Tag Archives: Line 5

Weekly News Check-In 8/6/21

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Welcome back.

The ongoing protests and actions targeting Enbridge’s Line 3 are led primarily by indigenous groups executing all the components of a successful nonviolent campaign. Meanwhile, the aging and degraded Line 5 pipeline poses an imminent threat to the Great Lakes, and its most vocal opponent is Michigan’s Governor Whitmer. A latecomer to these battles against fossil fuel infrastructure is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until recently seemed happy to rubber-stamp approval for nearly every new project. While still internally conflicted between the commissioners, Chair Richard Glick is getting backup from the DC Circuit Court, which has ordered FERC to conduct robust climate and environmental justice impact analyses prior to final approval of two Texas liquefied natural gas terminals. This could affect consideration of future projects.

Massachusetts’ green economy will anchor to the offshore wind industry, and the state is offering $1.6 million in grants for job training to reduce some of the barriers that would keep people of color and low-income people from participating in the coming boom. We’re also keeping an eye on the geothermal industry – not a newcomer, but not yet mainstream either.

We’ve heard “net-zero by 2050” so often that it seems both a good thing and also inevitable. We offer a climate report that warns both assumptions are dangerously off the mark. Related to this – an urgent issue within the larger climate puzzle is how to retire massive numbers of coal plants – many of them relatively new – sooner rather than later. The Asian Development Bank proposes a novel solution, and is enlisting private sector financing to help.

We’ve recently started tracking a couple of climate “solutions” that have some merit but are being co-opted by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries, boosting them as excuses to continue with business as usual. Carbon offsets & reforestation, along with carbon capture & sequestration, are two areas drawing a lot of unhelpful industry attention lately. We’re starting to hear about plans for a vast network of pipelines to send carbon dioxide from where it’s captured at emitters to locations where it will be sequestered. It’s worth noting that CO2 is a toxic gas in anything but very small concentrations. It is odorless and heavier than air, and if leaked from a pipeline would pool in low terrain – displacing all the air and asphyxiating every living being in the area.

California is facing a looming energy crisis, with its power supply threatened by drought, heat, and fire. Their solution is to speed up the clean energy transition. And while the whole country struggles against entrenched interests (building trades, real estate industry, etc.) to improve energy efficiency in building codes, Colorado has stepped out front with a host of new laws. Of course, when you build a new, efficient building, the last thing you want is to incorporate carbon-intensive materials. Financiers are beginning pressure steel manufacturers to greatly reduce emissions associated with making their product.

This week’s energy storage news considers the promise of Form Energy’s recently revealed iron-air battery chemistry, while a report on a fire at an Australian lithium-ion battery reminds us that even green power carries some risk.

Since we’re on the cusp of a clean transportation revolution, it’s great that the Guardian just published an article looking back at the last time we did this. At the dawn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly replaced by machines and electric vehicles ruled the road.

Fossil fuel industry news includes some troubling new subsidies tucked into the bipartisan infrastructure legislation making its way though the Senate. Also, how Facebook looked the other way as the industry spread misinformation on its platform. Meanwhile, liquefied natural gas continues to face headwinds in North America, with the cancellation of an LNG export terminal in Québec’s Saguenay region. This comes just weeks after the collapse of Pieridae Energy’s scheme to build a similar facility in Nova Scotia.

Finally, it was a big week for biomass news in Massachusetts, as a hearing on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard ran straight into the state’s new climate laws and limits associated with siting polluters near environmental justice communities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Old Crossing Treaty
Everyone has a role to play in stopping the Line 3 pipeline
Indigenous water protectors and allies are effectively engaging all four roles of social change — just what’s needed to beat a company as powerful as Enbridge.   
By Eileen Flanagan, Waging Nonviolence
August 2, 2021

On Monday, July 19, in a red shirt and long black skirt, Sasha Beaulieu strode toward the Middle River in northwestern Minnesota to fulfill her official role as the Red Lake Nation Tribal Monitor. The water was incredibly low from the drought, and in parts the river bed was completely dry — all of which she would report to the Army Corps of Engineers with the hope of stopping the Canadian corporation Enbridge from drilling under Middle River to install the controversial Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge had already polluted the Willow River while trying to install the pipeline, an accident discovered by water protectors and reported to regulators. Beaulieu explained on Facebook Live that the company is supposed to stop pumping water when the river level is below a foot and a half, but Enbridge was not complying.

As Beaulieu recorded her findings, 40 people from the Red Lake Treaty Camp took up positions on the bridge, chanting and holding signs, the largest of which said, “Honor the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863,” which gives people of the Red Lake Nation the right to sustain themselves through fishing on the region’s rivers, as well as hunting and performing ceremony there. Meanwhile, at the Shell River, two hours to the southeast, a different tactic was being deployed, as famed Indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke and six other elder women sat in lawn chairs, blocking Enbridge construction in defiant civil disobedience.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions                

 

PIPELINES

worst possible placeLine 5 pipeline between U.S. and Canada could cause ‘devastating damage’ to Great Lakes, say environmentalists
Canadian officials siding with Enbridge to keep pipeline running despite Michigan’s claims it is unsafe
By Samantha Beattie, CBC News
August 3, 2021

An aging pipeline that carries oil along the bottom of the ecologically sensitive and turbulent Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, is in such a state of disrepair it could burst at any moment and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes, environmentalists warn. 

Line 5, a 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge, carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids a day from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont., where it is shipped to other refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

It’s at the centre of a politically charged dispute between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who’s ordered what she calls the “ticking time bomb” to be shut down, and Canadian officials, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who’ve sided with Enbridge in insisting it’s safe to keep running.

“Over the past year, I have both written and spoken to the Governor to express my disappointment and stress the importance of Line 5 in ensuring economic, environmental and energy security to the entire Great Lakes Region,” Ford said in a statement to CBC News.

“Our government believes pipelines are a safe way to transport essential fuels across the Great Lakes, operating in accordance with the highest pipeline safety standards.”

Enbridge says Line 5 is safe and saves the hassle of transporting huge amounts of fuel by truck or train.

But Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said it’s time to put politics aside and cut through Enbridge’s “manufactured narrative.” She says the danger the pipeline poses to the Great Lakes is too risky to take “a gamble.”

Line 5 was designed in 1953 to have a lifespan of 50 years, or until 2003. Eighteen years later, it’s still running, and has had its fair share of problems, said Woodhouse. 

“This is a very old, deteriorating, dangerous pipeline that has already leaked significant amounts of oil into the surrounding lands and water that it crosses through,” she said.

Since 1953, Line 5 has leaked 29 times, spilling 4.5 million litres of oil into the environment, according to media reports.

A spill would cause “devastating damage” to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan’s shorelines, compromising drinking water, fisheries, businesses and homes, said Woodhouse.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines           

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

first circuit DC
DC Circuit orders FERC to analyze climate, environmental justice more thoroughly
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
August 4, 2021

Critics have long accused FERC of “rubber stamping” projects, a criticism Glick has often agreed with. In his dissent on the commission’s 2019 approval of the Rio Grande and Texas LNG projects, he argued that FERC was not allowed under federal law to “assume away” the impacts of these projects, and that their assessment at the time was inadequate.

The Tuesday decision “clearly demonstrates that the Commission has the authority and obligation to meaningfully analyze and consider the impacts from GHG emissions and impacts to Environmental Justice communities,” Glick said in a statement. “Moreover, failure to do so puts the Commission’s decisions – and the investments made in reliance on those decisions – in legal peril.”

In the commission’s environmental analysis of the projects, it found that it could not determine what the facilities’ impacts on the climate crisis would be, because there is no universal methodology for calculating those impacts. But petitioners argued FERC could use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted metric to make that evaluation. Ultimately, the court agreed that the commission could have tried harder in 2019 to make this assessment.

“This court is saying you really do actually need to try to evaluate impacts based on whatever information is either out there in the real world, or that is based on academic or other research,” said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Before you say you can’t do it, you need to try a lot harder.”
» Read article            

» More about FERC           

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity in the wind
Massachusetts grants focus on equity in offshore wind workforce development

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs aimed at reducing specific obstacles for people of color and low-income people.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 3, 2021

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs, each of which targets a specific obstacle that might prevent people of color and low-income people from pursuing jobs in the burgeoning industry. 

“We wanted to up the game a little bit,” said Bruce Carlisle, managing director for offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the organization that awarded the grants. “We made a conscious effort in 2021 that we were going to focus exclusively on this issue.”

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, which is slated to become the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind installation, received its last major federal approval in May, effectively jumpstarting an industry that is expected to be a major employer and economic driver in years to come. 

The offshore wind industry could produce as many as 83,000 jobs in the United States and pump an annual $25 billion into the economy by 2030, according to an analysis by the American Wind Energy Association. With some of the country’s most wind-rich waters located off the New England coast, the region stands to reap significant financial benefits. 

In the face of this opportunity, many community and environmental groups have been pushing to ensure that people of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups have an equal chance to participate in the benefits of a promising new sector. The existing energy system has overburdened communities of color, who often face more pollution and higher rates of respiratory illness, said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. A diverse, inclusive workforce could help redress some of this damage, she said. 

“As we are looking to a decarbonized world, we have to figure out how this new system can be equitable and not repeat the sins of the past,” Hatch said.
» Read article            

geothermal boom
A Geothermal Energy Boom May Be Coming, and Ex-Oil Workers Are Leading the Way
Start-ups see a vast opportunity to utilize heat from beneath the Earth’s surface.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 29, 2021

A conference last week got into a subject that is deep and superhot.

Some of the leaders in geothermal energy and energy policy gathered virtually to talk about a form of clean energy that they said is getting close to a technological leap forward.

Geothermal energy comes from harnessing heat from beneath the Earth’s surface, which can be used to run power plants, heat buildings and provide heat for industry. Some form of geothermal has been used for decades, with power plants in the West and Mountain West, and even older geothermal heating systems in cities like Boise, Idaho.

The opportunity ahead is for researchers and entrepreneurs to develop ways to affordably use geothermal energy at a larger scale and in many more places.

“One of the things that really excites me about geothermal is that every building is already sitting on this vast reservoir of renewable energy right there for the taking,” said Kathy Hannun, president and co-founder of Dandelion Energy, a company developing affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for houses.

Her comments were part of Pivot 2021, a conference organized by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

One of the recurring themes across days of panels was the opportunity for the United States to build on the drilling technology and methods developed by the oil and gas industry and to shift people from the industry’s current workforce to work in geothermal energy.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

net zero faster
Net zero target for 2050 is too slow, and a strategy for climate failure
By Michael Mazengarb & Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
August 4, 2021

A major new research paper argues that setting “net zero by 2050” targets will fail to prompt urgent action on climate change, and won’t achieve the speed of emission reductions needed to avoid the worsening impacts of global warming.

The paper, released by the Australian-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, says shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.

“[Net zero by 2050] scenarios are based on models and carbon budgets generally associated with a 50 or 66 per cent chance of staying below the target, that is, a one-in-two, or one-in-three, chance of failure,” the paper says.

“We would never accept those risks of failures in our own lives. Why accept them for impacts which may destroy civilisation as we know it?”

The paper is significant because Australia’s mainstream political debate is currently dominated by Labor’s demand for a net zero target by 2050, and the federal Coalition’s commitment that net zero is nice, but it will only get there as soon as it can, or some time this century.

The Breakthrough paper is by no means the first that highlights that the Paris climate goals require much more urgent action, and that decisive action in the next 10 years is required to avoid depleting the “carbon budget.”

Last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator released a set of scenarios that observed that the only one that met the Paris stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was to reach net zero emissions, at least in the electricity supply, by 2035.
» Read article            
» Read the report: “Net zero 2050”: A dangerous illusion            

seeking early retirement
Earlier Coal Shutdowns on the Agenda as Finance Giants Develop Buyout Plan
By The Energy Mix
August 3, 2021

Some of the world’s biggest financial and investment firms are hatching a plan to speed up coal power plant closures in Asia, according to an exclusive report published yesterday by the Reuters news agency.

“The novel proposal, which is being driven by the Asian Development Bank, offers a potentially workable model, and early talks with Asian governments and multilateral banks are promising,” Reuters writes, citing five sources with knowledge of the discussions. Participating companies include BlackRock Real Assets, the Prudential insurance company, and Citi and HSBC banks.

“The group plans to create public-private partnerships to buy out the plants and wind them down within 15 years, far sooner than their usual life, giving workers time to retire or find new jobs and allowing countries to shift to renewable energy sources,” the news agency adds. “The initiative comes as commercial and development banks, under pressure from large investors, pull back from financing new power plants in order to meet climate targets.”

The group hopes to have its plan ready by the time this year’s United Nations climate conference convenes in Glasgow in early November.

“If you can come up with an orderly way to replace those plants sooner and retire them sooner, but not overnight, that opens up a more predictable, massively bigger space for renewables,” said Donald Kanak, chair of insurance growth markets at Prudential, who Reuters credits with coming up with the idea.

But the stakes couldn’t be higher, he told the BBC. “The world cannot possibly hit the Paris climate targets unless we accelerate the retirement and replacement of existing coal fired electricity, opening up much larger room in the near term for renewables and storage,” he said. “This is especially true in Asia, where existing coal fleets are big and young and will otherwise operate for decades.”

“The private sector has great ideas on how to address climate change and we are bridging the gap between them and the official-sector actors,” added ADB Vice President Ahmed M. Saeed.
» Read article            

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Morro Bay storage
California speeds up energy transition to face immediate energy crisis and long-term climate goals
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 4, 2021

California’s government has issued a roadmap for the US state to achieve its long-term goal of 100% clean energy, while an immediate State of Emergency has been declared over concerns the electric system will struggle under heat waves this summer.

Energy storage, renewables and demand response are at the heart of measures to address both. The long-term roadmap also recognises the important role long-duration energy storage will play in California’s clean energy future, putting it as one of five pillars the state’s energy system will rely on in decarbonising while delivering reliable and secure service.

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the proclamation of a State of Emergency last week, stating that it is “necessary to take immediate action to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure, increase energy capacity, and make energy supply more resilient this year to protect the health and safety of Californians”.

The state’s residents are being put into the frontline of the climate crisis, with droughts in 50 counties, wildfires, heat waves, floods, mudslides and more affecting them directly. Hydroelectric power plants have lost nearly 1,000MW of generation capacity through droughts. Record-breaking heat waves are causing strain on the electric grid, the massive Bootleg wildfire in Oregon has reduced the amount of electricity that can be delivered by an interconnector into California by nearly 4,000MW and transmission lines in high fire threat areas within the state are vulnerable.

The state could face an energy shortfall of up to 3,500MW this summer and 5,000MW by the summer of 2022. While Newsom’s proclamation acknowledged that there is insufficient time to install enough capacity of renewables and energy storage this summer, it set out some actions that will be taken immediately such as incentivising lower energy demand from industrial customers of utility companies, as well as measures to expedite clean energy projects to give California a better opportunity to meet its 2022 challenges head-on.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

SF smoke
The Fight to Change US Building Codes
In cities and states around the country, conflicts over climate-friendly standards for buildings are heating up.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
August 2, 2021

To date, more than 40 California jurisdictions have established policies that either entirely ban natural gas in new construction or encourage electrification. And in the months since San Francisco’s sky glowed orange, the California Energy Commission has proposed state building standards that require “electric ready” equipment and encourage electric heating rather than the use of natural gas.

Last year, California became the first state to enact standards that encourage the installation of rooftop solar on most new homes. If regulators approve the “electric ready” code, it will be another first-in-the-nation state standard, and California will have accomplished both policies through an often-overlooked mechanism: codes that govern the design and construction of new buildings.

Though California is often seen as a trailblazer in climate policy, similar efforts are increasingly cropping up around the country. Advocates and progressive code officials are trying to push forward building codes that help drive decarbonization.

Energy consumed in buildings produced more than 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making them a key part of the climate challenge. And the window to decarbonize them is narrowing: Analysts at organizations such as the International Energy Agency have said that new construction worldwide will need to start switching to all-electric around 2025, if nations are to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century.

“The place that we are working right now is to get a better code on paper,” said Kim Cheslak, director of codes at the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works with utilities and governments on energy efficient codes. “The place we need to work after that is to make sure that cities, states and building departments have the resources to enforce full compliance.”
» Read article            

Colorado leading
Social cost of methane changes the equation for Colorado utility policy

Colorado is believed to be the first state in the nation to apply the social cost of methane to a broad range of regulatory decisions. A batch of new laws are expected to dramatically improve the case for building energy conservation.
By Allen Best, Energy News Network
August 2, 2021

As a growing list of states pass laws aimed at curbing carbon emissions, Colorado has widened its scope, taking the groundbreaking step of requiring state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions.

Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, has powerful heat-trapping properties before it breaks down into water vapor and carbon dioxide after 12 years. It is 84 to 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“By focusing on methane reduction now, it has the greatest potential to bend the curve on fighting climate change,” said state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Boulder County and a prime sponsor or co-sponsor of several bills passed this year that instruct state utility regulators to use the social of cost of methane when evaluating proposals. 

Other successful bills seek to reduce natural gas in buildings and other applications, and to stanch leaks in the supply chain of natural gas. Most natural gas is extracted from geological deposits by drilling.

Legislative and environmental advocates say the new laws have made Colorado the national leader in tackling emissions from buildings.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency           

 

BUILDING MATERIALS

climate needs you
Investors call for urgent action by steelmakers on carbon emissions
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 4, 2021

LONDON – Steelmakers need to take urgent action on producing less carbon in order to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, investors managing $55 trillion in assets said on Wednesday.

Emissions from steel production account for 9% of the global total and must fall 29% by 2030 and 91% by 2050 to meet the net zero scenario laid out by the International Energy Agency in May, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said.

The IIGCC, as part of the Climate Action 100+ initiative, said in a statement that while it was technically feasible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the steel industry was being too slow to act.

Steel firms needed to set short, mid and long-term targets in line with the IEA report, and align their capital expenditure plans with net zero, including not investing in new, unabated production capacity, the IIGCC added.

They also needed to demonstrate that emerging technology can work and produce reports by the end of 2022 on how carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen-based processes can be used.

In addition, they needed to be transparent about the public policy positions they will take to accelerate their transition, for example on carbon pricing and research and development.
» Read article            

» More about building materials              

 

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy iron-air
Is this a green-energy breakthrough, or just hype?
BY DAVID VON DREHLE, Berkshire Eagle | Opinion
August 2, 2021

The most important news story of 1903 received modest coverage, and it wasn’t very accurate.

Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, conducted four machine- powered, heavier-than-air flights under human control on a single day in December. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, not far from the Kitty Hawk, N.C., testing ground, ran an exaggerated account of the Wright Brothers’ triumph — but in Dayton, a hometown paper, refused to mention it. “Man will never fly,” a local editor harrumphed (perhaps apocryphally). “And if he does, he won’t be from Dayton.”

Another possible milestone of technology passed quietly not long ago. It might be the beginning of the end for fossil fuels and the key to reaching the goal of a green power grid. If so, it will certainly be among the most important stories of the year — bigger than space tourism, bigger than the Arizona election audit, bigger than the discovery that amazing Simone Biles is human, not a god.

One caveat: Very few engineering breakthroughs change the world. Most end up being less than meets the eye. That said, let’s have a look.

A Boston-area company, Form Energy, announced recently that it has created a battery prototype that stores large amounts of power and releases it not over hours, but over more than four days. And that isn’t the best part. The battery’s main ingredients are iron and oxygen, both incredibly plentiful here on God’s green Earth — and therefore reliably cheap.

Put the two facts together, and you arrive at a sort of tipping point for green energy: reliable power from renewable sources at less than $20 per kilowatt-hour.
» Read article            

Greelong blaze
Crews battle Tesla battery fire at Moorabool, near Geelong

By Leanne Wong, ABC News, AU
July 30, 2021

A toxic blaze at the site of Australia’s largest Tesla battery project is set to burn throughout the night.

The fire broke out during testing of a Tesla megapack at the Victorian Big Battery site near Geelong.

A 13-tonne lithium battery was engulfed in flames, which then spread to an adjacent battery bank.

More than 150 people from Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority responded to the blaze, which has been contained and will be closely monitored until it burns itself out.

“If we try and cool them down it just prolongs the process,” the CFA’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ian Beswicke said.

“But we could be here anywhere from 8 to 24 hours while we wait for it to burn down.”

The Tesla battery is expected to become the largest battery in the southern hemisphere as part of a Victorian Government push to transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about energy storage                

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Detroit Electric
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport
To every age dogged with pollution, accidents and congestion, the transport solution for the next generation seems obvious – but the same problems keep coming back
By Tom Standage, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Much of the early enthusiasm for the automobile stemmed from its promise to solve the problems associated with horse-drawn vehicles, including noise, traffic congestion and accidents. That cars failed on each of these counts was tolerated because they offered so many other benefits, including eliminating the pollution – most notably, horse manure – that had dogged urban thoroughfares for centuries.

But in doing away with one set of environmental problems, cars introduced a whole set of new ones. The pollutants they emit are harder to see than horse manure, but are no less problematic. These include particulate matter, such as the soot in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; volatile organic compounds that irritate the respiratory system and have been linked to several kinds of cancer; nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide; and greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. Cars, trucks and buses collectively produce around 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Reliance on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel has also had far-reaching geopolitical ramifications, as much of the world became dependent on oil from the Middle East during the 20th century.

None of this could have been foreseen at the dawn of the automobile age. Or could it? Some people did raise concerns about the sustainability of powering cars using non-renewable fossil fuels, and the reliability of access to such fuels. Today, electric cars, charged using renewable energy, are seen as the logical way to address these concerns. But the debate about the merits of electric cars turns out to be as old as the automobile itself.

In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles. In a speech in 1895, Salom derided “the marvelously complicated driving gear of a gasoline vehicle, with its innumerable chains, belts, pulleys, pipes, valves and stopcocks … Is it not reasonable to suppose, with so many things to get out of order, that one or another of them will always be out of order?”

The two men steadily refined their initial design, eventually producing a carriage-like vehicle that could be controlled by a driver on a high seat at the back, with a wider seat for passengers in the front. In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation            

 

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

fire in the poolUS Forest Fires Threaten Carbon Offsets as Company-Linked Trees Burn
At least two forestry projects used by businesses including BP and Microsoft to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions are burning in Oregon and Washington.
By Camilla Hodgson, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 4, 2021

Forests in the United States that generate the carbon offsets bought by companies including BP and Microsoft are on fire as summer blazes rage in North America.

Corporate net-zero emission pledges rely on such projects to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by companies that are unable to make sufficient cuts to their actual emissions.

In principle each offset represents a ton of carbon that has been permanently removed from the atmosphere or avoided. Offsets generated by projects that plant or protect trees, which absorb carbon, are among the most popular.

But forestry projects are vulnerable to wildfires, drought and disease—permanent threats that are being exacerbated by global warming.

“We’ve bought forest offsets that are now burning,” Elizabeth Willmott, Microsoft’s carbon program manager, told attendees at an event hosted by Carbon180, a non-profit organization that focuses on carbon removal.

In Washington and Oregon, at least two forestry projects used by companies including BP and Microsoft are ablaze.

Given the risks from fire and drought, forestry offsetting schemes contributed about 10 to 20 percent of the credits they generate to the “buffer pool.”

Critics of the unregulated offsetting system have warned that buffer pools may be too small to compensate for the damage done by major fires.

“The concern is that the pool is not large enough to cover the increased risk of [the carbon benefits being reversed] with climate change over the full set of participating projects,” said Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
» Read article            

Sand Martin Wood
Reforestation hopes threaten global food security, Oxfam warns
Over-reliance on tree-planting to offset carbon emissions could push food prices up 80% by 2050
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests in order to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has warned.

Planting trees has been [presented] as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.

At least 1.6bn hectares – an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land now farmed on the planet – would be required to reach net zero for the planet by 2050 via tree-planting alone. While no one is suggesting planting trees to that extent, the report’s authors said it gave an idea of the scale of planting required, and how limited offsetting should be if food price rises are to be avoided.

Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and co-author of the report, explained: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: where is this land going to come from?”

Food prices could rise by 80% by 2050, according to some estimates, if offsetting emissions through forestry is over-used. About 350m hectares of land – an area roughly the size of India – could be used for offsetting without disrupting agriculture around the world, but taken together the plans for offsetting from countries and companies around the world could soon exceed this.
» Read article            
» Read the Oxfam report            

» More about carbon offsets and reforestation               

 

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

new pipelinesThe infrastructure deal could create pipelines for captured CO2
The bipartisan infrastructure package gives billions to carbon capture and removal
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 3, 2021

A new generation of pipelines could be born out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal making its way through Congress. But instead of hauling oil and gas, the pipelines would carry planet-heating carbon dioxide. The massive bill would allocate funding for new infrastructure devoted to capturing carbon dioxide, and transporting it to places where it can be buried underground or used in products like carbonated soda.

Carbon capture technology aims to scrub CO2 directly at the source of emissions — but it’s remained controversial among climate activists, with many seeing it as a false solution that distracts from emission reduction goals. But Congress’ new bipartisan infrastructure plan would invest billions of dollars into the idea, committing the US to ambitious carbon capture and removal schemes that have never been attempted at this large scale.

“The infrastructure bill has opened the floodgates for carbon capture piping. Watch out,” tweeted Alan Ramo, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.

The new provisions focus mostly on using carbon capture and removal to tackle industrial emissions, rather than emissions from the power sector. The Biden Administration has particularly encouraged carbon capture for industries like cement and steel, which are difficult to electrify and decarbonize. (Cement alone is responsible for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.) Focusing on those industries might keep carbon capture from being used as a way to extend the life of coal plants or other heavy-emitting power sources, a problem that’s come up with carbon capture technologies used in the power sector.
» Blog editor’s note: Adapted from BOC (Industrial Gases)…CO2 is a toxic gas. It is heavier than air and, if there is a leak from a CO2 [pipeline], it tends to accumulate [in low terrain] and pushes the oxygen-rich air upwards…. Air normally contains about 0.03% carbon dioxide, but breathing air with increased concentrations of the gas can lead to effects ranging from heavy breathing and a feeling of suffocation through loss of consciousness to asphyxiation.
» Read article             

» More about CC&S                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

documents wheeled
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes $25 Billion in Potential New Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
Instead of reducing the role of fossil fuels in the economy, critics say, the bill subsidizes industry “greenwashing.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
August 3, 2021

The Senate’s new bipartisan infrastructure bill is being sold as a down payment on addressing the climate crisis. But environmental advocates and academics are warning the proposed spending bill is full of new fossil fuel industry subsidies masked as climate solutions. The latest draft bill would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.

“This is billions upon billions of dollars in additional fossil fuel industry subsidies in addition to the $15 billion that we already hand out to this industry to support and fund this industry,” said Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch’s senior policy analyst. Scientists say that to meet the goals of the international Paris climate accord, the U.S would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — and be well on the way there by 2030. With subsidies that keep fossil fuel industries going, Walsh said, “We will never be able to meet the Paris agreement if we fund these kind of programs.”

Just as concerning is the new economy the subsidies could entrench, said Walsh, through the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. “This would support the development of four petrochemical hubs that would create profit incentives for greenhouse gas emission production and would be focused on finding new ways of integrating fossil fuels into our economy for transportation, energy, petrochemical development, and plastics.”

In short, he added, “This deal envisions a world where we will use fossil fuels into perpetuity.”

The subsidies would go toward technologies sold as dream fixes for ending the nightmare of the climate crisis without the colossal political hurdle of dislodging the fossil fuel industry from the U.S. economy. Such technologies include carbon capture and decarbonized hydrogen fuel. Both purported solutions in practice help fossil fuel companies mask the continued release of climate-warming gases. Neither of the technologies are currently commercially viable at a large scale, so the energy industry requires government help to carry out what critics see as a public relations scheme.
» Read article            

Facebook fossil influence
Facebook let fossil-fuel industry push climate misinformation, report finds
Thinktank InfluenceMap accuses petroleum giants of gaming Facebook to promote oil and gas as part of climate-crisis solution
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
August 5, 2021

Facebook failed to enforce its own rules to curb an oil and gas industry misinformation campaign over the climate crisis during last year’s presidential election, according to a new analysis released on Thursday.

The report, by the London-based thinktank InfluenceMap, identified an increase in advertising on the social media site by ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies aimed at shaping the political debate about policies to address global heating.

InfluenceMap said its research shows the fossil-fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, and is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution. The report also exposed what it said was Facebook’s role in facilitating the dissemination of false claims about global heating by failing to consistently apply its own policies to stop erroneous advertising.

“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil-fuel propaganda,” the report said. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”

The report found that 25 oil and gas industry organisations spent at least $9.5m to place more than 25,000 ads on Facebook’s US platforms last year, which were viewed more than 431m times. Exxon alone spent $5m.

“The industry is using a range of messaging tactics that are far more nuanced than outright statements of climate denial. Some of the most significant tactics found included tying the use of oil and gas to maintaining a high quality of life, promoting fossil gas as green, and publicizing the voluntary actions taken by the industry on climate change,” the report said.
» Read article            
» Read the InfluenceMap report          

» More about fossil fuels                  

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Quebec declines LNG terminal
Quebec Rejects $14-Billion LNG Terminal
By The Energy Mix staff
August 1, 2021

Quebec has rejected GNL Québec’s application to build a C$14-billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Saguenay region, capping years of opposition by Indigenous communities, climate campaigners, scientists, and health professionals.

The announcement comes just a week after three Innu First Nations in Quebec declared a pipeline to the Énergie Saguenay project from Western Canada would not be allowed to cross their ancestral lands. “We listened, we did our own research on the project, and following the conclusions of the BAPE report, it is clear that our position will remain the same,” said Charles-Edouard Verreault, vice-chief of Mashteuiatsh First Nation and spokesperson for the three nations. “This project won’t be happening on our territories.”

“Relief!” headlined Coalition Fjord, a campaign group that waged a three-year fight against the project.

“The end of the GNL project and pipeline is an encouraging sign for citizen mobilization,” the group said in a release. “It’s a relief for the climate, after the science was finally heard”, so that the province will dodge an increase in its greenhouse gas emissions.

“Locally, it’s a massive relief for biodiversity,” including beluga whale populations that were threatened by the project. And “above all, it’s a relief to see the end of division and the beginning of a constructive dialogue,” the coalition said. “To many people, this project looked like a chance to create jobs and boost the local economy, but that was just a mirage” that masked the project’s “irreversible negative impacts”. 

Previously, Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) had issued a 500-page report concluding that the risks from the 750-kilometre-long gas pipeline would “far outweigh” the benefits. The project drew the widest response ever to a BAPE review with more than 2,500 briefs presented, 91% of them opposing the development.
» Read article            

no smoking LNG
DC Circuit faults FERC’s environmental analysis in two LNG project orders
By Maya Weber, S&P Global
August 3, 2021


The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has found fault with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s climate and environmental justice reviews for the Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG projects, planned in the Brownsville, Texas, area, and has remanded to FERC the orders authorizing the projects.

The Aug. 3 decision, marking the second blow the court delivered to FERC’s gas project orders, could have broader implications going forward for the commission’s approach to considering climate impacts. It arrives as FERC has remained split on the extent of its legal requirements to assess climate impacts of projects.

The orders remanded by the court Aug. 3 include applications for the 7 million mt/year Rio Grande project and the 4 million mt/year Texas LNG project. FERC first approved the projects in 2019, with rehearing orders issued in early 2020.

In one benefit for the projects, the court agreed not to vacate the FERC authorizations, acknowledging the LNG developers’ concerns that such a remedy could “imperil the intervenors’ ability to obtained funding necessary to complete the projects in a timely fashion.”

The three-judge panel of the DC Circuit agreed with petitioners that FERC failed to adequately assess the impact of the projects’ greenhouse gas emissions because it neglected to respond to the argument that it was required to use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted method to assess the GHG emissions’ effects.

FERC did not discuss or even cite the relevant Council on Environmental Quality regulation in its rehearing order that would have seemed to require it to evaluate the impacts based on theoretical approaches or research methods generally accepted by the scientific community, said the ruling Judge Robert Wilkins filed.

While the court did not rule on what method FERC should have applied on GHGs, it held that FERC was required to address the petitioners’ argument concerning the significance of a CEQ regulation and that its failure to do so rendered its analysis of the projects’ GHG emissions deficient.

The panel also found FERC’s environmental justice analysis for the two projects to be flawed. It agreed with petitioners that the decision to analyze the impact on environmental justice communities only in census blocks within two miles of the projects was arbitrary, given FERC’s determination that environmental effects would extend well beyond two miles. FERC determined air quality impacts could occur within 31 miles, the court said.

“The commission has offered no explanation as to why, in light of that finding, it chose to delineate the area potentially affected by the projects to include only those census blocks within two miles of the project sites for the purposes of its environmental justice analyses,” it said.

In deciding to remand, rather than vacate, the FERC orders, the decision called it “reasonably likely” that, on remand, FERC could address its failures to explain its approach on climate change and environmental justice while reaching the same result. [emphasis added]
» Blog editor’s note: once FERC performs the required climate impact and environmental justice studies, their rigor and validity can be scrutinized by environmental and legal experts. Should FERC reach the “same result” based on shoddy or flawed analysis, we expect further litigation to follow.
» Read article                    

» More about liquefied natural gas      

 

BIOMASS

smoke and pollutants
Environmental justice designation coming under scrutiny
Is Lexington really environmentally overburdened?
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
August 3, 2021

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE communities, marginalized areas of the state overburdened with pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and highways, are turning out to be more commonplace in Massachusetts than you might think.

Earlier this year, when the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill containing language defining an environmental justice, or EJ community, advocates said the measure was needed to protect areas of the state with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens.

But as the definition is being applied, the number of EJ communities is turning out to be larger than expected. According to a state analysis of Census data, close to 200 of the state’s 351 cities and towns contain some EJ neighborhoods. 

There were municipalities containing EJ neighborhoods you would expect, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Randolph, where the entire city was an EJ community. Others high on the list included Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, North Adams, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester.

But there were also cities and towns containing fairly high concentrations of EJ neighborhoods that one would hardly describe as environmentally overburdened, including Acton, Amherst, Arlington, Avon, Brookline, Lexington, Waltham, Watertown, and Westborough.

Last week, state environmental officials showed just how powerful the EJ designation could be. In setting regulations for the construction of wood-burning power plants, the officials said the facilities would not qualify for essential ratepayer subsidies if they were located in an EJ community or within five miles of one. That ruling meant that 89 percent of the state was essentially off-limits to biomass plants and someone looking to build such a facility in Massachusetts could only locate it in 35 of the state’s 351 cities and towns.
» Read article            

EJ-5
Biomass power rules leave 35 towns in industry ‘crosshairs’
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
July 31, 2021

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have let the Baker administration know that they are not happy with proposed regulations that would effectively protect environmental justice communities and surrounding areas from new wood-burning power generation facilities while singling out just 35 towns as possible plant hosts.

In April, the Baker administration announced that its proposed updates to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations would prohibit biomass projects from qualifying for the RPS program if they are located within an environmental justice community or within five miles of an environmental justice community.

The latest version of that plan got a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Friday, with Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock detailing the proposed changes for lawmakers.

The RPS governs the increasing amount of clean energy that utilities and municipal light plants must purchase each year. State law requires that DOER make biomass facilities eligible for the RPS program and rules that have been in place since 2012 make only efficient combined-heat-and-power biomass plants eligible to sell renewable energy credits into the RPS market.

But once each environmental justice community and its corresponding five-mile buffer was mapped out, about 90 percent of the state’s land area was excluded.

That leaves just 10 percent of the state — a stretch of communities west of the Connecticut River and along the Connecticut border, a strip of coastline that runs through Cohasset, Scituate and Marshfield, and small shreds of various other towns — where future biomass facilities could be located and be eligible for incentives under the Baker administration’s policy.

“It doesn’t matter where a facility is sited in Massachusetts or elsewhere, the science still says no,” Sen. Jo Comerford said, referring to the fact that biomass generation pollutes more than other sources like solar. “The logic here in these regulations is tortured. A biomass plant cited more than five miles away from the nearest environmental justice community is not any greener than a biomass plant in Springfield. The location of the facility has never been a factor in RPS class one eligibility. Class one should be reserved for the cleanest energy sources.”
» Read article            

biomass pretzel logic
Proposed biomass limits restrict new plants in 90 percent of state
Remaining 35 communities worried about pollution
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
July 30, 2021

MONTHS AFTER THE Baker administration pulled the plug on plans for a controversial new biomass plant in Springfield, state environmental officials proposed new regulations that would drastically limit where biomass plants can be located.

The rules promulgated by the Department of Energy Resources in April say new biomass plants located in or within five miles of an environmental justice community will not qualify as a renewable energy source under a state program, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or RPS, that requires energy producers to obtain a certain amount of energy from renewable sources. Financially, that would likely make it impossible for a company to locate a plant there. Environmental justice communities are generally poor communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution.

Practically, Massachusetts has adopted an expansive definition of environmental justice communities, which means that about 90 percent of the state is within five miles of one of these communities. Most of the remaining places where biomass would be eligible for the incentive are in rural Western Massachusetts.

The restrictions, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing on Friday, are angering representatives of the few communities that could still be targeted to host biomass plants.

 “If we’re going to regulate biomass out of 90 percent of the Commonwealth, we might as well make it ineligible for [incentive programs] across the entire Commonwealth,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who represents 17 towns where biomass would remain eligible. Hinds worries that the towns in his district will be aggressively pursued by biomass companies, and he worries about pollution.

Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat who represents three eligible communities, said she has long believed biomass should not be eligible as a renewable energy source because of the pollution it creates – which makes it less “green” than wind or solar power. Comerford said she agrees with DOER’s decision to keep biomass out of environmental justice communities. But she said retaining eligibility in 10 percent of the state puts DOER “in a pretzel-like argument.”

“It’s saying biomass in environmental justice communities is bad, but biomass in Leyden is good,” Comerford said.
» Read article          
» Watch TUE hearing video           

» More about biomass                

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Weekly News Check-In 5/14/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

Several narratives converged this week, making this collection of articles feel tightly related. The main topic is climate change. A new UN report stresses the urgency of immediately curbing methane emissions, especially from the extraction, transport, and use of natural gas. It amounts to a clear argument against the “bridge fuel” concept, and recommends a halt to all new gas infrastructure projects.

That is exactly what appears to be playing out in Peabody, MA, where strong local objections to the municipal utility’s plans for a new gas-powered peaking power plant prompted a pause in the project’s development so that carbon-free alternatives can be considered.

Elsewhere, efforts continue to scuttle ongoing pipeline projects, including calls to defund Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota.

This urgency to “kick gas” and other fuels doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Local economies and lots of jobs depend on pipelines, and shutting them down often affects interstate and international agreements. While we remain dependent on the fossil fuels that pipelines carry, their vulnerabilities to cyber attack pose ongoing risks of major economic disruption. The abrupt shutdown of Colonial Pipeline’s east coast fuel distribution network drove that point home this week.

Meanwhile, the future of clean energy came a step closer this week with Federal approval for the Vineyard Wind project. This marks the start of a massive buildup of U.S. offshore wind power. And because the green economy is just as competitive as the dirty one, Massachusetts already finds its lead position challenged as other states vie to provide materials, services, and labor for that emerging market.

Another week, and another report on a technology breakthrough in the race for solid state EV batteries. Researchers at Harvard report that their innovative, multi-layered lithium-metal battery cell solves a key stability problem that will allow the batteries to cycle many thousands of times without degradation.

Wrapping up, we offer a straightforward description of fracking, the fossil fuel extraction technique responsible for a surge in natural gas production over the past decade, along with unprecedented gas infrastructure build-out and disastrous releases of methane from every step in the process.

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

— The NFGiM Team (Note: taking two weeks off – back with you on June 4th)

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

electric meters
Peabody Power Plant Opponents Cheer Pause In Project
The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company says it will delay the project for 30 days to reassess and explore alternatives.
By Scott Souza, Patch
May 11, 2021

PEABODY, MA — Elected officials and climate advocacy groups cheered the “pause” announced Tuesday in the proposed gas power plant project in Peabody near the Danvers line.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, which had pushed the plant to satisfy surge capacity requirements for Peabody Municipal Light and the region, said Tuesday morning its board of directors authorized the 30-day “pause” during a special meeting held on Monday.

It said the delay was to address concerns brought before the board, while also “considering available options to fulfill its participants’ required capacity obligations under ISO New England rules.”

The halt comes amid recent outcry from North Shore residents and public officials about safety, quality of life and environmental concerns surrounding the project that was first proposed five years ago.

State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers), who represents Danvers and West Peabody, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities asking for a review of the proposed plant based on the “environmental burden” the region already bears, including Route 128, a propane company, and a pipeline.

The power company had said the new plant was needed to provide emergency surge capacity in the case of a catastrophic event — such as what happened this winter in Texas when renewal forms of energy such as wind and solar were not considered reliable enough to meet demand follow a large snowstorm and ensuing freeze.

But on Tuesday MMWEC CEO Ron DeCurzio said the board of directors determined it is worth reexamining whether the needs can be met without an additional fossil fuel plant.
» Read article       

stealthy
Doctors cite health risks from new plant
87 physicians against natural power project in Peabody
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
May 11, 2021

PEABODY — Regina LaRoque, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the past year has taught her an incredible amount about the overlap between respiratory diseases and air pollution.

“Being exposed to air pollution actually puts you at increased risk for COVID, and we need to be speaking out about these associations so people understand that polluting our air is dangerous for people’s health,” LaRoque, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said.

This is one of the many reasons she was one of 87 Massachusetts physicians to sign a letter opposing the construction of a natural gas-powered peaking power plant in Peabody. The doctors cite both health and environmental concerns.

The letter states the proposed plant is “a project that expands natural gas and oil infrastructure, threatens the health of the surrounding community, and is in direct conflict with Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas reduction mandate.” In addition, the letter states the plant “is not needed as the demand for natural gas is declining and cleaner energy sources are becoming available.”

The letter, written primarily by LaRoque, is addressed to Charles Orphanos, the general manager of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant and a director at Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company. The proposed facility would be built on city property at PMLP’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park, and operated by MMWEC.

PMLP and MMWEC say the plant, which would help provide energy capacity for customers at peak demand times, is needed and has to be a reliable source of energy that’s not dependent upon weather patterns.
» Read article       

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

pipeline dilemmaBiden’s Pipeline Dilemma: How to Build a Clean Energy Future While Shoring Up the Present’s Carbon-Intensive Infrastructure
After Colonial’s cyber-attack and shutdown, he can’t ignore pipelines’ problems, but environmental groups want more aggressive action.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
May 14, 2021

Even as President Joe Biden worked this week to shore up support for his push to invest $2 trillion in a new energy future for the United States, his administration found itself bombarded with the harsh realities of the nation’s oil-dependent present.

More than a half-dozen federal agencies scrambled to contain fallout from a cyber-attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest petroleum products conduit, just as the start of the nation’s peak driving season approaches. Panic buying triggered gasoline shortages and price spikes all along the East Coast before Colonial restarted the line Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a legal and international conflict escalated in Michigan over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ordered shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5, a 68-year-old oil pipeline on the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac that transports oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands. Another Enbridge tar sands pipeline project in Minnesota, Line 3, has become a flash point for environmental and Indigenous groups that want the Biden administration to intervene to stop construction. And a court ruling could come any day opening a new chapter in the six-year battle over the Dakota Access pipeline. Even though President Donald Trump pushed that project to completion, a court-ordered expanded environmental review is now in the hands of the Biden administration.

Throughout his campaign, Biden embraced the most ambitious climate platform ever advanced by a U.S. presidential nominee, without taking a stand on oil and gas pipeline investment. The events of the past week make clear that he won’t be able to avoid the issue, even though it threatens to divide his political coalition. Labor stayed with Biden even though he pledged to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a project they supported, but which had become emblematic of climate activists’ drive against fossil fuel expansion. But after fulfilling his Keystone pledge on his first day in office, Biden stayed away from pipelines, focusing instead on a message with appeal to both unions and environmentalists: that a transition to clean energy would be an engine of blue-collar job creation.

“They’re not focused on the supply side, as much as they are on the demand side,” said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future. “So the policies that they have been outlining have to do with, for example, deploying more electric vehicles, which would reduce demand for oil. And so by reducing demand for oil, you’re reducing the need to build additional pipelines and operate existing ones.”

However, U.S. oil consumption is nearly back to its pre-pandemic level of 20 million barrels per day, most of it flowing at some point through the nation’s more than 190,000 miles of petroleum pipeline. More than half of that network was built before 1970. Even as Biden seeks to build an entirely new energy infrastructure, some of those pipelines are going to wear out or, as in Colonial’s case, face unexpected disruption.

“Regardless of your position on climate change,” said Raimi, “shutting down certain pipelines and doing it without planning can cause a lot of problems.”
» Read article       

showing its ageEnbridge continues Straits pipeline operation, defying Gov. Whitmer’s deadline
By Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press
May 12, 2021

In defiance of an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to cease operations by Wednesday, Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge continued to flow 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5, its controversial, 68-year-old twin pipelines on the Straits of Mackinac lake bottom.

Whitmer on Tuesday, in a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said continued operation of the line after Wednesday “constitutes an intentional trespass” and that the company would do so “at its own risk.”

“If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” she said.

Whitmer in November moved to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement to situate the pipelines on state-controlled bottomlands near where Great Lakes Michigan and Huron connect, citing repeated violations of the easement’s terms on pipeline safety measures and an unreasonable risk to the Great Lakes from the aging pipes’ continued operation. The governor gave Enbridge 180 days to arrange for shutdown of the pipes, a deadline that ends Wednesday.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

CYBERSECURITY

fuel jugular
‘Jugular’ of the U.S. fuel pipeline system shuts down after cyberattack
The infiltration of a major fuel pipeline is “the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of.”
By GLORIA GONZALEZ, BEN LEFEBVRE and ERIC GELLER, Politico
May 8, 2021

The main fuel supply line to the U.S. East Coast has shut down indefinitely after the pipeline’s operator suffered what is believed to be the largest successful cyberattack on oil infrastructure in the country’s history — presenting a danger of spiking gasoline prices and a fresh challenge to President Joe Biden’s pledges to secure the nation against threats.

The attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which runs 5,500 miles and provides nearly half the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used on the East Coast, most immediately affected some of the company’s business-side computer systems — not the systems that directly run the pipelines themselves. The Georgia-based company said it shut down the pipelines as a precaution and has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to investigate the incident, which it confirmed was a ransomware attack. It first disclosed the shutdown late Friday and said it has also contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.

Biden received a briefing on the incident Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government “is working actively to assess the implications of this incident, avoid disruption to supply, and help the company restore pipeline operations as quickly as possible.”

A shutdown that lasts more than a few days could send gasoline prices in the Southeastern U.S. spiking above $3 a gallon, market analysts said. That could deepen the political risks the incident poses for Biden, stealing momentum from his efforts to center the nation’s energy agenda on promoting cleaner sources and confronting climate change.

That means much depends on how quickly Colonial can restart the pipelines — which depends in large part on whether the company’s cyber consultants can determine that it’s safe to do so.

“They’ll learn that in the first 24 to 72 hours,” said Rob Lee, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Dragos and an expert in the risks to industrial computer systems. He added that if the attack was limited to Colonial’s business computer systems, “I think it’s going to be relatively short-lived.”
» Read article       

» More about cybersecurity

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

DefundLine3
Climate and Indigenous Protesters Across 4 Continents Pressure Banks to #DefundLine3
“Those who financially back Enbridge are directly implicated in its crimes,” says a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer. “To put it bluntly, blood is on their hands.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 7, 2021

From fake oil spills in Washington, D.C. and New York City to a “people mural” in Seattle spelling out “Defund Line 3,” climate and Indigenous protesters in 50 U.S. cities and across seven other countries spanning four continents took to the streets on Friday for a day of action pushing 20 banks to ditch the controversial tar sands pipeline.

“Against the backdrop of rising climate chaos, the continued bankrolling of Line 3 and similar oil and gas infrastructure worldwide is fueling gross and systemic violations of human rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights at a global scale,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“It’s time for the big banks to recognize that they can and will be held accountable for their complicity in those violations,” Muffett added. His organization is part of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, over 150 groups that urge asset managers, banks, and insurers to stop funding climate destruction.

The global protests on Friday follow on-the-ground actions that have, at times, successfully halted construction of Canada-based Enbridge’s Line 3 project, which is intended to replace an old pipeline that runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota, to Wisconsin. The new pipeline’s route crosses Anishinaabe treaty lands.

Simone Senogles, a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network, declared that “no amount of greenwashing and PR can absolve these banks from violating Indigenous rights and the desolation of Mother Earth.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

first position
Massachusetts sees more competition to bulk up offshore wind infrastructure

The state got an early jump on offshore wind development, but recent onshore infrastructure investments in New York, New Jersey and Virginia threaten to cut into the state’s claim as the leading hub for the industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 6, 2021

Massachusetts faces growing competition from other states trying to take advantage of the anticipated surge in offshore wind development by building onshore infrastructure to support the burgeoning industry.

Vineyard Wind, which would be the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind development, is expected to receive a major federal approval within weeks, kicking off the growth of a long-simmering industry in the region. Anticipating this project in the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the state has made major investments in developing facilities to support the industry.

Recently, however, other states across the Northeast have announced their own ambitious plans for port infrastructure and economic development, and some in Massachusetts are feeling the pressure to confirm the state’s position as a leader.

“The opinion is relatively widely held that we could’ve been doing more in the last few years to maintain and increase our lead,” said Eric Hines, director of the Tufts University offshore wind engineering graduate program. “There’s a collective sense of urgency right now to really get serious about investing for the future on the land side.”

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the offshore wind conversation since 2001, when businessman Jim Gordon proposed Cape Wind, a 468-megawatt wind farm that would have been located in the waters south of Cape Cod. Facing harsh opposition from powerful opponents, that plan was eventually defeated.

The state’s current push for offshore wind began in 2016 with the passage of a law calling for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy. In 2018, Vineyard Wind was awarded the contract for the first 800 megawatts; the following year Mayflower Wind was selected to provide the next 800 megawatts. Since then, Massachusetts has upped its total planned procurements to a total of 5,600 megawatts.

Along the way, public and private parties in the state have been developing support facilities on land. In the city of New Bedford, on the south coast, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center developed a $113 million marine commerce terminal designed specifically for use by the offshore wind industry. In Charlestown, a waterfront neighborhood of Boston, the clean energy center built a $40 million facility for testing turbine blades, the largest such facility in North America.

At the same time, other states joined in the pursuit of offshore wind. Along the East Coast, states have committed to procuring some 29,000 megawatts of offshore wind, according to the American Clean Power Association.

These states have also started planning port facilities and other onshore infrastructure to support the industry. New Jersey, which has aiming for 7,500 megawatts by 2035, is planning an offshore wind port for 200 acres along the Delaware River in the southern part of the state with an expected cost of $300 million to $500 million. The state has also pledged another $250 million to build a manufacturing facility for turbine components.
» Read article       

mega-warehouse smog
E-Commerce Mega-Warehouses, a Smog Source, Face New Pollution Rule
A plan aimed at the nation’s largest cluster of warehouses is designed to spur electrification of pollution-spewing diesel trucks and could set a template for restrictions elsewhere.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 8, 2021

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of warehouses — a hub of thousands of mammoth structures, served by belching diesel trucks, that help feed America’s booming appetite for online shopping and also contribute to the worst air pollution in the country.

On Friday, hundreds of residents flocked to an online hearing to support a landmark rule that would force the warehouses to clean up their emissions. The new rule, affecting about 3,000 of the largest warehouses in the area used by Amazon and other retailers, requires operators to slash emissions from the trucks that serve the site or take other measures to improve air quality.

“I’m just tired of living with warehouses, trucks — driving down the Sierra, having trucks pull up, having to put down your windows,” said Daniel Reyes, a resident and member of a group that has long sought changes like these. “I’m tired of seeing warehouses next to schools. I’m over it, man.”

The rule, which was adopted late Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s 13-member board in a 9-4 vote, sets a precedent for regulating the exploding e-commerce industry, which has grown even more during the pandemic and has led to a spectacular increase in warehouse construction.

Vast warehouse hubs have sprung up across the country, including in the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, as have sprawling installations in New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.

The changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

shut down the plantScrap new gas infrastructure, says UN report
Methane is a huge culprit in the climate crisis
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 6, 2021

A major new United Nations report makes it extremely clear that relying on natural gas won’t help the world avoid climate catastrophe. Once seen as a “bridge fuel” that could provide a less-polluting alternative to coal and other fossil fuels, growing evidence shows that gas is a bigger culprit in the climate crisis than previously thought.

Though it’s been attractively branded as “natural” gas, the fuel is primarily plain old methane. When burned, the fuel does produce less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. The problem is that extracting so-called natural gas and bringing it to homes and buildings leads to a lot of methane leaks. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times more power to warm the planet than carbon dioxide especially in the first couple decades after it’s unleashed on the atmosphere. In fact, methane has been responsible for nearly a third of global warming that’s already taken place.

Human-caused methane emissions will need to drop by 45 percent this decade in order to avoid worst-case climate scenarios and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the United Nations report warns. Expanding natural gas consumption and infrastructure would jeopardize those targets.

“One thing the report calls for very strongly is not building any more of this fossil fuel infrastructure,” Drew Shindell, lead author of the report and a professor at Duke University, said in a press conference. “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Fortunately, achieving those methane cuts is affordable and possible with existing technology, according to the report. For starters, fossil fuel industries need to do a better job of preventing leaks. But that alone won’t be enough. In the long run, keeping the current fossil fuel infrastructure would derail efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. And while emerging technologies that capture carbon dioxide from polluting power plants might do some good, “there are multiple risks that this technology will not work, will be too expensive, and/or will have so many side effects that society will not want to use it,” according to the report. Bottom line: the report calls for a sweeping transition to renewable energy, which it says would “remove the bulk of methane emissions” in the long term.
» Read article       
» Read the UN report

new normal
There’s a New Definition of ‘Normal’ for Weather
By Henry Fountain and Jason Kao, New York Times
May 12, 2021

The United States is getting redder.

No, not that kind of red. (We’ll leave that to the political pundits.) We’re talking about the thermometer kind.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week issued its latest “climate normals”: baseline data of temperature, rain, snow and other weather variables collected over three decades at thousands of locations across the country.

The normals — which are available on annual, seasonal, monthly, daily and even hourly timescales — are invaluable to farmers, energy companies and other businesses, water managers, transportation schedulers and any one who plans their activities in coming weeks or months based on what is likely, weather-wise. They come in handy, too, if you want to know how to pack for Oshkosh, say, in October, or if you’re past the last frost date and wondering if it’s safe to put out some tomato seedlings.

“What we’re trying to do with climate normals is put today’s weather in the proper context,” said Michael Palecki, who manages the project at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Because the normals have been produced since 1930, they also say a lot about the weather over a much longer term. That is, they show how the climate has changed in the United States, as it has across the world, as a result of emissions of heat-trapping gases over more than a century.

“We’re really seeing the fingerprints of climate change in the new normals,” Dr. Palecki said. “We’re not trying to hide that.”

Not that they could. The maps showing the new temperature normals every 10 years, compared with the 20th century average, get increasingly redder.

“There’s a huge difference in temperature over time, as we go from cooler climates in the early part of the 20th century to ubiquitously warmer climates,” he said.

The change is especially drastic between the new normals and the previous ones, from 2010. “Almost every place in the U.S. has warmed,” Dr. Palecki said.

The temperature results are in keeping with what we’ve long known: that the world has warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1900, and that the pace of warming has accelerated in recent decades.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Vineyard Wind approved
Biden administration approves Vineyard Wind project, first major offshore wind farm in U.S.
By Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal
May 11, 2021

The Biden administration has given the green light to Vineyard Wind I, a project of 62 turbines to be built in waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts that would be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in America.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was on the call with reporters Tuesday to announce final approval of the long-awaited $2.8-billion project that would be built between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, produce enough power for about 400,000 homes and go into operation in 2023. As Rhode Island governor, Raimondo oversaw construction of a five-turbine demonstration project off Block Island that in 2016 became the first offshore wind farm in the nation.

“In the process of doing that, I experienced first-hand how to make these projects a reality,” she said. “As governor, I saw that this is complicated to do it right.”

The 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, by proving the viability of an energy resource that had to that point been tapped only in Europe, was expected to usher in a wave of development on this side of the Atlantic. But in the nearly five years since it started sending power to electric consumers in Rhode Island, the offshore wind industry has stuttered forward in fits and starts.

While a fiercely contested auction in 2018 that raised an astounding $405 million merely for leasing rights off southern New England signaled a newfound confidence in the future of offshore wind, the delays experienced by Vineyard Wind in the face of opposition by commercial fishermen and under a less-than-friendly Trump administration were a sobering reminder that political support would be critical for anything to move forward.

The winds shifted with the election of Joe Biden last November and his adoption of a sweeping climate agenda that has prioritized the development of alternatives to fossil fuel-fired sources of power generation.

In March, the Biden administration announced an aggressive plan to boost offshore wind, setting a goal of installing enough turbines to generate 30,000 megawatts of energy by 2030. Approval of the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is the strongest sign yet of the renewed federal commitment.
» Read article       

H2 fueling station
‘Universal’ faith in hydrogen could lock world into fossil fuel reliance: German study
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concludes electrification should lead with H2 reserved for decarbonising air travel and heavy-emitting industries
By Darius Snieckus , Recharge News
May 6, 2021

Hydrogen should be reserved for focused use in decarbonising air travel and the world’s heavy-emitting industries or it could lock the world into longer-term fossil fuel reliance and drive up greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new German study.

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concluded that hydrogen should only be used in sectors that “cannot be electrified” as production of the carrier is still “too inefficient, costly and [its] availability too uncertain, to broadly replace fossil fuels” in running cars or heating homes.

“For most sectors, directly using electricity for instance in battery electric cars or heat pumps makes more economic sense. Universally relying on hydrogen-based fuels instead and keeping combustion technologies threatens to lock in a further fossil fuel dependency and GHGs,” said PIK’s Falko Euckerdt, who led the study.

“Hydrogen-based fuels can be a great clean energy carrier – yet great are also their costs and associated risks. Fuels based on hydrogen as a universal climate solution might be a bit of false promise. While they’re wonderfully versatile, it should not be expected that they broadly replace fossil fuels.”

Hydrogen-based fuels will “likely be scarce and not competitive for at least another decade”, said Euckerdt.

“Betting on their wide-ranging use would likely increase fossil fuel dependency: if we cling to combustion technologies and hope to feed them with hydrogen-based fuels…then we [might] end up further burning oil and gas and emit GHGs. This could endanger short- and long-term climate targets.”
» Read article       

public DER
How New York Could Build Publicly Owned Electricity Without Taking Over Dirty Plants
A candidate for New York City comptroller has a novel idea for a municipally owned solar utility in a city with little space for giant panel farms.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
May 5, 2021

As rising utility rates squeeze working-class New Yorkers and power plant owners seek to swap oil for other fossil fuels, calls have mounted in the nation’s largest city to remove the profit motive altogether and seize the means of electricity production.

But a government takeover of the city’s utility infrastructure would be no simple feat ― steep costs, lengthy legal battles, and that’s before you get to the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives. Blackouts, electrical accidents and pollution would become a political liability for anyone in power.

But Brad Lander, the progressive Brooklyn city councilman now running for comptroller, thinks he’s found a way to skip past that and start generating clean, publicly owned electricity almost immediately.

Lander envisions spending $500 million over the next eight years to install 25,000 solar panels on rooftops citywide. The city would own and operate the panels through a municipally run utility that, given how much electricity it would generate, could negotiate better rates with Consolidated Edison, the private utility giant that controls the city’s transmission lines.

The new city-owned entity would pay rent to landlords and homeowners in exchange for rooftop space and take on all the installation costs, making it an easy sell.

“It seems so obvious, yet no one in the U.S. that I can find at any scale is doing this,” Lander said. “It seems so straightforward, given, on the one hand, an appetite for public power and, on the other, the clarity that we need to do a giant expansion of rooftop solar.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium-metal brakethrough
Battery breakthrough for electric cars
Harvard researchers design long-lasting, stable, solid-state lithium battery to fix 40-year problem
By Leah Burrows, SEAS Communications, in The Harvard Gazette
May 12, 2021

Long-lasting, quick-charging batteries are essential to the expansion of the electric vehicle market, but today’s lithium-ion batteries fall short of what’s needed — they’re too heavy, too expensive and take too long to charge.

For decades, researchers have tried to harness the potential of solid-state, lithium-metal batteries, which hold substantially more energy in the same volume and charge in a fraction of the time compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries.

“A lithium-metal battery is considered the holy grail for battery chemistry because of its high capacity and energy density,” said Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). “But the stability of these batteries has always been poor.”

Now, Li and his team have designed a stable, lithium-metal, solid-state battery that can be charged and discharged at least 10,000 times — far more cycles than have been previously demonstrated — at a high current density. The researchers paired the new design with a commercial high energy density cathode material.

The research is published in Nature.

The big challenge with lithium-metal batteries has always been chemistry. Lithium batteries move lithium ions from the cathode to the anode during charging. When the anode is made of lithium metal, needle-like structures called dendrites form on the surface. These structures grow like roots into the electrolyte and pierce the barrier separating the anode and cathode, causing the battery to short or even catch fire.

To overcome this challenge, Li and his team designed a multilayer battery that sandwiches different materials of varying stabilities between the anode and cathode. This multilayer, multimaterial battery prevents the penetration of lithium dendrites not by stopping them altogether but rather by controlling and containing them.
» Read article       
» Obtain the research paper

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking 101Fracking 101: What You Should Know
By EcoWatch
May. 11, 2021

What is fracking?

Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term “hydraulic fracturing.”

Fracking emerged as an unconventional, “relatively new” and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.

Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it’s a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.

Why is fracking so controversial?

Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the “full speed ahead” fracking juggernaut.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 4/30/21

Welcome back.

First, a quick note that the Weymouth compressor station is attempting another startup, following three emergency shut-downs with large natural gas releases – all within the first eight months of operation. Efforts continue to shutter the facility permanently. A story with similar plot lines is gathering momentum a little farther north, where six-year-old plans to build a nat-gas peaking power plant at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River electrical substation is finally getting a public hearing – and an earful from folks who complain that plans have progressed without appropriate public disclosure and comment. If constructed, the plant would be instantly obsolete relative to battery storage, a liability against Massachusetts’ aggressive emissions reduction goals, and a potentially expensive stranded asset on Peabody MLP’s books.

Other New England nat-gas infrastructure projects are attracting protests, with considerable activity focused on the proposed Killingly, CT generating plant.

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have moved to support Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s fight to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline where it crosses the environmentally-sensitive Straits of Mackinac. They submitted an amicus brief in U.S. district court, arguing that jurisdiction in this case belongs at the state – not federal – level. 

In support of the fossil fuel divestment movement, we posted a story aimed at college students, describing how to get your institution to commit. And a related article reporting that student divestment organizers from all eight Ivy League colleges have joined forces to define timelines and acceptable levels of divestment.

Some fossil fuel workers are already finding good jobs in the green economy. Oil workers from the Gulf coast are applying their specialized skills to the booming offshore wind energy sector, set to employ thousands.

An upcoming UN climate report will stress the critical importance of quickly reigning in methane emissions. While methane enters the atmosphere from many sources – both natural and industrial – the oil and gas industry is a major emitter that can significantly reduce its methane emissions by implementing better practices. To that end, the fossil fuel industry may welcome the recent U.S. Senate vote to reinstate methane rules dropped by the Trump administration. Now legitimate operators can’t be undercut by those who reduce costs by allowing excessive emissions during extraction and transport.

It’s easy to sign up for a clean energy plan from electricity suppliers who simply buy enough renewable energy credits to cover their needs. But the electrons powering their customers’ appliances may still be produced in local fossil fuel plants. It’s much harder to commit to sourcing “24/7 clean electricity”, which requires the use of actual renewable energy electrons – and the Biden administration just put the federal government on course to do that.

We have updates on energy storage technologies, and we take the long view on clean transportation, looking at the future of carbon-free ships and electric aircraft, including an important article from last year describing the engineering breakthrough that opens the path to reliable, affordable, solid-state EV batteries.

This week’s wrap-up includes a helpful piece explaining how woody biomass sourced from American forests became the “zero-emissions” fuel of choice in European power plants. And early research indicates that bacteria might be useful in removing some microplastics from the aquatic environment.

  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Compressor station coming back online after April 6 shutdown
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
April 27, 2021

WEYMOUTH — The energy company that owns the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River plans to start the facility back up, several weeks after the third unplanned gas release at the site since September. 

Enbridge, the Canadian-based energy company that built the compressor station, notified the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection this week that it may vent gas from the facility between April 29 and May 5 while it brings it back into service.

Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in an email that the process will take a few days and involve ” controlled venting of natural gas through a stack specifically designed” for venting.

“We are planning to use advanced specialized equipment to minimize the volume of natural gas vented into the atmosphere,” he said. “In order to ensure awareness, we have notified state and local officials of these activities. We are proceeding with public health and safety as our priority.”

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety risks.

On April 6, the compressor unit had an issue and shut off to prevent equipment damage, Bergeron said. The facility then vented natural gas, which Enbridge was required to report to MassDEP. Bergeron said Enbridge has [resolved] the issue.
» Read article                 

» More about the Weymouth compressor          

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Residents, officials speak out against plant
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
April 27, 2021

PEABODY — For Mireille Bejjani, the Department of Public Utilities hearing on Monday morning felt like the first time Peabody and other North Shore residents could voice their concerns about plans to build a 60-megawatt gas-powered plant in the city.

“A lot of folks said this morning this process has been marked by a lack of transparency and public engagement,” said Bejjani, a community organizer for Community Action Works, a nonprofit that works with communities to prevent and clean up pollution. The group has been holding community meetings to educate people about the proposal. 

“This hearing, while there were members of the public able to attend and speak, that does not correct all those years where the public wasn’t included,” Bejjani said, “and there is a lot more work to be done in order to make this a fully transparent process.”

At the hearing, more than 20 people — including several local and state officials — spoke against Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s years-old plan to build a gas peaking power plant at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park.
» Read article                 

» More about peaking power plants          

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


As New England Wind Power Grows, Local Activists Try To Halt Natural Gas Projects
By J.D. Allen & Patrick Skahill, NHPR
April 21, 2021

The fight against fossil fuel expansion in New England has a new front in Killingly, Connecticut. Climate activists want the state to reject a proposed natural gas plant there, which is tied to the company behind a controversial pipeline development currently underway in Minnesota and a recently completed natural gas line in New England.

Connecticut’s activists say construction of new climate-warming infrastructure like this is out of step with the clean energy goals of most New England’s governors and President Joe Biden.

This month, a group of climate activists went door-to-door to banks in New Haven, Connecticut, to tell management to divest from energy projects that contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.

Melinda Tuhus, a long-time climate activist, and the group made stops at TD Bank, Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, all banks that have provided financial support to the energy company Enbridge, which is currently working to upgrade a 1,000-mile pipeline and have it carry tar sands oil from Canada across Indigenous land in Minnesota to a crude oil transportation hub on Lake Superior.

“People haven’t been sitting down — doing incredibly creative, courageous and non-violent civil disobedience and halting construction for various periods of time,” Tuhus said.

To activists, the danger — in addition to the destruction of tribal territory — is that the breakdown of sands oil into gasoline releases up to three times the carbon emissions of crude oil.
» Read article                 

» More about protests and actions           

 

PIPELINES


17 state leaders join Michigan’s plea for state sovereignty in Line 5 battle
By Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News
April 23, 2021

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have taken Michigan’s side in its fight to have a state court, not a federal judge, decide whether the state has the authority to shutter Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The states submitted an amicus brief earlier this month, arguing that federal courts don’t have the jurisdiction to rule on disputes over state property rights even if the pipeline alleged to be in violation of those property rights is federally regulated.

Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Ingham County Circuit Court last year to uphold Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s revocation of Enbridge’s easement in the Straits of Mackinac as well as her order to shutter the pipeline by May 12. 

But Enbridge removed Nessel’s case to federal court, where the Canadian oil giant also sued to stop the closure on the premise that regulation of the pipeline is exclusive to federal authorities, namely the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Nessel has asked U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to send the case back to Ingham County Circuit Court. She was joined Friday by 15 attorneys general and two governors who also believe a state court should decide the issue. 

“Despite federal safety regulations for pipelines, states are free to exercise their public trust powers to determine whether and where pipelines may cross their sovereign lands,” the states said in their filing. 

In a Friday statement, Whitmer said Enbridge’s argument that Michigan has no further say in the pipeline’s regulation after signing the 1953 easement is “absurd and antidemocratic.”

“I’m thrilled to have the support of so many other governors and attorneys general who recognize the important rights states have over the location of pipelines within their boundaries,” Whitmer said.
» Read article                 

» More about pipelines           

 

DIVESTMENT


How to get your university to divest from fossil fuels
By Siobhan Neela-Stock, Mashable
April 28, 2021

University of Michigan students know a little something about how difficult it can be to get a resistant administration to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Even convincing the school to greenlight a committee to just explore the issue was a hair-pulling hassle. In 2015, a group of University of Michigan law students tried to do just that but “basically got the middle finger from the university,” says Jonathan Morris, a University of Michigan Ph.D. student who has long been involved in divestment efforts.

It took years of demonstrating, building coalitions, and hard work, but this year that middle finger turned into a hard-won handshake. The University of Michigan has committed to discontinue its investments in fossil fuel companies and approved $140 million in renewable energy investments. 

The University of Michigan isn’t the only one to cave to student demands. Universities are divesting billions from fossil fuels because of student action. The groups behind those campaigns, which stretch across the globe from the U.S. to the UK to Australia, give similar advice if you want to encourage your university to divest too: Keep applying pressure and don’t give up.

Over half of the UK’s more than 150 universities have made some sort of divestment commitment. In the U.S., which has roughly 4,000 colleges and universities, about 60 have done the same, according to data compiled by Fossil Free, a divestment tracking project by environmental advocacy group 350.org. 

Many schools argue they won’t divest because they have a responsibility to increase income from their donations, and they are working to find climate change solutions via university research versus withholding their pocketbooks, the Associated Press reported. Some also generally contend that as investors in fossil fuel companies they can develop stakeholder sway over energy company decisions.

But J. Clarke of People & Planet, a social and environmental justice group that works with students to get UK universities to divest, sees a different motivation. 

“I think the biggest reason why universities don’t want to divest is the biggest reason why students do,” says Clarke. “It’s a political statement…  [Universities] don’t want to be seen as taking a side.”
» Read article                


All eight Ivy League student governments sign resolution calling for fossil fuel divestment
By Elizabeth Meisenzahl and Delaney Parks, The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 28, 2021

All eight Ivy League student body presidents signed a joint resolution authored by Penn’s Student Sustainability Association calling for each school to fully divest from fossil fuels.

The resolution, which also contains contributions from Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly, considers full divestment to be an end to new investments by Fiscal Year 2021, and complete divestment by Fiscal Year 2025. The resolution defines divestment as no investments in any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies; in companies that extract, process, transmit, or refine coal, oil, or gas; or in any utilities whose primary business function it is to burn fossil fuels for electricity.         

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy did not respond to a request for comment on whether Penn’s administration is aware of the resolution or if it plans to act on it. 

College junior and SSAP Co-Chair Vyshnavi Kosigishroff said Penn’s 2020 announcement not to invest in coal and tar sands, as well as its recent commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from endowment investments by 2050, are misleading and insufficient.                

“SSAP, generally speaking, considers this announcement [of divestment by 2050] to be a lot of greenwashing, not really a commitment to anything, and really unambitious. [It] continues the narrative of Penn being really far behind our peer institutions,” Kosigishroff said.

Climate activists from SSAP and Fossil Free Penn criticized Penn’s plan for continuing to invest in fossil fuels. Penn’s plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts it on the same timeline as that of the oil company BP.    
» Read article                

» More about divestment        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry
More than a decade after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Gulf Coast oil workers are transitioning into offshore wind.
By Sara Sneath, Drilled News
April 20, 2021

“The biggest misconception about transitioning from offshore drilling to offshore wind is the idea that oil platforms can be reused to hold wind turbines,” Louisiana state Representative Joseph Orgeron said in a recent phone interview. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t designed to handle that sort of load. The weight distribution of an offshore wind turbine is like trying to mount a “pumpkin on a pole,” Orgeron said. 

To function, the vertical base needs to be stout enough to handle the movement of the blades spinning and the face rotating directions with the wind. 

But while offshore drilling platforms don’t quite work as offshore wind platforms, what can be repurposed are the workers and building techniques that have supported offshore oil drilling. A single offshore wind farm could employ more than 4,000 people during construction and 150 people long-term, according to a 2020 analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rep. Orgeron didn’t start out considering the engineering difficulties of renewable energy. He grew up in the bayous of Louisiana, the homebase for his family’s business of offshore oilfield service vessels. When the oil work started to dry up, he realized that offshore wind could help his family’s company, Montco Offshore Inc, stay afloat. 

“I was fully enamored by offshore wind,” he said. “They’ll need offshore energy production expertise to do those buildouts. The people of South Louisiana would be prime to facilitate that.”

Montco was one of several Louisiana-based companies that helped build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. But exporting Louisiana knowledge gleaned from offshore drilling was just the first step. Next, Orgeron wants to see wind farms built in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s governor supports the idea. Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a plan for renewable energy production in the Gulf.

“This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ promise of economic opportunity,” Edwards said last November. “We already have an emerging offshore wind energy industry, and Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of U.S. offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean.”
» Read article                 


The six ‘critical actions’ that every nation must take to reach net zero
Major report sets out practical pathways to hit carbon neutrality, including a ten-times-faster renewables build-out and ‘clear plans’ to phase out natural gas
By Leigh Collins, Recharge News
April 26, 2021

The global pace of the renewables build-out needs to increase by a factor of between five and seven by 2030 and by a factor of ten by the mid-2030s if the world is to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, says a new study by influential climate business think-tank Energy Transitions Commission* (ETC).

Power sectors in developed nations should reach near-total decarbonisation by the mid-2030s, with the use of coal eliminated “almost immediately” and clear plans to phase out unabated natural gas, according to the ETC report, Making Clean Electrification Possible: 30 Years to Electrify the Global Economy.

It adds that developing economies should commit to net-zero goals for 2060 and achieve full decarbonisation of their electricity sectors by the mid-2040s, phasing out existing coal plants in the 2030s and early 2040s.

Low-income countries, meanwhile, should aim to massively expand clean electricity provision without ever relying on fossil fuels for power generation.

The report also explains that there must be massive investment in transmission and distribution, the electrification of transport, heating and heavy industry, and the build-up of clean hydrogen — mainly green H2 produced from renewable energy with a small proportion of blue H2 derived from natural gas with CCS — to help decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, shipping and aviation.

This entire energy transition will require trillions of dollars of investment, but will ultimately pay for itself, “if managed effectively”, the study says.

“These feasible objectives will only be met if countries take strong action in the 2020s, setting out both what needs to be achieved by 2030 and how they will achieve it,” it explains.
» Read article                
» Read the ETC report            

» More about greening the economy           

 

CLIMATE


Halting the Vast Release of Methane Is Critical for Climate, U.N. Says
A major United Nations report will declare that slashing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is far more vital than previously thought.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
April 24, 2021

A landmark United Nations report is expected to declare that reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, will need to play a far more vital role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.

The global methane assessment, compiled by an international team of scientists, reflects a growing recognition that the world needs to start reining in planet-warming emissions more rapidly, and that abating methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, will be critical in the short term.

It follows new data that showed that both carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere reached record highs last year, even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt. The report also comes as a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that releases of methane from oil and gas production, one of the biggest sources of methane linked to human activity, may be larger than earlier estimates.

The report, a detailed summary of which was reviewed by The New York Times, singles out the fossil fuel industry as holding the greatest potential to cut its methane emissions at little or no cost. It also says that — unless there is significant deployment of unproven technologies capable of pulling greenhouse gases out of the air — expanding the use of natural gas is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement.

The reason methane would be particularly valuable in the short-term fight against climate change: While methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, it is also relatively short-lived, lasting just a decade or so in the atmosphere before breaking down. That means cutting new methane emissions today, and starting to reduce methane concentrations in the atmosphere, could more quickly help the world meet its midcentury targets for fighting global warming.

By contrast, carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So while it remains critical to keep reducing carbon emissions, which make up the bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions, it would take until the second half of the century to see the climate effects.
» Read article                    

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY


Why the federal government is buying into the promise of 24/7 clean power
How “24/7 clean electricity” could drive a whole new era of energy use.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
April 21, 2021

Over the past decade, hundreds of cities, companies, and states have started buying renewable energy to power their Wi-Fi routers, run their refrigerators, and otherwise keep the lights on. The Empire State Building, for instance, is powered entirely by wind energy; the small city of Burlington, Vermont is run entirely on biomass, wind, solar, and hydropower; and the tech giant Google has been powering its data centers and office buildings with renewables since 2017. 

Or have they? Plenty of cities and companies are aiming to run on 100 percent clean energy, but it’s not exactly what it sounds like. The truth is that for the past several years, they’ve been trying to cut carbon emissions on what could be termed “Easy” mode. Yes, they buy enough renewable energy to run on clean power all the time, but that energy isn’t necessarily what’s providing the power for their air conditioners and microwaves at any given point in time. 

Now, however, some are pushing governments and companies to switch from “Easy” to “Hard.” They want to deploy something called “24/7 clean energy” — a goal that could drive a whole new phase of clean energy use. And they’ve just convinced the Biden administration to bring it to every single federal building in the United States.

[Michael Terrell, the director of energy at Google] says the benefit of 24/7 goals is that they guarantee clean power be available on the grid where the company or building operates (as opposed to thousands of miles away in Iowa) and they can boost demand for clean energy that isn’t wind or solar. In the long run, because solar and wind aren’t available all the time, electricity grids are going to need to be outfitted with “firm” power sources that can kick in at any time. That will push developers to build big batteries, nuclear reactors, geothermal plants pulling heat from under the Earth’s surface, or even natural gas plants with carbon capture capabilities. 

“When you’re thinking about sourcing energy in every location on a 24/7 basis, it really motivates you to think even more about how to get the electricity grids to carbon-free faster,” Terrell said.
» Read article                   


A battle to get more clean energy into New England’s electric grid is underway. Here’s what you need to know.
By Jan Ellen Spiegel, The CT Mirror
April 26, 2021

In January 2020, Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — speaking to environmental advocates attending the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters annual environmental summit — leveled this broadside at the independent system operator that runs the six-state New England electricity grid and the federal authorities that govern it:

“Because of the lack of leadership on carbon at the ISO-New England, we are at the mercy of a regional capacity market that’s driving investment in more natural gas and fossil fuel power plants that we don’t want and that we don’t need,” she said. “This is forcing us to take a serious look at the costs and benefits of participating in the ISO-New England markets.”

It was widely misunderstood.

“People interpreted that as physically leaving the grid,” Dykes said a year later. “Ratepayers have gotten a lot of benefits of more reliable and affordable power by participating in a regional grid.”

What she had been talking about was a market paradigm the ISO uses to purchase power for the grid. Not much more than a year later, she is still talking about it. And with nothing short of evangelical zeal and little deference to a potentially paralyzing pandemic, Dykes has commandeered the other five New England states, the ISO, system stakeholders and more than a little national interest into a bona fide effort to figure out how to increase renewable power, decrease the use of fossil fuels and lower costs — or at least not let them go through the roof — and keep everyone on civil terms with each other.

In Connecticut, the ISO’s rules could make it difficult for the state to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals and Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order to have a 100% clean electric grid by 2040. And it makes the clean energy the state has already approved for development even more expensive.

The proposed Killingly natural gas plant has become the poster child for the failures of the existing system. The ISO has approved it through the [Forward Capacity Market], while those concerned about climate change — including Gov. Lamont — say it’s the wrong choice and unnecessary
» Read article                 

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY STORAGE


ESS Inc’s all-iron flow battery will add long-duration storage to microgrid in Patagonia, Chile
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 28, 2021

ESS Inc, currently the only maker in the world of a commercially available flow battery using iron electrolytes, will deploy an energy storage system with more than six hours duration to a microgrid in Chile.

The company’s flow battery will be integrated with renewable energy in the microgrid, to help a local utility reduce its reliance on diesel generators in the unspoiled Patagonia plateau which extends across southern Argentina into Chile. ESS Inc will install a 300kW / 2MWh version of its recently-launched Energy Warehouse battery energy storage system (BESS) for the utility, Edelaysen.

Edalaysen’s grid is served by run-of-the-river hydroelectric turbines, but these vary seasonally in output and are not sufficient to meet customer demand all year round, so diesel is called into action several times a year. ESS Inc claimed that its battery’s installation as part of the renewable microgrid will enable Edelaysen, a subsidiary of Chilean utility group GRUPO SAESA, to cut three-quarters of the diesel generator use it currently runs. Work is already underway on the project and is expected to be completed later this year, with the battery storage system expected to last 25 years in operation.

“Our analysis showed that if they used lithium-ion batteries, Edelaysen could only shut down their diesel gensets for about three months per year. Instead, our long-duration iron flow storage system will reduce the need to run them by three times as much – the equivalent of nine months a year. That’s a huge reduction in emissions, noise and cost,” ESS Inc CEO Eric Dresselhuys — who joined the northwest US-headquartered company earlier this month — said.

ESS Inc has long argued that its systems pose far less fire risk than lithium-ion batteries but that the iron solution used for electrolyte is cheaper than the vanadium used by rival flow battery companies. Even if the electrolyte were to leak, the company has said that third-party safety research showed the contents of the battery to be basically fertiliser.
» Read article                   


GE, others see hybrid storage as ‘the future’ of grid reliability but face technology, optimization challenges
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 26, 2021

As utilities rapidly expand their renewable energy offerings, hybrid solar and storage solutions are a key technology for maintaining grid reliability, speakers said at an annual Energy Storage Association Conference last week. “Hybrids are the future,” said Mike Bowman, chief technology officer for GE’s renewable hybrids arm, adding that they’re a “natural progression” for the grid. 

The hybrid systems, which co-locate generators and batteries on the same site, have the advantage of reducing transmission and sharing on installation costs and permitting. They can also offer greater dispatch flexibility for grid operators.

However, hybrid systems are hampered by the constantly-evolving technology, the high up-front cost of the systems and uncertainty about integration into the larger grid. “Interconnection rules and tying interconnection to optimize hybrid … is something the industry is struggling with right now,” said Evan Bierman, director of energy storage product management and renewable integration for EDF Renewables.
» Read article                    

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Shipping Looks to Hydrogen as It Seeks to Ditch Bunker Fuel
Discord within oil-reliant industry over how to power the workhorses of global trade in the net zero era.
By Harry Dempsey, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
April 28, 2021

The Compagnie Belge Maritime du Congo launched its first steam-powered ship, the SS Leopold, on its maiden trip from Antwerp to Congo in 1895. Today CMB, the colonial-era group’s successor, carries commuters between the Belgian city and nearby Kruibeke on a ferry fueled by hydrogen.

“This is the fourth energy revolution in shipping—from rowing our boats to sails to steam engine to diesel engine and we have to change it once more,” said Alex Saverys, CMB chief executive and scion of one of Belgium’s oldest shipping families.

Shipping produces about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and without action its contribution is likely to rise for decades as global trade grows. The International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates the global industry, wants to at least halve its impact by 2050.

Many industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen—produced using natural gas with carbon capture or renewable electricity and whose only byproduct when combusted is water—to help steer away from polluting bunker fuel.

“There is no question whether hydrogen will be the energy carrier of shipping in 2050,” said Lasse Kristoffersen, chief executive of Norway’s Torvald Klaveness. “The question is, how do you produce it and which form do you use it as a carrier?”

Hydrogen has low energy density compared with heavy fuel oil. Storing it in its liquid form below minus 253 degrees Celsius requires heavy cryogenic tanks that take up precious space, rendering it unfeasible for large cargo ships.

“With the current state of technology, we cannot use hydrogen to fuel our vessels,” said Morten Bo Christiansen, head of decarbonization at AP Moller-Maersk, MSC’s larger rival.

However, the industry has grown increasingly optimistic about using ammonia, a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen, to fuel the workhorses of global trade without belching out greenhouse gases.

Though foul-smelling and toxic, ammonia is easy to liquify, is already transported worldwide at scale and has nearly twice the energy density of liquid hydrogen.
» Read article                   


Battery Breakthrough Gives Boost to Electric Flight and Long-Range Electric Cars
New battery technology developed at Berkeley Lab could give flight to electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and supercharge safe, long-range electric cars
By Theresa Duque, Berkeley Lab News Center
July 20, 2020

In the pursuit of a rechargeable battery that can power electric vehicles (EVs) for hundreds of miles on a single charge, scientists have endeavored to replace the graphite anodes currently used in EV batteries with lithium metal anodes.

But while lithium metal extends an EV’s driving range by 30–50%, it also shortens the battery’s useful life due to lithium dendrites, tiny treelike defects that form on the lithium anode over the course of many charge and discharge cycles. What’s worse, dendrites short-circuit the cells in the battery if they make contact with the cathode.

For decades, researchers assumed that hard, solid electrolytes, such as those made from ceramics, would work best to prevent dendrites from working their way through the cell. But the problem with that approach, many found, is that it didn’t stop dendrites from forming or “nucleating” in the first place, like tiny cracks in a car windshield that eventually spread.

Now, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, have reported in the journal Nature Materials a new class of soft, solid electrolytes – made from both polymers and ceramics – that suppress dendrites in that early nucleation stage, before they can propagate and cause the battery to fail.
» Blog editor’s note: this is an article, but I’m including it because it describes a key engineering breakthrough that opened a pathway to much better (and more sustainable) EV batteries in the near future.
» Read article                 


Bye Aerospace announces eFlyer 800 eight-seater electric aircraft
By Ben Coxworth, New Atlas
April 22, 2021

Colorado-based electric aviation startup Bye Aerospace is currently best known for its two-seater eFlyer 2 aircraft. That may soon change, though, as the company has now unveiled a planned battery-powered eight-seater.

Named the eFlyer 800, the turboprop class airplane will be able to seat a maximum of seven passengers, along with one or two pilots in front.

Thrust will be provided by two wing-mounted ENGINeUS electric motors, manufactured by project partner Safran Electrical & Power. These will be powered by quad-redundant lithium battery packs, for an estimated range of 500 nautical miles per charge (575 miles/926 km). The plane will have a rate of climb of 3,400 feet (1,036 m) per minute, and a ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 m).
» Read article                 

» More about clean transportation               

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


US Senate votes to reinstate methane rules loosened by Trump
Congressional Democrats move to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
April 29, 2021

Congressional Democrats are moving to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields, as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to tackle climate change.

The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that would undo an environmental rollback by Donald Trump that relaxed requirements of a 2016 Obama administration rule targeting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

The resolution was approved, 52-42. Three Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio – joined Democrats to approve the measure, which only needed a simple majority under Senate rules.

The legislation now goes to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to win approval.

The EPA approved the looser methane rule last year. The agency’s former administrator, Andrew Wheeler, declared the change would “strengthen and promote American energy” while saving companies tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance requirements.

Democrats and environmentalists called it one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate US businesses. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than even carbon dioxide.
» Read article                 


California takes steps to ban fracking by 2024 and will halt oil extraction by 2045
Executive order is a reversal for Governor Gavin Newsom, who faced pressure from environmental groups for previously resisting a ban
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
April 23, 2021

California’s governor has moved to ban new fracking permits by 2024 and halt all oil extraction by 2045.

California, the most populous US state, produces the third largest amount of oil in the country. It would be the first state to end all extraction.

Gavin Newsom’s executive order, issued on Friday, paves the way for the state to stop issuing new fracking permits within the next few years, giving California’s Department of Conservation, which regulates the oil and gas industry, until 2024 to draft a mandate. The order also directs the California Air Resources Board to evaluate how to enact a ban on all extraction over the next 25 years.

The agency will study the environmental and health benefits of ending oil extraction, and determine how to mitigate the effect on local economies.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a statement. “I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

The order is a bold reversal for Newsom, who had initially resisted calls to enact a narrower ban on new fracking permits, arguing he lacked the authority. Fracking only accounts for about 1.5% of the state’s oil production. The controversial extraction method gets fuel out of the ground by using water and chemicals to crack open geological formations and stimulate them to release gas or oil, with the risk of causing earthquakes, water contamination and disastrous spills.

Research has found that fracking and other types of extraction are dangerous for the people who live near drilling sites – causing higher rates of asthma and cancer, as well as preterm births.

“We’re very excited about this order,” Dan Ress, a staff attorney at The Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment told the Guardian. “This is a big, bold step.”

Newsom’s announcement comes as he faces a likely recall election, and pressure from environmental groups who in recent months questioned his lukewarm support for broader legislation that would have banned fracking.

A bill that would have imposed tough restrictions on oil and gas failed to attract the five votes it needed to pass through the California senate’s natural resources committee last week. The legislation would have not only banned new fracking permits but also required a 2,500-foot buffer zone between drilling sites and schools, playgrounds and residences.
» Read article                    

» More about fossil fuel                

 

BIOMASS


Paris climate agreement overlooks wood pellet loophole
“This rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all.”
By Cameron Oglesby, Environmental Health News
April 26, 2021

With the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement, and with governments across the country evaluating how they can cut carbon emissions, a question remains about one contentious “carbon neutral” energy source: wood pellets.

Wood pellets are burned as a form of biomass energy, or bioenergy, and are touted as a “carbon neutral” energy source in the global transition away from fossil fuels. It became an energy staple for European countries in 2009 when the European Union set goals to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2020. In 2019, the EU accounted for approximately 75 percent of global wood pellet consumption.

A 2012 study projected that by 2020 about 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy would come from burning wood pellets as a carbon neutral alternative to coal. And data released by the EU at the end of 2020 indicates that they were set to meet this 20 percent goal while on track to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2030.

But this latest report did not directly mention the use of wood pellets in the EU, primarily for residential heating, in its energy budget. This exclusion is emblematic of a flawed carbon accounting system for wood pellets that is leaving a chunk of emissions uncounted, and experts say the Paris Agreement will only create more missed emissions from the biomass sector.

Producers harvest about 4.9 million metric tons of wood annually from the biodiverse forests of the Southeast U.S. These felled trees release carbon when cut and their end-use is as a fuel, which makes for tricky climate accounting.

“The way that emissions in general are reported at the national level as well as to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is by energy use and land use. Unfortunately, bioenergy falls into both categories,” Rita Frost, campaigns director for the Southeastern forest protection nonprofit the Dogwood Alliance, told EHN. “We created accounting rules that said for bioenergy purposes, we’re going to count the carbon emissions when you cut down the tree, so you don’t have to count it when it goes out of the smokestack.”

When a forest is cut down in North Carolina to make wood pellets, the carbon is supposed to be counted by the U.S. in their annual climate reports as a carbon sink loss. Forests, especially old growth forests like those found in the Southeast U.S., are an important source of carbon removal from the atmosphere, so when a forest is cut down, the emissions are, in theory, counted as a land use emission.

The emissions from wood pellets are not counted in the energy sector, “to do so would erroneously double count the climate impact of wood pellets in both the land sector and the energy sector,” wrote a representative from the largest biomass supplier in the world, Enviva Biomass, in an email to EHN.

However, because of the way forests are classified in the U.S., these emissions aren’t counted in either the land or energy sectors, Frost said.

“If you clear-cut a forest, as long as you don’t turn the land into a parking lot or a tobacco farm, that land is still accounted for as forest,” she said. “So this rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all, and biomass looks like it’s carbon neutral.”
» Read article                   

» More about biomass              

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT


Scientists find way to remove polluting microplastics with bacteria
Sticky property of bacteria used to create microbe nets that can capture microplastics in water to form a recyclable blob
By Sofia Quaglia, The Guardian
April 28, 2021

Microbiologists have devised a sustainable way to remove polluting microplastics from the environment – and they want to use bacteria to do the job.

Bacteria naturally tend to group together and stick to surfaces, and this creates an adhesive substance called “biofilm” – we see it every morning when brushing our teeth and getting rid of dental plaque, for example. Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) want to use this sticky bacteria property and create tape-like microbe nets that can capture microplastics in polluted water to form an easily disposable and recyclable blob.

Although these findings, presented on Wednesday at the Microbiology Society’s annual conference, are still preliminary, this invention could pave the way for sustainably lowering plastic pollution levels in the long run by simply using something found in nature.

“It is imperative to develop effective solutions that trap, collect, and even recycle these microplastics to stop the ‘plastification’ of our natural environments,” said Sylvia Lang Liu, microbiology researcher at PolyU and lead researcher on this project.

Microplastics are the plastic fragments, usually smaller than 5mm, which are accidentally released into the environment during production and breakdown of, for example, grocery bags or water bottles – or during everyday activities such as washing synthetic clothes such as nylon or using personal care products with scrubbing microbeads in them.

Although they are tiny, the risk they post to the environment is huge. Microplastics are not easily biodegradable, so they stick around for long periods of time and they also absorb and accumulate toxic chemicals. They disperse into wastewater and into the oceans, endangering marine animals who end up eating them and eventually trickling into the food chain and harming human health too. Microplastics had been found in more than 114 aquatic species in 2018, according to the International Maritime Organization, and they have been found in salt, lettuce, apples, and more.
» Read article                   

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

Just as we were posting last week’s Check-In, news broke that the Massachusetts DEP revoked Palmer Renewable Energy’s air quality permit – effectively killing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. It was huge news and a victory for environmental justice, and now we’ve included some of the best articles on that important story.

The Weymouth compressor station is similar. It is a large piece of polluting infrastructure inappropriately located adjacent to vulnerable communities already burdened by long exposure to industrial toxins. It is staunchly opposed by residents of Weymouth and surrounding towns, under attack from every politician from Massachusetts’ two Senators down to local Mayors and City Councillors, and currently under review by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission newly concerned with environmental justice issues and climate change. So Tuesday’s large, unplanned gas release (3rd in eight months!) energized the opposition and raised hopes that this project, too, will be scuttled soon.

The concepts of equity, justice, and addressing the legacy of environmental racism are informing everything from suggestions on how best to build out electric vehicle infrastructure to how the Environmental Protection Agency sets enforcement priorities. These head-spinning changes have all occurred since January 20th, when a departing President Trump left behind a wasteland of hollowed out and demoralized government agencies and told us to “have a nice life”.

Something else to make corporate polluters nervous: environmental and climate advocates and a growing number of world leaders are calling for the designation of a new crime that can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ecocide involves the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change.

There’s been a lot of press lately touting hydrogen as the key to our clean energy future, and we’ve been cautious about accepting it as anything more than hype. New analysis from Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy concludes that batteries are much better positioned as the clean energy foundation – and hydrogen will only assume that role if batteries fail to live up to their potential.

A few weeks ago, we ran a story about how difficult it is to purchase a new refrigerator with climate-friendly refrigerant. We are pleased to offer this update, along with a link to Energy Star’s new list. It’s now possible in the U.S. to know you’re buying a non-HFC fridge!

We keep track of pipelines, and this week’s focus is on Enbridge’s Line 5. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered it shut down by May 12, and Enbridge says it will not comply. The Straits of Mackinac are set to be the scene of a complicated international showdown over fossil energy, where the stakes include the potential for catastrophic pollution of the Great Lakes.

Our own Rose Wessel addressed some of the issues and misinformation circulating about peaking power plants, and explains how these expensive, polluting relics can be replaced with clean energy alternatives. We also take a look at resistance from gas utilities to implementing new safety rules developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster, as necessary to protect the public.

Our Fossil Fuel Industry section includes three great articles about really bad behavior. The first is a white-knuckle thriller about October’s Hurricane Zeta and an ultra-deepwater drilling operation that nearly ended in a disaster that could have eclipsed BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

We close with a look at the online shopping that has sustained many of us through the pandemic, and consider Amazon’s excessive use of plastics in its packaging.

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

Palmer Plant protest
Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 2, 2021

In a big win for public health and environmental justice advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has revoked a key air permit for a controversial proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy facility — technically called the “Final Plan Approval” — was issued almost nine years ago, and according to the state, was revoked because of a lag in construction activities as well as major public health and environmental justice concerns.

Springfield City Councilor and long-time opponent of the Palmer facility, Jesse Lederman, praised the decision and called it “welcome news in the City of Springfield.”

“The days of polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said in a statement. “For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out of town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”

First proposed in 2008, the 35 megawatt Palmer facility drew immediate public ire, but managed to receive a series of permits and green lights from local and state regulators. It got its final air permit from MassDEP in 2012 and was supposed to begin construction soon after.

In a letter accompanying the permit revocation, Michael Gorski of MassDEP explained that while there are some signs of pre-construction activities at the site, the company has not meaningfully “commenced construction.” Under state law, MassDEP can rescind a project’s final permit if it doesn’t begin construction within two years, or if it puts construction on pause for more than a year.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”

If built, Palmer would have been the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day in the heart of a state-designated environmental justice community. Nearly one in five children in Springfield have asthma; the air quality is so poor that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked it the “Asthma Capital” of the country.
» Read article            

welcome to Springfield
Massachusetts Revokes Permit for Springfield Biomass Plant
By Partnership For Policy Integrity
April 5, 2021

In a major victory for Springfield residents and for environmental justice, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has revoked the permit for the long-contested Palmer Renewable Energy 42-megawatt biomass power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

While MassDEP based its April 2nd decision on a technicality – the permit is nearly a decade old and the developers have still not begun construction on the plant – the real reason behind this move is far more significant:

“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

It took a long time for state officials to hear what the project’s opponents have been saying all along, but it’s clear they finally got the message: Stop treating Springfield as an environmental sacrifice zone.
» Read web post                

reason enough
After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield
By David Abel, Boston Globe
April 2, 2021

After years of protests, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday revoked a critical air permit for a massive wood-burning power plant proposed to be built in Springfield, which opponents said would pollute the city and contribute to climate change.

In a five-page letter, state officials cited potential adverse health impacts in rejecting plans for the state’s largest commercial biomass plant, which was expected to burn nearly a ton of wood a minute and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.

Noting the “strong opposition” from residents in Springfield, which has among the nation’s highest rates of asthma, environmental regulators said their decision was based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.”

The link between environmental factors and heightened risk to the coronavirus also played a role in their decision.

“With COVID-19 rates particularly high in Springfield, there is increased concern, given multiple studies establishing a relationship between low-income and minority communities with elevated air pollution levels and increased severity of disease and/or mortality,” wrote Michael Gorski, director of the department’s offices in Western Massachusetts.

Officials at Palmer Renewable Energy, which proposed building the 42-megawatt incinerator, did not respond to requests for comment.

Local residents and environmental advocates, who have lobbied against the plant for years, cheered the decision.

“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities,” said Jesse Lederman, a city councilor and outspoken critic of the plant who chairs the city’s sustainability and environment committee. “The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.”

Laura Haight, policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Pelham-based advocacy group that opposes biomass, called the state’s decision “a huge victory” for environmental justice.

“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin for this ‘zombie’ plant,” she said, noting that it had been in the planning stages for more than a decade. She said provisions in the state’s new climate law, which Governor Charlie Baker signed last month, made it unlikely that the developer could find another way to build the plant.
» Read article           

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike three
Weymouth Compressor Reports Another ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release. Third Time In 8 Months
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 6, 2021

On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”

Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.

According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released “in a controlled manner” through the compressor station’s tall vent stack and “the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence.”

But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all,” she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities

This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported
» Read article           

electrified barbed wire
Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas
By Emma Platoff, Boston Globe
April 7, 2021

Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months.

That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.

“Every accident at the Weymouth Compressor Station endangers the lives and health of local residents and surrounding communities and these so-called blow outs have become a dangerous pattern of releasing harmful gas into the nearby residential neighborhood,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Weymouth. “It is completely unacceptable to allow Enbridge to continue their operations.”

Environmental activists and prominent politicians have been fighting the site for years, saying it brings unnecessary danger to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood.

After the latest release, and amid a federal review launched under a presidential administration that has called environmental justice a priority, activists hope this time the plant will be closed permanently.

Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has long protested the Weymouth site, said she’s “waffling between my regular pessimism and optimism.”

The timing of the incident feels less like coincidence than “karma,” she said.

“It seems as though every time they’ve had an accident it’s been at a tipping point,” Arena said. She pointed to a previous unplanned release last fall, which came just days before the facility was set to begin full operations.

“Instead, they ended up with a shutdown order,” she said wryly. The three gas releases show that operators are too reckless to continue work in the area, she said.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 - Getty
Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out.
The ongoing battle between North America’s largest mover of oil, Enbridge Energy, and the state of Michigan.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
April 7, 2021

As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.    

A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 

Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilled over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.

Since Whitmer’s closure order in November, Enbridge has sued the state of Michigan on the grounds that it doesn’t have authority over the company because Enbridge is regulated federally by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge has also stated outright that it will defy the governor’s orders. “We do not plan to shut down Line 5 unless ordered by a court or PHMSA, which we view as highly unlikely,” a spokesperson for the company told Grist. Among its stated reasons for refusing to shut down are concerns over energy security for Michigan and Canada and the increased environmental impact from alternative modes of transporting propane. The pipeline supplies between 55 to 65 percent of Michigan’s propane needs.

For the shutdown to go into effect, a state or federal court would need to rule in Whitmer’s favor. If the case is sent to state court, Shroeck said, Enbridge could appeal that decision, therefore sending it to a federal court of appeals, whereafter it could be years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Enbridge would be able to continue operating without penalty. 

The U.S. portion of the pipeline that crosses under the Mackinac straits is the worst possible location in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that because of the turbulent waters and switching directions of the current, a Line 5 oil spill could potentially contaminate more than 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity and infrastructure
States, utilities must ensure equitable investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, new report warns
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2021

Only a few states and power companies are taking steps to ensure low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color benefit from the transition to electric vehicles, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The study, published Tuesday morning, examined 36 states where utilities have filed transportation electrification plans, and concluded only six have some form of equity mandate or consideration.

“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study.
» Read article            
» Read the ACEEE study          

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Donaldsonville LA
Exclusive: EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
Environmental Protection Agency launches crackdown on pollution that disproportionately affects people of color
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 12, 2021

Michael Regan, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has sought to revive the effort to confront environmental racism by ordering the agency to crack down on the pollution that disproportionately blights people of color.

On Wednesday, Regan issued a directive to EPA staff to “infuse equity and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs”. The memo demands the agency use the “full array of policy and legal tools at our disposal” to ensure vulnerable communities are front of mind when issuing permits for polluting facilities or cleaning up following disasters.

The directive states there should be better consultation with affected communities and indicates the EPA will be tougher on companies that violate air and water pollution mandates. Regan’s memo calls for the EPA to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution”.

Enforcement of pollution violations dropped steeply under Donald Trump’s administration, with the EPA even suspending routine inspections of facilities while the Covid-19 pandemic raged in the US last year.

A lack of federal intervention further exacerbated a longstanding inequity where poorer people and communities of color in the US are far more likely to be exposed to dangerous pollutants. The pandemic has further worsened this situation, with research showing that people with chronic exposure to air pollutants have suffered worse outcomes from Covid.

Years of discriminatory decisions over the placement of highways and industrial facilities have led to Black people being exposed to 38% more polluted air than white people, with exposure to toxins from cars and trucks in parts of the US two-thirds higher than for white people. Black children are five times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma than white children.
» Read article           

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

ecocideAs the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan, Inside Climate News
April 7, 2021

In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. 

Now, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.

The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics. 

The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
» Read article           

northern lights
Projected Surge of Lightning Spells More Wildfire Trouble for the Arctic
A major climate shift in the High North is sparking fires that can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases from tundra ecosystems, where fires have been rare until recently
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2021

With the Arctic warming at up to three times the pace of the global average, more lightning storms will invade the High North, igniting wildfires that release carbon dioxide and speeding the transition of flat mossy tundra to brush and forest landscapes that absorb more solar heat energy.

Yang Chen, an Earth scientist with the University of California, Irvine and lead author of a study released today in the journal Nature Climate Change that projected the increases in lightning strikes, said the findings were somewhat unexpected, and intensify wildfire concerns in the High North because lightning is the main ignition source in the Arctic.

“The size of the lightning response surprised us because expected changes at mid-latitudes are much smaller,” he said. More lightning-caused fires would speed a vicious circle of climate-warming changes already under way in vast areas of tundra and permafrost across Siberia and Alaska, he added.

A surge in the frequency of large Arctic fires in the last five years spurred the research, which is based on 20 years of NASA satellite data showing the relationship between lightning and the climate, he said. 

Linking that data with climate projections through 2100, the scientists estimated the number of lightning strikes will grow by about 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By late in the century, the IPCC projects the Arctic could warm by 4.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on emissions.

The study also shows that the region that experiences lightning will shift, with future flash rates in the far northern tundra areas equal to the current rate in boreal forests, 300 miles to the south. 

The increase may cause “a fire-vegetation feedback whereby more burning in Arctic tundra expedites the northward migration of boreal trees,” that will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating the Arctic cycle of warming,” the authors wrote in the study.
» Read article           
» Obtain the study               

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

H2 uh-ohFor hydrogen to dominate the low-carbon world, batteries must fail
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
April 5, 2021

Hydrogen has the potential to help bring more than half of the world’s emissions down to zero, but to reach that potential it requires aggressive government support, a dramatically improved value chain – and it needs batteries to fail.

That last point is one of the most striking findings in a new series of reports by Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy, the last of which, on the “battery society”, was released last week.

The reports examine three solutions to the problem of storage in an energy system dominated by wind and solar: carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and batteries.

They conclude that battery technology is the most powerful of the three, having the potential to help reduce to zero 78 per cent of the world’s emissions. CCS could potentially help reduce 62 per cent of the world’s emissions, though it is the least practical of the three.

Hydrogen could help reduce 51 per cent of the world’s emissions, but to reach that level it would need to be used in areas where batteries currently have a big edge, such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support.

The race between hydrogen and battery technology is the latter’s to lose, the report argues. Batteries are not especially reliant on either dramatic policy changes, such as aggressive carbon pricing; or on rapid development in the value chain.

“An important advantage of the Battery Society is the fact that battery manufacturers must only rely on themselves to ramp up battery supply and bring the Battery Society to fruition,” the report says. “The CCS and Hydrogen Societies, on the other hand, are dependent on policy changes and cost developments in other parts of the value chain.

“In order to succeed, they essentially need batteries to fail,” it concludes
» Read article           

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Energy STAR refrigerant listWant to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need
The change came after I went out of my way to buy a green fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 6, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators. 

Until the past few years, it’s been virtually impossible to buy a full-sized refrigerator in the United States that uses climate-friendly refrigerants like isobutane. The vast majority of refrigerators came with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemical refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. 

For environmentally conscious consumers who wanted to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators, like me, it’s been difficult, if not impossible, to know which was which. As I found out the hard way, it seemed as if the manufacturers themselves didn’t even know.

But now, after I told the story last month of ordering an environmentally friendly fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house, two leading manufacturers have for the first time released lists of dozens of HFC-free refrigerators that they produce.

Meanwhile, the EPA’s Energy Star program has published its first concise list of all refrigerators that use climate friendly refrigerants.
» Read article           
» See the Energy Star list of products with climate-safe refrigerants                

MinneapolisMinneapolis program puts energy audits into hands of potential homebuyers
In its first year, a city ordinance requiring energy audits prior to home sales resulted in more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation, and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
April 5, 2021

Minneapolis saw near-perfect compliance and few complaints during the first year of a new ordinance requiring energy audits prior to all home sales.

The city’s residential energy benchmarking program generated more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners. The information is also publicly available online.

That’s more than six times the number of home energy audits typically conducted each year through a voluntary program.

“That’s an incredible gamechanger,” said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director, “but we need to be able to do that each and every year if we are going to be able to meet some of our goals for climate change.”

Sellers complied with the requirement for 95% of listings, but the city doesn’t yet have data on how the audits are affecting the housing market. Real estate agents said it’s unlikely energy efficiency is a deciding factor given how quickly homes are selling, but the reports could provide a useful roadmap for future home improvements — and in at least a few cases they have already spurred projects.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

green-drinks-ppp
‘Peaker’ plants or dirty energy is a false choice
By Rosemary Wessel, Cummington, Letter to the Editor – Berkshire Eagle
April 2, 2021
The writer is a member of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team

To the editor: In response to a recent letter about Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to put “peaker” plants in the past, it’s not surprising to see a restating of the false choices frequently proposed by the fossil fuel industry (“Letter: Environmental group misguided to target Berkshire ‘peaker’ plants,” Eagle, March 26).

It’s true that the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, as renewable energy detractors like to point out. And while it’s true that emissions from burning natural gas are roughly two-thirds that of oil or half that of coal, the truth is also that burning gas still creates dangerous fine particulate emissions as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. For the five percent of the time that the Pittsfield generating plant actually runs, it generates 15 percent of Pittsfield’s total annual stationary emissions.

One of the other fallacies in the author’s statement is that renewable energy would require cutting trees. I’m not sure if his reference was to biomass, which is not renewable in any realistic time scale and produces emissions roughly equivalent to coal, or if his assumption is that the only place to put solar panels is in the middle of forested land. BEAT does not support either of those options.

Understanding why fossil fuel peaker plants are no longer a valid option in the face of climate change requires consideration of modern options. Deployment of our state’s aggressive energy efficiency programs and other peak shaving options like demand response programs have already sharply reduced peak demand events on our region’s power grid and saved program participants significant sums in reduced energy costs.

When the wind blows and sun is shining, energy can be stored in grid-scale battery installations. It can also be stored in individual buildings like schools, town offices and other key municipal locations, commercial and industrial locations, multi-unit rental properties and even individual homes. This not only allows renewables to be installed on rooftops and over already disturbed grounds like parking areas, as they should be, but allows for thousands of “virtual power plants” to supply energy during peak demand, outages or whenever customers prefer to not draw power from the grid.

Mass Save’s Connected Solutions program allows for battery storage installations to be used in all these ways, and allows customers to combine financial incentives, shortening a payback period to a matter of years rather than a decade or more. Please visit tinyurl.com/putpeakersinthepast to learn more.
» Read article           

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

extra safe
Gas industry says new rules not needed
By Christian M. Wade, Eagle Tribune
April 8, 2021
*Photo from September 14, 2018 New York Times article on the Merrimack Valley gas disaster caused by shoddy work and lax engineering oversight.

BOSTON — A gas industry official told regulators Thursday that proposed rules requiring a professional engineer’s approval of certain projects may be unnecessary because gas companies already follow heightened standards.

State regulators are hammering out rules that mandate an engineer’s stamp on plans for “complex” projects that could pose a risk to public safety. The new rules stem from a 2018 law passed in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

The state Department of Public Utilities, which is drafting the rules, held an online hearing Thursday where an industry representative said utilities have since adopted guidelines, known as Pipeline Safety Management Systems, that make the new regulations unneeded.

Jose Costa, vice president of operations service at the Northeast Gas Association, said those guidelines include an engineering requirement that “provides another layer of protection that was not in place prior to 2018.”

“Some of the proposed prescriptive requirements in this rule-making are already being addressed through other methods and programs,” he told the panel.

Utilities, including National Grid and Eversource, have complained that the proposed regulations will be too costly, and that they are unnecessary.

Utilities have lobbied to limit the kinds of projects that must get an engineer’s sign-off, and submitted a litany of proposed changes to the rules ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Brendan Vaughn, an attorney representing the utilities, made no mention of those requests Thursday but told regulators his clients “look forward to working with them.”

Meanwhile, an engineering group cautioned against excluding certain types of gas projects from review.

“While there may be instances in which a licensed engineer is not needed, I urge caution in defining those instances too broadly,” Anthony Morreale, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, wrote to regulators.

Gas industry officials have also raised concerns about a shortage of engineers who specialize in utility work, warning that delays could result.

But Morreale noted more than 15,000 licensed professional engineers are working in Massachusetts.

“I respectfully suggest that decisions about public safety should not be made based on the purported availability or not of personnel, but rather that companies tasked with upholding public safety adjust recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are appropriately staffed,” Morreale wrote in an April 1 letter.
» Read article           

» More about gas utilities           
» More about the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster                    

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

AsgardExclusive: 2020’s Hurricane Zeta Nearly Caused ‘Another Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe’ in Gulf of Mexico
The near-miss raises questions of corporate management in a battered oil industry, how drillers will handle increasingly volatile hurricanes, and federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry nearly 11 years after the Gulf of Mexico was coated in oil.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2021

It was Thursday, October 22, 2020, when the crew aboard the Transocean Deepwater Asgard, an ultra-deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico, started monitoring a weather disturbance in the nearby Caribbean Sea that bore the tell-tale signs of a forming hurricane.

But the Asgard, which was drilling an oil well in the waters about 225 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had other pressing matters to deal with. That same day, the oil well it was drilling more than a mile below the water’s surface experienced a kick — an eruption of oil, gas, or other fluids from deep underground up the drill pipe. If not properly controlled, this type of incident can sometimes lead to a blowout.

Kicks aren’t necessarily all that uncommon during offshore drilling. What happened over the following week, however, not only left the crew of the Asgard in deadly peril and caused over $5 million in damages to the ship and its equipment, but also, according to experts, risked an oil spill potentially several times the size of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.

Events out to sea on the Asgard received little or no media attention at the time. An investigation by DeSmog reveals how close the Gulf Coast may have been to a major oil industry disaster this past fall.

“This could easily have become another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former professor at the University of Alaska whose background includes advising on the response to that spill, the Exxon Valdez, and many others worldwide. “Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland should order a comprehensive independent inquiry into the Deepwater Asgard incident, the failures leading up to it, and what needs to be done to prevent another such near casualty in the future.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article is a gripping and unsettling account of what’s happening out there in the world of deep water drilling.
» Read article           

tax refund
Analysis: Fossil Fuel Tax Programs to Cut Emissions Lead to Lots of Industry Profit, Little Climate Action
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 4, 2021

The fossil fuel industry and its investors have financially benefited from tax policies and subsidies designed to reduce the emissions from oil, gas, and coal — sometimes without taking the action required to tackle climate change.

Recently, claims have been surfacing of companies taking the taxpayer money offered to incentivize these actions but not following through on reducing their emissions. In March, for example, Reuters reported that Congress has opened an investigation into problems with the government’s “clean coal” tax credit. This is after Reuters revealed that financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, were making huge profits off the program, despite it not effectively reducing emissions.

Now, companies such as ExxonMobil are lobbying against transparency efforts when it comes to reporting their emissions for an existing carbon capture tax credit.

And the industry is also increasingly calling for a national carbon tax to be introduced. In March, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it supports efforts to put a price on carbon — this is a reversal from its position a decade ago when it was opposed to a bill that would have introduced a cap and trade program to limit carbon emissions.

Introducing a carbon tax would allow polluters to continue to produce carbon, they would just have to pay a price to do so.

These market-based approaches to limiting climate emissions, however, raise concerns about their overall effectiveness. They provide an opportunity for companies to reap the financial benefits of climate action without actually delivering the emission reductions. This makes them incredibly popular with the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s naive of us to think that all of a sudden the oil and gas industry is going to put forward policies that are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst for environmental NGO Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog.
» Read article           

foolery exposedNAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2021

The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.

That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.

This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.

Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gas maintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”

Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”

Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACP itself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies also try to shift blame onto the very communities affected by pollution to distract from the impact of industry operations, the NAACP found.
» Read article           
» Read the NAACP report                

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

air pillow
This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, New York Times | Opinion
April 5, 2021

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.

Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.

The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.

These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
» Read article           

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 4/2/21

Welcome back.

We lead with late-breaking news that the Massachusetts DEP just revoked the approval for Palmer Renewable Energy’s controversial biomass generating plant in Springfield. Expect more details next week, but here’s a link to MA-DEP’s letter.  Unfinished business includes the Baker administration’s desire to include biomass in the Renewable Portfolio Standard. We posted a well-considered editorial on the Springfield plant, which ends with a request for calls to Governor Baker, demanding a biomass-free RPS. At this moment, with the permit revoked, your call will be powerfully effective.

On the Weymouth compressor, we’ve chosen to feature an article that’s nearly a year old and doesn’t even mention this project. It does, however, shed considerable light on Pieridae Energy, its shaky finances and shady practices, and its big plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, a Natural Gas Intelligence report predicts that no new U.S. LNG projects will be financed in 2021 due to market headwinds – a potential red flag for Goldboro which is still trying to tie down its own investor commitments. The tangled web surrounding Enbridge, the Atlantic Bridge pipeline, Weymouth compressor, and Goldboro – and the politicians and regulators allowing all this to happen – is something we’re watching closely.

A pipeline we’re covering is Enbridge’s Line 5, under deadline pressure from Michigan’s Governor Whitmer to shut down its ancient section under the Straights of Mackinac. In the several years since Enbridge proposed to lay a replacement section of pipe through a sealed tunnel beneath the lakebed, project costs dramatically increased while prices declined for the fuels that pipeline would transport. Governor Whitmer is holding firm under intense pressure from Canada and industry.

On its face, our divestment story this week is a pessimistic assessment that green investing will fail to achieve positive climate goals. But it’s more of an observation that unfettered capital markets won’t respond to anything but the profit motive. It’s a call for better legislation, like Massachusetts’ new climate law, and firmer regulation of markets as called for by the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol, to steer us toward a greener economy. This is an urgent topic, because our continuing failure to slow emissions has so endangered the climate that some scientists believe it’s time to seriously study solar geoengineering – just to be ready to deploy if all else fails.

We found interesting reports about progress toward harnessing ocean wave energy, a serious technical challenge facing proponents of a hydrogen economy, and a cautionary story from Britain from their recent disastrous attempt to promote energy efficient building retrofits through a poorly executed program.

Clean transportation is a mixed bag, with an innovative car-sharing startup bringing electric vehicles to an underserved community in Boston – and a less-happy story warning that public transportation systems all over the world face a desperate financial reality since Covid-19 drove away so many passengers. Public transit is key to decarbonizing the transportation sector, but right now it’s just trying to survive.

One part of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan includes spending billions of dollars to cap and clean up many thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by the fossil fuel industry. It’s a jobs-and-climate program to employ skilled labor and mitigate the massive volume of planet-heating methane currently spewing unchecked into the atmosphere.

 For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Shell Game
Alberta has a huge problem with drill site clean up and dicey deals shifting who pays. Mike Judd had enough, so the cowboy fought and won.
By Andrew Nikiforuk, TheTyee.ca
May 20, 2020

Alberta’s oil patch regulator made history of a sort last week by saying the word no. The reasons it did pitted a crusty cowboy against a wealthy ballet aficionado, and exposed a gambit by one of the world’s oil giants to offload its responsibilities in a way, the ruling said, that would have defied provincial law.

The story says a lot about where the world’s fossil fuel industry finds itself at this precarious moment, as it struggles to balance falling revenues against mounting environmental liabilities.

And it sheds light on how symbiotic government regulators, public pension managers, and energy corporation minnows and whales alike have become in Canada. It’s a tale with a few twists, so settle in.

It starts with a simple fact. In the last five years the Alberta Energy Regulator, which is funded by the industry, has watched cash-rich companies sell or trade off more than 150,000 inactive or uneconomic wells to small firms that didn’t have the financial ability to perform mandated well cleanups.

That’s what changed last week. Under intense public pressure, the regulator finally refused to greenlight one such transaction.
» Blog editor’s note: We’re posting this article here because it exposes the sketchy finances of Pieridae Energy, the company behind the controversial and highly speculative Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – and an important destination for fracked natural gas pushed north from the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES



Is the Line 5 tunnel a bridge to Michigan’s energy future or a bad deal?
By Kelly House & Bridge Michigan & Lester Graham, Michigan Public Radio
April 1, 2021

As Canadian officials lobbied a Michigan Senate committee in March to keep the Line 5 pipeline open, Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) grew frustrated with a conversation that, up to that point, had focused mainly on the immediate economic and safety implications of a possible shutdown.

“We are at a moment of inflection on our energy future,” said Brinks, and will soon have no choice but to stop burning oil and other fossil fuels to power our vehicles and homes. Additional investment in the pipeline, she said, “does not seem to be the most enlightened way to go forward.”

Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which wants the pipeline kept open, was quick to rebut.

“All of us want a lower (greenhouse gas) future,” Rossi said. But the transition away from the petroleum products that Line 5 carries “is not going to be overnight.” In the meantime, he said, pipelines are the safest and cleanest way to move petroleum from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada to facilities in the U.S. and eastern Canada where it’s turned into propane, jet fuel, plastics and fertilizer.

The exchange highlights a sharpening focus on global climate change and economy-wide energy transitions, in a pipeline fight that began with concerns about oil spill risks in a 4-mile-wide strip of water known as the Straits of Mackinac.

Against the backdrop of recent carbon neutrality pledges from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden, activists have ramped up their arguments that the Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy is threatening Michigan’s water as well as its climate future.

Enbridge and its supporters have defended Line 5 as a necessary asset in the transition to clean fuels, without which energy consumers in Michigan and elsewhere would suffer.

Now, as a federal judge considers whether Line 5 should shut down in May and state and federal regulators decide whether to let Enbridge replace it with a tunneled pipe deep below the straits that could keep the oil flowing for decades, they’ll grapple with an issue of global significance:

Are pipelines like Line 5 a “bridge to the energy future,” as Enbridge CEO Al Monaco has said, or a climate liability that threatens Michigan’s and the world’s progress toward carbon neutrality?

Enbridge initially planned to spend $500 million on the tunnel project, bringing it online by 2024. But costs and timelines are both in flux, and experts hired by opponents of the pipeline say the project could cost as much as $2 billion and take years longer.

“The writing’s on the wall that fossil fuel investments are not the future,” said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, one of several groups that are urging state and federal decisionmakers to factor climate and energy trends into permitting decisions for the tunnel project. “It’s really quite remarkable that we’re even considering whether to build an oil tunnel, just on economic grounds alone.”
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT


Green investing ‘is definitely not going to work’, says ex-BlackRock executive
Tariq Fancy once oversaw the start of the biggest effort to turn Wall Street ‘green’ – but now believes the climate crisis can never be solved by today’s free markets
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 30, 2021

From his desk in midtown Manhattan Tariq Fancy once oversaw the beginning of arguably the biggest, most ambitious, effort ever to turn Wall Street “green”. Now, as environmentally friendly investing grows at an exponential rate, Fancy has come to a stark conclusion: “This is definitely not going to work.”

As the former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, Fancy was charged with embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) corporate policies across the investment giant’s portfolio.

Fancy was a leader in a movement that has given many people, including investors, activists and academics, hope that after years of backing polluters, Wall Street was finally stepping up to confront the climate crisis.

“I have looked inside the machine and I can tell you business does not have this,” Tariq told the Guardian. “Not because these are bad people but because they run for-profit machines that will operate exactly as you would expect them to do,” said Fancy.

Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise returns to their clients and as long as there is money to be made in activities that contribute to global warming, no amount of rhetoric about the need for sustainable investing will change that, he believes.

“In many cases it’s cheaper and easier to market yourself as green rather than do the long tail work of actually improving your sustainability profile. That’s expensive and if there is no penalty from the government, in the form of a carbon tax or anything else, then this market failure is going to persist,” said Fancy, a former investment banker who now leads an initiative to bring affordable digital education to underserved communities worldwide.

The amount of money that poured into sustainable investment through vehicles like exchange traded funds (ETFs) hit record levels last year. It’s a trend Fancy believes could continue for years and still have zero impact on climate change because “there is no connection between the two things”.

He compared the business communities reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to its views on climate change. “Science shows us that Covid-19 is a systemic problem for which we all need to bend down a curve, the infections curve.”

As the crisis escalated business leaders were immediately supportive of government-led initiatives to restrict travel, close venues and shutter the economy. “The Business Roundtable [the US’s most powerful business lobby] said we should make mask-wearing mandatory. They were right about all those things,” he said.

The world needed government to use its extraordinary powers “because if you left it to the free market everything would have been open in the US and we would have lost millions of people, it wouldn’t have been half a million”.

Climate change too is a problem science says is systemic and one where we have to bend down the curve. “The difference is the incubation period. It’s not a few weeks, it’s a few decades. For that they are still saying we should rely on the free market. That’s where I have a problem.”
» Read article             

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION


What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 26, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping climate bill into law on Friday, signaling a new era in Massachusetts’ plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, build a greener economy and prioritize equity and environmental justice.

The new law, “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” represents the most significant update to climate policy in the Commonwealth since the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. And with hundreds of statutory updates and changes, it tackles a lot — everything from solar panels and offshore wind to new building codes and regulatory priorities for state agencies.

Climate and energy policy can be confusing and full of jargon, but here — in simple English — is what you need to know about what’s in the new law:
» Read article or listen to broadcast recording


Baker signs climate change bill into law
Sets state on road to achieving net zero emissions by 2050
By Chris Lisinski, CommonWealth Magazine
March 26, 2021

IT TOOK BASICALLY all of the last legislative session and the first three months of the new one to get major climate policy signed into law, but the real work begins now that Gov. Charlie Baker has put his signature on the law.

After it took a long, winding and sometimes contentious road, the governor on Friday afternoon signed the long-discussed legislation designed to commit Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establish interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopt energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorize another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and address needs in environmental justice communities.

“I’m proud to say that climate change has not been, ever, a partisan issue. We know the impacts on our coasts, on our fisheries, on our farms and our communities are real, and demand action, and that’s why we’ve been committed for over a decade to … doing the things we need to do to deal with the issue at hand and to maintain a structure that’s affordable for the people of the commonwealth,” Baker said after signing the bill in the State House library. He added, “This bill puts us on an ambitious path to achieving a cleaner and more livable commonwealth, while also creating economic development opportunities to support the initiatives.”

Baker and the Legislature see eye-to-eye when it comes to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the details of how the state would get there proved to be a much more complicated conversation. On Friday, Baker said he was glad lawmakers “went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on this” with his administration before settling on the final language.

The new law requires that greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 be at least 50 percent lower than 1990 emissions, that 2040 emissions be at least 75 percent lower and that 2050 emissions be at least 85 percent below 1990 emissions. In order to actually net out at zero emissions by 2050, the state will have to make up the remainder, up to 15 percent, through strategies like carbon sequestration and carbon banking. The Baker administration has similarly embraced natural climate solutions in its own climate plans.

The law also requires the executive branch to set interim limits for 2025, 2035 and 2045, and to set sublimits for six sectors of the economy — electric power; transportation; commercial and industrial heating and cooling; residential heating and cooling; industrial processes; and natural gas distribution and service — every five years. Each five-year emissions limit “shall be accompanied by publication of a comprehensive, clear and specific roadmap plan to realize said limit,” the law requires.

That work will begin almost immediately. The first interim plan required by the new law, the plan for 2025, must be in place along with the 2025 emissions limit by July 1, 2022. The bill also requires the Department of Public Utilities to consider emissions reductions on an equal footing as its considerations of reliability and affordability within 90 days, that the governor appoint three green building experts to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, and that the administration establish the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for the home energy efficiency program MassSave.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Urgent policies needed to steer countries to net zero, says IEA chief
Economies are gearing up for return to fossil fuel use instead of forging green recovery, warns Fatih Birol
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 31, 2021

New energy policies are urgently needed to put countries on the path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s leading energy economist has warned, as economies are rapidly gearing up for a return to fossil fuel use instead of forging a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the world’s biggest economies now have long-term goals of reaching net zero by mid-century, but few have the policies required to meet those goals, said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA’s latest figures show global coal use was about 4% higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019, the clearest indication yet of a potentially disastrous rebound in the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels, following last year’s lockdowns around the world when emissions plummeted.

Birol told the Guardian: “We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite. We have seen global emissions higher in December 2020 than in December 2019. As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. We will make the job of reaching net zero harder.”

He urged governments to support clean energy and technology such as electric vehicles, and make fossil fuels less economically attractive. “Governments must provide clear signals to investors around the world that investing in dirty energy will mean a greater risk of losing money. This unmistakable signal needs to be given by policymakers to regulators, investors and others,” he said.
Blog editor’s note: this last paragraph reinforces Tariq Fancy’s warning that green investing is ‘not going to work’ (see Divestment). Mr. Fancy’s pessimistic prediction is meant to warn that governments must provide effective regulatory and financial frameworks, rather than allowing free markets to solve the climate problem by themselves.
» Read article              

» More on greening the economy

CLIMATE


Solar Geoengineering Is Worth Studying but Not a Substitute for Cutting Emissions, Study Finds
By James W. Hurrell, Ambuj D Sagar and Marion Hourdequin, EcoWatch
March 30, 2021

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine tackles a controversial question: Is solar geoengineering – an approach designed to cool Earth by reflecting sunlight back into space or modifying clouds – a potential tool for countering climate change?

The report, produced by a committee of 16 experts from diverse fields, does not take a position but concludes that the concept should be studied. It calls for creating a multidisciplinary research program, in coordination with other countries and managed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, that seeks to fill in the many knowledge gaps on this issue.

The study emphasizes that such research is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and should be a minor part of the U.S. response to climate change. It notes that “engineering the climate” would not address the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. And it calls for a research program that draws on physical science, social science and ethics and includes public input.

These perspectives from three members of the study committee underline the complexity of this issue.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY


The U.S. is finally looking to unlock the potential of wave energy
After decades of false starts, the federal approval of a new testing site off the coast of Oregon could give wave energy a much-needed jolt.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
March 29, 2021

At first glance, waves have the makings of an ideal renewable energy source. They’re predictable, constant, and tremendously powerful. Their energy potential is astonishing — researchers estimate that waves off the coasts of the United States could generate as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, or the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in 2019.

But capturing the immense power radiating across our oceans’ surfaces is no easy feat — wave energy technology is challenging to engineer, start-up costs are high, and testing in open ocean waters is a regulatory nightmare. That’s why wave energy’s trajectory has been a stop-and-go affair plagued by false starts for decades. But things may finally be starting to shift for the industry: The federal government recently approved the first full-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S.

The Oregon State University-led project, PacWave South, is a 2-square-mile patch of ocean 7 miles off the rugged Oregon coast, where developers and companies can perform large-scale testing of their wave energy technologies. It will cost $80 million and is scheduled to be up and running by 2023. The design includes four testing “berths,” where wave energy devices will be moored to the seafloor and connected to buried cables carrying electricity to an onshore facility. In total, the PacWave South facility will be able to test up to 20 wave energy devices at once.

While wave energy technology is still in the research and development phase, experts see it as a promising newcomer to the renewable energy landscape. In 2019, the global wave energy market was valued at $43.8 million and is expected to more than triple by 2027.
» Read article              


Hydrogen could be the future of energy – but there’s one big road block
Cairney, Hutchinson, Preuss & Chen, in Renew Economy
March 29, 2021

Experts believe hydrogen could be a boon for renewables and a death knell for the burning of fossil fuels, with “green” hydrogen requiring only electricity and water for its manufacture.

As per the 2019 Australian National Hydrogen Strategy, Australia is at full-speed preparing to use hydrogen as a clean, flexible, sustainable, and storable energy source to achieve the decarbonisation promised in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Australia also has the potential to become a superpower in the global supply of hydrogen fuel, due to our world-leading renewable energy capacity and our existing strong networks of infrastructure for gas transport and storage.

There are clear environmental and economic incentives for Australia to establish a hydrogen economy, however it’s not as simple as changing out one source of energy for hydrogen.

For a large roll-out of hydrogen power and for Australia to lead in this space, there’s one huge hurdle that must be addressed. That hurdle is known as “hydrogen embrittlement.”

When engineering alloys such as steels or nickel-based alloys are exposed to hydrogen-containing environments, their mechanical performance can deteriorate to the point that catastrophic failure occurs. Scientists and engineers have known about hydrogen embrittlement for more than a century, but the problem remains unsolved.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY


How Britain’s ‘build back better’ plan went very, very wrong
What the U.S. can learn from the U.K.’s disastrous home retrofit program.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
April 1, 2021

Retrofitting homes is a key pillar of Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan to “build back better” from the COVID-19 recession. The president urged Congress on Wednesday to mobilize $213 billion to “produce, preserve, and retrofit” more than a million homes for affordability and efficiency. In addition to creating jobs, energy efficiency measures like insulating roofs and walls and installing electric heating will save people money on their utility bills and reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s buildings.

But the Biden administration would be wise to look across the pond for a cautionary tale before rolling out any such program too quickly.

Last summer, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration unveiled its own “build back better” economic stimulus package, which centered around a $2 billion program to retrofit England’s homes. The program was supposed to fund energy efficiency and clean heat upgrades in 600,000 homes, getting the country closer to net-zero emissions while creating 100,000 jobs, but it was canceled last week after a shambolic six-month run that may have killed more jobs than it spurred.

“When it comes down to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, this is about the worst thing the government could have done,” Andrew McCausland, the director of a British contracting company, told the i, a daily newspaper. “It has destroyed confidence in the building business in taking on this work in the future.”
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


This Boston car-sharing service puts low-income drivers in electric vehicles
Good2Go’s small fleet of electric vehicles provides a clean, affordable transportation option in a neighborhood where many households cannot afford to own a car and public transit can be unreliable.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 31, 2021

A car-sharing program that combines electric vehicles and income-tiered pricing has launched in one of Boston’s busiest and most diverse neighborhoods.

The Good2Go service, one of the first of its kind in the country, aims to curb carbon emissions while giving low-income Roxbury residents access to reliable, flexible, and affordable transportation. So far the service has deployed four 2019 Nissan Leafs, and dozens of beta testers are using the cars to commute to work, bring their children to school, and run errands.

“We are officially on the road,” said Susan Buchan, director of energy projects at clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture, which operates the new service.

Like well-known car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Good2Go gives users a chance to rent vehicles at an hourly rate. Drivers pick up the car, go about their business, then return the vehicle to the same spot they picked it up, paying only for the time they used. The goal is to give people the advantages of a personal vehicle, without the costs and logistical difficulties of car ownership.

Good2Go, however, tweaks the established car-sharing model to focus on environmental impact and economic equity. By using electric vehicles, the service could have a direct impact on the air quality in the community. And car-sharing programs have been shown to take as many as six to 14 cars off the road for each vehicle deployed, Buchan said, reducing emissions even before the switch to electric.

The pricing model is income-tiered so low-income customers pay $5 an hour instead of the standard hourly rate of $10. Participants qualify for the reduced rate if they are enrolled in any of 20 public assistance programs, such as Medicaid or veterans benefits. Program operators made such an expansive eligibility list to make it as simple as possible for low-income residents to qualify.
» Read article


Riders Are Abandoning Buses and Trains. That’s a Problem for Climate Change.
Public transit offers a simple way for cities to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but the pandemic has pushed ridership, and revenue, off a cliff in many big systems.
By Somini Sengupta, Geneva Abdul, Manuela Andreoni and Veronica Penney, New York Times
March 25, 2021

On the London Underground, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly vacant on a weekday morning, while the Delhi Metro is ferrying fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio, unpaid bus drivers have gone on strike. New York City subway traffic is just a third of what it was before the pandemic.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, public transit is hanging by a thread in many cities around the world. Riders remain at home or they remain fearful of boarding buses and trains. And without their fares, public transit revenues have fallen off a cliff. In some places, service has been cut. In others, fares have gone up and transit workers are facing the prospect of layoffs.

That’s a disaster for the world’s ability to address that other global crisis: climate change. Public transit offers a relatively simple way for cities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a way to improve air quality, noise and congestion.

In some places, fear of the virus has driven people into cars. In the United States, used car sales have shot up and so have prices of used cars. In India, a company that sells secondhand cars online saw sales swell in 2020 and its own value as a company jump to $1 billion, according to news reports. Elsewhere, bike sales have grown, suggesting that people are pedaling a bit more.

The worry about the future is twofold. If commuters shun public transit for cars as their cities recover from the pandemic, that has huge implications for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, if transit systems continue to lose passenger fare revenues, they will not be able to make the investments necessary to be efficient, safe and attractive to commuters.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Biden Takes Aim at Reducing Emissions of Super-Polluting Methane Gas, With or Without the Republicans
The president wants to put pipefitters and miners to work capping “orphaned” gas wells as part of his forthcoming $3 trillion infrastructure plan.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 29, 2021

The first greenhouse gas actions under the Biden administration are likely to be curbs on the climate “super-pollutant” methane, as both Congressional Democrats and the White House readied moves they can make even without help from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged Thursday to bring a resolution to the floor in April that would reverse one of the Trump administration’s final climate policy rollbacks, the lifting of requirements for oil and gas companies to monitor and fix methane leaks from wells and other infrastructure.

That problem was also on President Joe Biden’s mind, as he indicated that fixing methane leaks was one of the key jobs-creation items he planned to include in the infrastructure package he is rolling out this week that is estimated to cost $3 trillion. Biden’s focus was on so-called “orphaned” wells, those that have been abandoned by defunct companies.

“We have over 100,000 wellheads that are not kept, leaking methane,” Biden said at his first White House news conference Thursday. “We can put as many pipefitters and miners to work capping those wells at the same price that they were charged to dig those wells.”

Both the Trump rule repeal and the infrastructure plan are measures that could be passed in Congress without any support from Republicans (although Biden has said he is seeking bipartisan support.)

Adding to the momentum for action on methane was the American Petroleum Institute’s climate action proposal unveiled last week. Although most attention was on the API’s first-ever endorsement of a carbon tax or other pricing mechanism, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group included in its package a call for “direct regulation of methane.”
» Read article              


Appalachian Fracking Faces Financial Risks, Report Warns. Hopes for Petrochemical Plastics Boom ‘Unlikely.’
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 26, 2021

Developing new shale gas fields in Appalachia “may not end up being profitable” in the years ahead according to a new report. In addition, the associated petrochemical buildout that the region has pinned its hopes on as the future of natural gas is “unlikely,” the report states.

Natural gas drillers need prices to rise in order to turn a profit and continue expanding, a scenario that appears doubtful, according to the report published by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center (SEI) and the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), a Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank. Volatile market conditions for plastics are also putting the region’s plans for new petrochemical plants in question.

Given the poor financial results from the industry over the past decade, “gas prices would need to rebound and increase” if the fortunes of Appalachia’s shale industry are to improve, study co-authors, Peter Erickson, climate policy program director at SEI, and Ploy Achakulwisut, a scientist at SEI, wrote in the report.

Appalachia — already suffering from a long drawn out bust in the coal industry — has for much of the past decade seen natural gas prices languish as drillers pumped too much gas out of the ground, which has resulted in persistently low prices. And a renewed price surge appears unlikely as gas faces growing competition from solar and wind.

“Now there are signs that gas itself could get passed up for lower-cost renewables, introducing new risks for communities that rely on gas extraction for employment and tax revenue,” the authors wrote.

Due to liquefied natural gas (LNG) being a powerful and growing source of climate pollution, LNG’s expansion “would need to be — at best — short-lived,” the SEI/ORVI report’s authors state, noting that global decarbonization efforts could displace much of the gas demand that the industry is anticipating.

At the same time, a souring market for petrochemicals — a result of the industry overbuilding capacity and an uncertain plastic consumption outlook in the future — also undercuts the need for developing a major new petrochemical hub in the region. This is much to the disappointment of various business groups, regional politicians, and even the U.S. government who had planned on this being one of the last bastions of hope for the shale gas industry.

“The regional market is way oversupplied. So, you either find some regional use to consume it, or you’re kind of stopped, you hit a brick wall there,” Anne Keller, an independent consultant and former research director for NGLs at consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, told DeSmog.

Keller doesn’t see global decarbonization efforts cutting into gas demand to such an extent that it would hit Appalachian prices for the foreseeable future. “I’m kind of skeptical about that,” she said. Nevertheless, she did agree that the region is suffering from tremendous oversupply of gas, and that petrochemicals do not offer a way out.

The business case for Appalachian petrochemicals was that it had access to a large U.S. market for plastics, there was an abundant and cheap ethane supply, and low logistics costs. “The dynamics of ethylene have changed,” Keller said, referring to the product produced after ethane is “cracked.”

The Atlantic Coast pipeline was cancelled last year due to delays and ballooning costs. Keller said that all eyes are now on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry Appalachian shale gas to the southeast. “That is the big one. It’s critical,” Keller told DeSmog. It is over 90 percent complete but has been hit with legal and regulatory delays and still faces questions about whether it will be finished.

“The view is if that goes through, [the industry will] breathe a sigh of relief for two or three years..but then you’re back to what’s the next tranche of market access,” Keller said. “If it doesn’t go through, you’re going to see a scramble to rethink strategy.”
» Read article              
» Read the SEI-US report

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


No U.S. LNG Export FIDs Predicted in 2021, Says Wood Mackenzie
By Caroline Evans, Natural Gas Intelligence
March 31, 2021

No U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects are expected to be sanctioned this year, marking the second year in a row developers may postpone moving ahead with facilities, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Consultants during a webcast last week said domestic final investment decisions (FID) were unlikely as sponsors struggle to secure long-term contracts

“Generally, we’ve seen a slowdown in the pace of sales contract activity,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Alex Munton, principal analyst for North American LNG. “Pre-FID projects will continue to struggle to secure buyers, given the huge wave of LNG currently under construction globally. For that reason, we see a limited window to project FIDs in the U.S. for the next couple of years.”

Some projects may not survive, he said, noting Annova LNG’s decision to shelve its South Texas development.
» Read article              

» More about LNG

BIOMASS


Biomass a ‘misbegotten’ climate change trend
By Marty Nathan, Daily Hampshire Gazette | Opinion
March 31, 2021

Think globally, act locally. Fairly reliable advice, particularly for tackling massive issues like climate change and social injustice.

It’s a useful approach for the growing number of us who support making a just transition to an economy that no longer is based on burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

It is a particularly appropriate lens through which to view the intensifying effort to prevent Palmer “Renewable” Energy from constructing a 42-megawatt biomass electric-generating plant in East Springfield. Its smokestacks must be 200 feet high because of the amount of pollution it will produce, nearly 200 tons per year of a toxic stew that provokes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, vascular disease, cancer and an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection.

Studies have shown that biomass burning produces more particular matter — the damaging pollutant that buries itself deep in the lungs per unit electricity generated — than does coal. And those high smokestacks are not enough to protect the low-income, racially-diverse community in which the plant is being sited, or the city of Springfield itself, from the smoke and fumes.

Let’s get one thing straight: the inefficient burning of woody biomass for electricity is not an answer to the threat of climate change. The carbon dioxide sequestered in trees is released immediately into the atmosphere when burned, in amounts greater per electrical unit produced than from burning coal, the most harmful fossil fuel. Yes, you can plant trees to recapture that carbon, but that process is not effective for decades for wood wastes, to over a century for whole trees, according to the study authorized by our state nine years ago.

The findings of that study forced the state to remove inefficient biomass from the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Scientists knew we don’t have a century, or even decades, to lower our emissions to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

The recent attempts by politicians to reinstate biomass as a clean and green energy option are a shameless attempt at greenwashing.

This is our local challenge and you can act by calling Gov. Baker at 888-870-7770 and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock at 617-626-7332 to tell them that you are opposed to making biomass subject to renewable energy subsidies and opposed to the Palmer plant. It is a false climate solution and is harmful to people in Springfield and the surrounding area. For more information, go to notoxicbiomass.org/.
» Blog editor’s note: MA-DEP just cancelled the Palmer Renewable Energy plant permit, but Palmer can request an adjudicatory hearing. Your calls to Baker and Woodcock are therefore doubly important. Confirm opposition ahead of a potential hearing, and express opposition to biomass subsidies in the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
» Read MA-DEP letter to Palmer’s Victor Gatto
» Read article              

» Read the Manomet study on Biomass Sustainability and Carbon


The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet
The biomass industry is warming up the South’s economy, but many experts worry it’s doing the same to the climate. Will the Biden Administration embrace it, or cut it loose?
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD, Politico
March 26, 2021

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Nevertheless, the global transition away from fossil fuels has sparked a boom in the U.S. wood-pellet industry, which has built 23 mills throughout the South over the past decade, and is relentlessly trying to brand itself as a 21st-century green energy business. Its basic argument is that the carbon released while trees are burning shouldn’t count because it’s eventually offset by the carbon absorbed while other trees are growing. That is also currently the official position of the U.S. government, along with many other governments around the world.

The rapid growth of biomass power over the past decade is in part a story about the unintended consequences of the arcane accounting rules that countries use to track their progress toward global climate goals.

It’s complicated, but the United Nations basically set up global reporting rules that were designed to avoid double-counting emissions, and inadvertently ended up making it easy not to count the emissions at all. In theory, countries were allowed to ignore the emissions from burning wood in power plants as long as they counted the emissions from logging the wood in forests. In practice, countries have let their power plants burn wood without counting the emissions anywhere, which has made biomass seem as climate-friendly as wind or solar.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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