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.

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.

Will California’s carbon market spur cleantech growth?

(This article by Felicity Carus first appeared on Clean Energy Connection and has been edited for length. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Before California regulators announced they unanimously approved regulations for a cap and trade market on Thursday, the chair of the California Air Resources Board made much ado about the impact it would have on the development of clean technology in the state.

Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in her opening remarks : “Cap and trade sends a policy signal to the market and guarantees that California will continue to attract the lion’s share of investment in clean technology.”

Seeking answers on oil sands crude corrosion

Environmental groups and the oil industry are battling on a new front in the long-running public relations war over Canada’s oil sands. This one concerns claims that crude wrung from the massive deposits is more corrosive to pipelines and hence presents a bigger risk of oil spills.

Green groups say the crude eats away at the inside of pipelines much more quickly than is the case with conventional oil and the industry says it doesn’t.

We took a look at the issue recently, and found a surprising lack of research dedicated specifically to the risks associated with shipping growing volumes of the tar-sands-derived oil on longer pipelines as the United States seeks to cut dependence on other imported crude.

The power of a soccer ball

Anyone who watched the women’s World Cup final might have wondered if it’s possible to harness that pure human energy. Turns out, it is. There’s enough power in a soccer ball to light the night — or at least a part of it.

It’s done via sOccket, a soccer ball that kids kick around all day, where its movement generates energy. When the sun sets, plug an LED lamp into the ball and it turns into a light for reading or other purposes. Play with the sOccket for 15 minutes and use the light for up to three hours. Sustainable, non-polluting, safe.

SOccket was created to solve a pervasive problem — the lack of reliable electricity — with a pervasive game. More than one-fifth of the world’s population, about 1.4 billion people, lack electric power, but kids almost everywhere play soccer.

Stern, in center of climate pessimism, hopeful about U.S.

Nicholas Stern, the British economist who warned five years ago that global warming could cost the world’s GDP as much as 20 percent a year by 2050, hasn’t given up on the United States  taking action on climate even though he’s down on Washington for not passing a bill that would do just that.

“If you look around the world, of all places to sit and wonder where (climate policy is) going, this is probably the most pessimistic place — this city,” he told a small gathering of reporters at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. late this week.

But all one has to do is travel out of the U.S. capital to see enormous potential for taking action, he said. Stern is optimistic about U.S. companies in Silicon Valley and Boston and other places developing low-carbon technologies such as batteries for electric cars, or new biofuels that aren’t made out of food crops.

Harry Potter, horcruxes and Steven Chu

Anyone familiar with Harry Potter knows as least two things: 1) this is the U.S. opening weekend for the final movie in the blockbuster series about the boy wizard and 2) ultimate villain Voldemort uses horcruxes to hold bits of his soul and extend his life.

Leave it to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to riff on horcruxes to explain energy storage.

“While I confess I haven’t yet seen all of the Harry Potter movies including the “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” a staff member (who might be a bigger nerd than I am) was telling me about Lord Voldemort’s “horcruxes” — objects he used to store his life energy.  Without them, he lost his power and couldn’t survive,” Chu said on his Facebook page.

Is this the greenest office on Earth?

Every workstation has a view. Much of the lighting comes from reflected sunshine. It’s so naturally quiet that unobtrusive speakers pipe in “white noise” to preserve a level of privacy. The windows open, and they’re shaded in such a way that there’s no glare. Even with the windows closed, fresh air circulates through vents in the floor. Extreme recycling prevails, not just of bottles, cans and kitchen refuse but beetle-blighted wood.

Welcome to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which contains some of the greenest office space on the planet.

NREL’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado, is also the home to cutting-edge research on biofuels, photo-voltaics for solar power and other renewable energy technology, but the physical plant is a living lab for green building. At $63 million, or $259 per square foot for its construction cost, including interiors and furniture, the Research Support Facility as it is called, was hardly cheap to build. But with 220,000 square feet of space, it is the biggest energy efficient building in the United States.

John Kerry has had it up to HERE with “The Flat Earth Caucus”

ISRAEL/You remember John Kerry, right? Tall, silver-haired, urbane enough to be accused of being French. But there’s a feisty side to the senior senator from Massachusetts, and it was on display at a forum on energy and economic growth, where Kerry teed off on congressional Republicans and others who doubt the seriousness of the challenge of climate change.

“After a while you get exasperated and jaded and frustrated about it all,” Kerry told The New Republic forum at the National Press Club. “I’ve had it just about up to here with America’s indifference to the realities of this crisis … the United States is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand.”

How do you feel about the U.S. political establishment, Senator Kerry? “I don’t know what’s happened to us in the body politic of this country where facts and science seem to be so easily shunted aside and disposed of in favor of simple sloganeering, pure ideology and little bromides of politics that are offered up, that offer no solution to anything but might get you through an election.”

from The Great Debate UK:

The safest form of power: Everything in moderation

By Morven McCulloch

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.

The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?

Environment and climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt told Reuters in a video interview that although the situation at the Fukushima plant is an “extremely serious event,” there are risks to consider with every type of power.

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