This is a story about natural gas leakage, and we’re not talking about what happens after your grandfather says, “Pull my finger!”
Recent reports in journals such as Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have carried some depressing news: Natural gas, the “bridge fuel” touted by President Obama for its lower CO2 emissions and domestic abundance, may not actually be better for the climate than coal. Natural gas is mostly methane, which is half as carbon intensive as coal when it’s burned, but when it’s released directly into the atmosphere, it’s 86 times worse for the climate than CO2 over a 20-year time frame. Rampant methane leakage in the fracking process and from pipelines raises natural gas’s total greenhouse gas emissions; the studies estimate that more than 2 percent of gas in the U.S. may escape through leaks.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The technology already exists to dramatically reduce methane leakage for a reasonable price. Environmental groups have put out reports outlining how. They could serve as a template for the oil and gas industry to follow voluntarily, or for the EPA to require under the Clean Air Act.
In 2011, the EPA issued rules governing leakage of volatile organic compounds from new natural gas wells. Those rules also help prevent methane leakage. But they only apply at the early stages of the extraction process; further downstream, leakage is unregulated. Environmentalists see three main ways the rules need to be expanded: they have to cover existing wells, cover methane itself, and cover wells that frack for oil, not just gas, as oil wells in the Bakken Shale, for example, also leak methane.
The Natural Resources Defense Council issued its “Leaking Profits” report in 2012 suggesting how the natural gas industry could profitably reduce methane leakage. Any gas you don’t lose to leakage can be sold. “Ten technically proven, commercially available, and profitable methane emission control technologies together can capture more than 80 percent of the methane currently going to waste,” NRDC wrote. And that would bring in more than $2 billion in revenue each year, which NRDC believes would more than cover the cost of implementation.
On Monday, the Environmental Defense Fund published a report with a much dryer title and a slightly less optimistic assessment. It found, “Industry could cut methane emissions by 40 percent below projected 2018 levels at an average annual cost of less than one cent per thousand cubic feet of produced natural gas by adopting available emissions-control technologies and operating practices. This would require a capital investment of $2.2 billion, which Oil & Gas Journal data shows to be less than 1% of annual industry capital expenditure.”
The bottom line in both reports is the same, though. The oil and gas industry could significantly reduce methane leakage for almost no net cost. And the groups agree on the biggest four steps needed, which would account for most of the methane savings:
If this really were profitable, as NRDC claims, one wonders why the gas industry isn’t doing it already. Some companies are, in fact. But gas companies are also weighing the costs and benefits of reduced methane leakage against other, more profitable ways of investing their capital, such as drilling new wells. Reducing methane leakage from 2 percent to 1 percent of the total volume of natural gas extracted would be enormously beneficial for the climate because methane released straight into the atmosphere has such a strong warming impact. But to a gas company, it’s just 1 percent more gas to sell. “If you have $10,000, would you put it into leak reduction or something else with a greater return?” asks Vignesh Gowrishankar, a scientist at NRDC.
And if these steps aren’t even profitable but merely very cheap, as EDF’s analysis suggests, then why would gas companies do them at all? The group’s answer is that it is good, cheap PR.
But neither organization is naive enough to think that gas companies can simply be trusted to do this out of the goodness of their hearts. The EPA, they argue, has the authority and the obligation under the Clean Air Act to require gas well operators to adopt these measures. “We are pushing the EPA to do this,” says Gowrishankar, noting that President Obama’s Climate Action Plan contains a section on reducing methane emissions. The plan does not, however, actually state that the administration will promulgate new rules on methane leakage from existing wells.
Yesterday EPA instituted new rules to slash sulfur in gasoline, which will require refiners and automakers to adopt new technology. New rules on methane leakage would accomplish the same broad goal: making industry pay to clean up its pollution so it can no longer offload the cost onto society.
Think of it as forcing grandpa to buy some Beano, for his family’s sake.
Recently, scenes from the frozen Great Lakes region have brought to mind the post-apocalyptic icy landscape of the Lands Beyond the Wall. The Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan is currently facing its own “winter is coming” scenario, and it doesn’t involve a horde of aggressive snow zombies with a penchant for disembowelment (we hope). This threat, however, could result in the destruction of a vast ecosystem, threatening drinking water supplies and the livelihoods of local fishermen.
To stave off disaster, Michiganians are loudly voicing their concerns about a section of oil pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile-wide body of water separating the upper peninsula of Michigan from the rest of the state, and conjoining Lakes Michigan and Huron. Called Line 5, the segment, part of a pipeline built in 1953, has undergone minimal repairs in the past 60+ years. As production from Alberta’s tar sands has soared over recent years, many are beginning to question whether Line 5 can handle more of that oil. Pipeline owner Enbridge expanded the line’s capacity by about 10 percent last year, to nearly 23 million gallons per day. The National Wildlife Federation released a video in October 2013 showing broken supports that suggest corrosion along Line 5, and is demanding that it be replaced entirely.
Enbridge’s position is that the pipeline has “been operating there for decades and operating safely.” But plenty of things tend to operate less effectively after decades of use. A few examples: nuclear waste receptacles, Kobe Bryant’s legs, capitalism.
Enbridge already has a bad rep in Michigan after one of its pipelines burst in 2010 and poured over a million gallons of tar-sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, that little oopsie was the costliest pipeline disaster in the nation’s history – and, because tar-sands oil is far more difficult to clean up than the standard variety, the cleanup is still going on three and a half years later.
A cleanup in the straits — where parts of the pipeline lie under 270 feet of water — would be much harder still, as the Associated Press notes:
The Straits of Mackinac epitomizes a potential worst-case scenario for a pipeline accident: an iconic waterway, ecologically and economically significant, that could be fiendishly hard to clean up because of swift currents and deep water that’s often covered with ice several months a year.
In December, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter of concern to federal pipeline officials about environmental risks posed by the aging pipeline.
The oil and natural gas industry has a hell of a streak going when it comes to pipeline spills, so speaking strictly in terms of mathematical probability, Line 5 should be perfectly fine. That’s how statistics work – right?
First NYC firm PRESENT Architecture dreamt up a plus-sign-shaped strainer-pool that would filter dirty East River water, giving New Yorkers a clean place to swim. Now the firm is back with another half-wacky, half-awesome proposal: making big trash islands so the Big Apple’s apple cores don’t have to travel so far to decompose.
As PRESENT explains:
New York City produces over 14 million tons of trash every year with most of it trucked long-haul to out-of-state landfills. In a typical year, we spend more than $300 million dollars on trash transport while incurring a hefty environmental bill along the way.PRESENT Architecture
The Green Loop, as PRESENT calls its project, would include waterfront parks with plenty of green space to lure residents. Underneath the top level would be extensive composting facilities. The network of 10 garbage islands would leverage transportation infrastructure already in place, plus offer somewhere to process all those food scraps from NYC’s new curbside composting pilot program.PRESENT Architecture
It’s no dumpster diving, but “Let’s go hang out at Trash Island” gets hipster points, for sure.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG, the international gathering place in 2014 for the construction industries, will be held March 4-8, 2014 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV.
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Introducing the new HP Pavilion 11t-n000 x360 - an innovative PC offering the latest touchscreen technology which makes the most of notebook, stand, tent or tablet mode.
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1. It takes more energy to collect recyclables than its worth! This is a common statement regarding the efforts required to properly recycle.
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When Operational in 2016, the Facility will be One of the Largest World-Class Phosphate Fertilizer Complexes
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New book “Here’s Looking at You: Poetic Expressions at the Zoo” from Page Publishing author Alyce J. Orr is a beautifully crafted work of poetry and vivid artwork that will transport the reader to a...
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If you love exotic travel, then horseback riding in Mongolia is a unique way to truly see the country. Long time riding adventure proponents, Keith Swenson and Sabine Schmidt of Stone Horse...
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Detailed analysis and forecast of world, regional and country EPS markets can be found in the in-demand topical research study “Expandable Polystyrene (EPS): 2014 World Market Outlook and Forecast up...
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Maria Langholz hadn’t been to class all week. As a regional organizer for Sunday’s big Keystone XL pipeline protest at the White House, she had transportation to Washington, D.C., to wrangle for 46 other people, with rumors of a snowstorm on its way to prettify and petrify the highways of the east coast. She had to pack a weekend bag suitable for sleeping in a church basement. She had to figure out how she was going to carry $10,000 in various denominations inconspicuously on her person, because she had been informed, in no uncertain terms, that the county lockup was cash only, and only took exact change. She had never been arrested before.
On Thursday morning, Langholz was still in Minnesota, where she is in the process of navigating that tricky balance between majoring in environmental science at Macalester College and trying to save the planet. “It’s so soon!” she laughed over the phone. “We’re leaving tomorrow! At least I have food covered. I made hummus. And scones. And cookies.”
All across the country, people like Langholz, mostly young, mostly college students, working with the group XL Dissent, were getting ready to get arrested on Sunday. Several of them, like Langholz, had signed a Pledge of Resistance months earlier to engage in peaceful civil disobedience to prevent Keystone from being approved. They would meet in Washington and march to the White House. Some of them would carry an enormous mock pipeline. Others would lay out an enormous, theatrical oil spill and pretend to die on it. Others would lock themselves to the fence surrounding the White House. They would hope, earnestly, for good weather and for the president to notice them.
In Vermont, over a thousand miles away from Langholz, Aly Johnson-Kurts was also packing. “All you need to do to become convinced that climate change is real is to come up here and see the trees,” she said. “The farmers have known. Anyone in food production has known. We have 500 trees that we tap for maple syrup every year. This was a big part of my childhood. Carrying sap. Boiling all night. We don’t even know if we’re going to tap out this year.”
Johnson-Kurts takes a breath, and then keeps going. “Fossil fuel is subsidized. The level of subsidies just for extraction, transportation, refining — and then pollution. No other industry gets to pollute for free. Imagine if we shifted those subsidies. If you’re a restaurant, you can’t put trash out and expect someone to clean it up for you.”
Johnson-Kurts is another environmental studies major, this time in environmental economics and policy, at Smith College. “A pipeline is an investment. We can’t afford these investments. As young people who elected Obama, we made the difference. As youth we elected you, and we are the people who are going to be incredibly impacted by climate change.”
Early on in the 20-hour drive between Minnesota and Washington, D.C., that Langholz was organizing, it began to snow. One of the cars in the caravan got into a car accident, though no one was hurt. In Wisconsin, two semi trucks crashed into each other, and traffic slowed to a crawl. Still, Langholz and the 46 made it to Washington, D.C., in time to go through the protest training on Saturday evening at the Thurgood Marshall Center. Johnson-Kurts made it too. “Just in terms of the numbers …” she said. “Holy Moley!” So many people had arrived that half of them were told to go away and come back later — the organizers would run a second training once the first one was over.
The training was run by the DC Action Lab, a cooperative that has made a specialty out of organizing big protests to run smoothly. XL Dissent was expecting between 300 and 500 arrests the next day, depending. The D.C. police department had agreed to fine each protester $50, instead of $100, but they also told the protesters that if they were planning on locking themselves to the White House fence, they’d better do it with plastic zip ties. Anything that had to be sawed off or broken open could scratch the White House fence, and scratching the White House fence was a felony.
The group was told to arrive the next day with as little as possible –just an ID card, and cash for bail, and a little extra cash for emergencies. Everything they had would be confiscated during booking. The more stuff people had to confiscate, the longer being arrested would take. Don’t bring your phone, they said. The police might search it. People came up on stage and role-played getting arrested in front of the crowd.
The next morning, Langholz, Johnson-Kurts, and 1,200 people gathered in Lafayette Square — a park that had once been a part of the White House grounds, but was separated in 1804 and turned into, in succession, a race track, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, a military encampment, and then, eventually, a park again. The sun was shining and the crowd was giddy.
After much discussion, the oil-spill group had decided to make their fake oil spill out of heavy black plastic instead of fabric, since someone had researched and found that the only black fabric they could afford was mostly plastic anyway. They stretched out the spill in front of the White House fence, arranged fake birds around themselves, and lay down on their spill to fake die. Langholz walked past the spill and zip-tied one wrist to the White House fence.
It was around 12:30 in the afternoon, and around her, hundreds of people that she had just met that morning, or the day before, or organizing over the internet, stepped forward and did the same. Hardly anyone was 25, let alone 30. In between the protest chants, conversations began to break out along the fence — old friends, and people meeting each other for the first time. The group chanted: “1,700 miles of pipe! 1,700 miles we’ll fight! No KXL! No KXL!”
After so much worrying over the last week about felonious fence-scratching, she was surprised to discover the fence surrounding the White House was so rusted and peeling that it was hard to imagine scratching it in a way that anyone would even notice. Every time someone moved their zip-tied wrist, flecks of paint separated from the rust and drifted downward onto the White House lawn.
Through the bars, Langholz could see the White House. It looked pretty much like it had on television, but with men carrying huge guns patrolling the lawn.
It began to rain. The police arrested the oil spill first, starting at around 2:30 p.m. They moved politely and efficiently, but it was a big oil spill, and it was clear this was going to take a while. It kept raining. The group kept chanting. “Stand up and organize! No KXL! No compromise!”
The police finished arresting the oil spill and moved on to the fence. They started at one end and worked their way down, arresting four people at a time, and as people were arrested, those who had raincoats took them off and handed them to others who were still zip-tied to the fence. The group kept chanting. “President Obama, President Obama, what you gonna do? Stop this pipeline! Stop this pipeline!”
Three hours after Langholz first zip-tied herself to the fence, the police arrested her. They were polite and efficient. “OK,” she heard one of them say. “We have another one of these on the schedule for next week.” She wondered how much of their time they spent arresting protesters.Courtesy Aly Johnson-Kurts
The police cut off the zip tie holding her to the fence, which was a relief, and then cuffed her hands behind her back with a larger, more uncomfortable zip tie, which wasn’t. They took her picture, then loaded her into a police van and drove her to a section of the lockup that had been set up just to handle the protesters. They gave her some paperwork to fill out, and then put in her a jail cell, where she sat for five minutes, before she was called out to pay her $50 fine.
And with that, Langholz walked back out the door of the Anacostia Station a free woman, with nothing on her mind but how drive 20 hours back to Minnesota in a snowstorm. She had mixed feelings about how carefully it had all been planned with the police, but she was relieved. It had gone well.
Johnson-Kurts was one of the last people to be arrested — number 307 out of 398. “The last 100,” she said, “went really smoothly.” She had been locked to the fence for six hours in the rain, but at least someone had loaned her a glove to cover the hand that she had zip tied to the fence. The crowd was still chanting. “Obama come out, we’ve got some stuff to talk about!”
The sky had darkened, and the lights inside the White House were flickering on. Word at the protest was that an inside source at the White House disclosed that the president was home, which meant that he could at least hear them. The police said he was there, too.
Langholz hoped the message had gotten across. “It’s not, ‘This is what we want,’” she explained. “It’s not just ‘Oh hi! We care about this!’ This is what we’re demanding.” She paused. “He didn’t come outside and say hello. But we knew he was there.”
Kinda hard to believe, but the Exxon Valdez oil spill was 25 years ago. “Yeah, sheesh,” says the sea otter population that has spent this entire time struggling to recover from the spill’s effects.
Back in 1989, the 10.8 million gallons of crude oil that leaked into Prince William Sound killed otters and 20 other species. Roughly 1,000 otters died from the spill right away, and lingering oil in clams (otter food) and in otters’ fur slowly killed 1,000 to 2,000 more otters later.
Thankfully, a new study indicates the number of sea otters off Alaska’s southern coast is finally back to normal – although it sure took long enough. Explains Reuters:
The report’s findings underscore the lengthy recovery times for many species affected by oil spills, U.S. Geological Survey research biologist Brenda Ballachey said in a statement.
“Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades,” said Ballachey, the study’s lead author.
Um, YEAH. You can’t just magically slurp up spilled oil with a Godzilla-sized eyedropper. But at least otters have finally bounced back. That means marine life could fully recover from the BP oil spill in … let’s see … 2035. Mark your calendar!
I’m glad to see that 12 Years a Slave won a few well-deserved Oscars Sunday night, including best picture and best adapted screenplay. Those who’ve been following me know that I used this film as one of the starting points for my blog, and as a lens for examining the intersection between environmentalism and social justice. I’ve been curious if there were others who saw in the movie the same crimes against nature I saw, along with the crimes against black people.
The film includes scenes of enslaved Africans hacking away at dense fields of sugarcane stalks, and chopping away trees in the plush forests of Louisiana, all at whip- and gunpoint, and all in efforts to expand the plantation state. This, to me, made it clear that director Steve McQueen was trying to show not only how slavery exploited and devastated African Americans, but also how it did the same to the American environment. He said as much when describing his cinematic vision: “The story is about the environment, and how individuals have to make sense of it, how we locate the self in events.”
McQueen drew his inspiration from the book on which the film was based: The memoir of Solomon Northup, an African American born free but sold into slavery. And as it turns out, there were many people during Northup’s time who were making the same observations about how slavery was wrecking the nation racially, physically, and biologically. Among them was Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century naturalist and political philosopher.
I recently stumbled upon a research paper by James Finley, editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin, titled “Justice in the Land,” published last year in the The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies. The piece explores Thoreau’s use of ecological protest to advance the anti-slavery cause.
Thoreau argued that slave labor and plantation-based agriculture was destroying the fertility and productivity of the South’s natural resources. But he also argued that the North was not spared in that equation, and provided an environmental justice lens through which to view that.
“Slavery and servility have produced no sweet-scented flower annually, to charm the senses of men, for they have no real life: they are merely a decaying and a death, offensive to all healthy nostrils,” he wrote in his essay, “Slavery in Massachusetts.” “We do not complain that they live, but that they do not get buried. Let the living bury them; even they are good for manure.”
And just so we know that he had a racial analysis about his environment — not just sweet-scented metaphors — he added that “the history of slavery and its aftermath reveals that at least some of our nation’s cherished green spaces began as black spaces,” a conclusion he arrived at after spending time in the Walden Woods of Massachusetts with Native Americans and marooned ex-slaves.
Thoreau made these observations in the 1840s-1850s, the same era when Northup was ensnared in an underground market that captured freed black men in the North and sold them down South as slaves. The practice was given legal cover by the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1850, that forced northern officials to remand slaves who escaped from Southern plantations back to their places of servitude. That law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed slavery in the new western territories, were extending the pollutive effects of slavery both northward and westward — and Thoreau understood that.
Writes Finley, Thoreau “reveals how thoroughly Northerners … are embedded in slavery’s networks, suggesting that slavery is not simply a condition specific to the South but rather an environmental threat to the entire nation. He argues that the slave system pollutes everything, including agricultural land, wilderness, labor conditions, politics, and interpersonal relationships.”
In fact, the early environmental protection movement called the Free Soil Party coalesced with abolitionists to oppose slavery’s expansion. As white Northerners, many Free Soilers didn’t necessarily oppose slavery on the grounds that it was leading to massive oppression, torture, and killing of human beings, though. Rather, they fought slavery on the grounds that its expansion was a massive injustice imposed upon … well, the grounds. The concern was that more American soil, forests, and rivers would be destroyed by the metastasizing slavery problem.
“Some of these guys were white supremacists,” Finley told me on the phone. “They didn’t want slavery to extend into the new territories because they wanted that land free for white farmers.”
Whatever their motives, many Free Soilers banded with Thoreau to recruit more Northern whites to the abolition movement. Writes Finley: “Thoreau [sought] to shift their concern to their surrounding environment, believing … that the majority of Northerners would mobilize around antislavery when they felt their landscapes and their livelihoods, not just those of distant landscapes, were threatened.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is what environmental justice activists often have to grapple with today: White environmentalists are often hesitant to join civil and human rights causes until they see what’s in it for them, usually in terms of nature conservation. “[Environmental justice] issues become a concern to [environmentalists] when they think there’s some utility for them in advancing EJ concerns,” longtime activist Vernice Miller-Travis told me recently. “Otherwise, these communities are invisible.”
“Thoreau was not interested in affirming racial hierarchies,” Finley told me, “but he’s trying to mobilize a community of white farmers who were themselves invested in white supremacism, but while also helping them feel that slavery is something that affects them and so they should mobilize against it.”
Meanwhile, there were plenty of black abolitionists who were also addressing the dual evils of racism and environmental injustice undergirding slavery. You can find it in Samuel Ringgold Ward’s Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro, Frederick Douglass’s second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, and also in the Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb.
And of course Solomon Northup did this as well, in 12 Years a Slave. His memoior, and now the movie, showed how a whole race of people were subjugated under white supremacy and how that very system polluted America from its beginnings. And this was voted the best film of the year — a bold choice by the Academy, no doubt, and hopefully a recognition of how deep the pollutive effects of slavery have ravaged this nation.
With Patrick Dempsey still in the mix as an official spokesperson, Positive Tracks explodes off the blocks in 2014 to award grants totaling $415,000. Positive Tracks Youth Challenge Grants plug into...
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South Shore Properties, a leading real estate firm based in Cohasset, MA, has recently launched their website, SouthShore-Properties.com. The new website has been created to serve as a one-stop...
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Central California’s only 5-star restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House, is hosting a 3 day cooking class with their talented Kitchen Team. This exemplary culinary experience will be held March 5th, 6th,...
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Business Hangouts™ Events introduced by Altadyn® allows live streamed events to transform seamlessly from pre-event engagement into persistent post-event content through live virtual...
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More Than 14,000 Attendees from Around the World Take Part in Legendary Veterinary Education Event
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The Logistics Solutions division of Unisource Worldwide will demonstrate how its logistics expertise can optimize supply chains and speed products to market faster at Natural Products Expo West...
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Leading mining companies, EPCs, water & regulatory experts assemble to optimize mine water management.
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