EU3C. 2015–2021 Fossil Fuels

cover for gss book Energy Use

Staying current for Chapter 3

Articles from 2015–2021

Stay current index page for Chapter 3

{ Energy Use Contents }

2021-11-23. Microbes provide sustainable hydrocarbons for petrochemical industry. By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. Excerpt: If the petrochemical industry is ever to wean itself off oil and gas, it has to find sustainably-sourced chemicals that slip effortlessly into existing processes for making products such as fuels, lubricants and plastics. Making those chemicals biologically is the obvious option, but microbial products are different from fossil fuel hydrocarbons in two key ways: They contain too much oxygen, and they have too many other atoms hanging off the carbons. …they often have to be de-oxygenated — in chemical parlance, reduced — and stripped of extraneous chemical groups, all of which takes energy. A team of chemists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota has now engineered microbes to make hydrocarbon chains that can be deoxygenated more easily and using less energy — basically just the sugar glucose that the bacteria eat, plus a little heat. The process allows microbial production of a broad range of chemicals currently made from oil and gas — in particular, products like lubricants made from medium-chain hydrocarbons, which contain between eight and 10 carbon atoms in the chain. …The bacteria were engineered to make hydrocarbon chains of medium length, which has not been achieved before, though others have developed microbial processes for making shorter and longer chains, up to about 20 carbons. But the process can be readily adapted to make chains of other lengths, Chang said, including short-chain hydrocarbons used as precursors to the most popular plastics, such as polyethylene.… []

]2021-11-02. A novel way to reduce emissions? China tries confiscating coal from households. By Eva Dou, The Washington Post. Excerpt: On a crisp Saturday morning last month, men in the black jackets favored by local Chinese officials were going door to door. They were checking to make sure villagers in Tangshan’s Fengrun district — one of China’s smoggiest spots — had quit burning coal for heat. …“We must ensure that ‘not one fire burns, not one wisp of smoke wafts, not one black speck remains,’ ” the Fengrun Economy and Environmental Bureau declared, according to an account of the operation it published. After knocking on 596 doors, the officials had turned up nearly a ton of unprocessed coal and nine tons of briquettes, and warned residents of the steelmaking hub that burning coal was no longer allowed. The household checks reflect tensions in China’s northeastern rust belt as the country comes under new global pressure to reduce its carbon emissions. China is by far the largest greenhouse gas emitter, contributing 27 percent of the world’s output. The country is in the spotlight at the COP26 talks in Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders are discussing how to forestall severe effects of climate change.… []

2021-10-19. Russia allows methane leaks at planet’s peril. By Steven MufsonIsabelle KhurshudyanChris MooneyBrady DennisJohn Muyskens and Naema Ahmed, The Washington Post. Excerpt: On the morning of Friday, June 4, an underground gas pipeline running through the ancient state of Tatarstan sprang a leak. And not a small one. In a different era, the massive leak might have gone unnoticed. But hovering 520 miles above the Earth, a European Space Agency satellite was keeping watch. The four-year-old Copernicus Sentinel-5P, which orbits the planet 14 times a day, looks for traces of methane and other gases. …Crews from the natural gas giant Gazprom hurried to repair a defect in the steel pipeline and stem the rush of methane — an invisible but powerful greenhouse gas — which was escaping into the atmosphere at a breakneck rate of approximately 395 metric tons an hour. …Methane, the second-most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, accounts for roughly a quarter of global warming since the industrial revolution, according to NASA. It is the chief component of natural gas. Today, the second-biggest natural gas producer is Russia, fed by the prolific Yamal region, followed byIran and its Persian Gulf gas fields. Next come China, Canada and Qatar, with its flotilla of liquefied natural gas tankers. The United States, bolstered by horizontal fracking in the Permian Basin across west Texas and eastern New Mexico, remains the world’s largest natural gas producer.… []

2021-10-13. China’s Power Problems Expose a Strategic Weakness. By Keith Bradsher, The New York Times. Excerpt: China announced on Wednesday a national rush to mine and burn more coal, as the country’s electricity shortage threatens to damage its image as a reliable manufacturing base.… [] See also The Washington Post Article, Mass floods hit China’s coal hub, threatening power supplies.

2021-10-04. California Oil Spill Closes Beaches and Renews Call for Drilling Ban. Source: By Jill CowanClifford Krauss and Ivan Penn, The New York Times. Excerpt: A pipeline transporting oil from offshore platforms spilled at least 126,000 gallons of oil in Southern California, the state’s largest such leak since 2015.… []

2021-07-01. [] – Capping methane-spewing oil wells, one hole at a time. Source: By Nick Ehli, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Across the United States, abandoned wells are belching the powerful greenhouse gas. This group aims to plug them to fight global warming. ..

2021-06-01. [] – THE SURPRISING ROOT OF THE MASSACHUSETTS FIGHT AGAINST NATURAL GAS. …go to pages 26–33. Source: By Jessica Duncombe, Eos. Excerpt: Today Massachusetts has form the the most progressive laws in the country regulating gas leaks. They’re largely thanks to a powerful coalition of organizations and researchers called Gas Leaks Allies taking the state’s energy system to task. The movement to plug leaks has gained steam over the past 2 decades and evolved into a campaign to quit natural gas altogether. Although the campaign has broad ambitions, the movement started with protecting community trees. The fight in Boston over the future of natural gas is also playing out across the country. Municipalities like San Francisco have banned gas in new buildings, and President Joe Biden singled out gas leaks in an executive order on combating climate change.The United States and other countries have just decades to drastically slash emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, according to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The United States is the second-largest producer of methane emissions in the world, behind Russia. These emissions primarily come from leaking oil and from gas production and distribution. To get off gas, whole cities must be redone from the inside out….  

2021-06-08. [] – ‘Cool’ roofs, cooler designs as the building industry embraces energy sustainability. Source: By Ben Ikenson, The Washington Post Excerpt: …American Institute of Architects in its top-10 list of sustainable projects, reflect the expansive reach of “low-energy” design strategies and the building industry’s embrace of sustainability as a de facto imperative. They’re part of a remarkable evolution, one that could prove crucial since the building sector globally accounts for at least 40 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide — far more than transportation sources. Some advocates think the U.S. sector can achieve net-zero emissions within 20 years, a decade ahead of President Biden’s net-zero goal for the country. The administration’s initiative includes new codes and efficiency standards for homes, appliances and commercial buildings — and a clean electric grid. Dozens of cities and states are moving forward with their own measures…. 
2021-03-26. Drillers Burned Off Gas at a Staggering Rate as Winter Storm Hit Texas. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: As Texas was crippled last month by frigid temperatures that killed more than 100 people and triggered widespread blackouts, drilling companies in the state’s largest oil field were forced to burn off an extraordinary amount of natural gas — on the worst day, an amount that could have powered tens of thousands of homes for at least a year. The need to intentionally burn off, or flare, an estimated 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas in a single day — a fivefold increase from rates seen before the crisis, according to satellite analysis — came as the state’s power plants went offline and pipelines froze, so the wells simply had no place to send the natural gas still streaming out of the ground. As a result, the gas had to be set ablaze, fueling towering flames, the highest of which can reach hundreds of feet into the air. … in recent years, researchers and environmental groups have raised growing concerns over the climate-change consequences of turning to natural gas. Flaring is one reason. Burning off unused gas instead of capturing it not only wastes a valuable energy source, it emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is the main contributor to climate change. …But flaring is also damaging because the burning is sometimes incomplete, so it can also release uncombusted gases into the atmosphere, chiefly methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the shorter term…. []
2020-11-11. How One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market. All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people. On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels…. []. 

2020-10-30. These Zombies Threaten the Whole Planet. By Alec Jacobson, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Canada has committed to reducing its planet-warming carbon emissions and has singled out the oil and gas industry as the source of almost half of the country’s annual emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that can have 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Alberta, the heart of Canadian hydrocarbon extraction, has set a goal of a 45 percent drop in the industry’s methane footprint from active infrastructure by 2025. But the inactive wells — the ones no longer producing oil or natural gas but many still lingering in suspension like zombies — may be as big a threat to the planet. After decades of booms and busts, an enormous backlog of these inactive wells has built up, and it grows about 6 percent each year. There are now 97,920 wells… that are licensed as temporarily suspended, compared to the province’s 160,000 active wells. The inactive wells are unlikely to be switched on ever again but have not yet been decommissioned. No one knows how many are leaking methane and other pollutants…. [

2020-10-14. The number of global methane hot spots has soared this year despite the economic slowdown. By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post. Excerpt: The worldwide number of methane hot spots has soared 32 percent so far this year despite the economic slowdown, according to satellite imagery analyzed by a private data firm. …Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period…. []  
2020-10-07. Venezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era. By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, The New York Times. Excerpt: CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns. Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen. Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse. The decline has diminished beyond recognition a country that just a decade ago rivaled the United States for regional influence. It is also unraveling a national culture defined by oil, a source of cash that once seemed endless; it financed monumental public works and pervasive graft, generous scholarships and flashy shopping trips to Miami…. [

2020-07-16. Southern Iraq’s Toxic Twilight. By Alissa J. Rubin and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times. Excerpt: Iraq is the rare country that imports gas but also burns natural gas from oil wells into the air. The wasted gas is enough to power three million homes. Burning it is making people sick. …The chemicals in the air — in Nahran Omar and other oil towns across southern Iraq — come from the smoky orange flames atop the oil wells, burning away the natural gas that bubbles up with the oil. Many countries have reduced the practice, known as flaring, in part because it wastes a precious resource. …flaring also produces chemicals that can pollute the air, land and water. It has been shown to worsen asthma and hypertension, contribute to the incidence of some cancers and speed climate change. Iraq, however, still flares more than half the natural gas produced by its oil fields, more than any other country except Russia. …After years of delays, Iraq opened a large recapture plant in Basra in 2018 at a cost of an estimated $1.5 billion, according to oil industry experts. But the plant is only a first step: it recovers a little more than half of the gas from three large oil fields. There are 15 oil fields in Basra Province alone. The Oil Ministry announced plans last month  to develop plants that would recover most of the gas that is now flared in southern Iraq. Mr. Ghadban said the projects would be operational in two to three years…. [
2020-07-14. Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday. And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects. The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals [], underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning. …Methane, a colorless, odorless gas …is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat, warming the earth 86 times as much as the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period…. [
2020-07-12. Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: The day the debt-ridden Texas oil producer MDC Energy filed for bankruptcy eight months ago, a tank at one of its wells was furiously leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. As of last week, dangerous, invisible gases were still spewing into the air. By one estimate, the company would need more than $40 million to clean up its wells if they were permanently closed. But the debts of MDC’s parent company now exceed the value of its assets by more than $180 million. In the months before its bankruptcy filing, though, the company managed to pay its chief executive $8.5 million in consulting fees, …. Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up. Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation…. [

2020-05-01. The Business of Burps: Scientists Smell Profit in Cow Emissions. By Adam Satariano, The New York Times. Excerpt: Cattle produce more methane than many large countries. A solution could be an ecological and financial breakthrough — and a Swiss biotech company may be on the cusp. …in the last five years, a collection of companies and scientists has been getting closer to what would be an ecological and financial breakthrough: an edible product that would change cows’ digestive chemistry and reduce their emission of methane. Several companies are pursuing a seaweed-based compound, and a Dutch firm, DSM, is testing a chemical supplement with promising results. Mootral is one of the furthest along. By mixing compounds from garlic, citrus and other additives into a pellet that’s mixed with a cow’s regular diet, the start-up has surprised scientists by significantly and consistently cutting the toxic output of animals…. [] 

2020-02-20. Humans are a bigger source of climate-altering methane, new studies suggest. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: When it comes to forecasting global warming, methane is an unpredictable, menacing figure. The greenhouse gas is 28 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. And as the planet warms, scientists fear vast stores of the gas will be released from Arctic permafrost and the deep ocean, warming the planet even further. Evidence from two new studies offers hope: First, a swift release of massive quantities of ancient methane is unlikely. Second, humans seem to be a bigger source of modern methane emissions than previously thought—meaning people have more control over how much winds up in the atmosphere. “It’s generally encouraging news,” says Michael Dyonisius, a geochemist and graduate student at the University of Rochester (U of R) who led the study of ancient methane. …The methane molecules in older fossil fuel sources contain almost no carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon created by cosmic ray bombardment. …data reveal that levels of carbon-14–depleted methane were much lower in the 1870s. That means modern geologic sources of methane are much smaller than previously estimated, and that the big jump came from humans, they report this week in Nature []…. [] See also: New York Times article – Oil and Gas May Be a Far Bigger Climate Threat Than We Knew [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3.

2020-02-12. Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel. 
By Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times. Excerpt: Some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta, home to one of the world’s most extensive, and also dirtiest, oil reserves. In December, the insurance giant The Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding Alberta’s bonds. And on Wednesday BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands. They are among the latest banks, pension funds and global investment houses  to start pulling away from fossil-fuel investments amid growing pressure to show they are doing something to fight climate change…. [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Climate Change chapter 10.

2020-01-27. Wooden Buildings Could House the Carbon of the 21st Century.
 By Jonathan Wosen, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: To keep carbon out of the atmosphere, researchers argue that we need to return to one of the world’s oldest building materials: wood. …Steel and concrete remain go-to materials for constructing new homes and commercial buildings. But although these materials are sturdy and durable, their manufacture and transport spew carbon into the atmosphere. ….microbes mastered carbon capture—photosynthesis—more than 3 billion years ago, with the first woody plants developing more than 300 million years ago. Churkina worked with a team of architects and scientists to calculate the benefits of using wood to build urban mid-rise buildings from 2020 to 2050. The team forecast four different scenarios. In the first, dubbed “business as usual,” 99.5% of new buildings would be built with steel and concrete. In the other three scenarios, 10%, 50%, or 90% of new buildings would be made from wood. The researchers estimate that the 90% scenario would keep up to 20 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere over the next 30 years…. [

2019-11-08. Keystone Pipeline Spills 9,120 Barrels of Oil in Dakota Wetlands. By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU. []  Excerpt: The leak took place along a preexisting section of the Keystone Pipeline. This is the pipeline’s fourth spill in 9 years. A section of the Keystone Pipeline spilled half an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of sludgy oil into a North Dakota wetland on 29 October. Cleanup is underway, but ecologists say that residue from this type of oil spill could persist in the wetlands for a long time. …The tar sands oil that runs through the pipeline from Canada “contains a heavy oil called bitumen,” she said. “This bitumen is like peanut butter. It’s hard to push peanut butter through a straw. Likewise, it’s hard to push bitumen through a pipeline.” The industry cuts the sludge with a lighter gas, called a diluent, to flow it through the pipes, “somewhat like thinning a soup that’s too thick.”…

2019-08-16. Sinking Wastewater Triggers Deeper, Stronger Earthquakes. By Mary Caperton Morton, Eos/AGU. [] Excerpt: The effects of pumping wastewater from oil and gas extractions may last a decade or more after the injections stop. The oil and gas industry’s practice of pumping wastewater fluids underground for disposal has been implicated in the dramatic uptick in earthquakes in the central United States. Now a new study has found a correlation between the increasing depth of the earthquakes and the rate at which these fluids descend through Earth’s crust, a finding that could have implications for how such fluids are regulated. Over the past decade, earthquakes in the central United States greater than magnitude 3.0 have increased dramatically because of disposal of oil field wastewater into deep geologic formations. Injecting these fluids under pressure can destabilize faults and, in some places, trigger hundreds of induced earthquakes a year over magnitude 3.0, some as large as the magnitude 5.8 quake that struck Pawnee, Okla., in 2016. …the new study, published in Nature Communications []….  

2019-07-19. Major U.S. cities are leaking methane at twice the rate previously believed. By Sid Perkins, Science Magazine.  [] Excerpt: Natural gas, long touted as a cleaner burning alternative to coal, has a leakage problem. A new study has found that leaks of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and itself a potent greenhouse gas, are twice as big as official tallies suggest in major cities along the U.S. eastern seaboard. The study suggests many of these fugitive leaks come from homes and businesses—and could represent a far bigger problem than leaks from the industrial extraction of the fossil fuel itself. …When burned for heat or power, methane emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) than fossil fuels such as coal. But when leaked directly into the atmosphere, its warming effect can be dozens of times stronger than CO2, depending on the time scale over which the warming is measured. …The new findings could also incentivize researchers to study where these emissions are coming from, Wofsy says. Possibilities include leaking pipelines, pumps, and valves; water treatment systems; equipment in power plants fueled by natural gas; and leakage within homes and businesses…. 

2019-05-16. The Global Helium Shortage Is Real, but Don’t Blame Party Balloons. By Heather Murphy, The New York Times.  [] Excerpt: … What happened to the helium? It’s supposed to be one of the most prevalent elements in the universe. …Part of the problem is that as delightful — and essential — as helium may be, it’s an afterthought for many international businesses. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s helium is produced as a “waste product,” collected while processing natural gas or producing liquefied natural gas…. Longstanding sources of it in the United States, Qatar and elsewhere are currently running low. …it’s extraordinarily expensive and difficult to store. …a tiny bit of heat turns it to gas. Even when kept in a cryogenic container, the liquid slowly boils off, …. Store it as gas and it gradually leaks out of most containers….  

2019-05-14. In Pennsylvania, Methane Emissions Higher Than EPA Estimates. By Aaron Sidder, Eos/AGU. [] Excerpt: As a greenhouse gas, methane packs quite the punch: Its warming potential is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years and 28 times more potent over 100 years. Methane, mostly released into the atmosphere by livestock, landfills, and biomass burning, is also released during the production of coal and natural gas. Although the overall methane emissions from the coal and natural gas sectors have decreased over the past 20 years, they still account for over 30% of anthropogenic methane emissions in the United States. …Barkley et al. used the top-down approach recently to estimate methane emissions from underground coal and natural gas production in southwestern Pennsylvania. …Coal and natural gas have different ratios of ethane to methane, and biogenic sources do not emit ethane. …methane emissions from coal production mostly match the EPA’s calculations. In contrast, natural gas methane emissions in the region are underreported by a factor of 5…. 

2019-03-26. They Grew Up Around Fossil Fuels. Now, Their Jobs Are in Renewables. By John Schwartz (photos by Brandon Thibodeaux, The New York Times. [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: CLAWSON, UTAH — Chris Riley comes from a coal town and a coal family, but he founded a company that could hasten coal’s decline. Lee Van Horn, whose father worked underground in the mines, spends some days more than 300 feet in the air atop a wind turbine. They, and the other people in this story, represent a shift, not just in power generation but in generations of workers as well. They come from places where fossil fuels like coal provided lifelong employment for their parents, grandparents and neighbors. They found a different path, but not necessarily out of a deep environmental commitment. In America today there is more employment in wind and solar power than in mining and burning coal. And a job’s a job….   

2019-03-22. Judge Blocks Oil and Gas Leases on Public Land, Citing Climate Change. By Jenessa Duncombe, Eos/AGU. [] Excerpt: In a court ruling Tuesday, 19 March, a federal judge temporarily halted oil and gas leases on 300,000 acres (1,200 square kilometers) of public lands in Wyoming because the sale of the leases “did not sufficiently consider climate change.” The Obama administration had auctioned off the land in 2015 and 2016 for oil and gas exploration. The court decision pauses these sales and orders the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to redo its environmental assessment. “This decision is hugely significant,” Noel Healy, a professor of geography at Salem State University in Massachusetts, told Eos. “It could be used to challenge Trump’s plans to further fossil fuel production across the U.S.” …“The Department of [the] Interior and BLM were willfully ignoring the climate consequences of oil and gas development across hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands,” Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney for WildEarth Guardians and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told Eos. “We wanted to hold BLM accountable for its decisions to sacrifice public lands for dirty oil and gas.” Wyoming senator Mike Enzi (R) called the ruling “a shortsighted decision” that would “damage our workforce and economy” and set a “dangerous precedent for the future.” …The ruling pointed out a “critical flaw” in fossil fuel leasing, said Healy. BLM is required to evaluate the environmental impacts of the leases under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but the agency failed to account for emissions from future oil and gas extraction and their impact on climate change. BLM argued that site-specific assessments completed later would take the emissions into account, but the judge ruled that this was inadequate given the “cumulative nature of climate change.” …It would simply be irresponsible to not consider the future consequences of our actions….  

2019-01-29. China’s Coal Plants Haven’t Cut Methane Emissions as Required, Study Finds. By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. [] Excerpt: China…has continued to produce more methane emissions from its coal mines despite its pledge to curb the planet-warming pollutant, according to new research. In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications [], researchers concluded that China had failed to meet its own government regulations requiring coal mines to rapidly reduce methane emissions, at least in the five years after 2010, when the regulations were passed. It matters because coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, and China is, by far, the largest producer in the world. Coal accounts for 40 percent of electricity generation globally and an even higher share in China, which has abundant coal resources and more than four million workers employed in the coal sector. Scientists and policymakers agree that the world will have to quit coal to have any hope of averting catastrophic climate change. How quickly China can do that, therefore, is crucial. The Chinese government in 2010 required the state-run coal sector to reduce methane emissions by putting the gas to use — coal methane emissions can be used for power generation, for instance — or by capturing methane from mines and flaring it, which is still polluting, but not as much as releasing the gas into the atmosphere, according to the researchers. It required that 6.2 million tons of methane produced from coal mining be put to use by 2015. An examination of satellite data collected between 2010 and 2015 painted a different picture. Not only were the reductions not made, but Chinese methane emissions actually increased by 1.2 million tons per year during the five-year period. “Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China’s government is talking the talk but has not been able to walk the walk,” Scot Miller, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who led the research team, said in a statement.The study highlighted the difficulties China faces in reducing greenhouse gas emissions….  

2018-12-12. Power from peat—more polluting than coal—is on its way out in Ireland.By Emily Toner, Science Magazine. [] Excerpt: …the Corneveagh Bog in central Ireland …has been drained and stripped of its moss and heather to reveal the rich, black soil beneath: peat. …A long mound of peat, stripped and dried earlier in the season, is covered in plastic, waiting to be piled into rail cars and taken to a nearby power plant. There, the carbon-rich soil will be burned to generate electricity. But not for much longer, says Barry O’Loughlin, an ecologist employed by Bord na Móna, a state-owned peat harvesting and energy company based in Newbridge that owns Corneveagh Bog. Bord na Móna, which means “Peat Board,” will soon retire dozens of bogs like Corneveagh from energy production. Its team of four ecologists will rehabilitate many of them by blocking drains, soaking the ground, and reestablishing plant life, O’Loughlin says as his boots crunch through the frosty soil. …In Ireland, peat has been used for centuries to warm homes and fire whiskey distilleries. …Peat power peaked in the 1960s, providing 40% of Ireland’s electricity. But peat is particularly polluting. Burning it for electricity emits more carbon dioxide than coal, and nearly twice as much as natural gas. In 2016, peat generated nearly 8% of Ireland’s electricity, but was responsible for 20% of that sector’s carbon emissions. …Behind the phaseout is Ireland’s promise to the European Union to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020, compared with 2005 levels. …Up to 430 jobs will be lost….  

2018-06-21. Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine.  Excerpt: Natural gas, long promoted as a “clean” alternative to other fossil fuels, may not be so clean after all. That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim. A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting coal plants for 2 decades. (Methane doesn’t persist in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, but while it does, its warming effect is much stronger.) The study underscores how the benefits of natural gas, which emits less CO2 than coal when burned, are being undermined by the leaks, says Steve Hamburg, a main author of the study and the chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a New York City–based environmental group. “You’re taking a hit, and it’s an unnecessary hit,” he says. The analysis also suggests the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is presenting too rosy of a picture of natural gas emissions, understating industry methane leaks by approximately 60%…. [See also]

2017-11-16. Keystone Pipeline Leaks 210,000 Gallons of Oil in South Dakota. By Mitch Smith and Julie Bosman, The New York Times. Excerpt: About 5,000 barrels of oil, or about 210,000 gallons, gushed out of the Keystone Pipeline on Thursday in South Dakota, blackening a grassy field in the remote northeast part of the state and sending cleanup crews and emergency workers scrambling to the site. …The spill, near Amherst, S.D., comes just days before regulators in neighboring Nebraska decide whether to grant the final permit needed to begin construction on a different pipeline proposal, the Keystone XL, which would be operated by the same company. An announcement in Nebraska is expected on Monday. …Opponents of Keystone XL, which is proposed to run about 1,100 miles and would become part of the Keystone system, quickly cited Thursday’s spill as evidence of the risks posed by such pipelines, and urged Nebraska regulators to take note. “We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us,” Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club said in a statement. “This is not the first time TransCanada’s pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands, and it won’t be the last.” Keystone XL has the strong support of President Trump and most Republican politicians, but it has faced years of vocal opposition in Nebraska from some farmers and ranchers who worry that a spill could spoil their groundwater and decimate agricultural land. …Thursday’s episode is one of several major pipeline spills in recent years. More than a million gallons leaked from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010, and 50,000 gallons of oil gushed into the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2015, contaminating drinking water there….

2017-10-29. How a 672,000-Gallon Oil Spill Was Nearly Invisible. By Christina Caron, The New York Times. Excerpt: Mention oil spills, and images of birds coated in black slime and a shiny slick on the ocean’s surface come to mind. But not all oil spills are the same. About 672,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline fractured about a mile below the ocean’s surface this month in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Venice, La., …. Hardly any of it was visible. …16,000 barrels is “a pretty substantial leak,” said Edward B. Overton, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University who is studying the environmental effects of Deepwater Horizon. “But it was not enough on the surface to warrant a cleanup response.” In this case, the oil degraded quickly, in part because of environmental forces. …most of the oil droplets that escaped from the pipe…were so small that they were measured in microns… Those minuscule droplets were ingested by oil-degrading bacteria that live in the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Overton said. …Every year, natural oil seepage — unrelated to the oil and gas industry — releases an estimated 20 million to 50 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, he said, from hundreds, possibly thousands of different spots on the ocean floor. “The families of bacteria that can degrade oil already exist in the Gulf,” he said. “So when they see more oil, what happens is those bacteria degrade that oil and start reproducing.” The bacteria eat the hydrocarbons in the oil and turn it into carbon dioxide or more bacteria, and those bacteria become a food source for other organisms. An oil spill essentially serves as food for the bacteria, but there are times, like during Deepwater Horizon, when the bacteria are overwhelmed by the volume and cannot work fast enough to break it down….

2017-06-08. Digging the Graveyard of Oil’s Past. By Stanley Reed, The New York Times. Excerpt: As the energy industry evolves, production platforms in the North Sea, once a crucial source of crude oil, are being dismantled and sold for scrap. Moored off the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Pioneering Spirit looms so large that it is difficult to recognize as a ship. The crew of 450 is dwarfed by the cranes and pipes that dominate the sprawling layers of decks. …The British North Sea was once a crucial source of oil for the world. At its peak in 1999, it produced about 2.9 million barrels of oil a day, more than Kuwait or Iraq at the time. Since then, production has generally been in a long slide as oil fields discovered decades ago are exhausted and high costs discourage new exploration. Its diminishing fortunes have been cemented by the rise of renewables and the push for cleaner alternatives to oil. “It is one of those signs that we may be at a tipping point,” said Anthony Hobley, chief executive of Carbon Tracker, a nonprofit group that studies the investment risks of the shifting energy landscape. “We may well be at that critical point in history where people will say that this is the point where the oil industry reached its peak and began to decline.” This spring, the Pioneering Spirit headed to the Brent field in the North Sea, …. After 40 years of production, the field is nearly pumped out. And a group of four platforms in the field — giant rigs that stand around 1,000 feet tall and weigh a combined million tons — are gradually being shut down. This spring, the Pioneering Spirit transported one platform to its final resting place, a shipyard in Hartlepool in northeast England where it is being dismantled and sold for scrap. An industry in itself, this so-called decommissioning process creates jobs and profits along the journey….

2017-05-10. Where and How Can We Find New Sources of Oil and Gas? By Said Gaci and Olga Hachayon, Earth & Space Science News (EoS; AGU).  Excerpt: The editors of a new book on oil and gas exploration describe developments in methods for identifying oil and gas fields, and for making accurate predictions about their extractive potential. …“Seismic prospecting” is the most widely used geophysical technique in hydrocarbon exploration. It sends artificially created elastic oscillations (seismic waves) though the rock strata which can create a “map” of the structure of deposits. “Well logging” is another commonly used method that consists of making a detailed record of rock and fluid properties to find hydrocarbon zones in the geological formations crossed by a borehole. “Gravity surveying” measures spatial variations in the Earth’s gravitational field which originated from differences in the density of sub-surface rocks. Oil- or gas-bearing rocks have lower density than similar water-containing rocks thus the task of geoscientists is to find locations with abnormally low gravity. Meanwhile, “magnetic prospecting” measures the Earth’s magnetic field in the different magnetic conductivity of rocks. Airborne magnetic surveying enables the identification of anticlines which are natural geological traps for migrating hydrocarbons at large depths. Another method is “geochemical prospecting” which is used to look for hydrocarbon deposits. This is based on analyses of the chemical composition of underground water and the content of dissolved gases and organic matters within it. Concentration of these components in water increases as it approaches the deposit….

2016-11-21. Largest Ever U.S. Shale Oil Deposit Identified in Texas. By Aaron Sidder, Earth & Space News (EoS), AGU. Excerpt: As global oil prices remain mired in their worst downturn in decades, news from western Texas suggests that petroleum fortunes continue to smile on the region. In its first assessment in nearly a decade of the Permian Basin, a large sedimentary basin underlying parts of Texas and New Mexico, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has determined that a vast deposit of shale there, known as the Wolfcamp shale, contains much more oil than previously estimated. …the region contains what is estimated to be the largest amount of continuous oil—meaning oil accessible only by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—ever assessed in the United States. The agency estimated the Wolfcamp shale contains 20 billion barrels (3.2 billion cubic meters) of oil that can be recovered using today’s technology. That’s nearly 3 times as much recoverable oil as estimated in the Bakken–Three Forks accumulation in North Dakota.  …unconventional continuous oil accumulations commonly occur in shale reservoirs or coal beds. In these accumulations, the oil has dispersed throughout the geologic formation. …The Wolfcamp shale also contains an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet (453 billion cubic meters) of associated natural gas and 1.6 billion barrels (245 million cubic meters) of natural gas liquids, according to USGS. …In a statement to Eos, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association commented that the USGS estimate was exciting but was more of a confirmation than a new story. …“The fact that this is the largest assessment of continuous oil we have ever done just goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more.” The USGS assessment, although large, may not capture the full extent of the Wolfcamp resource. Because well production data inform so much of the estimate, the estimated resource could grow even larger in time as new wells provide more data, Schenk said….

2016-11-18. Fracking can prime faults for subsequent quakes. By Ian Randall, Science. Excerpt: Hydraulic fracturing in western Canada can prime faults for earthquakes that strike months after fracking ceases, reports a new study published this week in Science. Although it has long been known that the injection of wastewater into disposal wells can trigger earthquakes by increasing pore pressure and destabilizing fault lines, rarely has fracking itself been identified as the source of tremors. …Looking at seismic records near Fox Creek, in northwest Alberta, where there are six drilling sites, researchers found an intermittent set of induced earthquakes between December 2014 and March 2015, clustered around fracking operations. The majority of seismicity occurred during fracking as the elastic response of the rock caused mounting stress. However the largest quake, which had a magnitude of 3.9, struck on 23 January 2015—2 weeks after fracking had been completed. …In the future, they say, drillers should take account of such risks, especially when they fail to recover fracking fluids….

2016-09-03. Seismic Hazard in the Midwest. Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. Excerpt: The earthquake that rattled at least seven mid-western states on Saturday morning was a stark reminder that a new type of seismic hazard exists, which is associated with human activity. The temblor with a magnitude of 5.6 was located near the town of Pawnee, about 75 miles north-northeast of Oklahoma City. Although the quake caused only minor damage, it shook an area of the United States which – until a few years ago – was considered basically free of any significant seismic activity. But ever since an earthquake of the same magnitude struck a region immediately east of Oklahoma City in November 2011, it has become clear that a sizable seismic hazard, widely ignored until then, lurks under the oil producing states in the Midwest. …When seismologists started to study the enormous increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma, it very quickly became clear that it was not caused by natural phenomena. Instead, the cause was human activity. The first suspect was fracking. …The real culprit, it turned out, also had something to do with oil and gas production. Virtually every hydrocarbon field in the world contains a significant amount of water, which is pumped to the surface together with the oil. In the United States alone, about 21 billion barrels of this so called “produced water” are generated each year from about 900,000 wells. This is equivalent to a volume of 2.4 billion gallons per day. Because this produced water contains salts, remnants of the oil and many other organic and inorganic chemicals, it cannot be flushed into regular wastewater treatment plants or even released untreated into rivers or creeks. It is simply too hazardous. To dispose of this water, it is pumped back into the ground, usually in injection wells deep below the groundwater aquifers and the oil producing formations. There are more than half a million such injection wells in the US, most of them in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas…. See also Geologist Sees Clues, and Further Dangers, in Puzzle of Oklahoma’s Earthquakes  by Michael Wines, The New York Times.

2016-03-31. The Invisible Catastrophe. By Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times. Excerpt: Over the course of four months, 97,100 metric tons of methane quietly leaked out of a single well into California’s sky. Scientists and residents are still trying to figure out just how much damage was done. …Over a 20-year period, methane is estimated to have a warming effect on earth’s atmosphere 84 times that of carbon dioxide. By that metric, the Aliso Canyon leak produced the same amount of global warming as 1,735,404 cars in a full year. During the four months the leak lasted — 25 days longer than the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — the leak contributed roughly the same amount of warming as the greenhouse-­gas emissions produced by the entire country of Lebanon. …The residents of Porter Ranch were very concerned, however, about what the inhalation of the gas might do to their brains and their lungs. Some residents found the smell of gas so overwhelming that they sealed their windows and doors and refused to go outside. Others could not smell the gas and experienced no symptoms…. 0

2016-02-25. California gas leak doubled methane emissions in L.A. basin. By Robert Service, Science. Excerpt: …On 23 October 2015, officials reported an ongoing leak at SS25, a well in a massive underground natural gas storage facility near Los Angeles, California. Researchers collected air samples from daily flights over the region from 7 November 2015 through 13 February, 2 days after the leak was capped. …every hour after the blast—the facility released up to 60 metric tons of methane, the primary component of natural gas and the greenhouse gas with the second biggest overall climate impact. The leak was so massive that it essentially doubled the methane emissions for the entire Los Angeles basin, and had the same climate impact in annual greenhouse gas emissions as 572,000 cars. …

2015-08-06. King Coal, Long Besieged, Is Deposed by the Market. By James B. Stewart, New York Times. Excerpt: In April 2005, President George W. Bush hailed “clean coal” as a key to “greater energy independence,” …. But a decade later, the United States coal industry is reeling as never before in its history, the victim of new environmental regulations, intensifying attacks by activists, collapsing coal prices, and — above all — the rise of cheap alternative fuels, especially natural gas. This week President Obama slammed the industry with tougher-than-expected rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting power plant carbon emissions, which will accelerate an already huge shift from coal to natural gas and other alternatives. “Clean coal” remains an expensive and thus far impractical pipe dream. Coal is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions by far and the leading culprit in global warming.  …Market forces have accomplished in just a few years what environmentalists and social advocates have struggled for decades to achieve. Coal prices have plunged about 70 percent in the last four years.  …Mountaintop removal, the poster child for environmental destruction, has all but ground to a halt as coal companies continue to close mines, lay off workers and slash capital spending on expensive new mining operations. Meantime, natural gas production has soared and electric utilities have built up gas-fired generation to replace aging coal-fired power plants. …Burning coal produces nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as does natural gas, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. …In June, Norway’s government pension fund — considered the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with $890 billion in assets, much of it generated from oil revenue — said it would divest itself of coal holdings. A spokeswoman for the fund said this was a financial decision, not a political one, ….

2015-04-23. Oil and gas operations could trigger large earthquakes., By Eric Hand, Science (AAAS). Excerpt: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has taken its first stab at quantifying the hazard from earthquakes associated with oil and gas development. The assessment, released in a preliminary report today, identifies 17 areas in eight states with elevated seismic hazard. And geologists now say that such induced earthquakes could potentially be large, up to magnitude 7, which is big enough to cause buildings to collapse and widespread damage. The new bull’s-eyes on the map, regions such as central Oklahoma, have short-term hazards that are comparable to the those in traditional earthquake states, like California, says Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project in Golden, Colorado. “These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater threat to people living nearby,” he says. …Geoscientists have known for decades that the injection of fluid can increase pressures within the pores of deep rock formations, pushing faults that are already critically stressed by forces in Earth’s crust past the snapping point. But the phenomenon has been brought to the fore by an extraordinary rise in small earthquakes across parts of the central United States. That surge has coincided in time and place with the boom in unconventional oil and gas extraction such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in which high-pressure fluid is injected into the ground to break up the underlying rock and release trapped gas or oil. In most cases, the earthquakes are not due to fracking itself, which is usually completed in hours or days. Rather, the culprit is typically wastewater disposal, where high volumes of water extracted in oil and gas operations is reinjected into deep basement rocks, where the bigger and more dangerous faults lie….
See also

2015-01-08. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. By Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, Nature. Excerpt: Policy makers have generally agreed that the average global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. It has been estimated that to have at least a 50 per cent chance of keeping warming below 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon emissions between 2011 and 2050 need to be limited to around 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2). However, the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than this, and so the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C. …Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C. …Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit. Implementation of this policy commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production…. See also National Geographic article: Climate Mission Impossible: Scientists Say Fossil Fuels Must Go Untapped