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September 04 2012


August 10 2012


The Secrets of Hissing Trees

Scientists suggest that trees in upland forests infected with a common fungus are a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
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February 17 2012


For Mexico City, a Repurposed Landfill

Methane from a landfill will flow to a power plant, helping to keep the lights on in the city.

January 17 2012


NASA GISS Identifies 14 Air Pollution Control Measures to Slow Global Warming, Improve Health and Increase Crop Yields

Fourteen air pollution control measures, if implemented today, could not only slow the pace of global warming, according to an intensive study by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), but also improve health and boost agricultural productivity. All regions of the world would benefit as a result, NASA found, but the biggest health and agricultural gains would be realized in Asia and the Middle East as a result of greenhouse (GHG) emissions reductions.

The GHG pollution measures center on methods of reducing emissions of methane (CH4) and black carbon particulates (soot). While increasing volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into our atmosphere is the primary agent of the greenhouse effect and the long-term global warming trend, the NASA GISS research team found that reducing emissions of methane and black carbon “are complementary actions that would have a more immediate impact because these two pollutants circulate out of the atmosphere more quickly,” according to a project summary on NASA GISS’ website that comes with several, unique interactive explanatory features.

“Protecting public health and food supplies may take precedence over avoiding climate change in most countries, but knowing that these measures also mitigate climate change may help motivate policies to put them into practice,” NASA GISS research team leader Drew Shindell stated.

“The scientific case for fast action on these so-called ‘short-lived climate forcers’ has been steadily built over more than a decade, and this study provides further focused and compelling analysis of the likely benefits at the national and regional level,” added United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner.

NASA GISS’ Climate Triple Whammy: Measures to Reduce Methane and Black Carbon Emissions

Implementing the 14 air pollution control measures today could slow down global warming 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) by 2050, as well as increase crop yields by up to 135 million metric tons per season and prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year,” according to a summary of the research study.

“We’ve shown that implementing specific practical emissions reductions chosen to maximize climate benefits would also have important ‘win-win’ benefits for human health and agriculture,” Shindell commented.

In carrying out the study, which has been published in Science, Shindell and an international team evaluated some 400 control measures based on technologies evaluated by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria. The 14 chosen were deemed to have the greatest climatic benefits.

The NASA GISS research team has identified key strategies to implement the 14 air pollution control measures to reduce methane and black carbon emissions, which “would require that societies make multiple infrastructure upgrades” as both have multiple sources.

For methane, they entail capturing emissions from coal mines and natural gas facilities, as well as reducing leakage from long-distance pipelines, preventing emissions from city landfills, updating wastewater treatment plants, greater aeration of rice paddies and limiting emissions from manure on farms.

The strategies to reduce emissions of black carbon include installing filters in diesel vehicles, removing and keeping high-emission vehicles off the road, installing more efficient kilns for brick production, upgrading coke ovens whose products are used in the production of steel, and banning agricultural burning.

Methane, Black Carbon, Ozone: Effects on Global Warming, Health and Agriculture

Both methane and black carbon, in addition to intensifying global warming, cause or bring about other negative environmental effects. Both pollutants damage human health either directly or by leading to ozone formation.

Black carbon is produced as a result of burning fossil fuels and biomass, such as wood or dung. It worsens a number of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and absorbs radiation from the sun, causing Earth’s atmosphere to warm and rainfall patterns to shift, NASA GISS notes. By blackening snow and ice-covered areas of the globe, it also reduces the amount of sunlight being reflected back into the atmosphere.

The principal constituent of the natural gas we use to heat our homes and produce electricity, methane is 21x as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, though it dissipates much more quickly in the atmosphere. Methane emissions also lead to the production of ground level ozone, a key component of smog, and another greenhouse gas. Ozone also damages crops and human health, NASA GISS explains.

Interactive charts on NASA’s website shows how the 14 air pollution control measures would work to reduce methane and black carbon emissions and just how much implementing them could slow down global warming. Other interactive graphics show many deaths per 100,000 people per country could be avoided by implementing these measures, while a fourth shows the gains in crop yields that could be realized.

* Image courtesy NASA GISS

January 13 2012


January 09 2012


Biomass and Electricity, Part One

A company harnesses biofuel from landfills to generate electricity with minimal releases of methane, a long-lasting heat-trapping gas.

December 29 2011


The Puzzle of Rising Methane

Methane is already at two and a half times the level that prevailed in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution. After a hiatus, it has been rising again in the last few years for reasons that researchers do not fully understand.

December 28 2011


In Drilling Safety Debate, Hydrofracking's Not the Only Target

A lawsuit centers on conventional drilling in Chemung County, where residents sued over operations at two natural gas wells that they say contaminated their drinking water.

December 21 2011


Melting Arctic Ice is Releasing Massive Amounts of Methane

Researches ignite escaping methane gas from the melting iceThe melting Arctic ice is causing huge quantities of methane gas to be released into the atmosphere. Concerns about climate change-inducing greenhouse gases are often centered on carbon dioxide (CO2), but methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20-30 times more potent than CO2. Each methane molecule is actually about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide, however, methane breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The sub-sea layer of permafrost traps methane, preventing it from escaping, but as it melts it allows the methane to rise from underground deposits. According to scientists, large releases of methane gas can cause rapid climate changes.

There are historical precedents to back-up this assertion. Scientists believe that long ago, sudden releases of methane were responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species.

The Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (55.5 Million years ago) is a period with drastic climate change due to massive releases of methane. It has also been suggested that large temperature swings during the last glacial period have been caused by abrupt releases of methane.

Hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas are locked beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the University of Alaska and Stockholm University have been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years. Early in December, they reported dramatic and unprecedented volumes of methane being released from the Arctic seabed. They estimate that eight million tons of methane is currently leaking into the atmosphere every year.

Vast amounts of methane have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean. There are fields in the Arctic where the release is so intense that the methane does not have time to dissolve into the seawater but rises to the surface as large bubbles.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent, lead scientist Igor Semiletov said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed. Dr Semiletov made his findings public early in December at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr. Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

Recent observations suggest that previous surveys may have significantly underestimated the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere from the Arctic seabed.

This new information was recorded in late summer 2011 by Dr. Semiletov and his team of researchers. The scientists onboard the vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. The scientists made their observations with the help of four highly sensitive seismic and acoustic instruments that monitor the methane seeping from the ocean floor.

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr. Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere.”

Expeditions in the Laptev Sea in 1994 did not detect elevated methane levels. However, since 2003 a rising number of methane “hotspots” have been detected.

Research prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union in 2008 by Dr. Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden indicated that anomalies were recorded in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea. These preliminary findings were uncovered by scientists aboard the research vessel Jacob Smirnitskyi. At the time, Gustafsson was quoted as saying:

“The conventional thought has been that the permafrost ‘lid’ on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane… The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed.”

In 2011, the scientists aboard the vessel Academician Lavrentiev revealed much higher concentrations of methane covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf. These researchers found Arctic seabed methane up to 100 times background levels.

According to Natalia Shakhova, of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “The concentration of atmospheric methane increased three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That’s a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet.”

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on earth. As a whole, the Arctic has experienced an average temperature increase of 4C over recent decades. The World Meteorological Organization said that northern areas like the Russian Arctic experienced the greatest increases in temperature in 2011. They also report that since 1970, the Arctic has warmed at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Scientists predict that over the next thirty years 45 billion metric tons of carbon from methane and carbon dioxide will seep into the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws. By the end of the century it is expected that about 300 billion metric tons of carbon will be released from the thawing Earth.

Adding in that gas means that warming would happen “20 to 30 percent faster than from fossil fuel emissions alone,” said Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. “You are significantly speeding things up by releasing this carbon.”

The release of trapped methane will cause higher temperatures, leading to even more melting of the permafrost and the release of yet more methane. This troubling trend of melting permafrost on the floor of the Arctic Ocean is accompanied by a dramatic decline in summer sea ice covering the surface. The loss of sea ice will further accelerate the warming trend because open ocean absorbs more heat from the sun than a reflective ice surface. This represents a strong positive feedback that amplifies anthropogenic warming.

Scientists have estimated the amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves. Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap and models suggest that if even only one percent of the methane were released from the ocean floor, it would radically accelerate global warming.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: WorldCulturePictorial.com 

December 20 2011


Arctic Methane: Is Catastrophe Imminent?

Scientists say that an ocean warming sufficient to destabilize a lot of methane hydrates would almost certainly take thousands of years.

December 15 2011


Is Methane Anxiety Warranted?

A paper suggests that the emissions observed in recent years in warming seas off Siberia are from a thawing process that has been under way for 8,000 years.

December 02 2011


Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the "Cornell Study."

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional ("natural") gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred "mom and pop" image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, "Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained "always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel."

"With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing," Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: "Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology"

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: "Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare"

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: "The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts"


Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: "Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel"

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, "A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a "clean" source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including "jobs created," "gas for energy independence," gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: "keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story."

November 14 2011


New Report: CCPA and the Wilderness Committee on BC's "Reckless" Desire to Frack

If British Columbia wants to pursue economic, environmental and human health then the province must slow its furious pace of unconventional gas production, says a new report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Wilderness Committee. The CAPP report, part of their partner Climate Justice Project with the University of British Columbia, concludes that BC’s natural gas sector is putting the industry’s needs before those of British Columbians, and doing so with the government’s help.

Ben Parfitt of the CCPA authored the report and has written extensively on the energy/water nexus surrounding BC’s shale gas boom. According to Parfitt, “BC’s shale gas production is the natural gas equivalent of Alberta’s oilsands oil.” The comparison is due to the tremendous water required to frack deep shale deposits, an extraction process that also releases dangerous amounts of methane, one of the most powerful global warming gasses.
As expanded in the report, Fracking Up Our Water, Hydro Power and Climate: BC’s Reckless Pursuit of Shale Gas, the unconventional gas industry enjoys exclusive access to the province’s pristine water resources and the government’s lax greenhouse gas (GHG) policy. Last year, the Pacific Institute for Climate Studies (PICS) announced that if BC wants to meet its climate targets, the regulatory regimes surrounding unconventional gas production must become significantly more strict and forward thinking. But despite such a warning, no meaningful administrative changes have been made to suggest the BC government is listening.
Given the favorable conditions, says Parfitt, gas production in BC could amount to 22% of North American annual production by 2020.
This steady increase in production will drastically impede BC’s ability to reach its legislated climate targets.  If BC production climbs to these accelerated rates the province’s GHG emissions from fracking will double, reaching an astounding 22 million tonnes by 2020. The tremendous atmospheric pollution caused by fracking means that, if BC plans on meeting is climate targets, “every other sector of the provincial economy will have to cut their emissions in half,” according to CCPA’s press release.
But there’s more to fracking the province’s northeast than water and GHG emissions. If the shale gas industry “expands as projected, shale gas companies will need two to three times the amount of power that the proposed Site C dam would provide. In other words, large amounts of publicly owned clean water and hydro power will have to be found to produce more and more dirty fossil fuel,” says Parfitt in the press release.
“I don’t think British Columbians are comfortable with that.”
As DeSmogBlog reported last week, the province has earned an industry-friendly reputation recently for its generous water policy and nearly absent regulatory structure. Due to the generosity of the government and a total absence of any public consultation process the BC Tap Water Alliance has called for the resignation of Energy Minister Rich Coleman.
And although British Columbians will suffer much of the pollution and resource depletion, the gas industry is preparing to export incredible amounts of BC’s gas to Asia via the Kitimat LNG terminal. To worsen the overall deal, Parfitt exposes the heavy reliance of tar sands production on BC gas, making the climate and resource costs associated with the process even higher.
Projects from the non-gas industrial sector in BC are subject to scrutiny from the BC water stewardship branch. However, the BC Oil and Gas Commission freely allocates water to the gas industry, often without significant environmental review or charge. The government, not surprisingly, has been accused of facilitating, rather than regulating, the industry.
In order to secure BC from the threats to economic, environmental and human health that the rush to extract fracked gas poses, Parfitt recommends a cap on annual shale gas production, an end to all government subsidies of the natural gas industry, that the BC government explain its climate strategy, and that the industry pay full prices for the water and electricity necessary to support their projects.
According to Tria Donaldson, the Pacific Coast Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, “it’s time to curb this industry before it’s too late for our climate, our water and our hydroelectric resources.” There also need to be limits put on the industry as well. “We want firm no-go zones established where industry activities are restricted and we want a moratorium on fracking in undeveloped watersheds, pending full surface water and groundwater studies.”
Parfitt seems to agree: “We need to manage this industry for wind-down, not wind-up, and ensure that while the industry is operating the public gets a fair return.”
To get a better picture, you can watch this CCPA video of what fracking means in BC's northeast:
See video

September 15 2011


A War Against Food Waste

So food manufacturers are groping for strategies that will encourage donations to food banks and composting. (A substantial portion of food is thrown away while still fully edible because of cosmetic blemishes or overstocking.)

September 14 2011


Replacing Coal With Gas Is No Panacea, Study Says

With a 50 percent cutback in the use of coal and a matching increase in the use of natural gas, worldwide warming would actually increase slightly for the next 40 years as a result of the changeover, according to a new study.

September 10 2011


More Than a War of Words: Gas Industry Plays Fracking Victim

Evoking an emotional response in one’s audience is a rhetorical means of persuasion well documented since Aristotle. But like Aristotle writes in his Rhetoric, if the reliable character of the speaker isn’t enough to convince a crowd, an emotional appeal might be the next best route to getting what you want – a strategy that is evidently well suited to a powerful but untrustworthy voice, like that of the gas industry.

The oil and gas industry's chief spokespeople have become rhetorical masters, the veritable trailblazers of the devolution of public relations into spin and misinformation campaigns. They probably have a thing or two to teach Aristotle about the art of persuasion and conjuring. Take climate science for example, where the industry has conjured up a ‘climate change debate’ out of thin air, or warming air for that matter. With a few flicks of the rhetorical wand a ‘debate’ over the anthropogenic warming of the climate began, despite an overwhelming consensus on the matter from the world’s leading scientists.  

But we’ve long passed the point where we take industry at its word. We have become too skeptical to trust the ‘character of the speaker’ and the industry knows this all too well. Hence the blatant emotional play at work in so much oil and gas industry public relations. 

Most recently the gas industry has chosen to play victim in a rather surprising aspect of the fracking controversy – its language.
It isn’t fair, they say, to refer to hydraulic fracturing as ‘fracking’ because that makes people think of a similar, ill-reputed four letter word. Fracing or frac’ing are the industry preferred abbreviations of hydraulic fracturing, and gas lobbyists would have us believe the term has been maliciously hijacked by the environmental movement to mischaracterize the process as something…unseemly. Of course no mention is made of how water contamination, industrialization or air pollution have in their own way contributed to fracking’s reputation.
The disputed ‘k’ in the frack controversy was allegedly added by the mainstream media to clarify the words pronunciation and was later commandeered by the environmental movement to evoke a plethora of play on f-words. For example, 'Don't frack with New York State.'
According to the Associated Press, a communications firm in Pennsylvania found fracking to be worse off in public opinion that strip mining. A public relations firm representative Gregory Matusky says the only less desirable terms are longwall mining, offshore drilling and Gulf drilling. For Matusky the only answer for the gas industry is to stop using the term, replacing it with more favorable alternatives like natural-gas drilling or horizontal drilling, both of which generate more positive associations.

The gas industry, it appears, is on the wrong side of the emotional struggle and needs to redraw the battle lines. As Matusky writes: “A better, more positive term is warranted. The industry needs to identify negatively charged words and replace them with positive language.”

Complain as the industry might, they have long had a strong hold on the language shaping public perception of fracked gas. “Natural gas,” perhaps the most insidious and misleading fossil fuel title after ‘ethical oil’ or ‘clean coal,’ is an industry favorite, playing into the fuel’s misrepresentation as a ‘clean’ ‘alternative,’ two other commonly misused descriptors. Shale gas and unconventional gas are also newly coined terms used to describe what is essentially gas recovered through fracking.
Trying to rework the language, however, might be a move in the wrong direction. According to Edward Tenner of The Atlantic, the industry best be careful in its next steps. "Euphimisms," says Tenner, "are usually counterproductive by calling attention to controversy." A rose by any other name… 
The industry's pitch for sympathy is perhaps most offensive for its detraction from the true victims of fracking. Instead of playing semantic games perhaps the industry should focus on increased transparency or improved operating procedures. These, after all, would be more direct solutions to fracking's dirty connotations. 
For the industry, however, the concerns generated by a decade of poor industry practices are just environmental hysteria misdirected at fracking. “It also caused the Great depression, the Black Plague, the October Revolution and the breakup of the Beatles,” says Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy in Depth, the gas industry front group. 
Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

September 09 2011


Reliance on Unconventional Gas is No Good for Climate, Says Scientist Tom Wigley

A partial shift from coal to unconventional gas on a worldwide scale will continue to accelerate climate change for a significant amount of time, according to Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). An increased reliance on gas would eventually reverse the warming trend but would only decelerate climate change by a few tenths of a degree. According to Wigley’s findings, that miniscule change will only feasibly occur sometime between 2050 and 2140, depending on the severity of fugitive methane from gas drilling, processing, and transport operations. 

Tom Wrigley, senior research associate at NCAR, is due to publish these findings next month in the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change Letters. The journal recently received significant attention on this topic after publishing the striking findings of Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. The Cornell University scientists performed a lifecycle analysis of the major fossil fuels to discover that unconventional gas offers little to no climate advantage over coal. 

The hotly contested findings sent a shock wave through the gas industry and environmental community alike, challenging the notion that the continent’s vast reserves of unconventional gas could or should serve as an alternative, interim fuel during the switch to a low-carbon economy. Wigley’s findings also pose a significant challenge to this assumption.
“Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem,” Wigley told Science Daily. “It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges.”

Wigley’s research pays special attention to the particular atmospheric effects of burning gas and coal. When burned, gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal while producing a significant amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that reacts with other atmospheric gases such as ozone and water vapor. However, the particulate associated with burning coal, such as sulfur and ash, produces a cooling effect by preventing sunlight from entering the earth’s atmosphere. The pollutants associated with burning the carbon-intensive fuel, while not desirable by any means, have the ironic effect of counteracting coal’s tremendous global warming potential.
Like the Howarth article, methane leakages from gas production are important to Wigley’s findings. However, the figures surrounding fugitive methane emissions are at best imprecise. Plugging in a variation of methane leakage rates from zero to ten percent, Wigley was able to simulate a spectrum of results, none of which bode well for unconventional gas.

“Whatever the methane leakage rate, you can’t get away from the additional warming that will occur initially because, by not burning coal, you’re not having the cooling effect of sulfates and other particles,” says Wigley. “This particle effect is a double-edge sword because reducing them is a good thing in terms of lessening air pollution and acid rain. But the paradox is when we clean up these particles, it slows down efforts to reduce global warming.”

Any increase in global warming puts already fragile ecosystems at an even greater risk.

Wigley’s findings mean yet another challenge for the gas industry and their continuous claim that unconventional gas can and should provide the pathway to a clean energy future. It will be interesting to see how the gas industry responds to this new important contribution to the evolving science surrounding unconventional gas.

July 16 2011


Post Carbon Institute Analysis Suggests Shale Gas (Still) Worse Than Coal For Climate

Shale gas cannot provide a low carbon “interim” fuel for the transition to a clean energy future, according to David Hughes, fellow at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI). Gas advocates have long advertized unconventional gas as a clean alternative to coal and other polluting fossil fuels. But the cleanliness of unconventional gas is challenged by others who claim that lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shale gas are in fact higher than coal. 

One such claim, maintained by a group of scientists from Cornell University led by Dr. Robert Howarth, puts shale gas GHG emissions 20 to 100 percent higher than coal on a 20-year timeframe. Their study, published in the peer-reviewed Climactic Change Letters, has received enormous criticism from the gas industry and its supporters. Several reviews have challenged the integrity of the Cornell study, including a presentation given by scientist Timothy Skone from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). According to Skone, GHG emissions from gas are 48 percent lower on a 20-year timeframe.

In an analysis entitled “Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Shale Gas Compared to Coal,” Hughes compares the two conflicting conclusions to get to the source of the disparity. With a little number crunching, he discovers that there may be less of a disagreement than meets the eye.

The difference can be accounted for, writes Hughes, by taking a closer look at each report’s methodology and considering the veracity of their numbers. Selective data usage is significant for the outcome of any study, he says, and “depending on input assumptions, one can get any answer one wants out of the analytical process.”

The Cornell report limits its scope to shale gas, which is projected to account for 40 percent of all U.S. production by 2035. The emissions rates for shale gas production are significantly higher than those from conventional gas. The NETL presentation, in distinction, examines averages from all forms of gas: conventional, coalbed methane, tightsand and shale.

And while the Cornell study considers all aspects of extraction, processing, transmission, storage and distribution to arrive at a fugitive methane rate of 3.6 to 7.9 percent of total production, the NETL presentation estimates overall fugitive methane emissions at 1.52 percent, an amount that excludes distribution emissions. The lower percentage also assumes that gas producers use flaring techniques more frequently than venting, which will significantly reduce GHG impacts. 

The NETL figure, says Hughes, is a surprising 31 percent lower than EPA inventory data. 

NETL does not cite all of its sources and uses numerous figures for emission rates and total production estimates that differ significantly from those of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Government Accounting Office (GAO) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The emission assumptions for the Cornell study, although at times criticized for differing from federal estimates due to data scarcity, are explicitly laid out in their peer-reviewed article. 

Hughes’ analysis demonstrates that were the NETL methane emission figures revised to reflect those reported by the EPA, the presentation’s emission findings would change drastically, jumping up to 3.31 percent, almost approaching the low end of 3.6 percent reported by the Cornell team.

Methane emissions are usually understood as percentages of total production. By assuming much higher production rates than the Cornell team, Skone arrives at significantly lower emissions percentage. The NETL presentation estimates that 3 billion cubic feet are ultimately recovered from an average well while the Cornell study averages 1.24 bcf for an average shale gas well, a number supported by EPA estimates. 

When Hughes adjusted the NETL figure to reflect EPA production and emission rates, he found that the presentation’s final numbers are “comparable” to the Cornell study, and are actually a bit higher.

Hughes has more to say about the integrity of the Cornell study, but in the end demonstrates that, no matter how you look at it, the dream of clean unconventional gas is increasingly difficult to support.

June 01 2011


May 10 2011


Scientists Confirm Fracking Link To Flammable Drinking Water

A new peer-reviewed study from Duke University shows that drinking water in areas within a half-mile of fracking wells can become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane - enough to catch on fire if lit. The report says that the levels of methane in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York are so great that they pose a significant fire and explosion hazard.

The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One of the study’s authors, Duke environmental science professor Robert Jackson, says that the threat of explosions in this drinking water are real and need to be dealt with. From a CNN report:

“The study said about half of the 68 drinking water wells tested in Pennsylvania and New York located within a half a mile from natural gas wells had high levels of methane -- the prime ingredient in natural gas fuel…The gas, which is usually located thousands of feet below the water table, appears to be entering the water wells either through cracks in the bedrock or, more likely, the casing in natural gas wells... Casings are steel and concrete barriers natural gas companies use to line a well where it passes through the water table.”

There is currently not any evidence to suggest that ingesting methane in drinking water poses a significant threat to human health, but the threat of having explosive drinking water is inherently bad news.

Explosive water isn’t the only problem these areas could be facing. The researchers at Duke also warn that the numerous chemicals used in the fracking process could easily seep into the water supply as the methane has.

DeSmogBlog released our "Fracking The Future" report last week outlining the many dangers of fracking, as well as the concerns amongst those in the scientific community over the continued practice of hydraulic fracturing. In addition, we have repeatedly posted information on the dangerous chemicals that are used in the fracking process, as well as the warnings from Congress on the dangers associated with the procedure.

The Duke study adds another negative mark on the unconventional gas industry's tarnished record, and further exposes that this high cost energy poses serious risks to health and water quality.  The Duke study vindicates the many property owners who have reported flammable or tainted water near fracking operations at unconventional gas wells. The burden of proof is now firmly on the gas industry to demonstrate whether fracking can ever be done safely.

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