Fracking update

I spent a lot of time involved with the eventually successful efforts to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil fuels in New York State. Meanwhile, from my town on the NY/PA border, we have watched a host of negative consequences unfold for some of our PA neighbors. I am also only an hour or so from Cornell University, home to some of the leading researchers on fracking. I was privileged to see these professors speak a number of times, both on campus and at community events.

One of these researchers, Dr. Robert Howarth, has just published a new paper in the journal Biogeosciences about one of the most unfortunate environmental effects of the fracking boom, the release of methane to the atmosphere. Global atmospheric levels of methane are at all-time highs since recording began. The levels started a steep rise in 2006, just as the fracking boom in the United States was picking up.

Having heard and seen so much evidence of methane leakage from fracking, I had already assumed that the two were related, but, in this paper, Dr. Howarth explains the evidence by measuring the amount of 13C present, allowing him to determine the part of the global rise in methane related to fracking, most of which was emitted in the United States. The industry tries to tell us that they are controlling methane emissions through detecting and fixing leaks on the wellpads, but there are many other ways in which methane is released, including venting and flaring at the site, especially in areas where the methane is released when the company is primarily drilling for oil; well leakage that develops over time as casings fail; methane that seeps through the ground to the surface, similar to the way radon reaches basements when it originated thousands of feet below; abandoned wells when fractures intersect with them; compressor station leaks and releases; leakage from transmission and delivery pipes, some of which are over 100 years old; and the production, transport, and use of LNG.

Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. This makes reducing it quickly imperative in the effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It is also why the more ambitious climate plans in the United States, such as those of Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, call for a ban on fracking.

The sooner this happens, the better. The economics of fracking are already poor, with a number of companies going bankrupt because of it. In many markets, renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel energy already and energy storage technology is progressing rapidly while falling in price. It’s time to ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and go all in for renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency.

We need to do all we can to keep the planet livable for people and all other life forms. Banning fracking would be a great step in the right direction.

The US and climate

I did not want to have to write this post.

I listened with dismay to DT’s Rose Garden address yesterday, astonished at the level of misunderstanding of climate science, domestic and international economics, and the Paris climate agreement in evidence.

While the president made it seem that the United States is immediately leaving the Paris accord, that is not the case. There is a three year period starting in November, 2016 during which no signatory may exit the agreement. The one-year period in which the separation would occur can’t start until then, so the earliest date that the United States could officially leave would be Nov. 4, 2020, the day after our next presidential election. A lot can happen in three and a half years and my hope is that the United States will never officially withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Even without the federal government’s leadership, many of the states, cities, companies, and individuals in the US will be continuing reductions in carbon emissions and promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over sixty mayors of large cities declared their intention to follow the climate agreement. The governors of New York, California, and Washington have started an initiative for states to continue working on their clean energy goals. Many companies, large and small, are committed to renewable energy sources for their operations. Many families, like mine, are weatherizing their homes, using energy efficient appliances and lighting, buying solar panels, and driving hybrid or all-electric vehicles like our Chevy Bolt.

The majority of the people of the United States believe in the Paris accord and will continue to work alongside the nations of the world to combat climate change. I hope we will soon return to official federal-level participation. It would not be the first time that the administration has had to backpedal after an unwise decision.

Energy efficiency upgrades

One mistake that many people make in the quest for energy to run the world is assuming that we need more and more energy as populations become more and more developed. This often leads to the supposition that we need more fossil fuels to keep pace because renewable energy can’t be deployed quickly enough to meet demand.

This overlooks that we can live well on less energy if we use it more efficiently. You don’t have to produce ever more (polluting) energy if demand drops. Increasing energy efficiency is the most cost-effective strategy in many instances.

We have been implementing energy efficiency upgrades at our home. We have replaced almost all of our commonly used lights with LEDs or florescents. Our appliances are Energy Star rated. We recently upgraded our hot water heater to a hybrid electric heat pump unit.

Our latest upgrade is foam insulation for our attic and the rim joists in our basement, which should help with our heating and cooling costs.

Lowering your energy usage does not mean you have to be shivering/sweating in the dark! Implementing more efficient devices and better insulation will keep you comfortable while saving energy and money – and create local jobs.

One-Liner Wednesday: change

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
– Dan Millman

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/12/23/one-liner-wednesday-a-new-puppy/

Comment on Forbes fracking piece

Re-posting a comment I made to this Forbes piece:  www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/11/29/new-yorks-fracking-hypocrisy-underscores-energy-illiteracy/?fb_action_ids=10201093779532116&fb_action_types=forbessocial%3Acomment&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

It’s a lot more complicated than Mr. Steffy lets on in this piece. I live in the Southern Tier of NY right along the PA border and know that the vast majority of the Marcellus and the Utica in NY is too shallow, too thin, and/or thermally overmature to drill with the current prices for methane. (For more information, view the recordings of a recent panel at Cornell: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ4sBXNT-ETp0aZilXGWBikMJgNoTeW2K ) Most of the drilling now is in wet gas areas, as the liquid hydrocarbons are drawing higher prices than the dry gas (methane), which is what is in NY and northern tier PA.

Many rural folks who have wells nearby do not benefit from the methane. Most of their homes do not use natural gas and are not on distribution lines for it. The low price of methane does not benefit them but it does drive down any royalties they may get.

NYC folks who are converting to natural gas heat instead of oil are benefitting by lowered costs at the moment, although if large-scale LNG exports begin, domestic prices are sure to rise.

Meanwhile, both rural and urban folks are suffering the effects of climate change, which is caused by ALL fossil fuels. Unconventional fossil fuel extraction, processing, transport, and use are all implicated in methane emissions, which adds to the carbon footprint.

Instead of building out all the infrastructure needed to support unconventional fossil fuel drilling and use, we should build renewable energy infrastructure. It is technologically possible to go to renewable sources without a fracking “bridge”. Read more about a plan to do this in NY and elsewhere here: http://thesolutionsproject.org/