You are browsing the archive for global warming.

International Coal Summit’s Glorious Pipe Dream of Carbon Capture and Storage

5:59 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

The mythical distraction of “clean coal” is still unrealized

A new study released today at the UN climate conference underway in Warsaw, Poland finds that new coal plants cannot be built if we are to keep global warming below the 2° Celsius threshold.

That is, unless the coal industry can deploy commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The report, titled: New unabated coal is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2°C, finds that of all the fossil fuels, coal is the easiest to substitute with renewable technologies and that:

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s [International Energy Agency] 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth.”

In other words, CCS better work and work fast.

Down the road from the UN conference, the Polish government (of all people) is hosting the “International Coal and Climate Summit” which heavily features CCS experts and discussion panels.

There will likely be little talk at the coal summit of just how ridiculous the idea of commercially deployed CCS is becoming.

CCS technology has been a “future” solution for many years now, with governments abandoning experimental projects due to cost overruns and lack of progress. Governments like the United States, at the behest of the coal lobby, have pumped billions into CCS technology experiments, yet it continues to fail as a commercially viable option.

A recent study by the Global CCS Institute found that the number of large scale CCS projects has dropped to 65 from 75 over the last year. If this was the grand solution to the urgent issue of climate change, you would think we would be seeing more projects coming on line, not fewer.

Even if we saw a breakthrough in CCS, huge issues remain. The first hurdle is finance.

As renewable energy technology prices continue to drop and reach parity with fossil fuels like coal (something we are already seeing), CCS begins to make less and less sense from a financial point of view. Coal prices will inevitably go up to cover the costs of CCS development making it uncompetitive with renewable energy.

A second big hurdle is regulation of carbon storage. CCS can only work as a solution to climate change if the captured carbon stays safely in the ground forever. So who is in charge of ensuring that all that carbon stays underground? Coal companies? If a coal company takes on that responsibility, what happens when that company goes under? Who then is responsible? Taxpayers?

What if there’s an earthquake near a carbon storage facility? A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes that,

“even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making “large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the United States, the coal industry argues that the government (read: taxpayers) should take on the responsibility and the liability for stored carbon – a convenient stance for the coal industry.

Finally there are the logistics of capturing carbon and moving it either by pipeline, train or truck to a designated storage facility.

2008 article on CCS by author Jeff Goodell describes the challenge of transporting carbon best:

“Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, Canada, argued recently in Nature that ‘carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge [of global warming].’ Smil pointed out that to sequester just 25% of the CO2 emitted by stationary sources (mostly coal plants), we would have to create a system whose annual volume of fluid would be slightly more than twice that of the world’s crude-oil industry.”

Smil’s own words, to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions:

“… we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build.”

Any practical thinker should by now be asking themselves: Wouldn’t it just be easier to put up a bunch of solar panels and wind turbines? 

Unfortunately, the mythical distraction of ‘clean coal’ and still unrealized CCS commercialization remain a shiny penny for the technocentric crowd.

Company Behind XL Pipeline Environmental Assessment Member of Major Oil Lobby Group

4:24 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

It has been discovered today that the company charged with writing the official Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is a member of the American Petroleum  Institute - the largest lobbying group for the US oil and gas industry.

The company hired by the State Department and at the center of this latest controversy, the Environmental Resources Management Group, has already come under fire for what many critics call an overly favorable report of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In the report, ERM stated that the pipeline project, “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change.

On the heels of today’s evidence of ERM’s close ties to the American Petroleum Institute, six major environmental groups are calling for a new environmental assessment to be done by State on the Keystone Pipeline project.

To date, the American Petroluem Institute has spent over $22 million lobbying in favor of the construction of the Keystone Pipeline project.

Is Obama’s Faith in Carbon Capture a Technicolor Dream?

11:18 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

President Obama’s climate action announcement yesterday relies heavily on carbon capture and storage technology eventually paying off as a commercially viable option. But carbon capture and storage (or CCS) continues to be more of a dream than reality. And a very expensive dream at that.

According to a database maintained at MIT’s Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies program, there are currently six large scale CCS projects underway in the United States. Five of the six projects are still in the planning phase, with one project listed as under construction. The current projected price tag of these six projects is a whopping $16.7 billion.

That’s a lot to gamble on a risky technology that continues to struggle to prove it’s even possible to deploy on a global scale. And $16.7 billion is only the opening bet. A full scale deployment of CCS technology across the entire US would likely be in the hundreds of billions. Estimates run as high as $1.5 trillion a year to deploy and operate enough carbon capture and storage worldwide to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the fossil fuels we consume.

President Obama announced his administration would make $8 billion available in loan guarantees for the development of enhanced fossil energy projects, which includes CCS technology.

In a follow-up announcement today, the Interior department and the US Geological Survey released “the first-ever detailed national geologic carbon sequestration assessment.”

While the Interior’s asessment shows there is major potential to store carbon underground, mainly in the Gulf of Mexico region, the assessment does not look at the economics of CCS or the land management issues. Speaking at a press conference about the assessment, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “if enough of this capacity also proves to be environmentally and economically viable, then geologic carbon sequestration could help us reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Price remains a huge issue for many fossil fuel companies looking at developing CCS technology. In fact, the current list of canceled projects in the MIT database is at eight in total for the US, two more than those listed as at least in the planning phase.

Many of the failed projects cite financial difficulties as the reason for cancelation. For instance, BP states that the expected cost of their now-defunct CCS project in Carson, California was, “…around $2 billion, twice the initial estimate.”

Price aside, there remain two big unadressed issues when it comes to the idea of capturing and storing CO2 underground:

1. The Pipes

Right now, the most promising form of CCS involves burying carbon way down deep in the earth in natural saline aquifers. There remain many complications with saline aquifer injection, and I will leave many of those for another day. The biggest and most practical challenge of burying carbon in deep saline aquifers is that these aquifers do not span the entire US continent. Where much of the carbon will be extracted at coal plants, there is not a nearby saline aquifer to pump that captured carbon into. The carbon will have to be transported, which is no small task.

A 2008 article on CCS by author Jeff Goodell describes the challenge of transporting carbon best:

“Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, Canada, argued recently in Nature that ‘carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge [of global warming].’ Smil pointed out that to sequester just 25% of the CO2 emitted by stationary sources (mostly coal plants), we would have to create a system whose annual volume of fluid would be slightly more than twice that of the world’s crude-oil industry.”

In Smil’s own words,to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions:

“… we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build.”

That is an almost unimaginable amount of pipeline that would need to be constructed and the cost would be massive if it could even be done. To put this in perspective, consider that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline alone is estimated to cost about $6 billion to construct.

2. Who is Responsible for all that Buried Carbon?

If carbon capture and storage is to work, the carbon needs to remain buried forever. Not one hundred years or five hundred years. Forever.

Will BP still be around in 100 years to deal with the carbon they buried? Even if the company is still around, are you going to trust that BP can keep carbon buried forever? Remember their big “junk shot” plan to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster by shooting golf balls and shredded tires into the ruptured pipe? Enough said.

The solution to date, favored by fossil fuel companies not surprisingly, is that the US government would be responsible for the long term storage of the underground carbon. In a way, this makes the best sense, given that governments are typically longer lasting than corporations.

However, this transfers the liability and maintenance of carbon storage onto the backs of taxpayers, an inviting load for fossil fuel companies to shrug off their shoulders onto ours.

Beyond the long term climate effects of this buried carbon being re-released back into our atmosphere at some point in the future, the short term impacts of such an event could prove deadly.

In 1986, a large natural pocket of carbon was suddenly released during volcanic activity at Lake Nyos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The concentration of carbon was enough to asphyxiate 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns.

A 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes that even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making “large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Some state governments have begun to look at the issue of the long-term liability of stored carbon, but to date the US government has not developed legislation to deal with this very large, and potentially deadly, question mark hovering over CCS technology.

Carbon capture and storage is in many ways President Obama’s moonshot, but with one big difference. If America had not been the first to land on the moon, it would have been disappointing. But if the president’s carbon capture and storage plans fail, the impacts could be devastating to the only planet we have. Read the rest of this entry →

United Airline’s Top Customers Call Company Out Over Pollution

11:02 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Some of United Airline’s most valuable and loyal customers are calling out the company today over its prolonged fight to stop new regulations aimed at reducing global climate pollution emissions from the airline industry.

And these aren’t your everyday frequent fliers we’re talking about, twenty are members of United’s Global Services flyer program – a privilege bestowed by invite to only the most elite of the elite frequent flyers.

Billionaire investor and United Global Services member, Tom Steyer, clean technology expert and six-million miler, Michael Walsh, and million + miler Frank Loy, joined together on a press call today with the Flying Clean Alliance, a coalition of organizations. They are voicing their concerns about United Airlines leading the U.S. aviation industry in opposing multiple efforts to curb climate change pollution, at home and abroad, in contradiction to its stated commitment to being environmentally responsible.

“United is hyping up its recent efforts to reduce emissions on one hand, while on the other, fighting commonsense policies that would curb emissions on a much greater industry-wide scale. That doesn’t fly,” said Walsh.

The Flying Clean Alliance has gathered more than 500 Premier status flyers on an open letter to United’s CEO Jeff Smisek, along with another 85,000 + signatures from concerned citizens, many also longtime United flyers. One petition signer commented that,

“I fly all the time, and knowing that United Airlines is putting out the message that they are “green” while fighting against any policy that will really reduce pollution means I will NEVER fly United again. Additionally I will tell everyone I know for as long as.”

Not good for business I would say, considering that airlines are more competitive than ever before, with hairline profit margins and more consumer choice. Ironically, United Airlines took a major loss a year ago to the tune of more than $90 million in revenue due to delayed and cancelled flights after Hurricane Sandy devastated the U.S. east coast. Scientists attribute stronger and more powerful hurricanes as one of the results of climate change.

And the worst is yet to come for airlines and travlers. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature, concluded that the atmospheric disruption caused by climate change will lead to more turbulence and higher costs for flights spanning the Atlantic Ocean.

The airline industry is a huge producer of climate pollution. So huge, that if aviation was a country it would be the 7th largest emitter of climate change pollution in the world. Meanwhile, more and more people around the world are flying, and if left unchecked airplane pollution will double by 2020 and quadruple by 2050.

As consumers we can of course choose to fly less, but that only gets us so far in a world of increased overall air travel worldwide. Grander solutions to reduce fuel consumption and offset carbon pollution from airplanes exist, and as customers with a choice, we can make an even greater impact by speaking out when companies are willingly choosing to ignore (or even worse, fight against), these solutions.

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

New Aussie Commission Report Sees Threat from an ‘Energetic Climate’

5:52 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Record heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, rainfall, coastal erosion can all be expected in Australia in the near-term, reports the country’s Climate Commission. According to this esteemed group of climate scientists, the increased extreme weather events are courtesy of man-made climate change.

I must admit what really stood out to me after reading the Climate Commission’s most comprehensive evaluation of climate change’s effects on Australia was the report’s use of the seemingly non-descript term energetic climate.

It’s not that the facts aren’t important. People need to know the number of record heat days has doubled since 1960; heavy rainfall is increasing globally, which led to Queensland experiencing record-breaking floods in 2010 and 2011; between 1997 and 2011 dam levels for Sydney and Melbourne dropped 40% causing serious water restrictions; between 1973 and 2010 the Forest Fire Danger Index increased significantly at 16 of Australia’s 38 weather stations with none reporting a decrease, a strong indicator of increased bushfires country-wide. Even more, all of these extreme weather events have cost the country billions of dollars.

Yes, the data presents a bleak picture, especially when the Commission states:

“There is a high risk that extreme weather events like heat waves, heavy rainfall, bushfires and cyclones will become even more intense in Australia over the coming decades.”

With concerted, strong action, we can gradually slow the effects of climate change that are growing in intensity, the group says. Yet, this is not a new story. For years, scientists across the world have come to the same conclusions. The only thing that seems to have changed is the urgency of their tone: we must act, now. This is what made the term energetic climate jump out for me.

It reframes climate change into a more accessible form for the public. It informs us that climate change is not just “global warming,” but actually encompasses much more. It is the over-arching way in which we describe the earth’s climate becoming exponentially more dynamic and active.

This activity shows up in many forms of extreme weather events not just warmer ones, but more pervasively: floods, hurricanes, cyclones, heavy rainfall, drought, cold snaps, and rising sea levels. The term climate change does not hold the same power. In order for climate action to take place, people must feel its effects in their own community and be able to see their relationship to similar events in different places. Then it becomes the shared story for everyone. Uncovering the facts is only part of the story; communicating and connecting them is the other. The facts have been laid out, study after study. Nevertheless, we still choose just to dip our toes into solving the problem.

And, in some cases, we move away from taking any action. Canada, my homeland, provides a remarkable example of climate ambivalence. After serving as a global example for environmental action, over the last decade, the Great White North has pulled a complete policy reversal.

The country has slowly morphed into a petro-state, eroding its environmental principles, including international agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along the way. Last week, Canada became the first nation to pull out of a United Nations convention to fight droughts across the world.

This comes just a year and half after the country walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, the most comprehensive global climate agreement to date. Every UN nation — 194 countries and the European Union — is currently part to this agreement. Canada is setting a shocking precedent of climate ambivalence at a time when strong leadership is what is needed the most.

All of us live in a world governed by a climate whose energy is becoming more dynamic and expressive by the year; if we really “got” that, I wonder if we’d stand for inaction or regressive actions such as Canada’s withdrawal from the UN drought convention?

The climate is becoming more energetic, while Canada looks to be taking some pretty strong sleeping pills.

Another Hit to Canada’s Tar Sands, Major Research Study Dropped

7:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Tar Sands in Canada

Tar Sands protesters in Canada. Support for the pipeline and extraction of Tar Sands is dwindling in that country.

The Helmholtz Association of Research Centres, a major German scientific body with more than 30,000 researchers and US$4.4 billion in annual funding, has dropped out of a joint Alberta tar sands project over fears that the project was damaging the institution’s reputation.

In April 2011, the Province of Alberta invested $25 million to form the “Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative” that would study ways to deal with leakage from the toxic tailings ponds that are a by-product of tar sands mining operations. The HAI was also tasked with finding ways to upgrade the energy extracted from bitumen and lignite coal in order to reduce energy consumption, and a few other “sustainable solutions” to Canada’s ongoing environmental and energy challenges.

Speaking on behalf of the Helmholtz Association, Professor Frank Messner, told EU media that: 

“It was seen as a risk for our reputation.  As an environmental research centre we have an independent role as an honest broker and doing research in this constellation could have had reputational problems for us, especially after Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.”

The Helmholtz Association has come under fire recently for their work on Alberta’s tar sands operations, most notably in 2012 when Germany’s Green Party (a very powerful political player) filed a query to the German government, asking why German taxpayers’ money was going into a project that contradicts Germany’s official climate policy agenda.

The response at the time from government was very evasive and concluded that the project had only just started and that it was too early to say anything more substantial.

This recent news is the latest in a string of stories about the Alberta tar sands and climate policy damaging Canada’s reputation abroad.

Earlier this year, former BC Premier Gordon Campbell, and current High Commissioner to the UK, stated in a meeting that Canada’s tar sands are  “a totemic issue, hitting directly on Brand Canada.”

Republished with permission from DeSmog Canada

Read the rest of this entry →

More Controversy Uncovered Today on Keystone Pipeline Environmental Assessment Firm

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

The climate change site, DeSmogBlog has found that Environmental Resources Management, the consulting firm behind the Keystone XL Pipeline environmental impact assessment, has been at the center of controversial pipeline projects in the past.

Activists working against the 2002 planned construction of British Petroleum’s Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey, singled out Environmental Resources Management (ERM) for what they saw as ERM “grooming” the BP pipeline for construction. Like the Keystone XL pipeline assessment, ERM’s assessment of the Turkish pipeline was seen as flawed and drafted in a way that gave all but the green light for the pipeline to be constructed.

Environmental and human rights group London Rising Tide went as far as occupying ERM’s offices in London, handing out pamphlets to employees stating that:

Your employer [ERM] plays a crucial role if low-key, in grooming BP’s Baku Ceyhan pipeline for construction.

In recent days, similar concerns have been raised after the website InsideClimate News revealed that: 

The State Department’s recent conclusion that the Keystone XL pipeline “is unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the rate of Canada’s oil sands development was based on analysis provided by two consulting firms with ties to oil and pipeline companies that could benefit from the proposed project.

Researcher Brad Johnson writing on Grist then made the link to Environmental Resources Management, finding that,

The “sustainability consultancy” Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document.

The construction and operation of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline has impacted the livelihoods of local fishermen, as seen in this video:

Fox News Pro-Coal “Expert” Is a Former Pro-Tobacco Scientist

12:44 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Tom Borelli, a former science director at Philip Morris who fought claims that secondhand tobacco causes lung cancer and respiratory illness in children, is now touted on Fox News as an expert on the cleanliness of the coal industry. Borelli was busy this election season fighting Obama’s “war on coal” on behalf of his new employer, FreedomWorks.

Borelli has a long history of attacking the EPA on behalf of Big Tobacco. Serving in his role as Philip Morris’ Director of Corporate Scientific Affairs, Borelli appeared in a notorious 1992 film produced by Philip Morris attacking the Environmental Protection Agency for declaring secondhand tobacco smoke a known cancer causing agent. Borelli states that:

“Based on careful review of the science we believe that environmental tobacco smoke has not been shown to be a risk factor in the development of lung cancer, respiratory disease in children or heart disease.”

Watch it:

Borelli has come a long way since then, including a short stint as a professional climate change denier. He is now working at the right-wing think tank FreedomWorks as a Senior Fellow and a self-styled “expert” on the coal industry.

Here’s Borelli on Fox News Business in July 2012 talking about the widely-debunked Obama ‘war on coal’:

Is their no dirty product that Tom Borelli won’t defend for the right price?

Obama Climate Change Commitment to be Tested Very Quickly

5:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

In his acceptance speech last Tuesday, President Obama stated that: “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

The President’s words will be put to the test very shortly.

As Glenn Hurowitz points out on Grist, a bill is about to land on the President’s desk that will allow US airlines to ignore a European Union climate law.

Hurrowitz writes:

“If he signs the bill, Obama will not only be failing to take sufficient action to address climate change, but actively going out of his way to stop another country from doing so – a pretty extreme act at the worst possible time.”

This is a line in the sand and a really big deal. We will soon know if President Obama plans to stay true to his word on his commitment to curb the emissions of climate change pollution by industry in the United States.

Hurrowitz’s piece is well worth the read, as it goes into a lot of detail on the issue of transnational aviation and climate change policy.

So what do you think? Will he keep the President remain true to his word?

America’s Climate Refugees

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

This is a chilling video of a voicemail from a Hurricane Sandy victim in the Long Island neighborhood of Rockaway Peninsula. With scientists telling us that climate change is raising sea levels, storm surges and the intensity of hurricanes there is only one way to describe these folks: they are among the first North American climate refugees.