Two related sets of gears seem to be turning in opposite directions. The Weymouth compressor station’s most recent unplanned massive release of natural gas (3rd in 8 months!) has increased the possibility that its operating permit will be revoked on safety and environmental justice grounds. At the same time, Pieridae Energy is approaching an end-of-June final investment decision on the controversial Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. The project appears to depend on fracked natural gas piped from Pennsylvania via the now-imperiled Weymouth compressor.
We’re taking another look at Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to shut down inefficient and polluting peaking power plants, and also include a story on a new Australian study that finds battery storage to be 30% cheaper than gas peakers – and better suited to the task.
More states are adopting industry-promoted legislation criminalizing nonviolent direct actions, especially those taken against pipelines. This sets up a situation where energy companies can take land, clear trees, dig trenches, and cause significant environmental damage even before completing the permitting process – but aggrieved land owners, indigenous Tribe members, and environmentalists can’t stand in their way without risking serious jail time. That’s wrong – and this week’s climate articles drive home the point that we have very little time left to shake off our dependence on fossil fuels.
We’re remembering John Topping, a Republican climate activist and former Environmental Protection Agency official who grew frustrated with the Reagan administration’s failure to take climate change seriously. An early advocate for climate action, he left the EPA to found the Climate Institute, which he directed until his death on March 9th, at age 77. He had a legitimate claim on being in the battle early with his organization’s simple URL: “climate.org”.
The promise of affordable, grid-scale, long-term battery storage is a little closer to reality now that two projects using flow batteries with zinc-air chemistry have advanced to the demonstration phase in New York and Colorado. Zinc is abundant, non-toxic, and non-flammable; air is pretty much everywhere. That last point is also driving development of carbon capture and sequestration systems based on direct air capture. This technology, still in its infancy, may eventually be useful in drawing down some of the excess atmospheric CO2 – but its success very much depends on how quickly we stop adding to the supply.
A look at clean transportation reveals both good and bad news this week. On the up side, battery prices are dropping quickly and that should drive total conversion to all-electric new car sales by 2035 based on purchase price advantage alone. But converting the heavy truck fleet is another story, because the charging infrastructure to support big rigs is considerably more expensive than auto and light truck EV chargers.
The fossil fuel industry is absorbing a federal court order reversing the Trump administration’s attempt to open the Arctic Ocean and much of the eastern seaboard to drilling. It’s also waiting to see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new emphasis on climate and environmental justice means an end to new pipelines.
We close with a fascinating and insightful article from Grist, exploring how it happened that the Delaware River Basin’s recent fracking ban was implemented by the same group of officials who green-lighted a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If built, that facility will depend on the extremely risky business of shipping LNG by rail from fracking fields in Pennsylvania, through vulnerable communities throughout the Delaware River Basin.
— The NFGiM Team
WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION
Will a Recent Emergency Methane Release Be the Third Strike for Weymouth’s New Natural Gas Compressor?
Nearby residents, environmentalists and energy executives are all asking whether this time, FERC actually pulls the facility’s permit in this closely watched environmental justice case.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 16, 2021
For the third time in less than a year, the operators of a new natural gas compressor shoe-horned into an environmental justice community near Boston have vented an emergency release of natural gas into surrounding neighborhoods.
The unplanned venting came as federal regulators, including a Trump appointee, had already moved to consider a possible re-assessment of the facility’s permit out of safety concerns related to the first two unplanned releases.
The sudden release of large volumes of natural gas poses a potential explosion hazard. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over the near-term. The venting of natural gas also contributes to ground level ozone, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths globally each year, and releases volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic.
If the permit for the compressor—the linchpin of a pipeline network that ships hydraulically fractured gas from Pennsylvania to Canada—is revoked, it could have wide-ranging implications for the natural gas industry regionally and nationwide.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little known yet powerful federal entity that oversees new natural gas infrastructure in the U.S., has only rarely rescinded a permit once it has been issued.
The key question everyone from community and environmental advocates in small town Massachusetts to fossil fuel executives in Calgary and Houston are now asking is whether this might be an instance when the commission actually takes a permit away.
» Blog editor’s note: Bechtel Corp plans to deliver a fixed-price proposal to build the Goldboro LNG plant by the end of May, and developer Pieridae Energy said on Thursday 4/15 it continues to work toward making a final investment decision (FID) by June 30 (Reuters). Fracked gas, shipped north through the Weymouth compressor station, plays a significant role in Pieridae’s plans.
» Read article
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
Local environmentalists are taking a stand against air pollution from power plants that are hardly used.
A Berkshire Environmental Action Team campaign “Put Peakers in the Past” is demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives. “Peaking” plants are used to meet periods of high energy demand.
The decades-old plants at Pittsfield Generating Co. on Merrill Road, the Eversource substation on Doreen Street and the EP Energy plant on Woodland Road in Lee run off fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and kerosene. Pittsfield Generating is a co-generating plant that also provides steam energy.
Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s “No Fracked Gas in Mass” campaign, said this sparks concern from environmentalists because the fuels emit excess nitrogen oxides and contribute to the region’ s greenhouse gas emissions.
Pittsfield Generating Co. reportedly accounts for over 15 percent of Pittsfield’s stationary emissions despite only running for a few days out of the year.
“We started last year when we were looking into emissions for the city of Pittsfield and found out that the Pittsfield Generating only runs about 5 percent of the time but it makes 15 percent of the stationary emissions for Pittsfield every year,” Wessel said.
“So even though these plants don’t run often, they only run when there’s a peak demand on the grid when the regular power plants are starting to max out, they tend to be older plants and they’re very inefficient and put out a tremendous amount of pollution for the number of megawatts they generate.”
Most peaker plants in the state run 5 percent of the time or less, she added, but the Doreen Street and Lee plants run less than 1 percent of the time, which makes the total emissions numbers alarming to the group.
“Very little run time, still substantial pollution, ” Wessel said.
The campaign’s first actions are obtaining signatures on their virtual petition and talking to plant owners and see if they already have plans to switch over to clean energy solutions. Wessel said that they haven’t heard back from the plant owners yet and are hoping to get legislators involved to facilitate that communication.
She cited the state’s climate change legislation to reduce gas emissions that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. This bill codifies into law the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and furthers the state’s efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities.
“The state, of course, just signed the next-generation climate bill, which means we’ re going to be going for net zero very quickly, so these plants are facing, sort of a change or die kind of situation,” Wessel explained. “And we’re interested in finding out if they’re planning to retire, or if they have plans to change to clean energy, or how they’re going to deal with the fact that they’ re not going to be able to burn fossil fuels for very much longer. ”
Alternatives to peakers include demand response or “peak-shaving” in which customers avoid energy use during peak demand, grid storage that uses solar plus storage to produce and store clean energy to use by the grid, and Mass Save’s “Connected Solutions” program that allows electric customers to use battery storage alternatives to replace power plants.
» Read article
» Read about the Put Peakers in the Past campaign
» Sign the Petition to Shut Down Berkshire County’s Peaking Power Plants
Battery storage can be a significantly cheaper and more effective technology than natural gas in providing peaking capacity, according to a new study released by the Clean Energy Council, the industry group which represents Australia’s clean energy sector.
Grids around the world rely on open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) technology at times when demand for electricity is at its highest. OCGTs often only run for a few hours at a time and a few times per year but are among the most polluting assets in the grid operator’s toolkit for balancing energy supply with demand.
While OCGTs were state-of-the-art decades ago, offering the ability to start generating power within 15 minutes of starting up, lithium-ion battery energy storage can respond to grid signals in fractions of a second and can be charged with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
The authors of CEC’s new paper, ‘Battery storage: the new, clean peaker,’ found that a 250MW, four-hour (1,000MWh) battery system in New South Wales would be a cheaper option for meeting peak demand than a 250MW new-build OCGT from both levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and levelised cost of capacity (LCOC) perspectives.
The National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers six Australian states including New South Wales, generally sees peaker plants called into use for about three or four hours each night from 6pm as solar production tails off and evening demand goes up.
Batteries can cover this period, CEC said, and even before factoring in the falling cost of charging the batteries with solar and wind energy resources that continue to get cheaper as well as the falling costs and rising efficiencies of the batteries themselves, neither the economic rationale or necessity to build new gas plants exists anymore in Australia.
» Read article
» Download report, Battery Storage: The New, Clean Peaker
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters
Bills to increase penalties for “impeding” the operations of a pipeline or power plant—in many cases elevating the offense to a felony—are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 12, 2021
When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.
As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.
But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.
“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.
“They’re violating our treaties again,” she said. “They’re denying us our voice.”
The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”
The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.
Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.
» Read article
Leading Australian climate scientists are calling for Australia to dramatically upgrade its climate policies in the light of new research that shows a decade of inaction means it may be too late to try and limit average global warming to just 1.5°C.
A review of recent climate science findings published by the Climate Council reveals a growing scientific consensus that the world is already on track to warm by more than 1.5°C, and that only an ‘overshoot and drawdown’ trajectory, requiring the extensive use of carbon capture and storage, will allow temperatures to be stabilised at that level.
It may still be possible to limit average global warming to just 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but a rapid ramp-up of decarbonisation efforts will be required by all countries to meet the target. In Australia, that would translate into reaching 100 per cent renewables, or close to it, by 2030, and a 75 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target by the same date.
In 2015 in Paris, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2°C, and ideally just 1.5°C. But Climate scientist and Climate Council member professor Will Steffen says it is becoming clear that global warming of at least 1.5 degrees is already inevitable.
“Talking to a lot of my colleagues, particularly in Europe, it’s just become clear to all of us behind the scenes that we’re not going to cap temperature rise at 1.5 [degrees],” Steffen said.
“Talking with my colleagues, I think the best we can do is well below [2 degrees], which is exactly what our report says. It’s not one piece of information. It is a synthesis of a wide range of observations.”
» Read article
Preliminary data shows that methane emissions jumped in 2020 by the largest amount since systematic record-keeping began decades ago. And despite a dip in polluting activities due to the pandemic, concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to its highest level in 3.6 million years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that global methane concentrations shot up by 14.67 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest annual increase ever recorded, and a sharp increase from the 9.74 ppb rise in 2019. The data is an ominous sign that the world is badly off track in terms of reaching its climate goals.
“Human activity is driving climate change,” Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a division within NOAA, said in a statement. The Global Monitoring Laboratory makes highly accurate measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole.
“If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere,” Sweeney said.
The data that NOAA released this month is preliminary and attributing the precise source of increased methane pollution is difficult. The data suggests that a large portion of the methane comes from fossil fuels, such as drilling, flaring, and other sources of methane leaks. But in a worrying sign, researchers think that some of the increase came from “biogenic” sources, such as methane leaking from wetlands or melting permafrost.
“That would, in a sense, be much worse as that sort of feedback — under which warming begets more warming — both is something we can’t easily control and would make our limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet a given target even stricter,” Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University and a former scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told DeSmog, commenting on the new study. “So in that sense it would’ve been preferable in many ways if these were from fossil fuels, but the jury is still out on that.”
» Read article
A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.
An ice shelf, as NASA explains, “is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline.” They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.
“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” explained Ella Gilbert, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”
“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly,” added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. “Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”
Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium’s University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.
“At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica’s ice shelf area would be at risk,” Gilbert noted in The Conversation.
While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise “well below” 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.
Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study “highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise.”
» Read article
» Read the study
A zinc-air energy storage system (ZESS) offering 10 hours of storage is being trialled in a New York Power Authority (NYPA) project, while a US Department of Defense-funded investigation into flow batteries has moved into a physical validation and evaluation phase in Colorado.
Zinc8 Energy Solutions won a contract with public power organisation NYPA in January 2020 to demonstrate its patented zinc-air battery technology through the utility’s competitive Innovation Challenge programme, which was hosted in partnership with the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University.
NYPA will contribute to the costs of installing the technology solution in a project which aims to demonstrate the use cases for long-duration storage and how it can help integrate larger shares of renewable energy onto the state’s electric grid network.
“Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilises the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe.
“Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles,” [Ron MacDonald, CEO of Zinc8] wrote.
“Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.”
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION
How direct air capture works (and why it’s important)
Climeworks operates multiple direct air capture plants around the world and is currently building the world’s largest climate-positive direct air capture plant in Iceland.
April 15, 2021
In January 2021, eight shipping container-sized boxes were assembled in Hellisheiði, Iceland, next to the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Twelve giant fans mounted on the outside of each box will start spinning later this year.
The facility, called Orca, is intended to suck approximately 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide directly from the air each year. Developed by the Swiss engineering firm Climeworks, Orca is the largest example of direct air capture to date — a technology intended to suck carbon dioxide out of thin air.
“To me, this is kind of the last hope,” Christoph Beuttler, the carbon dioxide removal manager of Climeworks tells Grist. “This, together with reducing emissions and planting as many trees as we can, enable[s] us to just make the Paris Agreement.”
You can think about the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere like a bucket. Today, that bucket is almost full: We have about nine percent of the volume left to fill if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050. To keep that bucket from overflowing, we’ll certainly have to cut back on global emissions (which, with the exception of 2020’s pandemic shutdown, are projected to keep rising).
But all of the pathways that keep us at or below 1.5 degrees C, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also include development of direct air capture technologies like the giant fans set to start spinning in Iceland. Direct air capture can’t keep us below that threshold on its own, but it can help poke a hole in our proverbial carbon bucket to drain out some of our past emissions.
To make a big enough hole, though, this tech will have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Such projects represent “an engineering project probably larger than has ever been created by humanity in the past,” says Jeffrey Reimer, a materials chemist at The University of California Berkeley who is not affiliated with Climeworks. He says there’s still a long way to go, but a few key pieces have fallen into place and set the project in motion.
» Read article
Rapid advances in the technology and cost of batteries should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035, saving drivers trillions of dollars and delivering a major boost to the effort to slow the climate crisis, new research has found.
Electric vehicles currently make up only about 2% of all cars sold in the US, with many American drivers put off until now by models that were often significantly more expensive than gasoline or diesel cars, as well as concerns over the availability of plug-in recharge points.
This situation is likely to drastically change this decade, according to the new University of California, Berkeley study, with the upfront cost of electric cars set to reach parity with petrol vehicles in around five years’ time. As electric cars are more efficient and require less costly maintenance, the rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050.
Researchers said the plummeting cost of batteries, the main factor in the higher cost of electric vehicles, and improvements in their efficiency mean that it will be technically feasible for the US to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within 15 years. This would shrink planet-heating emissions from transport, currently the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US.
“In order to meet any sort of carbon goals, the transport sector needs to be electrified,” said Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at University of California, Berkeley and report co-author.
Phadke added: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly, which is very exciting. Because of battery technology improvements, most models now have a range of 250 miles, higher than the daily driving distance of most people, and now come with pretty astonishing fast-charging capabilities.”
» Read article
» Read the U.C. Berkeley study
Schneider could save $554,813 in annual fuel costs by electrifying its 42-truck fleet based out of Stockton, California, according to a study prepared by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates funded by the Environmental Defense Fund. And NFI could save $748,311 annually by electrifying its fleet of 50 trucks that operate out of Chino, California, according to the report released Wednesday.
But the report also found that those savings are not enough to mitigate upfront infrastructure costs required to support the electric fleets. Schneider would pay $8.9 million, while NFI would need to shell out $10.4 million. Those costs include charging hardware and construction.
EDF called charging infrastructure “the greatest challenge of electrifying heavy-duty trucks,” and recommended governments and utilities pursue policies to help bring down the upfront costs for fleets.
Whether a fleet or OEM has invested in battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles or both, infrastructure is one of the biggest question marks.
Standing up a national hydrogen network presents steep funding and other challenges.
Electric charging capabilities are becoming more commonplace around the country as electric passenger cars grow in popularity. But stations that can accommodate heavy-duty trucks require more power.
NFI is testing 10 electric Daimler trucks out of Chino, and building chargers was the longest part of the project, NFI Senior Vice President of Fleet Services Bill Bliem said in February.
One lesson NFI learned during that process was how different it was to deal with a utility company’s rates, rather than paying for a standard fuel source.
» Read article
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
John Topping, 77, Dies; Early Advocate for Climate Action
A former official of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a Republican activist on global warming when it was an issue with bipartisan support
By John Schwartz, New York TImes
April 10, 2021
John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s, and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.
The cause was gastrointestinal bleeding, his daughter Elizabeth Barrett Topping said.
A Rockefeller Republican, Mr. Topping took on the emerging climate crisis when fighting planetary warming was still a bipartisan issue.
“John was an early actor,” said Rafe Pomerance, senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, who recalled Mr. Topping’s ability to connect people who might not otherwise have had much in common. “He brought a lot of interesting people to the table and got involved.” As a Republican of solid credentials, Mr. Pomerance said, Mr. Topping “reached out into places I had no access to.”
In a phone interview, Joe Cannon, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official with Mr. Topping, called him “very patient” and said he had a “gigantic understanding of things — bureaucracy in general, and environmental policy in particular.”
James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who introduced Mr. Topping to climate issues in 1982, recalled a special quality Mr. Topping had as an advocate: “John was a jolly fellow, always upbeat and happy, even though he was working on what he knew was a serious problem.”
Dr. Hansen, who would become a prominent clarion of climate risk, said he first met Mr. Topping when the Ronald Reagan administration tried to cut his funding for research into carbon dioxide and climate change. Mr. Topping and Mr. Cannon got the research funded, but the gains were only temporary, Dr. Hansen recalled. Mr. Topping was disturbed to discover that, by his count, only seven people at the E.P.A. out of some 13,000 staff members were assigned to work on climate change and ozone depletion.
“Topping was frustrated with the administration, which wouldn’t take climate change seriously,” Dr. Hansen said, “so he finally decided to form his own organization.”
The organization that became known as the Climate Institute is widely considered the first nongovernmental entity dedicated to addressing climate change. Mr. Topping served as its president until his death.
» Read article
» Visit the Climate Institute
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
April 14, 2021
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.
In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019.
Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor’s 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration’s appeal.
“Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities,” the court said in its order.
Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s order, said in a statement that “we welcome today’s decision and its confirmation of President Obama’s legacy of ocean and climate protection.”
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage,” Grafe continued. “One obvious place for immediate action is America’s Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws.”
» Read article
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to assess a proposed natural gas pipeline’s contribution to climate change could have major implications for gas infrastructure, analysts say, including nearly unheard-of project rejections.
“Once one starts to look at the impact of the pipelines on the climate, it won’t be business as usual,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC took a really important first step in a long overdue process.”
For the first time ever, FERC last month weighed greenhouse gas emissions related to a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline replacement project running 87 miles from northeast Nebraska to Sioux Falls, S.D. The independent agency ultimately approved the project (Energywire, March 19).
The issue will be revisited this week at FERC’s meeting, where the agency is expected to consider Enbridge Pipeline’s request to intervene in the case. If FERC approves that, the company could file a lawsuit challenging the decision to account for pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.
The landmark order signals that the five-member commission under Democratic Chairman Richard Glick could begin assessing emissions for all projects in its purview, from interstate gas pipelines to liquefied natural gas terminals. Glick has long called for carrying out such reviews.
“FERC announced [through] a policy that it does not consider itself universally incapable of conducting a [greenhouse gas] significance assessment,” said Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That would seem to strongly suggest FERC is going to try to do a significance assessment every time.”
Experts agree the move could lead to FERC denying certification for major natural gas projects, though not for all proposals.
» Read article
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
The Delaware River Basin paradox: Why fracking is so hard to quit
The regulatory agency charged with protecting the Delaware River Basin both banned fracking and paved the way for an LNG export facility within a few months, demonstrating just how hard it is to sever ties with natural gas.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
April 15, 2021
In late February, the Delaware River Basin Commission made a historic announcement: It banned hydraulic fracturing in the basin, a 13,539-square-mile area that supplies some 17 million people with drinking water.
“Prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who represents one of the four states in the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC. “Our actions,” he added, “will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”
The decision to permanently protect the watershed from fracking was the culmination of years of dedicated activism and public input. Politicians, environmental groups, and citizens alike celebrated the decision by the commission — a powerful, interstate-federal regulatory agency made up of the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.
But the same commission that made the historic decision to protect the basin from fracking also voted several months earlier to pave the way for a natural gas company to use the Delaware River to export its product abroad.
In December 2020, the DRBC voted to approve construction of a dock in the New Jersey city of Gibbstown, in Gloucester County. That dock, attached to an export terminal constructed on the site of a former Dupont munitions plant, will receive a fossil fuel called liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a plant in northern Pennsylvania and then ship it overseas.
When complete, the Delaware River Basin’s first-ever liquefied natural gas project will pose immediate risks to a wide swath of the Eastern seaboard — to people who live near the liquefaction plant in Pennsylvania and to communities clustered along the 200-mile route between the plant and the export dock in New Jersey — as well as to the Delaware River itself.
The two decisions weighed against each other point to an interesting paradox in the DRBC’s attitude toward natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming. While the commission doesn’t want exploration to pollute the basin, it’s still tacitly permitting the industry to use the river for a different side of the natural gas business — one that’s not without its own environmental and health threats. The rulings illuminate the complex, often contradictory relationship with natural gas that many policymakers find themselves in at the moment, as pressure builds for communities to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean economy.
» Blog editor’s note: keep reading for a fascinating account of how the Gibbstown LNG project was sneaked in through the back door with little oversight or environmental review, and what might happen next….
» Read article
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