Environment Forum

from Hallie Seegal:

A local obstruction in the fracking pipeline


There are high hopes that the natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will boost the economy and bring the United States closer to energy independence, but if the energy industry expects to break new ground and fulfill a growing demand anytime soon, they need to make friends with the people who reside near the drilling rigs.

Two new reports out last week point to the potential of how fracking, the process whereby a highly-pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals is blasted through underground shale rock formations to release natural gas, could positively benefit our economy. One study projects that natural gas will account for nearly one-third of total U.S. energy produced by 2040, and the other one, a government commissioned report which the Obama administration is expected to partially base its shale gas policy on, shows natural gas exports providing revenue to the struggling economy under every condition considered.

Fracking well

A natural gas well is drilled near Canton, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania January 8, 2012. REUTERS/Les Stone

The Obama administration has largely left regulation of private land up to the states, and for many landowners, the impacts of hydraulic fracturing don’t just hit close to home… they drill right into their backyards. Last month, voters in Longmont, Colo. became the latest in the country to ban fracking within town limits. The ballot initiative was passed via a bipartisan vote and the town will likely follow in the footsteps a handful of other municipalities, including the upstate New York towns of Dryden, Middlefield and Avon, that already passed bans or moratoriums and are in the midst of legal challenges to uphold them. While local ordinances may not typically make national news, the precedent set by these local governments cannot be overstated. At the most micro level, local residents came together and threw a wedge into the plans of private industry -- industry that by the way, already have allocated millions of dollars to harvest these towns’ natural resources.

In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that shale gas development would not only create 50,000 new jobs in the state, but may also raise New York wages by nearly $2.5 billion. So why then, is there resistance to industry moving into the neighborhood? It seems that aside from landscape degradation -- think oil rigs and waste pits in the midst of green pastures – local residents aren’t sure this bright, green economic future prioritizes their health and safety.

Goodbye, Green Business

Starting Dec. 1, 2011, Reuters.com is changing the way it publishes news about companies that make money supporting the environment or damaging it. We are saying goodbye to the Green Business section.

Reuters will continue to bring you the clean economy news you need to know. Our top-notch team of correspondents around the world will continue to cover issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, the solar trade war with China and the Durban U.N. Conference on Climate Change. The biggest stories, as always, will appear on our homepage, like those about plummeting carbon prices. But we will not be packaging green business stories on their own real estate any longer, and we will not be showcasing news by our esteemed editorial partners including Matter Network, InsideClimate News and GreenBiz.com.

Stories about energy will be published here, and those about environmental policy and climate change can be found here. And Reuters online editor Carla Tonelli can still be found on twitter (@carla_tonelli).

Idea dearth at big money sustainability summit

Tom Rand, P.Eng., Ph.D., is Cleantech Lead Advisor at MaRS Disovery District and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit. Any views expressed are his own.

Curious about new financial innovations to accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy, I attended the recent United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) summit in Washington, D.C. This was a gathering of big money and those who shape its flows – pension funds, insurance companies, policy wonks and political negotiators.

Not surprisingly, I found nothing mind-blowing.

Our intentions are good, but we move – as always – incrementally. Catastrophic climate change still doesn’t fit our spreadsheets. Pension funds still rely on voluntary principles of risk avoidance.

from Felix Salmon:

The enormous promise of vehicle-to-grid technology

Dan Ferber's 3,500-word article on Vehicle-to-Grid is far too long for you to read, especially when Greece is busy imploding, but it's a very important idea. So let me give you the shorter version, starting with four facts about the energy industry.

    The 146 million cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks in America, between them, produce seven times the power of all US power plants combined. The supply of energy is volatile, and will get more so as we move to renewables like wind and solar. Those sources only produce energy some of the time. The demand for energy is also volatile, going up during the day and when it's hot outside. Storing energy, by doing things like pumping water uphills into reservoirs, is expensive and cumbersome. And those energy sources can't provide the small bumps in power needed to ensure that AC electricity is running at 60 hertz at all times.

All of which opens up an amazing opportunity for owners of electric vehicles -- be they electric, hybrid, or fuel cell. Those vehicle owners can basically become baby energy traders, fueling up their cars at night, when electricity is cheap, or at the pump. And then plugging their cars into the grid, where they can sell energy back to the grid for much more than they paid for it.

Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware has already set up his electric Scion to do just that; it's been earning him $300 a month since 2009.

A clear and fair incentive to pollute less

Connie Hedegaard is EU Commissioner for Climate Action. Any opinions expressed are her own.

This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rather unusual bill directly addressed to Europe.

Through the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act H.R. 2594, America’s legislators want to tell American airlines not to respect an EU law.

Finalists named for “Nobel of Sustainability”



If the Nobel society had an award for sustainability, it would resemble the Katerva awards, a new international prize for the most promising ideas and efforts to advance the planet toward sustainability.

Minus the money.

Katerva, the new UK-based charity, today announced winners for 10 individual categories, who are now shortlisted for a single grand prize to be awarded in New York on Dec. 7.

Awards are for “game-changers and industry breakers; ideas that leap efficiency, lifestyle, consumption and action bounds ahead of current thinking,” their website says.

Federal purse reopens for solar science


The U.S. Department of Energy announced this week $60 million in funding for scientists to develop “revolutionary research” to lower the cost of solar power systems.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is baiting researchers to increase efficiency of commercial solar power (CSP) systems and lower costs to six cents per kilowatt hour by the end of the decade. 

The initiative is being called a “sign of the times for the sector“, and comes amidst accusations the government is squandering taxpayer money on businesses doomed to fail, best exemplified by recently bankrupt solar heavyweight Solyndra.

Brad Pitt, Matt Damon give krill a star turn

There are no small parts, only small actors, or so the old show-biz saying goes. Now there are big stars — Matt Damon and Brad Pitt — playing two of the smallest parts ever. In a far cry from “Ocean’s Eleven” (and 12 and 13) they’re lending their voices to a pair of krill, small shrimp-like creatures that form the base of the Antarctic food web.

Pitt and Damon play Will and Bill, the krill, in “Happy Feet Two,” the sequel to the 2006 dancing-penguins animated feature. Both films have conservation themes. The latest movie  opens  in mid-November.

These Hollywood names might help shine a spotlight on krill at a time when the species is under pressure, according to the Pew Environment Group. An international meeting under way now in Hobart, Tasmania, is expected to consider more protection for these tiny animals, which penguins, seals and whales depend on to survive.

D.C. dawdles, California leads on climate

Becky Kelley directs the Climate and Clean Energy Agenda at the Washington Environmental Council. Any opinions expressed are her own.

We could smell the sweet winds of change all the way up in Washington State last week, when California adopted final rules to implement a cap and trade program to reduce climate pollution across its economy, beginning in 2013.

California got it right. Cap and trade is a policy at the scale of the problem: big, complex policy to deal with a big, complex problem.

Coke’s new look: polar-bear white

Coca-Cola has one of the most recognizable brands on the planet: the red can with the white letters. World Wildlife Fund has an equally eye-catching logo: a black-and-white panda. This week, the two are joining forces to change the Coke can’s look from red to white. It’s meant to raise awareness and money to find a safe haven for polar bears, listed as a threatened species because their icy Arctic habitat is melting under their paws due to climate change.

In a project called Arctic Home, Coke plans to turn 1.4 billion of its soft-drink cans white for the first time in its history, replacing the familiar red with an image of a mother polar bear and two cubs making their way across the Arctic. There will also be white bottle caps on other drinks the company sells. The new look is to show up on store shelves from November 1 through February 2012.

The whole point is to raise money to protect a far-north area where summer sea ice will probably persist the longest, WWF and Coke said in a statement. The Arctic Home plan is to work with local residents to manage as much as 500,000 square miles of territory to provide a home for polar bears.