Tag Archives: MVP

Weekly News Check-In 2/11/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Carleton College
Colleges see untapped potential in geothermal district energy systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about siting impacts

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 1/28/22

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Welcome back.

News broke just after the lackluster COP26 climate summit concluded, that the Biden administration would offer up the largest offshore oil and gas drilling lease in history. It was a huge carbon bomb lobbed at the climate, and it made the environmental community furious. Lawsuits came swiftly, and now we’re thrilled to report that the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia has revoked those leases. The ruling states that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of fossil fuel extraction. Pipeline projects are bogging down in similar legal thickets, partly because of climate impacts, but also for direct environmental harms and safety hazards posed by their construction and operation.

Stanford scientist Robert Jackson took some of the shine off our beloved gas stove with a peer-reviewed study showing considerably higher rates of methane leakage than were previously understood. It’s challenging to send gas through pipes, valves, fittings, and appliances without at least a little bit leaking, and a little bit from a lot of places adds up to a serious problem. This new data bolsters the gas ban movement.

Food for thought: natural gas – methane (CH4) is a huge molecule compared to hydrogen (H2). We obviously don’t have a system that adequately contains methane, but the gas industry is pushing hard to send various mixtures of methane and hydrogen, and eventually all hydrogen, into our homes to perform the same functions currently served by natural gas. You good with that?

Sometime during the recent period of sustained environmental assault by the federal government, America was nudged toward greatness again (in some minds) by delaying the planned phase-out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs. The effect on greening the economy wasn’t much, but it perversely served to raise the cost of living for people already struggling to get by. This is a good example of choices we make as we address the climate and environmental crises. There are obvious good or bad moves, and then there are unintended consequences – plus entrenched interests eager to game the system to their advantage. We’re seeing these dynamics play out in efforts to modernize the grid, source and site renewable resources, implement a meaningful system of carbon offsets and reforestation, and figure out an appropriate role for carbon capture and storage.

We’re keeping an eye on pushback within the European Union regarding attempts to classify natural gas and nuclear as sustainable energy. Meanwhile, the most blatant EU boondoggle of swapping coal for “carbon neutral” biomass took a hit, as its biggest offender, Drax Group, was booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. And while we’re thumping the EU, what is going on with minimum flight benchmarks that are causing airlines to fly nearly-empty planes just to maintain airport slots?!!

Closer to home, Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing the Baker administration to finalize new energy efficiency standards in the building code. And we found some just plain good news in the latest press on Energy Vault’s gravity-based, long-duration energy storage system. We’ve featured this California company’s technology before, because it’s a standout in terms of simplicity, durability, and minimal environmental impact.

We’ll wrap up with a couple things to keep watching closely. First, the scope of cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s abandoned and orphaned wells is rising now that the government has offered substantial funds for the task. We predict that cleanup costs will only grow – the mess is worse than industry and regulators have admitted. We’re also tracking growing concern about the prospect of someone implementing solar geoengineering in some form, in a desperate attempt to cool the planet.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Port Aransas platform
Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change
A judge ruled that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before awarding leases.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 27, 2022

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday canceled oil and gas leases of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling that the Biden administration did not sufficiently take climate change into account when it auctioned the leases late last year.

The decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a major victory for environmental groups that criticized the Biden administration for holding the sale after promising to move the country away from fossil fuels. It had been the largest lease sale in United States history.

Now the Interior Department must conduct a new environmental analysis that accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the eventual development and production of the leases. After that, the agency will have to decide whether it will hold a new auction.

“This is huge,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that brought the lawsuit.

“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Ms. Hardy said, adding, “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to pause the issuing of new leases.

But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order, and also ruled that the administration must hold lease sales in the Gulf that had already been scheduled.

Biden administration officials have said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland risked being held in contempt of court if the auction was not held. Environmental groups, however, argued that the administration had other options, including doing a new analysis to examine the ways that the burning of oil extracted from the Gulf would contribute to climate change.
» Read article        
» Listen to coverage on NPR        

» Read the U.S. District Court decision

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Peters MountainMountain Valley Pipeline loses permit to cross through Jefferson National Forest
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
January 25, 2022

For the second time, a federal appeals court has thrown out government approvals for a natural gas pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest.

A written decision Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest of many setbacks for the Mountain Valley Pipeline since construction began in 2018.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict — and to prevent — erosion and sedimentation problems caused by building the massive infrastructure project.

Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the panel’s unanimous decision that the agencies “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route.”

The ruling sends the permit back to the Forest Service and BLM for reconsideration. The first time the court did that, in July 2018, it took two years for the agencies to approve a second permit — which now has also been found lacking by the Fourth Circuit.
» Read article         

Line 5 at Mackinaw Station
Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
January 7, 2022

An oil and gas expert warned Michigan utility regulators not only would a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline not be a failsafe replacement for the underwater section of the line, but possible accidents could cause a catastrophic underground explosion.

But Enbridge doesn’t even want the possibility considered by decision-makers.

The Canadian oil and gas pipeline company wants much of that expert testimony tossed from the record in the state’s ongoing tunnel permit case review before the Michigan Public Service Commission. An administrative law judge will decide next week.

Enbridge argued the oil and gas expert’s testimony on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community shouldn’t be considered because of a legal technicality – that nobody has suggested a tunnel explosion before now so it can’t be considered rebuttal testimony.

The company also objected to official statements from a slew of others, including experts who testified on behalf of tribal governments and nonprofit environmental groups opposed to the tunnel proposal and continued use of the existing pipeline.

A Chicago-based lawyer for the Bay Mills tribe said the expert’s testimony is, in fact, intended to rebut prior testimony from MPSC employees who contend the proposed tunnel is a basically foolproof solution to the risk of oil spills from the dual pipelines that currently run across the Great Lakes bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.

“We saw what was being submitted in the case with respect to how the tunnel was being characterized – and specifically the pipeline running through the tunnel – and there was a repeated theme from witnesses offered by the MPSC staff, that the tunnel was going to eliminate a risk of a spill or catastrophic event in the Straits,” said Christopher Clark, of nonprofit Earthjustice which is working pro bono on behalf of the state’s Indigenous tribes with co-counsel Native American Rights Fund.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

GAS BANS

leaky gas stovesYour gas stove is always polluting, even when it’s turned off
Scientists may have just found a source of missing methane in cities.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
January 27, 2022

When we fire up a gas stove, we’re releasing a powerful climate pollutant into kitchens and beyond. But a new study found that this isn’t just happening when the stove is on. Even when turned off, a typical gas stove will send methane up to the atmosphere.

The new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, helps answer a particular question that’s been nagging scientists for years. The puzzle has been accounting for all the sources of methane as concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to record levels. They know the natural gas industry, and specifically leaks from its pipelines, is the biggest contributor (natural gas is mostly methane). Other well-documented sources are livestock and landfills.

But there was a mystery when it came to urban environments: In one study in Boston, researchers noted that pipeline leaks couldn’t explain the high levels of methane emissions they detected. There had to be other leaks, most likely from gas-burning appliances inside homes.

So Stanford scientist Robert Jackson, one of the study’s coauthors, set out to track down this missing methane inside homes and buildings. And he was surprised at what his team found.

Basically all stoves “leak a bit when they’re burning,” Jackson said. “And they all leak a bit when you turn them on and off, because there’s a period of time before the flame kicks in. The most surprising was almost three-quarters of the methane that we found emitting from the stoves came from when they weren’t running.”

In other words, the gas stove, a feature of 40 million American homes, is likely always releasing a greenhouse gas. Gas stoves are still a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they aren’t even the biggest gas-guzzling appliance in buildings — gas furnaces and water heaters use much more of the fuel through the day and night. But the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year, the researchers found.
» Read article        
» Read the study              

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

incandescent
Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores
A Trump administration weakening of climate rules has kept incandescent bulbs on store shelves, and research shows they’re concentrated in shops serving poorer areas.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
January 23, 2022

For years, Deborah Turner bought her light bulbs at one of the many dollar stores that serve her neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.

But the bulbs for sale were highly inefficient, shorter lasting, incandescent ones — the pear-shaped orbs with glowing wire centers — meaning that over time Mrs. Turner, who lives in a neighborhood where a quarter of the residents are below the poverty line, would spend hundreds of dollars more on electrical bills, because of the extra power they use, than if she’d purchased energy-saving LED lights.

It’s a pattern repeated nationwide. Research has shown that lower-end retailers like dollar stores or convenience shops still extensively stock their shelves with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs, even as stores serving more affluent communities have shifted to selling far more efficient LEDs. One Michigan study, for instance, found that not only were LED bulbs less available in poorer areas, they also tended to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than in wealthier communities.

“You just don’t see them in places like Dollar General,” said Mrs. Turner, a semi-retired addiction-treatment counselor.

The continued prevalence of incandescent bulbs in the United States is one result of a successful effort during the Trump presidency, by an industry group representing the world’s biggest light-bulb makers, to stall energy efficiency standards in the United States. By contrast, in the European Union, those same companies have adhered to a phaseout of incandescent bulbs.

The delay has enabled manufacturers to prolong profits from an inefficient technology, often at the expense of lower-income households, which end up having to replace the short-lived bulbs more frequently, while also paying more to power them.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLEAN ENERGY

Paris nuke plant
EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments
Lobbyists and an alliance of some EU governments push gas and nuclear in a sustainable investing guide. Scientific experts are “deeply concerned.”
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
January 25, 2022

The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”

In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.

In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.

Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

gas-lit flame
Lawmakers want Baker to move faster on new code for green buildings
By WBUR News & Wire Services
January 19, 2022

Frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging from the Baker administration, lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on bills that would give cities and towns the power to ban natural gas, heating oil or propane infrastructure in new buildings.

State law currently prohibits local governments from banning gas and oil hookups in new construction projects. But the state’s ambitious climate law passed last spring is supposed to change that, allowing communities to “opt in” to a stricter building code.

The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.

“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”

At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Barrett said the lack of a draft is a “discouraging early sign of whether or not we’re on track” to live up to the 2021 climate law.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Energy Vault Resiliency Center
We Can Store Our Excess Renewable Energy In An Energy Vault
The company, Energy Vault, has commercialized the ultimate energy storage technology that will build the foundation of a clean energy future – brick by brick.
By James Conca, Forbes
January 27, 2022

The Energy Vault stores excess electrical energy by efficiently transforming it into gravitational potential energy using 35-ton bricks that can be raised and lowered at will, and that can sit still storing the energy for any amount of time, before transforming the energy back to electrical energy when needed.

It is not a battery that can degrade over time. It does not need water or rare elements like Li or Co. It does not depend on the weather and is not affected by extreme weather. It can withstand Cat 4 hurricane winds and magnitude 8 earthquakes (tested at the California Institute of Technology).

It uses common materials like dirt to make the bricks, even solid waste, that can be obtained locally and does not use cement to bind them together. It does not use ten times the steel and concrete that renewables use relative to nuclear or gas. And it has one of, if not the, lowest carbon footprints of any energy generation or storage system.

And this technology comes just in time. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge Market Report 2020, the World Energy Council, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg NEF and Lazard, the projected grid-related storage deployments between now and 2030 needs to be about 830 GWh. The cumulative investment in this grid-related storage required over this time period is about $270 billion.

I know that game-changer is an overused term, but this technology really is a game-changer. With it, we can achieve a low-carbon future by mid-century. And we don’t need to waste lithium.
» Read article         

» More about energy storage        

MODERNIZING THE GRID

No Eastie Substation
Opponents appeal East Boston substation’s waterfront license
By Walter Wuthmann, WBUR
January 27, 2022

Environmental advocacy groups and East Boston residents are making a renewed attempt to stop construction of an Eversource electrical substation in the neighborhood.

On Monday the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, saying the state should not have granted a waterfront license for the project.

“This waterways license is yet another example of our state agency making the wrong decision and Eversource Energy not making a good decision,” said Staci Rubin, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice. “There is a pattern of our governmental decisions granting permits to pollute in communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and places with limited English-proficient residents.”

Neighbors have long opposed the substation site, which sits on a flood-prone area near Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground, and near tanks of jet fuel for Logan Airport.

Eversource says it needs a new substation in East Boston to meet the neighborhood’s increasing electrical demands. Substations are key components of the grid, converting high-voltage electricity from power plants to a lower voltage for residential use.
» Read article        
» Read background reporting
» Read assessment and alternatives from Union of Concerned Scientists

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Ko-Solar panels
MassDOT finds an unusual place to hang solar panels: highway sound barriers
New panels along Route 128 will generate enough power for up to 120 homes
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 25, 2022

Solar developers are finding interesting places to put their panels: landfills, parking garages, warehouses, shopping malls.

Now, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is adding a particularly unusual spot to the list: highway sound barriers.

On Monday, MassDOT announced it had signed a letter of intent to create the first such solar “photovoltaic noise barrier,” or PVNB, by mounting solar panels on an existing sound barrier along Route 128 in Lexington in the coming months. The 638-kilowatt project could provide enough power for up to 120 homes. Solect Energy will finance, install, and maintain the 3,000-foot-long project, while Ko-Solar, a Natick startup owned by Koray Kotan, is developing it. Kotan said Ko-Solar is in talks with transportation agencies in several states but the MassDOT project will be the first of its kind in the United States.

A MassDOT spokeswoman said the agency expects to receive a financial benefit of about $23,000 a year over the course of a 25-year lease period, from a combination of lease payments and electric utility savings from the credits the agency will receive for providing the power for the area’s electric grid. The state Department of Energy Resources awarded a $345,000 grant to help subsidize this pilot project.
» Read article         

Tiehm’s wild buckwheat
In a battle between this endangered flower and a lithium mine, who should win?
The decision about whether to allow a mine supplying the materials to build batteries on the habitat of a rare flower exposes questions about how we manage the tradeoffs between preserving nature now versus protecting the climate in the future.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
January 25, 2022

In a remote corner of Nevada a four hour drive north of Las Vegas, there’s a small yellow flower that exists nowhere else in the world: Its entire global habitat takes up a chunk of federally-owned land a little smaller than two football fields. That land also happens to be the site of a proposed lithium mine, which could produce enough lithium each year for the batteries in 400,000 electric cars.

Later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on whether to list the wildflower, called Tiehm’s wild buckwheat, on the Endangered Species List. And the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for granting mining leases on federal land, will decide whether the mine can move forward, potentially destroying 90% of the rare plant’s habitat. It’s one example of a recurring challenge: How far should we go to speed up the energy transition if that also threatens the environment in other ways?

The site is unique, as one of only two places in the world known to contain large amounts of both lithium and boron. In fact, the mining company plans to produce much more boron than lithium. (While lithium is a key ingredient used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, boron plays less of a starring role in the energy transition, though Ioneer has pointed out that boric acid is used in things like magnets in electric cars and wind turbines.) Because the company can mine both boron and lithium simultaneously, it helps substantially lower the cost of production.

Some people living in the area support the mine because it would bring new jobs and tax revenue. And the mine could help with the supply of lithium, which currently can’t keep up with demand, forcing battery costs higher at a time when the car industry needs to switch to electric vehicles to reduce climate risks. Other proposed lithium projects in the U.S. are also facing opposition because of environmental impacts.

“I think we need lithium,” [Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has been fighting in court to protect the flower for more than three years] says. “It’s not a foregone conclusion we need open pit lithium mines. And we definitely don’t need open pit lithium mines that drive species extinct. That’s not a green technology. That’s just the same old way of doing business that got us to the place we are today. We’re on the brink of the climate crisis and ecological collapse because we drive species extinct, right? You need a new way of doing business.”
» Read article         

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

spooky
Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ to retain EU airport slots
Analysis from Greenpeace finds deserted flights are generating millions of tons of harmful emissions
By Arthur Neslen, The Guardian
January 26, 2022

At least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter because of EU airport slot usage rules, according to analysis by Greenpeace.

The deserted, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their takeoff and landing runway rights in major airports, but they could also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average petrol or diesel cars emit in a year – Greenpeace says.

“The EU Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet an arbitrary quota is not only polluting, but extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are skyrocketing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European commission suspended a benchmark requiring airlines to maintain 80% of their flight operations to keep their slots open.

In October, Brussels upped the benchmark to 50%, and it will rise again to 64% in March.

Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, said that his airline may have to fly 18,000 “extra, unnecessary flights” to fulfil the adjusted rules, and called for the sort of “climate-friendly exemptions” used in other parts of the world.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

incinerated assets
Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it
Wealthy companies are using the facade of ‘nature-based solutions’ to enact a great carbon land grab
By George Monbiot, The Guardian | Opinion
January 26, 2022

There is nothing that cannot be corrupted, nothing good that cannot be transformed into something bad. And there is no clearer example than the great climate land grab.

We now know that it’s not enough to leave fossil fuels in the ground and decarbonise our economies. We’ve left it too late. To prevent no more than 1.5C of heating, we also need to draw down some of the carbon already in the atmosphere.

By far the most effective means are “nature-based solutions”: using the restoration of living systems such as forests, salt marshes, peat bogs and the seafloor to extract carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up, mostly in trees or waterlogged soil and mud. Three years ago, a small group of us launched the Natural Climate Solutions campaign to draw attention to the vast potential for stalling climate breakdown and a sixth mass extinction through the mass revival of ecosystems.

While it is hard to see either climate or ecological catastrophe being prevented without such large-scale rewilding, we warned that it should not be used as a substitute for decarbonising economic life, or to allow corporations to offset greenhouse gases that shouldn’t be produced in the first place. We found ourselves having to shed a large number of partner organisations because of their deals with offset companies.

But our warnings, and those of many others, went unheeded. Something that should be a great force for good has turned into a corporate gold rush, trading in carbon credits. A carbon credit represents one tonne of greenhouse gases, deemed to have been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. Over the past few months, the market for these credits has boomed.

There are two legitimate uses of nature-based solutions: removing historic carbon from the air, and counteracting a small residue of unavoidable emissions once we have decarbonised the rest of the economy. Instead, they are being widely used as an alternative for effective action. Rather than committing to leave fossil fuels in the ground, oil and gas firms continue to prospect for new reserves while claiming that the credits they buy have turned them “carbon neutral”.
» Read article         

» More about carbon offsets         

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

milestone missed
Shell’s ‘Milestone’ CCS Plant Emits More Carbon Than It Captures, Independent Analysis Finds
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
January 24, 2022

The federal government is looking into independent analysis claiming that carbon capture at a highly-touted Shell Canada demonstration project in Alberta is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than it prevents, The Energy Mix has learned.

The report issued late last week by London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness acknowledges that Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility near Edmonton captured five million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, in what the company celebrated as a major milestone in July 2020.

But Global Witness came up with rather different numbers. “Our new research reveals that Quest is in fact emitting more than it is capturing,” the organization states. Despite the five megatonnes captured, the facility “has emitted a further 7.5 million tonnes of climate-polluting gases during the same time,” the equivalent of 1.2 million internal combustion cars per year.

Shell says it captured emissions equivalent to 1.25 million cars over a five-year span.

Global Witness’s analysis concludes that Quest captured just 48% of the emissions from hydrogen production at its Scotford bitumen upgrader and refinery—far less than the 90% standard promised by fossil executives and lobbyists. That’s because, while the CCS system captured 80% of the emissions from the steam methane reforming (SMR) production process to which it’s attached, it didn’t touch the 40% of total emissions that go into the atmosphere as flue gas, Global Witness says.

“When the plant’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are factored in, such as methane pollution from the fossil gas supply chain, only 39% of its emissions are captured,” the report adds.

For that result, Global Witness says Shell invested US$1 billion in the facility, including US$654 million in government subsidies, despite sustained opposition from many Indigenous communities focused on the industry’s “severe environmental damage”.

Shell maintains the plant has exceeded expectations, capturing more than its target of a million tonnes per year at lower cost than expected. But “Global Witness believes these claims about the CCS facility are misleading,” the report states. “They create the impression the hydrogen plant is less damaging for the climate than is actually the case, while Shell’s promotional materials give no sense of the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted” by Quest.
» Read article         

bubble column
Decarbonisation tech instantly converts CO2 to solid carbon
Researchers have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon, to help advance the decarbonisation of heavy industries.
By RMIT University, Melbourne
January 18, 2022

The carbon dioxide utilisation technology from RMIT researchers is designed to be smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes.

Decarbonisation is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.

The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120°C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.
» Blog editor’s note: the “liquid metal” isn’t specified. But mercury comes to mind as an obvious low-temperature liquid metal. Whatever is used, toxicity and environmental impact could be a real issue if this process is scaled up.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

measuring aerosolsEfforts to dim Sun and cool Earth must be blocked, say scientists
By Shanna Hanbury, Mongabay
January 24, 2022

Blocking the sun’s rays with an artificial particle shield launched high into Earth’s atmosphere to curb global temperatures is a technological fix gaining traction as a last resort for containing the climate crisis — but it needs to be stopped, wrote a coalition of over 60 academics in an open letter and article released in the WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) Climate Change online publication on January 17.

“Some things we should just restrict at the outset,” lead author Aarti Gupta, a professor of Global Environmental Governance at Wageningen University, told Mongabay. Gupta placed solar geoengineering in the category of high-risk technologies, like human cloning and chemical weapons, that need to be off-limits. “It might be possible to do, but it’s too risky.”

The color of the sky could change. The chemical composition of the ozone layer and oceans may be permanently altered. Photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, may slow down, possibly harming biodiversity and agriculture. And global weather patterns could change unpredictably.

Despite the potential dangers, no mechanism exists today to stop an individual, company or country from launching a solo mission, said Gupta. To prevent this, the open letter suggests five urgent protective measures: no outdoor experiments, no implementation, no patents, no public funding, and no support from international institutions such as the United Nations.
» Read article        
» Read the open letter

» More about solar geoengineering

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

orphan well
Abandoned oil well counts are exploding — now that there’s money on the table
$4.7 billion released by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has states rethinking their abandoned oil well tallies.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
January 21, 2022

From 2020 to 2021, the number of wells that the state of Oklahoma listed as abandoned — and therefore the government’s responsibility to clean up — jumped from 2,799 to a whopping 17,865. In Colorado, the orphan well tally hovered around 275 from 2018 to 2020 but increased by almost 80 percent last year. In California, the tally almost doubled in the last two years. (It started even lower in 2019, when the state identified just 25 abandoned wells.)

What changed? In 2020, Congress began seriously considering sending states money to plug orphan wells. The proposal had support from both political parties and was ultimately included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November, which set aside $4.7 billion for this purpose. States have long known that their orphan well tallies are outdated and incomplete, but without a source of funding to clean up the wells, many didn’t invest the resources required to identify abandoned wells. That changed as the funding slowly became a reality over the past couple of years.

Orphan oil and gas wells are a climate and public health menace. Abandoned by companies who abscond after fraudulent activity or fall into bankruptcy, these wells quietly belch the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pose a threat to public safety. Last year, a Grist and Texas Observer investigation found that the abandoned well count in Texas and New Mexico is poised to balloon by nearly 200 percent in the coming years. It’s widely accepted that cleanup costs run in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars nationwide — but both the true cost and the true count are unknown. The EPA estimates the unplugged orphan well count could be as high as 2.1 million across the U.S.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinnacle wood pellet plant
Tree-burning Drax power plants dropped from green energy index
The world’s largest biomass-burning power generator faces doubts over the sustainability of burning of wood pellets as a replacement for coal
By Adria Vasil, Corporate Knights
January 11, 2022

Here’s a green riddle for you: if a tree falls in the forest and it’s chipped, then shipped to be burned for electricity, is it carbon neutral?

It’s a question that’s been tripping up national carbon calculators around the globe since the days of the Kyoto Protocol. From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.

But doubts regarding the science behind those claims and the sustainability of the practice have been mounting as more countries ramp up the burning of woody biomass as a replacement for coal.

In October, the world’s largest biomass-burning power generator, Drax Group, was one of 15 companies booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. S&P also ditched the French bioenergy firm Albioma. The reason given: their “carbon-to-revenue footprint” was too large.

That same month, a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).

Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 – even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”

Meanwhile, the carbon accounting loophole has fuelled a boom in the biomass industry in Europe, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., where it’s highly subsidized. In the EU, biomass accounts for about 59% of all renewable energy consumption.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 8/27/21

banner 03

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week with a letter-writing action organized by the #StopLine3 movement, including a link with a sample you can customize and send to Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jaime Pinkham, requesting a federal environmental impact statement to assess threats to treaty rights, water protection, and climate related to this tar sands oil pipeline. The local tie-in is Canadian energy giant Enbridge, which also developed the Weymouth compressor station and operates an office in Westwood, MA.

Meanwhile, the environmental impact statement just released by Mountain Valley Pipeline left environmentalists unimpressed, but was accepted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Construction will continue for now.

So far, central banks (and large commercial banks) have been slow to recognize the urgent need for fossil fuel divestment, but the insurance industry appears to be catching on quickly. Damages related to climate-driven disasters are stacking up serious numbers, exposing insurers – and shareholders – to mounting financial risk.

The green economy should redress some longstanding economic, social, and racial inequities, and a recent labor agreement related to the offshore Vineyard Wind project reveals that Massachusetts construction labor unions are going to have to diversify their ranks to comply with new requirements.

Our climate news is once again about weird weather. For the first time on record, it rained at Summit research station atop two miles of ice at Greenland’s highest elevation. And it wasn’t just sprinkles….

A Canadian utility has created a marketplace for distributed clean energy resources like rooftop solar panels, using blockchain technology. Meanwhile, electric cooperatives are playing a role as laboratories of the modern grid – experimenting with everything from smart meters to large batteries as they innovate in the best interest of rate payers. Related to this, energy storage had a big year in 2020, but the pace of battery installation has to increase significantly to meet climate goals.

Staying with the battery theme, our Clean Transportation section considers what to do with the coming tsunami of retired electric vehicle batteries, and also provides an update on the Chevy Bolt recall.

We recently added a section on the siting impacts of renewables, and this week we offer two illustrative reports. One considers how far irritating noises can travel from land-based wind farms. That’s important because these sounds may impact the health of humans and wildlife. We also found an excellent article on a solar development proposed for a 25 acre wooded area in Mount Pleasant, NY. Reporter Michael Gold does an excellent job discussing the most important reasons why cutting trees for solar is undesirable.

The fossil fuel industry isn’t going to call it quits until every last hydrocarbon molecule they can get their hands on is extracted, sold, and burned. And as the inevitable clean energy transition bears down, extraction operations are getting riskier and moving at breakneck speed. All the hype around blue hydrogen and carbon sequestration serve to delay the transition while continuing the fossil infrastructure build-out. Floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) is ripe for similar greenwashing and promotion as a (false) climate solution.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop Line 3 artwork
#StopLine3 And Its Westwood Connection
Enbridge Inc., the embattled company of the #StopLine3 movement, has an office here in Westwood.
By Heather T. Ford, Patch
August 22, 2021

#StopLine3 is a movement supporting the Ojibwe people, their community, and environmental groups in Minnesota. They have fought for six years to stop Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy from building the massive Line 3 pipeline in Northern Minnesota. The purpose of the Line 3 pipeline would be to take oil from Canada’s tar sands region to Superior, Wisconsin.

The pipeline violates several treaties with the Ojibwe people that establish their right to hunt, fish, and gather along the proposed route. The pipeline would cross 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River, twice.

But what does a pipeline in Minnesota have to do with Westwood, MA? First of all, the controversial Weymouth Compressor Station in North Weymouth, MA is less than twenty miles from our town. Like Line 3, it is operated by Enbridge, Inc.

To quote the No Compressor site:

“This compressor station will create air, noise, and odor problems that will affect residents in Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, and the South Shore. Compressors pose a serious health risk, especially when in such close proximity to a dense residential area. There’s also a history of catastrophic accidents at similar Compressors that could paralyze traffic, devastate our waterfront, and put residents at serious risk.”

Enbridge’s M&N Operating Company, which is in charge of the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline (where the Weymouth compressor is located), has an office at 8 Wilson Way in Westwood, MA.

To take action to #StopLine3, go here.
» Read article           

Santos servedShareholder group sues Santos over “misleading” claims that gas is “clean energy”
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
August 26, 2021

A shareholder advocacy group has launched legal action against oil and gas company Santos in the [Australian] Federal Court, alleging the company has made multiple breaches of corporate and consumer protection laws by making false claims that gas was a form of “clean energy”.

In legal proceedings launched on Thursday, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) will allege that Santos has breached the Corporations Act and the Australian Consumer Law, with the advocacy group claiming that Santos undertook “misleading or deceptive conduct” when the gas company claimed to be a producer of “clean energy” and that it was a producer of “clean fuels” in its 2020 annual report.

ACCR will also allege that Santos made misleading representations that it has a clear and credible pathway to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, that the company’s plans were reliant on unproven technologies, and that Santos had plans to expand its natural gas operations.

The group said that the legal action was a ‘world first’ test of a fossil fuel company’s commitment to a zero emissions target, as well as the viability of relying on unproven technologies, including carbon capture and storage and the production of “blue” hydrogen, to meet those targets.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions           

 

PIPELINES

MVP in VA
FERC releases Mountain Valley Pipeline environmental statement
By Paul J. Gough , Pittsburgh Business Times
August 16, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has released a new environmental statement on Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s $6.2 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, recommending that FERC say there won’t be any significant impact to human life with the revised construction methods.

MVP and Equitrans had been told to go back to the drawing board with environmental impacts and changes to the plans, particularly for water crossings. FERC, in a document with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that the amended plan would lead to fewer direct impacts. It said that there would be added noise and emissions, but it wouldn’t be significant in the long term.

“Therefore, we recommend that the Commission Order contain a finding of no significant impact and include the measures listed below as conditions in any authorization the Commission may issue to Mountain Valley,” FERC said in the statement. It also said that MVP should continue to comply with environmental conditions and continue with the trenchless crossing measures and other measures on waterbodies.

Environmental advocates, who have been fighting the pipeline from the beginning, weren’t impressed.

“Given that a comment period for this project just ended 10 days ago and that the public submitted hundreds of pages of comments and a large volume of data and analyses, it is difficult to believe that FERC has even read and understood all of that information, let alone responsibly incorporated it into this document,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “It seems that, once again, the FERC staff is pushing this process forward at a breakneck speed to serve MVPs timeline, not doing the job it was required to do.”
» Read article           

» More about pipelines         

 

DIVESTMENT

big shiny building
Insurers Move ‘at Light Speed’ to Limit Exposure to Fossil Industry Risk
By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press, in The Energy Mix
August 24, 2021

With global climate change threatening to wreak havoc on their industry, insurance companies are increasingly looking to limit their exposure to the fossil fuel sector.

“This was not an issue that was central in the insurance sector, even seven years ago,” Robin Edger, national director of climate change for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told The Canadian Press. “But now it is moving at light speed.”

In the past three years, 23 major global insurance companies have adopted policies that end or limit insurance for the coal industry, and nine have ended or limited insurance for the Canadian tar sands/oil sands.

Other insurers are making changes on the asset side of their books, divesting fossil fuel investments and adding green energy to their investment portfolios. In July, eight of the world’s largest insurance companies—including Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, and Aviva—committed to transitioning their portfolios to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The “sustainable finance” movement—which seeks to use the power of investment capital to move toward a lower-carbon economy—also includes pension funds, banks, and mutual funds, CP says (although progress has been decidedly uneven). But of all the institutional investors, insurance companies have perhaps the most on the line when it comes to climate change.
» Read article           

unused tools
Central Banks Accused of ‘Dawdling’ on Climate as World Burns
“Instead of using their power to cut off finance for fossil fuels, they are making themselves busy tinkering around the edges of the climate crisis.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
August 24, 2021

Despite needing to “play a critical role in catalyzing the rapid shift of financial flows away from oil, fossil gas, and coal,” 12 major central banks “have instead tinkered at the edges,” according to a report released Tuesday.

The new analysis (pdf) from two dozen advocacy groups including Oil Change International (OCI) examines financing and policies of central banks from Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The report says that “with a few isolated exceptions—such as decisions by the French and Swiss central banks to partially exclude coal from their asset portfolios—central bank activity on carbon pollution and the climate crisis has been limited primarily to measures to increase financial market transparency.”

“While some central bank executives claim that tackling the climate crisis is beyond their mandates,” the report continues, “at the same time they have positively reinforced fossil fuel financing, and even directly financed fossil fuel production.”

“The science is clear,” the report emphasizes, noting that even the International Energy Agency now acknowledges that limiting global heating to 1.5°C this century—the more ambitious temperature target of the Paris climate agreement—requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
» Read article           
» Read the analysis          

» More about divestment          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

ivory tower
Vineyard Wind’s labor deal exposes tensions overs unions, worker diversity
Most Massachusetts building trade union members are White, and most minority-owned contractors are non-union. Will Vineyard Wind’s commitment to union labor make it harder to meet workforce diversity targets?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 23, 2021

Workforce diversity advocates worry a recent commitment by Vineyard Wind to exclusively use union labor to build the project will impair efforts to diversify Massachusetts’ offshore wind workforce because of unions’ historical lack of diversity.

While unions rarely share racial data, it’s generally agreed that a significant majority of building trades union membership in Massachusetts is White. At the same time, most minority-owned contractors in the Boston area are non-union.

So an agreement announced last month between Vineyard Wind and the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council raised concerns among some, despite the inclusion of diversity targets as part of the deal.

“What Vineyard Wind has done is not just shut but slammed the door tight on any meaningful participation by minority contractors,” said John Cruz, chief executive of Cruz Companies, a third-generation, Black-owned contracting company based in Boston.

Supporters of the labor agreement say they are working to develop a strong pipeline of women and people of color into the unions. However, there is little reason to believe these efforts will bear fruit, said Travis Watson, chair of the Boston Employment Commission, a panel tasked with overseeing employment policies on city-supported construction projects. Union leadership has historically employed strategies both subtle and blatant — from biased union admission testing to explicit racism — to keep people of color out of the ranks, he said. Watson is not convinced that these attitudes have changed, he said.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

The Summit
It Rained at the Summit of Greenland. That’s Never Happened Before.
The showers are another troubling sign of a changing Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region on Earth.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
Aug. 20, 2021

Something extraordinary happened last Saturday at the frigid high point of the Greenland ice sheet, two miles in the sky and more than 500 miles above the Arctic Circle: It rained for the first time.

The rain at a research station — not just a few drops or a drizzle but a stream for several hours, as temperatures rose slightly above freezing — is yet another troubling sign of a changing Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region on the planet.

“It’s incredible, because it does write a new chapter in the book of Greenland,” said Marco Tedesco, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. “This is really new.”

At the station, which is called Summit and is occupied year-round under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, there is no record of rain since observations began in the 1980s. And computer simulations show no evidence going back even further, said Thomas Mote, a climate scientist at the University of Georgia.

Above-freezing conditions at Summit are nearly as rare. Before this century, ice cores showed they had occurred only six times in the past 2,000 years, Martin Stendel, a senior researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote in an email message.

But above-freezing temperatures have now occurred at Summit in 2012, 2019 and this year — three times in fewer than 10 years.

The Greenland ice sheet, which is up to two miles thick and covers about 650,000 square miles, has been losing more ice and contributing more to sea-level rise in recent decades as the Earth has warmed from human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

The surface of the ice sheet gains mass every year, because accumulation of snowfall is greater than surface melting. But overall, the sheet loses more ice through melting where it meets the ocean, and through the breaking-off of icebergs. On average over the past two decades, Greenland has lost more than 300 billion tons of ice each year.
» Read article           

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

blockchain DER
Canadian utility creates marketplace for DER households using blockchain technology
By John Engel, Renewable Energy World
August 23, 2021

Canada’s largest municipally-owned electric utility has launched a pilot program that allows customers with distributed energy resources (DERs) to participate in an energy marketplace using blockchain technology.

Alectra has launched a transactive software platform, GridExchange, to enable customers with solar panels, battery storage, and electric vehicles to participate in a marketplace. Twenty-one households in Ontario will participate in the three-month pilot program.

“The GridExchange pilot project plays a pivotal role in supporting consumers by offering them greater control over their energy usage,” said Brian Bentz, president and CEO, Alectra Inc. “In alignment with Alectra’s commitment to be net-zero by 2050, the launch of GridExchange will help us continue to lower emissions and create value for customers and the Ontario power grid.”
» Read article           

» More about clean energy       

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

LREC
From smart meters to big batteries, co-ops emerge as clean grid laboratories
A wave of pilot programs by Minnesota electric cooperatives is saving customers money and providing useful data for larger utilities considering new technology and pricing models to encourage grid efficiency.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
August 26, 2021

Minnesota electric cooperatives have quietly emerged as laboratories for clean grid innovation, outpacing investor-owned utilities on smart meter installations, time-based pricing pilots, and experimental storage solutions.

“Co-ops have innovation in their DNA,” said David Ranallo, a spokesperson for Great River Energy, a generation and distribution cooperative that supplies power to 28 member utilities — making it one of the state’s largest co-op players.

Minnesota farmers helped pioneer the electric co-op model more than a century ago, pooling resources to build power lines, transformers and other equipment to deliver power to rural parts of the state. Today, 44 member-owned electric co-ops serve about 1.7 million rural and suburban customers and supply almost a quarter of the state’s electricity.

Co-op utilities have by many measures lagged on clean energy. Many still rely on electricity from coal-fired power plants. They’ve used political clout with rural lawmakers to oppose new pollution regulations and climate legislation, and some have tried to levy steep fees on customers who install solar panels.

Where they are emerging as innovators is with new models and technology for managing electric grid loads — from load-shifting water heaters to a giant experimental battery made of iron. The programs are saving customers money by delaying the need for expensive new infrastructure, and also showing ways to unlock more value from cheap but variable wind and solar power.
» Read article           

» More about modernizing the grid      

 

ENERGY STORAGE

Connexus worker
Battery power capacity in the US grew big time in 2020
But a lot more capacity is needed
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 19, 2021

2020 was a big year for big batteries in the US, which is crucial for getting grids to run on more renewable energy. Power capacity — a measure of how much power a battery can instantly discharge — for large-scale batteries grew at an unprecedented pace in the US last year, according to an annual report released this week by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

2020 smashed the previous record set in 2018 for the biggest growth in power capacity in the US with 489MW of large-scale battery storage added. That’s more than twice what was added in 2018. By the end of last year, there was 1,523MW of large-scale battery power capacity in the US. For comparison, the largest solar farm in the US has a capacity of 579MW and can generate enough electricity for about 255,000 homes.

That’s all good news for renewable energy, but way more batteries are needed to clean up the electricity grid. “It’s great that it’s growing. But by the scale of the grid, it’s still a pretty small drop in the bucket,” says Gerbrand Ceder, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. For perspective, Ceder says, the total battery power capacity in the US at the end of 2020 is still “no bigger than one or two big power plants.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Nanjing factory
Millions of electric car batteries will retire in the next decade. What happens to them?
The quest to prevent batteries – rich in raw materials such as cobalt, lithium and nickel – ending up as a mountain of waste
By XiaoZhi Lim, The Guardian
August 20, 2020

A tsunami of electric vehicles is expected in rich countries, as car companies and governments pledge to ramp up their numbers – there are predicted be 145m on the roads by 2030. But while electric vehicles can play an important role in reducing emissions, they also contain a potential environmental timebomb: their batteries.

By one estimate, more than 12m tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to retire between now and 2030.

Not only do these batteries require large amounts of raw materials, including lithium, nickel and cobalt – mining for which has climate, environmental and human rights impacts – they also threaten to leave a mountain of electronic waste as they reach the end of their lives.

As the automotive industry starts to transform, experts say now is the time to plan for what happens to batteries at the end of their lives, to reduce reliance on mining and keep materials in circulation.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into recycling startups and research centers to figure out how to disassemble dead batteries and extract valuable metals at scale.

But if we want to do more with the materials that we have, recycling shouldn’t be the first solution, said James Pennington, who leads the World Economic Forum’s circular economy program. “The best thing to do at first is to keep things in use for longer,” he said.

“There is a lot of [battery] capacity left at the end of first use in electric vehicles,” said Jessika Richter, who researches environmental policy at Lund University. These batteries may no longer be able run vehicles but they could have second lives storing excess power generated by solar or windfarms.
» Read article           

every Bolt made
GM expands battery-fire recall to Chevy Bolt EUV, every Bolt EV made
By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
August 20, 2021

General Motors has expanded the recall of Chevrolet Bolt EV models due to battery-related fire concerns—to include 2019-2021 Bolt EV models and new 2022 Bolt EV and EUV models.  GM just earlier this week confirmed that it planned to replace all battery modules on affected 2017-2019 Bolt EV models, subject to be adjusted after an additional investigation. It’s now expecting to do the same with the rest of the Bolt EV population, including models recently delivered and those in dealer inventories.

Both issues are related to the same two potential battery defects, stemming from reports of fires when Bolt EV vehicles had been plugged in and or recently charged to full. The Bolt EV and EUV models use cells made by LG Chem in South Korea through mid 2019, and then Holland, Michigan from mid-2019 on. GM had previously said that the so-called “design level N2.1” made in Michigan were unaffected; it hasn’t yet disclosed whether it’s aware of instances of fire with the newer cells.

Customers are to contact 1-833-EVCHEVY or their dealership with questions, or check the Bolt EV recall page for more information.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation                

 

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

night noise
Wind turbine swoosh “more annoying” at night, new study finds
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
August 20, 2021

New federally funded research investigating the association of wind farm noise with adverse effects on humans has found that the “swoosh” sound made by spinning turbine blades was likely to be more noticeable – and more annoying – to nearby residents during the night than during the day.

The research, led by Flinders University PhD candidate Duc Phuc Nguyen and acoustic expert Dr Kristy Hansen, has combined long-term monitoring of wind farm noise with machine learning to quantify and characterise the noise produced by wind turbines.

The resulting two new publications mark the latest findings in the five-year Wind Farm Noise study that was funded by the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council, with funding also supplied through Australian Research Council grants.

The Wind Farm Noise Study, based at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep health at Flinders University, is investigating noise characteristics and sleep disturbances at residences located near wind farms, to inform what the researchers describe as the “ongoing debate” around turbine noise and adverse effects on human health.

Claims that wind turbine noise – both those sounds that are detectable to the human ear and the “infrasound” that is undetectable – can affect the health and well-being of humans (and animals) have indeed sparked much passionate and sometimes pretty sensational discussion within and without the renewable energy industry.
» Read article           

Gate of Heaven
Gate of Heaven Solar Farm Denial Fails in Deadlocked Vote
By Michael Gold, The Examiner
August 17, 2021

The Mount Pleasant [NY] Planning Board deadlocked 3-3 on Aug. 5 in a vote that would have denied a 5.75-megawatt ground-mounted solar array on a 25-acre portion of Gate of Heaven Cemetery to move forward.

With board member Jane Abbate absent, the project will be subject to a new vote at a future meeting.

“The clear-cutting of this forest is just immoral,” said Planning Board member Joan Lederman, who proposed the resolution to deny. “And I’m a member of the Church.”

“Destroying the flora and fauna is just plain wrong,” Lederman added.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York owns the cemetery and CES Hawthorne Solar, LLC is the listed applicant. Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, which owns, develops and operates renewable energy infrastructure, is facilitating the project.

Residents, environmental groups and board members who have been skeptical of the proposal cited various concerns during the Aug. 5 public hearing, including the significant destruction of trees.

Saw Mill River Audubon Society chapter member and Briarcliff Manor resident Thomas Ruth argued that the organization supports solar projects on building roofs and parking lots. But in this case, the forested area in the cemetery is “sequestering carbon and protecting biodiversity,” Ruth said.

Pace University Energy and Climate Center wrote in support of the project on May 17, then withdrew its support two weeks later, citing the need to safeguard natural resources, including forests.

Steven Kavee, chairman of the Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council, said the habitat for plants, animals and trees is too valuable to undertake wholesale clearing of the acreage where the panels would be installed.

“The idea of clear-cutting woodlands for solar is the wrong path,” Kavee said in a telephone interview with The Examiner. “We want to see renewable energy, but not at the expense of irreplaceable woodlands. We need to look at places where solar can be done without jeopardizing natural resources. The planet is at risk. This is not zero-sum.”
» Read article           

» More about siting impacts of renewable energy resources        

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

doubling down
The World’s Newest Oil Countries Are Racing To Exploit Reserves
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
August 20, 2021

The new kids on the oil block—Guyana, Suriname, and Ghana—have no plans to let their newly discovered oil wealth go to waste by joining global decarbonization efforts.

They plan to exploit them as best as they can before they become worthless, Reuters has reported, citing statements by government officials made at this week’s Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

Billions of barrels of crude oil have been discovered in the Guyana-Suriname Basin offshore the two South American neighbors as well as in Ghana in recent years.

“We have millions of people without electricity in Africa,” Ghana’s Energy Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh said at the event. “Energy transition does not mean we’ll see our resources unexploited.”
» Blog editor’s note: Last week, we carried an article about developing countries leapfrogging straight to clean energy – skipping the fossil phase entirely. This story shows that fossil interests will try hard to prevent that.
» Read article           

Noble Bob Douglas
Exxon’s oil drilling gamble off Guyana coast ‘poses major environmental risk’
Experts warn of potential for disaster as Exxon pursues 9bn barrels in sensitive marine ecosystem
By Antonia Juhasz, Floodlight, in The Guardian
August 17, 2021

ExxonMobil’s huge new Guyana project faces charges of a disregard for safety from experts who claim the company has failed to adequately prepare for possible disaster, the Guardian and Floodlight have found.

Exxon has been extracting oil from Liza 1, an ultra-deepwater drilling operation, since 2019 – part of an expansive project spanning more than 6m acres off the coast of Guyana that includes 17 additional prospects in the exploration and preparatory phases.

By 2025, the company expects to produce 800,000 barrels of oil a day, surpassing estimates for its entire oil and natural gas production in the south-western US Permian basin by 100,000 barrels that year. Guyana would then represent Exxon’s largest single source of fossil fuel production anywhere in the world.

But experts claim that Exxon in Guyana appears to be taking advantage of an unprepared government in one of the lowest-income nations in South America, allowing the company to skirt necessary oversight. Worse, they also believe the company’s safety plans are inadequate and dangerous.

A top engineer who studies oil industry disasters, as well as a former government regulator, have leveled criticisms at Exxon. They say workers’ lives, public health and Guyana’s oceans and fisheries – which locals rely on heavily– are all at stake.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel             

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

second life
Floating LNG can turn ‘constraint into commercial opportunity’
LNG could help cut offshore flaring and venting while opening up new line of income
By Mark Passwaters, Upstream Online
August 18, 2021

Floating liquefied natural gas is still a fairly novel concept, but industry experts speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on Tuesday argued it could be a major asset for the oil and gas industry in the coming years.

Supporters of FLNG said the process could cut emissions by reducing offshore venting and flaring, opening up an additional revenue stream in the process.

Jean-Philippe Dimbour, Technip Energies’ director of business development and technology for offshore, said global gas flaring is near 150 billion cubic metres, or 25% of US gas consumption and 50% of Africa’s total power consumption.

“It is a massive energy loss,” he said. “Approximately 30% of associated gas is lost offshore due to existing infrastructures.”

Dimbour said associated gas from offshore projects drilling for oil could be a “showstopper” due to greenhouse gas emissions constraints.

With reinjection an unlikely prospect, he said, a centralised FLNG vessel could prove to be cheaper and more efficient for producers needing to dispose of associated gas than sending it to shore — especially for those operating in deep water.
» Blog editor’s note: we’ll keep an eye on FLNG. Ideally, it could capture and use methane that is currently being vented (terrible) or flared (bad), and reduce the need for an equal volume of fracked gas extracted elsewhere while we transition to clean energy. More likely, the industry will see this as a natural gas market growth opportunity, give us a greenwashed sales pitch, and double down on expanding its infrastructure (disastrous).
» Read article           

» More about liquefied natural gas             

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Weekly News Check-In 12/11/20

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Welcome back.

Representative Stephen Lynch and activists are again calling for the Weymouth compressor station to be shut down, following multiple occurrences of natural gas venting as the station prepared to begin operation. Of course, venting will occur regularly as part of the compressor’s normal function. That’s why these facilities are not sited in congested communities…. Oh, except for this one.

Occasionally, the week’s news organizes around a common theme. This week, most of the stories touched on the idea that environmental regulations are nice, except when they get in the way of progress. When that happens, industry and regulators seem all too eager to re-write the rules, or simply “reinterpret” the teeth right out of them. Numerous environmental regulations should have protected Weymouth from Enbridge’s compressor.

Other pipeline projects are similarly manipulating the regs. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) hasn’t managed to pass environmental review for a number of key permits – so compliant state and federal regulators are rewriting the rules to lower the bar. Enbridge wants to pipe tar sands oil through northern Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lake country. Indigenous groups and environmentalists feel so marginalized and ignored by regulators that tree sitters have resorted to setting up positions along the pipeline’s path as winter locks in.

Meanwhile, the divestment movement notched another win, as New York State’s comptroller announced that the state would begin divesting its huge employee pension fund from gas and oil companies unless they submit a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. And since December marks the fifth anniversary of that historic climate agreement, we take a look at how well countries are delivering on their promises.

The clean energy sector has been buzzing lately about all things hydrogen. Turns out a lot of that press is being pushed by the natural gas industry with the help of top industry public relations firm FTI Consulting. We offer extensive coverage showing how the prospect of green hydrogen is being used to extend the economy’s dependence on natural gas.

The Biden presidency is expected to focus early on energy efficiency, and that’s good news for people looking for help with building weatherization and heat pumps. But electrified homes work best when connected to a green grid, and unfortunately New England’s grid operator was just forced to cancel an important rule that would have supported faster deployment of utility scale battery storage.

There’s trouble brewing in clean transportation, too, as auto companies seek reliable sources of lithium for batteries to power the millions of electric vehicles they’ll soon build. This week’s theme of regulators bending environmental rules for industry is also an issue in so-called green sectors – and the damage can be just as profound.

We found a couple of new reports on the hazards of using natural gas indoors. This especially applies to gas ranges with inadequate ventilation. Of course, this science-based public health warning is being vigorously countered by a gas industry PR blitz touting the superiority of gas stove tops. You may have seen the ads or encountered social media influencers touting the wonders of blue flame cooking. It looks like California is preparing a regulatory update.

As expected, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency failed to strengthen limits on fine particulate pollution, even though research and our recent experience with Covid-19 implicate airborne soot as a significant health hazard. [40 days left….]

On the bright side, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week to kill offshore drilling in the Arctic. This may set a precedent that will also keep the fossil fuel industry out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The US liquefied natural gas industry faces headwinds from the Europe’s Green Deal, which accounts for emissions associated with extraction and transport when rating fuels. LNG export projects that depend on fracked gas are being re-evaluated and even scrapped.

We wrap up with a biomass story. Britain used the Kyoto Climate Agreement’s incorrect classification of woody biomass as “carbon neutral”, to convert the huge Drax power station from coal to wood pellets. Aside from the real-world emissions issues, fueling it is devastating Baltic forests.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Stephen Lynch for Weymouth
Stephen Lynch, activists call for shutdown of Weymouth natural gas compressor station
By Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald
December 5, 2020

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch called a controversial Weymouth natural gas compressor station’s decision to vent gas into the community multiple times during its first week of operations “deeply troubling” and said the station needs to be shut down.

“The fact that Enbridge describes all of this as ‘routine’ and openly dismisses the threat to the public is deeply troubling,” Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, said in a tweet. “Venting natural gas into the atmosphere has an inherent harm that cannot be completely eliminated, and due to its proximity to heavily populated areas, it poses a grave risk to Weymouth residents and surrounding communities. At this point, it is clear that as long as the Weymouth Compressor Station is active, it will threaten public health and safety and must be shut down.”

In an email Saturday, Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, the energy company that built the facility, said: “Safety will always be our number one priority at Enbridge, and the Weymouth Compressor Station benefits from multiple safety features in place to support safe and responsible operation of the facility, in compliance with applicable environmental and safety regulations.”

He said the venting may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Dec. 11 and said the “controlled” venting of natural gas is “a safe and routine procedure, and the gas that is vented will naturally dissipate. There is no cause for concern and there will be no danger to persons or property in the area.”

But community activists are unconvinced that the venting — and the facility itself — will be safe after accidental gas leaks this fall prompted two emergency shutdowns and a federally ordered pause in operations.

“This opens up our community to more health risks,” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station. “They say they’re going to have intermittent and planned releases. But they’re what we call a blow-down, the release of unburned methane into the air. Not only is it toxic, but it’s really driving us over the edge in terms of climate change.”
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

shifting MVP goalposts
Federal Regulators Are Rewriting Environmental Rules So a Massive Pipeline Can Be Built
Federal regulators and West Virginia agencies are rewriting environmental rules again to pave the way for construction of a major natural gas pipeline across Appalachia, even after an appeals court blocked the pipeline for the second time.
By Ken Ward Jr., ProPublica
December 8, 2020

Last month, a federal appeals court blocked one of the key permits for construction of a massive natural gas pipeline that cuts through West Virginia and that industry officials and their political allies in the state are desperate to see completed.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that environmental groups are likely to prevail in a case arguing federal and state regulators wrongly approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline through a streamlined review process for which the project isn’t eligible.

If this sounds familiar, it is. A strikingly similar thing happened two years ago.

In October 2018, the same appeals court blocked the same $5.4 billion pipeline because the developer’s plan to temporarily dam four West Virginia rivers didn’t meet special restrictions that state regulators had put on the streamlined approval process.

But rather than pausing or rethinking the project at the time, the state Department of Environmental Protection rewrote its construction standards so that the pipeline would qualify.

After their most recent court loss, West Virginia officials are once again rewriting their restrictions to help pave the way for the pipeline to qualify for that streamlined permitting process.

“Here we go again,” citizen group lawyer Derek Teaney wrote in frustration in the latest of a series of legal challenges to the government agencies that have bent environmental standards for the pipeline.

When it is built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, known as MVP, will transport natural gas from Wetzel County, near West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, crossing 200 miles in West Virginia and 100 miles in Virginia. The project is one of several large transmission pipelines in the works across Appalachia, part of the rush to market natural gas from drilling and production in the Marcellus Shale formation.
» Read article    

Enbridge line 3 construction begins
State utility regulators vote against a stay on Enbridge pipeline project
Red Lake and White Earth bands hoped to halt construction while awaiting resolution of appeals.
By Brooks Johnson Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

State regulators declined Friday to grant a stay on construction of Enbridge’s new pipeline across northern Minnesota, leaving little recourse to stop work on the $2.6 billion project while court appeals of key approvals and permits are pending.

“Operation of the existing Line 3 is more likely to cause harm than construction of the project,” said Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner Valerie Means, explaining her vote against the stay. “The commission has determined that replacing an old, aging pipeline is the safest option for protecting the environment and Minnesota communities.”

The move came on a day when about 1,000 workers were ending the first week of work and protesters gathered at two work sites.

A pair of protesters camped out in trees in Aitkin County and dozens gathered at a job site near Cloquet to disagree with that sentiment as the legal means of stopping the pipeline are now in the hands of the slow-moving Court of Appeals. It could be several weeks at a minimum before the court could intervene in the project and months before the case is decided.

“The PUC’s predictable actions today again demonstrate that the regulatory process in Minnesota is brazenly pro-oil industry,” said Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke, who joined several other self-described “water protectors” near a planned Mississippi River pipeline crossing on Friday. “Without a stay, Line 3 would be constructed before the court could determine if the PUC broke the law, making the case moot.”
» Read article     

EJAG collapse
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency advisers quit over pipeline permit
By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune
November 18, 2020

A citizen advisory group at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has collapsed following the regulator’s decision to issue a water-quality permit to Enbridge Energy for its Line 3 oil pipeline cutting through Minnesota.

The bulk of the agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group has resigned in protest over the permitting decision, saying in a letter Tuesday to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop that “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on Black and brown people.”

A dozen of the board’s 17 members signed the letter, which called the water-quality permit the “final straw” in a series of MPCA actions that they said sidelined the advisory group. Among those resigning is Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and executive director of Honor the Earth who strongly opposes the pipeline.

In an interview, LaDuke called the decision “a slap in the face.”

“The people who are most impacted are Indigenous people, and for seven years we have tried to make the system work,” she said. “If the MPCA actually valued Indigenous people and environmental justice they would not have issued that permit.”

LaDuke called her four years on the advisory group “a waste of time.”
» Read article    
» Read the advisory board letter

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Line 3 protest begins
Indigenous groups stage first protests as Enbridge pipeline construction begins
As a set of protestors climbed trees to block workers, a second launched Friday near Cloquet.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

Two protesters climbed trees at a Mississippi River crossing Friday to stand in the way of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction, which began earlier this week across northern Minnesota.

The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” mounted the protest among an Aitkin County forest set to be logged as “direct blockades to the attempt by Enbridge to drill Line 3 under the Mississippi River.”

“Water is not invincible. That’s why I am here,” said 22-year-old Liam DelMain of Minneapolis in a statement released by Giniw Collective. “I am here, putting my body on the line, because I have been left with no other choices.”

The Giniw protest is the first along the pipeline’s route since construction began this week and comes four years after the massive, months-long Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock. Several other protesters came to the site on Friday afternoon, and a live stream from Native Roots Radio showed a discussion between Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida and the handful of others at the site. The sheriff’s office did not have a comment on the situation when reached Friday afternoon.
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

NY calling
New York State Sends a Blunt Message to Big Oil
The comptroller’s threat to pull billions from fossil fuel investments is a big victory for climate activists.
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
December 9, 2020
Mr. McKibben is a founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org and a leader of fossil fuel divestment efforts.

New York State’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced on Wednesday that the state would begin divesting its $226 billion employee pension fund from gas and oil companies if they can’t come up with a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Those investments have historically added up to roughly $12 billion.

The entire portfolio will be decarbonized over the next two decades. “Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will put the fund in a strong position for the future mapped out in the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.

It’s a huge win, obviously, for the activists who have fought for eight years to get Albany to divest from fossil fuel companies and for the global divestment campaign. Endowments and portfolios worth more than than $14 trillion have joined the fight. This new move is the largest by a pension fund in the United States, edging the New York City pension funds under Comptroller Scott Stringer, who announced in 2018 that the fund would seek to divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from its nearly $200 billion pension fund over five years.

But it also represents something else: capitulations that taken together suggest that the once-dominant fossil fuel industry has reached a low in financial and political power.

The first capitulation, by investors, is to the understanding that most of Big Oil simply won’t be a serious partner for change. Mr. DiNapoli had long been an advocate of engagement with the fossil fuel companies, arguing that if big shareholders expressed their concerns, those companies would change course. This, of course, should be how the world works: He was correctly warning the companies that their strategy endangered not only the planet but also their businesses, and they should have listened.
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

emissions gap 20205 Years After Paris: How Countries’ Climate Policies Match up to Their Promises
By Morgan Bazilian and Dolf Gielen, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
December 10, 2020

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement – the commitment by almost every country to try to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.

It’s an ambitious goal, and the clock is ticking.

The planet has already warmed by about 1°C since the start of the industrial era. That might not sound like much, but that first degree is changing the planet in profound ways, from more extreme heat waves that put human health and crops at risk, to rising sea levels.

Bold visions for slowing global warming have emerged from all over the world. Less clear is how countries will meet them.

So far, countries’ individual plans for how they will lower their greenhouse gas emissions don’t come close to adding up to the Paris agreement’s goals. Even if every country meets its current commitments, the world will still be on track to warm by more than 3°C this century, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s latest Emissions Gap Report, released Dec. 9. And many of those commitments aren’t yet backed by government actions.
» Read article           
» Read the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

pro-H2 push
Major Fossil Fuel PR Group is Behind Europe Pro-Hydrogen Push
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 9, 2020

The recent deluge of pro-hydrogen stories in the media that tout hydrogen as a climate solution and clean form of energy can now be linked in part to FTI Consulting — one of the most notorious oil and gas industry public relations firms.

According to a new report, titled The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?, released by a coalition of groups in Europe including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Food and Water Action Europe, details the work of FTI to push hydrogen as a clean climate solution in Europe. So far it appears FTI is being quite successful in this endeavor. As the report notes, the “European Commission is most definitely onboard” with the idea of a hydrogen-based economy.

FTI Consulting’s previous and ongoing work promoting the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to sell natural gas as a climate solution were recently featured in an article by the New York Times.

Among FTI’s misleading claims it defended to the New York Times was that the Permian region in Texas — the epicenter of the U.S. shale oil industry’s fracking efforts — was reducing methane emissions. This claim, however, was based on government data that did not include emissions for actual oil and gas wells, which are major emitters of methane emissions. FTI’s argument is easily disproved as methane emissions in Texas continued to break records in 2019.

And now FTI is taking the same approach for hydrogen as it has for natural gas — promoting it as a climate solution despite the evidence to the contrary.

One of the main goals of the lobbying efforts to create a “hydrogen economy” in Europe to sell the idea of utilizing existing gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) for hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can currently be mixed with methane and be transported by existing pipelines — which is a major selling point for hydrogen’s supporters.

However, there is a potential fatal flaw with this idea that has not been addressed. Hydrogen can react with steel to make it brittle. A 2018 paper published in the journal Procedia Structural Integrity, found that “using pipelines designed for natural gas conduction to transport hydrogen is a risky choice” as doing so “may cause fatigue and damage the structure.” This is a widely known and researched issue with hydrogen and pipelines but is a fact that is being left out of the current public relations efforts.

The methane industry already has a pipeline explosion problem and hydrogen will increase those risks because it can make steel pipelines more brittle and susceptible to failure and gas leaks.

The concept of hydrogen being a clean fuel is also dependent on the idea that the unproven and costly technologies being touted for carbon capture for fossil fuels can be effective in producing low carbon and affordable blue hydrogen.

Perhaps the biggest reason green hydrogen isn’t a good choice to decarbonize the economy when compared to electrification is that producing green hydrogen would take enormous amounts of electricity — which can just as easily be used directly to electrify transportation and heating.
» Read article           
» Read “The Hydrogen Hype” report
» Read NY Times article about FTI Consulting
» Read NY Times article excerpt in Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Biden to push green buildings
Green buildings ‘unheralded hero’ in emissions fight, experts say

By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
December 10, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to upgrade the buildings sector and make it more energy efficient could be critical to help fight the effects of climate change, elected officials said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan says it would create 1 million jobs to upgrade 4 million buildings across the United States and weatherize 2 million homes, all within four years. Such energy efficient upgrades is something that should receive bipartisan support as it saves money in the long run and creates jobs, while also bringing down emissions, Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said during the webinar.

A strong federal partner will also be needed in a national building strategy, with cities and states having led the way previously, speakers said. The federal government can play a leading role in strengthening building codes, streamlining the permitting process and pushing through approvals, with financial incentives and technical support as two key ways for national leaders to help, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, said.

Biden’s plan would make a variety of upgrades to areas like lighting systems, HVAC systems and other appliances to improve their cost and energy efficiency. For homes, the plan would include direct cash rebates and financing to upgrade household appliances and install more energy efficient windows. The administration also plans to push legislation that would set new net-zero standards for all new commercial buildings for 2030.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
New England energy storage advocates say FERC ruling is a setback for industry

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that let new resources lock in prices for up to seven years.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Ryan McKnight / Flickr / Creative Commons
December 8, 2020

A decision by federal regulators to throw out a rule that has helped emerging technologies gain a foothold on New England’s electric grid will put the region’s energy storage industry in jeopardy, according to advocates.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that has allowed new bidders in its capacity market to lock in their prices for up to seven years.

The annual capacity auction is meant to ensure the region will have enough electricity to meet peak demand three years in the future. Developers bid resources, often yet to be built, into an auction, and those accepted are paid to be available to meet demand.

The rule has allowed owners of new resources to avoid potential fluctuations in future auctions. That means the developer has a guaranteed revenue stream, something that can help them gain investor confidence when they’re trying to capitalize the project.

Several groups, led by the New England Power Generators Association, asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to overturn the rule. (The association’s members include fossil and renewable developers.) They said the rule suppresses prices in the market and hurts competition. ISO-New England has said the rule is no longer clearly necessary, given that it was enacted to address a capacity shortage that’s been mitigated.

On Thursday, FERC agreed, saying the rule distorts prices and is no longer needed to attract new entrants into the market. The decision comes as states in New England and other regional transmission organizations reconsider their future in the markets as they move toward a cleaner energy mix.

Renewable and storage advocates, led by Renew Northeast and the Energy Storage Association, have said the rule is necessary, especially for storage.

Very few battery resources have actually bid into the capacity market or secured the price lock. But developers say that just as the market was important for new gas generators to get built in past years, it should now allow for the same development of new storage projects. Storage is still a new technology, and investors often aren’t yet willing to commit to funding it.

“We’re at a point … where I would say the last thing New England needs is another gas plant, and so I would argue that the seven-year price lock for gas plants has served its term,” said Liz Delaney, director of wholesale market development at Borrego Solar. “It’s done a great job. It’s probably not necessary because the region does not need new ways to incent fossil generation. What we need are ways to incentivize the resources of the future.”
» Read article            

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium curse
The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles’ dirty secret
The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale
By Oliver Balch, The Guardian
December 8, 2020

Electrifying transport has become a top priority in the move to a lower-carbon future. In Europe, car travel accounts for around 12% of all the continent’s carbon emissions. To keep in line with the Paris agreement, emissions from cars and vans will need to drop by more than a third (37.5%) by 2030. The EU has set an ambitious goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the same date. To that end, Brussels and individual member states are pouring millions of euros into incentivising car owners to switch to electric. Some countries are going even further, proposing to ban sales of diesel and petrol vehicles in the near future (as early as 2025 in the case of Norway). If all goes to plan, European electric vehicle ownership could jump from around 2m today to 40m by 2030.

Lithium is key to this energy transition. Lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric cars, as well as to store grid-scale electricity. (They are also used in smartphones and laptops.) But Europe has a problem. At present, almost every ounce of battery-grade lithium is imported. More than half (55%) of global lithium production last year originated in just one country: Australia. Other principal suppliers, such as Chile (23%), China (10%) and Argentina (8%), are equally far-flung.

Lithium deposits have been discovered in Austria, Serbia and Finland, but it is in Portugal that Europe’s largest lithium hopes lie. The Portuguese government is preparing to offer licences for lithium mining to international companies in a bid to exploit its “white oil” reserves. Sourcing lithium in its own back yard not only offers Europe simpler logistics and lower prices, but fewer transport-related emissions. It also promises Europe security of supply – an issue given greater urgency by the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption of global trade.

Even before the pandemic, alarm was mounting about sourcing lithium. Dr Thea Riofrancos, a political economist at Providence College in Rhode Island, pointed to growing trade protectionism and the recent US-China trade spat. (And that was before the trade row between China and Australia.) Whatever worries EU policymakers might have had before the pandemic, she said, “now they must be a million times higher”.

The urgency in getting a lithium supply has unleashed a mining boom, and the race for “white oil” threatens to cause damage to the natural environment wherever it is found. But because they are helping to drive down emissions, the mining companies have EU environmental policy on their side.

“There’s a fundamental question behind all this about the model of consumption and production that we now have, which is simply not sustainable,” said Riofrancos. “Everyone having an electric vehicle means an enormous amount of mining, refining and all the polluting activities that come with it.”
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

HEALTH RISKS OF INDOOR NATURAL GAS

gas alarm
Why experts are sounding the alarm about the hidden dangers of gas stoves
By Jonathan Mingle, Quartz
December 4, 2020

Since the publication of two new reports on the subject from the nonprofit research group the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, this past spring, the existence of these gas-fired health hazards has garnered increasing media scrutiny. But less discussed has been how the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the risks of this pollution, especially for low-income and vulnerable populations, and how key regulatory agencies have lagged decades behind the science in acting to protect them.

Despite such calls—and despite compelling evidence that gas appliances can produce levels of air pollution inside homes that would be illegal outdoors in the US—indoor air quality remains entirely unregulated in the US today, and gas appliances largely maintain their industry-manufactured reputation as “clean.” The Environmental Protection Agency only monitors pollutants in outdoor air. And while building codes typically require natural gas furnaces and water heaters to be vented outside, many states lack requirements that natural gas cooking stoves be vented to the outdoors.

Still, recent signs suggest that some measure of regulatory action reflecting the current understanding of the health risks of gas cooking and heating devices might finally be forthcoming. At the end of September, the California Energy Commission held a day-long workshop on indoor air quality and cooking to inform its triennial update to its building energy efficiency standards. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which regulates air pollution in the state, presented evidence that gas stoves harm health, and that a statewide transition to electric appliances would result in substantial health benefits. These obscure energy code deliberations have generated an unprecedented number of public comments—testament, advocates say, to mounting concern about greenhouse gas emissions, and to growing awareness of the health impacts of residential fossil fuel use.

Last month, the 16 members of CARB unanimously adopted a resolution in support of updating building codes to improve ventilation standards and move toward electrification of appliances—making California the first state to issue official guidance addressing the health impacts of gas stoves and other appliances.
» Read article           
» Read the RMI report
» Read the UCLA report

» More about the health risks of using natural gas indoors

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

eat soot
Trump Administration Declines to Tighten Soot Rules, Despite Link to Covid Deaths
Health experts say the E.P.A. decision defies scientific research showing that particulate pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
December 7, 2020

The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.

In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place, rather than tightening, rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness.

E.P.A. administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce the rule Monday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Public health experts say that the rule defies scientific research, including the work of the E.P.A.’s own public health experts, which indicates that PM 2.5 pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, and that even a slight tightening of controls on fine soot could save thousands of American lives.
» Read article            

» More about EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ninth circuit
Downstream Emissions
A new court ruling could doom the Trump Administration’s ANWR plan.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet
December 8, 2020

A Ninth Circuit ruling yesterday overturned approval of offshore drilling in the Arctic. The ruling may directly impact the Trump Administration’s plans for oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). By requiring agencies to consider emissions when fossil fuels are ultimately burned, the Court of Appeal’s decision may also change the way that agencies consider other fossil fuel projects such as gas pipelines.

In Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, environmental groups challenged the Interior Department’s approval of an  offshore drilling and production facility on the north coast of Alaska.  In its environmental impact statement, the agency refused to consider the effects of the project on carbon emissions outside the United States.

On its face, as the court was quick to point out, the agency’s position makes no sense. It’s like assuming that if you pour water in one end of the bathtub it won’t rise on the other end. There’s a world market for oil, so increased supply anywhere means that prices go down and world demand goes up.   The Interior Department also said that the effect on emissions was too uncertain to quantify, but the court pointed out that Interior had failed to provide support to back up this assertion.

The greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are called “downstream” emissions in terms of the production, processing, and transportation of those fuels.  The Republican majority on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has taken a position similar to Interior’s.  Despite prodding from the D.C. Circuit and strong dissent from one commissioner , FERC has refused to take downstream emissions into account when approving gas pipelines and LNG export facilities.  That refusal was always questionable and has become even less tenable given this additional precedent. [emphasis added]

In its environmental impact statement for oil leasing in ANWR, the agency seems to have followed the same course as it did for offshore drilling — the same path that the Ninth Circuit found unacceptable.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling today seems to invalidate this part of the ANWR EIS. Unless reversed by the Supreme Court, this ruling will be a serious obstacle to the Trump Administration’s hurried effort to begin leasing before the end of Trump’s term.  (Another part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, involving the Endangered Species Act, may also be a barrier.) More broadly, yesterday’s ruling should reinforce the trend in other courts requiring agencies to consider downstream emissions from coal, oil, and gas projects. That’s a win for rational decision making, as well as a win for the environment.
» Read article            

polar bear greetingCourt Rejects Trump’s Arctic Drilling Proposal in ‘Huge Victory for Polar Bears and Our Climate’
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
December 8, 2020

Climate action advocates and wildlife defenders celebrated Monday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s approval of Liberty, a proposed offshore oil-drilling project in federal Arctic waters that opponents warned would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment.

eans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved. I’m thrilled the court saw through the Trump administration’s attempt to push this project through without carefully studying its risks.”

Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, similarly applauded the ruling, saying that “thankfully, the court put the health of our children and our planet over oil company profits.”

Both groups joined with fellow advocacy organizations Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, and Pacific Environment for a lawsuit challenging the Hilcorp Alaska project, which was approved in 2018. The energy company planned to construct an artificial island, wells, and a pipeline along the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea.
» Read article            

porkchopAs the Livestock Industry Touts Manure-to-Energy Projects, Environmentalists Cry ‘Greenwashing’
Corporate pork and dairy producers are producing “biogas” to reduce methane emissions. But the actual climate benefits are unclear, and often overstated.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
December 7, 2020

When the world’s largest pork producer and a major public utility announced they would team up to turn hog manure from North Carolina swine farms into energy, they billed their new partnership as a win-win for both the companies and the climate.

With a $500 million commitment and a recently minted joint venture called Align RNG, Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy set out to capture the methane emitted from giant hog manure “lagoons,” convert it into biogas—what the industries dub “renewable natural gas”—and inject that biogas into pipelines to heat homes and buildings.

The partnership, the companies said, would create the biggest manure-to-energy project in North Carolina, a state with the potential to become the largest producer of livestock biogas in the country.  At the same time, the project would help the companies meet their goals of reducing climate-warming emissions, they said.

Similar alliances are emerging around the country as the livestock industry comes under increasingly critical scrutiny for its greenhouse gas emissions, and utilities and power companies attempt to meet climate-related commitments. To name only two recent examples, Duke Energy announced in July that it will collaborate with dairy farmers in the Southeast. In September, Chevron announced a project with California Biogas and the state’s dairy farmers.

But as utilities, oil companies and livestock companies pitch biogas as an emissions-reducing solution, critics say it simply locks in systems that allow two highly polluting industries to continue unchecked and without truly tackling their climate impact. These industrial farms, like oil and gas infrastructure, are disproportionately located in lower income and minority communities, where pollution plagues waterways, air and quality of life.

“It’s absolute greenwashing,” said Sherri White-Williamson,  environmental justice policy director with the North Carolina Conservation Network. “If you think about it, there’s nothing renewable about biogas, because in order to make it, you have to grow the hogs in large quantities in huge facilities.”

She added, “It only continues to ingrain that system.”
» Read article            

Denmark to stop exploration
Denmark to end new oil and gas exploration in North Sea
Decision as part of plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050 will put pressure on UK
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 4, 2020

Denmark has brought an immediate end to new oil and gas exploration in the Danish North Sea as part of a plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050.

On Thursday night the Danish government voted in favour of the plans to cancel the country’s next North Sea oil and gas licensing round, 80 years after it first began exploring its hydrocarbon reserves.

Denmark’s 55 existing oil and gas platforms, scattered across 20 oil and gas fields, will be allowed to continue extracting fossil fuels but the milestone decision to end the hunt for new reserves in the ageing basin will guarantee an end to Denmark’s fossil fuel production.

“We’re the European Union’s biggest oil producer and this decision will therefore resonate around the world,” Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jørgensen, said. “We are now putting a final end to the fossil era.”

Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark described the parliamentary vote as “a watershed moment” that will allow the country to “assert itself as a green frontrunner and inspire other countries to end our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels”.

She said: “This is a huge victory for the climate movement and all the people who have pushed for many years to make it happen.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

EU Green Deal threat to US LNGEurope’s Green Deal Is Bad News For U.S. LNG
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
November 14, 2020

U.S. LNG producers have had a tough few months, what with the pandemic and plunging prices because of an oversupplied market. Now, prices have improved substantially as production declines while exports have been rising for three consecutive months. The future, however, contains some storm clouds. French utility Engie recently pulled out of a major long-term deal with NextDecade that would have seen it import millions of tons of U.S. liquefied natural gas. The Wall Street Journal cited earlier media reports naming the French government as the power behind the decision, which was reportedly motivated by concerns about fracking: according to the reports, Paris considered fracking an emission-heavy way of extracting natural gas.

The Engie deal could be a harbinger for U.S. LNG in Europe. Bloomberg recently reported that environmental legislation in Brussels could throw a wrench in the works of U.S. LNG expansion as it pursues its ambitious net-zero agenda.

The Green Deal formulated by the European Commission is based on three main goals: eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; decoupling economic growth from resource use; and leaving no person and no place behind. Whether the latter two are achievable is arguable. The first goal, however, is what has been drawing the most attention anyway: net-zero greenhouse emissions.

The EU is very serious about it. Member countries are being encouraged to spend heavily on solar and wind generation capacity development, and even Poland, a country heavily dependent on coal, recently announced plans to boost its renewable energy capacity at the expense of fossil fuel.

In this context, it was only a matter of time before policymakers set their sights on natural gas. Although hailed as a bridge fuel between the fossil fuel era and the future of renewable energy, now natural gas has been attracting not-so-positive attention because of methane leaks. On top of that, there is the issue of hydraulic fracturing, which appears to worry euro-bureaucrats.
» Read article           

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

serving DRAX
Drax Wood Pellets Have Devastating Impact On Baltic Forests, Report Shows
By Caitlin Tilley, DeSmog UK
December 4, 2020

Drax’s “insatiable” demand for wood is harming Baltic forests, campaigners have claimed following the publication of a damning report.

Compiled by NGOs in Estonia and Latvia, the report reveals that together the two countries exported more than three million tonnes of wood pellets last year – equivalent to at least 200 square kilometres of clearcut forest.

The authors argue that the intensification of logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.

Kelsey Perlman, a climate campaigner for forests NGO Fern, said the report exposed “a glaring paradox at the heart of the EU’s environmental policies”.

“This report reveals the intolerable pressure facing some of the most valuable habitats in Estonia and Latvia,” she told DeSmog.

“The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which allows Member States to subsidise burning woody biomass under the banner of ‘green energy’, has a clear role in the destruction of forests and wildlife, which are meant to be protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 policy.”

Almuth Ernsting, a campaigner from NGO Biofuelwatch, said the report showed how forests in the Baltic States are being “harmed by Drax’s insatiable demand for wood”.

“Stopping and redirecting subsidies for burning wood in power stations will help protect forests in each of those regions,” he added.
» Read article          
» Read the report

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

banner 02

Welcome back.

Activists fighting the Weymouth compressor station are keeping pressure on Mayor Robert Hedlund over his recent settlement agreement with Enbridge. We’re also keeping track of pipeline developments, with major projects mired in litigation. These challenges are expected to increase with the incoming Biden administration.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been slowed by relentless litigation, but it has also faced fierce opposition from tree-sitters committed to halting progress by taking up long-term residence high in trees along the pipeline’s path. A remnant group has held out for over two years in steep terrain, but faces removal by court order next Monday.

The other end of the protest and action spectrum includes people who make a living creating the illusion of grass-roots support for fossil fuel projects. We found an important report on FTI Consulting, a well-connected firm financed by industry and laying astroturf far and wide.

California now has almost forty municipalities that have legislated natural gas hookup bans in new buildings. With the recent addition of San Francisco, these local laws are becoming so common that California is considering a state-wide rule. Note that Massachusetts law requires gas hookup bans to be addressed differently – through the building code. Several environmental organizations are promoting that change.

Somewhat related to that, Massachusetts natural gas utilities have embarked on a project initiated by Attorney General Maura Healey, to plan for their orderly transition to a decarbonized future. We have a description of the process, which is similar to efforts underway in California, Colorado, and New York.

Much of this week’s climate news explores the significance of President-elect Biden’s plans and approach. We offer articles describing the important immediate pro-climate steps he could take, and also some of the obstacles created by the Trump administration’s four-year frontal assault on the planet.

In clean energy, the east coast is grappling with the transmission requirements posed by the coming massive deployment of offshore wind resources. And a report from down under shows Australia the path to zero emissions without the natural gas “bridge”.

Even as the clean energy transition unfolds at an accelerating rate, the fossil fuel industry is still building out natural gas infrastructure. We highlight a new gas generating plant beginning construction in Oregon, in spite of stiff resistance. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell launched a snarky promotion on Twitter, gaslighting users by asking “What are you willing to change?” for the climate. The blowback was immediate and intense.

The US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is staggering from self-inflicted wounds. Due to sloppy handling and lax regulations, the combined effect of fugitive methane emissions, flaring, and general inefficiency from wellhead to export terminal puts the fuel’s global warming impact on par with coal. This fuel serves export markets in Europe and Asia, and many of these buyers now require a full accounting of upstream emissions associated with any load of LNG. Contracts are being cancelled, and financing has dried up for some planned LNG export facilities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth is not for sale
Massachusetts Locals Accuse Town Mayor Of ‘Colluding’ With Enbridge Over Controversial Natural Gas Project
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmo Blog
November 11, 2020

Residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, are raising questions about a deal made between the city and multi-billion dollar Canadian energy pipeline company Enbridge, Inc., with some calling the situation a “complete sell-off” that could jeopardize the health of the community and environment.

Protesters during a demonstration outside the town hall on November 6 accused the mayor of “colluding” with Enbridge by signing a $10 million settlement agreement dropping the town’s official opposition and legal fights against a newly constructed natural gas compressor station in town. Compressor stations, which pump large volumes of fracked gas at high pressure and are critical parts of gas pipeline infrastructure, are prone to hazards due to the extreme pressure by which the gas is processed.

The demonstration also comes after two recent accidental emergency shutdowns at the Weymouth compressor station less than three weeks apart — the facility is now under federal investigation. But despite this pending safety investigation, the Weymouth mayor struck an unexpected deal on October 30 with Enbridge, the owner of the compressor station, leaving town residents, neighboring municipalities, and even the town council without the town’s official support in their ongoing fight against the operation of the station.

In response to the mayor’s settlement agreement, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously this week to send a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General asking her to look into the legality of the mayor’s newly agreed contract with Enbridge that effectively censures town officials from continuing to challenge the controverisal compressor station. This apparent silencing of the town’s legislative branch without its consent is potentially in violation of the town’s charter.

The town of Weymouth and the mayor had together opposed the compressor project for the last five years.

Wendy Cullivan, a Weymouth resident who attended the Friday demonstration, said the town’s 180-degree-manuever left community members and the town council high and dry in the battle with Enbridge. “From my perspective I’ve always looked to the town of Weymouth as the leader in the fight. When they relinquished themselves from that role last week, they didn’t tell anybody. They just dropped us like a hot potato,” she explained. “The way the agreement works is it carves out our town council from being active in the fight.”
» Read article               

Weymouth protests the settlement deal
Opponents demonstrate against Weymouth compressor station deal
About 70 opponents held a demonstration outside Weymouth Town Hall on Friday.
By  Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger
November 8, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Opponents of the newly constructed natural gas compressor station have a message for Mayor Robert Hedlund.

They say the host agreement that the mayor has reached with Enbridge, the owner of the station, is a bad deal and doesn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the community.

“We are not going away,” said Alice Arena, the leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.

About 70 people gathered in front of Weymouth Town Hall on Friday night, carrying signs with messages of their continued opposition to the compressor station.

Some of the signs read, “A bribe by any other name would smell as bad” and “Hedlund to Weymouth: Drop Dead.” Some passing drivers honked their horns as a show of support for the demonstrators.

Arena said the group will be organizing similar events as time goes on.

The host community agreement would provide the town an upfront payment of $10 million and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

The upfront payment can be spent on expenses for public safety, health and environmental needs, general infrastructure improvements for North Weymouth, coastal resiliency infrastructure and information technology.

Arena said the agreement is “selling out our lives and community for a lousy $10 million.”

District 1 Town Councilor Pascale Burga told the group that the council had no involvement in the negotiations for the agreement.

The mayor did not appear at the demonstration.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

MVP restored landMountain Valley Pipeline faces another legal roadblock. What does that mean for the long-embattled project?
By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury
November 12, 2020

On Monday the Richmond-based 4th Circuit issued a ruling that effectively bars Mountain Valley from continuing any construction related to its crossing of hundreds of streams, rivers and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia until a broader case about the validity of its water-crossing permit is settled.

Project opponents — which include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, among others — had argued that “irreparable harm” to the environment would result if stream-crossing work wasn’t halted before the resolution of the larger case. In August, Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley developer Equitrans Midstream, told analysts on an earnings call that the company intended to try to cross “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

MVP attorney George Sibley told the 4th Circuit that the developer’s haste is in recognition “that our opponents are implacable.”

“We have the authorizations,” he said Monday. “We are not going to wait to get sued and wait for those lawsuits to be resolved.”

Mountain Valley has argued that its stream-crossing permit is valid and that by delaying construction, the company is suffering severe financial harm amounting to losses of $20 million per month. Derek Teaney, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing MVP’s opponents, however, characterized those losses as “self-inflicted” because of ongoing deficiencies with agency approvals.
» Read article                

DAPL future uncertain with Biden
Future of Dakota Access pipeline uncertain as Biden presidency looms
By Laila Kearney, Reuters
November 12, 2020

The election of Democrat Joseph Biden could create more headaches for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) owners, who are already embroiled in legal battles to keep the main conduit for flowing oil out of North Dakota running.

The $3.8 billion DAPL ships about 40% of the crude oil produced from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota to refiners in the Midwest and exporters in the U.S. Gulf. Without the 557,000-barrel-per-day line, getting oil out of the area, which has about 1 million bpd of output, would be much more difficult left to smaller existing pipelines and rail.

DAPL’s controlling owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, is fighting to keep the pipeline running after a judge threw out its permit to run the line under a South Dakota lake that is a water source for Native American tribes that want the pipeline shut.

DAPL was a controversial project that sparked massive demonstrations starting in 2016 in North Dakota by native tribes and climate activists opposed to its completion.

President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, blocked a permit that would have allowed construction under South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a critical water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The line was finished in 2017 after Trump, upon taking office, approved a final permit allowing construction under the lake to be completed.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tree-sitters face removal order
Judge orders tree-sitters down after more than 2 years
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
November 12, 2020

After spending two years, two months and seven days in the trees — where they have maintained an aerial blockade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — protesters were told Thursday that they have four more days.

A temporary injunction issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Robert Turk ordered the three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone by Monday.

While Mountain Valley has a legal right to a 125-foot-wide easement on which the natural gas pipeline will be built off Yellow Finch Lane, it has been unable to cut trees out of fear that it will harm the protesters in and around them.

If the defendants do not leave the property that has been occupied since Sept. 5, 2018, by Monday, “the Sheriff’s Office shall thereupon take such measures as are necessary to remove them,” the order entered by Turk reads.

Left unsaid in the order and during a two-hour hearing that preceded it was how the protesters might be extracted from tree stands about 50 feet off the ground on a steep, wooded slope near Elliston.
» Read article                

astroturf centralHow One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
November 11, 2020

In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.

All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.

On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.

An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.

As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.
» Read article               

Rise and Resist
With Biden’s Win, Climate Activists See New Potential But Say They’ll ‘Push Where We Need to Push’
Advocacy groups are preparing for the challenges of a likely Republican Senate and planning their next moves.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
November 8, 2020

Even before Joe Biden won the presidential election on Saturday, climate activists and environmental groups began vowing to push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategizing for a Biden administration.

“We’ve seen that Biden, in his final debate speech, committed to a transition off of fossil fuels. We’re excited to hold a Biden administration accountable to that promise,” said Emily Southard, a campaign manager with 350 Action. “We’ll push where we need to push.”

If the Senate remains in Republican hands, the chances of passing transformative climate policies are slim, worrying many advocates who say any compromise on policy will be insufficient to tackle the deepening climate crisis.

But with time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action—from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of “climate czar” to financial regulatory reforms—is on the advocacy agenda. Already, climate advocates are celebrating a shift in momentum.

“Simply because we have a Republican Senate that isn’t representative of the majority of Americans who want action on climate change, doesn’t mean that things like a Green New Deal aren’t happening already,” Southard said, noting that green ballot initiatives passed in several cities. “The Green New Deal isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a vision for an economy that moves us off of fossil fuels. There’s a lot Biden can do, from stopping the Keystone Pipeline to banning fracking on public lands.”
» Read article                

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Sanfran- gas banSan Francisco’s gas ban on new buildings could prompt statewide action
The vote adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban in July 2019.
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
November 12, 2020

San Francisco this week became the latest, and perhaps the largest, U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring new residential and commercial building construction to utilize all-electric power, starting with projects that file permits next year. This ordinance will cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce city carbon emissions and tackle climate change, said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the meeting.

“San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today — on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn’t come up — we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet,” he told his colleagues in the meeting.

The board’s unanimous vote concludes nearly a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, Mandelman said, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to craft the legislation. It complements the approval of the city’s electric preference ordinance, passed last fall to require higher energy efficiency standards from natural gas buildings, and an ordinance passed earlier this year requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects.

The vote also adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. Experts say San Francisco’s measure could hold enough weight to pressure similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles, and could even push Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, toward statewide action.
» Read article                

» More legislative news

GAS UTILITIES

gas transition gets real
Can gas utilities survive the energy transition? Massachusetts is going to find out.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
November 4, 2020

Massachusetts may be a climate leader in the U.S., with a goal to reduce economy-wide emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, but it will face a major obstacle along the way: More than 1.3 million of its households make it through those cold New England winters by burning natural gas. Roughly one-third of the state’s emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.

Now the state is responding to pressure from its attorney general, Maura Healey, to take a look at what the path to net-zero in the building sector might look like, particularly for the gas companies whose entire reason for existing could be eliminated in the process. Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon.

“It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.”

The Massachusetts DPU joins regulators in California and New York, and now Colorado, who have all initiated similar investigations into these trade-offs and the future of natural gas in their states.

To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.

Tierney called this a “clever approach,” since often in utility rulemakings, each stakeholder will hire its own expert and use its own set of assumptions, leading to a data war of sorts where it’s hard to know whose numbers to go on. In this case, the DPU, utilities, ratepayers, and environmental advocates will at least have a common set of facts on which to base discussions.
» Read article                

» More about gas utilities              

CLIMATE

be the ClimatePresident
Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, reposted in DeSmog Blog
November 9, 2020

With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.

Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”

“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”

The organizations list 10 action items which would help the Biden White House single-handedly put the U.S. on the path to meaningfully fighting the climate crisis:
» Read article                

what Trump left us
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 9, 2020


WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.

Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.

That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.

“Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.”

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.

At home, Mr. Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate industry.

And abroad, the influence that the United States once had in climate talks was almost certainly damaged by Mr. Trump’s policy rollbacks and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Those actions slowed down international efforts to reduce emissions and prompted other governments to follow the American lead in weakening emissions rules, though none have followed the United States out of the agreement.

All of that means that as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.
» Read article                

climate policy reversalA Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change
New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.
By Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Darryl Fears, Washington Post
November 7, 2020

Joe Biden, the projected winner of the presidency, will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history. While some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general, the United States is poised to make a 180-degree turn on climate change and conservation policy.

Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.

In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the “forces of science” in the “battle to save our planet.”

“Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during President Barack Obama’s second term and now helms the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time.”

Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two Senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.

Still, a number of factors make it easier to enact more-ambitious climate policies than even four years ago. Roughly 10 percent of the globe has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature rise the world has pledged to avoid. The price of solar and wind power has dropped, the coal industry has shrunk, and Americans increasingly connect the disasters they’re experiencing in real time — including more-intense wildfires, hurricanes and droughts — with global warming. Biden has made the argument that curbing carbon will produce high-paying jobs while protecting the planet.

Biden’s advisers are well aware of the potential and pitfalls of relying on executive authority to act on climate. Obama used it to advance major climate policies in his second term, including limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks and the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has overturned them, along with 125 others.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski pointed to California — which has already adopted a low-carbon fuels standard and requirement that half its electricity come from carbon-free sources within five years — as a model. “You look at where California is now going, the federal government needs to get there.”

Some of the new administration’s rules could be challenged in federal court, which have a number of Trump appointees on the bench. But even some conservative activists said that Biden could enact enduring policies.
» Read article                

Iris launch
New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
By Paul Tullis, New York Times
November 11, 2020

Methane, the powerful, invisible greenhouse gas, has been leaking from oil facilities since the first wells were drilled more than 150 years ago. Most of that time, it was very difficult for operators to measure any emissions accurately — and they had little motivation to, since regulations are typically weak.

Now, technology is catching up just as there is growing alarm about methane’s role driving global warming. A Canadian company, GHGSat, last month used satellites to detect what it has called the smallest methane leak seen from space and has begun selling data to emitters interested in pinpointing leaks that previously were harder to spot.

“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation,” said Thomas Roeckmann, professor of atmospheric physics and chemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and coordinator of a project, called MEMO2, to measure methane leaks at ground level. “We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”

Soon the company may have competition. Bluefield Technologies, based in New York City, plans a group of satellites for launch in 2023 that promises an even finer resolution. And the Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch MethaneSAT in the next couple of years, which is designed to pick up small perturbations in methane across large areas.

Until a few years ago, measuring methane from small areas such as a fracking well required ground-based sensors. They were good at determining gas concentrations at a site, but considering the millions of oil-and-gas facilities worldwide and the high cost of checking and rechecking, finding leaks could be time consuming and complicated, even with the use of airplanes and drones. In 2002, satellites from Japan and the European Space Agency began taking stock of global emissions, but the resolution was too low to identify point sources.
» Read article                

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

offshore wind transmission
A Looming Transmission Crunch for the US East Coast’s Offshore Wind Ambitions
Planning and cost-sharing disconnects could stymie states’ plans for 29 GW of offshore wind. But there are solutions, experts say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 11, 2020

Building the transmission grid needed to grow U.S. renewable energy capacity is complicated enough on solid ground. It’s even more complicated for the nascent offshore wind industry.

But if East Coast states want to hit their goals of nearly 29 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 15 years, they’ll need to find solutions. A key first step will be working with federal regulators and regional grid operators to find ways to share the costs of building offshore transmission, rather than going it alone.

That’s the key message from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference on offshore wind integration last month, featuring representatives from utilities and states trying to plan ahead for an unprecedented undersea high-voltage transmission system build-out.

Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are calling for a combined 28.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. That will cost roughly $100 billion, of which about $15 billion and $20 billion will go into offshore transmission, according to an October report from the Business Network for Offshore Wind advocacy group.

But today’s constructs for allocating transmission costs are unlikely to lead to those investments being completed in time, workshop participants warned.

“The current ‘generator-lead’ approach that states have used to date,” in which individual offshore wind projects and offtakers bear the costs of building individual transmission corridors needed to bring their power to shore, “is unsustainable,” Stuart Nachmias, CEO of the transmission unit of New York utility Con Edison, said in his opening remarks.

Instead, Nachmias promoted a “transmission-first” approach that shares costs among multiple offshore wind project investors, utilities, states and the ratepayers that will end up paying for them.
» Read article               
» Read the BNOW report         

look AU - no gasAustralia will benefit from shift to zero emissions, with no gas required
By Michael Mazengarb, RenewEconomy
November 10, 2020

New analysis published by the Climate Action Tracker initiative has detailed how Australia could take action on climate change consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in a way that would leave it economically stronger, and with gas not needed as a transition fuel

In a new report titled Scaling up Climate Action, the Climate Action Tracker initiative found that Australia would be economically better off if governments adopted an ambitious switch to zero emissions energy sources, including an almost complete transition of the electricity system to renewable energy sources by 2030.

The report found that as many as 76,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years within the renewable energy sector alone, through more ambitious emissions reduction policies.

“This report shows how Australia can get on a pathway to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C, increasing employment and ratcheting up its 2030 target from the currently inadequate 26-28% to a 66% emissions reduction,” CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics Bill Hare said.

“We show how this is feasible. But it needs real climate policy across all sectors of the economy. An important first step to achieving this is a planned and managed phase out of coal from power generation by 2030.”

The report finds that Australia’s current emissions reduction targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and both a commitment to a zero net emissions target, and a stronger 2030 interim target  are a necessary, but achievable, to bring Australia into line with the Paris Agreement.

The analysis detailed an economically and technically feasible pathway for transitioning the electricity system to renewable energy sources, that would help Australia achieve the 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article               
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

wind chaser protest
Oregon Allows a Controversial Fracked Gas Power Plant to Begin Construction

Having fought the plant for years, environmentalists expressed surprise that the state has greenlighted a major new greenhouse gas polluter.
By Ilana Cohen, Inside Climate News
November 5, 2020

Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge asked a Multnomah County court on Monday to review a “grievously” unlawful decision by the Oregon Department of Energy to allow construction of the controversial Perennial Wind Chaser Station power plant. If built, the plant would be one of the state’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The nonprofit environmental groups alleged that the state allowed developers to avoid required stormwater and air pollution permits and meet a Sept. 23 construction deadline by breaking the construction into “phases.” They claimed that grading the site in preparation for an access road represented “phase 1” of the plant construction in a way that was never approved by a state siting panel.

If completed, the 415-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant, near Hermiston in rural Umatilla County, 160 miles east of Portland, would provide additional power to the power grid to complement intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, at times of peak energy demand.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the plant would generate more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, in addition to increased air pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness.

Five years out from the plant’s initial approval in 2015, developers have yet to secure a buyer for the electricity the plant would produce, though they remain in dogged pursuit.

Finding a market for the plant’s output in Oregon, where hydropower and other renewable energy sources account for a majority of the state’s utility-scale net electricity generation, has probably become more difficult amidst stricter statewide energy standards and a pandemic that has depressed overall natural gas demand.

Environmentalists contend this lack of a market should be proof enough that the plant need not go forward. Still, they say, they find themselves having to use every legal device at their disposal to keep it from proceeding.
» Read article                

Shell endless greenwashShell’s climate poll on Twitter backfires spectacularly
Oil giant accused of gaslighting after asking users: ‘What are you willing to change?’
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
November 3, 2020

A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.

The survey, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”

Though it received a modest 199 votes the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet that was liked 350,000 times.

[I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet]

Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.

Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting individual actions could stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG scrutinized
French government puts U.S. gas imports on ice
By Chathurika Gamage & Georges Tijbosch, Green Biz
November 12, 2020

A move by one of the largest European energy companies shows that both markets and governments are beginning to pay attention to methane emissions and factor them into business decisions. France’s Engie has halted its commitment to a long-term U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with NextDecade Corp estimated at $7 billion.

This is being done under pressure from the French government, which holds a 23.6 percent stake in Engie. The delay was driven in large part by concerns over the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of U.S. gas production, particularly from the Permian Basin, which will feed NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export plant in Texas. While we cannot ignore the geopolitical considerations also at play, these concerns reflect the growing consensus that all natural gas cannot be seen as equal in terms of its impact on the climate.

There has long been debate about reducing emissions within the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Singapore’s biggest buyer of LNG, Pavilion Energy Pte Ltd, asked all LNG sellers to quantify the GHG emissions associated with each LNG cargo produced, transported and imported into Singapore.

This latest halted contract comes on the back of the European Commission’s (EC) newly proposed EU Methane Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. The strategy prioritizes improved measurement and reporting of emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant, for member states and the international community. In the recent announcement, the EC called out energy imports as a major source of methane emissions, and committed to explore possible targets, incentives or standards for energy imports into the EU.

Engie’s decision demonstrates a trend toward increased scrutiny of gas deals within and beyond the EU. From the outside looking in, the United States does not seem to stand up to such scrutiny. The Trump administration’s rollback of many climate policies and EPA rulings, including those pertaining to oil and gas methane emissions reporting, monitoring and repair, are just a few of nearly 100 environmental rules being dismantled.

Continuing down this route may make it difficult for U.S. gas producers and exporters to lock in deals with overseas markets, which could have big economic consequences for the U.S. gas industry. In 2019, 38 percent of the United States’ domestically produced LNG was exported to Europe, equating to about $2.9 billion in revenue (based on the median 2019 price at export). The export volume to Europe has increased substantially over the last five years, paving the way for the approval of 15 new LNG export terminals in North America beyond the six main terminals that exist today. These new terminal projects may face delays or even cancellation of final investment decisions based on the market’s consideration of climate impact.
» Read article                

Bigfoot on the waterGas Export’s Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s
By Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Naureen Malik and Dave Merrill (Bloomberg), in gCaptain
January 23, 2020

In May, while President Donald Trump toured a new $10 billion plant designed to prepare natural gas for export, he made a vow. Such facilities would be good for the environment, he said, or they won’t get approved.

The president has greenlit 11 projects so far, bringing the U.S. total to 18. Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.

Not all the export terminals are completed and in use, but if they were, simply operating them could spew 78 million tons of CO2 into the air every year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from environmental filings. That’s comparable to the emissions of 24 coal plants, or 18 gigawatts of coal-fired power—more than Kentucky’s entire coal fleet. And those numbers don’t account for the harm caused by transporting the gas from wellheads to processing facilities and then overseas, which can be significant.

“The emissions from these projects can’t be squared with the sorts of drastic, drastic reductions we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Nathan Matthews, a senior Sierra Club attorney.

As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and burn off excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO2.

Proponents of exporting natural gas, including government officials, argue that it will help wean other countries off coal, and that additional emissions here are offset by lower emissions abroad. But natural gas’s role in global warming is complicated. While the fuel has been key to reducing U.S. emissions as it displaces coal-fired power, the electricity industry’s growing dependence on it has nevertheless “offset some of the climate gains from this coal decline,” according to the Rhodium Group. With the effects of climate change already supercharging wildfires and flooding some coastal communities, the surprise that emissions from LNG terminals rival those of coal plants is not a pleasant one.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

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