Tag Archives: emissions

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 1/31/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

This week we’re sharing a blog post from Maine, arguing that the Weymouth compressor station is of regional concern. Additional news about resistance to fossil fuels includes continuing citizen protests to delay coal trains bound for New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station.

We found climate news on the fading usefulness of natural gas as a bridge fuel – arguing against the need for new infrastructure. At the same time, cutting-edge climate models promise more accurate predictions of global warming, and preliminary results agree strongly with the worst-case scenarios of earlier models. All this while the true extent of methane leaked from extraction and distribution systems is coming into sharper focus.

Integration of clean energy into the electric grid is moving rapidly, but maybe not with the best possible resource mix. An interesting article calls for better strategic planning.

The shipping industry was looking at liquified natural gas (LNG) as a cleaner alternative fuel to improve its emissions. A new report casts doubt on that, with a reminder that it’s a complicated problem.

While the fossil fuel industry swats down near-constant attempts to ban fracking because it threatens climate and public health, the just-passed USMCA trade agreement contains plenty of protections and rewards for gas and oil. The rapidly growing fracking-dependent plastics industry is also walking the line between government support through lax regulations and a growing public backlash based on similar concerns.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

No Compressor Station
The Weymouth Compressor Should Be Of Regional Concern
By Adam Rice, West End News – Blog
January 24, 2020

If we as Mainers become more vocal about the capacity payments taken from our utility bills that prop up the fossil fuel industry and advocate true divestment, we could easily fund clean sources of heat and power over time. With the Weymouth compressor, support from neighboring states will be a powerful thing that helps the whole region move towards measurable progress.
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no coal no gas
Prof. arrested for blocking coal train in climate protest
Prof. Sabine von Mering was arrested for participating in a train blockade in protest of the use of fossil fuels. The charges were dropped.
By Jen Crystal, The Justice
January 28, 2020

Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL, ENVS), a longtime climate activist, was arrested on Dec. 8 for blocking a freight train carrying coal to Merrimack Station, the largest remaining coal power plant in New England, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

This train blockade is part of the “No Coal, No Gas” campaign, which is organizing actions to limit and eliminate fossil fuel infrastructure in New England. Judge Margaret Guzman dismissed the charges against von Mering and others at the protest on Dec. 9, according to the Lowell Sun.

The largest protest of this campaign took place on Sept. 20 at Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, where 67 people were arrested for trespassing. Von Mering told the Justice in a Jan. 22 interview that she joined the “No Coal, No Gas” campaign following this protest at the request of the Climate Disobedience Center.
» Read article

» More about protests and actions    

CLIMATE

bridge too far
Is Natural Gas Really Helping the U.S. Cut Emissions?
Methane leaks throughout the supply chain make the “cleaner” fuel more damaging to the climate than government data suggests.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
January 30, 2020

Can natural gas be part of a climate change solution?

That’s what the American Petroleum Institute argues in a new campaign it has launched ahead of this year’s elections, pushing back against some Democratic candidates who support bans on new development of oil and gas. The campaign echoes a refrain that supporters from both political parties have pushed for years: that gas is a cleaner fuel than coal and can serve as a bridge to a low-carbon future.

The industry points to data showing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are at their lowest level in decades, as coal power generation has been replaced by gas, which produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions when burned, and by renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

But experts agree that those official figures understate emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas released in leaks throughout the oil and gas development supply chain. And while there’s uncertainty about how much methane is leaking, several studies show that the benefits of the switch from coal to gas over the last decade are smaller than government data suggests, perhaps substantially smaller.
» Read article

Thwaites Glacier
Temperatures at a Florida-Size Glacier in Antarctica Alarm Scientists
By Shola Lawal, New York Times
January 29, 2020

Scientists in Antarctica have recorded, for the first time, unusually warm water beneath a glacier the size of Florida that is already melting and contributing to a rise in sea levels.

The researchers, working on the Thwaites Glacier, recorded water temperatures at the base of the ice of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the normal freezing point. Critically, the measurements were taken at the glacier’s grounding line, the area where it transitions from resting wholly on bedrock to spreading out on the sea as ice shelves.

It is unclear how fast the glacier is deteriorating: Studies have forecast its total collapse in a century and also in a few decades. The presence of warm water in the grounding line may support estimates at the faster range.
» Read article

judges duck and cover
Judges Point Dismissed Youth Climate Plaintiffs to Political System Corrupted by Fossil Fuel Cash
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 24, 2020

Fossil fuel influence and money has largely captured political branches of the U.S. government, and yet the Ninth Circuit majority still concludes “that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large.”

In a scathing dissent, District Judge Josephine Staton rebuked this conclusion, warning that deferring to the political branches when they are perpetuating a grave harm would be detrimental to constitutional democracy.

“The majority laments that it cannot step into the shoes of the political branches, but appears ready to yield even if those branches walk the Nation over a cliff,” Staton writes. “This promotes separation of powers to the detriment of our countervailing constitutional mandate to intervene where the political branches run afoul of our foundational principles.”

Several legal experts concurred with Staton’s take that the majority opinion shirks the judiciary’s core function in our system of government.
» Read article      
» Read the decision and dissent    

omnicide
How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder?
Australia is going up in flames, and its government calls for resilience while planning for more coal mines.
By Richard Flanagan, New York Times Opinion
January. 25, 2020

To describe this terrifying new reality, a terrifying new idea: “omnicide.” As used by Danielle Celermajer, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, the term invokes a crime we have previously been unable to imagine because we had never before witnessed it.

Ms. Celermajer argues that “ecocide,” the killing of ecosystems, is inadequate to describe the devastation of Australia’s fires. “This is something more,” she has written. “This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.”

What does the future look like where omnicide is the norm?

According to the American climatologist Michael Mann, “It is conceivable that much of Australia simply becomes too hot and dry for human habitation.”
» Read article       

worse than you think
Scientists Say Paris Agreement Climate Goals May Now Be Unattainable

By Alex Kirby for Climate News Network, in DeSmog UK
January 23, 2020

The fevered arguments about how the world can reach the Paris climate goals on cutting the greenhouse gases which are driving global heating may be a waste of time. An international team of scientists has learned more about the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) − and it’s not good news.

Teams in six countries, using new climate models, say the warming potential of CO2 has been underestimated for years. The new models will be used in revised UN temperature projections next year. If they are accurate, the Paris targets of keeping temperature rise below 2°C − or preferably 1.5°C − will belong to a fantasy world.

Vastly more data and computing power has become available since the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections were finalised in 2013. “We have better models now,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace Climate Modelling Centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP, and they “represent current climate trends more accurately”.

Projections from government-backed teams using the models in the US, UK, France and Canada suggest a much warmer future unless the world acts fast: CO2 concentrations which have till now been expected to produce a world only 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels would more probably heat the Earth’s surface by four or five degrees Celsius.
» Read article

climate blows up economy
Climate Change Could Blow Up the Economy. Banks Aren’t Ready.
Like other central banks, the E.C.B., which met on Thursday, is scrambling to prepare for what a report warns could be a coming economic upheaval.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
January 23, 2020

FRANKFURT — Climate change has already been blamed for deadly bush fires in Australia, withering coral reefs, rising sea levels and ever more cataclysmic storms. Could it also cause the next financial crisis?

A report issued this week by an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks argued that the answer is yes, while warning that central bankers lack tools to deal with what it says could be one of the biggest economic dislocations of all time.

The book-length report, published by the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, Switzerland, signals what could be the overriding theme for central banks in the decade to come.

“Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to human societies, and our community of central banks and supervisors cannot consider itself immune to the risks ahead of us,” François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Banque de France, said in the report.
» Read article      
» Read report: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

» More about climate    

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

geo surprise
Geothermal’s surprise: Cheap renewables could keep states from achieving climate goals
Planners must think beyond the levelized cost for renewables to the value that each resource brings to the grid.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
January 27, 2020

Surprisingly, the plunging cost of some renewables could keep states from reaching ambitious climate goals if planners fail to recognize the higher value in some higher cost renewables.

States like New York, Massachusetts and California with ambitious 2030 renewables and 2045 emissions reduction mandates are starting to find a tension between cost and value. Offshore wind’s reliability and emissions reduction values have raised its profile, though it remains more expensive than onshore wind. Now California policymakers are beginning to see the potentially extraordinary, but so far unrecognized value of its geothermal resources.

“We overbuilt natural gas and then we built so much solar that we have solar over-generation, so we have fallen in love with batteries,” Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) Executive Director V. John White told Utility Dive. “Batteries are great, but planning is too driven by costs, and not enough by the value in meeting grid needs, and not having a balanced resource portfolio could be the Achilles heel of our climate effort.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

LNG bunker bust
LNG fuel fails to deliver GHG emission cuts: report

By Paul Bartlett, Seatrade Maritime News
January 29, 2020

A new report just released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) concludes that using LNG for bunkers may not be as beneficial as previously thought. In fact, on a lifecycle basis, LNG as a marine fuel may have little impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The analysis compares LNG, marine gas oil, very low sulphur fuel oil and heavy fuel oil used in marine engines in the LNG tanker and cruise sectors. However, results varied widely depending on engine technology. High-pressure dual fuel (HPDF) machinery came out top but the ICCT estimates that only 90 of the 750-plus LNG-fuelled ships in service use these engines.

Moreover, using a 20-year global warming potential model and taking into account upstream emissions, combustion emissions and methane slip, there is no climate benefit from using LNG, regardless of engine technology, the analysis concludes. Even HPDF engines emitted more lifecycle GHG emissions than when they used marine gas oil.
» Read article
» Read report       

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking Canada
Birth defects, cancer and disease among potential health risks from fracking for Canadians, doctors warn
By Kieran Leavitt, The Star
January 29, 2020

EDMONTON—Dire health impacts and a damaged environment are among concerns raised in a new review on the fracking of natural gas written by a Canadian non-profit made up of physicians.

Due to the chemicals involved in fracking, the practice’s wide-ranging impacts on humans includes the potential for birth defects, cancer, neurological issues, psychological impacts, disease and illness, reads the review by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
» Read article      
» Read CAPE report        

crude export ban
‘Like Handing Out Blankets Affected With Smallpox’: US Called to End Oil Exports to Thwart Climate Crisis
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams, in DeSmog Blog
January 28, 2020

A new report released Tuesday by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA found that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban Congress lifted in 2015 would slash global carbon emissions by up to 181 million tons of CO2-equivalent each year — a reduction comparable to shuttering dozens of coal-fired power plants.

Given the significant impact it would have in the fight against the global climate crisis, Oil Change and Greenpeace demanded that the next president and Congress commit to reviving the crude oil export ban as part of a broad and just transition away from fossil fuel production, which the Trump administration has worked to increase.

The next president, the groups note, has the “legal authority to reinstate crude oil export restrictions by declaring a national climate emergency.” Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, have both committed to ending crude oil exports if elected.
» Read article     

» Read report     

Permian Basin Hwy 67
The Hidden Danger Of Radioactive Oil And Gas Wastewater
Because oil and gas waste is exempt from hazardous waste regulations, the trucks that carry it are unmarked and free to travel near schools and reservoirs.
By Terri Langford, Texas Standard
January 27, 2020

Many Texans likely have a basic idea of how oil and gas is produced. The fuels are extracted from the ground and trucked to plants where they’re refined. But many people may be less familiar with the extraction waste, or “brine,” that is trucked away as part of that process.

Brine, a salty substance, is sent to treatment plants or injection wells where it’s then shot back into the Earth. It’s also radioactive, and Justin Nobel’s recent story in Rolling Stone details how little those who transport this material are told about its risks, and how little regulation there is when it comes to moving the radioactive substance.
» Read article    
» Read Justin Nobel’s Rolling Stone article      

murky water
‘We can’t live like this’: residents say a corrupt pipeline project is making them sick
A community in Pennsylvania says clay-colored water appeared during a drilling mud spill, but the pipeline company insists it’s not to blame
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 27, 2020

Every evening, Erica and Jon Tarr load up their car with towels, toiletries and dirty dishes, before driving their two-year-old daughter to a relative’s home to bathe, wash up and eat a meal cooked in clean water.

The Tarrs, who moved into their spacious detached home in semi-rural Pennsylvania last April, have relied upon bottled water and family generosity since June, when their crystalline tap water first turned murky.

Since then, they’ve spent more than $32,000 on new equipment, lab tests, bottled water, repairing pipes and parts damaged by the turbid water. It still isn’t safe, and they don’t know why.
» Read article       

USMCA oil slick
5 Reasons Many See Trump’s Free Trade Deal as a Triumph for Fossil Fuels
The USMCA is a cornucopia of free-trade provisions for oil and gas companies. One environmentalist calls it “a climate failure any way you look at it.”
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
January 24, 2020

The oil and gas industry had qualms when Trump first moved to scrap the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. “Renegotiating NAFTA creates risks,” said the American Petroleum Institute in an August 2017 position paper.

But through lobbying over subsequent months, the industry helped shape a deal better for its interests than NAFTA. The USMCA takes into account the monumental transformations in the North American oil and gas industry since NAFTA—the rise of the Canadian oil sands, the U.S. fracking boom, the opening of Mexico’s long-nationalized industry to private investment—and seeks to maintain them.
» Read article

casing failure
This Problem With Fracked Oil and Gas Wells Is Occurring ‘at an Alarming Rate’
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 23, 2020

On February 15, 2018, a fracked natural gas well owned by ExxonMobil’s XTO Energy and located in southeast Ohio experienced a well blowout, causing it to gush the potent greenhouse gas methane for nearly three weeks. The obscure accident ultimately resulted in one of the biggest methane leaks in U.S. history. The New York Times reported in December that new satellite data revealed that this single gas well leaked more methane in 20 days than an entire year’s worth of methane released by the oil and gas industries in countries like Norway and France.

The cause of this massive leak was a failure of the gas well’s casing, or internal lining. Well casing failures represent yet another significant but not widely discussed technical problem for an unprofitable fracking industry.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

ban the bags
Booming Plastics Industry Faces Backlash as Data About Environmental Harm Grows:
Environmentalists cite “an incredible disconnect” between government support for plastics manufacturing and evidence of the industry’s pollution and climate impact.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
January 24, 2020


Frustrated with the sight of plastic bags and styrofoam containers piling up in its harbor, the city of Charleston, South Carolina, rang in the new year with a promise to start enforcing a ban on single-use plastic containers and utensils.

It’s one of hundreds of similar bans that have been launched across the U.S. and Europe, amid a growing backlash to an industry that is expanding despite increasing evidence of the harm its products can do.

In just the past year, researchers have shown that tiny particles of plastic are pervasive in the environment, even high in the mountains and inside human bodies. Dead whales have washed up with dozens of pounds of plastic waste in their stomachs. And a new awareness of the role the plastics industry plays in climate change is emerging.
» Read article

» More about plastics in the environment

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