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.

Solar!

I am pleased to announce that in late December, our household went solar!

Thanks to a change in the New York State laws, community solar projects were finally allowed in 2016 and we jumped in as soon as practicable.

We had had our rooftop evaluated for solar panels previously, but the south side of our house is too shaded. The shade trees help to cut down on air conditioning costs in the summer, so it would have been counterproductive to cut them down in order to put up solar panels. Also, some of the shade is supplied by trees in our neighbors’ yard, so we wouldn’t have been able to cut those down.

We had hoped to be able to join a community solar farm in our county, but Tompkins County was able to get permits and leases in place sooner, so we decided to go with Renovus in Ithaca, which is the home of T’s alma mater, Cornell University. Here is a short video of the final installation process a few weeks before it went online:  

(There is a lot of mud in the video, but it will be seeded in the spring.)

We own twenty panels in the array, which is in Trumansburg. Being a part of a solar farm does have some advantages. The panels are commercial grade, so their production is higher than residential panels. They can be optimally oriented and angled for catching the most sunlight. Also, if we move to a new home in our area, we can continue to use the credits from our panels. Alternatively, we can sell them, either to new owners of our home or to anyone else in our area.

It was nice to have the panels go online before the end of the year, as we will be able to apply for tax credits when we file our taxes.  It’s not optimal for solar production, though, with daylight hours so short. Still, we will get some reduction in our electric bill for the winter and spring. By summer, we will be able to start building up credits in our account to cover for the lower wintertime production next year. Our array is sized to cover our annual household usage, so it will all average out once we get through this initial low-production period.

Until we get an electric car…

Stay tuned.
*****
Join us for the last few days of Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/27/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-27th17/ 

jjj-2017

 

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.

 

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.

Honolulu vs home

Being here in Honolulu for a few weeks has highlighted some differences from being at home in upstate New York, other than driving:
*  Today, there was the monthly test of the tsunami warning system. E’s neighborhood is higher in elevation, so she lives above the evacuation zone. When we were staying in the hotel in Waikiki, the first several floors of the hotels were mostly dedicated to parking. This allows them to keep people safely on the upper floors in case of tsunami.
*  A heat wave here is not as hot as in most of the rest of the US.  We have been having a heat wave with some records tied or broken, but it is only 88-91 degrees F. (31-33 degrees C.)
*  There are microclimates everywhere, but they are much more noticeable here. For instance, in E’s neighborhood, you can be walking in what seems to be a rain shower – while there are no clouds overhead and the sun is shining.  The rain is falling in the  Palolo valley and being blown into Kaimuki.
*   At home, I’ve never had a tiny chameleon show up in the bathroom, matching its color to the bathmat.
*  There is much more coverage in the news on climate change and renewable energy.  Despite Hawai’i being the most remote islands in the world, the effects and the threat of more effects are real.
*  Because the angle of the sun is higher here, solar panels can often be placed on more than just the south-facing slope of a roof.
*  Unlike home, there is almost never a basement here. It ‘s strange to me to see water heaters just sitting outside under the eaves.
*  There is a lot more discussion and coverage of homelessness and affordable housing.  Rents and real estate prices here are very high and there are many people who can’t afford them, even when they are employed. While there are single people who are homeless, there are also many homeless families.
*  The tension between the indigenous Hawaiians and the state is obvious. There are demonstrations almost daily against development of certain areas. While these problems are also present in New York, they are much more hidden.

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…

Long Island smackdown

From my soapbox this morning:

The authors of this article needed to do more research before writing it. There is a basic misunderstanding of the technology itself, for instance, shale gas extraction has yields much, much lower than conventional gas reservoir yields. There is a downplaying of the capability to move quickly to renewable energy; check out thesolutionsproject.org. There is a lack of understanding of shale gas economics. There is very little local job creation with shale gas development and it is a boom-bust proposition. Check out what happened to towns like Montrose, PA, that have been left worse off than they were before shale gas. There is a lack of understanding of geology. At current methane prices, there are no areas of either the Utica or the Marcellus shales in NYS that are able to be drilled profitably. NY’s section of the shale plays is too thin and shallow or is overmature.

It’s a good thing that NY did delay because it has only been in the last couple of years that a lot of the independent, peer-reviewed science has been published. It is documenting numerous impacts to air, water, climate, and public health. You can read studies here: http://psehealthyenergy.org/LIBRARY. This link:http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/ offers summaries of major studies and reporting through June 30 of this year, with an update due early in 2015.

If long Islanders want to help NY become truly energy independent, they will support off-shore wind. Here in Broome County, we are making major commitments to solar technology research and development, as well as energy efficiency, energy storage, and other renewable energy types. We need to move further into 21st century energy, not try to drag us back into 19th/20th century, polluting fossil fuels.

A comment on this: http://www.theislandnow.com/…/article_f8d4c4da-6b55-11e4-b9… Actually, the comment was sent for moderation, so it may not make it onto the site, but at least I got it out of my system.

Dear Governor Cuomo

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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