Fracking Under Fire

Posted on April 13, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

Natural gas is making lots of headlines these days. Vast natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale region (spanning PA, NY, MD and DE) have been touted by some a major step in meeting US energy needs with domestic resources. Many progressives (including President Obama and the NRDC)  have joined more conventional allies of natural gas in touting it as a “bridge fuel” between fossil fuel generation and renewable options due to its lower emissions profile when burning.

However, the reason domestic natural gas has become so abundant is that a new extraction technique has opened up once unaccessible reserves. Fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into a well to force up the underlying gas from the shale. This process is water intensive and has led to contamination of local water sources. As a result, this technique has been highly contentious, facing challenges from local enviromental groups and national organizations like the Sierra Club. It has even been banned in several jurisdictions in New York and Pennsylvania. So while on the one hand, environmentalists concerned about climate change are drawn to the promise of natural gas as a path away from coal, they are also concerned about the negative of impacts of fracking for local communities.  

To add to the mix, this week brought a flurry of coverage on two recent studies that put shale gas above coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. As the NY Times explains, one of the studies by a Cornell University researcher examined the climate change impact of methane released during fracking and transportation of gas through pipelines. The study found that 3.6-7.9% of the methane is released into the atmosphere through fracking and other unconventional natural gas extraction methods. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas (21 times more so than carbon dioxide), the emissions profile of shale gas compared to coal is higher over a twenty year time span. Building off this study, another researcher at the Post Carbon Institute concluded that a concentrated switch to natural gas would actually increase, rather than decrease US greehouse gas emissions.

These studies are hopefully the first of many that look deeper into the lifecycle and full environmental impacts of shale natural gas extraction. The lead researcher in the Cornell study, Michael Howarth put it like this:

“I don’t think this is the end of the story…I think this is just the beginning of the story, and before governments and the industry push ahead on gas development, at the very least we ought to do a better job of making measurements.

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Tragedy

Posted on July 27, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

In the past week we witnessed the failure of our elected officials passing a comprehensive climate/energy bill that would have imposed a price or limit on carbon.

Many media pundits (mostly of the FoxNews genre), Chamber of Commerce reps, and oil industry execs laud this failure as a “win” for the American economy.  Their perspective is that since carbon is a byproduct of almost everything our economy does – from the generation of electricity, to manufacturing, to transport – if carbon is priced, the American economy will suffer as a result.  But study after study reveals that pricing carbon would have a very minimal impact on our GDP.

Conversely, not enforcing a price on carbon will simply perpetuate our current system of pumping millions of tons of CO2 unabated into our atmosphere through burning coal and oil for energy, causing untold immediate and long-term (climate change) damage.  Calculating the true cost of climate change is impossible – but one thing is sure, that its cost to our economy and our wallets will be staggering.  What is ironic is that the very sectors of our economy that lobbied against a climate/energy bill will likely be the worst affected by climate change.  All sectors of the economy – most notably infrastructure, agriculture, energy, and transportation – will be negatively affected.  This does not even take into account the damage to our global ecosystems, on which our quality of life relies.

This entire argument of pro/anti a price on carbon goes back to Economics 101.  The fact that carbon is not aggressively priced to makeup for its negative effects on our ecosystems and human health is called a “tragedy of the commons“.  What the oil, coal, big business, and big ag industries have denied and failed to communicate to the American public, is that their continued spewing of Co2 into the atmosphere IS costing the US and the globe untold sums.  Emitting carbon into the atmosphere is technically free at the moment, but its repercussions are far from free.  A simple comparison is the Clean Water Act.  In 1972, Legislators recognized that unabated corporate pollution of America’s waterways was bad for the common good.  Thus, the created a law that enforced pollution limits and fines for breaching these limits – essentially instituting a price on and regulating water effluent & discharge.  Our nation’s waterways went from being flammable to considerably cleaner, all while our economy has expanded many fold since 1972.

Corporate (specifically coal and oil) greed triumphed last week.  The rest of us will have to pay the price.

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I Pledge Allegiance To Clean Energy

Posted on July 8, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

During our holiday weekend, we celebrated America’s independence from Great Britain. We are reminded of the great battles fought to for our independence. Today, we are battleing a different battle—our  nation shouldn’t depend on dirty energy from coal companies, costing the health of all Americans. We as a nation must fight for America’s independence, but this time our adversary is not Britain but from Coal companies, especially BP.

Green For All has stepped up and proclaimed that the week of July 1st through 7th is officially Dirty Energy Independence Week of Action.The mission of this is for people to come more aware about what is happening, especially the oil spill’s destruction and for people to realize their dependence on coal companies and to break that dependence by signing a pledge on their website.

“Standing together, we can take the greatest single step ever toward a clean, healthy, and prosperous future for our children and our planet: passing a comprehensive climate and energy bill. Such a bill would make big polluters pay a price for the carbon they put in the air while investing money in clean, renewable energy. This would spur job growth and American innovation in clean-energy sectors while moving our economy from one that hurts the planet to one that heals the planet. Such a bill would be a massive leap forward in the quest for American independence from dirty energy.”

The House has already passed such legislation, but the senate fails to approve it. Declare your independence from dirty energy and sign up now!

More info

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Clarifying The Energy Debate

Posted on June 28, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

With the manner in which mainstream reporters have been covering the renewable energy industry, most of us can be forgiven in thinking that renewable energy is much more expensive to produce and operate than traditional carbon energy.  However, this is far from the truth.

The first myth is that renewable energy (and specifically wind) is more expensive to produce than coal.  But according to the Energy Information Administration, the total cost of generating coal power is between 4.8-5.5 cents /KWh.  Utility scale wind is already being produced at between 4.0-6.0 cents / KWh (and next gen technology is aiming to decrease that by one-third).

The second myth is that the renewable energy industry will only survive with continued government subsidies and support.  But the fact is that of all energy sources in the country, coal continues to be the largest recipient of government subsidies (by far).  Electricity production subsidies per unit of production (dollars per megawatt hour, MWh) vary by fuel.  In 2009, electricity from refined coal received $29.81 per MWh, solar received $24.34 /MWh, and wind received $23.37 /MWh.

*It is important to note that not all coal consumed in the USA is “refined coal”.  However, there is a general trend towards phasing out unrefined coal, due to its inherent inefficiency.  Refining coal (through the K-Fuel process) uses heat and pressure to remove approximately 30 percent of the moisture from raw, low-rank coal and raises its thermal content to approximately 11,000 Btu per pound – making it more efficient to burn.  But according to The Union of Concerned Scientists, “refining coal is a relatively simple process where coal is washed with a water or chemical bath to remove some impurities.  Refining coal does not decrease the coal’s CO2 emission upon being burned, but simply decreases its sulfur and mercury output.”  So while refined coal is cleaner than unrefined coal, it is still more polluting (by far) and MORE heavily subsidized than either wind or solar.

The domestic coal and oil industries receive roughly $70 billion annually in the form of government subsidies.  This is compared to the $26 billion that the renewable energy industry and energy efficiency received in 2009.

It is important to understand that entrenched carbon interests are trying to cloud (literally) the energy debate.

It is NOT cheaper to produce and operate coal power than wind power.

Coal and oil are the LARGEST recipients of government energy subsidies.

And we haven’t even touched upon the subject of external costs – which would make producing and operating coal and oil plants MUCH more expensive . . . we’ll continue this conversation on this point later in the week.

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