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.

SoCS: hole in the ground

For the last three days, there has been a crew in our front yard drilling a 500-foot hole in the ground. That’s about 150 meters for all you people who live in the metric world, which is almost everyone except the US…

The reason for this is not to find water, which happened well before they hit rock at 80 feet. Instead, this very deep hole is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

I’m excited because, after the new system is in, we will be able to permanently disconnect our house from the methane supply system. Our cooling costs will also be much lower because geothermal systems are much more efficient than the typical central air conditioning unit.

I will be glad not to be using any fracked gas which has caused so much trouble for our PA (Pennsylvania) neighbors and the climate. We will also helping to support the New York State version of a “Green New Deal”, moving to renewable energy in a way that is supportive of impacted workers and communities.

At the moment, though, we just have a very deep hole in the ground with two tubes coming out of it – and a very, very muddy, messy yard.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ground.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-12-19/

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.

Disturbing fracking news

I am a veteran of the fight against shale gas development in New York State, and, more broadly, against unconventional fossil fuel development and for a rapid increase in renewable energy in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming as low as possible.

I am fortunate to live in the Binghamton area, not that far from Ithaca, where several prominent scientists and professors work. They often came to speak at events in Binghamton and I sometimes would travel to Ithaca for lectures. I learned a lot from them and would use their research in commenting on news articles and in writing blog posts.

One of my favorite speakers is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University. His specialty is rock fracture mechanics and he had done hydraulic fracturing research for many years, putting him in a unique position to anticipate the dangers of combining high-volume slick-water hydrofracking with long laterals in shale. He teamed with Dr. Robert Howarth, an environmental scientist at Cornell, in the first major paper raising an alarm about methane leakage from shale oil/gas development; the paper was controversial, but prescient, with subsequent research affirming levels of methane leakage much higher than industry and government projections.

This newly released twelve minute video with Dr. Ingraffea shows the climate consequences of the decision to develop shale gas. This blog post by Sharon Kelly gives some further background and also has a link to the video, in case the embedded one below isn’t working. 

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.

The dangers of methane emissions

I contributed the prompt “climate” for Linda’s Just Jot It January today. I actually haven’t been using the prompts other than as usual for Stream of Consciousness Saturdays, but figured I should use the one I suggested. 😉

I have written often about climate change, growing out of my commenting on the fracking battle. I have done some posts on these topics here on Top of JC’s Mind, although most of my writing has been in comment sections on articles on environmental topics.

As you may know, while we hear the most about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, atmospheric methane has also been rising to record levels. This is especially worrisome because, over a twenty year timeframe, methane is about 86 times as potent in heat trapping potential as carbon dioxide. Given that humanity is facing a critical window to lower greenhouse gas levels to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, with a goal of 1.5 degrees, methane emissions are very dangerous as they could push the earth into some tipping points, such as permafrost melting and the release of methane hydrates from cold water seas, that would accelerate rather than slow global warming.

Enter the terrible problem of the Porter Ranch methane storage well leak. Not only is this leak causing evacuations, illness, a no-fly zone, and explosion risk, but also a 21% increase in the state of California’s methane emissions. This one leak amounts to 2.3% of the total carbon footprint of the state.

I want to share a Living on Earth interview with Dr. Anthony Ingraffea which aired recently. Tony Ingraffea was one of the heroes of the battle against fracking here in New York State and helped to raise the alarm, nationally and internationally, on the dangers of methane emissions from shale oil/gas development, processing, transport, and use. He has recently retired from Cornell University. I was fortunate to have heard him speak on a number of occasions during the fracking fight in New York. Ithaca is only about an hour’s drive from here.

I hope that the enormity of the Porter Ranch leak and the damage it is causing will mobilize people, especially policymakers, in the United States to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January!  Visit here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/19/just-jot-it-january-19th-climate/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here and join in today.

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.

Defending Broome County

While it would seem that the impending fracking ban in NY would cut down on my incessant commenting on shale oil/gas issues, there has instead been a flurry of reports and editorials to answer, such as this one. Yes, I got carried away, but it really upsets me when people in other parts of the state misrepresent my home area. My (very long) comment to an editorial in the Syracuse Post-Standard:

I live in a Broome County town bordering PA and this editorial’s contention that we are looking forlornly across the border at prosperity in PA is dead wrong. Across the border in PA there is shale gas drilling going on, but a lot of negative impacts. Besides the health problems that have been documented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there are socioeconomic problems with high rents, increased crime rates, inability to insure, finance, or sell homes near wells, plummeting royalty payments, noise pollution, light pollution, increased rates of homelessness, increased truck traffic, accidents, liens placed on properties when drilling companies didn’t pay their subcontractors, and strains on medical and emergency services. People who wanted to live in a nice country setting are now in a noisy industrialized setting. I am grateful that these problems won’t be coming to my town.

Meanwhile, I think the editors should take a trip to Greater Binghamton and look around. It is not the poverty-stricken, despairing place you seem to think it is. Two of our biggest employment sectors are medical, anchored by Lourdes and two UHS hospitals, and education, anchored by BInghamton University and SUNY-Broome, with a new graduate school of pharmacy about to be built. We still have high tech jobs, though fewer than we once had, with IBM, Link flight simulation, and BAE, among others. Our most exciting new plans in high tech are in the the area of renewable energy/energy storage. Binghamton University’s Solar Lab has been conducting research for a number of years already and has developed a thin-film solar cell that uses only common elements without any rare earth elements. Two large projects are currently being built, a High-Tech incubator in downtown BInghamton and the SmartEnergy Center on the Vestal campus. The combination of these should expand our high-tech/energy sector in the future. Meanwhile, Broome County is a state leader in energy efficiency upgrades through NYSERDA Green Jobs, Green NY and in expansion of solar for homes and small businesses. The energy projects alone have created many times more jobs than shale drilling would have, without the pollution and industrialization of residential and rural areas that would have occurred with drilling.

And about the potential of shale drilling in NY. DEC had to weigh possible economic benefit versus potential costs of drilling to the state and to residents; it’s part of its job. The economic impact section of the draft SGEIS made a number of faulty assumptions, including that shale plays are uniformly productive, that large swaths of NYS would be viable to drill, and that the wells would produce for thirty years. Data from PA and other areas with shale drilling have shown that there are distinct sweet spots in shale plays that are high-producing, with the rest of the play being much less so. Most of the shale in NYS is too thin and too shallow to contain large amounts of methane and there are not natural gas liquids, which have a better economic profile than dry methane, at all. Shale wells of all kinds have very steep decline curves, with the vast majority of the gas being produced in the first 18 months and most of the rest in the following 3-6 years, much shorter than the 30-year timeframe the SGEIS assumed. The industry has done some test wells in various parts of the Marcellus and Utica in NY – and didn’t think it was worth applying for permits. The major companies in their own maps of the play never showed the potential drilling area going much over the NY border. Production numbers in PA bear this out; once you head north from the NEPA sweet spot, production goes way down. Because HVHF wells are so expensive to drill and frack, methane prices would have to more than double to break even in southern Broome County and the figures just get worse from there. It’s time to stop pretending that fracking – or casinos – are the future of the Southern Tier and get to work on building up renewable energy and conservation, while expanding on education, medical, high-tech, agriculture, next-gen transportation, recreation, and tourism jobs.

http://www.syracuse.com/…/new_yorks_hydrofracking_ban_drape…

Dear Governor Cuomo

IMG_0083

I sent this letter to New York Governor Cuomo today on the election and shale drilling and equal protection and climate change and science and more.  I know it is overly long – although I could have written much, much more – but I am proud that I managed to get this done before the election, despite the disruption that recent family health issues have caused. I decided to write this today, even though I have 385 email messages to view, so apologies to anyone awaiting a personal email.
JC

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The election is eight days from today, but I do not think I will be able to vote for you because you are not doing enough to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers equally.

I live in Vestal and I and my Southern Tier neighbors are at risk from the health and environmental impacts of shale gas production, processing, transport, and waste disposal, a risk from which you have not protected us.

Some of the impacts that have already occurred are road damage in Vestal from the overweight trucks transporting drilling supplies to sites in Pennsylvania, inability to get mortgages on leased land, crime associated with gas industry workers staying on the NY side of the border, leaking pipelines, increased truck traffic, light and noise pollution, airborne silica sand along rail lines and during trucking transfers, and an explosion at a Windsor compressor station.

Other impacts are probable but not being tested, such as degradation in air quality.  Some impacts are obscured by the lack of tracking of the fossil fuel industry.  For example, waste products are shipped by truck without the exact composition being known, so that if they are disposed of at a landfill the effects on the leachate are unknowable.  Given that some of this leachate is treated in Endicott, this is a local concern as well as a regional one.  Meanwhile, it is still legal to spread drilling wastewater on roadways in New York, despite the fact that we know that Marcellus wastewater is often high in radium, which is a radioactive, toxic element known to bio-accumulate and cause serious health problems, including cancer.

Other impacts are, of course, global in scope.  The latest readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide are at record highs and we know that humans burning fossil fuels have been the driving force in that.  Also, the atmospheric methane level is at a record high.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, 86 times more potent in a twenty year timeframe. After a long period of stability, atmospheric methane levels began rising in 2007, coinciding with “shale boom.”  Several new scientific studies say that replacing coal or diesel fuel with fossil methane will not help our climate situation.  Shale development will not cut the risk of the next record flood here in Vestal or the next superstorm roaring up the Atlantic coast.

I have been trying to follow the DEC’s SGEIS and regulatory process for years now.  I say “trying” because the process itself is obscure.  Besides the obvious problem of the Minerals division trying to promote fossil fuel production while also trying to regulate it, there is the larger problem that the DEC’s work has been hidden from the public for years now. Because there has been a large number of independent, peer-reviewed scientific research studies published in the last two years, the last publicly available draft of the SGEIS is totally outdated, but we have no idea whether or not the DEC has been continuing to update the SGEIS as these new scientific studies and data from other states who are drilling have become available.

The obscurity of the process has been compounded by the DOH “review” of the the health findings of the DEC’s work.  Although this has been referred to as a study, it is not.  A real health study would follow the national/international guidelines of a health impact assessment (HIA) and would be conducted as a clearly defined, public process. It would consider health impacts on different groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women/infants. It would look at the interplay of exposures to many different substances and the interactions among them. It would look at impacts for those in close proximity to wells and related infrastructure and those further away, including air quality, possible food and water exposures, and climate impacts.  It would also consider socioeconomic changes, such as rates of crime and homelessness, property value, cost of living, stresses on community services, and gains and losses in different job categories.

The economic section of the draft SGEIS is particularly outdated and unrealistic, having been built on what we now know are totally impossible expectations, that the industry could get economically viable amounts of gas anywhere in the Marcellus and Utica.  The price of methane is so low that it is unlikely anywhere in New York can presently produce shale gas economically, with the danger that small companies would take that risk using borrowed money and leave behind wells that cause pollution that the state would need to clean up when the company goes bankrupt.  New York already has thousands of leaking, abandoned wells awaiting proper plugging; we should not compound the problem with even limited amounts of shale drilling.

Governor, you say over and over that the science must decide, but that you are not a scientist. You say that scientists disagree.  The actuality is that industry-funded science is presented and used in a way that makes it seem that shale drilling is safe, while independent science presents data and possible explanations for that data which show that there are environmental and health impacts occuring. A recent example of this is the media coverage of a recent federal Department of Energy study of a single PA deep shale well for eighteen months, which showed that fracking chemicals had not reached an aquifer 3,000 feet distant, which is being touted as “proof” that “fracking” doesn’t pollute water.  Meanwhile, a PNAS study of the official DEP records of PA wells drilled from 2000-12 which covers tens of thousands of wells and their failure rates (Abstract here: http://psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1217 with link to full report) shows that leakage rates for new shale wells in Northeastern PA are significantly higher than those for conventional wells and for shale wells drilled in the rest of the state. Leaking wells equals methane migration into groundwater, soils, and/or through faults, wellbores, or cracks equals pollution of the water, land, air, and atmosphere. The fact that NE PA is particularly vulnerable to leaking shale wells is disturbing for those of us in the border area of New York as the Marcellus geology here is similar. Yet this much larger study is not getting the press attention of the DOE study which is much less helpful in assessing the situation in New York.

The situation is sadly reminiscent of the doctors and scientists in the employ of the tobacco industry who swore to Congress that smoking did not cause cancer, while independent doctors and scientists were raising public health alarms not only about smokers’ health but also about those exposed to second-hand smoke or in utero tobacco exposure.

For you or any governor to authorize shale gas drilling in the Southern Tier would be like deciding to lift the smoking ban here while continuing to protect other parts of the state.  Our health and well-being here in Vestal is every bit as important as your health in Albany or the health of my sister in NYC or my daughter at ESF in Syracuse.  With the current scientific literature, there is no way that the DEC and DOH can say that unconventional shale gas drilling and its attendant processes are safe. We in the Southern Tier are due protection from its risks equal to those in other regions.

Your television ads tout “Next-Gen energy” here in Broome County and we are justifiably proud of that. Do not compromise that pride by also saddling us with the outmoded 19th and 20th century fossil fuel dependence that is worsening global warming. It’s time to back up your rhetoric after Sandy about combating climate change with action.  NO to new fossil fuel development and infrastructure!  YES to renewable energy, clean energy storage, and energy efficiency initiatives!  YES to equal health and environmental protection for everyone!

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey

SoCS: two degrees

Two degrees Celsius is the threshold between what is considered impactful but manageable global warming and catastrophic global warming. Climate scientists will tell you it isn’t that clearcut. We are already seeing major impacts at only one degree-ish. At two degrees, we may get major feedback loops happening, like the melting of permafrost and the release of methane hydrates from northern seas and oceans which would accelerate warming further.

Two degrees C. has been translated into 350 ppm carbon dioxide. We have now topped 400 at times in the atmospheric readings on the Big Island of Hawai’i – I think it is Mauna Kea, but it could be Mauna Loa – and the levels keep rising.

What is disturbing me even more is that global atmospheric methane, after a long period of stability, began rising in 2007. Methane is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but is a much more powerful greenhouse gas – 86 times more powerful in a twenty year context and 106 times more powerful in a decade. Given that our timeframe to get global warming under control is now very short, methane in the atmosphere is particularly troubling as it has such a strong effect in the immediate future.

So, why do I hear the word degrees and immediately go into my global warming spiel?  I write about this a lot, as an offshoot of my commentary on the dangers of shale oil/gas aka unconventional fossil fuels aka fracking.  I have spent countless hours writing and researching and commenting on these topics.  It started as a personal thing as my state, New York, is currently under a moratorium, while our neighbor state Pennsylvania is drilling extensively. And I live in a border town.

I could literally write about this for hours, but I will spare you. I apologize if I was unclear at all in this post. It’s the whole stream of consciousness thing – no fact-checking or editing allowed…

This is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays.  This week’s prompt was “degree/degrees.”  Join us! Read how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2014/10/24/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-october-2514/


Badge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions