaints that the compliance flexibility it granted power plants and other regulated entities last week gave those facilities license to pollute.

Under the EPA’s modified regulations, power plant operators would need to prove that any compliance violations were tied to COVID-19 related disruptions. Over 22 environmental groups sent a petition to the EPA Wednesday calling for the agency to “at a minimum” promptly inform the public of any pollution compliance violations, including a facility’s failure to report or monitor air or water quality inspections.
» Read article      

fixing concrete
Concrete Solutions That Lower Both Emissions and Air Pollution Air Quality and Climate Change Intertwine in Unexpected Ways. A Concrete Example.
By Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News
March 23, 2020

Concrete production contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gases, and demand continues to rise as populations and incomes grow. Yet some commonly discussed strategies to reduce the sector’s global GHG emissions could, under some scenarios, increase local air pollution and related health damages, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

For the study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists quantified the costs of climate change impacts and of death and illness from air pollution. They found that concrete production causes about $335 billion per year in damages, a large fraction of the industry value.

The scientists also compared several GHG-reduction strategies to determine which are most likely to lower both global emissions and local air pollution related to concrete production. They found that a variety of available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage costs by 44 percent.
» Read article     
» Read the report

» More about climate   

CLEAN ENERGY

ORES launched
New York becomes first state to establish renewables siting office in an effort to speed up deployment
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2020

In an effort to speed the development of large-scale clean energy resources, New York lawmakers authorized the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) and took steps to accelerate transmission investment to move carbon-free electricity to load centers.

The new siting rules will ensure renewables projects larger than 25 MW can receive approval within a year. Under the current process, siting for these projects takes two to three years, experts say.

The new office was approved last week as part of New York’s 2020-2021 state budget and will be housed within the Department of State. The budget provides funding for up to 25 full-time ORES employees and officials say further resources will be assessed based on need.
» Read article      

8min solar on track
Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing
The renewable-energy business is expected to keep growing, though more slowly, in contrast to fossil fuel companies, which have been hammered by low oil and gas prices.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
April 7, 2020

A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms.

That is not happening.

In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article      

kitchen moves online
Coronavirus is Forcing Home Solar Companies to Sell Virtually. Maybe That’s a Good Thing.
Kitchen table sales are out. Zoom meetings and “social canvassing’ on Facebook are in. Residential solar adjusts to life in a pandemic.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
April 06, 2020

“The kitchen table sale is an integral part of the solar sales process,” said Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of online solar marketplace EnergySage. “Companies really want to get to the kitchen table.”

The loss of that crucial tool foreshadows a tough time for residential solar companies, compounded by broader economic disruption. Some companies are coping by slashing spending; others have chosen layoffs.

A contingent of entrepreneurial, tech-savvy companies is trying a different route: asking how to sell as best they can without in-person meetings. They’ve glimpsed a small shimmer of hope amid the chaos: technology makes it relatively cheap and easy to shift operations online; it’s still possible to close deals this way; and that a digital-centric strategy could be better for business in the long run than the historical dependence on face-to-face sales.
» Read article      

clean energy group launches
100% clean energy group launches, with eyes on coronavirus
By David Iaconangelo, Energywire; Photo: Gerry Machen/Creative Commons
April 3, 2020

State officials representing over a quarter of the country’s power sales announced a new coalition this week centered on 100% carbon-free targets.

The 100% Clean Energy Collaborative, as it’s known, is the first group of state officials to “focus on the specific question of what states need to do to implement” the goals, said Warren Leon, executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), which is acting as a facilitator. CESA’s members are made up largely of state agencies, including the California Energy Commission, which proposed the idea of the collaborative.

One topic for immediate attention, said Leon, will be how states can maintain progress toward targets in spite of the novel coronavirus, which has stressed state budgets, led to layoffs, and canceled or postponed legislative and regulatory sessions.
» Read article      

birds and wind
Analysis: Is It Possible to Have Wind Power While Keeping Birds Safe?
By Gustave Axelson, All About Birds – Cornell
March 31, 2020

“We need to be mindful that generating energy in any manner will impact birds directly or indirectly. Bird mortality from wind turbines may be more obvious than from other sources, but the habitat loss, water contamination, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions from other energy sources, especially coal, are far more detrimental to birds and other species, including humans,” says Amanda Rodewald, codirector of the Cornell Lab’s Center for Avian Population Studies. “Fortunately, the conservation community has a real opportunity to reduce negative impacts from wind energy by working with industry to properly site turbines and avoid important bird areas.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy       

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

fossils add investment risk
BlackRock, Morgan Stanley to utilities: Tackle climate-related risks or lose market value
Analyst research shows utilities that address climate-related physical and transition risks earn higher valuations from investors.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 6, 2020

Financial market data shows utilities that address risks associated with the changing climate see significant benefits, and utilities that do not lose market value.

Analyses from BlackRock, Morgan Stanley and others reflect what the world is learning in the COVID-19 fight: Aggressive action proactively addressing systemic risk produces better outcomes than pretending there is little risk. For utilities, the data shows that addressing climate-related risks with system hardening and emissions reductions attracts investors and shifts stock valuations, while relying on business as usual discourages investors and increases stock price volatility.

Many analysts say utilities that have set climate risk-related goals also remain dangerously invested in fossil assets. Studies show market valuations increase when utilities strengthen their physical systems and begin transitioning to renewables.
» Read article      

» More about electric utilities      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Mister Lost Cause
Trump Admin Bypasses Congress, Offers Backup Storage to Boost Troubled Oil Industry
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 9, 2020

After Congress declined to allocate $3 billion of the recent economic stimulus package to fill the government’s emergency stockpile of oil, the Trump administration has taken its own steps to provide short-term relief to the U.S. petroleum sector.

The Department of Energy announced last week it would be making arrangements to immediately store 30 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a backup reserve created in the 1970s as a buffer against oil supply disruptions. Now, instead of supply shortages, oil markets are facing what consulting firm Rystad Energy is calling “one of the biggest oil supply gluts the world has ever seen.”

The oversupply problem is only partially a result of current market imbalance and actually has been building long before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns that crashed demand. But the Trump administration is nevertheless using the COVID-19 crisis as a main reason for aiding an ailing petroleum sector, and it is turning to the SPR as a critical tool for helping U.S. oil companies.
» Read article      

ConocoPhillips arctic drill plans
In Alaska’s North, Covid-19 Has Not Stopped the Trump Administration’s Quest to Drill for Oil
The president’s plans for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may fall flat. But a massive ConocoPhillips project is moving full speed ahead.
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the long-fought over stretch of wilderness that President Donald Trump has been working hard to open to drilling—a successful lease sale is looking less and less likely before the end of the year.

But west of the refuge, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the Interior Department is moving ahead with ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. The project is a massive development expected to produce approximately 590 million barrels of oil over its 30-year life, and it could include a central processing facility, up to 250 wells, an airstrip, pipelines and a gravel mine.
» Read article      

oil sands vulnerable
Alberta’s $5.3 Billion Backing of Keystone XL Signals Vulnerability of Canadian Oil
The province’ announcement comes after the private sector has shown little appetite for a pipeline project critical to the country’s tar sands industry.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
Apr 6, 2020

Alberta’s recent announcement that it was investing more than $1 billion to build the Keystone XL pipeline gave a boost to a project that has faced more than a decade of delays and uncertainty.

Investment in Canada’s oil sands, a viscous mix of sand and bitumen that lies beneath a vast swath of northern Alberta, has fallen five years in a row. Some analysts and advocates say the challenge is about more than just pipelines. The oil sands, also known as tar sands, are among the world’s more expensive and carbon-polluting sources of oil because they require lots of energy to exploit. New projects require large investments that pay off over decades.

This makes the tar sands one of the more vulnerable sectors of the global oil industry as governments begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

Texas oil warThe Oil War in the Permian May Not Have Any Winners
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

At the same time a price war is raging in the global oil markets, a regional price war is playing out in the shale fields of Texas. The Texas oil war is between the major oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron and the many independent shale oil producers.

In an unusual move this week, the CEOs of the shale oil companies Pioneer and Parsley sent a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission, asking the state oil and gas regulator to take an active role in limiting Texas oil production — a move Commissioner Ryan Sitton recently has endorsed.

This request to limit oil production looks like another sign of desperation setting in for independent shale producers, who are feeling squeezed by corporations like Exxon and Chevron reportedly trying to thwart efforts to help the smaller companies.

The Wall Street Journal reported that both of these oil majors oppose any sort of production limits. Their strategy appears to be: Ride out the low prices, watch smaller companies go bankrupt, and then buy up the assets at a big discount.
» Read article      

covid-19 oil lobby
Under Cover of Pandemic, Fossil Fuel Interests Unleash Lobbying Frenzy
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2020

Thousands of Americans are dying, millions have filed for unemployment, and frontline health care workers are risking their lives as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the U.S. In the midst of this crisis, the fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil and gas sector, has been actively seeking both financial relief and deregulation or dismantling of environmental protection measures.

In the U.S., the top oil and gas producer in the world, this activity has been particularly pronounced. While the oil and gas sector is struggling amid plummeting prices and demand, the struggle is due to factors far beyond the pandemic, and mostly of the industry’s own making.

Many shale companies had amassed large debts that allowed them to rapidly spend and expand production, for example. And the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil’s stock hit a 10-year low in late January, and a 15-year low by March 5, before the pandemic reached a crisis point in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have looked to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to shore up the petroleum producers. In mid-March, the President announced his intention to buy up crude oil to fill the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Democrats and climate advocates slammed as a reckless bailout of Big Oil.
» Read article      

Oregon develops biogas
Under new law, Oregon utilities hope to prove potential of renewable natural gas
The state’s largest gas utility plans to invest $30 million a year in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas by 2024.
By Lee van der Voo, Energy News Network; Photo: ZehnKatzen / Wikimedia Commons
April 2, 2020

A new law in Oregon is expected to spur more than $30 million in investments in renewable natural gas annually, nudging the state’s market away from fossil fuels toward biogas — a trend experts say will curtail emissions and stifle demand for fracked gas.

The effort stems from policy changes made by Oregon lawmakers last fall that upend restrictions that effectively forced utilities to buy the cheapest natural gas around — the kind sourced from fossil fuels.

Following rulemaking currently underway, utilities will be allowed to reinvest 5% of revenue in the upfront equipment costs of biogas production, chiefly cleaning equipment and new pipe to connect biogas to existing infrastructure. Natural gas utilities can recoup the cost of those investments from ratepayers. Oregon’s largest, NW Natural Gas, plans to invest $30 million annually in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas with renewable natural gas by 2024. Its executives believe the long-term contracts they aim to ink with suppliers will lure the financing that tips the market.
» Read article      

repurposing coal
Coal-fired power plants finding new uses as data centers, clean energy hubs
Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
March 23, 2020

As coal-fired power plants become uneconomic and are shut down for good, a new sort of recycling industry is taking shape: the repurposing of those plants.

Utilities across the country are finding ways to redevelop abandoned fossil-fueled sites. In January, Beloit College in Wisconsin began operating a student union and recreation center in a structure where Alliant Energy formerly burned coal to produce power.

On the southern coast of Massachusetts, a former 1,600-megawatt coal plant is being demolished to make way for a logistical port and support center for wind turbines expected to be erected about 35 miles off shore.

And in Independence, Missouri, the city utility recently received two proposals for recycling its Blue Valley Power Plant. The 98-megawatt plant burned coal for about 60 years, until switching to natural gas a few years ago. It is projected to cease its intermittent operations this summer.

One respondent to the city’s request for proposals wants to install 50 MW of battery storage. The other envisions manufacturing biofuel at the site.
» Read article      

» More about the fossil fuel industry        

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Mont Belvieu fireworks
For the Ohio River Valley, an Ethane Storage Facility in Texas Is Either a Model or a Cautionary Tale
The massive petrochemical complex in Mont Belvieu outside Houston has a long history of environmental violations, leaks, fires and explosions.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
April 10, 2020

[If] Mont Belvieu—a massive chemical distribution center for what has been a booming Gulf Coast plastics and petrochemical industry—has been a model for those promoting an Appalachian petrochemical renaissance, it also serves as a cautionary tale to those who would rather the Appalachian region reject a boom-or-bust fossil fuel future.

An examination of the chemical plants, pipelines and other gas handling equipment that sit atop the massive stores of natural gas liquids at Mont Belvieu reveals a history of fires, explosions, leaks, excess emissions, fines for air and water pollution violations, and an oversized carbon footprint.
» Read article     

» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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