Tag Archives: plastics spill

Weekly News Check-In 8/14/20

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about other pipelines

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

BETTER BUILDINGS

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

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

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

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

» More about better buildings

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

By Cole Rosengren, Utility Dive
August 12, 2020

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

CLF argues that these facilities pose a grave risk not only to the waterways and environment but also the surrounding communities, given that the oil terminals currently are not designed to standards that account for climate impacts.
» Read article

Bakken mess
The Bakken Boom Goes Bust With No Money to Clean up the Mess
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment

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