Environment
The Energy Collective | 29 July 2015

Can US Canadian Oil Sands Imports Be Nearly Carbon Neutral?

The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory recently published a study that determined the production and consumption or “well-to-wheel” (WTW) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of Canadian oil sand crude imports are 20% greater than conventional US domestic crudes. This study appears to support the Obama administration’s climate change policy and decision to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline. However, based on the study’s major assumption that oil sands crude imports will primarily displace US lighter, lower-sulfur conventional domestic crudes, does this 20% WTW GHG increase finding reasonable cover the actual full life cycle impacts on world emissions? If not, is it feasible that the full lifecycle GHG emissions of oil sands crude imports are nearly carbon neutral based on actual overall oil market impacts? The answers to these questions were analyzed and developed based on recent actual oil market performance data.

Energy in Depth | 29 July 2015

New Methane Study Finds Low Emissions From Transmission and Storage Facilities

Researchers at Colorado State University, partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), released a new study focusing on methane emissions from natural gas transmission and storage facilities. The study finds very low methane emissions that are very much in line with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) estimates in its Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

Here are a few quick highlights from the report:

  • Data show lower emissions than the EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
  • Researchers included “super-emitters” in their data, yet still found low methane emissions.
  • Methane emissions well below the threshold for natural gas to maintain climate benefits.
  • New report corroborates top methane studies finding low emissions.

Find the report here.

 

San Antonio Express-News | 29 July 2015

Interstate Gas Pipeline Rerouted To Avoid Fragile NY Forest

A section of the planned Constitution Pipeline, designed to bring natural gas to New York City and New England, has been redrawn to avoid a 1,000-acre private forest with fragile wetlands.

Christopher Stockton, spokesman for the 124-mile pipeline to bring cheap gas north from Pennsylvania’s shale fields, confirmed the route change on 28 July. Stockton said the change adds almost 3 miles to the route and affects 11 landowners, who recently signed right-of-way agreements.

The new route avoids the private Charlotte Forest in Harpersfield, about 50 miles southwest of Albany.

Reuters | 29 July 2015

Report: Green Group Sues ConocoPhillips, CNOOC Over China Oil Spill

A maritime court in the coastal city of Qingdao has said it will hear a landmark case brought by a nonprofit organization against US oil giant ConocoPhillips and China’s CNOOC, the official China Daily reported.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation will not claim compensation but is calling for the two firms to accept responsibility for damage caused by the 2011 oil spill in northeast China, the paper reported.

The case will be the first public-interest litigation brought by a nonprofit organization over marine environmental pollution, it said.

ConocoPhillips and CNOOC have been embroiled in a series of legal claims following oil spills in 2011 in Bohai Bay that polluted over 6,200 square km of water.

Eco World News | 20 July 2015

DOE Selects Projects To Assess Offshore Carbon Storage

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected four offshore projects to receive funding through NETL’s Carbon Storage program.

According to DOE, “The funded research projects will assess the prospective geologic storage potential of offshore subsurface depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs and saline formations on the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. These projects will use existing geologic and geophysical data to conduct a prospective storage resource assessment that will approximate the amount of carbon dioxide that can be safely stored.”

DOE is aiming for widespread commercial deployment of such technologies in the 2025–35 time frame. Project funding ranged from USD 1.3 million to just under USD 5 million with an average non-DOE cost share of 21%.

The four projects are

  • Mid-Atlantic US Offshore Carbon Storage Resource Assessment Project, led by Battelle Memorial Institute
  • Assessment of Carbon Dioxide Storage Resources in Depleted Oil and Gas Fields in the Ship Shoal Area, Gulf of Mexico, led by GeoMechanics Technologies
  • Southeast Offshore Storage Resource Assessment, led by Southern States Energy Board
  • Offshore Carbon Dioxide Storage Resource Assessment of the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Upper Texas-Western Louisiana Costal Areas), led by The University of Texas at Austin

Bloomberg | 14 July 2015

California Farms Are Using Drilling Wastewater To Grow Crops

California’s epic drought is pushing the oil industry to solve a problem it has struggled with for decades: what to do with the billions of gallons of wastewater that gush out of wells every year.

California drillers have pumped much of that liquid back underground into disposal wells. Now, amid a 4-year dry spell, more companies are looking to recycle their water or sell it to parched farms as the industry tries to get ahead of environmental lawsuits and new regulations.

The trend could have implications for oil patches across the country. With hydraulic fracturing boosting the industry’s thirst for water, companies have run into conflicts from Texas to Colorado to Pennsylvania. California could be an incubator for conservation efforts that have so far failed to gain traction elsewhere in the US.

Drillers may have little choice. The state’s 50,000 disposal wells have come under increased scrutiny this year, after regulators said they’d mistakenly allowed companies to inject wastewater near underground drinking supplies. Environmental groups sued the state to stop the practice at 2,500 sites considered most sensitive.

A win for environmentalists could drive up disposal prices and delay drilling by months for Chevron, Linn Energy, and other companies, according to a 12 June report by Bloomberg.

Eco Magazine | 9 July 2015

Governments Advance Binding Law of the Sea Agreement

The UN General Assembly last week adopted a formal resolution to develop a legally binding treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity on the high seas. The new ocean regulations are proposed to include area-based management tools, such as marine planning and marine protected areas; environmental impact assessment requirements; the transfer of marine technology; and a regime for managing marine genetic resources, including benefit-sharing. These developments have potentially significant implications for ocean economic activities, such as shipping, oil and gas, cruise tourism, fishing, marine mining, biotechnology, submarine cable, as well as for related sectors, such as maritime law, insurance, and investment.

The resolution identifies “the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.” The resolution calls for a 2-year preparatory process in 2016–17 to develop the treaty elements.

Eco Magazine | 9 July 2015

Clean Water Wins in Court

A federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, released 6 July 2015, upholds a lower court decision that affirmed the legality of the multistate Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. The historic ruling found in favor of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), and other intervenors. It will ensure that efforts to clean up local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay will continue.

After decades of failed voluntary efforts, and as part of the settlement of a 2008 Clean Water Act lawsuit by CBF in December 2010, the EPA established science-based limits on the pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams (formally known as a total maximum daily load, or TMDL). In addition, the states developed individual plans on how to achieve those limits and committed to 2-year milestones that outline the actions they will take to achieve those limits, and the EPA promised consequences for failure. Together, the limits, plans, and milestones make up the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

“The Chesapeake Bay TMDL will require sacrifice by many, but that is a consequence of the tremendous effort it will take to restore health to the bay,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “Farm Bureau’s arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive, and thus we affirm the careful and thorough opinion of the district court.”

The Associated Press | 1 July 2015

New York Formalizes Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing, Ending 7-Year Review

New York formalized its ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on 29 June, concluding a 7-year environmental and health review that drew a record number of public comments.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens said in announcing the decision. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources, and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

In its decision, the DEC noted that more than 260,000 public comments were submitted on its environmental impact study and proposed regulations, an unprecedented number. The agency said most of the comments urged it to severely restrict or prohibit the practice.

New York is the only state with significant natural gas resources to ban hydraulic fracturing, which has allowed other states to tap huge volumes of gas trapped in shale formations deep underground. The technology has produced new jobs, created economic growth, and reduced energy prices but has triggered concern that it could pollute air and water, cause earthquakes, and pose long-term health effects that aren’t yet known.

While environmental groups praised the ban, drilling proponents have said the decision was based on politics rather than on science.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a proven, 60-plus-year-old process that has been done safely in over 1 million American wells,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York branch of the American Petroleum Institute. “Surging production of natural gas is a major reason US carbon emissions are near 20-year lows.”

The Hill | 1 July 2015

Keystone Developer Says New Regulations Justify the Project

Recent Canadian action on climate change helps justify the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a TransCanada executive said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Alberta government’s increase of the province’s carbon tax, as well as Canada’s commitment to international climate change agreements, means the Keystone project has to meet high environmental standards in both Canada and the United States, Kristine Delkus, TransCanada’s executive vice president and general counsel, wrote in the letter.

The US government has been reviewing TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone pipeline for 7 years. President Obama has said the project should only go forward if it doesn’t add to the problem of carbon pollution, something Delkus said will be proven by the new regulatory actions in Canada.

“There have been a number of recent and highly significant governmental policy developments related to carbon emissions and climate change concerns,” she wrote. “Each of these are directly relevant to the president’s statement that the proposed project will not be determined to be in the national interest absent a finding that it would not ‘significantly exacerbate’ climate change.”

World Resources Institute | 25 June 2015

Column: States Can Take the Lead in Reducing Methane Emissions From Natural Gas

Natural gas can offer climate and public health benefits, but its production too often leaks methane, a heat trapping gas that is at least 34 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Estimates show that natural gas production sites leak from 1% to 10% or more of their methane. Consider the fact that the U.S. has more than 925,000 natural-gas-producing wells, and that is a lot of methane being released into the atmosphere.

While the federal government is taking steps to reduce these emissions, soon-to-be-proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency don’t go far enough. They will cover only new and modified natural gas infrastructure, leaving old, leaky equipment free to emit unchecked amounts of methane.

That is where states can play a role. A new paper from the World Resources Institute (WRI) outlines the many opportunities that states have to lead in reducing the country’s methane emissions. In fact, it’s in their best interest to do so.