Friday, November 30, 2012

Natural Gas Car - Home Appliance For Refueling

A natural-gas-powered car and fueling system on display at an auto show.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. said it is working with General Electric Co. and Whirlpool Corp. to develop a $500 appliance that will allow natural-gas powered cars to be refueled at their owners’ homes.

The effort would be Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake’s latest push to promote compressed natural gas as a mainstream fuel and boost its own sales. It is the first attempt at overcoming one of the biggest challenges in putting natural-gas powered cars on the road—convenient refueling.

Chesapeake and other natural gas producers have felt a cash crunch as a technology-led increase in natural gas production has led to a supply glut and brought prices to a decade-low in April.

About 112,000 natural-gas powered vehicles are now on U.S. roads, mostly delivery trucks and other vehicles driving a set circuitous route with easy access to refueling stations. Auto makers have been slower to offer compressed natural gas-fueled passenger cars and trucks, in part because not enough refueling stations exist to service them on long trips. About 540 stations are open to the public, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The appliance that Chesapeake, GE And Whirlpool are developing will fit in a home garage, hook into a natural gas line and dispense compressed natural gas into vehicles designed to use the fuel. Chesapeake said it couldn’t say when the two would make the appliance available. Chesapeake says that once drivers can refill CNG cars at home, General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and other auto makers will boost production of the vehicles.

In October, GE and Chesapeake, the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer after Exxon Mobil Corp., announced a modular CNG refueling system advertised as being easy to install at existing gasoline service stations. (WSJ, 11/14/2012)

Natural Gas Refrigerators

Refrigerators use similar basic concepts, whether powered by electricity or by fossil fuels like natural gas. Both approaches cool storage spaces with a sealed heat exchange system that circulates a liquid refrigerant. When the refrigerant boils, the change to vapor robs heat from the local environment, dropping the refrigerated compartment's temperature. Electric systems control a refrigerant by mechanical compression, but gas-powered refrigerators use absorption refrigeration, a method that works without a noisy compressor.


Propane Refrigerator, Natural Gas Refrigerator EZ Freeze 15
cubic foot capacity home style refrigerator freezer.
Video shows 360 degree view of inside and out,
 cooling system, burner box and flue.
Different liquids boil and change to vapor at different temperatures. Boiling points also change with pressure. Water, for example, boils at a lower temperature as altitude increases. Other liquids such as freon or ammonia boil at much lower temperatures than water. Even if a liquid boils at a temperature near freezing, the refrigerant absorbs energy from its cold environment as it changes to vapor.
Refrigerant coils boil refrigerants under low pressure inside the cold storage compartment, absorbing heat. Hot vapor moves into a different coil, under higher pressure, to condense back to liquid and shed heat into the outside air. To keep coolant circulating, an electric refrigerator uses a compressor to force liquid refrigerant into the evaporator or cooling coil.
Gas-powered, or absorption, refrigerators use a liquid to absorb and circulate the refrigerant. In many absorption refrigerators, water acts as the absorbent and ammonia becomes the refrigerant. Recirculating ammonia vapors dissolve in the water within an absorption chamber, releasing heat. The water and ammonia mixture travels to a generator tank. Gas flame heats steam coils inside the tank to evaporate the ammonia from the water. Cooling stages condense the ammonia vapor into pure liquid ammonia, the system's refrigerant. Water circulates back to the absorption compartment.
In the evaporator coil located in the walls of the refrigeration compartment, the liquid ammonia boils and ammonia vapor collects heat. Hot ammonia vapor circulates through an expansion valve into the higher pressure condenser coil. In the condenser coil, the hot vapor exchanges heat with the air flowing over the outside of the sealed metal tubing. Cooling ammonia flows back to the absorption chamber. Both the condenser coil and the absorption chamber vent heat to the outside air. If the system can't shed the excess heat because of dirty coils or lack of ventilation, the cooling effect stops. (eHow)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Susan Rice May Have Stakes in Keystone XL Pipeline

Mother Jones Mag, On Earth Mag (NRDC) and Bill McKibben Object

Susan Rice
Susan Rice holds millions of dollars in investments in Canadian oil companies and banks with stakes in the $7 billion Keystone XL Pipeline, according to OnEarth, a magazine published by the environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council.

As head of the State Department, Rice would have ultimate authority in determining the fate of the pipeline, which would link northern Alberta's remote oil sands fields to Texas' Gulf Coast refineries.

The Center supports the Rice nomination (if it is made) and we are sure she will recuse herself from the approval process of the pipeline.  The Center is examining the feasibility of facilitating a construction contract for the Keystone pipeline in partnership with S.L. Sibert Management & Construction Company.  The Center would also accept an ownership stake in the pipeline.

The article reveals that Rice has significant holdings in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would benefit from the growth of the Canadian tar sands industry and the construction of the pipeline. OnEarth's Scott Dodd finds that nearly a third of Rice's personal net worth—estimated in 2009 to be between $23.5 million and $43.5 million—is invested in Canadian oil producers, pipeline operators, and other energy companies. Financial disclosure reports further show that Rice has between $300,000 and $600,000 invested in TransCanada, the company that is seeking the permit from the State Department to build sections of the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Canadian border.

"It's really amazing that they're considering someone for Secretary of State who has millions invested in these companies," Bill McKibben, founder of the activist groups and Tar Sand Action,  which have organized protests against the Keystone XL project.

The Keystone XL decision could be one of the first tasks of the new Secretary of State in 2013. (Mother Jones, 11/28/2012)

Sodium Sulfur Battery

Sodium Sulfur (NaS) batteries are high capacity battery systems developed for electric power applications. A NaS battery consists of liquid (molten) sulfur at the positive electrode and liquid (molten) sodium at the negative electrode as active materials separated by a solid beta alumina ceramic electrolyte. The electrolyte allows only the positive sodium ions to go through it and combine with the sulfur to form sodium polysulfides.

During discharge, as positive Na+ ions flow through the electrolyte and electrons flow in the external circuit of the battery producing voltage. This process is reversible as charging causes sodium polysulfides to release the positive sodium ions back through the electrolyte to recombine as elemental sodium.

This hermetically sealed battery is kept at approximately 300 oC and is operated under conditions such that the active materials at both electrodes are liquid and the electrolyte is solid. At this temperature, since both active materials react rapidly and because the internal resistance is low, the NaS battery performs well. Because of reversible charging and discharging the NaS battery can be used continuously.

NaS battery cells are efficient ( about 90%) . This attribute enables the NaS battery to be economically used in combined power quality and peak shaving applications. Multiple batteries are installed in a single, heated and vacuum insulated module as shown in this rendition.

A sodium sulfur battery is a type of molten-salt battery constructed from liquid sodium (Na) and sulfur (S). This type of battery has a high energy density, high efficiency of charge/discharge (89–92%) and long cycle life, and is fabricated from inexpensive materials. However, because of the operating temperatures of 300 to 350 °C and the highly corrosive nature of the sodium polysulfides, such cells are primarily suitable for large-scale non-mobile applications such as grid energy storage.

The cell is usually made in a tall cylindrical configuration. The entire cell is enclosed by a steel casing that is protected, usually by chromium and molydenum, from corrosion on the inside. This outside container serves as the positive electrode, while the liquid sodium serves as the negative electrode. The container is sealed at the top with an airtight alumina lid. An essential part of the cell is the presence of a BASE (beta-alumina solid electrolyte) membrane, which selectively conducts Na+. The cells are arranged in blocks for better conservation of heat and are encased in a vacuum-insulated box.

Pure sodium presents a hazard because it spontaneously burns in contact with air and moisture, thus the system must be protected from water and oxidizing atmospheres.

The battery must be kept hot (typically > 300 ÂșC) to facilitate the process (i.e., independent heaters are part of the battery system). In general Na/S cells are highly efficient (typically 89%). Higher efficiency cells can be designed and built but increase the battery’s cost.

Na/S battery technology has been demonstrated at over 190 sites in Japan. More than 270 MW of stored energy suitable for 6 hours of daily peak shaving have been installed. The largest Na/S installation is a 34-MW, 245-MWh unit for wind stabilization in Northern Japan.

The demand for Na/S batteries as an effective means of stabilizing renewable energy output and providing ancillary services is expanding. U.S. utilities have deployed 9 MW for peak shaving, backup power, firming wind capacity, and other applications. Projections indicate that development of an additional 9 MW is in-progress. Several projects are also under development in Europe and Japan.  (The Energy Blog, 1/18/2006, Wikipedia, Electricity Storage Association)

Global Steel Glut

This year, steel mills around the world have a production capacity of 1.8 billion tons but will take orders for only 1.5 billion tons. By 2016, an estimated 100 new mills, with total estimated supply capacity of 350 million tons, are expected to come on stream. Companies in Vietnam, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, all backed in some way by their governments, are building or planning new mills.

Stainless steel coil in China, Xinhua/Zuma Press
Getting a definite count on the number of steel mills in the world and actual production capacity is difficult in large part, say industry officials and analysts, because there are hundreds of small, uncounted mills in China, which accounts for 46% of world steel output. Estimates for the number of steel mills in China range from 600 to 800 mills.

The trillion-dollar-a-year global steel industry is expected to remain, for the foreseeable future, the most fractured of major industries. The world's top five steel companies control only 18.2% of global steel supply. By contrast, the world's top five car companies control 50.6% of the global market. And the world's top five sellers of seaborne iron ore— iron ore that is exported by ocean trade routes—account for 66.1% of that market.

In China, where thousands of small mills have sprung up to make the steel bars, beams and other construction materials for new cities and skyscrapers, the government wants the top 10 producers to account for 60% of the country's steel output by 2015 and 70% by 2020, up from around 50% today.  The government wants to get rid of old unproductive and polluting facilities and give the remaining steelmakers "more clout in dealing with the foreign raw-material suppliers. (WSJ, 11/27/2012)

Obama Signs Bill Excluding U.S. Airlines From E.U. Carbon Fee

Obama Vetoes European Carbon Tax

President Obama has signed into law a bill that requires U.S. airlines be excluded from European carbon emissions fees.  The bill shields U.S. airlines from paying a carbon tax merely for flying to Europe.

Earlier this month, the EU put the emission fees on hold for a year to buy time for a global agreement on aviation emissions. The rules were not frozen for airlines in the EU, however.

According to a White House spokesperson, “The Obama Administration is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally.  The application of the EU tax to non-EU air carriers is the wrong way to achieve that objective.” (The Hill, 11/27/2012)

BP Suspended From New Federal Contracts

BP Temporarily Suspended from New Contracts with the Federal Government
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it has temporarily suspended BP Exploration and Production, Inc., BP PLC and named affiliated companies (BP) from new contracts with the federal government.

EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company's conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response, as reflected by the filing of a criminal information.

On November 15, 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to eleven counts of Misconduct or Neglect of Ship Officers, one count of Obstruction of Congress, one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Clean Water Act, and one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, all arising from its conduct leading to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

For the Deepwater Horizon investigation, EPA was designated as the lead agency for suspension and debarment actions. Federal executive branch agencies take these actions to ensure the integrity of Federal programs by conducting business only with responsible individuals or companies. Suspensions are a standard practice when a responsibility question is raised by action in a criminal case.

The BP suspension will temporarily prevent the company and the named affiliates from getting new federal government contracts, grants or other covered transactions until the company can provide sufficient evidence to EPA demonstrating that it meets Federal business standards. The suspension does not affect existing agreements BP may have with the government. (EPA)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thawing Permafrost Expected To Cause Additional Warming

Permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere contains enormous amounts of carbon, maybe more that currently in the atmosphere, and could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected, according to a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  Warming permafrost can also radically alter ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground, the report says.

Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost seeks to highlight the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost, which will not be included in climate-prediction modelling done for the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report recommends a special IPCC study on permafrost and the creation of national monitoring networks and adaptation plans as key steps to deal with potential impacts of this significant source of emissions, which may become a major factor in global warming.

Most of the current permafrost formed during or since the last ice age and extends to  parts of northern Siberia and Canada. Permafrost consists of an active layer of up to two metres in thickness, which thaws each summer and refreezes each winter, and the permanently frozen soil beneath. 

Should the active layer increase in thickness due to warming, huge quantities of organic matter stored in the frozen soil would begin to thaw and decay, releasing large amounts of CO  and methane into the atmosphere.

Once this process begins, it will operate in a feedback loop known as the permafrost carbon feedback, which has the effect of increasing surface temperatures and thus accelerating the further warming of permafrost – a process that would be irreversible on human timescales.

Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3°C means a 6°C increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 per cent of near-surface permafrost.

Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 246 to 415 gigatonnes by 2200. Emissions could start within the next few decades and continue for several centuries.

Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 per cent of total emissions, and the report’s lead author warned that this must be factored in to the treaty to address global climate change expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Anthropogenic emissions’ targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2°C maximum warming target.


The report issues the following specific policy recommendations to address the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of permafrost degradation in a warming climate:

·        Commission a Special Report on Permafrost Emissions: The IPCC may consider preparing a special assessment report on how carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost would influence global climate to support climate change policy discussions and treaty negotiations. 

·        Create National Permafrost Monitoring Networks: To adequately monitor permafrost, individual countries may consider taking over operation of monitoring sites within their borders, increasing funding, standardizing the measurements and expanding coverage. 

·        Plan for Adaptation: Nations with substantial permafrost, such as those mentioned above, may consider evaluating the potential risks, damage and costs of permafrost degradation to critical infrastructure.  Most nations currently do not have such plans, which will help policy makers, national planners and scientists quantify costs and risks associated with permafrost degradation.


Additional information
The report was written by, and in collaboration with, the following partners:
Kevin Schaefer, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA;
Hugues Lantuit, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, Germany;
Vladimir E. Romanovsky, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, USA;
Edward A. G. Schuur, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA.

President Obama Proposes Small Business Tax Breaks

President Obama is proposing tax breaks to companies to hire workers or pay them higher salaries. The tax breaks would target small businesses and refund 10 percent of the cost of new payroll — in the form of new hiring or new wages — up to a total of $500,000 next year.

It is estimated that this credit would help nearly 2 million small businesses and is focused on middle-class workers and small businesses.

The proposal appeared in the president’s February 2013 budget request this year and, at a cost of about $30 billion, was rejected by Republicans. It appeared again in a statement released early Tuesday calling on Congress to immediately extend tax cuts for middle-class earners that are set to expire at the end of the year (fiscal cliff).

President Obama also called for allowing companies to deduct the full cost of investments from their taxes, a proposal that would allow companies to save $5 - $50 billion next year on taxes.

A jobs credit could be a cost-effective way of raising employment in the short run. The effectiveness of any jobs subsidy depends on how employers perceive its potential benefits when making hiring decisions.  (Wash Post, 11/27/2012)

U.N. Climate Talks Stumble Between Rich & Poor Countries

Doha, Qatar
The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 8th session of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol is taking place from Monday, November 26 to Friday, December 7, 2012 at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar. The United Nations chose the Qatari capital of Boha as the location for this year's round of climate change talks.  Qatar is the world’s biggest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be taking part in the Doha Climate Change Conference (COP 18 / CMP 8) with a wide-ranging programme of events as it prepares to launch the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in September next year. The Chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, addressed the gathering.

A $100-billion-a-year promise from rich nations — including Canada — to help poor countries deal with climate change is still unfunded as of the end of 2012, a new report shows.  And a second fund, meant to jump start the promise, will run dry by Dec. 31.  Canada has given $400 million a year for the last three years to the latter climate fund to provide a down payment for poor countries to begin the work of cutting emissions and adapting to the inevitable effects of global warming. But that fund drew only three years’ worth of financial commitments from donor countries, for a total of $30 billion that will be drained by year’s end. 
The larger promise made by rich countries in Copenhagen in 2009 to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 is not going to happen.  The $100 billion figure must not be an empty promise nor the Green Climate Fund an empty bank account.

The two-decade-old U.N. talks have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet. The goal is to keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees C (3.6 F), compared to pre-industrial times. Efforts taken so far to rein in emissions, reduce deforestation and promote clean technology are not getting the job done. A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 degrees C (7.2 F) by 2100.
This year marks the end of the first commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto protocol. But it was never ratified by the US, contains no obligations for developing countries and has been abandoned by others. Kyoto will limp on, as the EU and some developing countries want it, but without an effective new treaty there will be no global resolve to tackle emissions.  The United States rejected Kyoto because it didn’t impose any binding commitments on major developing countries such as India and China, which is now the world’s No. 1 carbon emitter.  (The Miami Herald, 11/26/2012, Metro News, 11/25/2012, The Guardian, 11/25/2012)

Read more here:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cape Wind Power Purchase Agreement Approved

Massachusetts Approves Cape Wind / NSTAR Power Purchase Agreement
Cape Wind secured another major milestone today with the approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) of the 15-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with NSTAR to buy Cape Wind's energy, capacity and renewable energy credits.
This decision helps secure the position of Massachusetts as the U.S. leader in offshore wind power, launching a new industry that will create jobs, increase energy independence and promote a cleaner and healthier environment.
With this decision, Massachusetts electric consumers have secured an abundant, inexhaustible, and clean energy resource that provides price stability and avoids all of the external costs of fossil fuels.
The NSTAR / Cape Wind PPA is for 27.5% of Cape Wind's power. In December, 2011, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld the DPU's approval of Cape Wind's PPA with National Grid for 50% of Cape Wind's power.
Taken together, these two PPAs provide Cape Wind with the critical mass to continue securing project financing.
Extracts from the DPU Order approving the Cape Wind / NSTAR PPA:
"Accordingly, we conclude that the attributes of the Cape Wind facility, when considered in the aggregate, remain unique among Section 83-eligible resources and will provide benefits to NSTAR Electric ratepayers that far exceed those that could be provided by other potential Section 83 contracts. The critical unique attributes of the Cape Wind facility relate to its size, capacity factor, location on the regional transmission system, and stage of development."
p. 149.
"Accordingly, as we concluded in D.P.U. 10-54, at 229-230, the Cape Wind facility will produce far greater benefits in terms of its: (1) contribution to narrowing the projected gap between supply and demand of renewable resources; (2) contribution to compliance with GWSA emission reductions requirements; (3) contribution to fuel diversity; (4) price suppression effects; (5) ability to act as a hedge against future fuel price increases and volatility; (6) contribution to system reliability; and (7) ability to moderate system peak load. As discussed below, the value of the Cape Wind facility as compared to alternative Section 83-eligible resources is further enhanced when these benefits are considered in combination with the facility's favorable location on the regional transmission grid and advanced stage of development." p.150

Cape Wind is America's first offshore wind farm to secure Federal and State approval and to be issued a lease to operate by the Federal Government. Cape Wind will create jobs and promote greater energy independence and a cleaner environment. Cape Wind will also establish Massachusetts as a leader in offshore wind power. (Cape Wind)

Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants Worldwide

Some 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are being planned across the globe despite concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from such generating stations, the most polluting type, the World Resources Institute estimates. Two-thirds of them would operate in China and India.

In 2007 there were over 50,000 active coal plants worldwide.

There are currently 1,446 coal-fired generating units in the United States.

There are about 18,000 total individual electricity generators at about 5,800 operational power plants in the United States with a nameplate generation capacity of at least one megawatt. These power plant can have one or more generators, and some generators may use more than one type of fuel.

The three largest coal power producers are China (36.2 percent of the global total), the United tates (23.7 percent), and India (7.7 percent). [World Resources Institute, NY Times, 11/26/2012, SourceWatch, DOE-EIA, Wikipedia)

Low Natural Gas Prices Hurting Coal Helping Electricity Bills

Surging natural-gas production from shale rock formations has caused a glut in U.S. natural-gas production, which has pushed prices lower for both gas and coal.  Coal and natural gas compete as fuels to produce electricity. This has lowered energy costs for homes and businesses, given a crucial competitive advantage to manufacturers that use natural gas as a raw material, and created jobs in other industries, like steelmaking, trucking and construction that make products and supply services to drillers. But lower prices for coal and gas have resulted in lower revenues for some energy companies, prompting them to cut back on gas drilling and coal mining.

In a handful of states, while consumers and many businesses are benefitting, some local and state government tax collections are being impacted. The budgetary squeeze is particularly acute in West Virginia, where rich reserves of coal and natural gas have long been a key source of revenue.
In September, Arch Coal Inc.  idled a local coal mine here that employed 50, and natural-gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp.  laid off 115 workers at a field office here earlier this month, relocating many of them to Ohio where its drilling is more profitable and where jobs and revenues continue to grow.

Pennsylvania officials announced last month that a fee enacted earlier this year on shale-drilling has so far resulted in $204 million for local communities and counties.  Consumers are also seeing more money in their pockets. Over the past three years, electricity bills from the Pittsburgh region's four biggest utilities fell by 30% to 41% mostly as a result of lower natural-gas prices, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Average monthly home-heating bills were cut by $60 to $100. Cheap natural gas has prompted utility companies to burn more of it and less coal, which has eroded coal prices.

Even as the country gained thousands of oil and gas jobs in the past year, the coal sector lost thousands of jobs.

In Arkansas, severance-tax revenue from natural-gas production declined 33% through October, compared with the same period a year ago.

Earlier this year, Wyoming Gov. Matt Meade instructed state agencies to trim their budgets for next year by 8%, as a result of the impact of low natural-gas prices. Since then, the output of coal—another big revenue generator for the state—also has sharply slowed.  State officials expect coal production will be 9% less than they had estimated, resulting in an additional hit of tens of millions of dollars.

In West Virginia, officials have been bracing for a sharp drop in coal-related severance-tax revenue this year, as a result of lower production and prices. But some have been surprised that gas-related revenue has also taken a hit as a result of low prices. (WSJ, 11/25/2012)

Water Management In Europe

Water pollution and excessive water use are still harming ecosystems, which are indispensable to Europe’s food, energy, and water supplies. To maintain water ecosystems, farming, planning, energy and transport sectors need to actively engage in managing water within sustainable limits. 
European waters – current status and future challenges’ brings together findings from nine other European Environment Agency (EEA) reports published during the course of 2012 and early 2013. The report shows a mixed picture for the status of Europe’s water bodies, while the findings are worrying when it comes to ecosystems’ ability to deliver essential services.
Strong ecosystems should be maintained, partly because they provide vital services which are often overlooked, the report says. For example, restoring a wetland is not only good for biodiversity but also water filtration, water retention and flood prevention. Although essential, these services are not accounted for in current financial and economic systems.
  • Ecosystems are under pressure. Less than half (48 %) of Europe's surface water bodies are likely to be in good ecological status by 2015, as specified by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). To meet this target, water bodies must further reduce nutrient pollution and restore more natural features. The effects of these problems are clear – 63 % of lakes and river habitats in the EU are reported to have an ‘unfavourable’ conservation status.
  • Modification of water bodies is harming ecosystems. The extent of modification of water bodies – the ‘hydromorphological status’ – is also a problem in 52 % of surface waters. Artificial modifications such as dams or reservoirs can prevent plants and animals from migrating or reproducing.
  • Pollution problems in European waters. Nitrate pollution from agricultural fertilisers is the most long-term pollution problem for European surface waters. At the current rate of improvement, nitrate levels will still be too high for several decades to come, the report notes. Phosphates and ammonia pollution are reducing more quickly, due to better waste water treatment. This improvement is visible in the improving water quality at bathing sites across Europe – in 2011, 92.1 % of sites met the minimum standards.
  • Agriculture and other sectors are using water inefficiently. Water scarcity is caused by human demands exceeding the available freshwater resources, adding to the ‘water deficit’ during summer droughts in many parts of Europe.
  • Drought is increasing across Europe. The number of countries affected by drought per decade increased from 15 in the period 1971–1980 to 28 in the period 2001–2011. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this problem.
  • Flooding is becoming more frequent, especially in Northern Europe. More than 325 major river floods have been reported in Europe since 1980, of which more than 200 have been reported since 2000.This is partly caused by increased building in flood prone areas. Projected climate change is expected to lead to more floods in many areas.

Looking ahead to responsive water resources management
Solutions to many of Europe’s water problems have been analysed in the European Commission’s Water Blueprint document, published in 2012. The EEA report, launched today at the Blueprint conference in Cyprus, underpins the Blueprint’s recommendations and provides a baseline for monitoring progress.
New incentives can help Europe reduce the amount of water that is wasted, according to the EEA report. Suggested measures include reconsidering pricing structures for water use or domestic metering. However, incentives introduced with other policy objectives in mind can also encourage wasteful behaviour, for example some governments subsidise water use or encourage water-intense crops in dry areas.
Farming remains one of the largest pressures on Europe’s water resources, so agriculture and the food industry are major actors in significantly improving the situation. In the future, payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy should consider their overall effect on water resources, the report says.
Energy production is another sector with a high impact on water in Europe. Biofuel production can be water intensive, while hydropower plants often divert water used for other sources. Extracting non-conventional oil and gas resources can also lead to water pollution. Careful planning can balance these demands against the needs of ecosystems, the report says.
Overall, river basins need to be further managed with constructive dialogue between the many stakeholders in the area. Public participation and the development of a strong knowledge base are paramount to engage into this dialogue.
The report states that the river basin is the best geographical scale for making accurate ’water accounts’– in effect asset management to balance the incoming and outgoing resources. Upcoming challenges for water resource management can only be met when water managers have the right information at their fingertips. (EEA Press Release)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Carbon Tax

Congressional Research Service

Carbon Tax: Deficit Reduction and Other Considerations


The federal budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion annually in each fiscal year since 2009, and deficits are projected to continue. Over time, unsustainable deficits can lead to reduced savings for investment, higher interest rates, and higher levels of inflation. Restoring fiscal balance would require spending reductions, revenue increases, or some combination of the two. Policymakers have considered a number of options for raising additional federal revenues, including a carbon tax.

A carbon tax could apply directly to carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or to the inputs (e.g., fossil fuels) that lead to the emissions. Unlike a tax on the energy content of each fuel (e.g., Btu tax), a carbon tax would vary with a fuel’s carbon content, as there is a direct correlation between a fuel’s carbon content and its CO2. Carbon taxes have been proposed for many years by economists and some Members of Congress.

If Congress were to establish a carbon tax, policymakers would face several implementation decisions, including the point and rate of taxation. Although the point of taxation does not necessarily reveal who bears the cost of the tax, this decision involves trade-offs, such as comprehensiveness versus administrative complexity. Several economic approaches could inform the debate over the tax rate.

Congress could set a tax rate designed to accrue a specific amount of revenues. Some would recommend setting the tax rate based on estimated benefits associated with avoiding climate change impacts. Alternatively, Congress could set a tax rate based on the carbon prices estimated to meet a specific GHG emissions target. Carbon tax revenues would vary greatly depending on the design features of the tax, as well as market factors that are difficult to predict.

One study estimated that a tax rate of $20 per metric ton of CO2 would generate approximately $88 billion in 2012, rising to $144 billion by 2020. The impact such an amount would have on budget deficits depends on which budget deficit projection is used. For example, this estimated revenue source would reduce the 10-year budget deficit by 50%, using the 2012 baseline projection of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). However, under CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario, the same carbon tax would reduce the 10-year budget deficit by about 12%.

When deciding how to allocate revenues, policymakers would encounter key trade-offs: minimizing the costs of the carbon tax to “society” overall versus alleviating the costs borne by subgroups in the U.S. population or specific domestic industries. Economic studies indicate thatusing carbon tax revenues to offset reductions in existing taxes—labor, income, and investment— could yield the greatest benefit to the economy overall.

However, the approaches that yield the largest overall benefit often impose disproportionate costs on lower-income households. In addition, carbon-intensive, trade-exposed industries may face a disproportionate impact within a unilateral carbon tax system. Policymakers could alleviate this burden through carbon tax revenue distribution or through a border adjustment mechanism. Both approaches may entail trade concerns. (CRS)

Fiscal Cliff & Energy Subsidies

Because the Budget Control Act (BCA)’s 12-member supercommittee failed to reach a compromise last year, a package of deep spending cuts and steep tax hikes is now slated to take effect on January 1, 2013 (the Fiscal Cliff). Although energy subsidies are not specifically target by BCA cuts, negotiations to avoid the automatic cuts could include energy subsidies.  Wind, nuclear, solar, oil and natural gas subsidies are all in danger of losing subsidies.

President Obama is using his 2013 budget request as the starting point for his plan to 'control the budget.'

When companies default on loan gurantees, the government has to pay.  That is real money.  When companies get to deduct certain expenses, that is money not going to the U.S. treasury.  Of course, government support will continue to be an essential component in subsidizing energy sources because it helps in keeping energy prices at reasoaable levels, enables U.S. technology innovation, stimulates job creation and promotes economic expansion. Energy subsidies may be direct cash transfers to producers, consumers, or related bodies, as well as indirect support mechanisms, such as tax exemptions and rebates, price controls, trade restrictions, and limits on market access.

The wind energy production tax credit is already scheduled to expire at the end of the year.  Pressure to reduce the deficit and debt could kill this credit that has been helpful in stimulating wind production since 1982.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimates that federal R&D budgets would decline $12.1 billion in fiscal year 2013 if the spending cuts mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act take effect. By agency, the Department of Defense would lose $6.9 billion in R&D; National Institutes of Health, $2.4 billion; Department of Energy, $972 million; NSF, $456 million; NASA, $763 million; and Department of Agriculture, $189 million, according to the analysis.

Energy industries have enjoyed a century of federal support. From 1918 to 2009, the oil and gas industry received $446.96 billion (adjusted for inflation) in cumulative energy subsidies. Renewable energy sources received $5.93 billion (adjusted for inflation) for a much shorter period from 1994-2009.  Average annual support for the oil and gas industry has been $4.86 billion (1918-2009), compared to $3.50 billion for nuclear (1947-1999) and $0.37 billion (1994-2009) for renewable energy.

A 2009 study by the Environmental Law Institute assessed the size and structure of U.S. energy subsidies over the 2002–2008 period. The study estimated that subsidies to fossil-fuel based sources amounted to approximately $72 billion over this period and subsidies to renewable fuel sources totaled $29 billion. The study did not assess subsidies supporting nuclear energy. The three largest fossil fuel subsidies were:
  1. Foreign tax credit ($15.3 billion)
  2. Credit for production of non-conventional fuels ($14.1 billion)
  3. Oil and Gas exploration and development expensing ($7.1 billion)
The three largest renewable fuel subsidies were:
  1. Alcohol Credit for Fuel Excise Tax ($11.6 billion)
  2. Renewable Electricity Production Credit ($5.2 billion)
  3. Corn-Based Ethanol ($5.0 billion)
In the United States, the federal government has paid US $74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power ($50 billion) and fossil fuels ($24 billion) from 1973 to 2003. During this same timeframe, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided an initial $18 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors.  An additional $36 billion was added to this amount.  The U.S. government also guarantees nuclear power accident costs above $7 billion.  Will these subsidies remain in the face of the Fiscal Cliff.

The bottom line, there numerous sources for Congress to look at in the energy sector if it wants to cut deficits and debt.  However, these subsidies great benefits to America and eliminating them could lead to significant energy price increases, which can raise the prices of other goods and services. (Physics Today, 11/16/2012, Green Tech Media, 10/4/2012, Wikipedia (Energy Subsidies)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Patriot Coal Says It Is Getting Out of Mountain Top Removal

As part of a deal with citizen groups, Patriot Coal
is going to retire this dragline mining machine
 that is currently used at its Hobet complex
 along the Boone-Lincoln County line.
Patriot Coal, the second largest producer of surface-mined coal in West Virginia, has just agreed to end its mountaintop removal mining. Enormous environmental costs foisted on Patriot Coal forced them to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2012.  They admitted that the costs of treating its contaminated mine water would exceed $400 million. Along with its commitment to end large scale surface mining in the region, Patriot’s CEO acknowledged its human and environmental costs, telling the judge overseeing the agreement that “Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways.”

Patriot Coal has agreed to phase out mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining, in a move Patriot officials say is in the best interests of their company, its employees and the communities where it operates. In a deal with citizen groups and environmentalists, Patriot said it would never seek new permits for large-scale surface mining operations, according to details of the settlement that were made public in federal court Thursday afternoon.

St. Louis-based Patriot can continue some existing and smaller mining projects, but must also implement a cap on surface production and eventually stop all strip mining when existing coal leases expire.

The deal does not require Patriot to immediately close any mines or lay off any workers. The company must cut corporate-wide surface production starting in 2014, and gradually reduce it to no more than 3 million tons annually -- less than half of 2011 surface output -- by 2018.

Patriot, the second largest producer of surface-mined coal in West Virginia, becomes the first U.S. coal operator to announce plans to abandon mountaintop removal, a controversial practice linked to serious environmental damage and coalfield public health problems.

The settlement still faces a review by the U.S. Justice Department, and needs approval from Chambers and from the judge overseeing Patriot's bankruptcy case.

Mountain Top Removal
Patriot had already agreed to a deal to clean up dozens of illegal selenium discharges at three major mining complexes in Southern West Virginia. But since filing for bankruptcy reorganization in July, Patriot has been at odds with citizen groups over the company's efforts to delay its compliance deadlines.

The settlement gives Patriot the additional time, bumping back compliance deadlines from May 2013 until August 2014. Hatfield said the move allows the company to defer up to $27 million of compliance costs from 2012 and 2013 to 2014 and beyond, improving Patriot's liquidity as it tries to complete bankruptcy reorganization.

Details of the broader deal on mountaintop removal were spelled out in a 15-page "global settlement" document made public Thursday:

  • Patriot will never submit new applications for Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permits for new "large-scale surface mining." That term is defined as any surface mining that requires an individual permit review by the federal Army Corps of Engineers. It does not include permits for underground mine face-ups, coal-hauling roads, preparation plants and other such facilities.
  • The company agrees to a five-year plan to reduce its surface mining tonnage from last year's 7.7 million tons to a permanent cap of 3 million tons annually in 2018. If Patriot buys other companies that conduct surface mining, those new subsidiaries are subject to the tonnage cap. If Patriot sells any of its surface mining operations, the expected future tonnage from those mines is subtracted from the cap.
  • In West Virginia, Patriot will retire its two draglines, giant boom excavators used at its largest mountaintop removal sites. A dragline used at its Paint Creek complex will be retired within 60 days, while one at its Hobet complex along the Boone-Lincoln border will be retired by Dec. 31, 2015. Patriot can sell the machines, but only if the buyer agrees never to use them again in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia.
  • Patriot can continue with "small-scale surface mining," but only at existing mining complexes where both underground and surface mining was already underway or planned. Small-scale surface mining is also limited to coal already owned or leased by Patriot, and is defined as not being associated with the construction of valley fills requiring an individual permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
  • Patriot agrees to withdraw existing permit applications for two large surface mines, Colony Bay and Hill Fork, both in Boone County. The company can continue to pursue a permit for its Huff Creek Surface Mine in Logan County, and environmental groups agreed not to file a legal challenge unless the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raises water quality concerns about the proposal.

  • While the agreement eventually reduces Patriot's strip-mining production to zero, it phases that reduction in starting with a cap of 6.5 million tons in 2014. Patriot's surface mining production would be limited to 6 million tons annually in 2015 and 2016, and 5 million tons in 2017 before a cap of 3 million tons becomes effective in 2018.

    In mountaintop removal, coal operators use explosives to blast apart mountains to uncover valuable, low-sulfur coal reserves. Leftover rock and dirt is shoved into valleys, burying streams. (Charleston Gazette, 11/16/2012)

    Water Cap & Trade Can Lead To Environmental Injustice

    Fred Tutman
    "Pollution Trading and Zip Code Environmentalism"
    By Fred Tutman
    In a society where the environment that surrounds you is treated like a commodity, we can usually count on most people buying the very best environment for themselves and their families that our incomes and means will afford. That is why in America, your zip code says a lot about your income, your prospects, your life expectancy and your environmental health. So while black and brown people in America see our wealth fast disappearing in a bonfire of foreclosures, poverty zones and long unrequited promises of social equity—it ought to come as no surprise that the non-diverse environmental community is busily creating the latest in a long series of programmatic efforts to ensure that the places where they like to live, recreate, and invest will always get restored, mitigated and protected.
    Pollution trading is the latest scheme to ensure that existing Federal laws to protect clean and water bypass black and brown communities, even while these so called market tools for the environment would only serve to widen the chasm between the haves and have nots in America.
    Groups that include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the World Resources Institute and others are busily working to authenticate cap and trade initiatives for the Chesapeake Bay region that would allow the worst polluters (statistically located in poor or communities of color) to increase their regulated emissions and discharges to the environment while paying those who presently live elsewhere in relatively nice areas for the privilege to pollute. Also, brokering fees for these transactions will be paid to middle-men known as “aggregators”. Skeptical, check out the Bay Bank: a self proclaimed marketplace where your environment is for sale. Fish habitat? No problem. Wetlands, sure we”ll put it in a box for you.
    Some Bay conservationists are just as eager to sell the ecology in a fire sale as they are in conserving it.
    For example predominantly black Prince George’s County might be slated to have the massive coal burning power plant known as the Chalk Point Generating station to increase its discharges of waste into the waters near the black residential town of Eagle Harbor (in Southern Prince George’s). The plant proposes to get state permit to do this in exchange for buying pollution credits form a farmer who happens to live in a predominantly white populated County located several miles downriver. It’s a great deal for the wealthy plant operators, a good deal for the farmers too, who get more cash and no more pollution than before. The black residents of the town? They get added pollution. Trading boosters have no problem with this lopsided transaction. It’s good for the net impacts on the Chesapeake Bay they say.
    The proponents also argue that this approach to regulating pollution will produce incentives for polluters to clean up their act by giving them additional time and flexibility to comply with the laws while creating fresh sources of investment capital to be used to incentivize compliance with the environmental laws. What they do not say—indeed what they have not even considered is that environmental organization can also get money from these transactions by serving as aggregators or as contractors to conduct restoration projects funded by the trading money. In fact Wall Street brokerage firms are excited about the prospects of selling derivatives and other investment instruments based on pollution trades! Eureka! Pay to pollute. Now there’s a great proposition. Let’s face it. When you monetize the environment then only those with lots of money will have a good environment.
    But treating your neighborhood like a “marketplace” virtually assures that only good marketplaces will have their environmental health problems addressed. Those with something worth trading will get fresh investment in their communities in derived from “credits”. But those with existing pollution will of course get only “trades” and deferred promises.
    How could an implausible Ponzi scheme like this one even get on the table? Because the sad truth is the environmental community which panders to the rich and privileged doesn’t think the environment of the region’s black and brown citizens is worth saving. They will quickly inform you that scarce investment dollars go much further in those areas where they like hang out. The "environment" invariably happens to be exactly where they are-- not where we are. 
    Pollution trading is an amazing give-away to the worst polluters in our midst. It perpetuates the idea that you can eliminate pollution while maintaining the same old polluting economy and business practices. It furthers the myth that you can trade something that doesn’t even belong to you. It breaks the faith with those of us awaiting environmental fairness and justice, by instead trading, mitigating and offsetting what remains of our environmental quality into folding money that goes elsewhere and helps build and restore other communities.
    It is a horrendous miscall and a bad left turn by a conservation community that ought to be embarrassed after 40 some years of vigorous effort to Save the Bay , and even more vigorous funding toward that end, yet it has produced a Chesapeake Bay estuary no better off than when the Bay program was started. So instead of cleaning it up, we will now convert it to cash instead? Right. Public investment continues to go to the more pristine areas of the Bay, to private beaches, country clubs and marinas. Nowhere near the documented hubs of the State’s worst toxic releases, no place near the blight and redevelopment needs of those urban landscapes that also drain to the “bay”; and decidedly nowhere close to where black and brown people disproportionately live work and play.
    Pollution trading is the latest in a series of deferrals of the Federal Clean Ware Act. If market solutions rely on voluntary incentives then assuredly there is no great incentive than corporate profits. Allowing polluters to the option of reducing their pollution or trading instead, is a no brainer for them. It dooms those of us who are underrepresented in the halls of funded environmentalism to the ongoing legacy and stigma of dirty water and funky air. It is color blind environmental racism at its most brutal and unfair expression.
    To be clear, I personally oppose pollution trading for legal, equitable and moral reasons, and therefore I will oppose it in any forum where I can do so. The solution to the Bay cleanup is to vigorously enforce the laws—not trade our problems onto less fortunate neighborhoods. But if trading arrives nonetheless, then we the poor, the black, the brown, the economically and environmentally disenfranchised of the areas most underserved neighborhoods, must grab a seat at the table to assure that if trading occurs then it does so fairly and without bias. That if there are “credits” to be had at our expense then we should at minimum get our fair share of them. That if there is a gold mine to be had, that communities of color don’t get only the shaft. And if there is “new money” to being produced for the environment that we must ensure that it does not go the same route as that “old money” that we barely got our fair share of.
    Frederick Tutman
    Riverkeeper, CEO
    Patuxent Riverkeeper

    Black Elk Energy Offshore Oil Rig Accident

    Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC confirmed that a fire ignited Friday morning on the company’s platform located at West Delta 32 Block, located in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La. There were 22 workers on the platform at the time of the incident. Two individuals have yet to be accounted for and an aggressive search and rescue effort is underway. Nine workers were injured and are now being treated at a number of hospitals in the New Orleans area. Eleven workers were safely evacuated.

    The National Response Center, U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement were promptly notified of the incident. The fire was extinguished within an hour. The United States Coast Guard confirmed following an over flight that there is no visible sheen. The production platform has been shut in since mid-August.

    On Friday morning local time, a fire and explosion ripped through an oil platform owned by Black Elk Energy in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The company was started in 2007 by John Hoffman, a former BP Amoco executive. 

    Indications are that this oil rig explosion is unlikely to turn into a major disaster, fortunately. The platform was located in 56 feet of water in the West Delta Block 32 of the Gulf of Mexico. According to an interview with Hoffman, workers were in the final stages of a maintenance job when they were to perform a “clean cut” with a saw on a water line. Instead of using a saw, the worker used a cutting torch instead. This ignited vapors in the line, that fire then ignited fuel stored in a nearby tank, cause an explosion. 

    According to data filed with the U.S. Government, Black Elk holds at least 88 oil and gas leases and last quarter pumped 14,000 barrels of oil and oil equivalents per day. The Houston-based company, currently holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms, and recently announced an expansion with plans to drill 23 new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Two persons were missing from the initiate recovery operations.  One deceased body has been recovered.

    About Black Elk Energy: Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC is an independent oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, Texas. (Examiner, 11/16/2012, Black Elk Energy Press Release)

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Fracking Water Recycling

    Companies Are Recycling Hydraulic Fracturing Water

    Energy companies are also struggling with how to get rid of the tainted water that comes out of fractured wells; the fluid, which contains a mix of chemicals and salts, must be taken to a licensed disposal facility.

    Energy industry giants Hallibrton Corporation and Schlumberger Ltd. to smaller outfits such as Ecologix Environmental Systems LLC, companies are pursing technologies to reuse the "frack water" that comes out of wells after hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—the process of using highly pressured water and chemicals to coax oil and gas out of shale-rock formations. The interest in water recycling is also creating opportunities for small companies such as Select Energy Services LLC. Ecologix, an Alpharetta, Ga., recycling company, claims its service can cost as much as 80% less than injecting wastewater into a disposal well.

    The recycled water can be cleaned of chemicals and rock debris and reused to frack additional wells, which could sharply cut the costs that energy companies face securing and disposing of water. Some companies are finding it is still cheaper in many parts of the U.S. to inject the wastewater deep underground instead of cleaning it, which has slowed adoption of recycling technology.

    It takes between 70 billion to 140 billion gallons of water to frack 35,000 wells a year, the industry's current pace, according to a 2011 report by the Environmental Protection Agency. That is about the same amount consumed every year by Chicago or Houston—and the price tag for securing that much water can be substantial.

    Click on Image to Enlarge

    Companies are researching moving away from using water entirely to fracture rock, with efforts aimed at using propane gel and even compressed air. Moving away from liquids entirely, however, is still several years away—if early laboratory work can be successfully applied in the field.

    While the cost of getting rid of the millions of gallons varies from state to state, it can be substantial. There are less than 10 working injection wells in Pennsylvania, so most of its wastewater is carried by trucks into Ohio.  These injection wells are controversial after being linked by some scientists and state officials to minor earthquakes. The injected liquids are essentially thought to lubricate faults and accelerate movement that causes tremors. Ohio only recently began issuing permits for new injection wells, after imposing rules to prevent tremors.

    In the Northeast, oil companies have to pay up to $8 per 42-gallon barrel to contractors to haul wastewater for disposal elsewhere. Operators have reported recycling—which eliminates the cost of disposal and the cost of acquiring fresh water for fracking—can cut costs by as much as $2 per barrel in some areas when done on site, which could equate to a $200,000 savings over the lifetime of a typical well.

    Chesapeake Energy Corporation has begun recycling 100% of the water it retrieves from wells in northern Pennsylvania. In addition to cutting the company's costs, recycling reduces the number of trucks on the road ferrying clean water to drilling sites, a sore point for local residents.

    After a well is fracked, contractors typically clean the water that flows back out of the well by filtering it or adding a chemical that attracts small solid particles, making it easier to remove these contaminants. Some companies treat water at the well, while others bring it to a facility built nearby.
    Fourteen percent of water used to frack a well in central Pennsylvania is now recycled, up from less than 1% two years ago, according to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which monitors water usage. (WSJ, 1/18/2012)