EU3C. 2008–2014 Fossil Fuels
Staying current for Chapter 3
Articles from 2008–2014
Stay current index page for Chapter 3
2014-10-10. Satellite sees hot spot of methane in US Southwest. Excerpt: A surprising hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern U.S., according to satellite data. …The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but factors in overall global warming. It is likely leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines. …Within that hot spot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about 1.3 million pounds a year. …The amount of methane in the Four Corners — an area covering about 2,500 square miles — would trap more heat in the atmosphere than all the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden. That’s because methane is 86 times more potent for trapping heat in the short-term than carbon dioxide…. http://www.sfgate.com/business/energy/article/Satellites-see-hot-spot-of-methane-in-US-Southwest-5812284.php. By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Science Writer. See also NASA RELEASE 14-280 – http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/october/satellite-data-shows-us-methane-hot-spot-bigger-than-expected/#.VDmiY-fdDIY
2014-06-18. Global Coal Usage Reaches 44 Year High. Excerpt: Earlier this week, BP issued its annual “Statistical Review of World Energy” report. According to the report, coal was the fastest-growing fossil fuel worldwide last year, and “coal’s share of global primary energy consumption reached 30.1 percent, the highest since 1970”. Despite a decrease in coal usage by North America and Europe over the past several years (due in large part to cheaper natural gas), global coal consumption has risen to new highs, driven by the growing and power-hungry markets of China and India. And, as might be expected, worldwide carbon emissions grew again last year, by another 2.1 percent. Despite increasing urgency from the scientific community to reduce carbon emissions to head off climate disaster, and the small but growing use of renewable energy sources, coal appears to be the fuel of choice at the moment, and predictions are that its usage will continue to rise. [32 photos]…. http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/06/global-coal-usage-reaches-44-year-high/100760/. By Alan Taylor, The Atlantic.
2014-06-04. Former Chief of Navy SEALs Finds Keystone XL an Easy Terror Target. Excerpt: …the prospective 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Okla. …Navy SEAL chief David “Dave” Cooper …concludes that a small group of evildoers could easily cause a catastrophic spill of millions of gallons of diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude, from the Keystone XL. They could do it with as little as four pounds of commercial-grade, improvised explosives. Cooper even did a dry run, using the completed Keystone I pipeline as a proxy; he hung out at a critical valve station long enough to content himself that he could have planted some explosives and left without a hitch. In what Cooper deems “the most likely scenario,” a single attack could result in 1.2 million gallons of Alberta crude tarring Nebraska farms and waterways. …A coordinated attack at multiple locations, Cooper suggests, could trigger a 7.24 million gallon flood. …Cooper writes, “the vulnerability of our energy infrastructure has been there for some time. The shock is how little it’s been discussed. A coordinated attack at several critical points would not only wreak havoc … it would likely overwhelm the existing engineering capability needed to clean it up.” …there’s precedent for pipelines as a bad guy’s “weapon of choice“—in India, Turkey, Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, Mexico, and especially Iraq. …The softness of targets such as these oil pipelines and the attractiveness of hitting them. …Cooper is a highly decorated, 25-year veteran of the special forces and ran the elite unit known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group that’s far better known as “SEAL Team Six.” …he served in Afghanistan and Yemen and was in the unit’s command during the rescue of Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips off Somalia and the killing of Osama bin Laden…. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-06-04/former-chief-of-navy-seals-finds-keystone-xl-an-easy-terror-target#r=hp-ls. By Brad Wieners, Bloomberg Businessweek.
2014-02-05. NC river turns to gray sludge after coal ash spill. Excerpt: …Canoe guide Brian Williams dipped his paddle downstream from where thousands of tons of coal ash has been spewing for days into the Dan River, turning the wooden blade flat to bring up a lump of gray sludge. On the riverbank, hundreds of workers at a Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina scrambled to plug a hole in a pipe at the bottom of a 27-acre pond where the toxic ash was stored. …Duke estimates up to 82,000 tons of ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water has spilled into the river. Officials at the nation’s largest electricity provider say they cannot provide a timetable for when the leak will be fully contained, though the flow has lessened significantly as the pond has emptied. An Associated Press reporter canoed downstream of the spill at the Dan River Steam Station and saw gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than two miles. “…You can’t clean this up. It’s going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected.” …Coal ash is known to contain a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium. …Twenty miles downstream …worried fishermen watched ash swirl in the water. A woman dipped her hand into the water and it came out coated slate gray…. http://www.sfgate.com/business/energy/article/Coal-ash-spill-into-NC-river-still-not-contained-5208581.php. Michael Biesecker, Associated Press (link is San Francisco Chronicle).
2013-12-17. What A Year: 45 Fossil Fuel Disasters The Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know About. Excerpt: …2013 brought a stark reminder of the inherent risk that comes with a fossil-fuel dependent world, with numerous pipeline spills, explosions, derailments, landslides, and the death of 20 coal miners in the U.S. alone. …our addiction to fossil fuels will be a tough habit to break. …Pipelines …March 29: An ExxonMobil pipeline carrying [210,000 gallons] Canadian Wabasca heavy crude from the Athabasca oil sands ruptures and spills thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Arkansas. …May 20: Underground tar sands leaks start popping up in Alberta, Canada, …As of September 11, the leaks had spilled more than 403,900 gallons — or about 9,617 barrels — of oily bitumen into the surrounding boreal forest …July 30: About 50 tons of oil spills into the sea off Rayong province of Thailand from a leak in the pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc. …August 13: An ethane and propane pipeline belonging to Tesoro Corp. running beneath an Illinois cornfield ruptures and explodes. …flames shooting 300 feet into the air, visible for 20 miles. …September 29: A North Dakota farmer winds up discovering the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the size of seven football fields. At least 20,600 barrels of oil leaked from a Tesoro Corp-owned pipeline onto the Jensens’ land, and it went unreported to North Dakotans for more than a week. An AP investigation later discovered that nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” had gone unreported to the public since January 2012. …October 7: An Oil and Natural Gas Corp. pipeline that carries crude from the offshore Mumbai High fields to India ruptures and spills at an onshore facility, but oil winds up flowing into the Arabian sea because of rainfall. …October 30: 17,000 gallons of crude oil spill from an eight-inch pipeline owned by Koch Pipeline Company in Texas. …November 22: An oil pipeline explodes in Qingdao, China, killing 62 and setting ocean on fire. [Coal Mines – 14 coal mine accidents–129 people killed] …Offshore and Onshore Rigs …July 27: BP’s Hercules 265 offshore gas rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana explodes, enveloping the rig in a cloud of gas and a thin sheen of gas in the water. After spewing gas for more than a day, the rig finally “bridged over,” meaning small pieces of sediment and sand blocked more gas from escaping. …November 29: A 30-inch gas gas pipeline in a rural area of western Missouri ruptures and explodes, sending a 300 foot high fireball into the air. …Train Derailments …March 27: A Canadian Pacific Railway train derails, spilling 30,000 gallons of tar sands oil in western Minnesota. …“the first major spill of the modern North American crude-by-rail transit boom.” …July 6: …74-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil derails in Lac-Megantic, Canada, causing an incredibly tragic fire and explosion. Forty-two people were pronounced dead, 30 buildings downtown destroyed. Emergency responders describe a “war zone.” 2,000 people evacuated because of toxic fumes, explosions, and fires. …January 27: A barge carrying 668,000 gallons of light crude oil on the Mississippi River crashed into a railroad bridge. An 80,000 gallon tank on the vessel was damaged, spilling oil into the waterway, which prompted officials to close the river for eight miles in either direction…. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/12/17/3056321/year-fossil-fuel-disasters/. By Emily Atkin, thinkprogress.org.
2013-11-11. As Alabama flames fade, new oil-by-rail questions arise. Excerpt: The second explosive oil-train derailment this year, which has finally burned out in rural Alabama, may raise new questions about the safety of the crude-by-rail boom, pointing to problems beyond those that surfaced following the earlier tragedy in Quebec. …nearly 30 cars of the 90-car crude oil train on the Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway – one of the 45 former RailAmerica lines Genesee bought for $1.4 billion – derailed in western Alabama. Some dozen of the cars went up in flames that only finally died down by Sunday in the most dramatic U.S. accident since the oil-by-rail boom began. No one was injured or killed. …As the rapid growth of U.S. shale oil output has outpaced the rate of pipeline construction, the geographic reach of railway lines has made crude-by-rail an attractive option. From next to nothing four years ago, railways now transport nearly one-tenth of U.S. crude output, or around 800,00 barrels per day. …The derailment occurred above a wetlands area, which was quickly cordoned off by booms to contain the spill…. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-oil-train-risks-analysis-20131110,0,90939.story. Anna Louie Sussman, Reuters.
2013-10-20. Gulf ecosystem in crisis after BP spill. Excerpt: Three years after well blowout, declining seafood catches and deformities point to an environment in distress. …”It’s disturbing what we’re seeing,” Louisiana Oyster Task Force member Brad Robin told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have any more baby crabs, which is a bad sign. We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before.” Robin, a commercial oyster fisherman who is also a member of the Louisiana Government Advisory Board, said that of the sea ground where he has harvested oysters in the past, only 30 percent of it is productive now. “We’re seeing crabs with holes in their shells, other seafood deformities. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, and we can’t find any production out there yet. There is no life out there.” According to Robin, entire sectors of the Louisiana oyster harvest areas are “dead or mostly dead”. “I got 10 boats in my fleet and only two of them are operating, because I don’t have the production to run the rest. We’re nowhere near back to whole, and I can’t tell you when or if it’ll come back.” …According to [Kathy] Birren, many fishermen in her area are giving up. “People are dropping out of the fishing business, and selling out cheap because they have to. I’m in west-central Florida, but fishermen all the way down to Key West are struggling to make it. I look at my son’s future, as he’s just getting into the business, and we’re worried.” …Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine biologist, believes it will likely take the Gulf decades to recover from the BP disaster…. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/10/gulf-ecosystem-crisis-after-bp-spill-2013102065313544754.html. Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera America.
2013-10-02. Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania. Excerpt: Duke University study …examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility [in] western Pennsylvania ….Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing… Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream…. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/02/dangerous-radioactivity-fracking-waste-pennsylvania. Felicity Carus, The Guardian.
2013-09-27. Fracking Chemicals May Be Unknown, Even To Gas Drillers, Lawsuit Documents Suggest. Excerpt: Critics of hydraulic fracturing, known widely as “fracking,” have been pushing hard for natural gas companies to disclose all of the chemicals in the fluids that are used in the process. But what if the companies themselves don’t even know what those chemicals are? Documents from a lawsuit against Texas-based Range Resources suggest that they may not. …a judge directed Range to release the full list of chemicals used in its drilling operations, including the components of all the products that are used at every stage in the gas drilling process. But Range says in its filing that it has been unable to obtain from its suppliers the ingredients in many of the products…. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/27/fracking-chemicals_n_3998319.html. Kate Sheppard, Huffington Post. [Note: FracFocus is a website about fracking and has a page that lists many chemicals that are used…http://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used]
2013-09-19. EPA moves to limit emissions of future coal- and gas-fired power plants. Excerpt: The Environmental Protection Agency will move Friday to strictly limit the amount of carbon that future coal- and gas-fired power plants can pour into the atmosphere, the first such restrictions on greenhouse gases imposed by the agency. …The industry almost certainly will challenge it in court. For the administration, the revised rule is the first major domestic initiative since President Obama laid out his climate action plan in June. Ahead is the EPA’s decision on limiting emissions from existing power plants, which Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday will be made in June 2014. “We’re providing at least some certainty here that [coal plants] have an opportunity to be around in a carbon-constrained world,” McCarthy said in an interview. “The president wants every fuel to be able to compete in a clean environment.” …Dan Lashof, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Clean Air Act requires pollution controls to be adequately demonstrated, but “there’s nothing in the statute that says it’s the cheapest way to make electricity.” McCarthy said: “Clearly the technology is available. It’s been fully demonstrated.” The Energy Department has a $6 billion loan fund to help finance development of clean energy technologies, she said. “We’re not trying to deny that there is a cost associated with these, but any first-generation technology is going to have that,” she said. …The standard, which would be finalized in a year, would require new coal plants to emit no more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. …Hal Quinn, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association, said the new standard “effectively bans coal from America’s power portfolio, leaving new power plants equipped with even the most efficient and environmentally advanced technologies out in the cold.” …But John Thompson, who directs the Fossil Transition Project for the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group, said his group has estimated that under a worst-case scenario, partly capturing CO2 from coal plants would increase the cost of electricity by 13 percent over 30 years…. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/epa-moves-to-limit-emissions-of-future-coal–and-gas-fired-power-plants/2013/09/19/e71728bc-2139-11e3-a358-1144dee636dd_story.html. By Lenny Bernstein and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post.
2013-08-22. Powder River Basin Coal Lease Auction Receives No Bids For First Time In Wyoming History. Excerpt: CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — For the first time, nobody has bid on a federal coal tract offered for sale in Wyoming after the company that initially sought to mine the location determined that it couldn’t do so profitably. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management held a coal lease sale in Cheyenne on Wednesday but received no bids. Usually a federal coal tract offered for sale by the BLM receives exactly one bid — the one submitted by the company that applied to mine the coal. There are two competing bids very rarely. This time, not even Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy followed up its 7-year-old lease application for the 149 million tons of coal next to its Cordero Rojo mine. Economic analysis that accounted for market conditions and political and regulatory uncertainty showed that not all of the coal was economically recoverable, Cloud Peak President and CEO Colin Marshall said in a release. “We were unable to construct an economic bid for this tract at this time,” Marshall said. …the coal industry and its allies warn that new greenhouse gas regulations for the power plants that burn Wyoming coal threaten the coal industry and by extension the state’s economy….http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/22/powder-river-basin-coal_n_3794792.html. Mead Gruver, Huffington Post.
2013-07-31. US fracking industry ‘wasting $1bn a year in gas flaring’. Excerpt: New report calculates flaring of gas from North Dakota fracking industry leading to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to putting one million cars on the road. …The full scale of the gas flaring undertaken by the North Dakota fracking industry has been laid bare, after a new report suggested the practice resulted in approximately $1bn of gas being wasted last year. The new study from the Ceres group of sustainable investors draws on official figures from the North Dakota Industrial Commission and reveals that the state’s oil and gas developers flared 29 per cent of the natural gas they produced during May 2013. The proportion of gas being flared has actually fallen from a peak of 36 per cent in September 2011, but the rapid expansion of the sector means that the total volume being flared is continuing to rise. …resulting in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to putting an additional one million cars on the road. “The US is now one of the top 10 flaring countries in the world, primarily due to the rapid growth of flaring in North Dakota,” said Ryan Salmon, the report’s lead author and manager of Ceres’ oil and gas program, in a statement. “…Investors are looking for producers and regulators to take more aggressive action to prevent the loss of this valuable fuel.”…. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jul/31/us-fracking-industry-gas-flaring. The Guardian.
2013-04-23. How much does EPA’s objection to Keystone XL matter? A lot. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/04/23/how-much-does-epas-objection-to-keystone-xl-matter-a-lot/ – Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post. Excerpt: How much does it matter that the Environmental Protection Agency has officially questioned aspects of the State Department’s draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal? A lot. The State Department is the agency in charge of deciding whether the administration should give a presidential permit to TransCanada to build a pipeline to transport heavy crude oil 1,179 miles between Hardisty, Alberta, and Steele City, Okla. …But other agencies can weigh in on the project, and force President Obama to serve as the final referee. …the State Department released a draft environmental impact assessment of the project, suggesting that the project would have little impact on climate change because the oil it was shipping would be extracted anyway even if the pipeline wasn’t built. But in a letter Monday, the EPA suggested the draft assessment may have underestimated the climate impact of the pipeline, … because State assumes the energy-intense crude oil would be extracted and shipped by rail if the pipeline is not constructed. Keystone opponents have argued that trains can carry nowhere near the amount of oil that a pipeline could, therefore blocking the pipeline would create a transportation bottleneck and slow down development of the oil sands. … Two pipeline spills of diluted bitumen, in Michigan in 2010 and in Arkansas this year, have raised concern about the challenge of cleaning up heavy crude from Canada….
2013-04-03. After Oil Spill in Arkansas, Weighing Risks of Keystone Pipeline Extension http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/jan-june13/oilspill_04-03.html. News Hour – Judy Woodruff, PBS. Excerpt: …Running from Patoka, IL to Nederland, Texas, the Pegasus pipeline is capable of transporting 96,000 barrels of oil a day. It passes through this Little Rock suburb, and also through 13 miles of the close-by Lake Maumelle watershed, leaving many concerned with the risks posed to Arkansas’ water supply. …Yesterday at a bird shelter in nearby Russellville, specialists cleaned ducks covered in the heavy crude. Investigators are still trying to find out what caused the rupture. According to Exxon’s estimates, between 3,500 and 5,000 barrels of oil spilled. More than 20 homes were evacuated. Last year in the U.S., 364 pipeline spills occurred, resulting in the dumping of 54,000 barrels of oil, according to the Department of Transportation. This latest breach, while considered relatively small, raises new questions about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension and whether President Obama should approve it. See also: http://rt.com/usa/faa-zone-exxon-employee-306/ (FAA puts no-fly zone over Arkansas oil spill with Exxon employee in charge)
2013-03-12. Are methane hydrates the next big energy source? Japan hopes so | Brad Plumer, Washington Post. Excerpt: Japan is in a tough spot, energy-wise. The nation imports nearly all of its oil and natural gas. Most of its nuclear reactors have been shut down after Fukushima. Wind and solar are still in the early stages of ramping up. …Japan is currently trying to tap into undersea deposits of methane hydrates — also known as “fire ice” — in hopes of converting the trapped methane into usable natural gas. On Tuesday, Japan announced a major new breakthrough. For the first time, a team aboard the drilling ship Chikyu had successfully extracted gas from a layer of methane hydrates 1,000 feet below the seabed in the Eastern Nankai Trough. … Methane hydrates are essentially cage-like lattices of water molecules that contain methane, the chief ingredient in natural gas. They can be found either beneath the seafloor or underneath Arctic permafrost …gas hydrates could contain between 10,000 trillion cubic feet to more than 100,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Some of that gas will never be accessible at reasonable prices. But if even a fraction of that total can be commercially extracted, that’s an enormous amount. To put this in context, U.S. shale reserves are estimated to contain 827 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. …The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there’s more carbon trapped inside gas hydrates than is contained in all known reserves of fossil fuels…. See full article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/12/japan-tries-to-unlock-the-worlds-biggest-source-of-carbon-based-fuel/.
2013 February 03. Vast Oil Reserve May Now Be Within Reach, and Battle Heats Up. By Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times. Excerpt: Comprising two-thirds of the United States’s total estimated shale oil reserves and covering 1,750 square miles from Southern to Central California, the Monterey Shale could turn California into the nation’s top oil-producing state and yield the kind of riches that far smaller shale oil deposits have showered on North Dakota and Texas. For decades, oilmen have been unable to extricate the Monterey Shale’s crude because of its complex geological formation, which makes extraction quite expensive. But as the oil industry’s technological advances succeed in unlocking oil from increasingly difficult locations, there is heady talk that California could be in store for a new oil boom. …The Monterey Shale has also galvanized California’s powerful environmental groups. They are pressing the state to strictly regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the drilling technique that has fueled the shale oil and gas boom elsewhere but has drawn opposition from many environmentalists. In December, the State Department of Conservation released a draft of fracking rules, the first step in a yearlong process to establish regulations….
2013 January 16. EPA halted ‘fracking’ case after gas company protested. By the Associated Press. Excerpt: WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) —… a man in a Fort Worth suburb reported his family’s drinking water had begun bubbling like champagne, … A company may have tainted their wells while drilling for natural gas. … the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing. …A similar dispute unfolded in west-central Wyoming in late 2011, when the EPA released an initial report that showed hydraulic fracturing could have contaminated groundwater. After industry and GOP leaders went on the attack, the agency said it had decided to do more testing. It has yet to announce a final conclusion….
2013 January 07. Oil Sands Industry in Canada Tied to Higher Carcinogen Level. By Ian Austin, The New York Times. Excerpt: …The development of Alberta’s oil sands has increased levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes well beyond natural levels, Canadian researchers reported in a study released on Monday. And they said the contamination covered a wider area than had previously been believed. …”…some in industry have been saying that the pollution in the tar sands is natural, it’s always been there.” The researchers found that to the contrary, the levels of those deposits have been steadily rising since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978….
2013 January 01. Rig Runs Aground in Alaska, Reviving Fears About Arctic Drilling. By John M. Broder and Henry Fountain, The New York Times. Excerpt: …One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer. The rig, the Kulluk, broke free from a tow ship in stormy seas and ran aground Monday night. The Coast Guard was leading an effort to keep its more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants from spilling onto the rocky shoreline. At a news conference in Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon, Capt. Paul Mehler III, …said …“No sign of breach of hull, no sign of release of any product.” …The grounding was the latest in a series of mishaps to befall Shell’s ambitious plans to prospect for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the North Slope of Alaska. … The other ship Shell has used in the Arctic, the Noble Discoverer, has had problems of its own … it nearly ran aground after dragging its anchor in the Aleutian Islands … had a small engine fire … Coast Guard found more than a dozen violations involving safety systems and pollution equipment….
2012 Dec 19. City in Colorado Is Sued Over a Drilling Ban. By Jack Healy, New York Times. Excerpt: An industry group representing oil and gas companies has sued a city in Colorado that outlawed hydraulic fracturing, saying voters had no right to ban the drilling practice. The lawsuit, filed on Monday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, seeks to overturn the ban on the contentious practice that passed by a wide margin last month in the northern Colorado city of Longmont. The measure, the first of its kind in the state, still allows oil and gas drilling within city limits, but it prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which has lifted energy production across the country but has raised concerns about air and water contamination. …one of the ban’s leading advocates… called the lawsuit an attempt to “undermine a democratic vote in order to put a dangerous industrial activity next to homes, schools and public parks.”….
2012 Nov 30. An Oil Gusher in the Offing, but Will It Be Enough?. By A. Kerr, Science (News & Analysis) Vol. 338 no. 6111 p. 1139. Excerpt: Some stunning headlines followed the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) release earlier this month of its World Energy Outlook 2012. “U.S. Oil Output to Overtake Saudi Arabia’s by 2020,” blared Bloomberg, for example. …Under the right conditions,… the world could produce increasing amounts of oil right through 2035 and meet the world’s growing demand for energy as oil. The catch is “under the right conditions.” … The trick will be wresting it from the ground under difficult circumstances as fast as the world needs it. The United States would have to triple its production of so-called tight oil, requiring tens of thousands of new hydrofractured wells. Fragile Iraq would have to triple its current production. And the world would have to figure out how to run motor vehicles on a sort of petroleum gas currently of little or no use in transportation. …increasing population and rising standards of living push the demand for oil from 2011’s 87.4 million barrels per day to 99.7 mb/d in 2035. In this scenario, to help meet that increased demand, oil-producing countries would have to double their production of so-called unconventional oil. That’s oil locked up in rock or sand so tightly it won’t come out of a well on its own, like U.S. tight oil trapped in nearly impermeable rock or Canada’s tarry oil stuck to sands. These unconventional oils are abundant, but tight oil requires hydraulic fracturing of the rock, and oil sands need to be steamed underground or bodily dug up and processed. … but tight-oil well production peaks quickly and drops precipitously, 40% to 80% during the first year of production. That means lots of new, expensive wells need to be drilled into large volumes of oil-rich rock…..
2012 Nov 25. With Ban on Drilling Practice, Town Lands in Thick of Dispute. By Jack Healy, The New York Times. Excerpt: …This month, Longmont became the first town in Colorado to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, the oil-drilling practice commonly known as fracking. The ban has propelled Longmont to the fiercely contested forefront of the nation’s antifracking movement, inspiring other cities to push for similar prohibitions…Local leaders are also bracing for more lawsuits as they tell energy companies they can no longer frack their wells — a process that involves injecting thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to fissure the rock and extract the oil and gas locked inside…Fracking has allowed drillers to unlock huge new reservoirs of oil and natural gas over the past few years, and has kick-started economies from North Dakota to western Pennsylvania to here in northern Colorado. The industry says the practice is environmentally safe, but opponents have raised concerns about water contamination and air pollution while objecting to islands of well pads and forests of drilling towers in their communities….
2012 Nov 23. Research, Restoration Get Share of Record BP Oil Spill Fine. From Science, News of the Week. Synopsis: New Orleans, Louisiana. About 2.5 years after the Deepwater Horizon (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico oil, which flowed unabated for three months in 2010, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry [wikipedia], BP has decided to pay a record $4 billion to settle U.S. criminal charges related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental restoration projects and scientific research will get a major windfall from the settlement. $2.4 billion will go to a congressionally chartered foundation for ecological restoration projects along the Gulf Coast. Another $350 million will go to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to establish a 30-year research effort focused on reducing the risk of future spills and improving environmental monitoring. The payments are unlikely to be BP’s last; the company still faces other penalties, including up to $25 billion in civil fines for oil pollution…. Source article: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6110/1014.2.full
2012 Nov 18. Gas Boom County Strives for Economic Afterglow. By John Schwartz, New York Times. Excerpt: …A gas boom has brought companies and workers into parts of Pennsylvania that lie atop the Marcellus Shale formation, a rich source of both natural gas and controversy. The common economic criticism of the drilling industry is that it booms and then busts, generating few local jobs and leaving little lasting economic benefit. …The industry helped give the Williamsport metropolitan area the seventh-fastest-growing economy in the United States in 2010…. A new state law, Act 13, includes fees for the industry that generated about $200 million in revenue in its first year, but that amount is expected to drop off quickly. Mr. Kisberg said the state could receive far more money over time through a direct tax on the gas itself…. Mark Price, a labor economist at the liberal-leaning Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, estimated that the industry had generated 20,000 jobs in Pennsylvania since the first quarter of 2008. While “any job over that time period is one to be lauded,” he said, the total constituted less than half a percentage point of all employment in the state. (The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, argues that if all jobs tied to shale gas are counted, the number rises to 234,000.) Mr. Price said he was skeptical that Pennsylvania could buffer the cycle of boom and bust, one the state had seen before with timber and coal. The area has already had a taste of what a bust might be like; natural gas prices have dropped in the past year, and drilling has slowed. “You would think that there would be a sensitivity to this issue,” Mr. Price said. “But memories are short.” Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/us/marcellus-shale-county-aims-for-long-term-gain.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121118
2012 Sept 26. Two-thirds of frack disclosures omit ‘secrets’. By Mike Soraghan, E&E Publishing. Excerpt: Two out of every three times oil and gas companies have publicly disclosed the chemicals in their hydraulic fracturing fluid, they’ve left something out. At least one chemical was kept secret in 65 percent of fracking disclosures by companies that said they needed to protect confidential business information…Critics of drilling say the widespread use of such “trade secret” exemptions undermines the industry’s assurances that drillers are being open with the communities where they are “fracking” wells and producing oil and gas….dustry notes that U.S. EPA allows companies to withhold trade secret information from its well-known Toxics Release Inventory. The FracFocus site says companies that have agreed to voluntarily disclose their frack fluid chemicals except for chemicals that qualify as trade secrets under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s worker safety laws….
2012 Sept 05. For Farms in the West, Oil Wells are Thirsty Rivals. By Jack Healy, The NY Times. Excerpt: A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas…this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns….2012 Summer. Unregulated Hydrofracking. From Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. Excerpt: …Fracking has come under increasing public scrutiny regarding its environmental impacts, including concern over groundwater contamination, disposal of toxic flowback water, and the exploitation of freshwater resources. Regulation of the industry has been piecemeal and limited. While initially regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA oversight of fracking was terminated by a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”…Over the past two years, nine states have instituted or revised fracking regulations, and the intensity and effectiveness of regulations vary widely by state. In a symbolic move, Vermont banned fracking in oil and gas development in May. The state lacks natural gas resources of any significance, but the ban does extend to importing fracking waste water for treatment. New York has issued a temporary moratorium on high-volume operations while the state reviews the environmental repercussions that could be expected from further natural gas development….
2012-04-30. An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues on Climate Change | by W. Barksdale Maynard, NY Times. Excerpt: In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender. Scientists are exploring dripping passages by the light of headlamps, mapping out an ecosystem from 307 million years ago, just before the world’s first great forests were wiped out by global warming. This vast prehistoric landscape may shed new light on climate change today….
2012-04-18. Oregon Town Weighs a Future With an Old Energy Source: Coal. | by William Yardley, PUBLICATION. An article relevant to GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: BOARDMAN, Ore. — A new link in the world’s future energy supply could soon be built here on the Columbia River, and it would have nothing to do with the vast acres of wind turbines or the mammoth hydroelectric dams that give this region’s p ower sources one of the cleanest carbon footprints in the nation. A proposal for Boardman, Ore., where Portland General Electric’s coal-fired plant is located, would ship coal to Asia through the port on the Columbia River. Instead, Boardman is pursuing one of the oldest and dirtiest of fossil fuels: coal. The question is not whether to use it to produce new energy but whether to make what some say would be tainted new profits. Even as coal-fired power plants are being phased out in Oregon and Washington, Boardman, an agribusiness outpost across the river from vineyards owned by the Columbia Crest winery and where the Department of Energy recently awarded $25 million to an innovative biofuel producer, is among at least half a dozen ports in the region weighing whether to ship millions of tons of coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.…
2012-04-12. Fuel to Burn: Now What? | by Jad Mouawad, The New York Times. An article relevant to GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: The reversal of fortune in America’s energy supplies in recent years holds the promise of abundant and cheaper fuel, and it could have profound effects on what people drive, domestic manufacturing and America’s foreign policy. …High energy prices led to a wave of successful oil and gas exploration in North America, including in fields that were deemed uneconomical only a few years ago. Using techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, oil companies are tapping into deeply buried reserves in shale rocks and in the ocean’s depths. …Ed Morse, head of global commodity research at Citigroup and a longtime energy analyst, says North America has the potential to become a “new Middle East.” “The reduced vulnerability of North America — and the world market — to oil price spikes also has deep consequences geopolitically, including the reduced strategic importance to the U.S. of changes in oil- and natural gas-producing countries worldwide,” Mr. Morse said in a recent 92-page report called Energy 2020. …The glut of natural gas supplies … has effectively put an end in the United States to any new investment in coal plants, which produce much more emissions. But it also makes the economics of alternative, noncarbon energy sources like wind power or solar power difficult to justify without public support and subsidies. …Natural gas prices have fluctuated wildly in recent years, rising to $14 for a thousand cubic feet from $2 within a few years. The current glut, however, has driven prices back down again, to near $2 for a thousand cubic feet. …Shipping costs may be lower, particularly if transportation companies shift their fleets to natural gas-powered or electric vehicles. …. Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/11/business/energy-environment/energy-boom-in-us-upends-expectations.html?_r=1&ref=businessspecial2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120411
2012 Mar 26. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill’s Effects on Deep-Water Corals | NSF Press Release 12-05. Excerpt: Scientists are reporting new evidence that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, this time species that live in dark ocean depths–deepwater corals….
2012 Mar 15. Oil extraction method widely used in California with little oversight. By Michael J. Mishak, The Los Angeles Times. Excerpt: Energy companies across California are injecting a mysterious mix of chemicals into the ground to tap oil deposits while frustrating attempts to regulate the controversial process, known as hydraulic fracturing….
…State regulators say existing environmental laws protect the state’s drinking water but acknowledge they have little information about the scale or practice of fracking in California, the fourth-largest oil producing state in the nation. That has created mounting anxiety in communities from Culver City to Monterey, where residents are slowly discovering the practice has gone on for years, sometimes in densely populated areas….
2011 November. The Last Mountain Discussion Guide. By The Center For Ecoliteracy. The Last Mountain (documentary movie) is about the fight against mountaintop mining in Coal River Valley, West Virginia. … How are we connected to this story? Why do coal companies use mountaintop removal? In what ways is the fight over Coal River Mountain a fight about democracy? Do mountains have intrinsic value separate from humans?
The Last Mountain Discussion Guide challenges us to consider these complex questions and many more.
2011 August 24. Coal on a Roll. By George Black, OnEarth Magazine. Excerpt: …Although worldwide energy-related CO2 emissions rose more last year than at any time since 1969, and the use of coal grew faster than that of any other fossil fuel, U.S. demand has actually flatlined. In 2000 coal accounted for just over half of our electricity supply. By 2010 it was down to 45 percent. Large banks and insurance companies, uncertain about a future carbon-constrained world, are increasingly reluctant to underwrite the huge investment — as much as $3 billion — required to build a new coal-fired power plant, which can have a lifespan of 50 years.
Asia is a different matter. Historically, the global coal market has been famously volatile. But companies like Peabody and Arch Coal are convinced that Asian demand has triggered a “supercycle” that will last at least 20 years, and talk in the industry is of exporting more than 100 million tons annually. The pivotal moment came in 2008, when China, which now uses almost half of all the coal burned on the planet, became a net importer for the first time. Demand in India, though starting at a much lower point, is rising even more rapidly and is likely to go on rising long after China’s appetite for coal levels off, which is predicted to happen sometime after 2030….
2011 August 22. Blame Canada! By Andrew Nikiforuk, OnEarth Magazine. Excerpt: …Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson says he has big issues with Canada, or to be precise with TransCanada. The Calgary-based corporation, which bills itself as a “leading energy infrastructure company,” wants to build a $7 billion pipeline to transport ultraheavy bitumen from the Alberta oil sands across the Great Plains. The controversial 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline would not only cross the largest freshwater aquifer in North America (the Ogallala) but slice through Nebraska’s unique Sand Hills and cut across 80 acres of Thompsons’s land by the Platte River. “I can’t imagine anyone, anywhere, who would want an oil pipeline of this magnitude running directly through their water supply,” the rancher says….
2011 August 8. Oil Sands to Raise Emissions, Canadian Report Says. By Ian Austen, The New York Times. Excerpt: The Canadian government has long fought efforts by politicians and environmentalists in other countries, including the United States, to characterize oil sands production as “dirty oil.” But an analysis quietly released late last month by its environmental agency indicates that the tar-like deposits will become an increasingly significant source of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.
…The current Conservative government abandoned ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets set by a Liberal predecessor government that had endorsed the Kyoto Protocol. In December 2009 Canada agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, using 2005 as the base year for measurements.
The new study, however, concludes that the country will fall well short of that modest target even without further changes. Current measures by the federal government and provinces will create only about one-quarter of the necessary reductions, it found.
2011 August 5. Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Heats Up. SustainableBusiness.com News. Excerpt: …New Jersey lawmakers have passed the nation’s first statewide ban of the practice, which involves injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals deep underground to break up dense rock formations and release natural gas. There was strong bipartisan support for the ban – the state Senate voted 32-1 and the Assembly 56-11….
…In a separate action, more than 100 groups filed a petition this week demanding that full health and safety information be made available for all the chemicals used in oil and gas development, including fracking chemicals…
…The petition asks the EPA to draft rules that – for the first time – would require manufacturers and processors of drilling and fracking chemicals to conduct testing and produce health and safety data needed to evaluate the health and environmental risks of their substances and mixtures….
2011 April 11. Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems. By Tom Zeller Jr., The New York Times. Excerpt: Natural gas, with its reputation as a linchpin in the effort to wean the nation off dirtier fossil fuels and reduce global warming, may not be as clean over all as its proponents say…They suggest that the rush to develop the nation’s vast, unconventional sources of natural gas is logistically impractical and likely to do more to heat up the planet than mining and burning coal…
…The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought…
2011 Spring. A Risky Proposition. By Barbara Freese, Catalyst, Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: Our nation depends on coal for almost half its electricity, even though most coal-fired power plants are decades old (some dating back to the Eisenhower administration), and impose staggering costs on our health and environment. Rather than shifting away from coal, many utilities around the country are spending, or planning to spend, huge sums to retrofit old coal plants, hoping to pass the costs on to ratepayers….
…We summarize the changing economic risk factors that no would-be investor in coal can afford to ignore….
2010 Nov 22. Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It to Feed China’s Need. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: …In the last few years, long-distance international coal exports have been surging because of China’s galloping economy, which now burns half of the six billion tons of coal used globally each year.
As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more.
And the rush to feed this new Asian market has helped double the price of coal over the past five years, leading to a renaissance of mining and exploration in many parts of the world…
…The conflict between environmental and trade concerns is gaining momentum in the United States and Canada as well as Australia…
2010 October 25. Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun. By Mireya Navarro, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses…
2010 August 2. Tracing Oil Reserves to Their Tiny Origins. By William J. Broad, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Today, a principal tenet of geology is that a vast majority of the world’s oil arose not from lumbering beasts on land but tiny organisms at sea. It holds that blizzards of microscopic life fell into the sunless depths over the ages, producing thick sediments that the planet’s inner heat eventually cooked into oil. It is estimated that 95 percent or more of global oil traces its genesis to the sea.
…As land reservoirs dry up, oil geologists say, the high costs and potential risks of offshore drilling will seem less onerous and more acceptable… Whatever the future importance of oil, offshore beds are the most likely new sources.
…The secret of the oil story turned out to be understanding how the bygone oceans, ancient seas and smaller bodies of water produced complex environmental conditions that raised the prevalence of microscopic life and ensured its deep burial, producing what eventually became the earth’s main oil reservoirs.
…Oil production begins when surface waters become so rich in microscopic life that the rain of debris outpaces decay on the seabed. The result is thickening accumulations of biologic sludge.
…The history of the Gulf of Mexico shows how many environmental factors came together to produce huge oil reserves. Perhaps most important, the big rivers and waterways of North America sent rich flows of nutrients into the ancient gulf, much as the Mississippi River does today. …The ancient body was [also] largely cut off from the diluting influences of the wider global sea, concentrating the nutrients and mud.
2010 June 16. Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old. By Adam Nossiter, The NY Times. Excerpt: …BODO, Nigeria — Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.
…Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.
…As many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta over the last five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year, a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups concluded in a 2006 report. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.
…On the beach at Ibeno, the few fishermen were glum. Far out to sea oil had spilled for weeks from the Exxon Mobil pipe. “We can’t see where to fish; oil is in the sea,” Patrick Okoni said.
…“We don’t have an international media to cover us, so nobody cares about it,” said Mr. Mbong, in nearby Eket. “Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here.”
2010 June. http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com. A tool to show the extent of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill/disaster as compared to a locality of your choosing.
2010 May 28. Scientists Build Case for Undersea Plumes. By Justin Gillis, The NY Times. Excerpt: …That higher estimate only added to the sense among academic scientists that much of the oil must be hovering in the deep sea, instead of surfacing. The goal of the researchers aboard the Walton Smith was to nail the existence of such deep-sea plumes beyond any doubt.
…It will take weeks of laboratory work to confirm with certainty that the plumes are made of oil droplets, or more likely, some complex mixture of oil and natural gas. If that idea holds up, the existence of these undersea plumes may well turn out to be the major scientific discovery of the great oil spill of 2010.
…That, Dr. Joye said, was most likely because bacteria were ramping up to consume the oil and gas — a good thing, over all, but it was creating a heavy demand for oxygen and other nutrients. Aside from the toxic effect of the oil, the declining oxygen was a potential threat to sea life.
2010 May 26. The more spills change, the more they stay the same. MSNBC Rachel Maddow show. Comparisons with oil spills in 1979.
2010 May 18 Burning Coal, Burning Cash: States That Import the Most Coal. Union of Concerned Scientists. Excerpt: The cost of importing coal is a major drain on the economies of many states that rely heavily on coal-fired power. UCS’s analysis, Burning Coal, Burning Cash, shows the scale of this annual drain on state economies, and suggests how they can keep more of those funds in-state through investments in energy efficiency and homegrown renewable energy.
We have ranked states’ dependence on imported coal in each of six categories.
…You can download information specific to each of these 24 states from the list below.
2010 May 14 UCS Coal Import Index. Union of Concerned Scientists. Learn current statisics about coal use and sourcing in the United States.
2010 May. Model of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. From Florida State University.
2009 May 10. China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants. By Keith Bradsher, The NY Times. Excerpt: TIANJIN, China — China’s frenetic construction of coal-fired power plants has raised worries around the world about the effect on climate change. China now uses more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, making it the world’s largest emitter of gases that are warming the planet.
But largely missing in the hand-wringing is this: China has emerged in the past two years as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost.
While the United States is still debating whether to build a more efficient kind of coal-fired power plant that uses extremely hot steam, China has begun building such plants at a rate of one a month….
2009 March. Physics in the oil sands of Alberta. By Murray Gray, Zhenghe Xu, and Jacob Masliyah, Physics Today. Excerpt: The recent spike in the price of oil to over US$140 per barrel focused worldwide attention on the need for more diverse supplies of fuel from unconventional sources and renewable resources. The oil sands of Alberta, the largest source of unconventional fuel for North America, are also the largest petroleum deposit on Earth. Sometimes called tar sands, they contain an estimated 2.5 trillion barrels of crude oil over an area of more than 140 000 square kilometers, but that oil, called bitumen, is too viscous to be extracted by conventional drilling….
Material from a typical commercially viable oil-sands deposit … contains 9%–13% bitumen, 3%–7% water, and 80%–85% mineral solids. Of the solids, 15%–30% are fine particles, predominantly clays, less than 44 µm in diameter. The challenge in production is to separate the bitumen not only from the sand grains but also from the micron- and submicron-sized clay particles. Alberta’s bitumen reserves…are estimated at 172 billion to 315 billion barrels. In comparison, the crude-oil reserves in Saudi Arabia are estimated at 264 billion barrels….
…Relatively shallow oil-sands deposits are most economically accessed by mining operations in which the overlying dirt, or overburden, is removed by massive trucks and shovels to expose the oil sands. The goal of mining operations is to remove overburden and extract oil-sands ore in large quantities, process the ore using as little energy as possible to recover at least 90% of the bitumen, and then reclaim the mines to leave a landscape that supports vegetation and wildlife. The technical challenges of the process are related to the physics of oil-sands components, and solving them involves fluid–particle physics, chemistry, and interfacial science….
2009 Feb 14. Is America Ready to Quit Coal? By MELANIE WARNER, NY Times. With regulations to address climate change looming, coal power looks increasingly expensive. Excerpt: Last May, protesters took over James E. Rogers’s front lawn in Charlotte, N.C., unfurling banners declaring “No new coal” and erecting a makeshift “green power plant” – which, they said in a press release, was fueled by “the previously unexplored energy source known as hot air, which has been found in large concentrations” at his home.
…With concerns over climate change intensifying, electricity generation from coal, once reliably cheap, looks increasingly expensive in the face of the all-but-certain prospect of regulations that would impose significant costs on companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As a result, utilities’ plans for new coal plants are being turned down left and right. In the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators. The roughly 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States are responsible for almost one-third of the country’s total carbon emissions, ….
…getting more and more of our energy from squeaky-clean sources like wind, solar and biomass sounds like a great idea, but whether renewables can keep the lights on and our iPods charged remains an open question.
THE coal industry is aware of all of these issues and is fighting back. An industry-financed group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity spent $38 million last year informing Americans, via TV and newspaper ads, that coal is the source of 50 percent of their electricity, that it is an abundant domestic resource and, most importantly, that there is the promise of “clean,” or carbon-free, coal. …The problem is that the technology, called carbon capture and storage, is still being developed and could make electricity generated by coal more expensive than power from other sources.
…”There are 16 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation coming online in the next few years,” said Kevin Book, an energy policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets. “They may well be the last plants.” Mr. Rogers, 61, may adhere to the pro-coal sentiments of many of his peers, but he is hardly a typical captain of the energy industry. Five years ago, he began advocating for climate change legislation at a time when some companies were still saying human activity had nothing to do with global warming. Mr. Rogers, a native of Birmingham, Ala., considers himself an environmentalist and calls his decision to move forward with the new plant… a difficult one. …This fall, the 150-foot smokestack at the company’s Mountaineer coal plant in New Haven, W.Va., will be outfitted with technology that uses chilled ammonia to trap carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas will then be turned into a liquid and injected into the ground. It will be the first such project that will both capture and store carbon from an existing plant….
2008 Sept. New Coal Technologies. MuseLetter 197 by Richard Heinberg. Excerpt: For coal, the future of both extraction and consumption depends on new technology. If successfully deployed, innovative technologies could enable the use of coal that is unminable by gasifying it underground; reduce coal’s carbon emissions; or allow coal to take the place of natural gas or petroleum. Without them, coal simply may not have much of a future. Are these technologies close to development? Are they economical? Will they work? The technologies discussed in this chapter go by some rather unwieldy names, and so we shall call them by their customary acronyms: Coal-to-Liquids (CTL), Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
Many energy experts believe that these technologies may largely define the world’s energy path for the next few decades. …In most instances (with the exception of underground gasification, or UCG), gasification is accomplished in-of all things-a gasifier, into which coal, water, and air are fed. Heat and pressure reduce the coal to “synthesis gas” or “syngas”-a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, along with solid waste byproducts consisting of ash and slag, which can be used in making concrete or roadbeds.
…to turn coal into a synthetic liquid fuel to replace petroleum …The basic process for CTL was developed at the beginning of the 20th century and was used by Germany during World War II, when the Allies cut off access to petroleum imports. …Two different CTL technologies are being considered. The process used by the Nazis and by Sasol is called indirect CTL; it entails gasifying the coal at high pressure and temperature, then using the Fischer-Tropsch process to synthesize a liquid fuel from the syngas. This first process is sometimes also known as “coal gas-to-liquids” or “coal GTL.” Shenhua in China is working on a different process, direct CTL, that bypasses the gasification stage.
…Underground Coal Gasification (UCG)… offers an alternative to conventional coal mining for some resources that are otherwise not commercially viable to extract. The basic process consists of drilling one well into the coal for the injection of air or oxygen, and another to bring the resulting gas to surface, and then initiating underground combustion.
…Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) …capture the carbon from coal and bury it. …There are three different types of CCS technologies in development: Post-combustion, pre-combustion, and oxyfuel combustion.
In post-combustion, the CO2 is removed after coal is burned in conventional power plants. The technology is well understood but expensive to deploy.
In pre-combustion, the coal is partially oxidized in a gasifier (see IGCC, above); then the resulting syngas, consisting of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), is transformed into carbon dioxide (CO2) and H2. The CO2 can be captured relatively easily prior to the combustion of the H2-which can also be used for industrial processes or to fuel transportation.
In Oxy-fuel combustion, coal is burned in oxygen instead of air. …After CO2 is captured, it must be transported to suitable storage sites. This will almost certainly be accomplished via pipeline. There are already approximately 4,000 miles (5,800 km) of CO2 pipelines in the United States currently being used to carry carbon dioxide to oilfields where it is injected to force oil toward boreholes to maintain production levels when natural pressure wanes. However, the market for CO2 is limited and is destined to shrink in coming decades as depletion gradually forces the oil industry into retirement. …If and when carbon is captured on a large scale, power producers will have to pay for both CO2 transport and storage. Transport will require the construction of thousands of miles of pipelines, and storage will require drilling and other infrastructure investments. The main forms of permanent storage for captured CO2 currently under discussion include gaseous storage in various deep geological formations [geo-sequestration] (including saline formations and exhausted gas fields), liquid storage in the ocean, and solid storage by reaction of CO2 with metal oxides to produce stable carbonates. …Each of the coal technologies surveyed here holds promise for addressing one problem or another. None of them is a magic bullet that can overcome long-term production declines of either coal or other fossil fuels due to the depletion of high-grade resources; nor can any of them, even if successfully deployed, truly make coal environmentally benign. All are expensive in economic terms; …Time will tell which if any of these technologies is deployed on a large scale.
2008 August. Coal and Climate. By Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter #196. Excerpt: …Since coal is the most significant source of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, releasing about twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced as natural gas, the news that there may be much less coal available to be burned than commonly thought should be heartening to climate scientists and environmental activists, and to policy makers and citizens concerned about the fate of the planet. Reduced estimates of future coal supplies should be factored into climate models—which typically assume that there is enough coal available to permit continued expansion of usage well into the next century.
At the same time, because global warming has emerged as the central environmental issue of our era, climate concerns will inevitably impact how much coal we continue to burn and how we burn it—whether these concerns come to be expressed through caps on emissions, carbon taxes, cancellation of orders for new coal-fired power plants, or the promotion of new carbon sequestration technologies. In any case, the coal industry will be—indeed, already is being—forced to change….
…Will efforts to address Climate Change solve the economic problems arising from coal, oil, and gas depletion and increasing scarcity? It is possible in principle, but in reality the stronger likelihood is that energy scarcity will rivet the attention of policy makers and private citizens alike because it is an immediate and unavoidable crisis. The result: as scarcity deepens, support for climate policy may fade even as climate impacts worsen….
2008 June. Coal in the United States. Museletter #194-Richard Heinberg. Excerpt: Because the US has the world’s largest coal reserves, it has sometimes been called “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” It is the world’s second-largest coal producer, after China, but surpasses both the number three and four producer nations (India and Australia) by nearly a factor of three.
…Today coal fuels about 50 percent of US electricity production and provides about a quarter of the country’s total energy.
The US currently produces over a billion tons of coal per year, with quantities increasing annually. This is well over double the amount produced in 1960. However, due to a decline in the average amount of energy contained in each ton of coal produced (i.e., declining resource quality), the total amount of energy flowing into the US economy from coal is now falling, having peaked in 1998. This decline in energy content per unit of weight … can partly be explained by the depletion of anthracite reserves and the nation’s increasing reliance on [lower quality] sub-bituminous coal and even lignite, a trend that began in the 1970s. …Today, Pennsylvania’s anthracite is almost gone. Mining companies there are now exploiting seams as thin as 28 inches. West Virginia, the second largest coal-producing state (after Wyoming), where much coal is surface mined in an environmentally ruinous practice known as mountaintop removal, is nearing its maximum production rate and will see declines commence within the next few years, according to a recent USGS report. …The Illinois basin boasts large reserves of bituminous coal, but production has fallen there since the mid-1990s. Its coal generally has a high sulfur content (3 to 7 percent), which runs afoul of US environmental laws, especially the Clean Air Act of 1990. Prior to this legislation, power plants burning high-sulfur coal released emissions resulting in acid rain that decimated forests throughout much of the nation.
…However coal is mined, the industry must always confront the bottom line: the cost of getting coal out of the ground cannot exceed the market price for produced coal. Thus the current price determines whether marginal coals will be mined profitably, or simply left in the ground. …During the two-year period from January 2006 to January 2008, prices rose from about $100 a ton to $250 a ton for high-quality metallurgical grades of US coal. Central Appalachian steam coal is currently selling for about $90 a ton, up from $40 two years ago.
…The US has seen a long controversy between coal resource optimists and pessimists-a controversy that is somewhat mirrored in the global coal resource picture. In 1907, Marius R. Campbell, Director of the USGS, headed the first attempt at a scientific survey of US coal, concluding that ultimately recoverable reserves amounted to 3157.2 billion tons. Since production in that year was 570 million tons, simple arithmetic yielded an R/P ratio of 5500/1, which was interpreted as meaning that the nation had a 5,500-year supply. That implied an effectively limitless amount for the practical purposes of economic planning.
…Shortly after World War II, Andrew B. Crichton (a coal engineer and mine operator in Johnstown, Pennsylvania) ….went on to offer his own estimate of national coal reserves as 223 billion tons-a number not that much smaller than the current official estimate. …National Academy of Sciences [NAS], July 2007, Research and Development to Support National Energy Policy. This book-length report concluded that “there is no question that sufficient minable coal is available to meet the nation’s coal needs through 2030,” and also that “there is probably sufficient coal to meet the nation’s needs for more than 100 years at current production levels” …Werner Zittel and Jörg Schindler, Energy Watch Group [EWG], March 2007, Coal: Resources and Future Production … report … offers several peaking scenarios for US coal. The most optimistic shows a peak in 2070…. They offer two alternative scenarios for future production: one in which only recoverable reserves at existing mines are considered producible (peak in 2015), and the other in which reported estimated recoverable reserves are all producible, but regional production trends are taken into account (peak in 2040). They suggest that “The real profile will be somewhere between these two extremes.”
…Previous MuseLetters on global coal supply issues are archived on Global Public Media (www.globalpublicmedia.com) at MuseLetter 193: It’s Happening, MuseLetter 190: The Great Coal Rush (And Why It Will Fail), and MuseLetter 179: Burning the Furniture).
2008 May. It’s Happening. By Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter #193. Excerpt: …While oil and gas were formed primarily from enormous quantities of microscopic plants (algae) that fell to the bottoms of prehistoric seas, coal is the altered remains of ancient vegetation that accumulated in swamps and peat bogs (peat currently covers 3 percent of Earth’s surface; in previous geologic eras, that percentage was much higher). While oil and gas were formed during two relatively brief periods of intense global warming, roughly 150 and 90 million years ago, coal formation started much earlier and occurred during much longer time spans, with the first primary formation period occurring during the late Carboniferous period (roughly 360 to 290 million years ago), another in the Jurassic-Cretaceous (200 to 65 million years ago), and a third in the Tertiary (65 to 2 million years ago).
All fossil fuels vary in quality. … At the high end of the coal spectrum is anthracite-a hard, black coal that has more carbon, less moisture, and produces more energy per kilogram than other coals. At the low end are lignite and sub-bituminous coals, which are brown, friable, and have more moisture, less carbon, and a lower energy content. Coal that contains high amounts of mineral impurities (especially sulfur) may be unusable.
The qualities of coal determine its uses. Generally, only anthracite is suitable for making coke for steel production, a process that requires high temperatures; it is therefore referred to as “metallurgical coal” or “coking coal.” Since anthracite is much less abundant than other coals, it sells for higher prices; it also therefore tends to be mined preferentially. Other coals are used mainly for electricity generation and are therefore known as “steam coal,” but this category includes a wide variety of coal types, from bituminous to lignite. At the lowest end of the spectrum are coals that are barely distinguishable from peat.
…The estimation of coal reserves has evolved through the decades, and now constitutes a sophisticated process entailing the work of thousands of trained and experienced coal geologists around the world….
See also 2008 June, Coal in the United States, by Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter #194.
2008 Apr 8. There’s Gas in Those Hills. By CLIFFORD KRAUSS,The New York Times. Fracture drilling workers run machinery on a farm outside of Pittsburgh. Companies are risking big money on rural Pennsylvania, producing billions of dollars’ worth of natural gas. Excerpt: HUGHESVILLE, Pa. – At first, Raymond Gregoire did not want to listen to the raspy voice on his answering machine offering him money for rights to drill on his land. They want to ruin my land, he thought. But he called back anyway a week later to hear more. …Property owners at a seminar in Clarks Summit, Pa., on negotiating with gas lease companies.
By the end of February, he had a contract in hand for $62,000, and he pulled together a group of 75 neighbors who signed $3 million in deals.
“It’s a modern-day gold rush in our own backyard,” Mr. Gregoire said. …A layer of rock here called the Marcellus Shale has been known for more than a century to contain gas, but it was generally not seen as economical to extract. Now, improved recovery technology, sharply higher natural gas prices and strong drilling results in a similar shale formation in north Texas are changing the calculus. A result is that a part of the country where energy supplies were long thought to be largely tapped out is suddenly ripe for gas prospecting. …”Now I can retire,” said Robert Deiseroth, a 63-year-old farmer and auctioneer from the town of Hickory, who recently received a $16,000 royalty check from Range Resources that he hopes will be repeated month after month. “This was a godsend for me. If it weren’t for this I would have to sell off some of my land to get some money for retirement.”….
2008 Mar 19. An Export in Solid Supply. By CLIFFORD KRAUSS, NY Times. Excerpt: … a vast reorganization of the global coal trade that is making the United States a major exporter for the first time in years- and helping to drive up domestic prices of the one fossil fuel the nation has in abundance. Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low.
But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan. Environmental concerns have forced some American utilities to cut back on plans for coal-burning power plants.
…”Watch out, consumer,” said David M. Khani, a coal analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group. “You’re probably going to see accelerating electricity prices in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”
…World consumption of coal has increased in recent years by more than 4 percent annually, a major reason that emissions of carbon dioxide are going up, not down. Carbon dioxide is the principal gas implicated in global warming. “Any rise in coal use around the world is bad news for the environment,” said Alice McKeown, who works on coal issues for the Sierra Club.
…”As U.S. coal demand is constrained because of increasing environmental regulation, coal production in the United States will increasingly go toward overseas buyers,” Chris Ruppel, an energy analyst at Execution, a brokerage and research firm, predicted.
..Kenneth B. Medlock, an energy analyst at Rice University, predicted many more electricity consumers will begin to feel the coal price spike over the next year, particularly in states most dependent on coal, like Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio.
“Their power bill is going to go up, but it also will start to affect the prices of goods they buy at the grocery store,” he added.
2008 February. The Great Coal Rush (and Why It Will Fail). By Richard Heinberg, Museletter #190. Excerpt: The world appears poised for a headlong sprint toward greater dependence on coal. …one crucial question that will shape this next great coal rush: How much is left? The answer from conventional wisdom is, Lots. Coal appears to be the most abundant of the conventional fossil fuels, and everyone agrees that enormous quantities remain to be extracted …Decades-old estimates assure us that there is 150 years’ worth of supply at current rates of production; therefore we should be able to enjoy plenty of coal for several generations to come. However,… this conventional wisdom is in need of substantial correction.
… there is every indication that worldwide petroleum production will begin an inexorable, inevitable decline beginning around 2010. This is the often-discussed phenomenon of Peak Oil … Many analysts believe that by 2015 oil production will be declining at an annual rate of over two percent per year and prices may be in the multiple hundreds of dollars per barrel.
…China currently obtains nearly 70 percent of its energy from coal and is the world’s primary coal consumer, using nearly twice as much as the next country in line (the US). The quantities are staggering: in 2007 alone, China added electrical generating capacity – nearly all of it coal-based – equal to the whole of France’s or Britain’s entire electricity grid. During 2007, China’s installed electricity generating capacity grew 17 percent, reaching over 700 gigawatts, second only to the US’s 900+ gigawatts.
It is entirely foreseeable that this enormous, rapid growth in coal consumption should entail an equally enormous environmental cost. …Coal is the dirtiest of the conventional fossil fuels. Sulfur, mercury, and radioactive elements are released into the air when coal is burned and are difficult to capture at source. During the early phase of the industrial revolution, both the mining and the burning of coal generated legendary amounts of pollution. In cities like London, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, smoke and airborne soot reduced visibility to mere inches on some days.
…One visitor to Pittsburgh during a temperature inversion in 1868 described the city as “hell with the lid taken off,” as he peered through a heavy, shifting blanket of smoke that hid everything but the bare flames of the coke furnaces that surrounded the town. During autumn and winter this smoke often mixed with fog to form an oily vapor, first called smog in the frequently afflicted London. In addition to darkening city skies, smoky chimneys deposited a fine layer of soot and sulfuric acid on every surface. “After a few days of dense fogs,” one Londoner observed in 1894, “the leaves and blossoms of some plants fall off, the blossoms of others are crimped, [and] others turn black.” In addition to harming flowers, trees, and food crops, air pollution disfigured and eroded stone and iron monuments, buildings, and bridges. Of greatest concern to many contemporaries, however, was the effect that smoke had on human health. Respiratory diseases, especially tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma, were serious public health problems in late-nineteenth-century Britain and the United States….