mostly fossil-free home!

A project that B and I have been working on for years is finally complete. With the installation of a geothermal heating/cooling system, we are able to disconnect our home from the methane infrastructure, which in our area means that we are no longer burning fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania in our home. Because we had previously installed a hybrid electric/heat pump hot water heater, our furnace had been the only thing still attached to the gas lines. Now that it is gone, we won’t have to pay for methane, which is relatively low-priced at the moment, or the delivery charges, which are relatively expensive in New York. Those savings will help with our electric bill, which will go up, although our panels in a community solar array generate a good chunk of our electricity. In our region of New York, changing from methane to geothermal for heating is considered a wash in terms of cost, but our air conditioning costs will be much lower with the heat pump than with our outdoor compressor unit.

We have done other projects to make our home more efficient, such as changing to LED lighting and adding more insulation. We use a rechargeable battery-operated lawn mower and electric leaf blower. The only two household things that will still use fossil fuels are our propane grill and our gasoline-powered snowblower, which is only needed a handful of times a year, if that.

We have also cut way back on our use of gasoline for transportation, driving an all-electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid electric Chrysler Pacifica. We only use gasoline when we take the Pacifica on longer trips. It gets 30ish miles on battery. When it is running on gas, some of the engine power re-charges the battery, so even when we have no plug-in charge remaining, a quarter to a third of our miles will still be battery powered. It could be even more than that if we are driving on roads with terrain or lots of stop signs/lights because the braking is regenerative, meaning the energy from slowing the car goes toward charging the battery. It’s possible that, as rapid charging stations become more available, we may be able to take longer trips in our Bolt, which would cut our gasoline usage even further. (I know some of you urbanites are wondering why we don’t use mass transit. Unfortunately, our area has almost no mass transit available.)

We have tried to cut down our fossil fuel usage and control our total energy usage as much as is practicable, but I know there is one sector where our carbon footprint will become heavier rather than lighter. I have not been a frequent flyer in my first almost-six decades, but I am likely to be flying several times a year for the foreseeable future. With daughter E and granddaughter ABC’s recent move to London, I see a fair number of airplane flights coming.

The first one will be next month.

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.

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.

Earth Day

Another in the string of catch-up posts from this spring…

Earth Day was remarkable for us here in New York State for two reasons this year.

First, the vast majority of the countries of the world signed the Paris climate agreement that day at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Of course, this was a remarkable event for the whole world and we all hope that we finally have the political will to follow through on what the science tells us we must do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming while assisting people everywhere to adapt to the effects that are unavoidable and already underway.

Second, just days before a final deadline, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the water quality certificate application that would have permitted the construction of the Constitution methane pipeline.

Those of us in the environmental community have been battling against the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as part of the fight against global warming. Building pipelines for fossil fuels is akin to building whaling ships as whale oil was being displaced by other lighting sources. It doesn’t make sense to prop up a dying technology.

Unfortunately, the decision in New York came too late to save forests in a 22-mile swath of Pennsylvania, where some land was taken by eminent domain and cleared despite the owners’ objection and the fact that the whole project did not have all the permits needed to move forward. We were especially heartbroken for the Holleran family, who lost the majority of their producing sugar maples.

The pipeline company is trying to challenge the DEC’s decision in court. I sincerely hope that the court upholds the DEC’s action to protect our environment and health.

updates on local environmental stories

I’ve been quiet on the fracking/methane front lately but wanted to give updates on several local issues.

Two Dimock, Pennsylvania families were awarded $4.2 million this week from Cabot for water contamination caused by methane drilling activities. This is a major victory against an industry that nearly always buys its way out of lawsuits and then seals the settlements so that they aren’t held publicly accountable for the pollution they cause. You can read more about the trial and verdict here and here.

The Constitution Pipeline that Williams is planning to build has been delayed another year, which is heartening to those of us fighting expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in New York.  New York hasn’t granted a water quality permit that the company needs to go forward with the project and our attorney general fought back against feeling trees along the proposed route without the permit in place. All trees would have to have been cut down by March 31st to proceed and the company admitted this week that this would not be possible. The reprieve is bittersweet for our Pennsylvania neighbors who have already lost trees to the project, which now won’t be built this year – and may never be built. You can read more about it here, although I will offer the additional information that the Hollleran farm had had their maple trees tapped when the cutting crews accompanied by armed federal marshals arrived and cut down 90% of their sugarbush.

Early in the morning of March 7, Bill McKibben and 56 others, including three friends of mine, were arrested for blockading an entrance to the Crestwood site near Watkins Glen, New York, and Seneca Lake. Crestwood is already storing some hydrocarbons in old salt mine caverns and wants permission to open more caverns, despite known intersecting faults and prior history of cavern roof collapse and leaks. You can read more about that here.

Many of us are still deluging Governor Cuomo with calls and emails to try to stop further build-out of fossil fuels and double down on our renewable energy and efficiency options instead. It’s still a long haul, but we are grateful for any moves in the sustainable direction.

 

One-Liner Wednesday: people and physics

“Lobbying physics is useless; it just keeps on doing what it does.”
~ ~ Bill McKibben on dealing with climate change from this article:  http://www.nationofchange.org/news/2016/02/16/why-we-need-to-keep-80-percent-of-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground/ about keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels undisturbed.
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/02/17/one-liner-wednesday-snowed-in/

And enjoy our new One-Liner Wednesday badge! Congrats, Wes, on your awesome design!

#1linerWeds badge by nearlywes.com

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common sense climate science

Although we hear news about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels often, there are several other greenhouse gases which are also affecting the global climate.

One of the most potent greenhouse gases is methane which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide when measured over a twenty year period. Atmospheric methane is also at record levels. After a relatively stable period, it began rising in 2007.

While no definitive science report has yet been published as to the cause of the rise, I have a common sense guess. The rise of atmospheric methane began to rise with the advent of high volume hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the United States. Other sources of methane, such as agriculture and waste disposal, have not seen any large expansion in this timeframe.

There have been a number of measurements that have traced atmospheric methane and other VOCs to fossil fuel sources, including well pads, compressor stations, processing equipment, and pipelines. A number of studies have been published using these data. These data show that actual methane emissions are much higher than those that the industry and the EPA had estimated.

This gives even more urgency to rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is critical to restrict methane emissions to avoid climate tipping points, such as large scale permafrost melting and the release of methane hydrates from the cold water seas.

I am proud that our grassroots organizing managed to hold off fracking here in New York State. There is still a long way to go, but we are making progress. We won’t stop until fracking and other unconventional fossil fuels are a thing of the past.

Shell No!

Today, we received the happy news that Shell Oil is pulling out of drilling for oil under the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.

Too bad that they didn’t spend the $7 billion they just wasted on Arctic drilling on diversifying into renewable energy options such as wind, solar, or tidal.

The fossil fuel companies remind me of the last whaling ships, desperately clinging to producing an energy sources whose heyday is rightfully over.

They need to adapt and re-make their companies to meet the clean energy needs of the present and future or they will become fossils themselves.

SoCS: The Four Elements

On my newsfeed, I just saw a story about one of the First Nations equating the US House vote to approve Keystone XL as an act of war. So, I am thinking of the four elements in that context, which includes unconventional fossil fuel extraction side effects..

Water is at risk because of methane migration, the permanent removal of water from the water system, toxicity from the chemicals that are mixed into it and that enter it from underground, and pipeline leaks that damage groundwater and surface waters. Unconventional fossil fuels are very water-intensive at a time when many places are facing water shortages.

Air pollution is caused by both the extraction processes of bitumen aka tar sands oil and by the refining/processing and use of this fossil fuel. The carbon-intensity of the extraction process compounds the problems of the burning of the final product to have an outsized climate change impact.

Earth is disturbed to build the pipeline and that land needs to be kept clear of trees, buildings etc. in perpetuity. The larger earth disturbance is the tar sands area itself, which involves felling old growth forests and massive surface disruption.

Fire represents the burning of the fuel but also one of the greatest dangers of dealing with fossil fuels, the threat of explosion.

The First Nations have been leading the fight against tar sands extraction and transport, both in Canada and the US. Their spiritual connection to Mother Earth and the four elements are an example to all of us who are their allies.

This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. Join us:  http://lindaghill.com/2014/11/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-november-1514/

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typhoon lessons

I have been following the horrible impacts of typhoon Haiyan on The Philippines. I was moved by Yeb Sano’s speech and action at the UN climate talks in Poland. http://ecowatch.com/2013/11/11/philippines-typhoon-global-warming-warsaw-climate-talks/  When will we wake up to the extreme danger that climate change has on our planet and all its inhabitants and take the swift and strong actions we need to keep the earth (at least mostly) hospitable?

Will Haiyan, in the wake of wildfires, floods, droughts, glacial melt, heat waves, and record storms of all types across the globe finally be the motivator to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels? We have already delayed much longer than the science indicated was wise and we can’t undo the damage we have already inflicted on the atmosphere, but we must stop our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to have any hope of averting runaway greenhouse impacts, with massive melting of permafrost and methane hydrate release from the oceans.

I have been trying to do my part by opposing unconventional fossil fuel extraction, promoting efficiency, and supporting renewable energy technology, but, even with many others following the same path, we have been unable to affect change quickly enough. In the aftermath of Haiyan, I find myself thinking within a Catholic social justice framework:  about social sin, about care of creation, about the dignity of human life in community, about the responsibility I – and each of us – have to care for others and the earth.

I haven’t figured out yet how much more I can do. I pray that enough people will come together to finally move public policy in the direction necessary to save the planet before it is too late. While we need to preserve the earth for future generations, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we also need to act for present generations.