It’s been a talking point for boosters of the shale gas rush for years: as fracking spread across the country and the supply glut drove prices down, utilities have been shuttering dirty coal plants and burning natural gas instead – meaning that America’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped sharply. Fracking, the argument went, is actually good for the environment because it’s good for the climate.
After using Detroit as a toxic waste dumping ground, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers are now piling their petroleum coke from tar sands oil refineries in Chicago.
Kiley Kroh of ThinkProgress writes that petroleum coke, or petcoke, “is building up along Chicago's Calumet River and alarming residents.” The Chicago petcoke piles are owned by KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon, which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries.
Petcoke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of coking, a refining process that extracts oil from tar sands bitumen crude. The petcoke owned by Charles and David Koch is a byproduct of bitumen crude shipped to US refineries from the Alberta tar sands.
Canada's tar sands are one of 14 energy megaprojects that are “in direct conflict with a livable climate.”
According to a new report released today by Greenpeace, the fossil fuel industry has plans for 14 new coal, oil and gas projects that will dangerously increase global warming emissions at a time when massive widespread reductions are necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. In conjunction these projects make it very likely global temperature rise will increase beyond the 2 degrees Celsius threshold established by the international community to levels as high as 4 or even 6 degrees.
Two separate reports released this week offer a grim look at the state of air quality in North America. The continent already produces 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants, resulting in an array of health and environmental problems.
According to a joint report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club, the situation in America is getting worse. Their report rated the top 5 worst states for toxic power plant emissions. Some of the chemicals used to rank the states’ emission status included chromium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. These represent four of the most toxic heavy metals found in power plant emissions.
The report, titled “AMERICA’S TOP POWER PLANT TOXIC AIR POLLUTERS” listed the 5 worst states as follows:
Pennsylvania (#1 rankings for arsenic and lead)
Ohio (#2 rankings for mercury and selenium)
Indiana (#4 rankings for chromium and nickel)
Kentucky (#2 for arsenic)
Texas (#1 rankings for mercury and selenium)
This report comes as the U.S. EPA is working on new standards for power plant emissions. The agency is under a court order to establish new emission standards, but action on air pollution standards has stalled, thanks to an attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to strip the EPA of their court-granted authority to regulate air pollution.
After a year that has so far produced record-breaking snowstorms, droughts, floods, and violent hurricanes and tornadoes, environmental protections are once again being scaled back. Against the best advice of experts, the U.S. EPA has decided to delay issuing new rules for greenhouse gas emissions, the deadline for which is September 30th. This marks the second time in three months that the EPA has missed a deadline for issuing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards.
In their announcement, the EPA said that they are aware that it is their responsibility to move forward with new GHG standards, but they want to consider all of the available information before issuing a final ruling. According to an EPA spokesperson, one factor that the agency is still trying to figure out is the cost of the new measures.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is legally required to put restrictions on any air pollutant that is deemed unsafe for the American public. Thanks to a recent decision that GHGs are a threat to the public, this means they are required to put new standards in place. In addition to legally being required to regulate, the EPA is also not allowed to consider costs when making their decisions, meaning that their current “evaluation” period should not be extended to examine costs.
Shale gas cannot provide a low carbon “interim” fuel for the transition to a clean energy future, according to David Hughes, fellow at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI). Gas advocates have long advertized unconventional gas as a clean alternative to coal and other polluting fossil fuels. But the cleanliness of unconventional gas is challenged by others who claim that lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shale gas are in fact higher than coal.
One such claim, maintained by a group of scientists from Cornell University led by Dr. Robert Howarth, puts shale gas GHG emissions 20 to 100 percent higher than coal on a 20-year timeframe. Their study, published in the peer-reviewed Climactic Change Letters, has received enormous criticism from the gas industry and its supporters. Several reviews have challenged the integrity of the Cornell study, including a presentation given by scientist Timothy Skone from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). According to Skone, GHG emissions from gas are 48 percent lower on a 20-year timeframe.
In an analysis entitled “Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Shale Gas Compared to Coal,” Hughes compares the two conflicting conclusions to get to the source of the disparity. With a little number crunching, he discovers that there may be less of a disagreement than meets the eye.
Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), a panel composed mainly of government appointees from industry and former Conservative politicians, has released a new report assessing whether Canada should “lead, lag, or harmonize” climate policies with the US, and the consequences of doing so.
In recent years, the Canadian federal government has opposed unilaterally acting on climate change, instead committing to harmonize greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions with the US in a continental approach. This has been a favourite position for Canadian Environmental Ministers wishing to postpone acting on climate change for fear of locking Canada into GHG emissions reductions, and notably for Jim Prentice who quit as Environment Minister late last year:
“Our determination to harmonize our climate change policy with that of the United States also extends beyond greenhouse gas emission targets: we need to proceed even further in aligning our regulations.”
“We will only adopt a cap-and-trade regime if the United States signals that it wants to do the same. Our position on harmonization applies equally to regulation…Canada can go down either road — cap-and-trade or regulation — but we will go down neither road alone.”
In the United States and beyond, governments are praising the “clean, plentiful fuel” that is natural gas, and tout it as a viable alternative to oil and coal. According to Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica, its advocates are calling natural gas a step toward a greener energy future due to the fact, they assert, that natural gas produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal.
Josh Fox’s critically-acclaimed documentary Gasland tells quite a different story about the natural gas industry and its extraction process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As he journeys across the United States, he discovers the devastating environmental and health impacts of humans and animals in close proximity to gas wells, and realizes that the so-called “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” is causing more pain than it is worth.
After the release of Fox’s documentary, an oil and gas lobby group calling itself “Energy In-Depth” launched a public relations offensive against the film (apparently they didn’t like the footage of people lighting their tap water on fire). As it turns out, the website of the lobby group was registered to a Washington, DC public relations firm called FD Americas Public Affairs (formerly FD Dittus Communications) whose clients included oil and gas lobby groups including the American Energy Alliance, run by former Republican staffers Eric Creighton, Kevin Kennedy and Laura Henderson.
Today, when Fox’s documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature, a major energy trade association weighed in on Gasland’s nomination. The industry group, the America’s Natural Gas Alliance argues on its website that “for our nation’s economy” we must make greater use of the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas” for the sake of the environment and economy.