methane

US Could Slash Global Warming Emissions By Curbing Fossil Fuels Extraction On Public Lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior this week announced new fracking regulations that will serve as the only federal rules enforcing any kind of safety measures on the controversial drilling technique when they go into effect in a few months.

The rules only apply to oil and gas wells on public lands, however, and most fracking is done on private or state-owned land. The Obama Administration says it is hoping to set an example for states to follow when setting their own fracking standards, but if that’s the case, the federal government actually has plenty of opportunity to lead by example when it comes to reining in carbon emissions from fossil fuel development.

According to a new report by the Center for American Progress and The Wilderness Society, there is “a blind spot in U.S. efforts to address climate change.” Fossil fuel extraction on public lands, the source of almost 30% of U.S. energy production, is responsible for more than a fifth of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon equivalent of having 280 million more cars on the road. But the DOI “has no comprehensive plan to measure, monitor, and reduce the total volume of GHG emissions that result from the leasing and development of federal energy resources.”

“The Department of the Interior has long been in the business of approving well after well, mine after mine, without assessing the impacts of its energy policies on U.S. carbon pollution levels,” Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow and director of the public lands project at the Center for American Progress, told FuelFix.

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

The area was known as a picturesque sportsman's paradise for its waterways teeming with fish and alligators, but is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012 after a salt dome cavern owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.


Swamp maple blossoms near the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

New Report Spotlights Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Sites in California

A new report from Earthworks shines a light on air pollution, including methane leaks, from oil and gas wells in California, the nation's third largest oil producing state in 2013 – highlighting the ways that potentially toxic gases from the sites raise red flags for the health of those living nearby.

Published Thursday, the report is the first analysis of California's oil and gas air pollution based on infrared video footage combined with air sample testing and revealed toxic gases in the air surrounding oil and gas wells in Kern County and Ventura County. Many of the sites tested were at existing oil and gas wells, including one sample drawn while a well was abandoned. People living near the sites were also surveyed.

“Air sampling revealed the presence of 15 compounds known to have negative effects on human health, as well as 11 compounds for which no health data is available,” the researchers reported.

DeSmogBlog’s Top 10 Stories of 2014

It was a year of highs and lows as far as climate change and energy issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lows got a lot of the attention, which is why the top 10 posts on DeSmog this year are mostly of the outrageous, infuriating or depressing variety.

We’ve already collected the top clean energy revolution stories of the year, so if this post gets too heavy for you, you can always pop over there and have some of your hope for the future restored.

But for those of you who can't look away, here are the top ten stories we posted on DeSmog this year, as measured by the amount of traffic each received:

Climate Legacy: Report Offers Stark Reminder Why Fossil Fuel Industry Is So Intent To Avoid Accountability For Pollution

If the governments of the world get serious about tackling climate change and adopt aggressive limits on global warming emissions, many fossil fuel companies’ could see their assets become stranded, forcing them to fundamentally change their business models or go out of business altogether.

But there’s another reason why those companies are so desperate to forestall any and all attempts to rein in climate emissions by holding polluters accountable: fossil fuels companies themselves are responsible for a massive amount of the greenhouse gases cooking our climate.

The Climate Accountability Institute has updated its Carbon Majors Project in time for the climate talks in Lima, Peru, “detailing the direct and product-related emissions traced to the major industrial carbon producers in the oil, natural gas, coal, and cement industries” through 2013. CAI has found that the carbon-based fossil fuels and cement produced by just 90 entities were responsible for 65% of the 1,443 billion metric tonnes of CO2 emitted between 1751, the dawn of the industrial era, and 2013.

Some 50 investor-owned companies are among the 90 entities on the Carbon Majors list, and they are collectively responsible for nearly 22% of all global warming emissions up to 2013, while the 36 state-owned companies on the list are responsible for another 20%.

New York Activists Turn to Civil Disobedience As Last Resort to Fight Regulatory Capture

Award-winning author and anti-fracking activist Dr. Sandra Steingraber is going to spend Thanksgiving in jail. And it won’t be her first stay there. She spent last Earth Day there as well. She is returning to jail in upstate New York after her arrest for being part of a human blockade at the gates of the Crestwood Midstream gas storage facility on the shores of Seneca Lake in New York.

And despite the upcoming holiday about giving thanks, Steingraber has a message for anyone who wants to thank her for her efforts to protect the waters of Seneca Lake, a source of drinking water for 100,000 people - “Don’t thank me, join me.”

Over the last four weeks, she has found plenty of people to join her. Activists working under the name We Are Seneca Lake have repeatedly blocked the gates of the Crestwood facility. Initially sentenced to jail along with Steingraber this week were fellow blockade members U.S.A.F. veteran Colleen Boland (retired) and 86 year old Roland Micklem.

Over the four weeks of the We Are Seneca Lake protests, there have been 52 arrests. The protests began after a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow the abandoned salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake to be used for gas storage.  As there currently is little recourse left for anyone opposing a FERC decision, We Are Seneca Lake has resorted to civil disobedience.

Steingraber explained at a press conference this week:

Introducing "Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat"

DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Republic Report's Lee Fang have co-written an in-depth report on the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.

Titled “Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat,” the report published here on DeSmogBlog and on Republic Report serves as the launching pad of an ongoing investigation. It will act as the prelude of an extensive series of articles by both websites uncovering the LNG exports influence peddling machine. 

The report not only exposes the lobbying apparatus that has successfully opened the door for LNG exports, but also the PR professionals paid to sell them to the U.S. public. It also exposes those who have gone through the “reverse revolving door,” moving from industry back to government and sometimes back again.

It reveals that many former Obama Administration officials now work as lobbyists or PR professionals on behalf of the LNG exports industry, as do many former Bush Administration officials. So too do those with ties to potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. 

They include:

Gas Industry Repeats Attack On Scientists Who Found Triple Methane Levels At Gas Fields

In August 2012, two Australian research scientists attached a highly sensitive spectrometer to a vehicle with a GPS tracker and took a 700 kilometre drive around gas fields in Queensland.

Starting at 3.30am in the morning, Dr Isaac Santos and Dr Damien Maher, of Southern Cross University, wanted to measure the levels of methane and carbon dioxide in the air around coal seam gas fields operated by BG Group, formerly known as British Gas.

Twelve hours of driving took them past fields with about 300 wells that tap coal seams to release gas, often with the help of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology.

They also drove past other areas where you might expect levels of methane to be high such as wetlands, fields of cows and sewage treatment plants.

The researchers found methane levels at the gas fields were triple the background levels.

The chemical fingerprints of the methane they detected near the gasfields — known as isotopic signatures — matched those from the gas produced from the wells.

When the Shale Runs Dry: A Look at the Future of Fracking

If you want to see the future of the shale industry — what today's drilling rush will leave behind — come to Bradford, Pennsylvania.

A small city, it was home to one of America's first energy booms, producing over three quarters of the world's oil in 1877. A wooden oil rig towering over a local museum commemorates those heady days, marking the first “billion dollar oil field” in the world.

But times have changed dramatically in Bradford. Most of the oil has been pumped out, leaving residents atop an aging oil field that requires complicated upkeep and mounting costs. Since its height in the 1940's, Bradford's population has steadily declined, leaving the city now home to only 8,600 people, down from over 17,000. 

The story of Bradford these days is a story of thousands of oil and gas wells: abandoned, uncapped, and often leaking.

To drive through McKean County, home to Bradford and much of the Allegheny National Forest, is to witness an array of creative ways people have found to hide the remnants of this bygone boom. Rusted metal pipes — the old steel casings from long abandoned wells — jut from lawns and roadsides. Mailboxes are strapped to some of the taller pipes. In autumn, abandoned wells are tucked behind Halloween props and hay bales in front yards.

The aging steel pipes aren't just on land. They line creek beds, water flowing around one rusted pipe then another.

Hundreds are even submerged in the Allegheny Reservoir, small bubbles of methane gas the only visible sign of their existence. But in many cases, these rusted top hats from now deceased wells simply protrude from locals' lawns.

They are visual reminders that, for local communities where mining or drilling happens, fossil fuel wealth burns hot and short. Where there's a boom, there's bound to be a bust.

B.C. LNG Strategy Won’t Help Solve Global Climate Change: New Pembina Institute Report

Christy Clark at LNG Canada announcement

The B.C. government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate in the absence of stronger global climate policies according to a new report released today by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put in place in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas, says the report, LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context authored by Matt Horne and Josha MacNab.

Natural gas is often described as a bridge fuel. The question is, how long should that bridge be?” says MacNab, B.C. regional director for the Pembina Institute, a national non-profit focused on transitioning Canada to a clean energy future.

Our research suggests it must be very short if we’re going to be able to get off the bridge in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

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