Tag Archives: gas leak

Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

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Welcome back.

We’ll jump right in with climate reports, because it turns out that after several years of increasingly urgent, hair-on-fire warnings from the United Nations, scientists, and governments, we in Massachusetts appear to be less concerned than we were before. The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine to have distracted our attention, and those things have given us too many excuses to delay real action.

So what we have is a mixed bag. The fossil fuel industry has long bankrolled a sophisticated disinformation and denial campaign, and the richest countries in the world continue to finance new development projects. We even have a brand new gas peaker plant under construction in Peabody, MA! But there’s also pushback, like the Massachusetts legislature’s good work on a new, nuts & bolts bill designed to execute the broad goals expressed in the 2021 climate “roadmap” law.

The Biden administration finds itself on both sides of this fence. We reported last week on the discouraging (and transparently political) move to sell more oil and gas leases. On the flip side, Biden is increasing the build-out of renewable energy on public lands, and has restored part of an environmental law that was gutted by the Trump administration, “requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects”. Hopefully this constitutes clear guidance for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently made a quavering attempt to consider climate impacts of pipelines, but freaked out when the gas industry expressed displeasure.

Before we move on from the topic of natural gas, let’s consider two articles describing how gas utilities are doubling down on their campaign to preserve their pipeline distribution model at all costs – touting far-fetched, false solutions as a way to continue pushing volatile fuel into homes and businesses. Natural gas is primarily methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and it leaks from every point along the line from production to end use – sometimes spectacularly.

A primary reason the gas distribution model has no future is that modern heat pumps can replace fossil fuel furnaces and boilers, even in frosty New England. As we electrify building heat, we expect some stubborn gas utility obstruction – and we’re getting plenty of that. Less obvious is resistance coming from HVAC installers, especially considering how much they have to gain as communities convert en masse to new equipment. But change is inevitable.

Even the mundane process of charging electric vehicles is evolving. Soon, the idea of plugging in your EV to do nothing but charge overnight will seem as antiquated as heating with gas. With bi-directional charging, the vehicle’s large battery and stored energy can be available for all sorts of uses, from utility demand management to emergency backup power – all while leaving plenty of juice for driving. This can generate income for the individual or fleet EV owner while adding resiliency and flexibility to the grid.

We’ll close with a look at liquefied natural gas, and how the industry is using the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue its long fight against controlling toxic emissions at export terminals. Also, read about the biomass industry’s lobbying campaign to keep the fires burning under Europe’s dirtiest “renewable” energy.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peaker
What to know about a planned natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Mass
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 08, 2022

This week’s new climate report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is very clear that the world needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. In fact, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to actively decommission a lot of the oil, gas and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts also has strong climate laws and has committed to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state allowing the construction of a new natural gas and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s goals, and that the utility group behind the project has not been transparent in their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued despite the protests, and project managers say the facility will be up and running by 2023.

Whether you’re familiar with this proposed power plant and have questions, or you’re hearing about it for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about peakers

DIVESTMENT

advantage oil
Database Shows Rich Governments Funding Fossil Fuels Over Clean Energy
“G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 20, 2022

A new online tool launched Wednesday by a U.S.-based advocacy group details how international public finance is continuing to fuel the climate emergency rather than sufficiently funding a just transition to clean energy.

Oil Change International (OCI) unveiled its Public Finance for Energy Database—accessible at energyfinance.org—along with a briefing that lays out key findings, why the group is monitoring public finance for energy, and how these institutions “are uniquely positioned to catalyze a just, transformative, and rapid transition.”

The open-access tool targets development finance institutions (DFIs), export finance agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs), focusing on Group of 20 (G20) countries, the world’s biggest economies. The website features a data dashboard as well as a policy tracker.

“Public finance shapes our future energy systems,” the briefing states, explaining that these “institutions’ investments total $2.2 trillion a year: an estimated 10% of global financial flows. Worldwide, 693 government-owned or operated banks own assets worth about $38 trillion and if central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and multilateral banks are also included, this doubles to $73 trillion.”

“The impact of this finance reaches beyond its own scale because public finance has an outsized influence on the decisions private financiers make,” the document adds. “This is because public finance has government-backed credit ratings, is often provided at below-market rates, often has larger research and technical capacity, and signals broader government priorities. All of this helps make a project a less risky and more attractive investment.”

The briefing points out that “G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
» Read article   
» Access the database

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

MA Statehouse
Senate passes big climate bill focused on getting to net-zero
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
April 15, 2022

Senators took a major step Thursday toward achieving the net-zero emissions target they already set for Massachusetts by approving a policy-heavy bill aimed at expanding the clean energy industry and reining in emissions from the transportation and building sectors.

Nearly 12 hours after they kicked off debate, senators voted 37-3 on legislation (S 2819) that faces an unclear future as negotiators prepare to reconcile it with a smaller-scope bill that cleared the House (H 4515). All three of the chamber’s Republicans, who unsuccessfully pushed an alternative proposal, voted against the final measure.

Along the way, the Senate adopted 45 amendments — including one that calls for attempting to nearly double the amount of offshore wind energy generated for Massachusetts over the next decade-plus — leading to what Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Michael Barrett called “a product here that is much better than when we started.”

The legislation, which comes on the heels of a 2021 law committing to reaching net-zero emissions statewide by 2050, would pump $250 million into clean energy expansion, electric vehicle incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It would also overhaul the offshore wind procurement process, require greater scrutiny on the future of natural gas, and allow some cities and towns to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction.

“Last year’s climate bill was about laying out a plan for tackling this formidable challenge of climate change. This year, in this legislation, we propose to begin to execute on the plan. If you like metaphors, last year was about laying out a roadmap, today we start traveling down the road. That’s why this is all about implementation,” Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am happy beyond measure, I am so happy, that this Senate has the courage to move beyond roadmapping and beyond laying out a template and is in favor of getting to the question of implementation and execution.”
» Read article    

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

providing certainty
FERC must stand strong against industry pressure to weaken climate and environmental justice policies
By Moneen Nasmith, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2022

[…] Federal law requires FERC to consider a broad range of factors when assessing how gas infrastructure projects, like pipelines and export terminals, impact the public. Gas projects often cause significant harm to the climate and communities. They release methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to the climate crisis — and facilitate the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. And they degrade air quality and threaten public health, often in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened with pollution.

But FERC has long overlooked the environmental costs of gas projects while accepting unsubstantiated claims by industry about their alleged benefits. The agency has historically rubberstamped nearly all the gas projects that came before it, without seriously considering whether they are even needed. As a result, these projects have been vulnerable to litigation — and FERC and the pipeline industry keep losing in court.

Most recently, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in March that FERC failed to adequately assess the greenhouse gas emissions from a compressor station and gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action team, a community group, filed a lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project without considering climate impacts. The court agreed and ordered FERC to redo its environmental analysis.

To improve its broken review process, FERC recently proposed two common-sense policies to consider adverse effects like greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice when it reviews gas projects. The first outlines four factors the agency will consider before approving pipeline projects, including environmental impacts and the interests of environmental justice communities. The second lays out how the agency will quantify and evaluate the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from a gas project, including pipelines and export terminals. These policies better balance the pros and cons of building new gas projects — something the courts have effectively been directing FERC to do.

Predictably, the fossil fuel industry and their political allies came out in full force to attack the new policies and pressure FERC to weaken and delay implementation of its policies. Gas companies claimed the new policies create uncertainty and will reduce investment in new pipelines and export terminals. But the reality is that the policies will reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders by ensuring that new projects are legally sound.
» Read article   

» More about FERC   

GREENING THE ECONOMY

narrow lakeBiden restores parts of environmental protection law, reverses Trump policy
By Lisa Friedman New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it is restoring parts of a bedrock environmental law, once again requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects.

The administration plans to resurrect requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been removed by President Donald Trump, who complained that they slowed down the development of mines, road expansions, and similar projects.

The final rule announced Tuesday would require federal agencies to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change might affect new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the council, described the regulation as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.

[…] Administration officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts since the Biden administration had already been weighing the climate change impacts of proposed projects. But it would force future administrations to abide by the process or undertake a lengthy regulatory process and possibly legal challenges to again undo it.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after several environmental disasters including a crude oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio that shocked the nation.

It mandates federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before allowing them to proceed. Agencies are not required to reject projects that might worsen climate change — only to examine and report the impacts.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unfocused
As Earth’s temperature rises, Massachusetts residents’ sense of urgency on climate change declines
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

Despite increasingly urgent international warnings and an onslaught of catastrophic wildfires and weather linked to global warming, fewer Massachusetts residents see the climate crisis as a very serious concern than they did three years ago, according to a new poll.

It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”

But with a pandemic and war in Ukraine as a backdrop, fewer than half, 48 percent, ranked climate in the highest category of concern, down from 53 percent in 2019, the last time the poll was taken. Less than half said they would vote along climate lines or take steps such as switching their home heat off fossil fuel.

“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
» Read article    

gap
G20 Falling Behind, Canada Dead Last in Widening Gap Between Climate Pledges, Climate Action
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 22, 2022

G20 countries are falling behind on the all-important “say-do gap” between their 2030 emission reduction pledges and the climate action they’re actually taking, and Canada shows up dead last among the 10 wealthiest nations in the group, according to the first annual Earth Index released this week by Corporate Knights.

The analysis [pdf] points to some signs of progress, particularly in electricity generation in high-income countries. But it shows slower action in other sectors and warns that middle-income G20 countries are producing three times the emissions of the wealthiest—a trend that will continue without much wider, faster efforts to transfer proven technologies and techniques to the parts of the world that need them.

Corporate Knights CEO Toby Heaps said G20 countries’ climate commitments to date would hold average global warming to 1.8°C, citing an assessment released by the International Energy Agency during last year’s COP 26 climate summit. That outcome would “still be destructive, but it’s a scenario where we can still thrive, species can thrive, and our civilization can thrive,” Heaps told a webinar audience Wednesday.

The problem is the gap, he added, with the latest working group report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing warming on a trajectory for 3.2°C.
» Read article   
» Read the Earth Index

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Zion solar
Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands.

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported.

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035.
» Read article    

CT green H2 path
CT plans a green hydrogen path, but it has potholes

By Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
April 13, 2022

“Green hydrogen” seems to be the climate change solution of the moment — a not-widely-understood substance now talked up by the Biden administration, northeastern governors and Connecticut lawmakers, as well as the few people here who actually know what green hydrogen is.

Among other initiatives, the Biden administration has launched a competition for four hydrogen “hubs” that will share $8 billion in federal funds to develop, well, something. Connecticut is partnering with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to come up with a proposal for what one such something might be. Separately, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to establish a task force to study green hydrogen’s potential in the state and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is planning for a hydrogen component in its new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes hydrogen among the mitigation strategies in its final and alarming 6th assessment report released last week.

But the environmental community is, at best, wary of green hydrogen. Some are downright opposed to aspects of making and using it and even more worried about non-green hydrogen. Even green hydrogen’s biggest supporters admit it has limitations and is not a silver bullet for addressing climate change.

“A lot of really important questions come with this policy area,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP’s commissioner. “What is the hydrogen being produced with? What are the emissions associated with the production of the hydrogen? How is it being transported and stored? What are you using it for?

“Those are more questions than answers.”

So what is green hydrogen exactly and is its potential in mitigating climate change worth getting excited about? The answer is complicated.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

heat pump rebates
Unlikely gatekeepers in the fight against climate change: HVAC contractors
Rebates encourage homeowners to embrace climate-friendly heating systems. Will contractors block or bolster the switch to heat pumps?
By Eve Zuckoff, CAI Public Radio
February 23, 2022

Homeowners looking to replace their heating systems can now receive up to $10,000 to switch from boilers and furnaces to air source heat pumps. The rebates are part of the state’s ambitious plan to lower carbon emissions and address climate change.

But for the state’s plan to work, it needs more than the support of homeowners and environmental activists. It needs your local heating and cooling contractor.

[…] Today, 27 percent of Massachusetts’ total carbon emissions come from heating and water heating in homes and other buildings, according to data from the state. To drastically cut those emissions, state officials want 1 million homes to rely on electric heat pumps, rather than boilers and furnaces, by 2030.

While powerful financial incentives from Mass Save, the state’s energy-efficiency program, are expected to attract homeowners, it’s up to contractors to heed the call. Some say they’re ready.

“I would say nine out of 10 – if not more– of our jobs are heat pump jobs and we’re doing several hundred jobs a year,” said Jared Grier, owner of an HVAC company in Marstons Mills that’s betting hard on the future. It’s called Cape Cod Heat Pumps.

Home heating systems are expensive for most homeowners, but rebates can create a competitive advantage for heat pumps.

Like many contractors, Grier said it’s nearly impossible to estimate the average cost of installing a heat pump system because it involves so many variables, including the size of the home, how insulated it is, and how many units are needed. But the overall cost to install – and operate – a heat pump can be a selling point when compared to other heating systems.

[…] Beyond cost comparisons, some installers say they are pivoting to heat pumps because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

“You have to embrace it or you get left behind. We can’t afford as a business to be left behind,” said Gary Thompson, sales and installation manager at Murphy’s Services of Yarmouth, which does air conditioning, heating and plumbing. “The boilers and the furnaces – the fossil fuel heating systems – are the dinosaurs. They’re going away.”

Advancing heat pump technology has transformed his sales over the last five years, he said, but many veteran installers remain resistant.

“The contractors – be it time, economics, training – they haven’t embraced it,” he said. “You know, kind of the old adage in this industry: ‘I’ll try anything new as long as my father and grandfather used it first.’”
» Read article    
» See Mass Save heat pump rebates

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V2X MOU
Department of Energy looks to integrate Vehicle-to-Everything bi-directional charging into US infrastructure
The US DOE released a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to bring together parties to advance bi-directional charging with cybersecurity as a core component.
By Anne Fischer, PV Magazine
April 21, 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and partners announced the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that aims to bring together resources from the DOE, national labs, state and local governments, utilities, and private entities to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of integrating bidirectional charging into the nation’s energy infrastructure.

As the number of electric vehicles (EVs) grows (including larger trucks and buses), their batteries can be used to add support [to] the grid.

A bidirectional EV fleet could serve as both a clean transportation as well as an energy storage asset that sends power back to everything from critical loads and homes to the grid. A bidirectional fleet could also create new revenue opportunities for EV owners or fleets.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) conservatively estimates that 130 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally by 2030.  Bidirectional plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) offer an opportunity to support the grid, enhancing security, resilience, and economic vitality.

“The MOU signed today represents a collaborative approach to researching and developing novel technologies that will help unify the clean energy and transportation sectors while getting more American consumers into electric vehicles,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dave Turk. “Integrating charging technology that powers vehicles and simultaneously pushes energy back into the electrical grid is a win-win for the future of clean transportation and our energy resilience overall.”
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

interchangeable
As N.H. lawmakers and utilities embrace renewable natural gas, environmental groups raise concerns

Environmentalists say renewable natural gas is costly and limited, and that it can be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin, in Energy News Network
April 20, 2022

Buried under a pile of trash in a landfill in northern New Hampshire, apple cores, eggshells, and other bits of discarded food are decomposing. That process generates a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas the state’s utilities want to capture and use as fuel.

This so-called renewable natural gas comes from other sources, too: livestock operations generating agricultural waste and wastewater treatment plants that handle human waste. Once purified, the gas is “fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As of last September, that had resulted in 548 landfill gas projects across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gas utilities in New Hampshire are looking to use renewable natural gas as a fuel of the future. Lawmakers have broadly supported the efforts, in spite of environmental and cost concerns. Renewable natural gas could cost three times as much as conventional natural gas.

Senate Bill 424 was voted out of two Senate committees with unanimous support and passed the Senate floor on a voice vote in March. The bill left the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee with five House lawmakers voting against it and 15 in its favor, and it is now up for a vote before the full House with the committee’s recommendation that it pass into law.

[…] Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the guardrails in the bill are too weak to guarantee the promised environmental benefits.

“It gives utilities an opportunity to claim they’re doing something green and environmentally beneficial. But when you pull back the layer, it’s not going to be environmentally beneficial,” Krakoff said.

One specific problem, Krakoff said, is a lack of accounting when it comes to methane leakages, which can occur during processing or transportation and can quickly cancel out the climate benefits associated with renewable natural gas. And the greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the gas must be calculated as well, he said. The bill is currently silent on both. “When you weigh the greenhouse gas impacts, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Krakoff’s larger critique of renewable natural gas is that it’s diverting attention and money from cleaner alternatives, like heat pumps.

The Conservation Law Foundation has written that the gas is both costly and limited; the organization argues that, for those reasons, it will do little to lower emissions but could be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done to transition to clean energy,” Krakoff said.
» Read article   
» Read CLF’s position on renewable natural gas

first rule of holes
A fossil-free National Grid? Critics call it a pipe dream.
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
April 19, 2022


National Grid today released a plan to go fossil-free in order to meet Massachusetts’ 2050 net-zero climate emission targets.

The company’s “clean energy vision” is designed to transform the way the gas utility provides heat throughout its New England territory, while continuing to rely on its vast gas infrastructure.

Currently, most homes and businesses in the region burn natural gas for heat, which National Grid distributes to customers through a network of pipelines. By mid-century, if the company fails to change its business model, the net-zero requirements of the state climate law will essentially put it out of business.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, but is far more effective at trapping heat. Thousands of miles of pipes in Massachusetts leak methane, and are being repaired and replaced at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

The key to National Grid’s plan is using their same pipeline distribution system, but providing a different mix of gas, said Stephen Woerner, regional president of the utility: “We eliminate fossil fuels and we replace them with renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.”

Renewable natural gas — or RNG — is methane produced by decomposing organic matter. The utility plans to capture methane produced on farms, landfills and waste treatment plants and pipe it through its network.  “Green” hydrogen would be produced by offshore wind farms that split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with no carbon emissions. The company envisions a new gas mix including 30% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2040, and 80% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2050.

One of the environmental groups calling for electrification of the region’s heating system is the Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation. The group also advocates for the use of electric heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating, which uses the Earth as a battery to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF for Massachusetts, called National Grid’s plan “a false solution, just a way for the company to stay in business using their existing network of pipelines to distribute climate-disrupting gas.”

“Any plan that still counts on burning methane is not a decarbonization plan,” Sloan said. She notes that methane, regardless of the source, is still a climate threat.
» Read article    

» More about gas utilities

GAS LEAKS

big cowboy line break
Unregulated gas pipeline causes a huge methane leak in Texas
By Aaron Clark and Naureen Malik, Bloomberg, in The Boston Globe
April 18, 2022

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane in little more than an hour that by one estimate its climate impact was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 US cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipe that’s a tiny part of a vast web of unregulated lines across the US, linking production fields and other sites to bigger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements start next month for so-called gathering lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage even minor parts of the network can inflict.

Energy Transfer, which operates the line where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications were made. It called the pipe an “unregulated gathering line.”

The timing of the release and its location appeared to match a plume of methane observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalytics firm Kayrros called the most severe in the US in a year. Bloomberg investigations into methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show the invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely curbing or eliminating releases of the gas from fossil fuel operations is crucial to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency has said oil and gas operators should move beyond emissions intensity goals and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
» Read article    

» More about gas leaks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Frontline series
‘Frontline’ Review: Why the Climate Changed but We Didn’t
“The Power of Big Oil” examines a dispiriting, well-financed history of denialism and inaction.
By Mike Hale, New York Times
April 18, 2022

PBS’s investigative public-affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us of things we would rather forget. On Tuesday, it begins a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species-killer that has taken a back seat recently to more traditional scourges like disease and war.

Titled “The Power of Big Oil,” the weekly mini-series is focused on climate change denialism as it was practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry — particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries — along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more depressing than revelatory, of why nothing much has been done about an existential crisis we’ve been aware of for at least four decades.

The signposts of our dawning comprehension and alarm are well known, among them the climatologist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, the Kyoto and Paris agreements, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and increasingly dire United Nations reports. The response that “Frontline” meticulously charts — a disciplined, coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in industry and was embraced by conservative political groups — is less familiar but was always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talking heads on television and op-eds and advertorials in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that do not absolutely deny global warming but portray it as the night terrors of attention-mongering eggheads. Behind the scenes, the thinly disguised lobbying groups paid for by Big Oil apply pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as if the United States might pass legislation affecting their profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which the refusal to accept the reality of climate change prefigured the wider attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that were to characterize the Trump years and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The successful but lonely battle fought by the oil and gas industries is joined wholeheartedly by Republican politicians when they see how climate denialism, and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers, dovetails with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At that point, the fig leaf of scientific debate is dropped and pure emotion takes over.
» Read article    

KY mountain top
The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines
Internal records and emails show that state regulators struggle to keep up with the violations as coal bankruptcies and “zombie” mines proliferate.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 18, 2022

As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal documents show.

Enforcement data from 2013 through February, along with recent internal emails, both provided to Inside Climate News by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in response to a state open records law request, paint a picture of an industry and its regulators in a state of crisis.

The documents reveal an agency struggling to enforce regulations designed to protect the public and the environment from some of the industry’s most destructive practices amid mining company bankruptcies and an overall industry decline that has also seen the shedding of thousands of coal mining jobs in the state.

Environmental advocates fear lax enforcement could also be happening in other coal mining states, such as West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, due to similar pressures on the industry and regulators, despite a recent uptick in coal mining. And they are calling on federal regulators to make sure slowed, idled or bankrupt mines are not left to deteriorate.

“This data shows there are a lot of zombie mines out there,” said Mary Varson Cromer, an attorney and deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky, using a term that refers to mines that have been idled, sometimes for years, without the required reclamation work on their sites.

[…] “This is completely out of control,” warned Courtney Skaggs, a senior environmental scientist in the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, in a separate Dec. 15 email to the department’s commissioner, Gordon Slone. “This is going to blow up in someone’s face,” wrote Skaggs, a former acting director of the agency’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cheniere
Should EPA Back-Off Pollution Controls to Help LNG Exports Replace Russian Gas in Germany?
Cheniere Energy says the agency’s decision to start enforcing pollution controls on gas turbines is “counterproductive” in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Environmentalists strongly disagree.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2022

The nation’s top exporter of liquified natural gas, Cheniere Energy, is using Russia’s war on Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration for a break on regulations aimed at reducing toxic air emissions at its LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas.

Environmental advocates are hoping the Biden administration stands firm on its March decision to finally, after nearly two decades, enforce limits on toxic air emissions from certain kinds of gas-powered turbines used in a variety of industrial operations, including the chilling and liquefaction of natural gas at Cheniere’s export terminals on the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas in large tanker vessels.

But Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed enormous counterpressure on the president from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who want U.S. LNG exports to replace Russian gas.Before the war, Russia was supplying about 40 percent of the EU’s gas.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said now is precisely the moment in which Biden should show resolve in the face of Cheniere’s request to relax pollution controls.

“If EPA says, ‘No, you don’t have to comply now, we will give you a waiver for two more years,’ then as soon as they do, every other operator of a stationary turbine will ask for the same thing,” said Williams, who is closely following the issue. In addition to the chillers making LNG, gas powered turbines are commonly used in electricity generation. “We have been trying to get (EPA) to reduce emissions from turbines for 30 years.”

Attorneys at Bracewell, the Houston-based law firm that asked EPA in March for the break on Cheniere’s behalf, say the federal agency has not responded. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was considering Cheniere’s request.

The next move is Biden’s, and It’s not at all clear how the administration is going to react with the war in Ukraine raging, natural gas prices soaring, gasoline prices at the pump near record highs and the 2022 midterm elections approaching.
» Read article    

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Drax lobby
Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Europe’s Plans To Protect Woodlands
Leaked documents show UK power plant Drax is at the heart of lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit its supply of wood.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2022

A powerful US biomass lobby group is pushing for a raft of changes that would weaken European renewable energy rules geared to better protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, DeSmog can reveal.

Leaked documents shared with DeSmog show that Yorkshire wood-burning power plant Drax is at the heart of the effort to water down EU sustainability criteria.

Campaigners say that the proposed amendments pose an “existential threat” to the company, which in 2021 produced nearly 13 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity through burning wood pellets.

The lobbying by US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) comes at a time of intense debate over the future of energy. The European Commission pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds after President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Energy Agency has also recommended “maximising” bioenergy – which derives from burning organic material for fuel.

USIPA, whose members include Drax and top pellet producers Granuul and Enviva, sent the document to select MEPs in early March.

In it, the industry group appears to push back strongly against rules that might limit its supply of wood – including opposing the European Commission’s proposal for a no-go area for sourcing biomass from virgin and highly biodiverse  forests.

USIPA also attempts to establish in law that old, or misshapen trees should be used to make pellets, and suggests that companies should still be allowed to harvest wood from countries with national plans for timber and forest management deemed inadequate by the EU.
» Read article    

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 2/11/22

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Welcome back.

This week’s news is full of evidence that protests and legal actions against fossil fuel expansion projects have been successful. On the heels of the Bureau of Land Management’s court-directed cancellation of lease sales for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico, the Biden administration is taking a fresh look at Conoco-Phillips’ sketchy ‘Willow’ development proposal for Alaska’s North Slope. Meanwhile the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been invalidating Mountain Valley Pipeline permits granted after shoddy, rubber-stamp reviews during the Trump administration. Industry is not pleased with all this, and has fought back against protesters who take non-violent direct action to delay and draw attention to these projects. Their boots-on-the-ground efforts support and often drive the legal mechanisms that ultimately enforce environmental protection. Applying political influence, Big Oil & Gas has encouraged 36 states to criminalize many forms of peaceful resistance. These new felony charges are sending good people to prison, but they aren’t stifling opposition.

The divestment movement is also holding strong. French energy giant TotalEnergies is reportedly having trouble lining up the money it needs to despoil large areas of Uganda and Tanzania by way of its proposed Lake Albert oil fields development and related East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). A significant number of potential investors and insurers are now guided by internal climate-related policies, and have lost their appetite for fossil profits.

Pumping the bellows on these headwinds for big polluters is an increasing awareness that our reliance on natural gas has made methane pollution an urgent climate threat – and an opportunity. At every step from extraction and transport, to local distribution networks with their stubbornly pervasive gas leaks, methane’s powerful warming effect is finally understood as a primary threat to holding global warming within manageable limits. Quickly ramping down natural gas production and use can deliver huge benefits, but that entails rapidly electrifying buildings and replacing fossil fuel electricity generation with renewables. It’s a suite of changes requiring grid modernization, a process hampered by its own technical and regulatory speed bumps.

Gas utilities are taking tentative steps to explore roles beyond their current business model. Some recognize they’ll need to change or be left behind.

Our Greening the Economy section considers how to prioritize decarbonization, including consideration of the military’s fuel habit. Then we focus on the possible, and look at some of the rapidly developing technologies taking us there. Clean energy is seeing some breakthroughs in solar panel recycling, and a number of college campuses are building geothermal district heating systems to reduce emissions. Even industrial sectors like cement manufacturing, currently considered hard to decarbonize, may have an all-electric future because of advances in ultra-high-temperature thermal storage.

We know that long-duration energy storage plays a critical role in retiring fossil fuel generating plants, but how we do it has huge environmental and social justice implications. We offer three articles featuring exciting emerging technologies that promise to solve a number of problems that lithium batteries can’t.

Lithium-ion batteries are a mature product, having years of service in phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. This allowed them to gain early dominance in the short-term energy storage market. Lately, a few developers have found they can use these batteries to provide longer-duration power by simply increasing their numbers – so the typical four-hour limit can stretch to eight. But lithium is not abundant and mining it can disrupt sensitive areas. As such, we prefer that it be reserved for mobile applications where its light weight and high energy density make it difficult to substitute. For large stationary applications, it looks like iron-air and iron flow batteries, gravity storage, and high-temperature thermal storage (among others), will soon displace lithium with greener, cheaper, more durable, and longer-duration alternatives.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

North Slope pipelines
The Biden Administration Rethinks its Approach to Drilling on Public Lands in Alaska, Soliciting Further Review
The Bureau of Land Management is inviting public input on ConocoPhillips’ Willow project on the North Slope, following a court reversal on leases it approved last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
February 4, 2022

The Biden administration will give the public a new opportunity to weigh in on a major oil project proposed in the Alaskan Arctic, handing a victory to environmental groups that have opposed the development.

In an announcement late Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management said it would solicit comments about the Willow project, which would pump about 590 million barrels of oil over 30 years from a rapidly-warming ecosystem on Alaska’s North Slope.

The ConocoPhillips project was approved in the final months of the Trump administration, but its future was thrown into doubt after a federal court in Alaska vacated the approval last year and sent the project back to the BLM for further environmental review. The Biden administration initially supported the project by defending it in court, but then declined to appeal last year’s ruling.

Climate advocates had called on the BLM to open a public “scoping period” as part of the court-ordered review of Willow, and they said Thursday’s announcement was a sign that the Biden administration may be taking their concerns seriously.

“The agency is going to start from the very beginning to assess the project,” said Layla Hughes, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit that represented Indigenous and climate advocates in one of two lawsuits challenging the project that led to last year’s court ruling.

Hughes and other advocates had described Willow as a major test for the Biden administration’s climate policy, and had expressed concern that the BLM was conducting a narrow review in response to the court ruling, rather than taking a broader look at environmental and climate impacts. Advocates argue that such a review would show that the project should not proceed at all, given the urgency of limiting global warming and protecting a melting Arctic.

With Thursday’s announcement, Hughes said, “the agency is basically signaling its intent to meaningfully assess the project. Whether or not it does, we’ll have to see.”
» Read article      

protest felony charges
‘They criminalize us’: how felony charges are weaponized against pipeline protesters
Thirty-six states have passed laws that criminalize protesting on ‘critical infrastructure’ including pipelines. In Minnesota, at least 66 felony theft charges against Line 3 protesters remain open
Alexandria Herr, The Guardian
February 10, 2022

Last summer Sabine Von Mering, a professor of German at Brandeis University, drove more than 1,500 miles from Boston to Minneapolis to protest against the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline that stretches from Canada’s tar sands down to Minnesota.

Along with another protester, she locked herself to a semi-truck in the middle of a roadway, according to a filed court brief, as a means of peaceful resistance. But when she was arrested, she was charged with a serious crime: felony theft, which carries up to five years in prison.

Legal advocates say that in Minnesota the elevated charges are a novel tactic to challenge protest actions against pipeline construction. They see them as furthering evidence of close ties between Minnesota’s government and the fossil fuel industry. It follows reporting by the Guardian that the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, which is building Line 3, reimbursed Minnesota’s police department $2.4m for time spent arresting protesters and on equipment including ballistic helmets. Experts say the reimbursement strategy for arrests is a new technique in both Minnesota and across the US, and there’s concern it can be replicated.

“I do a lot of representation for people in political protests and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Jordan Kushner, a defense attorney representing clients charged in relation to Line 3 protests.

Two of Kushner’s clients were charged with felony “aiding attempted suicide” charges for crawling inside a pipe. The charge is for someone who “intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another who attempts but fails to take the other’s own life”, according to Minnesota law and carries up to a seven-year sentence. Authorities alleged that the protesters were endangering their lives by remaining inside the pipeline.

“To put it charitably, it’s a very creative use of this law,” said Kushner.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

MVP taking fire
Another blow to the Mountain Valley Pipeline
It’s Monday, February 7, and a federal court is dealing blow after blow to a natural gas pipeline.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 7, 2022

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia to southern Virginia, is mostly built. But a federal court has indicated in the last few weeks that it shouldn’t be, siding with communities and environmental groups that have been fighting the project from the start.

On Thursday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act authorization for the pipeline, which was granted under the Trump administration. The court found that the agency’s assessment of impacts to two endangered fish species, the Roanoke logperch and candy darter, was flawed, and that the agency had failed to consider the impact of climate change in its analysis.

That blow follows two others the previous week, when the same court rejected permits that had been issued for the pipeline by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for stream crossings in the Jefferson National Forest. This was the second time the court rejected the agencies’ permits for inadequately assessing the potential erosion and sediment disturbance caused by the pipeline. Throughout its development, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, has been plagued by permitting battles that have delayed the project by four years and almost doubled its cost.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, the senior director of energy campaigns for the Sierra Club, in a statement. Sheehan blamed the Trump administration’s “rushed, shoddy permitting” and urged the Biden administration to re-evaluate, and ultimately cancel, the whole project.
» Read article      

Highwater Ethanol
Carbon dioxide pipelines planned for Minnesota fall into regulatory black hole
Two multibillion-dollar pipelines would ship CO2 produced by ethanol plants to other states for underground storage.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
February 5, 2022

Two of the largest carbon dioxide pipelines in the world are slated to cross Minnesota, transporting the climate-poisoning gas for burial deep underground — yet also falling into a regulatory black hole.

CO2 is considered a hazardous pipeline fluid under federal law and in some states, including Iowa, but not Minnesota.

The pipelines — one of which would be more expensive than the Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota — would primarily ship CO2 captured at ethanol plants across the Midwest.

Transporting and storing CO2 has never been done on this scale. Carbon-capture technology is still in a nascent stage. And a 2020 pipeline mishap in Mississippi caused an evacuation and dozens of injuries.

“CO2 is a hazardous material that can lead to absolutely disastrous ruptures,” said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington state-based group. While CO2 isn’t explosive like natural gas, it’s an asphyxiant that can be fatal in large doses.

Right now, the CO2 pipelines don’t require approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But the PUC in December opened a proceeding on whether it should change state regulations to deem CO2 pipelines as hazardous. The Minnesota Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources (DNR) all favor such a change.

“A developing body of research has raised concerns about the safety and environmental effects of pipelines transporting CO2,” the DNR said in a PUC filing Monday. “Leaks or breaks in a pipeline can cause CO2 to accumulate in low-lying areas [including basements of area residences and buildings], thereby displacing oxygen.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

Parker and Salem
Communities of color get more gas leaks, slower repairs, says study
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
February 4, 2022

People of color, lower-income households, and people with limited English skills across Massachusetts are more exposed to gas leaks — especially more hazardous gas leaks — than the general population, according to a new study. Those same communities also experience longer waits to get the leaks fixed.

“There is a disparity. It’s consistent. It’s across the state. That’s a civil rights issue to begin with,” said study co-author Marcos Luna, a professor of geography and sustainability at Salem State University. “This is not acceptable.”

Study co-author Dominic Nicholas built the database used in the study. Nichols, a program director for the Cambridge-based nonprofit Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), had taken the natural gas utilities’ records of gas leaks, geocoded them, and made the data publicly available.

“With this large data set finally being geocoded and really high quality, it allowed us to explore the problem at different geographic scales, which was a breakthrough, I think, for this work,” Nicholas said.

Researchers examined how frequently gas leaks of different grades occurred by community, the ages of the leaks and how quickly they were repaired.

The research revealed that gas leaks don’t affect everyone in the state equally; rather, race, ethnicity, English language ability, and income are the leading indicators of exposure to leaks. While there was some variation across the state — for instance, income disparity was a larger factor than racial disparity in the Berkshires — the overall findings held true even in areas of the state with denser populations and more gas pipelines, and areas with older gas infrastructure.

About half of households in Massachusetts use natural gas for heat. Gas leaks create fire hazards, degrade air quality, kill trees and contribute to climate change.

Recent research has found that natural gas infrastructure in eastern Massachusetts emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas — at about six times higher than state estimates, and leaks have not decreased over the past eight years, despite state efforts to fix them.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

TotalEnergies
Total’s East Africa Pipeline ‘Struggling’ To Find Financiers
The companies leading the project are “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from”, activists say.
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog Blog
February 7, 2022

Total’s “incredibly risky” crude oil pipeline may still lack the financial backing it requires, campaigners have claimed, as the controversial project moves one step closer to completion.

Once finished, the 1,443km-long East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) could transport up to 216,000 barrels a day from the Lake Albert region in landlocked Uganda to Tanga in Tanzania, with the first oil expected in 2025.

However, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups opposing the pipeline, Stop EACOP, says the announcement is thin on detail and the project is not yet assured.

The final investment decision was a “show of progress”, said Ryan Brightwell, a campaigner at non-profit BankTrack, but companies were “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from for their incredibly risky pipeline plans”.

A number of financial institutions have already distanced themselves from the project after the coalition briefed financiers about the risks last year.

The pipeline forms one part of the Ugandan oil development, which also includes the country’s first planned oil refinery, and two oil fields — Tilenga and Kingfisher.

In a statement responding to the final investment decision, the coalition noted that 11 international banks and three insurance companies have already declined to finance the project.

The final investment decision comes nine months after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned there can be no more new oil and gas investments if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

Brightwell, of BankTrack, warned that crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Uganda, as well as risks to “communities, nature, water and the climate”, were harming the project’s image. “No wonder the project is struggling to find financiers unscrupulous and reckless enough to back it,” he said.
» Read article     
» Read the StopEACOP statement

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

heavy lifter
Should the Defense Dept. be exempt from cutting greenhouse gas emissions?
The department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be.
By Sharon E. Burke, Boston Globe | Opinion
February 10, 2022

President Biden recently directed all federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There’s just one problem, according to a new letter from 28 members of Congress: The single largest source of greenhouse gases in the federal government, the Department of Defense, is off the hook. The signatories to the letter, led by Senator Ed Markey, want the president to live up to his pledges on climate change by denying the Pentagon an exemption for military emissions.

The senator has a point. With the exception of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, US armed forces depend on petroleum, chewing through around 90 million barrels a year.

At the same time, it’s not a realistic request. Imagine this scenario: President Vladimir Putin of Russia invades Ukraine, then begins amassing troops on Estonia’s border. NATO members agree to send troops to protect their ally, but Biden has to decline because flying C-130s full of soldiers to Eastern Europe would violate greenhouse gas targets.

No US president is going to agree to constrain military options in this way in order to cut greenhouse gases. Fortunately, there are better ways to advance climate policy, including at the Department of Defense.

No one actually knows the size of the defense sector’s carbon footprint (the Biden administration is taking bold steps to fix that, with accounting for the entire defense supply chain), but the Department of Defense itself emitted around 55 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s significant for a single institution, but it adds up to less than 1 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas footprint, which totaled about 6.6 billion metric tons in 2019.

In other words, if Biden were to completely eliminate the entire military tomorrow, it would barely make a dent in US greenhouse gas emissions. The largest American contributors to global climate change are all in the civilian economy — industry, agriculture and land use, electricity, transportation, and buildings. Even with better accounting of the defense sector, the main contributors will probably still be things like petrochemicals, power plants, and personal vehicles (an Abrams tank may get lousy gas mileage, but there are less than 5,000 of them, and they don’t travel very many miles in a normal workweek). A focus on the military would be a distraction from more important climate action priorities.

Still, the Defense Department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be. Most large corporations in the United States are taking environmental, social, and governance considerations seriously as both good business and responsible stewardship, and the Defense Department must also do so. Biden’s new executive order will accelerate the department’s ESG investments, including the electrification of almost 180,000 passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, following in the footsteps of companies such as Amazon. It will also provide an additional push for clean electricity.
» Read article      

big shoes
‘Carbon footprint gap’ between rich and poor expanding, study finds
Researchers say cutting carbon footprint of world’s wealthiest may be fastest way to reach net zero
By Helena Horton, The Guardian
February 4, 2022

Wealthy people have disproportionately large carbon footprints and the percentage of the world’s emissions they are responsible for is growing, a study has found.

In 2010, the most affluent 10% of households emitted 34% of global CO2, while the 50% of the global population in lower income brackets accounted for just 15%. By 2015, the richest 10% were responsible for 49% of emissions against 7% produced by the poorest half of the world’s population.

Aimee Ambrose, a professor of energy policy at Sheffield Hallam University and author of the study published in the journal Science Direct, says cutting the carbon footprint of the wealthiest might be the fastest way to reach net zero.

In terms of energy demand in the UK, the least wealthy half of the population accounts for less than 20% of final demand, less than the top 5% consumes. While their homes may be more energy-efficient, high consumers are likely to have more space to heat. They also own and use more luxury items and gadgets.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

flaring pit flames
To Counter Global Warming, Focus Far More on Methane, a New Study Recommends
Scientists at Stanford have concluded that the EPA has radically undervalued the climate impact of methane, a “short-lived climate pollutant,” by focusing on a 100-year metric for quantifying global warming.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
February 9, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency is drastically undervaluing the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas when the agency compares methane’s climate impact to that of carbon dioxide, a new study concludes.

The EPA’s climate accounting for methane is “arbitrary and unjustified” and three times too low to meet the goals set in the Paris climate agreement, the research report, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found.

The report proposes a new method of accounting that places greater emphasis on the potential for cuts in methane and other short-lived greenhouse gasses to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“If you want to keep the world from passing the 1.5 degrees C threshold, you’ll want to pay more attention to methane than we have so far,” said Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Over a 100-year period, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. However, over a 20-year period, a yardstick that climate scientists have previously suggested would be a more appropriate timeframe, methane is 81 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“It’s a huge swing in how much we value methane, and therefore how many of our resources go towards mitigating it,” Abernethy said.

However, the use of either time frame remains largely arbitrary.

To determine a “justified” time frame, the Stanford researchers took the Paris climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as a starting point, and then calculated the most appropriate time frame to meet that goal.
» Read article     
» Read the study

Watford City flare
Seen From Space: Huge Methane Leaks
A European satellite reveals sites in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere that are “ultra emitters” of methane. That could help fight climate change.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 4, 2022

If the world is going to make a dent in emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, targeting the largest emitters would likely be the most cost-effective. But there’s a basic problem: How to find them.

A new study has shown one way. Using data from a European satellite, researchers have identified sites around the world where large amounts of methane are pouring into the air. Most of these “ultra emitters” are part of the petroleum industry, and are in major oil and gas producing basins in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and other regions.

“We were not surprised to see leaks,” said Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment near Paris and lead author of the study, published in Science. “But these were giant leaks. It’s quite a systemic problem.”

Among gases released through human activities, methane is more potent in its effect on warming than carbon dioxide, although emissions of it are lower and it breaks down in the atmosphere sooner. Over 20 years it can result in 80 times the warming of the same amount of CO2.

Because of this, reducing methane emissions has increasingly been seen as a way to more rapidly limit global warming this century.

“If you do anything to mitigate methane emissions, you will see the impact more quickly,” said Felix Vogel, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto who was not involved in the study.

Among the nearly 400 million tons of human-linked methane emissions every year, oil and gas production is estimated to account for about one-third. And unlike carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are deliberately burned for energy, much of the methane from oil and gas is either intentionally released or accidentally leaked from wells, pipelines and production facilities.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

PV panel close-up
Inside Clean Energy: Recycling Solar Panels Is a Big Challenge, but Here’s Some Recent Progress

German researchers have made solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 10, 2022

German researchers said this week that they have taken silicon from discarded solar panels and recycled it for use in new ones.

This is a positive step for dealing with the coming mountain of waste from solar power, but it’s just one part of dealing with a complicated challenge.

The Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics CSP in Freiburg, Germany, said that its researchers were part of a team that produced solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon. Cells are the little squares, usually blue, that you see arranged in a tile pattern on solar panels. They are the parts that capture the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity, and silicon is their essential material.

To get an idea of the significance of this announcement, I reached out to Meng Tao of Arizona State University, a leading authority on developing systems to recycle solar components.

“I applaud their progress,” he said about the work at the Fraunhofer Center.

And then he explained why recycling silicon is only a small part of dealing with solar power waste.

Most of the weight in a solar panel, about 75 percent, is glass, Tao said. Next is aluminum, with 10 percent; wiring in a junction box, at 5 percent; and silicon, with just 3.5 percent. Panels also contain small amounts of lead, which is one reason that they need to stay out of landfills. (The percentages are approximate and can vary depending on variations in the technology and manufacturer of the panels.)

So, silicon is an important material, and being able to recycle it is a step forward, but researchers need to find cost-effective ways to recycle all the parts in a solar panel.

Today, most recyclers that work with solar panels are breaking them apart to reuse the aluminum and the wiring, but there is a limited market for the other components, Tao said.

Researchers have been looking for uses for glass from solar panels and found solutions like making a material that can be mixed with concrete.

But the ultimate goal for solar recycling is to make the process circular, which means old solar components could be processed to be used in new solar components, Tao said. That hasn’t happened yet with glass.

The desire for a circular economy around solar panels is one reason why the announcement from the Fraunhofer lab is so encouraging.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Carleton College
Colleges see untapped potential in geothermal district energy systems

Minnesota’s Carleton College is among a growing list of schools investing in the centuries-old technology as part of a path to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A small but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities are dusting off a centuries-old technology to help meet their ambitious climate goals.

Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, is the latest to trade fossil-fueled steam heat for geothermal district energy as it aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Completed last summer, the $41 million project is Minnesota’s first geothermal district energy system and one of only about two dozen nationwide. They vary in design but typically consist of a network of pipes and heat pumps that tap into steady, subterranean temperatures to heat and cool buildings on the surface.

Most U.S. geothermal district energy systems were built more than 30 years ago amid rising oil and gas prices in the 1970s and 1980s, but the technology is seeing a resurgence today on college campuses as schools look for tools to help them follow through on climate commitments.

“I think it is one of the only scalable solutions for creating a low-carbon campus,” said Lindsey Olsen, an associate vice president and senior mechanical engineer for Salas O’Brien. The California-based engineering and facility planning firm has worked with Carleton College and others on geothermal projects.

Geothermal energy has been used for district heating for over a century in the United States. In Europe, the systems date back to ancient Rome. The oldest still in operation was installed at Chaudes Aigues in France in 1330.

Adoption has been significant in Europe —  France, Germany and Iceland are the leaders — but a market has never fully developed in the United States. A 2021 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory cited the availability of cheap natural gas, a lack of government incentives, and steep upfront costs as key factors. The U.S. geothermal district heating sector has been “relatively stagnant since the 1980s, with only four new installations over the past two decades,” the report said.

One emerging exception is higher education. “University and college campuses are currently leading the charge in pursuit of low-carbon district energy options as a result of aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction goals (often 100%) within the next 15 to 30 years,” the report says.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

electric cementRenewables for cement? Gates-backed startup eyes ‘missing link’
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
February 8, 2022

A Bill Gates-backed startup is betting that renewables can serve as the foundation for low-carbon cement and be more than a clean resource for cars, buildings and power generation.

The company is Oakland, Calif.-based Rondo Energy Inc., which says it has figured out a way to turn wind and solar power into a source of intense heat and store it for the production of glass, cement and other common manufactured goods.

Many of those goods depend on fossil fuels to create the kinds of ultra-high temperatures necessary for production. Rondo’s plan, if successful, would prove a number of innovation experts wrong. It also highlights the race among emerging clean technologies for the future of heavy industry.

“This is the missing link for a very fast and profitable elimination of scope 1 emissions from industry,” John O’Donnell, Rondo’s chief executive, said in an interview yesterday about his company’s technology.

Rondo’s “thermal battery,” as the company describes the heat system, could provide a zero-carbon way to deliver heat reaching over 1,200 degrees Celsius, according to the company.

It said this morning it had raised $22 million in an initial funding round from two influential climate technology investors: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund fronted by billionaire Gates, and Energy Impact Partners, whose $1 billion sustainable energy fund counts over a dozen large utilities as contributors.

O’Donnell said Rondo will use the money to start producing its thermal battery at scale, starting with hundreds of megawatt-hours’ worth of heat this year and hitting gigawatt-hour scale in 2023.

Scaling up the technology isn’t likely to be a cakewalk, not least of all because of the difficulty of selling clean heat at a low enough price to compete with fossil fuels — and convincing manufacturers to adopt the invention.

But new backing is notable because it suggests that some of the innovation world’s most prominent technical experts — such as those who work for Breakthrough and EIP — consider renewable electricity to be a strong option for decarbonizing heavy industry.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Grist video - ESS flow battery
This iron and water battery could power a more renewable grid
By Jesse Nichols, Grist
February 10, 2022

Grist reporter Jesse Nichols traveled to a factory in Oregon, that’s building a new type of battery.

Sitting in a row outside of the factory, these giant batteries are the size of freight containers. Powered by vats of iron and saltwater, they’re called iron flow batteries. And they’re part of a wave of cleantech inventions designed to store energy from the sun and the wind, and solve a problem that has stumped the energy world for more than 150 years.

The problem is described in a Scientific American article from 1861.

“One of the great forces nature furnished to man without any expense, and in limitless abundance, is the power of the wind,” the article says. “Its great unsteadiness, however, is causing it to be rapidly superseded for such purposes by steam and other constant powers.”

To unlock the potential of wind and solar power, you need some kind of energy storage device. That could be batteries, hydrogen, or the device proposed in the Scientific American article.

When it was windy, the device would crank these heavy iron balls up this marble chute. Then, when the wind stopped blowing, they could release the balls to get energy when they needed it.

Unsurprisingly, wind energy did not take off. And fossil-fuels dominated.
» Blog editor’s note: This video provides a great non-technical explanation of what a “flow battery” is. Also, don’t dismiss the original “heavy iron balls” concept of energy storage! See its 21st century update here.
» Watch 7 minute video              

Rondo heat battery
Renewable energy heat batteries for industrial applications gain funding
Startup Rondo Energy closed a $22 million Series A funding round to decarbonize industrial processes with equipment that converts solar and wind energy into thermal energy.
By Ryan Kennedy, PV Magazine
February 8, 2022

Rondo Energy announced the closing of a $22 million Series A funding round to support its technology, a renewable energy heat battery aimed at reducing the carbon impact of industrial processes. The funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners.

It is estimated about one third of global emissions can be attributed to heavy industry. And about 40% of that, or 10% of global emissions, comes from high-temperature industrial products like cement and steel.

The Rondo heat battery offers a zero emissions source of industrial heat, storing solar and wind energy at temperatures over 1200°C. The company said it plans to begin manufacturing and delivering systems to customers later this year.

“We believe the Rondo Heat Battery will prove critical to closing stubborn emissions gaps,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The cost of renewable energy has been steadily falling, but it hasn’t been an option for industries that require high temperature process heat since there was no way to efficiently convert renewable electricity to high temperature thermal energy. Rondo enables companies in industries such as cement, fuels, food and water desalination to reduce their emissions while also leveraging the falling costs of renewables.”

The system is designed to pull energy from solar, wind, and the energy grid, charging the battery intermittently, but delivering continuous heat. Rondo said the battery bricks are made of safe, widely available materials.
» Read article      

ENDURING thermal energy storage
NREL Results Support Cheap Long Duration Energy Storage in Hot Sand
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 8, 2022

There aren’t many novel clean energy technologies that could also directly remove fossil energy plants. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created one.

Long duration storage at grid scale is crucial to meeting climate targets. Solar PV and wind have the momentum to be a big part of the new energy economy, but only if we can add enough energy storage to make these intermittent sources dispatchable on demand at lower cost and over longer durations and for many more cycles than batteries.

The world needs a long duration energy storage technology as cheap as pumped hydro, but without the environmental and location challenges.

To this end, three years ago the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  ARPA-E  “DAYS” program funded NREL to advance long duration (100 hour) thermal energy storage charged by surplus electricity from PV or wind.

Thermal energy storage is a fully tested technology in commercial CSP [concentrated solar power] plants, but using a liquid; molten salts. However, increasingly, particle storage is being researched as a more efficient storage medium than molten salts which have a working range between 290°C and 560°C – due to the much higher temperature differential of 300°C and 1000°C in particles of sand.

“We’ve studied particle-based thermal energy storage since 2011, initially for concentrating solar power,” said Zhiwen Ma, the NREL project lead. “Now it has been extended – to standalone particle thermal energy storage and industrial process heat, and heating and cooling in buildings – for even broader decarbonization, by replacing coal and natural gas.

The team partnered with GE to integrate the storage with a gas turbine power cycle.“The point of it was to try to use commercial systems as much as possible in terms of power cycles since they have a hundred years of development there’s a lot of expertise already there,” said Colorado School of Mines Ph.D. student and NREL collaborator Jeffrey Gifford.

To charge this thermal battery, surplus power from the grid would heat sand in silos. The sand particles would heat air – a gas which is predominantly nitrogen – to drive a commercially available gas turbine. Air is a much more environmentally friendly gas than natural gas and when heated by the stored sand particles it can drive the same hot gas turbine used in gas power plants today with no modifications. The air would be heated by silica sand particles from the Midwest stored in 90 meter tall silos – about the height of today’s industrial silos.

“We wanted to generate a thermal energy storage system that could integrate with what already exists,” Giffords said. “Just like how we can turn on natural gas power plants today when we need them – that’s the role of our long duration energy storage system – to be able to shape wind and solar for them to be dispatchable.”
» Read article      

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

EnergySource geothermal station
Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake.
The U.S. race to secure a material known as ‘white gold’ turns to the Salton Sea, where energy companies hope to extract lithium from a geothermal reservoir
By Alistair MacDonald and Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
February 8, 2022

CALIPATRIA, Calif.—In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California.

The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.

At California’s Salton Sea, three companies, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are pushing ahead with plans to do just that. Those efforts are backed by money from governments eager to secure supplies of critical minerals that are key to several modern technologies. Prices of lithium recently rose at their fastest pace in years as supply-chain bottlenecks mounted and demand from electric-vehicle makers such as Tesla Inc. intensified.

The plans could turn this southeastern corner of California into one of the largest producers of what some call “white gold” at a time when most of that material comes from Australia, Chile and China. The geothermal reservoir under the Salton Sea area is capable of producing 600,000 metric tons a year of lithium carbonate, according to estimates from the California Energy Commission. That level of output would surpass last year’s global production.

This push for lithium could also produce thousands of jobs in an area that sorely needs them. Imperial County, where the lake resides, has a population of 180,000 and is dependent on a volatile and low-wage farming industry. Unemployment was 14.7% in December, compared with 6.5% for the state. The county’s 20% poverty rate is the fourth-highest among California’s 58 counties.

“If it is what we hope, it would lift this entire valley off of what we have been living with,” said Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley.
» Read article      

Swedish accent
New study probes impact of blackened wind turbine blades
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
February 7, 2022

Swedish power company Vattenfall has announced plans to embark on further research into whether painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black can help to reduce the number of bird collisions, with a new three-year study.

Despite stories spread by some media outlets and across social media platforms, wind turbines have been shown to be much less likely to kill birds compared to other man-made obstacles and threats, including coal-fired power plants, as one prime example.

Nevertheless, Vattenfall is seeking to mitigate the impact wind turbines can have on bird populations through a new study in the Dutch seaport of Eemshaven.

Vattenfall will paint a single turbine blade black on seven wind turbines in an effort to determine whether this method can reduce the risk of birds colliding with turbine blades.

In a study already underway through the compiling of a baseline measurement through 2022, the seven turbine blades will be painted black in early 2023 and be monitored for two years through to the end of 2024.

The study will also assess aviation safety and the impact of the painted blades on the landscape.

The three-year assessment will follow the results of an existing study partly financed by Vattenfall on the island of Smøla in Norway which found that painting one wind turbine blade can result in 70% fewer collisions.

“That has to do with the way birds perceive the moving rotor of a wind turbine,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, environmental expert at Vattenfall.

“When a bird comes close to the rotating blades, the three individual blades can ‘merge’ into a smear and birds may no longer perceive it an object to avoid. One black blade interrupts the pattern, making the blending of the blades into a single image less likely.”

Put another way, the researchers – who published their findings in the journal Ecology and Evolution in mid-2020 – concluded that “Provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

Further, not only was the annual fatality rate significantly reduced at the turbines with a painted blade by over 70%, relative to the neighboring control … turbines” but, for some birds – notably the white-tailed eagle – the black turbine blade seemed to ensure no fatalities whatsoever.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bidding floor upheld
A decision made behind closed doors may set clean energy back by two years
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 5, 2022

At a time when New England should be racing to bring as much clean energy online as possible to green its electricity supply, the grid moved this past week to effectively discourage major wind and solar projects for at least another two years.

Like other regional power suppliers, New England’s grid operator has been asked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove or change a mechanism that makes it harder for clean energy projects to enter the competitive market. But after months of saying it supported such a measure, ISO-New England reversed its stance last week and aligned with a proposal from the natural gas industry that would slow-walk any such change.

“It’s another example of not meeting the moment to usher in the clean energy transition,” said Jeremy McDiarmid, of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “It is an example of the system not being equipped to change as fast as we need it to.”

In Massachusetts, as in other states in the region, the clock is ticking to green the electrical grid. The climate legislation passed last year requires that the state halve its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To do so, the state is expecting a million homeowners to switch off fossil fuels and 750,000 vehicle owners to go electric by the end of the decade. But with those increased electricity demands, a crucial piece of the state’s equation is ensuring that the grid makes a rapid switch off fossil fuels and onto renewables.

The mechanism that was voted on — called a minimum offer price rule — limits what energy projects can bid into what’s known as the forward capacity market. Developers with successful bids are able to procure financing three years in advance, helping ensure that projects have the needed funds to be developed or expanded, and that the grid will have enough energy available in the future.

The minimum offer price rule was created to help insulate fossil fuel power plants from having to compete against renewables that cost less due to state programs and subsidies that exist to help foster clean energy development. It created a floor below which a developer cannot bid, meaning that those less expensive energy supplies, like large-scale offshore wind or solar, aren’t able to compete.

The fear from regulators and the fossil fuel industry was that without such a rule, fossil fuel plants could be forced offline before adequate clean energy was ready to fill the void on the grid, creating reliability problems. The effect has been that fossil fuel-fired power plants have been able to secure bids around the region, despite increasingly ambitious climate plans from the New England states that would indicate otherwise.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

GAS UTILITIES

HP water heater test
Vermont gas utility has a new service: helping to electrify your home

Vermont Gas Systems announced that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in a move that it expects to be neutral to its bottom line.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A Vermont natural gas utility is expanding into a new and unexpected line of business: helping customers switch to electric appliances.

Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) announced in December that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in and around its service territory in the northwest part of the state.

The move comes as Vermont’s 2020 climate law raises existential questions about the future of fossil fuels in the state. Achieving a mandatory 80% reduction (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will all but require a reduction in natural gas sales.

“By offering this, VGS is helping Vermont achieve the climate action goals established by the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Ashley Wainer, the company’s vice president of customer and energy innovation.

The company’s motivations aren’t entirely altruistic either. In a filing to state regulators in November, VGS explained that its “behind-the-meter” installation and maintenance services are an important source of revenue, expected to bring in about $1,175,000 in net revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.

“These services are a profitable part of VGS’s overall business, and the associated revenue reduces our [cost of service] and therefore reduces customers’ rates,” the company wrote.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Cuero flare
The end of natural gas has to start with its name
The oil and gas industry didn’t invent the name. But it invented the myth of a clean fuel.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
February 10, 2022

Locals in the town of Fredonia, New York, noticed in the early 19th century how gas would sometimes bubble up in a creek and catch fire when lit. This wasn’t much more than a curiosity until 1821, when a businessman captured and sold it for fuel to Fredonia shops. This “inflammable air,” as one newspaper called it, was cheap to transport relative to the other lighting fuels of the day — whale oil for candles and gas produced from coal. From the start, “nature’s gas,” as it was nicknamed, was celebrated as the healthy and virtually inexhaustible miracle fuel of the future.

A big part of the early appeal was how much cleaner gas seemed than coal. In the 19th century, people could see and smell the particulate matter, sulfur, and nitrogen leaving a trail of smoggy air in cities. By comparison, natural gas is almost entirely made up of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that produces far fewer of these pollutants when burned.

What no one knew back then was that methane is pollution, too — just a different kind. A large body of scientific research now shows that gas, when it’s produced and when it’s consumed, poses a danger to human health and to the climate.

In the 19th century, this ignorance was understandable, but today most people still don’t appreciate how insidious gas fuel is. When the climate communications group Climate Nexus conducted a poll of 4,600 registered US voters last fall, 77 percent had a favorable view of natural gas, far higher than when asked about their views on methane. Less than a third were able to link that natural gas is primarily methane. In the same poll, a majority incorrectly answered that they think methane pollution is declining or staying about the same. Other surveys show similar results.

The reason for the disconnect is embedded in the very name, “natural gas.” The word “natural” tends to bias Americans to view whatever it is affixed to as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly. Natural foods, natural immunity, and natural births are among the many buzzwords of the moment.

“The idea that we ought to do what’s natural, we ought to use what’s natural, and we ought to consume what’s natural is one of the most powerful and commonplace shortcuts we have,” said Alan Levinovitz, a religion professor who wrote Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Facts, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science. “The term influences people’s attitudes toward natural gas. People are going to be more likely to see natural gas as better than it is; they’re more likely to see it as safer.”
» Read article      

FF hot seat
‘Big Oil’ board members face hot seat over climate ‘deception’
Oil industry insiders to appear before US Congress as some of the most powerful companies in the world face a reckoning for the climate crisis.
By Jack Losh, Aljazeera
February 7, 2022

In 1977, an internal memo at Exxon, the United States oil giant, made clear that carbon emissions from its product were causing climate change. But not only that – time was running out to act.

“CO2 release most likely source of inadvertent climate modification,” said the shorthand document. “5-10 yr time window to get necessary information.”

But over the coming years, rather than dropping fossil fuels to avert the dangers outlined in its own research, Exxon and other oil corporations chose a different path. The industry orchestrated a systematic campaign of disinformation to dupe the public, impede political action, and protect profits.

“Emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect,” said an Exxon paper in 1988, one of many published in the America Misled report on the fossil fuel industry.

“Stress environmentally sound adaptive efforts,” said another internal memo the following year. “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science,” added one more in 1998.

Against this decades-long backdrop of deception and denial, oil industry insiders will appear before the US Congress as some of the most powerful energy companies in the world face a reckoning for their role in creating – and attempting to cover up – the climate crisis.

Board members at BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell will be questioned under oath by a House panel on Tuesday. The aim is to illuminate the industry’s contribution to humanity’s worst existential threat – and how, at the same time, it spread disinformation to cast doubt over the catastrophic impact of burning its products.

Although the hearings cannot bring criminal prosecutions, experts see them as a crucial means of shifting public opinion. And that could spur consumers to shun carbon-based fuels and encourage investors to strip big polluters of capital, while empowering environmental activists and lawyers to take on powerful industrial interests.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 2/7/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

Boston University professor Nathan Phillips’ hunger strike is focusing attention on the urgency of risks posed to nearby communities by construction activities underway at the proposed Weymouth compressor station site. We offer reporting on Professor Phillips’ demands.

Gas leaks from aging infrastructure – most notably in the Boston area – are in the news. A recent report shows National Grid struggling to keep up with repairs. In news about other pipelines, a proposed seven mile stretch outside Albany known as E37 is facing strong opposition. While National Grid claims it’s necessary to meet future demand, critics maintain the project’s real purpose is to boost the utility’s profits – and that demand for gas is actually declining.

We see tentative steps toward a greener future in legislative news.  Massachusetts could finally set a price on carbon, but Bernie Sanders’ proposed ban on fracking is unlikely to get traction in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. Attorney General Maura Healey is advocating for changes to market rules governing New England’s grid operator – giving renewable energy sources a fair shot to compete against fossil fuels.

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben calls out Canada’s hypocritical energy and climate policies, as it pushes to develop ever-larger tar sands oil projects for the export market. Meanwhile, the shipping industry’s hopes of meeting clean transportation emissions targets by switching fuel from oil to liquified natural gas (LNG), have been dashed by recent reporting of substantial methane leaks from converted marine engines.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) doubled down on pipeline developers’ rights to take private land through eminent domain. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry suffers record-low LNG prices in Asia as China locks down against the new coronavirus. All this while Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project tracks methane leaks rampant throughout the Permian Basin, and building coal-fired power plants is a booming business in Japan.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

DEP demands
DEP to meet with Weymouth compressor station opponents
By Chris Van Buskirk, State House News Service, in Wicked Local Weymouth
February 6, 2020

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 4, 2020…..State environmental regulators set up a meeting for later this week with opponents of a natural gas compressor station being built in Weymouth to discuss the status of the cleanup of the contaminated site and address questions regarding oversight of activities at the site.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station requested a meeting with MassDEP officials last week during a visit to the department’s Lakeville office. MassDEP on Friday announced the creation of a temporary air-monitoring station in the project area. Boston University professor Nathan Phillips last Wednesday began a hunger strike in response to “serious public health and safety violations” at the Weymouth compressor station.

Phillips and South Shore activist Andrea Honore visited MassDEP and the governor’s office Tuesday to allege that the department, which approved project permits, had failed to do its job and to raise awareness of the department’s mission to protect the environment. Phillips, who was seven days into his hunger strike on Tuesday, said he would end his strike if three demands were met:

  1. “All dump trucks leaving the site abide by the decontamination procedures described on page 27 of the Release Abatement Measures Plan of November 25, 2019, which require a decontamination pad/station, and other measures to clean tires and exterior vehicle surfaces of site residue.”
  2. “The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection commences comprehensive testing for asbestos in furnace bricks and in the coal ash matrix, across and throughout the vertical profile of the North Parcel.”
  3. “The Baker Administration commits to a date certain, no later than two weeks from the day I began my strike, for the installation and operation of an air quality monitor, as Governor Baker pledged action on “within a couple of days” on Radio Boston on Thursday, January 23, 2020.”

Neither DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg or a representative from Baker’s office met with Phillips or Honore Tuesday. A staff member from Suuberg’s office said he would relay Phillips’s remarks to the commissioner.

Phillips said he is expecting his demands will be met before or at Friday’s meeting.
» Read article     

Audible Cafe FRRACS
Audible Café Speaks with FRRACS Leader Alice Arena
By Judy Eddy, Audible Cafe
February 6, 2020

The Weymouth Compressor Station is part of the proposal for Atlantic Bridge, a SPECTRA Energy pipeline project that pumps fracked gas from fracking fields in the midwest through New England to…where? to whom? Well, that’s a good question. The story has continued to change as the company strives to build this monster. Initially, it was supposed to be for residents in New England. Now, the gas will go to Canada, and then for export. No local benefit at all.

Construction of the 7,700 hp compressor station is now underway, and it is being protested and opposed, both at the site and in the courts. It’s been a long, long fight, and the opposition is NOT going away!
» Read transcript or listen to podcast     

toxic asset
‘Do your job, DEP’: A B.U. professor is on a hunger strike to get officials to take action at the Weymouth compressor station site
By Christopher Gavin, Boston.com
February 3, 2020

On Monday morning, the Boston University earth and environment professor was approximately 118 hours into the hunger strike he says is needed for state officials to act on vehicle decontamination, asbestos testing, air quality monitoring at the Weymouth compressor station site.

Activists and project opponents like Phillips have long expressed their outrage and concerns over Enbridge’s natural gas facility adjacent to the Fore River Bridge, now under construction after securing final approvals last year.

Phillips has been actively engaged in opposition to the project — including with the local community group, Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station, or FRRACS — and was arrested, among others, for civil disobedience at the site in October, he said.

In fact, the strike is something Phillips has considered ever since final permits were signed off last fall.
» Read article     

hunger for justice
Hunger for Justice
By Mothers Out Front – Website Post
February 1, 2020

The company that plans to build the Weymouth compressor station, Enbridge, continues their disastrous construction work in arsenic and asbestos laden soil. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not Protect the community.

Now our friend Nathan Phillips is on a hunger strike to get the attention of the DEP and Governor Baker to protect the people of the Fore River Basin. We can back him up with our phone calls, tweets, posts and messages. We are amplifying the call of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS). Our message is aimed at the two men in our state who have the power to act, who could meet the reasonable demands Nathan has made, but so far have refused to do so.
» Visit website for more information, including call numbers       

State To Install Permanent Air Monitoring Station In Weymouth
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
January 30, 2020


State regulators will install a permanent air monitoring station in Weymouth to detect changes in air quality related to a natural gas compressor station under construction nearby.

The monitoring station will collect data on nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, ozone, and volatile organic compounds “consistent with EPA monitoring regulations and guidance,” the State Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) said in a statement. The station will also record wind speed, temperature and direction.

Protesters have picketed the construction site a number of times since ground was broken in December, saying that gas released from the station will pollute the surrounding area.

State Senator Patrick O’Connor, who represents Weymouth, said it has taken four years to get the monitoring station approved.

“This is a small victory in what’s been a tremendous war between communities and natural gas energy companies,” he said.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

GAS LEAKS

Ngrid gas leaks
Report raises gas utility safety issues: Says National Grid is struggling to address leaks
By Colin A. Young and Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
January 31, 2020

A PANEL REVIEWING the physical integrity and safety of the state’s natural gas distribution system found a gap exists between the way gas utilities say their crews perform work on the gas system and the way that work actually happens in the field. It also found that National Grid, the utility serving eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, is struggling to contain leaks on its gas distribution system.

Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc., a company contracted by the Baker administration to examine the safety of natural gas infrastructure in the wake of the September 2018 natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley, turned in its final report this week. The report includes specific observations about each of the state’s gas utilities after spending time observing gas work job sites and reviewing gas company manuals, policies, and procedures.

The utility-by-utility analysis indicates National Grid, the state’s largest gas utility serving 116 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts, is lagging in repairing gas leaks. Overall, the report said, 28 percent of the utility’s mains are made of leak-prone materials, a percentage that rises to 41 percent in Boston itself. More than 40 percent of the mains across the National Grid system were installed before 1970, and the miles of mains with discovered leaks on the National Grid distribution system actually increased between 2013 and 2018.
» Read article    
» Read report

» More about gas leaks    

OTHER PIPELINES

E37 Protesters
A Seven-Mile Gas Pipeline Outside Albany Has Activists up in Arms
National Grid says the project is needed to meet rising demand, but opponents see it as a means of connecting two interstate pipelines and boosting their capacities.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
February 3, 2020

Beyond the dispute over whether demand for gas is rising, pipeline opponents argue that smaller segments such as E37 have become an important means for utilities to increase profits.

Robert Wood, an organizer with 350 Brooklyn, a climate change activist group, said E37 is more about National Grid securing another capital investment project and increasing its customer base than it is about meeting rising gas demand.

While regulated utilities do make money on the energy they sell, they don’t control the cost of the fuel and cannot easily raise their rates as market prices fluctuate. “Fuel costs are a straight pass through,” said Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation, a clean energy advocacy group, “meaning, they don’t earn a margin or a profit on those fuel costs in general.”

Instead, many utilities, including National Grid, rely on capital investment projects to generate the kind of income needed to pay back shareholders and reinvest in company growth, O’Boyle said. When a utility invests in an infrastructure project, like a pipeline, it earns a regulated rate of return on that project.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines     

LEGISLATION

Senate off the dimeMassachusetts Senate passes economy-wide carbon pricing, net zero emissions target
By Tim Cronin, Climate XChange
January 31, 2020


In a marathon late-night session, the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation creating economy-wide carbon pricing, and requiring the state to reach net zero emissions by 2050. In doing so, the Senate doubled down on its commitment to the market-based policy to reduce emissions, which passed the chamber in 2018 but failed to make progress in the House.

The political landscape of climate policy has shifted rapidly in the two years since the Senate last voted for carbon pricing. Increased pressure for climate action, new emissions reduction commitments from policymakers, and growing grassroots support, have all increased the odds that the Senate’s bill, and carbon pricing, will become law.
» Read article     

Bernie's fracking ban
Sanders introduces bill to ban fracking
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
January 30, 2020


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this week introduced a bill that aims to ban hydraulic fracking.

The bill was introduced on Tuesday and is titled “a bill to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, and for other purposes,” according to the Library of Congress, though the text of the legislation was not available on the site.

Sanders has called for a ban on fracking while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, as has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
» Read article     

Energy Subcommittee Announces Oversight Hearing on the Natural Gas Act
By House Committee on Energy & Commerce
January 29, 2020


Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) announced today that the Energy Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, February 5, at 10 am in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building on the Natural Gas Act. The hearing is entitled, “Modernizing the Natural Gas Act to Ensure it Works for Everyone.”

“The Natural Gas Act is nearly a century old, and it is past time that we take a comprehensive look at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s implementation of it,” said Pallone and Rush. “We must reevaluate the pipeline siting process, which has long favored industry over the rights of landowners.  We must also examine rates, charges, imports, exports and what must be done to dramatically reduce impacts to our climate. It’s time to assess whether the Natural Gas Act is truly serving the needs and interests of all Americans, not just those of the gas industry.”
» Read article    
» Witness list and live webcast available here

FREC yes
Massachusetts AG Healey stokes grassroots effort for clean energy market rules in ISO-NE
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 13, 2019

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey launched an online effort on Tuesday to educate ratepayers about the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, including a petition for market rules that promote clean energy.

The office, which also acts as the state’s ratepayer advocate, is trying to increase awareness of market rules and the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL). It’s been in touch with other attorneys general offices and ratepayer advocates in NEPOOL about this initiative.
» Read article    

» Link to the Petition – sign today!    

» More about legislation    

CLIMATE

Lil Justin and The Real Deal
When it comes to climate hypocrisy, Canada’s leaders have reached a new low
A territory that has 0.5% of the Earth’s population plans to use up nearly a third of the planet’s remaining carbon budget
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian
February 5, 2020

Americans elected Donald Trump, who insisted climate change was a hoax – so it’s no surprise that since taking office he’s been all-in for the fossil fuel industry. There’s no sense despairing; the energy is better spent fighting to remove him from office.

Canada, on the other hand, elected a government that believes the climate crisis is real and dangerous – and with good reason, since the nation’s Arctic territories give it a front-row seat to the fastest warming on Earth. Yet the country’s leaders seem likely in the next few weeks to approve a vast new tar sands mine which will pour carbon into the atmosphere through the 2060s. They know – yet they can’t bring themselves to act on the knowledge. Now that is cause for despair.
» Read article       

ocean heat rising
Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates
Oceans are clearest measure of climate crisis as they absorb 90% of heat trapped by greenhouse gases
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 13, 2020


The heat in the world’s oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet.

The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities.

The new analysis shows the past five years are the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean and the past 10 years are also the top 10 years on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and all night.

Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an inexorable rise in sea level. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with the number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply.
» Read article  

» More about climate      

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

shipping LNG fuel
Shipping Lines Turn to LNG-Powered Vessels, But They’re Worse for the Climate
Natural gas is cheap and cleaner burning than fuel oil, but methane leaks from ship engines fuels global warming.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
February 1, 2020

Oceangoing ships powered by liquified natural gas are worse for the climate than those powered by conventional fuel oil, a new report suggests. The findings call into further question the climate benefits of natural gas, a fuel the gas industry has promoted as a “bridge” to cleaner, renewable sources of energy but is undermined by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The most commonly used liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine used by cruise ships and cargo vessels today emits as much as 82 percent more greenhouse gas over the short-term compared to conventional marine fuel oil, according to the report, published earlier this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an environmental think tank.
» Read article    
» Read report

» More about clean transportation        

FERC

FERC for PennEast
FERC sides with PennEast in opposing court decision that pipeline builder can’t use eminent domain to take public land
Tom Johnson, NPR State Impact, NJ Spotlight
January 31, 2020

In a step viewed as bolstering the PennEast natural gas pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday sided with the builder in seeking to overturn an adverse federal appeals court ruling halting the proposal from moving forward.

In a 2-1 vote, FERC, in a rare special meeting devoted to only one issue, issued a declaratory order saying a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threatens to disrupt the natural gas industry’s ability to construct interstate gas pipelines.

The action was denounced as a transparent attempt by the agency to back PennEast’s efforts to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the Third Circuit’s ruling by the lone commissioner to vote against the order, James Glick and other pipeline opponents.
» Read article    

» More about FERC         

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Shale Gas Swamps Asia, Pushing LNG Prices to Record Lows
The idling of factories in China due to coronavirus quarantines is weighing on prices already pressured by other bearish factors
By The Wall Street Journal
February 7, 2020

Liquefied natural gas is fetching the lowest price on record in Asia, a troubling sign for U.S. energy producers who have relied on overseas shipments of shale gas to buoy the sagging domestic market.

The main price gauge for liquified natural gas, or LNG, in Asia fell to $3 per million British thermal units Thursday, down sharply from more than $20 six years ago as U.S. deliveries have swamped markets around the world.
» Read article     

pouring it on
Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants, Despite the Climate Risks
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
February 3, 2020

Just beyond the windows of Satsuki Kanno’s apartment overlooking Tokyo Bay, a behemoth from a bygone era will soon rise: a coal-burning power plant, part of a buildup of coal power that is unheard-of for an advanced economy.

It is one unintended consequence of the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost a decade ago, which forced Japan to all but close its nuclear power program. Japan now plans to build as many as 22 new coal-burning power plants — one of the dirtiest sources of electricity — at 17 different sites in the next five years, just at a time when the world needs to slash carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming.
» Read article     

hunting emissions
The Hunt for Fugitive Emissions in the Permian’s Oilfields
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
January 30, 2020

Meaningful regulation of the fracking industry is a non sequitur to Sharon Wilson, organizer for Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. She supports her employer’s efforts to encourage tougher industry regulations, but believes that humankind needs to keep oil and gas in the ground if there is any chance of meeting the benchmarks set by the Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming.

After spending a couple days with Wilson as she monitored for methane leaks at oil and gas industry sites in the Permian oilfields of West Texas, it is easy to understand why she believes that talk of meaningful regulation of the industry lacks meaning itself.

Wilson uses an optical gas imaging (OGI) camera, which makes otherwise invisible emissions visible. With the specialized camera, also used by environmental regulators and industry, she recorded fugitive emissions spewing from nearly every site we visited.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 1/10/20

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

We have some good news breaking for the many people opposing Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. An appeals court in Virginia vacated permits for a similar compressor planned for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, on grounds that the health and environmental effects on those living nearby were not considered. This closely parallels arguments against the Weymouth compressor.

Protesters continue to delay coal trains heading for New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station, and we have a report on Amazon’s threats against employee climate activists.

The Trump administration’s assault on climate continues with several reports on new regulations intended to speed permitting of fossil fuel infrastructure like gas pipelines by eliminating many requirements for environmental impact studies. This is straight from the school of “don’t look for something you don’t want to see”.

We found reporting on how support for clean energy in environmental justice communities has been co-opted by the fossil fuel industry through donations to local NAACP chapters. Subversion is also happening through a Trump administration initiative to improve heavy truck emissions standards, which appears to be a back-door move to slow real progress.

As depressing as all that is, we take some encouragement in knowing that the fossil fuel industry is going to spend much of the coming year defending itself in court. Still, they’ll be headlong into extracting, emitting, and denying until a combination of law and economics forces them to stop. Climate writer and activist Bill McKibben suggested recently in New Yorker that pulling business out of JP Morgan Chase and other top banks financing the fossil fuel industry might be a good way to hasten that reckoning.

Wrapping up, we now know that there were nearly 33,000 gas leaks reported in Massachusetts in 2018, including over 7,500 classified as most serious. The primary cause is aging, deteriorating distribution pipes.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no fracking wey
Compressor station opponents buoyed by Virginia ruling
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, in Patriot Ledger
January 7, 2020

Opponents of a natural gas project under construction in Weymouth were optimistic Tuesday that a court ruling vacating a permit for a similar facility in Virginia could serve as a helpful precedent.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site. The court tossed out a state permit issued in 2018 to developer Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline and remanded the matter back to the board.

South Shore residents who have been fighting plans for a compressor station in the Fore River basin were encouraged by the news, citing parallels they see between the Virginia case and a federal appeal unfolding in Massachusetts.
» Read article

BREAKING: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Compressor Station in Union Hill
By lowkell, Blue Virginia
January 7, 2020

“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the Board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station resulted in a flawed analysis”

“We conclude that the Board thrice erred in performing its statutory duty under sections 10.1–1307(E)(1) and (E)(3): (1) it failed to make any findings regarding the character of the local population at Union Hill, in the face of conflicting evidence; (2) it failed to individually consider the potential degree of injury to the local population independent of NAAQS and state emission standards; and (3) DEQ’s final permit analysis, ostensibly adopted by the Board, relied on evidence in the record that was incomplete or discounted by subsequent evidence.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

coal train barricade
Coal Train Protesters Target One of New England’s Last Big Coal Power Plants
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
January 4, 2020

Climate activists halted a coal train bound for one of New England’s last large coal-fired power plants by building a barricade on the tracks and sitting on it for about eight hours this week. The delay was temporary, but it was the fifth time activists had stopped a coal train in the region in less than a month.

The protest is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate coal-fired power production in New England. It also draws attention to what activists say is a costly and unnecessary subsidy for coal-burning power plants that consumers ultimately pay.
» Read article

protest coal plantActivists block coal-carrying train for hours
Goal is to shut down New Hampshire coal-fired plant
By Sarah Betancourt, Commonwealth Magazine
January 3, 2020

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS USED AN UNUSUAL METHOD Thursday night to stop a delivery to the largest coal-fired plant in New England — erecting scaffolding directly on the tracks.

A group of about 30 protesters refused to leave train tracks in the woods of Harvard, Massachusetts, in an effort that delayed delivery of coal to Merrimack Station in Bow, NH for over eight hours. Their goal, they say, is to get parent company Granite Shore Power to set a date for the plant’s shutdown, with regional grid operator ISO-New England facilitating that move.
» Read article            

Amazon climate clampdown
Amazon Threatens to Fire Climate Activists, Group Says
By Matt Day, Bloomberg News
January 2, 2020


A group of Amazon.com Inc. employees who pushed the company to combat climate change say Amazon has threatened to fire some of them if they continue to speak out about their employer’s internal affairs.

Two were threatened with termination, a spokesperson for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said, and a total of four were told in meetings that they were in violation of the company’s policies on workers speaking to the press and on social media.
» Read article   

» More about protests      

CLIMATE

pipelines unbound
Trump Moves to Exempt Big Projects From  Environmental Review

By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 9, 2020

WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday will introduce the first major changes to the nation’s benchmark environmental protection law in more than three decades, moving to ease approval of pipelines and other major energy and infrastructure projects without detailed environmental review.

Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — have been long sought by the oil and gas industry, whose members applauded the move and called it long overdue.

Environmental groups said the revisions would threaten species and lead to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The proposed regulations also will relieve federal agencies of having to take climate change into account in environmental reviews.
» Read article

Trump Officials To Overhaul National Environmental Policy Act
By Jeff Brady, NPR
January 9, 2020

Under expected new rules, federal agencies won’t have to consider climate impacts of major infrastructure projects. The move aims to speed the OK for things such as oil and gas pipelines and highways.
» Listen to report  

cumulative effects
Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 3, 2020

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to one government official who has seen the proposed regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the administration will also narrow the range of projects that require environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.

The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.
» Read article

end of the line
‘High likelihood of human civilization coming to end’ by 2050, report finds
By Harry Cockburn, The Independent
June 4, 2019

[A recent study] argues that the detrimental impacts of climate breakdown, such as increasing scarcity of food and water, will act as a catalyst on extant socio-political instabilities to accelerate disorder and conflict over the next three decades.

To usefully prepare for such an impact, the report calls for an overhaul in countries’ risk management “which is fundamentally different from conventional practice”.“It would focus on the high-end, unprecedented possibilities, instead of assessing middle-of-the-road probabilities on the basis of historic experience.”
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

NAACP and energy
N.A.A.C.P. Tells Local Chapters: Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You
The civil rights group is trying to stop state and local branches from accepting money from utilities that promote fossil fuels and then lobbying on their behalf.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
January 5, 2020

When utilities around the country have wanted to build fossil-fuel plants, defeat energy-efficiency proposals or slow the growth of rooftop solar power, they have often turned for support to a surprisingly reliable ally: a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Most Americans know the N.A.A.C.P. as a storied civil rights organization that has fought for equal access to public facilities, fairness in housing and equality in education. But on energy policy, many of its chapters have for years advanced the interests of energy companies that are big donors to their programs. Often this advocacy has come at the expense of the black neighborhoods, which are more likely to have polluting power plants and are less able to adapt to climate change.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

truck pollution regs
E.P.A. Aims to Reduce Truck Pollution, and Avert Tougher State Controls
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
January 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday took its first step toward tighter pollution controls on trucks, an anomalous move for a government known for weakening environmental policies but one that would pre-empt tougher state rules.

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, began the legal and regulatory process for curbing highway truck emissions of nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to asthma and lung disease.

While the move could give President Trump a nominal environmental achievement for the 2020 campaign, public health experts say the truck regulations are not as out of line with administration policy as they would appear. The emerging rule will quite likely limit nitrogen dioxide pollution more than current standards, they say, but still fall far short of what is necessary to significantly prevent respiratory illness and even premature deaths.

Instead, the administration appears to be complying with the wishes of the trucking industry, which has called for a new national nitrogen dioxide regulation to override states that could otherwise implement their own, tighter rules. On that front, the E.P.A. rule is likely to open a new battle in Mr. Trump’s long-running war with California over environmental regulations and states’ rights. California is already moving ahead with stringent state-level standards on nitrogen dioxide pollution from trucks that could be replicated by other states.
» Read article

Baker-Polito Administration Extends and Increases Funding for Successful Electric Vehicle Rebate Program
Press release
December 31, 2019


Starting on January 1, 2020, MOR-EV will be extended to support qualifying battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) up to a $50,000 final purchase price with a $2,500 rebate. Additionally, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVS) with an all-electric range of 25 miles or greater and with a final purchase price up to $50,000 are eligible for a $1,500 rebate. Rebates will not be made available to purchases made prior to January 1, 2020. The program was phased out from September 30, 2019 to December 31, 2019 due to the rapid growth in applications causing a lack of funding. However, the Baker-Polito Administration proposed a funding proposal in the budget presented last January, which was largely adopted in a recent supplemental budget.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

petro industry emissions
Report: Oil & Gas Industry Set To Release An Extra 220 Million Tons Of Greenhouse Gases By 2025
That’s about as much as 50 large coal plants, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.
By Katie Watkins, Houston Public Media
January 8, 2020

The oil and gas industry could release an additional 227 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. by the year 2025, as companies expand drilling and build new plants, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

“If you count greenhouse gases from drilling operations and from compressor stations and the big tank farms and then you add in the petrochemical plants, we’re looking at an increase of more than a third compared to what we’ve seen in recent years,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “To put that in scale, that’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions that you’d get from more than 50 large coal plants.”

“The petrochemical industry is actually the fastest-growing source of [greenhouse gas] pollution in the U.S. right now,” said Schaeffer. “And we’re projecting that greenhouse gas load is going to continue to grow as these plants build out and keep expanding.”
» Read article

pipelines in court
2020: A Year of Pipeline Court Fights, with One Lawsuit Headed to the Supreme Court
Several cases challenge natural gas pipeline routes, including across the Appalachian Trail, and question companies’ right to take land they don’t own.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
January 3, 2020

After years of mounting opposition to the increasing build-out of oil and gas infrastructure, 2020 is shaping up to be the year that pipeline opponents get their day in court.

One case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court takes a closer look at whether parts of the Appalachian Trail are off-limits to fossil fuel infrastructure and may determine the fate of two multi-billion-dollar pipelines. A defeat there, the industry argues, would severely limit its ability to get natural gas from the Marcellus shale to East Coast cities and export terminals. Another case weighs state sovereignty against pipeline interests and could have implications nationwide.

Meanwhile, a question of potentially greater significance looms: Can pipeline companies continue to justify taking private land as the public benefits of fossil fuel pipelines are increasingly questioned and the risks they pose to the environment and climate increase?
» Read article

Katrina-Rita spills
How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled
By Joan Meiners, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate
December 27, 2019


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while stranded New Orleanians flagged down helicopters from rooftops and hospitals desperately triaged patients, crude oil silently gushed from damaged drilling rigs and storage tanks.

Given the human misery set into motion by Katrina, the harm these spills caused to the environment drew little attention. But it was substantial.

Nine days after the storm, oil could still be seen leaking from toppled storage tanks, broken pipelines and sunken boats between New Orleans and the Mississippi River’s mouth. And then Hurricane Rita hit. Oil let loose by Katrina was pushed farther inland by Rita three weeks later, and debris from the first storm caused damage to oil tankers rocked by the second.

Fourteen years later, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources after the two 2005 hurricanes has been completed. None of the 140 parties thought to be responsible for the spills has been fined or cited for environmental violations. And no restoration plans have been developed for the impacted ecosystems, fish, birds or water quality, a review by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate and ProPublica has found.

The extent of the damage to the environment may never be known.
» Read article

fire and fence
Call for climate disaster levy to be funded by Australia’s fossil fuel industry

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
By Peggy Giakoumelos, SBS News
December 18, 2019

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
» Listen to report

fossils on trial
Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today

Some of the biggest oil and gas companies are embroiled in legal disputes with cities, states and children over the industry’s role in global warming.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
November 29, 2019

The wave of legal challenges that is washing over the oil and gas industry, demanding accountability for climate change, started as a ripple after revelations that ExxonMobil had long recognized the threat fossil fuels pose to the world.

Over the past few years: Two states launched fraud investigations into Exxon over climate change, and one has followed with a lawsuit that went to trial in October 2019. Nine cities and counties, from New York to San Francisco, have sued major fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate change damages. And determined children have filed lawsuits against the federal government and various state governments, claiming the governments have an obligation to safeguard the environment.

The litigation, reinforced by science, has the potential to reshape the way the world thinks about energy production and the consequences of global warming. It advocates a shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy and draws attention to the vulnerability of coastal communities and infrastructure to extreme weather and sea level rise.
» Read article            

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns
What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
September 17, 2019

Some activists have begun to envision a campaign to pressure the banks. Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others. “One of the major risk factors going forward for these guys is generational,” Disterhoft said. “You have a rising generation of consumers and potential employees that cares a lot about climate, and they’re going to be choosing who they do business with factoring that into account.” In 2017, when Twitter-based activists accused Uber of exploiting Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, rather than protesting it, it took just hours for downloads of the Lyft app to surge, for the first time, past those of the Uber app. Switching banks is harder, but, given the volume of credit-card solicitations that show up in the average mailbox every year, probably not much.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

GAS LEAKS

leaky old pipes
Thousands of gas leaks plagued Massachusetts in 2018, new DPU report says
By Lisa Kashinsky, Boston Herald
January 1, 2020


Gas companies reported 32,877 gas leaks across Massachusetts in 2018, according to a new report from the Department of Public Utilities, a consequence of an aging system that a leading advocate says remains inherently unsafe.

“It’s pretty much the same year after year,” said Audrey Schulman, co-executive director of HEET, a Cambridge-based energy efficiency nonprofit that maps gas leaks across the state. “That’s a demonstration that we’ve got an aging infrastructure that is unsafe.”

There were 7,578 Grade 1 leaks — the most serious kind, which represent “an existing or probable hazard to persons or property” and must be repaired “as immediately as possible” — identified across the state in 2018, according to the DPU report submitted to the state Legislature as 2019 came to a close. Of those, 41 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018.

Gas companies also reported 6,588 Grade 2 leaks and 18,711 Grade 3 leaks of lesser severity. Of those, 2,346 Grade 2 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018, along with 15,146 Grade 3 leaks. Overall, the number of gas leaks reported in 2018 is similar to those in the past few years.

Massachusetts has one of the oldest and most leak-prone natural gas infrastructures in large part because the explosive fossil fuel continues to flow through areas of non-cathodically protected steel, cast- and wrought-iron pipes that are prone to corrosion and in some places are more than a century old.
» Read article             

» More about gas leaks

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Weekly News Check-In 9/27/19

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

In local news, Columbia Gas is the center of unwelcome attention in Lawrence, as emergency crews responded to a large gas leak from a new high-pressure line – installed as part of the reconstruction following last year’s gas leaks and explosions. The Weymouth compressor station was declared a threat to human health in a new report by the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the folks in Charlton are struggling in their ongoing fight against a proposed LNG plant. The Constitution Pipeline will likely head to court before being built.

Looking a little farther away, we found news of a recent fracked gas well explosion in Louisiana that will likely burn for weeks before being extinguished.

In climate news, countries around the world are focusing on regulating pollutants like methane and HFCs – short lived but powerful greenhouse gasses. Reducing emissions of these pollutants could slow the pace of climate change during our longer drive to eliminate carbon emissions. Sadly, United States energy and environmental policies are currently moving sharply counter to this initiative. Climate activist Greta Thunberg attended the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York and was not impressed.

We also found interesting news on clean energy alternatives, energy storage, and the divestment movement. The fossil fuel industry seems to be mounting a defense against charges that it refuses to embrace decarbonization by making token investments in clean energy while hoping to extend the fossil fuel era as long as possible.

A court case against FERC has questioned its approval of eminent domain to take private property prior to pipeline approval.

We wrap up with news of a fascinating study of the effects of plastic on human health. It’s everywhere, it’s nasty, and mounting evidence shows we’re passing its consequences along to our children.

— The NFGiM Team

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

Lawrence gas leakAbout 400 people evacuated in Lawrence after ‘major’ gas leak discovered, two schools closed
By Emily Sweeney and Michael Levenson, Boston Globe
September 27, 2019

LAWRENCE — A major gas leak forced hundreds of Lawrence residents to evacuate Friday as Columbia Gas of Massachusetts and officials searched for the cause of the problem, which came a year after a series of natural gas-fueled fires and explosions rocked the city.

Residents, some of whom were evacuated in the predawn hours by Lawrence first responders, were rattled. They said they feared they were facing a repeat of the disaster last year in Lawrence and two neighboring communities that killed a Lawrence man and left many residents homeless for months.

Mark Kempic, president of Columbia Gas, told reporters at the 7 a.m. press conference that his company did not have a crew working in the area. “We were not doing work in that area,” Kempic said. He identified the primary location for the leak as the intersection of South Broadway and Salem Street.

He said the affected line is new, having been replaced following the Sept. 13, 2018, natural gas disaster that caused 130 fires and explosions and killed Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence man.
» Read article     

UPDATE: Columbia Gas ‘unprepared,’ with ‘catastrophic’ results, NTSB reports
By Jill Harmacinski  jharmacinski@eagletribune.com
September 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board said the company was not prepared to handle such a disaster Sept. 13, 2018, and had no maps of the gas system available for first responders, despite overseeing the system for 100 years. Additionally, the NTSB reported, company officials were difficult to reach as the disaster was occurring and for hours afterward.

The NTSB also said plans to upgrade the cast-iron gas line system did not include upgrades to “gas sensing lines.”

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said “results were not simply unacceptable. For a whole region, they were catastrophic.”
» Read article     

Columbia Gas Should Pay $33 Million for Non-Compliance: Lawrence Mayor
Rivera said the utility knew since at least July 30 that properties may still have abandoned service lines requiring additional inspection
By Young-Jin Kim and State House News Service
September 13, 2019

Lawrence, Massachusetts Mayor Dan Rivera is calling on authorities to levy a hefty fine on Columbia Gas for failing to fully comply with a restoration plan following last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions.

In sharply worded statement Thursday, Rivera said the utility knew since at least July 30 that properties may still have abandoned service lines requiring additional inspection. He said Columbia Gas should pay $1 million for every day it failed to act.

“This lack of transparency costs us time otherwise spent fixing the problem,” Rivera said in a statement.

“Not only does this slow down the process of road restoration work that Lawrence was about to begin, it once again puts our back against a wall to fix a gas problem with the impending cold weather.”
» Read article     

MA NEWS: Gas Safety Report Released – Rolling The Dice
By Debbie New, Mothers Out Front blog post
September 13, 2019

On the anniversary of the “catastrophic failure in the gas distribution system that caused explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley” on September 13, 2018, Mothers Out Front remembers the community’s sacrifices and strength in overcoming the complete disruption of their energy system and their lives. We are proud to be a part of Gas Leak Allies newly released report Rolling the Dice: Assessment of Gas Safety in Massachusetts as “this report is the response of citizens and scientists motivated by a desire for a safe, healthy, and just energy system.”
» Read blog post    
» Read “Rolling The Dice – Assessment of Gas System Safety in Massachusetts” report

» More Merrimack Valley gas disaster articles

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth: Soil Testing Meeting Rescheduled Concerning Proposed Compressor Station
By Amy Leonard, WATD FM News
September 25, 2019

After a “data dump,” a meeting between concerned parties and the company hired to do soil testing at the proposed compressor station site in Weymouth is rescheduled from tonight to October 10th.

Margaret Bellafiore is the representative for The PIP or Public Involvement Program- which is a group formed with the DEP and participants must be notified of all matters regarding contamination and clean up at the site.

Bellafiore was granted her request to reschedule the meeting which will be open to the public and take place October 10th at 7:00 at the Abigail Adams Middle School in Weymouth.
» Read article     

Greater Boston PSR demands an immediate halt to Weymouth Compressor construction, calling it a danger to health, a danger to safety, and a danger to our Massachusetts community
Physicians for Social Responsibility
September 23, 2019

The report—a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the human health impacts of soil, groundwater, air and noise pollution that will result from the compressor station—concludes that the project is dangerous to human health and that no regulatory framework can make this facility safe for the surrounding community or for residents of the Commonwealth.

The report specifically addresses:

  • Health risks related to existing soil and groundwater contamination at the proposed site;
  • Health risks of cumulative exposure to air toxics associated with the proposed compressor station;
  • Noise pollution generated by the proposed compressor station.

Greater Boston PSR calls on Governor Baker, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to halt the construction of the compressor station in Weymouth.
» Read press release   
» Download report here

» More Weymouth compressor station articles

LNG NEWS

Charlton legal expenses go up 300% in fight against proposed pot farm, LNG plant
By Debbie LaPlaca, Worcester Telegram
Sep 13, 2019

Liberty Energy Trust, operating under Northeast Energy Center LLC, has applied for state Energy Facilities Siting Board approval to produce about 250,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas per day and store it in a 2-million-gallon tank at 304 Southbridge Road (Route 169).

Since the Siting Board decides whether the $100 million project will go forward, the Charlton Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Health have registered as interveners in the hearings.

To do so, the town must hire legal counsel and consultants to prepare its testimony. Those legal and consulting fees are expected to reach $300,000, Peter J. Boria said at the joint meeting Wednesday.
» Read article     

Charlton’s lawyer for LNG plant resigns
By Debbie LaPlaca, Worcester Telegram
September 10, 2019

Liberty Energy Trust, operating under Northeast Energy Center LLC, seeks to site a natural gas liquefaction plant on 12 acres at 304 Southbridge Road (Route 169), near Millennium Power.

The company has applied for state Energy Facilities Siting Board approval to produce about 250,000 gallons of LNG per day, store it in a 2-million-gallon tank, and load it into trucks.

The applicant is also asking the state Department of Public Utilities to grant exemptions from Charlton zoning bylaws.

The Charlton Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Health have registered as interveners in the state hearings. As such, they were required to hire legal representation and file their testimony by Aug. 5. Seemingly unaware of what was required, they collectively missed the deadline.

Selectmen appointed members of the three boards and other town officials to an LNG Advisory Committee and earmarked $130,000 for the costs of legal counsel and consultants to intervene in the Siting Board’s hearings.

Selectmen at a joint meeting with the LNG committee and finance committee on Aug. 12 hired special legal counsel Miyares and Harrington LLC to represent the town.

In an Aug. 29 letter to selectmen, Attorney J. Raymond Miyares quit.
» Read article     

» More LNG articles

OTHER PIPELINES

Will the Constitution Pipeline get built?
The fight over the controversial pipeline is heading for federal court.
By ZACH WILLIAMS, City & State New York
September 8, 2019

Last week, federal regulators overruled a New York state agency’s decision to block the Constitution Pipeline, a controversial natural gas link from Pennsylvania. But that’s not the final word.

Until just a few weeks ago, there were good reasons to believe that a proposed natural gas pipeline linking Schoharie County in the Capitol Region to northern Pennsylvania would never get built. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation had rejected the proposed project, called the Constitution Pipeline, in 2016 because of its potential to harm water quality. In 2017, a federal court ruled that the state was within its rights to do so under the federal Clean Water Act. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene last year.

Despite these setbacks, the Oklahoma-based Williams Companies never gave up on its effort to build the 125-mile pipeline through the Catskills. It has been helped by the Trump administration, which made several moves this year to weaken the ability of states to block fossil fuel projects, including executive orders and proposed federal rules changes. “We can’t get energy because New York doesn’t allow the pipelines to go through,” Trump said during a mid-August visit to western Pennsylvania, which is experiencing a boom in natural gas production due to the rise of fracking technology. “The radical left wants to do to America what they’ve done to New York: raise prices, kill jobs and leave our nation less independent and far less secure.” Two weeks later, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose members are appointed by the president, issued an Aug. 28 ruling that gave Williams a waiver to override state approval because the state had purportedly taken too much time to make a decision on the company’s original application for a permit.
» Read article   

» More articles about other pipelines

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

blowout LA
Fracked Gas Well Blowout in Louisiana Likely to Burn for the Next Month
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
September 12, 2019

A fracked natural gas well in northwest Louisiana has been burning for two weeks after suffering a blowout. A state official said the fire will likely burn for the next month before the flames can be brought under control by drilling a relief well.

Experts have voiced concerns over the pollution being released, especially given the length of time this fossil fuel well has been leaking and burning.

“Blowouts are (unintended) large, uncontrolled pollutant sources with potentially significant health and environmental consequences,” Gunnar W. Schade, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University, told me via email after viewing the drone video obtained by DeSmog. “Blowouts need to be shut down as soon as possible.”

Sharon Wilson, Texas coordinator of environmental advocacy group Earthworks, outlined what happens during well blowouts like this.

“The gas is under pressure so if they lose control, the gas, frack fluid, produced water, and oil/condensate all blast out of the hole,” Wilson said during a call after viewing the video. “They have to get specialized teams to come shut the well in.”
» Read article

» More articles about what can go wrong 

CLIMATE

Dozens of Countries Take Aim at Climate Super Pollutants
Methane, HFCs and other short-lived climate pollutants are many times more potent than carbon dioxide but don’t last as long. Cuts could have a powerful impact.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
September 25, 2019

Environment ministers from dozens of countries agreed this week to speed up their efforts to reduce a class of greenhouse gases that, until now, has been largely overlooked in international climate agreements but could play a crucial role in limiting the worst effects of climate change.

“We can avoid about 0.6 degrees [Celsius (about 1°F)] of warming between now and mid-century by taking action on short-lived climate pollutants,” Dan McDougall, a senior fellow at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition said. The estimate is based on a 2011 United Nations Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization assessment that looked at 16 measures to cut black carbon and methane emissions across the agriculture, energy, transportation, industry, buildings and waste management sectors.

Reducing black carbon and methane also has tremendous health benefits by improving local air quality.

Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to accelerate, and global CO2 emissions are not expected to peak until after 2030, according to a World Meteorological Organization report released Sunday for this week’s UN Climate Action Summit.

The report found that countries’ commitments, which have so far focused largely on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, would have to be increased fivefold from current levels of emissions reductions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F), a goal of the Paris accord. What’s more, many countries are not meeting their current commitments.

Roughly half of the world’s G20 nations, which account for around 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, had fallen short of achieving their commitments under the Paris Agreement, according to a 2018 UN report. An updated draft of the UN report released Saturday found that the G20 as a whole remains off track for meeting current Paris commitment pledges as too few of the countries had made transformative climate policy commitments.
» Read article     

The World’s Oceans Are in Danger, Major Climate Change Report Warns
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
September 25, 2019

Earth’s oceans are under severe strain from climate change, a major new United Nations report warns, threatening everything from the ability to harvest seafood to the well-being of hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts.

Rising temperatures are contributing to a drop in fish populations in many regions, and oxygen levels in the ocean are declining while acidity levels are on the rise, posing risks to important marine ecosystems, according to the report issued Wednesday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.
» Read article     

The US Is Exporting a Fracked Climate Catastrophe
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
September 23, 2019

According to climate scientists, limiting the worst impacts of climate change means weaning the world off of fossil fuels, not ramping it up. But two factors, the U.S. “fracking revolution” that helped boost domestic oil and gas production to record levels combined with lifting the 40-year-long ban on exporting crude oil in 2015, are complicating that vision.

In June, the United States displaced Saudi Arabia as the top exporter of crude oil, a stunning development for a country that only started exporting crude in 2016. That month, the U.S. exported over 3 million barrels of crude oil per day. To put that in perspective, the U.S. consumed 20.5 million barrels per day in 2018. That means that each day, the U.S. was pumping out of its borders a volume of oil equivalent to about 15 percent of its 2018 daily consumption.

This expansion can be directly linked to the production of oil via hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) that has driven the U.S. oil production boom over the past decade. In addition to driving U.S. crude oil expansion, this much-lauded “fracking revolution” also was responsible for essentially the entire increase in global oil production last year, when the U.S. contributed 98 percent of that increase.

Without the shale boom, the world would likely be facing much higher oil prices and the potential for stagnating or even declining production (aka peak oil), both of which would help to hasten the needed energy transition to mitigate climate change.
» Read article     

Greta T at UN
At U.N. Climate Summit, Few Commitments and U.S. Silence
By Somini Sengupta and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
September 23, 2019

The United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday was meant to highlight concrete promises by presidents, prime ministers and corporate executives to wean the global economy from fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

But despite the protests in the streets, China on Monday made no new promises to take stronger climate action. The United States, having vowed to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the pact among nations to jointly fight climate change, said nothing at all. A host of countries made only incremental promises.

The contrast between the slow pace of action and the urgency of the problem was underscored by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who excoriated world leaders for their “business as usual” approach. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said, her voice quavering with rage. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
» Read article     

anaerobic digester - Chicago
Where’s the Waste? A ‘Circular’ Food Economy Could Combat Climate Change
An ice company’s wastewater can feed a produce garden. Spent grain from a brewery goes to compost. Local, shared, recycled. Welcome to the future of food.
By Eduardo Garcia, New York Times
September 21, 2019

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global linear production system that relies on chemicals and fuel to produce and transport food over great distances is to blame for between 21 percent and 37 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, proponents of the circular model argue that cooperation among various groups in the food-production system can significantly reduce energy consumption and waste.
» Read article

» More climate articles  

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

The Hamptons Love Green Energy. But That Wind Farm?
The transmission line would go through an area where homeowners include the billionaire Ronald Lauder and Marci Klein, daughter of Calvin Klein.
By Debra West, New York Times
September 14, 2019

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — This affluent enclave on the East End of Long Island is steeped in eco-conscious pride, with strict water quality and land preservation rules and an abundance of electric cars on the roads.

So at first, many happily embraced a plan for an offshore wind farm that would help lead the way as New York State sets some of the most ambitious green energy goals in the country.

But then came word that the project’s transmission cable was going to land in Wainscott, one of the most exclusive slices of the already exclusive Hamptons, where homeowners include the likes of the cosmetics billionaire Ronald Lauder and Marci Klein, a former longtime producer of “Saturday Night Live” and the daughter of Calvin Klein.

Soon a push to protect the planet was out and the imperative to protect a golden plot of sand was in. Homeowners organized and hired an army of lawyers, lobbyists, public relations experts and engineers to argue their case.
» Read article 

» More clean energy alternative articles   

ENERGY STORAGE

As battery fires spark ongoing concerns, NFPA releases standards to address risks
By HJ Mai, Utility Dive
September 17, 2019

The exponential growth of energy storage around the world has also put a spotlight on the technology’s safety record. Multiple fires at residential storage installations in South Korea last year as well as the fire earlier this year in Arizona have shown the potential dangers associated with battery storage.

In response to increasing demand for the technology, the NFPA decided in 2016 to start developing NFPA 855.

“While energy storage systems provide countless benefits and applications, the technologies do not come without risk. NFPA 855 aims to mitigate risk and ensure that all installations are done in a way that takes fire and life safety into consideration,” Brian O’Connor, a professional engineer and NFPA staff liaison for NFPA 855, said in a statement.

NFPA 855 establishes requirements for ESS installation settings, size and separation of systems, and fire suppression and control systems.
» Read article  

battery storage site
Nothing standing in the way of energy storage’s ‘explosive growth’: Navigant
By HJ Mai, Utility Dive
September 16, 2019

“Nothing really does seem to be standing in the way of its explosive growth,” Ricardo Rodriguez, research analyst for distributed energy storage at Navigant Research, told Utility Dive.

The market research company in its latest report identified close to 2,100 energy storage projects globally. And international storage markets are anticipated to grow exponentially over the next decade, a second report from Rethink Technology Research found.

“There are really five primary drivers for storage today,” Rodriguez said. “They are changing rate structures, [electric vehicle] charging integration, solar PV integration, resiliency/backup power, and to some degree, business model innovation. But I think the biggest driver of growth going forward — outside of cost — is likely to be the development of new market opportunities and value streams that are opened up by favorable federal and state regulations.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued a recent order to allow utility companies to pay commercial property owners if they agree to rely upon their energy storage systems during peak events. The order was a landmark state regulation in the energy storage space, according to Rodriguez.

“I think it was one of the first orders in the nation to incentivize behind the meter battery storage,” he said.
» Read article   

» More energy storage articles

DIVESTMENT

First Major U.S. Insurer Begins Divestment from Fossil Fuels
By Elana Sulakshana, Truthout
September 12, 2019

It seems like every day there is a new story of a pipeline spilling crude oil or an oil refinery exploding. How do fossil fuel companies continue to operate such hazardous infrastructure in communities despite the immediate and long-term harm they cause? One piece of the answer is the coverage and financial support they get from insurance companies.

We may not immediately consider insurance as a key driver of climate change, but insurance companies provide a crucial service to dangerous fossil fuel projects: insurance coverage for everything from explosions to car accidents. But now, that may be changing.

Earlier this summer, Chubb, the largest commercial insurance company in the U.S., announced a new policy to address climate change. Saying that it “will not underwrite risks related to the construction and operation of new coal-fired plants,” the company has become the first major U.S. insurer to adopt a policy restricting coal insurance.
» Read article

» More divestment articles   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

oil giants defense
Oil Giants, Under Fire From Climate Activists and Investors, Mount a Defense
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 23, 2019

On Monday, as world leaders gathered at the United Nations climate summit and discussed the urgency of slashing carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, 13 of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies presented their defense at a forum across town. But most of their proposals appeared designed to perpetuate the use of oil and gas for decades to come, rather than transition quickly to cleaner options.
» Read article     

Cheap Renewables Could Make 90% of Proposed Gas Power Plants — and Many Pipelines — Obsolete by 2035
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 13, 2019

A lot has changed when it comes to power generation in the past 16 years. In 2003, if you flipped on a light switch most places in the U.S., odds were you were setting into motion the final link in a chain of events that started in a coal mine or a mountain-top removal project. The U.S. got more than half of its electricity from burning coal that year, followed distantly by nuclear and gas. Coal had a long-standing reputation for being a cheap, if dirty, way to get things done.

By now, natural gas — made cheap by the rush to drill shale wells and with its own dirty reputation from globe-warming methane leaks and fracking pollution — has overtaken coal as the primary source of power in America.

But that isn’t the biggest change underway when it comes to where our electrical power will come from just 16 years from now.

That shale revolution, like coal, could see its economic advantage swept away by 2035, as renewable energy choices offer electrical utilities options that not only produce no climate-changing exhaust but are also rapidly falling in price.
» Read article   

US EPA Proposes Rule Narrowing States’ Ability to Block Pipeline Projects
The National Law Review
Friday, August 30, 2019

On August 7, 2019, US EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the Agency’s newest proposal to amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) to streamline permitting of energy projects. Specifically, the proposed rule would amend the regulations concerning Section 401 of the CWA. It represents US EPA’s first comprehensive effort to promulgate federal rules governing the implementation of Section 401 of the CWA.

When announcing the proposed rule, Administrator Wheeler stated: “[T]he United States has become the number one oil and gas energy producer in the world, while at the same time continuing to improve our air quality.” He then noted, “Our proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of Clean Water Act. When implemented, this proposal will streamline the process for constructing new energy infrastructure projects that are good for American families, American workers, and the American economy.”
» Read article   

» More fossil fuel industry articles

FERC NEWS

Court agrees with Oberlin, orders agency to explain pipeline decision
By MARK GILLISPIE, Associated Press
September 11, 2019

CLEVELAND — The nation’s top appeals court has ruled that a federal agency must explain why it approved a pipeline sending substantial quantities of natural gas to Canada and allowed the energy companies to force U.S. citizens to sell property so construction could begin.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with Oberlin, Ohio, and other plaintiffs Friday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to justify giving owners of the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline credit for gas shipped to Canada to prove the project’s need.

FERC officials declined to comment Tuesday about the ruling.

Opponents long argued it was unlawful for the pipeline owners, Canada’s Enbridge Inc. and Detroit’s DTE Energy, to force U.S. citizens to sell property under legal threat so the 255-mile-long pipeline stretching across northern Ohio and into Michigan could be built.
» Read article   

» More FERC articles

PLASTICS, HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT

plastic breakdown illustration
Our plastics, our selves

What’s plastic doing to our bodies? This all-female team is investigating.
By Eve Andrews, grist.org
February 6, 2019

The samples that eXXpedition collected will help us understand how plastic might pick up other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial waste, and transfer them to humans through the food chain. In parallel with that work, the team also wrote about its experiences to raise awareness, and began developing ideas for both policy and technology to address this giant plastic dilemma.

One major mystery within that dilemma: what all these bits of plastic might be doing to us. For every tidbit of understanding we gain about the health consequences of chemicals released by plastics, there remains a Gyre-sized quantity of unknowns. But a growing body of evidence suggests some chemicals commonly found in many plastics are associated with everything from breast and prostate cancer, to underdeveloped genitalia and low sperm count in men, to obesity.

In particular, some of the substances that stick to plastics, seep out of them, or are released when they decay are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), meaning that they interfere with the normal function of hormones in the human body. Some may contribute to cancer. They may also cross from a pregnant woman’s body into her fetus, potentially changing the way a baby develops.

It’s that last potential consequence of plastic junk that made Penn decide to found eXXpedition as an all-women’s endeavor. Men get these chemicals inside them as well, of course. “For women,” she said, “it felt like it was a greater significance because we’re passing them on to the next generation.”
» Read article 

» More about plastics in the environment and health

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