Tag Archives: methane

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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Weekly News Check-In 9/25/20

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Welcome back.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Of the many gifts Justice Ginsburg left us from her long, brilliantly-lived life, this pearl of wisdom is foremost in my thoughts as she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, and as I edit this week’s newsletter about our collective struggle for a fair and sustainable future. We will keep up the fight, we will keep it classy, and we very much appreciate those who have chosen to join us.

This week we’re forced to acknowledge that Enbridge will have its Weymouth compressor station, despite the long and fierce opposition and lack of any sane rationale for its existence – anywhere but especially in Weymouth. FERC issued its final approval and gas will flow soon. But this natural gas infrastructure asset deserves to be stranded and decommissioned, and resistance will continue until that happens.

We have news of other projects, too, including a link to a petition opposing the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline proposed by French oil giant Total. This project would slice through 1,400km of critical wildlife habitat and vulnerable human communities from western Uganda to Tanzania’s coast. It would carry crude oil for export, but the stuff is so sludgy it will have to be heated over the entire pipeline length just to keep it flowing. That’s just one example of projects and policies demanding opposition, so it’s good to see that some protests are beginning to move cautiously back into the street.

The divestment movement took a couple steps forward this week. Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network published a report identifying the banks most directly responsible for financing the disastrous fracking industry. Wells Fargo has been the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase is next in line. Pull the plug. Meanwhile, twelve major cities around the globe, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, have committed to fossil fuel divestment, pledging to direct their funds to sustainable projects for a green recovery.

Our “Greening the Economy” section includes an interesting pairing: the first article points out the need for carbon pricing as a tool to drive decarbonization at the required pace. The second article explores why both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. appear to have abandoned carbon pricing as a viable option. The climate can’t wait while we figure this out. Between the expected influence on environmental regulations of a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, to the foot-dragging of fossil fuel corporations in reforming their business models, barriers to policy-driven emissions reductions may be hardening.

As usual, there’s better news down at the level of technology advances and state-level initiatives. The rooftop solar industry is applauding a tentative net-metering agreement in South Carolina between advocates and Duke Energy. Their compromise could become a model for net-metering agreements elsewhere. New, long-duration zinc batteries are set to fill a niche in the energy storage market, and California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in that state must be zero-emissions by 2035. In the same week, Tesla announced battery improvements and claims it will eventually offer a $25K EV.

We wrap up with a warning about methane leaking from abandoned gas wells as the fossil fuel industry continues a decline that’s now locked in by increasing investor awareness of risks associated with pipeline infrastructure projects. And since plastics are what we make from an increasing share of the gas and oil pumped out of the ground, our final piece is a Honduran beach postcard.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FERC gives final authorization
Weymouth Compressor Station gets OK to startup
By Chris Lisinski/State House News Service, The Patriot Ledger
September 24, 2020

FERC’s final authorization came amid ongoing opposition to the facility from community groups, environmental and public health activists, and many elected officials who represent the region, who argue that the compressor’s proximity to densely populated neighborhoods and the Fore River present significant threats.

Alice Arena, one of the leaders of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station organization, said her group was “very disappointed” but “not at all surprised” with FERC’s approval.

“FERC is and has been nothing but a rubber stamp organization for the fossil fuel industry for decades, so this isn’t at all a shock,” Arena said in an interview. “I wouldn’t say we’re feeling defeated. I would say we’re feeling angry. We will continue to try to stop them from operating, and we will do that through the courts, and we will do that by proving the continued damage they will do to our air quality.”

Despite pushback, the project was able to move through its permitting hurdles at the state and federal levels.

In January 2019, when state regulators awarded air quality permits for the project, Gov. Charlie Baker said he “basically had no choice” about granting approval because of federal rules governing the process and the results of a health impact assessment he sought.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which conducted the assessment that forecast no major health impacts from the facility’s operation, later announced its opposition to the compressor on environmental and safety grounds.

Department of Environmental Protection regulators disclosed during an appeal process in May 2019 that the health study was based on incomplete air-quality data, but that did not change the outcome of the challenge.
» Read article        

Dear Mr. MonacoSenators Warren And Markey Call For Shutdown Of Weymouth Compressor
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
September 21, 2020

Both of the state’s U.S. senators called Monday for Enbridge to halt operations at its Weymouth compressor station, warning that the facility should not become operational mere weeks after an equipment failure prompted a release of natural gas. In an email, the energy giant said it was moving forward with plans to make sure the plant is “fit for service.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, to pause all activities at the site near the Fore River while investigating the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 emergency shutdown.

The company said that a gasket failure pushed workers to trigger an emergency shutdown system with a volume of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas, though it has not confirmed exactly how much it released.

“Concerns have been raised that this amount of gas, vented at ground level, could have possibly been ignited by a spark from a passing vehicle and caused a fire or an explosion,” Warren and Markey wrote in a letter. “This incident clearly demonstrates that we must do more to understand the dangers that the Weymouth compressor station poses to public health and safety.”
» Read article       
» Read the letter

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Total madness
Nearly One Million People Sign Petition to Stop Total’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline ‘Madness’
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
September 21, 2020

Almost a million people have signed a petition to stop a planned crude oil pipeline in East Africa that campaigners say poses serious risks to communities and wildlife along its route.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, developed by a consortium led by French company Total, will run for 1,443 kilometres from western Uganda to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in neighbouring Tanzania. The multimillion dollar pipeline is supported by the two governments and is being developed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the London Stock Exchange-listed Tullow Oil, alongside Total.

Avaaz, the campaign group hosting the ‘Stop This Total Madness’ petition, says the pipeline “will rip through some of the most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee reserves on Earth, displace tens of thousands of families, and tip the whole planet closer to full-blown climate catastrophe”.
» Read article       
» Sign the petition

TGP incidents in Agawam
MassDEP, activists differ on impact from Tennessee Gas pipeline incidents in Agawam

By Peter Goonan, MassLive
September 18, 2020

A state environmental agency says two recent incidents during construction of the Tennessee Gas pipeline extension project were “relatively minor” and cleaned up — a view that drew sharp criticism from opponents of the project.

“The two events were relatively minor and quickly addressed,” said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The Columbia Gas Resistance Coalition, which opposes the Agawam pipeline project, said one incident in August involved Tennessee Gas being cited for driving trucks through a wetland area, and the second incident this month involved clay mud seeping up from the drilling operation.
» Read article        

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Fridays are backFridays for Future Climate Strikers Are Back on the Streets
By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
September 25, 2020

Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.

Today they are taking to the streets once more.

The Fridays for Futures movement, which started with activist Greta Thunberg skipping school to sit alone outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018, has become a global youth force calling for climate justice. But a surge in support last year was hobbled after coronavirus lockdowns closed schools and kept children at home.

The protest on Friday is the group’s first global action since the pandemic struck and follows meetings between prominent activists and world leaders. Last month, Thunberg and three other climate activists presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter signed by nearly 125,000 people demanding EU leaders “stop pretending that we can solve the climate and ecological crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

They have called for an immediate halt to investments and subsidies in fossil fuels and, in Germany, pressured the government to bring forward its deadline to phase out coal from 2038 to 2030, and to go carbon-neutral by 2035 instead of 2050.
» Read article        

take climate action now
Facebook suspends environmental groups despite vow to fight misinformation
Facebook blames mistake in system for restrictions on groups including Greenpeace USA
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 22, 2020

Facebook has suspended the accounts of several environmental organizations less than a week after launching an initiative it said would counter a tide of misinformation over climate science on the platform.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote and Rainforest Action Network were among those blocked from posting or sending messages on Facebook over the weekend. Activists say hundreds of other individual accounts linked to indigenous, climate and social justice groups were also suspended for an alleged “intellectual property rights violation”.

The suspended people and groups were all involved in a Facebook event from May last year that targeted KKR & Co, a US investment firm that is backing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 670km-long gas development being built in northern British Columbia, Canada.

The suspensions, the day before another online action aimed at KKR & Co, has enraged activists who oppose the pipeline for its climate impact and for cutting through the land of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people.
» Read article        

climate lawsuit SpainClimate Lawsuit Filed in Spain Demanding Government Increase Ambition in Confronting Climate Crisis
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2019

Environmental organizations have brought a climate change lawsuit against the government of Spain in an effort to compel more ambitious action in addressing the climate emergency.

Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.

“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
» Read article       
» Read the press release (Spanish)

Betchatow plant will close
Polish Court Recognizes Climate Damage, Rules Coal Plant Operators Negotiate Closure with Environmental Lawyers

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2020

A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.

The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

fracking fiasco
Fracking Fiasco: New report names Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase as main players funding U.S. shale bust
By Oil Change International – press release
September 24, 2020

A new report by Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) shows how major banks have continued pouring money into fracking companies in recent years despite numerous warnings that the sector was financially unsustainable — on top of the well-documented environmental, health and climate impacts of the industry.

Our research reveals that financing for the fracking industry is highly concentrated, with Wells Fargo the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase a standout second place. The fracking industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with dozens of bankruptcies so far this year, but its troubles long predate the coronavirus.

“Banks and asset managers have enabled the oil and gas industry’s destructive boom and bust cycles for generations. Our planet cannot afford another oil boom. We need regulators, shareholders, and the public to force banks to consider the climate impact and demand they stop financing destructive and unstable business activities,” said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. Program Director at Oil Change International. “Our collective health continues to be at risk, and we cannot let banks fund another oil boom when this pandemic passes.”

“The fracking sector has become a poster child for the serious problems facing the U.S. oil and gas industry,” said Alison Kirsch, lead researcher for RAN’s climate and energy program. “The disastrous climate consequences of fracking, as well as its horrific community health impacts, are well known, but by continuing to pour billions of dollars into this dying sector, banks are also injecting a real level of systemic risk into the U.S. economy.”
» Read article       
» Read the report

cities pledge to divest
12 major cities pledge fossil fuel divestment
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
September 23, 2020

The mayors of 12 major cities around the globe have pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies in an effort to further support a green and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

The C40 Cities-backed declaration, unveiled at a virtual Climate Week NYC event on Tuesday, calls on signatories to commit to divesting all city assets and pension funds from fossil fuel companies; increasing financial investments in climate solutions; and advocating for fossil-free finance from other investors.

The signatories include the mayors of Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, along with the leaders of eight international cities including London and Oslo. Details of individual divestment amounts and timelines were not shared. Following this commitment, cities must navigate their specific divestment processes and structures in proposing next steps to pension boards.

A public declaration from a group of leading cities “sends a huge signal to the marketplace,” [New York’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor Dan Zarrilli] said, which is key to leading this charge and effectively pursuing a green recovery.

“It’s absurd how much we as a globe continue to subsidize fossil fuels, and part of the call here is to make sure our green recovery … is pulling those subsidies out” and instead putting investments toward green jobs and clean infrastructure, Zarrilli said.
» Read article        

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Darwinian challengeWoodMac: Energy Sector Faces ‘Darwinian Challenge’ to Tame Climate Change
The world is on course for 2.8 to 3 degrees Celsius of warming as existing infrastructure weighs heavy and COVID-19 slows progress.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
September 24, 2020

The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2 degrees Celsius of warming to as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie Energy Transition Outlook.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and ideally to limit it 1.5 degrees. Yet just as efforts toward that goal are finally scaling up — via the EU’s amplified climate targets, China’s new carbon-neutral target for 2060, and other examples — the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a massive dose of uncertainty.

“As the world begins to reconstruct its economy, all energy and natural-resources sectors will face a survival of the fittest,” said Prakash Sharma, head of markets and transitions for Asia-Pacific at Wood Mackenzie. “We call it the ‘Darwinian challenge’ because society and investors must evolve and adapt to the changes needed to overcome the twin crises and prepare for the future.”

“While the world is adding renewable power generation capacity and manufacturing electric vehicles, it is still not enough. No efforts have been made to decarbonize the existing infrastructure,” said Sharma, pointing out that huge swaths of existing steel, cement, refining and transportation infrastructure still have decades left in their life cycles.

David Brown, head of markets and transitions for the Americas at Wood Mackenzie, said that the appropriate figure for the task is $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. An EU carbon credit in its Emissions Trading System is currently priced at just shy of €30 ($35).

“We need more policy support than is available today. The EU is the most favorable,” Brown said during a press conference to launch the report, adding that even that support limits access to carbon credits. “Governments need to actually sponsor these projects to get them off the ground.”

Brown alluded to the need for a regulatory overhaul to make the 2-degree pathway a reality. WoodMac reports that the investment levels required, though not guaranteed, appear to be attainable. The technology necessary already exists, even where it has yet to be scaled. All eyes now return to politicians and regulators.
Blog editor’s note: November 3, 2020… Vote early if you can!
» Read article

priced outPriced Out
Both parties used to love the carbon tax. So why are they giving up on it?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 23, 2020

Although carbon dioxide itself doesn’t constitute a direct health threat, fossil fuel use also releases a slurry of toxic chemicals that can lead to asthma, strokes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million people around the world die each year from causes linked to air pollution.

Burning fossil fuels, therefore, creates a massive cost that no one is paying for — a “negative externality” in economist-speak. “Allowing people to emit CO2 into the atmosphere for free is similar to allowing people to smoke in a crowded room or dump trash into a national park,” wrote the Nobel prize-winning economist William Nordhaus in 2008. Nicholas Stern, also an economist and the author of an influential 2006 report on global warming, has argued that climate change “is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.”

To those who spend their days thinking about money and markets, there’s a simple fix: Put a price on carbon to reflect its actual costs to the planet and human health. If fossil fuels are more expensive, the thinking goes, individuals, corporations, and governments will not only use less energy, they’ll also boost wind and solar power, expand public transportation, and take other steps necessary to build a green economy.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

RBG
How Justice Ginsburg’s Death Could Affect Future Climate Rulings
Legal experts say a sixth conservative Supreme Court judge could imperil current and future emissions regulations
By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News, in Scientific American
September 22, 2020

If President Trump is able to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the nation’s highest bench, he may stymie climate action for generations to come.

Legal experts say that the addition of a sixth conservative justice to the court could lock in opposition to expansive readings of the Clean Air Act that encompass greenhouse gas emissions or trigger a reexamination of the landmark 2007 climate case Massachusetts v. EPA.

In either case, court watchers say, the outcome doesn’t bode well for the future of climate regulation.

“Climate change is a crisis, and we really need all the tools we can get, and some of them are probably not going to be there,” said Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If Trump is able to fill this vacancy, there’ll be at least five conservative votes for at least 20 years, and we don’t know what … new doctrines that are not now on the horizon that could really weaken the power of the government to deal with climate change,” he said.

The Trump administration has made environmental deregulation a cornerstone of its agenda for the last four years, rolling out major changes to rules including emissions standards for automobiles and power plants. Green groups have lambasted the changes as violations of federal environmental and administrative law, which require reasoned rulemaking.

But a conservative Supreme Court majority that favors curbing agency powers could limit oversight of emissions without even touching Massachusetts v. EPA, which said the government can regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, said Hana Vizcarra, staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

“EPA has been reconsidering their own interpretations of the law in order to limit their own authority,” she said.
» Read article        

big oil reality check
Spoiler alert: Big oil companies are still failing on climate
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International
September 23, 2020

Over the past year, big oil and gas companies have seen their social license and financial bottom lines face unprecedented threats. With climate disaster after climate disaster devastating communities across the globe and oil markets crashing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies have faced growing pressure – from frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples, shareholder activists and major investors, policy experts and city leaders – to take responsibility for the climate wreckage they are causing and change course.

In response, major oil and gas companies have released a slew of new commitments outlining their climate “ambitions” and pledges to become “net zero” carbon companies, all signs that the pressure is having an effect. But these oil company pledges and promises cannot be taken at face value.

That’s why today, Oil Change International, in collaboration with 30 other organisations, released a new assessment of the latest climate pledges from BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total. In the briefing, called Big Oil Reality Check, we focus on how these companies’ plans stack up against the bare minimum of what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

As one might expect from corporations notorious for decades of climate deception, on the whole, these plans use fancy terminology and convoluted metrics to cover up still grossly inadequate levels of action. Granted, some companies are doing more than others (e.g., Exxon and Chevron really are the worst). But being a “leader” among laggards doesn’t cut it when we’re in a climate emergency – a crisis that the oil and gas industry has done the most to cause.
» Read article       
» Download the paper

second-place finishArctic Sea ice melts to second-place finish at annual minimum
By Gloria Dickie, Mongabay
September 21, 2020

After a spring and summer that saw record-breaking heat waves above the Arctic Circle — with 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures — the sea ice floating atop the Arctic Ocean reached its annual minimum extent last Wednesday, with 3.74 million square kilometers (1.44 million square miles) of sea ice remaining, coming in a close second to 2012.

In the last decade, Arctic sea ice cover has declined drastically. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) reached in 2012 was largely due to an intense late-season cyclone which decimated the residual ice. What worries scientists is that 2020’s sea ice vanishing act followed a similar trajectory, even in the absence of such an extreme weather event. In no other years on record besides 2012 and 2020 has sea ice extent dropped below 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). To many experts, this indicates the Arctic has entered a new ecological state.

The drastic heating up of the Arctic is significant in itself, but also to the planet. Over the past 30 years, the region has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with the significant shifts up North not only felt there, but ultimately influencing weather patterns in the lower latitudes, possibly as far south as the equator.

Jennifer Francis studies these connections as a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. Her past research has focused extensively on how Arctic warming impacts the mid-latitudes of North America, primarily through a weakening of the northern jet stream — a high speed, high altitude river of wind that circles the pole.

The temperature difference between the Arctic (cold) and the temperate zone (warm) is one of the primary drivers of the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere. But as sea ice vanishes and Arctic temperatures increase, the temperature variant between these regions is getting smaller. That means there’s less force driving the winds in the jet stream from west to east. Losing energy, the weakened jet stream starts to swing wildly southward, deviating from its typical polar path into lower latitudes which can cause temperate weather patterns to stall in place — bringing extended bouts of extreme weather, either drought or deluge, heatwaves or even cold periods.
» Read article                  

risky storageThis Oregon forest was supposed to store carbon for 100 years. Now it’s on fire.
By Emily Pontecorvo and Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 18, 2020

As fires ripped through the West this month, displacing families and releasing a thick, choking cloud of smoke that reached all the way to Europe, some scientists began to worry about yet another loss. Thousands of acres of forest, maintained to offset greenhouse gas emissions, might be going up in smoke.

Claudia Herbert, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying risks to forest carbon offsets, noticed that the Lionshead Fire — which tore through 190,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon and forced a terrifying evacuation of the nearby town of Detroit — appeared to have almost completely engulfed the largest forest dedicated to sequestering carbon dioxide in the state.

The project, owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, spans 24,000 acres. Before the fires, the state of California had issued more than 2.6 million offset credits based on the carbon stored in its trees. That translates to 2.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of driving 560,000 cars around for one year.

California has a cap-and-trade law that limits greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters like power plants. Those companies, however, have a little bit of leeway — in order to meet the law’s requirements, instead of fully reducing their emissions, they can buy “carbon offsets.” Those often take the form of paying a forest manager to boost growth so the trees will suck up, and store, more carbon dioxide over the long term: in theory, at least 100 years. Those offsets are supposed to counterbalance any extra emissions, so the climate is no worse off than before.

Runaway wildfires, however, throw a wrench in that plan — and as climate change intensifies fires around the world, forest carbon offsets are only going to get riskier.
» Read article        

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net metering agreement
In South Carolina, a Happy Compromise on Net Metering
The agreement between Duke Energy and Sunrun may allow other states to resolve the debate after years of conflict.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
September 24, 2020

A compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve one of the major conflicts in the clean energy transition: the debate over net metering.

Duke Energy has reached an agreement with Sunrun, the rooftop solar company, and Vote Solar, the solar advocacy group, that sets up a process for compensating solar owners for the excess electricity they send back to the grid.

This potential breakthrough in the net metering debate follows years of bitter conflict in the Carolinas and across the country.

Under the plan, solar owners would pay rates that vary depending on the time of day, and would get credits at those same rates for sending excess electricity to the grid. The rates would be highest from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when electricity demand is high. Rates would be lower during the day and lowest overnight.

The agreement, which is still subject to approval by state regulators, would allow Duke to pay lower rates for solar during the hours when the grid has plenty of electricity, such as in the morning. And by paying higher rates during times of peak demand, Duke would be encouraging solar owners to set up their panels in places that get more sun during the evening.

“This new arrangement not only recognizes the value of solar and the enabling energy grid, but it unlocks additional benefits for all customers by addressing when utilities experience peak demand across their systems in the Carolinas,” said Lon Huber, Duke Energy’s vice president for rate design and strategic solutions, in a statement.
» Read article       
» Read Duke Energy’s announcement

ORPC tide power
Maine company looks to tidal power as renewable energy’s next generation
After years of development, tidal and river energy supporters say the technology is on the cusp of wider commercial deployment, especially if it can win federal support.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By ORPC / Courtesy
September 23, 2020

With much of New England’s attention on offshore wind, a Maine company hopes to put itself on the map with tidal energy.

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Eastport on a five-year plan to develop a $10 million microgrid primarily powered by tidal generation.

The project will be an opportunity for the small port city to expand its workforce and build its appeal for younger residents. It’s also an opportunity for ORPC to expand its reach as the company’s leaders try to find a viable market for ocean- and river-based generation in an industry largely dominated by solar and wind.

While tidal and river energy haven’t reached the same level of visibility as other renewable sources, supporters say these and related resources like wave and ocean current energy — collectively called marine and hydrokinetic resources — are at a similar point now to where solar and wind were a decade ago. They say the predictability of tides and currents in places like the Western Passage, the inlet on which Eastport is located, makes these resources promising as governments aim to create a resilient grid.

The federal Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also looking at hydrokinetic energy. “Each one of those [resources] has massive amounts of energy distributed at different locations around the country,” said Levi Kilcher, a researcher who focuses on ocean energy at the lab.

“If we’re totally honest, the amount of energy that’s in the tides and in the waves is not as large” as wind or solar, Kilcher said. “We really see the value in sort of diversifying our energy sources.”

Tides are very predictable, he said, and so are other water resources like rivers, waves and the Gulf Stream. “Then couple that with a diversified energy portfolio,” he said. “In my opinion, a more diverse set of energy resources gives you a more resilient energy system.”
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

zinc precipitate
Can a Novel Zinc Battery Deliver Clean Multiday Backup Power?
California is testing Canadian startup e-Zinc’s long-duration technology to keep businesses powered through wildfires and outages.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
September 18, 2020

California is looking for ways to keep power flowing to customers amid wildfires without burning fossil fuels. A Canadian storage technology startup thinks it has the solution.

This summer, Toronto-based e-Zinc won a $1.3 million grant from the California Energy Commission to demonstrate its long-duration zinc battery for the commercial and industrial market. As the state’s worst wildfire season on record rages on, the urgency to find new tools for clean backup power has only grown.

The batteries precipitate little bits of zinc out of a solution while charging, using a windshield-wiper-like tool to clear the plate and make room for more charging. This allows for longer-duration storage, while the cheap component costs promise to keep prices low relative to other options on the market.

The CEC grant will help the startup stake a claim on an underserved market, CEO James Larsen said in an interview.

Lithium-ion batteries are good at daily cycling for bill management, but they can’t run long enough to guarantee multiday backup, he noted. Customers looking for economic multiday backup power usually have to turn to fossil fuels, like gas or diesel generators.

“We can do both: We can do the short-duration time-of-use arbitrage and demand-charge reduction and help monetize those opportunities for customers, but we can also provide them up to two days of backup power in the face of an outage,” Larsen said.
» Read article        

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cal ICE ban by 2035
Newsom calls for California ban on new gas-fueled cars by 2035
By COLBY BERMEL, Politico
September 23, 2020


Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for California to ban new gasoline-fueled vehicles within 15 years in a bid to combat climate change and make the state the first in the nation to stop sales of cars with internal combustion engines.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday signed an executive order that directs the California Air Resources Board to establish regulations requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

The ban on gas-powered vehicles is likely to face opposition from automakers and Republican leaders in Washington, who have already battled the state over its stricter fuel economy rules. The Trump administration is fighting the state in court over whether it can set stricter emissions standards than the nation as a whole.

While environmentalists embraced his call to ban gas-powered vehicles, some questioned Tuesday why he wasn’t doing more to stop fracking.

Newsom announced he was asking state lawmakers to implement a fracking ban by 2024, but stopped well short of directing his own oil and gas regulators to stop approving fracking permits. Environmentalists have increased their criticism of Newsom on fracking in recent days, especially as the governor has emphasized California’s role in fighting climate change.
» Read article        

Tesla battery tech
How Tesla plans to make batteries cheap enough for a $25,000 car
Tesla’s big “battery day” event, explained.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARS Technica
September 23, 2020

Tesla’s business model depends on continuous improvements in the cost and energy density of batteries. When Tesla was founded in 2003, it was barely possible to build a battery-powered sports car with a six-figure price tag. Over the next 15 years, cheaper and more powerful batteries enabled Tesla to build roomier cars with longer ranges at lower prices.

Tesla expects that progress to continue—and maybe even accelerate—in the next few years. And it isn’t waiting for other companies to come up with better battery designs. In recent years, Tesla has had a large team of engineers re-thinking every aspect of Tesla’s batteries, from the chemistry inside the cells to the way the batteries are incorporated into vehicles.

At a much-touted Tuesday event, Tesla pulled back the curtain on a suite of improvements the company hopes to roll out in the next three years. In total, Tesla says that all of these innovations put together will enable a 56-percent reduction in the per-kWh cost of its batteries.

As a result, Elon Musk said, Tesla will be able to realize a longstanding dream: a truly affordable electric car.

“We’re confident that long-term we can design and manufacture a compelling $25,000 electric vehicle,” Musk said. He added that this would happen “probably about three years from now.” Tesla didn’t provide a name or other details about this planned low-cost Tesla.
» Read article        

Airbus innovatingAirbus reveals plans for zero-emission aircraft fueled by hydrogen
Aviation firm announces three different concepts with aim of taking to the skies by 2035
Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 21, 2020

Airbus has announced plans for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft models that run on hydrogen and could take to the skies by 2035.

The European aersospace company revealed three different aircraft concepts that would be put through their paces to find the most efficient way to travel long distances by plane without producing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global heating.

UK holidaymakers and business travellers could fly from London to the Canary Islands, Athens or eastern Europe without producing carbon emissions, should the plans become a commercial reality.

Guillaume Faury, the Airbus chief executive, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks the “most important transition this industry has ever seen”.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

abandoned gas well
A Dying Industry is Leaving A Deadly Legacy
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 18, 2020

An important investigation by Bloomberg Green, published yesterday, examined the issue of the shocking state of over three million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States. Nor is this a problem only linked to America. There are believed to be nearly 30 million abandoned oil and gas wells worldwide.

Many of these wells are leaking methane, the potent greenhouse gas or polluting water courses. As the article states, “if carbon dioxide is a bullet, methane is a bomb.”

We have known for a long while that abandoned wells were a problem, but we still do not know the extent of the problem. Even now. The oil industry may be dying, but it will still pollute us for decades after its death.

One scientist tracking the issue, Mary Kang from Princeton, has been modeling how carbon dioxide and methane leak from old wells. In 2016, Kang published a study of 88 abandoned well sites in Pennsylvania, revealing that 90% of wells investigated leaked methane.

Another scientist working on the issue, Anthony Ingraffea, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell who has studied leaks from oil and gas wells for decades, told Bloomberg, “we really don’t have a handle on it yet… We’ve poked millions of holes thousands of feet into Mother Earth to get her goods, and now we are expecting her to forgive us?”
» Read article       
» Read original Bloomberg Green article

risks revealed
As pipeline projects cancel, future falls into question
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 15, 2020

For years, a small clique of investors has questioned the logic of putting money into oil and gas pipelines that take decades to pay off when climate change policy was pushing the energy sector away from fossil fuels.

Banks and other institutions, however, largely continued to finance the multibillion-dollar projects, confident in projections by oil and gas companies that the so-called energy transition would take time and oil and natural gas would be needed for decades to come.

But a rash of cancellations and delays of new pipelines, largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, raises questions of whether those skeptics’ warnings are starting to catch on and the cancellations reflect a newfound wariness among banks to back the projects in view of an uncertain future for fossil fuels.

“No doubt some of these decisions are short-term concerns, but also an understanding there is a long-term risk profile for (pipeline) assets that cost billions of dollars and at best have 10-year shipper commitments,” said Andrew Logan, head of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit advising investors on sustainability. “There’s a lot more exposure for investors than had been understood before.”

The potential impact of tougher climate policies is increasing borrowing costs for oil and gas companies, analysts said, even as low interest rates push down borrowing costs for most industries.

“The environmental pushback is starting to increase the cost of capital for some producers, leading to lower overall production, and that ultimately boomerangs into the (pipeline) space,” said John Coleman, an oil analyst at the research firm Wood Mackenzie. “The big question is how long does that transition take. Right now, the market is pricing in a rapid transition.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

trash tsunami
‘Trash Tsunami’ Washes up on Honduran Beaches

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 23, 2020

A “trash tsunami” has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

The trash is mostly plastic waste, Voice of America reported Tuesday, and it is polluting the typically pristine tropical beaches of Omoa in the country’s north. Honduran officials said Saturday that the refuse was coming from the mouth of the Motagua River in neighboring Guatemala. It poses a problem for the local economy because it depends on the tourism the beaches attract.

“This wave of trash which came from the Motagua River really surprised us, and even though it caused problems, it has not stopped our activities,” Honduran environment official Lilian Rivera said, as Yahoo News reported. “We are committed to cleaning our beaches and keeping them clean, but today we are demanding that authorities in Tegucigalpa take strong actions, actions to find a permanent solution to this problem.”

Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras.

The Hondoran government, meanwhile, has demanded action from Guatemala to stem the tide of plastic, according to Voice of America.

But the plastic flowing from Guatemala’s Motagua River is an ongoing problem for the region, as The Intercept reported in 2019. The plastic tide is fed by the fact that Guatemala has few managed landfills or wastewater treatment plants. The plastic then washes out in the Caribbean Sea, home to the biodiverse Mesoamerican reef.
» Read article        

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 9/18/20

banner 14

Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station generated a lot of news this week. We lead with an excellent report by DeSmog Blog’s Dana Drugmand, covering an accidental methane leak during testing. Ms. Drugmand also includes a summary of the many problems  and objections that make this facility so controversial. In spite of the methane leak, renewed calls for the project’s shut-down, and fresh criticism of the disputed 2019 Health Impact Assessment, developer Enbridge just sought federal approval to begin operations as early as October 1st.

Every week seems to bring several more climate-related lawsuits, as cities and states take legal action against the fossil fuel industry. Cleaning up after hurricanes, floods, and fires is crushingly expensive, and these suits seek compensation from the corporations and their lobbies for the fraud and deception that led to the current crisis. The state of Connecticut and city of Charleston, SC are the latest to take action.

New legislation aims to stop further harm by rolling back fossil fuel expansion. Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), introduced the Future Generations Protection Act, which would “ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants, stop hydraulic fracking, and ban crude oil and natural gas exports”, among other measures. Congress is also probing ways to insert green economic development into Covid-19 relief funding.

As we conclude the northern hemisphere’s hottest summer on record, life is becoming untenable in previously desirable parts of the country. We start with an accounting of future emissions expected from the Trump administration’s rollback of dozens of environmental regulations, and follow with a look at the human migration that will result when those rollbacks play out in the climate.

Assuming we manage to quickly and decisively reverse our current disastrous policies, clean energy deployment will have to accelerate substantially. A new study finds that solar buildout needs to proceed at a pace six times greater than the 2019 level to achieve zero carbon by mid century. There’s also more work to be done in clean transportation, as some of the current generation of electric buses are falling short of performance requirements, especially in winter conditions.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries and electric vehicles. This is a big deal and FERC deserves credit for doing the right thing. Now, if they could only apply the same principles to pipeline projects….

The fossil fuel industry seems to have exhausted its run on the policy of denying, ignoring, and self-policing their methane emissions problem. Satellite-based methane detection technology and increased global awareness have left nowhere to hide. Accountability is long overdue but seems to be coming.

We close with outstanding reporting from NPR and PBS/Frontline on the decades-long scam by the oil/gas and plastics industries that sold the myth of plastics recycling to a public that was growing alarmed about huge volumes of trash flowing to landfills and oceans. It’s vital to understand this story at a time when the industry plans to significantly ramp up plastics production – and still has no viable way to dispose or recycle the stuff.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unplanned not unexpected
‘Unplanned Gas Release’ at Controversial Gas Facility in Weymouth, South of Boston
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
September 15, 2020

The standard, pre-operational testing of a new natural gas compressor station in the Massachusetts community of Weymouth, south of Boston, had barely begun last week when a gasket failure prompted an emergency shutdown of the facility and resulted in an unintentional gas leak. Weymouth’s compressor station, once open, would keep gas pumping through a regional pipeline system, but even before this gas leak, its road to get there has been bumpy, with outcries over its air pollution permit and health concerns from the surrounding community.

Enbridge, the Canadian-based energy pipeline corporation behind the controversial Weymouth compressor station, sent a written notice to Massachusetts state regulators on Friday, September 11 informing them of the mechanical failure and “unplanned” gas release. The compressor station’s approval plan requires this notification when there is an unplanned gas release exceeding 10,000 standard cubic feet in volume. According to Enbridge, 265,000 standard cubic feet of gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were leaked during the incident.

Natural gas, also known as fossil gas, is composed almost entirely of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that has roughly 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the short-term. Both planned and unplanned gas releases in pipeline infrastructure like compressor stations add methane to the atmosphere, contributing to the ongoing climate crisis. Emissions of VOCs and chemicals including some known carcinogens are also common with gas compressor stations. Explosions and fires have occurred in gas systems, including compressors, all over the country.

Activists opposed to the Weymouth compressor have repeatedly raised a number of climate, health, and safety risks. The contentious project has seen sustained local protests and direct action for the last several years. Earlier this year, Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, an environmental researcher, went on a two-week hunger strike to raise awareness of the compressor’s public health and safety hazards.

But federal and state regulators have apparently ignored these concerns. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which initially approved the project in 2017, granted permission in late November last year for Enbridge subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission to begin construction on the compressor.

Massachusetts permitting authorities such as the Office of Coastal and Zone Management and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have also green-lighted the project. In June a federal appeals court overturned the project’s air quality permit, finding that the DEP erred in approving it, but on August 31, the court reversed its decision and reinstated the permit.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge pipeline carrying fossil gas through the Northeast region and into Canada, where it could be exported. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Nova Scotia, however, has not yet been built and it is unclear exactly where the gas is going as several utility companies that originally signed onto the project have since said they do not need the Weymouth compressor to meet customer gas demand. 

“The question of where the gas is going is totally up in the air,” Alice Arena, Weymouth resident and president of the community group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, told DeSmog.
» Read article            

 

compressor pic 9-3-20
Enbridge seeks to turn on Weymouth compressor station
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
September 17, 2020

WEYMOUTH_ An unplanned gas release from a compressor station in the Fore River Basin, on Sept. 11 is not deterring Enbridge Inc. from trying to have the controversial facility be in full operation by Oct. 1.

Enbridge is requesting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allow the compressor station to be fully operative by its subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the opposition group requested FERC to order the facility shut down after the gasket failure.

“They had an emergency shutdown system, but it was not fully operative,” she said. “Their (Enbridge) letter to the DEP said the emergency shutdown system was not fully operative.”

Arena said FERC had not done an investigation into how the gasket failure occurred.

“We are working with Sen. Markey’s office to get the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) involved because the facility is part of an interstate pipeline,” she said. “That is in the works. Nobody has gone down to the site to say, why did your emergency shutdown system not work?”

Arena said the natural gas leak from the gasket failure might have been worse if it occurred at 2 a.m. because there were no workers at the facility.

“The gas buildup could have been so immense that there could have been a fire,” she said.

Arena said FRRACS couldn’t fathom how the compressor station could be ready for full service on Oct. 1 because Enbridge has not finished its commissioning activities.
» Read article            

 

Lynch calls for shutdown
Congressman Lynch pushes for compressor shutdown
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
September 15, 2020

Congressman Stephen Lynch is calling for a halt to operations of the natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin after an unplanned gas release last week just days after the facility started testing.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, called the compressor station a “misguided and dangerous project” that poses an “imminent public safety threat” to the residents of Weymouth and nearby communities.

He said the station should be shut down pending extensive state and federal oversight following an unplanned release of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas at the facility last week, just days after testing started to prepare for operations.

“The September 11th gas leak in Weymouth has greatly exacerbated our concerns – particularly in the wake of the series of devastating natural gas explosions that occurred in the Merrimack Valley in 2018 and considering the marked increase in pipeline safety incidents reported by (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) over the last two decades,” Lynch wrote in the letter.

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks.
» Read article            

 

Fore River HIA
MAPC Releases Independent Evaluation of Fore River Health Impact Assessment
Statement by MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen, MAPC
September 14, 2020

Today, I am releasing an independent evaluation of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) regarding the proposal to site a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, MA. The evaluation was conducted by Public Health by Design (PHD), a consulting group with broad expertise in international standards for the conduct of HIAs. PHD is based in London, England. [The following excerpts are from the summary of PHD’s findings]

  1. HIA scoping limitations. PHD found that the HIA was limited by Governor Baker’s Directive, which narrowed the HIA’s scope and split the air quality assessment from other health-relevant issues, including public safety in the case of malfunction and impacts on climate. Furthermore, the time allocated to complete the HIA, and the resources made available for that purpose, were highly constrained.
  2. Cumulative pollutant exposures assessment. PHD found that MAPC should have gone further in the assessment of cumulative exposures in the study area.
  3. Environmental Justice communities. PHD also found that MAPC did not conduct adequate outreach to nearby Environmental Justice communities or ensure their residents were represented on the Advisory Committee.
  4. Health impacts of emissions below regulatory thresholds. Finally, PHD found that the findings of the report tended to under-estimate the possible health effects of emissions that fall below regulatory thresholds.     

» Read statement 

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

 

Connecticut trendingConnecticut Becomes the Fifth State to Sue Big Oil over Climate Change
By Dana Drugmand, Drilled News
September 14, 2020

On Monday, September 14, Connecticut announced it had filed a lawsuit in state court against oil major ExxonMobil for alleged “decades of deceit” on the risks of climate change that stem from burning fossil fuels.

“ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a press release. “ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health and our economy. Yet it chose to deceive the public. No more.”

At a time when much of the West Coast is engulfed in flames, fossil fuel companies are facing a torrent of climate accountability lawsuits from cities and states with four new cases filed this month alone.

Connecticut’s lawsuit comes on the heels of back-to-back lawsuits filed against Exxon and other oil and gas companies by the city of Charleston, South Carolina and by the state of Delaware on September 9 and 10, respectively. Hoboken, New Jersey sued some of these same fossil fuel firms on September 2. All of these cases are centered on allegations that the industry deliberately deceived the public on the climate risks of its fossil fuel products in order to stave off climate policies and protect profits.
» Read article      
» Read the press release        

 

Charleston up nextClimate Litigation Reaches American South with Charleston, SC Filing Latest Suit
By Dana Drugmand, Drilled News
September 10, 2020

 

The city of Charleston, South Carolina is going to court to hold two dozen oil and gas companies accountable for alleged deception about the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change.

Charleston filed its lawsuit against 24 petroleum firms in South Carolina state court on September 9, joining around 20 other communities across the country pursuing similar litigation against the fossil fuel industry. Hoboken, New Jersey filed a climate lawsuit just last week against six major oil and gas companies plus the industry’s largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. 24 hours after Charleston’s announcement, the state of Delaware announced the filing of its climate liability suit, against several fossil fuel companies and the American Petroleum Institute.

The Charleston lawsuit names major petroleum companies and their affiliates such as BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Shell Oil.

“As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a press release. “And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception.”
» Read article          
» Read the Charleston press release               

» More about protests and actions        

 

LEGISLATION

 

US Capitol
Reps. Schakowsky, Barragán Introduce Legislation to End Fossil Fuel Expansion and Protect Communities
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
September 17, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Future Generations Protection Act. This bill would help ensure a rapid shift to clean renewable energy by stopping further expansion of fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Specifically, the Future Generations Protection Act would ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants, stop hydraulic fracking, and ban crude oil and natural gas exports. It would also prohibit the Federal Energy Resources Commission from approving new liquified natural gas terminal siting or construction, unless doing so would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The wildfires currently devastating our country and heightened hurricane threat prove we can’t afford to wait any longer to act on climate change,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “These once-in-a-generation disasters are now normal occurrences and securing our environmental health and prosperity for future generations requires that we address the source of the problem — fossil fuels. Of course, Congress must be thorough when it comes to passing legislation that has the potential to cause mass labor displacement and pair this bill with a jobs package. The Future Generations Protection Act is a critical step toward creating opportunities for more economically viable solutions and a cleaner, healthier future for all.”
» Read press release                                                

» More about legislation            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

 

trailing EuropeHouse to probe US lag on leveraging clean energy for COVID-19 recovery, consider bipartisan energy bill
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 11, 2020

While the U.S. has yet to include green infrastructure and clean energy in any of its COVID-19 recovery packages, countries across Europe and elsewhere were comparatively quick to tie climate policy into their economic recovery plans.

“What’s interesting about the EU situation is they already had a plan,” said Jennifer Huang, senior international fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy         

 

CLIMATE

 

damage assessment
What Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Mean for Global Warming
President Trump has made dismantling federal climate policies a centerpiece of his administration. A new analysis from the Rhodium Group finds those rollbacks add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.
By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer, New York Times
September 17, 2020

The Trump administration has acted to repeal or weaken at least 100 environmental regulations over the past four years, including a number of Obama-era climate policies that Mr. Trump has said stifle businesses.

Assuming these Trump administration policies go forward as planned and survive legal challenges, the United States will emit the equivalent of an extra 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide between now and 2035, the Rhodium Group estimated. That’s more than Germany, Britain and Canada together emitted from energy use in 2018, the latest year for which data is available.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of global warming, which is increasingly causing damage throughout the United States. More frequent flooding along the coasts, increased fire hazard in the West, worsening air quality, and fiercer heat waves have all been tied to rising global temperatures. If emissions are not reined in, scientists say, the damage will only deepen.
» Read article          
» Read the Rhodium Group analysis                 

 

moving day
Climate Change Will Force a New American Migration
Wildfires rage in the West. Hurricanes batter the East. Droughts and floods wreak damage throughout the nation. Life has become increasingly untenable in the hardest-hit areas, but if the people there move, where will everyone go?
By Abrahm Lustgarten, photography by Meridith Kohut, ProPublica
September 15, 2020

For years, Americans have avoided confronting [climate] changes in their own backyards. The decisions we make about where to live are distorted not just by politics that play down climate risks, but also by expensive subsidies and incentives aimed at defying nature. In much of the developing world, vulnerable people will attempt to flee the emerging perils of global warming, seeking cooler temperatures, more fresh water and safety. But here in the United States, people have largely gravitated toward environmental danger, building along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and settling across the cloudless deserts of the Southwest.

Across the United States, some 162 million people — nearly one in two — will most likely experience a decline in the quality of their environment, namely more heat and less water. For 93 million of them, the changes could be particularly severe, and by 2070, our analysis suggests, if carbon emissions rise at extreme levels, at least four million Americans could find themselves living at the fringe, in places decidedly outside the ideal niche for human life. The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable. And the nation’s federal flood-insurance program is for the first time requiring that some of its payouts be used to retreat from climate threats across the country. It will soon prove too expensive to maintain the status quo.
» Read article            

 

hottest summer
Northern hemisphere breaks record for hottest ever summer
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
September 14, 2020

This summer was the hottest ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, according to US government scientists.

June, July and August were 1.17C (2.11F) above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

The new record surpassed the summers of 2016 and 2019. Last month was also the second-hottest August ever recorded for the globe. The numbers put 2020 on track to be one of the five warmest years, according to Noaa.

United Nations officials have warned that many countries are not prepared to advance climate ambitions, while the US faces a presidential election that will decide whether it will contribute to such global efforts or hinder them.

With aggressive federal action, the US could cut its climate pollution almost in half by 2030 compared with 2005, according to the latest report from America’s Pledge, a group of private- and public-sector leaders.
» Read article           

 

methane explainedClimate Explained: Methane Is Short-Lived in the Atmosphere but Leaves Long-Term Damage
By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter, EcoWatch
September 13, 2020

For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.

In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency – a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (GWP) of the gas over time.

The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.

In this way, emissions of one gas – like methane – can be compared with emissions of any other – like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.

Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.

How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.

As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.
» Read article           

» More about climate      

 

CLEAN ENERGY

 

6x to net zero
Solar buildout must accelerate by up to six times 2019 levels to achieve net zero
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
September 16, 2020

The world will need to build five to six times as much solar and wind power per year as in 2019 if a carbon-zero economy is to be reached by the middle of the century, a study has said.

To reach that goal as well as the 90,000 – 115,000TWhs of annual global electricity supply needed, additional solar and wind capacity of around 13,000 – 18,000GW will be required by 2050, representing an investment of US$32 trillion, according to new analysis from think tank the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC).

It highlights that reductions in the cost of renewable energy make a net-zero economy “easily affordable” and argues that all growth in electricity supply should now come from zero-carbon sources with no need to build any new coal-fired power capacity to support economic growth and rising living standards.

Signatories of the report say the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the unpreparedness of the global economy to systemic risks and that the massive public spending now being dedicated to stimulating economic recovery constitutes a unique opportunity to invest in a more resilient economy. The ETC estimates that additional investments required to achieve the climate goals will be between US$1 trillion and US$2 trillion per year, equivalent to 1% – 1.5% of global GDP.
» Read article           

 

perovskite
Meet Perovskite, the Mystery Mineral That Could Transform Our Solar Energy Future
Someday, solar panels may be light and cheap enough that they could be hung on a clothesline, thanks to a synthetic mineral called perovskite. Physicist Sam Stranks explains the science and the challenges that stand in its way.
By Karen Frances Eng, TED Ideas
September 15, 2020

 

Solar power is key to our energy future. But the solar industry is butting up against one hard problem: Silicon cells are not very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity — at best, about 29 percent efficient. You may wonder, Why does efficiency even matter, when sunlight is free? The answer: because low efficiency means you need to install a whole lot of solar panels — which can be large, heavy and expensive to manufacture — to generate enough energy to make a dent in your needs.

But that could change thanks to a mineral called perovskite, according to Cambridge University physicist (and TED Fellow) Sam Stranks. He and his colleagues at Swift Solar are working to develop perovskite-based solar panels that could break the energy-efficiency upper limit.
» Read article           

 

Europe renewables dominating soon
Renewables Start to Outpace Fossil Fuels on Europe’s Grid
This week on The Energy Gang, we survey Europe’s electricity transition.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
September 11, 2020

By 2030, Wood Mackenzie expects wind, solar and batteries to dominate Europe’s grid mix. But it may be happening even sooner.

In the first half of 2020, renewables (defined as solar, wind, hydro and biomass) beat out fossil fuels on the European grid for the first time. They didn’t just beat out coal — they beat out all fossil fuels put together.

This week on The Energy Gang, we’ll look at what the milestone means.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about clean energy        

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

 

underperformingT notes: Battery buses not ready for primetime yet
Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
September 14, 2020

MBTA OFFICIALS said on Monday that battery-powered buses are a promising technology that is still several years away from being ready for prime time, largely because a test of five vehicles indicated they take too long to charge and don’t live up to their mileage specifications, particularly during the winter.

The MBTA purchased five battery-power, 60-foot buses in 2019 and ran them on Silver Line routes over the past year. According to the T, the vehicle manufacturer promised the buses would run 100 to 120 miles on a single charge, but the actual mileage ranged from 60 to 110 miles, with the lesser amounts coming on colder weather days.

Erik Stoothoff, the MBTA’s chief engineer, said the buses would run out of juice in the afternoons, unable to complete some of their runs. He said it took eight hours to recharge the batteries.

“They don’t have enough battery power to deliver a full day’s service,” he said.

Stoothoff said the performance may actually be worse than the T’s testing indicates because the past winter was so mild. He said mileage dropped to 60 miles when the temperature was 20 degrees, but may have dropped even more with colder temperatures. “We have not stressed these buses the way the Boston climate can stress these buses,” he said.

Lawmakers and transportation advocates are pressing the T to convert to all-electric buses as quickly as possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stoothoff said the battery technology is rapidly improving, but he predicted it would be several years before the technology reaches a level that would justify a major procurement.
» Read article           

 

marks the spot
Climate Scientists Take Their Closest Look Yet at the Warming Impact of Aviation Emissions
A new study reaffirms that contrail clouds produce more global warming than carbon dioxide, a finding that could help in the reduction of emissions from air travel.
By Leto Sapunar, InsideClimate News
September 18, 2020

An international team of prominent scientists has published what they say is the most comprehensive study to date calculating the complex climate impact of aviation emissions, reaffirming that contrail clouds produce more warming than carbon dioxide.

The study, which had been in the works since 2015, looked at both carbon dioxide and several types of “non-CO2” emissions in aviation. Carbon dioxide emissions are fairly well understood at this point, Lee said, but the impacts of non-CO2 emissions, which the study found account for about two-thirds of the net warming effect, are considerably harder to calculate.

The primary non-CO2 impact results from the emission of nitrogen oxides, water vapor and soot that can create heat-trapping contrail clouds. They form as emissions of hot gases and soot from aircraft engines activate water particles that freeze, producing the contrails, those straight, wispy white markings of a plane’s path through the sky.   

Other non-CO2 emissions involve what the study calls “aviation aerosols”—small particles composed of black and organic carbon known as soot, sulfur and nitrogen compounds.

“The airlines did not dispute that there was an impact of CO2 on the atmosphere,” said Annie Petsonk, the international counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, who was not involved in the study. But until now, she said, they have claimed the science isn’t in on non-CO2 airline emissions. 

This paper, in filling that knowledge gap, deprives airlines of excuses to avoid dealing with non-CO2 emissions, said Petsonk.
» Read article          
» Read the study           

» More about clean transportation         

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

 

DERs getting traction
‘Game-Changer’ FERC Order Opens Up Wholesale Grid Markets to Distributed Energy Resources
A huge opportunity for solar, batteries, EVs and other DERs — and a huge challenge to integrate utility grid operations with bulk energy markets.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
September 17, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries and electric vehicles. 

Now comes the hard part: creating market rules that allow these DERs to play in bulk energy markets while retaining the role of state regulators and utilities to maintain the soundness of their distribution grid operations and retail DER programs.

“DERs can hide in plain sight in our homes, businesses and communities, but their power is mighty,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said at Thursday’s meeting. Projections indicate that from 65 gigawatts to more than 380 gigawatts of DERs could be added to the country’s power grids over the next four years, he noted.
» Read article           

 

big changesBig changes may be ahead for natural gas pipelines, if FERC does its job
By Jessica Bell, Clean Energy Attorney in the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law, Utility Dive – Opinion
September 16, 2020

The day of reckoning for new natural gas infrastructure is long overdue. As states and consumers turn towards cleaner sources of energy, we must ask what the place is for new pipelines.

While prior wisdom may have seen natural gas as a bridge to a lower-carbon future, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from natural gas operations are substantial and increasingly unmitigated, as the current administration abandons regulations, such as those meant to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Pipelines risk becoming costly stranded assets if they are built without a serious look at how they fit with decarbonization goals. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency tasked with evaluating the public need for new interstate natural gas pipelines and permitting their construction, refuses to grapple with these issues, though. And although FERC has said it wants to be more landowner-friendly, the burden of this infrastructure — that may not even be needed to meet demand — is still severe. But there are several avenues right now that could potentially lead to widespread change for natural gas pipeline projects.
» Read article           

» More about FERC          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

 

dirty laundryThe US Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Problem Is Catching up With It
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
September 16, 2020

For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to downplay, or outright ignore, the problem of methane. Methane is an invisible gas, and lax state and federal regulations in the U.S. have allowed oil and gas producers to self-report how much of this potent planet-warming gas leaks from its supply chain, which researchers have repeatedly found is a lot more than the industry was admitting to.

But improved technologies, particularly from satellites, have allowed the world to increasingly fact-check industry numbers, shining a light on the true climate impact of natural gas, which is primarily methane. These days, methane emissions have become an industry black eye, to the point that major players are now clamoring for regulations after the Trump administration recently finalized the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas.

On August 24, the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed arguing for the United States to regulate methane emissions for the oil and gas industry, and it was co-written by two influential voices in the industry, Antoine Halff and Andrew Gould. Halff was formerly the head of oil analysis at the International Energy Agency, an independent, intergovernmental organization focused on energy research and policy — and notorious for its overly optimistic (and inaccurate) outlooks for fossil fuels and overly pessimistic views on renewables. Gould is the former CEO of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company. Gould also currently serves on the board of Occidental Petroleum Corporation — one of the largest fracking companies among the Permian oilfields of Texas. 

Halff and Gould were writing in response to the Trump administration’s repeal of existing methane regulations. However, as a sign of the changing times, they argued that regulating the greenhouse gas is simply good business for the oil and gas industry. 

“Producers will find it increasingly difficult to stay in business while visibly spewing methane into the air,” they wrote.
» Read article           

 

400 billion strandedOil Industry’s Shift to Plastics in Question as Report Warns $400 Billion in Stranded Assets Possible
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 14, 2020

This past year has brought massive disruptions for fossil fuel producers, who saw oil prices briefly dip far below $0 a barrel in some places amid pandemic lockdowns and witnessed ExxonMobil, once the king of blue chip stocks, unceremoniously booted from the widely-watched Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The last decade saw US oil and gas production skyrocket — but the sector also underperformed the market eight out of the last nine years, according to industry analysts.

And going forward, the oil industry faces increasing doubts about demand for oil in the future because of an expected shift to electric vehicles. The gas side of the oil and gas industry also faces growing competition from renewable energy, which has gone from being the most expensive way to generate power to, in many cases, the cheapest.

But executives with major oil giants have said that even if oil demand [growth] dries up, they expect they’ll still be able to sell an increasing amount of their products as petrochemicals. “Unlike refining, and ultimately unlike oil, which will see a moment when the growth will stop, we actually don’t anticipate that with petrochemicals,” Andrew Brown, a Royal Dutch Shell official, told the San Antonio Express News in 2018.

This strategy, according to a report published this month by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, carries significant financial risks, putting $400 billion of petrochemical industry investments at risk of becoming stranded assets. That’s nearly an entire year’s revenue for the worldwide plastics industry, based on 2018 figures from the Plastics Industry Association, potentially down the drain.

And the vast majority of those petrochemical investments are, in fact, investments in plastics. “Whilst most commentators have noted that petrochemicals are a major driver of expected oil demand growth, we can go one stage further,” the Carbon Tracker report notes, “and demonstrate that it is specifically plastics within petrochemicals that drive the expected growth in oil demand.”
» Read article             
» Read the Carbon Tracker report        

» More about fossil fuel            

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

 

recycling hoaxHow Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled
By Laura Sullivan, NPR
September 11, 2020

NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal industry documents and interviewing top former officials. We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn’t work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic.

The industry’s awareness that recycling wouldn’t keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program’s earliest days, we found. “There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis,” one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.

Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true.

“If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment,” Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, known today as the Plastics Industry Association and one of the industry’s most powerful trade groups in Washington, D.C., told NPR.
» Read article                  

» More about plastics recycling       

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Weekly News Check-In 8/21/20

banner 09

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

NATURAL GAS HEALTH RISKS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about nat-gas health risks

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

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

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

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

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

» More about what can go wrong            

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions           

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines           

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy         

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The corn lay flat.

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

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

» More about climate         

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation            

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about electric utilities             

MA DEPT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

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

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

» More about MA DPU               

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels               

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG           

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass             

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment           

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Weekly News Check-In 8/14/20

banner 08

Welcome back.

We start with a quick update on the Weymouth compressor station, which is nearing completion amid undiminished opposition. Separately, we’re keeping an eye on whether Canadian energy company Pieridae manages to find another reputable engineering firm willing to build its Goldboro liquefied natural gas export terminal, since KBR walked away from its contract. That proposed terminal is the only reason the Weymouth compressor exists.

While natural gas infrastructure projects continue to fall, concern is growing about the fate of 2.6 million miles of existing gas and oil pipelines. They’ll be an environmental hazard even after they’re abandoned, and communities are beginning to demand protection.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given a boost to the divestment movement. Financial data indicate that funds are moving decisively away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy projects. Unfortunately the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to throw lifelines to polluters. Their latest rule rolls back Obama administration requirements to monitor and fix methane emissions from valves, pipelines, and tanks – at a time when fugitive emissions were already on the rise.

It’s critical that any plans for greening the economy include help for communities that are currently dependent on fossil fuel production. Nowhere is this more obvious and urgent than in coal country. The $28.6 billion industry is facing certain, rapid decline – leaving thousands of miners and legions of workers in associated businesses with no local employment alternatives.

Our Climate section includes reporting about scientists’ evolving understanding of Arctic sea ice, and factors like melt ponds that could lead to its disappearance as early as 2035. This represents a globally-disruptive tipping point in Earth’s warming trend.  Meanwhile, the last decade was the warmest on record, just as each decade since 1980 was warmer than the prior ten years. With time for action rapidly running out, we offer coverage of Democratic nominee for Vice President, Senator Kamala Harris. The Biden-Harris ticket appears to be taking climate change seriously.

We continue exploring the topic of municipal fossil fuel connection bans. While some of these bylaws were successfully implemented in California, other states including Massachusetts ran afoul of existing pro-fossil-fuel laws embedded in state building codes. These laws are now drawing scrutiny, and new legislation could finally clear the way for gas hook-up bans.

The clean energy economy will rely on massive numbers of solar panels. With typical panels lasting 25 years, there’s growing urgency to solve the end-of-life issues and create a system that supports effective recycling. We also have news related to offshore wind and the European bet on clean hydrogen. But perhaps the most exciting news involves a recent energy storage breakthrough. Lithium-ion battery manufacturer Cadenza Innovation received UL certification for its new cell design, which eliminates the risk of thermal runaway events.

The electric garbage truck is the latest big thing in clean transportation. Waste disposal giant Republic Services significantly juiced the market with an initial order for 2,500 vehicles from Nikola.

Much of our fossil fuel industry news involves the growing need for the industry to clean up its mess. We found stories highlighting New England petroleum storage facilities, and also the environmental disaster known as the Bakken shale play of North Dakota and Montana. With the boom gone bust, who’s left holding the bag?

We wrap up with a story of plastics in the environment, and the difficulty of mounting cleanup action when everyone agrees it’s a problem but there’s no clear regulatory framework to initiate or manage its removal.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR

opposition continues
Weymouth: Compressor Station Construction Nearing Completion, Opposition Continues

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRAACS) held their monthly meeting and heard from Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund and Town Solicitor Joe Callanan.
By Lenny Rowe, WATD 95.9 News & Talk Radio, South Shore Massachusetts
August 13, 2020

Callanan says the construction on the compressor station is expected to be “substantially complete” this week.

Hedlund says the opposition continues for the project, 24 lawsuits have been filed in five years.

“We knew the deck was stacked against us at the federal level, but we were certainly let down on the actions we took with state regulators. The air quality permit obviously is the issue that is in front of us right now,” said Hedlund. “We have the full panel re-hearing in the First Circuit. We have the pending appeal of the remanded air quality plan approval that was recently approved by DEP. That decision was from last Friday.”

Callanan feels that their concerns raised with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have fallen on deaf ears.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

no MVP extension
North Carolina Denies Key Water Permit to Mountain Valley Pipeline Extension
Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 12, 2020

It’s been a bad summer for fracked natural gas pipelines in North Carolina.

First, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have ended in the state, was canceled by its owners following years of legal challenges. Now, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) has denied a key water permit for a project that would have extended the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) 75 miles into the state.

“Today’s announcement is further evidence that the era of fracked gas pipelines is over,” Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative for the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Joan Walker said in response. “We applaud the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality for prioritizing North Carolina’s clean water over corporate polluters’ profits. Dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines like Mountain Valley threaten the health of our people, climate, and communities, and aren’t even necessary at a time when clean, renewable energy sources are affordable and abundant.”
» Read article                

zombie pipelines
Even if oil and gas disappear, pipelines are here to stay
People with pipelines on their land are worried about what happens when they’re abandoned
By Justine Calma, The Verge
Photo by Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images
August 6, 2020

There are 2.6 million miles of pipelines crisscrossing the US that will one day retire. Even in their afterlives, these zombie pipelines will be able to spill toxic materials. It’s happened in the past. There’s also the risk of a pipe one day rising from its grave, exposed by floodwaters or erosion. Or, devoid of oil and gas that once coursed through them, they might accidentally drain bodies of water or do the opposite — pollute them.

The COVID-19 pandemic rattled the fossil fuel industry, which saw oil prices turn negative for the first time ever. The industry will also need to grapple with the looming climate crisis and environmental campaigns that have won recent, high-profile victories against the Dakota Access, Atlantic Coast, and Keystone XL pipelines.

All of that has more people thinking about what comes next for oil and gas companies and the pipelines they’ll ultimately leave behind. The potential risks have some communities worried about what the fate of pipelines running underneath their feet means for their homes and the environment. They’ve begun fighting for a say in what happens to those lines once they’re abandoned. Without protections, they fear they could be left with a big mess and a hefty check.
» Read article                

» More about other pipelines

DIVESTMENT

stop funding the climate crisis
Analysts Worried the Pandemic Would Stifle Climate Action from Banks. It Did the Opposite.
The risks of climate change and pressure from investors is driving the finance industry to move away from fossil fuels and improve its transparency.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
August 9, 2020

It was only back in January when Larry Fink announced that the world’s largest asset manager was making the risks associated with climate change a central tenet of how it did business and suggested that the rest of the financial world do the same.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” wrote Fink, the founder and chief executive of Blackrock, which handles nearly $7 trillion in investments, in his annual letter to shareholders. “Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

For those who had long been pressing investment banks and other asset managers to address their funding of the fossil fuel industry and other industries warming the climate, Blackrock’s announcement was a long-awaited and hard-fought victory. It signaled, advocacy groups said, that Wall Street’s elite were finally taking climate change seriously after more than a decade of pressure to do so.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

fracking tower
Trump rolls back methane climate standards for oil and gas industry
Methane is a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 13, 2020

The Trump administration is revoking rules that require oil and gas drillers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide.

Methane has a much more potent short-term warming effect than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating as the world is already on track to become more than 3C hotter than before industrialization.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will announce the rollback from Pennsylvania, which has major oil and gas operations and is also a politically important swing state. The rule change is part of what Trump calls his “energy dominance” agenda.

The Trump administration’s changes apply to new wells and those drilled since 2016, when President Barack Obama enacted the regulation in an effort to help stall climate change during a boom in fracking – a method of extracting fossil gas by injecting water and chemicals underground. The regulations required companies to regularly check for methane leaks from valves, pipelines and tanks.
» Read article            

» More about the EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

reckoning in coal country
Reckoning in coal country: How lax fiscal policy has left states flat-footed as mining declines
What happens when a $28.6 billion industry spirals into permanent decline?
By Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams, Energy News Network
Photo By Dustin Bleizeffer / WyoFile
August 11, 2020

While thousands of mining jobs are being lost around the country, coal’s collapse carries ramifications that reach far beyond coal towns themselves, affecting downstream industries with larger geographic footprints. Railroads, for example, are slashing jobs along coal routes in response to declining shipments between coal mines and the power plants they serve. Manufacturers of equipment used in the coal industry have taken a hit as well.

So what happens to communities in coal-producing regions when a $28.6 billion industry spirals into permanent decline?

High-salary workers either retire earlier than planned or search for another, most likely lower-wage, job. Some move away and many become more reliant on social health services.

Businesses lose customers and healthcare providers see fewer patients with adequate insurance. Charitable giving among businesses to support local nonprofit social services dries up just as the need for such services skyrockets. Locally and regionally, revenues to support government services plummet, triggering budget cuts — often to the very programs most needed to maintain a quality of life and transition to more sustainable economies.
» Read article                

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

ice free arctic 2035
End of Arctic sea ice by 2035 possible, study finds
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network
August 11, 2020

The northern polar ocean’s sea ice is a crucial element in the Earth system: because it is highly reflective, it sends solar radiation back out into space. Once it’s melted, there’s no longer any protection for the darker water and rock beneath, and nothing to prevent them absorbing the incoming heat.

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.

Now the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international research team to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.
» Read article

PB crossingLast decade was Earth’s hottest on record as climate crisis accelerates
2019 was second or third hottest year ever recorded. Average global temperature up 0.39C in 10 years.
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 12, 2020

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally, with 2019 either the second or third warmest year on record, as the climate crisis accelerated temperatures upwards worldwide, scientists have confirmed.

Every decade since 1980 has been warmer than the preceding decade, with the period between 2010 and 2019 the hottest yet since worldwide temperature records began in the 19th century. The increase in average global temperature is rapidly gathering pace, with the last decade up to 0.39C warmer than the long-term average, compared with a 0.07C average increase per decade stretching back to 1880.

The past six years, 2014 to 2019, have been the warmest since global records began, a period that has included enormous heatwaves in the US, Europe and India, freakishly hot temperatures in the Arctic, and deadly wildfires from Australia to California to Greece.
» Read article                 

Senator Harris
What the Kamala Harris VP Pick Means for Biden’s Energy and Climate Platform
Harris highlighted environmental justice during her run for the White House and championed the issue in the Senate.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
August 11, 2020

Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign added more climate clout on Tuesday as the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

While a moderate pick on climate compared to some of the candidates who ran in 2020, such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Harris framed her environmental platform around the Green New Deal — even pledging to eliminate the filibuster to get it passed — and environmental justice, before ultimately leaving the race in December.

“From wildfires in the West to hurricanes in the East, to floods and droughts in the heartland, we’re not gonna buy the lie. We’re gonna act, based on science fact, not science fiction,” Harris proclaimed in Oakland as she kicked off her campaign.

Since her election to the Senate in 2016, Harris co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution, and in both 2019 and 2020 introduced versions of the Climate Equity Act with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which would require the government to assess the impacts of environmental legislation on low-income communities. Her Environmental Justice for All Act, introduced with Senators Tammy Duckworth and Cory Booker this summer, similarly mandates that the government consider low-income and communities of color in federal permitting and decision-making processes.
» Read article                 

» More about climate

BETTER BUILDINGS

the lawDoes your state want to cut carbon emissions? These old laws could be standing in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
August 10, 2020

Last fall, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, tried to solve a climate change problem that’s been put on the back burner in many state capitals: reducing emissions from fossil fuels burned in buildings. The fuels burned in boilers and furnaces, hot water heaters, and stoves account for nearly a third of the commonwealth’s greenhouse gas footprint. Following the lead of many cities in California, Brookline’s government voted overwhelmingly to pass a law restricting gas hookups in new construction. With some exceptions, the bill would force the installation of electric appliances that produce zero direct emissions.

While Brookline was the first community on the East Coast to try and limit gas systems in new buildings, similar plans were also being hatched in neighboring Cambridge and Newton, and earlier this year, New York City mayor Bill De Blasio expressed interest in a building gas ban. But all new bylaws in Massachusetts have to be reviewed by state attorney general Maura Healey before they can be enacted. In late July, Healey killed Brookline’s bill, finding that it violated state law.

The decision points to an issue that Massachusetts, New York, and California — which, unlike most states, have legally binding targets to reduce their carbon emissions to net-zero — have yet to fully grapple with: outdated policies that favor fossil fuels.
» Read article                 

» More about better buildings

CLEAN ENERGY

EoL for EV panels
Solar panels are starting to die. What will we do with the megatons of toxic trash?
By Maddie Stone, Grist
August 13, 2020

Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives — and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.

But we’ll need to develop one soon, because the solar e-waste glut is coming. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions. And if we fail to develop those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, we already know what will happen.
» Read article               
» Read the IRENA report: End-of-Life Management for Solar Photovoltaic Panels

VW public comments
Vast majority support Vineyard Wind in federal comments for permit decisions
About 85% of comments at a recent series of virtual public meetings were in favor of allowing the offshore wind project.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 12, 2020

An overwhelming majority of public comments submitted to the federal government support allowing construction of the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm in waters south of Massachusetts.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held five virtual public hearings on Vineyard Wind from mid-June until late July. Some 85% of the comments made at the public hearings were in support of the project, and the vast majority of the 13,200 comments filed online were also in favor.

The comments will become part of the record the agency considers in its permitting decision. Supporters hoped the comments would be persuasive but were still far from certain about the project’s future, in part because of President Donald Trump’s hostility toward wind turbines in general.

“My hope is that the overwhelming public support will help push it through,” said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

Scientists, activists, coastal residents, business groups, labor unions, college students, and legislators cited the potential climate and economic benefits that would result from building the project, while groups representing the fishing industry raised concerns about potential disruptions.
» Read article              
» Read the public comments

H2 across the pondEurope is going all in on hydrogen power. Why isn’t the US?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
August 6, 2020

“Hydrogen is probably the most promising” way to cut industrial emissions, said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of special projects at BloombergNEF, an independent research firm focusing on clean energy. “It’s the most versatile and the most scalable solution to getting to zero emissions.”

The European Union as a whole hasn’t announced a green hydrogen spending plan yet, but it has promised to prioritize the gas in the coming decades. The European Commission announced earlier this month that it would aim to deploy 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers (the machines that split water into hydrogen and oxygen) within its borders by 2030 and another 40 in countries that can export to the EU. That represents about 320 times the electrolyzing power currently available worldwide.

“What Europe and Germany have done, I suspect, will trigger something of an arms race or a scale-up race” for hydrogen power, Bhavnagri told Grist. “Everybody else will now have to get on board if they want to keep pace.”

The United States, however, is dragging its feet. “The U.S. at a national level has not released any hydrogen strategy,” Bhavnagri said.

According to [Thomas Koch Blank, senior principal of industry and heavy transport at the Rocky Mountain Institute], the United States’ slow progress on green hydrogen is partly due to the widespread availability of natural gas, which, although it produces fewer emissions than coal or oil, is associated with other environmental risks. “For the U.S., natural gas equals energy security,” he said. With abundant — and cheap — fossil fuels within its borders, the U.S. doesn’t have much incentive to make the leap to hydrogen. “Without carbon prices, it’s a stretch to see that hydrogen is going to be competitive on any large scale,” Blank said of the U.S. industrial sector.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

no drama jelly rolls
UL certification ‘proves’ innovative battery platform can stop thermal runaway from propagating
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 6, 2020

“Preventing a service event from becoming a catastrophic one,” is how Cadenza Innovation CEO Christina Lampe Onnerud describes the way her company’s lithium-ion ‘Supercell’ battery architecture reacts to thermal runaway.

Cadenza, founded by Onnerud in 2012, has developed a battery architecture and manufacturing platform that aims to cost-effectively eliminate one of the biggest issues facing the grid storage industry today. As seen in fires at energy storage system (ESS) facilities in South Korea, China and in Arizona, one cell catching fire can cause enormous damage as fire propagation causes it to cascade from cell to cell.

The company announced yesterday that its battery cells have been proven to stop propagation when thermal runaway is induced, having earned UL9540A certification. Under that testing, battery cells are “artificially” made to burn.

“The trick for our design is that when that happens, it doesn’t cascade,” Lampe Onnerud told Energy-Storage.news in an interview.

“We’re not saying our batteries will never fail. We’re saying if our batteries fail, it’s a service event. It is never a fire, it is never an explosion, it is never triggering sprinkler systems or any type of fire suppression.”
» Read article                

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Courtesy of Nikola
Waste giant Republic Services orders 2,500 Nikola electric trucks, sending industrywide signal

By Cole Rosengren, Utility Dive
August 12, 2020

Solid waste industry leader Republic Services recently agreed to purchase 2,500 electric collection vehicles from Nikola Corp., pending performance, with the potential for up to 5,000 orders. This has been described as the company’s largest truck order ever for its fleet of approximately 16,000 collection vehicles. Initial testing is expected to begin in Arizona and California, with wider-scale testing in 2022 and full deployment by 2023.

This year has already seen growing interest in electric refuse vehicles, but the scale of Republic’s order surpasses anything to date. Last year, Republic set a target to reduce its primary greenhouse gas emissions 35% by 2030. The company’s fleet emissions accounted for 1.34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 and have been gradually declining since at least 2016. Landfill emissions comprise the majority of Republic’s overall greenhouse gas footprint.

According to a virtual press event on Monday, the two Arizona-based companies have been working together on this deal for about a year and Nikola is building a factory in the state. Milton’s experience with waste applications and Republic President Jon Vander Ark’s background in the automotive space were said to be helpful factors, leading to an “anchor tenant” commitment to bring Nikola’s technology into the national waste and recycling industry.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coastal hazard
Big Oil Faces Mounting Legal Battles Over Climate Threats to its New England Oil Terminals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
August 13, 2020

A New England-based environmental law group is taking major oil companies to court, claiming the firms have failed to adapt some of their petroleum storage terminals to withstand increasingly severe storm and flooding events worsened by the climate crisis.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is currently suing both ExxonMobil and Shell in two separate lawsuits brought under federal laws regulating water pollution and hazardous waste, including the Clean Water Act. The cases center around coastal oil terminals and their vulnerability to climate change impacts like sea level rise and heightened storm surge. Exxon operates an oil terminal in Everett, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, that sits along the Mystic River. Shell’s terminal is located in Providence, Rhode Island, along the Providence River.

CLF argues that these facilities pose a grave risk not only to the waterways and environment but also the surrounding communities, given that the oil terminals currently are not designed to standards that account for climate impacts.
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Bakken mess
The Bakken Boom Goes Bust With No Money to Clean up the Mess
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 8, 2020

More than a decade ago, fracking took off in the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana, but the oil rush that followed has resulted in major environmental damage, risky oil transportation without regulation, pipeline permitting issues, and failure to produce profits.

Now, after all of that, the Bakken oil field appears moving toward terminal decline, with the public poised to cover the bill to clean up the mess caused by its ill-fated boom.

In 2008, the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) estimated that the Bakken region held between 3 and 4.3 billion barrels of “undiscovered, technically recoverable oil,” starting a modern-day oil rush.

The industry celebrated the discovery of oil in the middle of North America but realized it also posed a problem. A major oil boom requires infrastructure — such as housing for workers, facilities to process the oil and natural gas, and pipelines to carry the products to market — and the Bakken simply didn’t have such infrastructure. North Dakota is a long way from most U.S. refineries and deepwater ports. Its shale definitely held oil and gas, but the area was not prepared to deal with these hydrocarbons once they came out of the ground.

Most of the supporting infrastructure was never built — or was built haphazardly — resulting in risks to the public that include industry spills, air and water pollution, and dangerous trains carrying volatile oil out of the Bakken and through their communities. With industry insiders recently commenting that the Bakken region is likely past peak oil production, that infrastructure probably never will be built.
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PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

nurdles overboard
A Plastics Spill on the Mississippi River But No Accountability in Sight
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
August 11, 2020

When I arrived on Sunday, August 9, scores of tiny plastic pellets lined the sandy bank of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, Louisiana, where they glistened in the sun, not far from a War of 1812 battlefield. These precursors of everyday plastic products, also known as nurdles, spilled from a shipping container that fell off a cargo ship at a port in New Orleans the previous Sunday, August 2.

After seeing photographs by New Orleans artist Michael Pajon published on NOLA.com, I went to see if a cleanup of the spilled plastic was underway. A week after the spill, I saw no signs of a cleanup when I arrived in the early afternoon, but I did watch a group of tourists disembark from a riverboat that docked along the plastic-covered riverbank. By most accounts, the translucent plastic pellets are considered pollution, but government bureaucracy and regulatory technicalities are making accountability for removing these bits of plastic from the river’s banks and waters surprisingly challenging.
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