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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.

Kelloggs Killing Last Sumatran Tigers for Cheap Processed Snack Food

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Sumatran Tiger

The Sumatran tiger is awesome. One of the most beautiful creatures in the world, and there are less than 400 left in the wild.

To give you an idea of how fast this creature is being wiped out, I remember only a couple of years ago writing that there were only 500 Sumatran tigers left. Now there is less than 400.

The Sumatran tiger is being killed by poachers to a certain degree, but the much bigger problem lies in the cereal you eat and those shitty little processed snacks that just make us all fatter. No kidding, these tigers live in an Indonesian jungle that just happens to be the same area being deforested to grow palm oil plantations.

The palm oil from these plantations, the same ones that are wiping out the last of the Sumatran tigers, is being used by cereal-maker Kellogg to make cheap snack foods in China.

The irony of Kellogg’s mascot Tony the tiger looking a lot like a Sumatran tiger is not lost on the advocacy group Sum of Us, who has launched a campaign this week that’s going totally viral online. Thousands of people are signing a petition and publicly speaking out via social media against Kelloggs and their role in killing off the last the of the Sumatran tigers.

All in the name of cheap, packaged and processed garbage food to flood the Chinese marketplace. Other companies used to use this palm oil that was killing tigers, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, but they came to their senses earlier this year after a massive outcry from the marketplace (which is you by the way). Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

10 Reasons Canada’s Tar Sands Suck

10:24 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Alberta Tar Sands

Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister is in New York today trying to convince lawmakers that the tar sands are okay, and that the Keystone XL pipeline should go ahead.

At the same time, Canada’s environment minister is in London trying to convince politicians there that tar sands crude is the same as regular sweet crude, and should not be subject to a polluter tax.

As a Canadian it blows my mind that we can have the second largest deposits of oil in the world, but our government remains billions in debt and one in seven Canadian children live in poverty.

I feel like we are being played for fools here in Canada, because foreign owned oil companies like ExxonMobil, British Petroluem and PetroChina (71% of oil sands production is owned by foreign shareholders) are making billions exporting raw tar sand from our country, while us citizens are dealing with all the nasty downsides.

Time for a tar sands reality check.

Here’s the top 10 reasons Canada needs to rethink their unrelenting desire to expand tar sands operations:

1. The Canada tar sands isn’t just an environmental issue, it is also a social justice, human rigths and health issue. A higher incidence of rare and deadly cancers has been documented in First Nations communities downstream of the oil sands by doctors, the Alberta Health Department and First Nations since 2007.

2. Like birds? Me too. Did you know that over 30 million birds will be lost over the next 20 years due to tar sands development?

3. 95% of the water used in tar sands surface mining is so polluted it has to be stored in toxic sludge pits. That’s 206,000 litres of toxic waste discharged every day.

4. Canada’s tar sands make Hoover Dam look like lego blocks, because we are home to 2 of the top 3 largest dams in the world. The dams are used to hold back all that toxic sludge produced by mining tar sands.

5. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces 3.2 to 4.5 times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil produced in Canada or the United States. To put that in perspective, a Honda Accord burning tar sands gas has the same climate impact as driving a Chevy Suburban using conventional gas.

6. According to an annual climate change performance index, because of the tar sands, Canada’s climate performance is the worst in the entire western world. We rank 58th out of 61 countries on the index, beating out only Kazakhstan (59th), Iran (60th) and Saudi Arabia (61st).

7. 11 million litres of toxic wastewater seep out of the tailing pits into the boreal forest and Athabasca river every day. That’s 4 billion litres a year. Anyone want to go fishing?

8. Norway has saved $644 billion in its petroleum production investment fund. Meanwhile, Alberta, where all the tar sands deposits are, has only saved $16 billion. There is no Canadian federal fund.

9. The International Energy Agency says up to two thirds of known fossil reserves must be left in the ground to avoid a 2°C global temperature rise. MIT reports that when a global price on carbon emerges to prevent climate change, it will make the oil sands economically non-viable.

10. And if you think the tar sands are going away, think again.The oil sands underlie approximately 140,000 square kilometres of Alberta – an area about the size of Florida. Oil sands leases cover about 20% of the province’s land area. If the oil companies have it their way, the tar sands operations are on a trajectory to triple in size, with literally no end in sight.

So there you go. The tar sands are paying off for the oil companies, while everyday Canadians see little upside, and a whole lot of downside.

Thanks to the Tar Sands Reality Check project for putting all these facts together, and getting them signed off by top experts.  Read the rest of this entry →

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.

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.

[Video] Post-Debate Fun – Comedian Kamau Bell on Romney and Climate Science

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Grandia

Enjoy :)