natural gas

Fri, 2011-09-09 15:04Carol Linnitt
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Reliance on Unconventional Gas is No Good for Climate, Says Scientist Tom Wigley

A partial shift from coal to unconventional gas on a worldwide scale will continue to accelerate climate change for a significant amount of time, according to Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). An increased reliance on gas would eventually reverse the warming trend but would only decelerate climate change by a few tenths of a degree. According to Wigley’s findings, that miniscule change will only feasibly occur sometime between 2050 and 2140, depending on the severity of fugitive methane from gas drilling, processing, and transport operations. 

Tom Wrigley, senior research associate at NCAR, is due to publish these findings next month in the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change Letters. The journal recently received significant attention on this topic after publishing the striking findings of Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. The Cornell University scientists performed a lifecycle analysis of the major fossil fuels to discover that unconventional gas offers little to no climate advantage over coal. 


The hotly contested findings sent a shock wave through the gas industry and environmental community alike, challenging the notion that the continent’s vast reserves of unconventional gas could or should serve as an alternative, interim fuel during the switch to a low-carbon economy. Wigley’s findings also pose a significant challenge to this assumption.
 
“Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem,” Wigley told Science Daily. “It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges.”
Fri, 2011-09-09 09:50Ben Jervey
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San Bruno Gas Explosion One Year Anniversary, Lax Oversight is Blamed

San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion at night

One year ago today, at about 6:11 pm, a massive natural gas line explosion ripped apart a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The blast was described as “a thunderous roar heard for miles,” and the geyser of fire that spewed forth killed eight people, injured dozens, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged another 70.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which regulates energy and resource pipelines, revealed the findings of their year-long investigation into the causes of that fatal, catastrophic blast.

“Our investigation revealed that for years, PG&E exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “We also identified regulators that placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing to the detriment of public safety.”

Wed, 2011-09-07 07:30Ben Jervey
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America’s Natural Gas Pipelines - A Closer Look At This Gigantic Pipeline System

Following up on our broader look at the North American oil and gas pipeline system, with a focus on crude and the special case of tar sands oil pipelines, this week we'll tackle the tubes that carry natural gas.

Natural Gas in the United States

In 2009, the US used some 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing Russia as the world's largest producer and consumer of the fuel. Used for everything from heating homes to lighting cooking ranges to powering fleet vehicles to firing power plants – and often cited as a cleaner-burning energy source than coal or oil – demand for the fossil fuel has spiked in recent years.

While natural gas is produced in 32 states, the top five – Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, in that order – produce a full 65 percent of the nation's total (pdf). This leaves a lot of states dependent on natural gas imports. As this map shows, 28 states need to import at least 85 percent of their gas demands.

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

Moving this huge amount of natural gas around requires a vast pipeline transmission system. Let's take a closer look at these pipes, shall we?

Tue, 2011-09-06 16:39Carol Linnitt
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New West Partnership Includes CAPP Lobbyists in Fracking Policy Development

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy was designated a “lead agency” in a backroom collaboration with Alberta and Saskatchewan to address water concerns for the province’s rapidly expanding shale gas industry. The New West Partnership, an undisclosed collaboration between Canada's three western provinces to expedite shale gas extraction, has held four secret meetings since July 2011 to discuss water issues related to fracking, according to a leaked briefing note, released today by the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA).

The leaked document, including an attached directive, outlines the group’s strategies to streamline gas production across the West while minimizing public and stakeholder involvement. The partnership project, which is aimed to design streamlined policy regarding gas extraction including the controversial technique fracking, is also posed to curtail public concern with “proactive” public relations campaigns that will respond to the “ill-informed campaigns” of environmental NGOs, public media and local communities. 

The Project Charter outlines the New West Partnership’s intentions to manage public opinion with ‘consistent messages’ regarding environmental concerns which are “potentially problematic” for shale gas development. Despite the group’s pretense to stakeholder transparency and “enhanced communication,” the only external body consulted so far is Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to the BCTWA press release, the internal meetings held by provincial regulators and government officials included three unregistered lobbyists representing CAPP, prompting a complaint from the Alberta Federation of Labour.  
Wed, 2011-08-24 05:00Steve Horn
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General Electric's Jim Cramer Heads to Midwest As Fracking Cheerleader

This article is cross-posted from the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch

Today, CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer’s “Invest in America” series will take the show to a seemingly unlikely locale, a place many would consider the middle of nowhere – North Dakota.

Why North Dakota? Four words: The Bakken Shale Formation.

Referred to as “Kuwait on the Prairie” by The New Yorker in an April 2011 feature story and located predominately in northwest North Dakota, the shale formation possesses a vast amount of both oil and methane gas, gathered via the notorious fracking process. Recognizing the economic opportunities that the formation would present to fossil fuel corporations, the U.S. Energy Information Administration penned a report in November 2006 titled “Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken?”, highlighting them in some depth.

Wed, 2011-08-10 12:23Carol Linnitt
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Communities At Risk from Gas Industry Air Pollution - Interview with NRDC's Amy Mall

Global Community Monitor

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is busy trying to figure out why communities near gas production facilities are experiencing life-threatening levels of hydrogen sulfide. At low levels hydrogen sulfide can cause respiratory distress, headaches, and loss of motor control, while at high levels can cause nausea, vomiting, shock, convulsions and death. 

In June, air samples taken near a gas well pad in Colorado showed hydrogen sulfide levels at 185 times the safety limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The highly toxic gas was discovered by a group of vigilante air testers called the Bucket Brigade, working with the Global Community Monitor program to expose industrial polluters.

The investigation, led by a coalition of citizen and environmental organizations, collected nine air samples near gas drilling operations in Colorado and New Mexico. They discovered a total of 22 toxic chemicals in their community air, of which four are known to cause cancer. These industrial pollutants were discovered at levels 3 to 3000 times greater than official human safety thresholds.

Sat, 2011-07-30 09:21Carol Linnitt
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Promises and Problems: EnergyNOW! Releases Special Video Report on Fracking in the Marcellus

Energy politics tend to have a socially galvanizing effect. In production zones, big industrial producers promise massive social incentives to locals who are forced to juggle the often conflicting concerns of environmental conservation and economic prosperity. What were once tight-knit societies are finding themselves divided over concerns for their land, water and air.

Nowhere is this narrative more harrowingly played out than in the rural towns of America, suddenly rich with an abundance of unconventional gas. Both a blessing and a curse, these communities are discovering what the gas drilling boom brings in its wake, beyond promises of wealth.

EnergyNOW! has produced a special video report, set within the drilling rigs of the Marcellus Shale, to see how fracking and unconventional gas production have affected the small town of Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Chief correspondent Tyler Suiters interviews residents, industry representatives, state officials, including former PA Environmental Secretary John Hangar, and independent experts, including Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, to tackle relevant issues from local economics to water contamination.

Thu, 2011-07-28 12:05Ben Jervey
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Pipelines 101: An Introduction To North American Oil & Gas Pipeline Routes and Safety Concerns

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be rolling out a whole lot of information about pipelines. Why?

Because these metal tubes are truly the blood vessels of the oil and gas industry. Without them, the industry wouldn't be able to deliver the liquid fossil fuels to their refineries, or out to the customers after that. Technically, it could be done with trucks and trains and tankers, but the economics just wouldn't work. Without pipelines, liquid fossil fuels become impractically expensive.

(Note: you can find all of the posts in the pipeline series with the “pipeline” tag, or by following the links at the bottom of my post.)

So through one lens, pipelines are incredible. They cart valuable petroleum products from source to refinery to end use with remarkable efficiency. And they do so really cheap!

But not all is so rosy with these tools of fossil energy infrastructure. Pipelines leak and spill – pretty often, actually. They run through fragile ecosystems, under waterways, and across incredibly valuable aquifers. And as crucial as they are in delivering affordable fuel to your gas tank or furnace, they're pretty tempting targets for anyone who wants to deal our nation's energy supply a serious blow. In other words, our dependance on oil and gas pipelines makes our nation vulnerable to a terrorist attack, a concern that's been long established in security circles.

Thu, 2011-07-21 11:30Carol Linnitt
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Shell Forced to Retract "Misleading" Fracking Adverts in South Africa

The gas industry has finally received the slap on the hand it deserves for parroting the outdated refrain: “there are no instances of documented water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.” In South Africa, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered oil and gas giant Shell to withdraw claims about shale gas drilling, after the authority found the company guilty of propagating misleading information in several newspapers.

The Karoo region of South Africa has become an international target for unconventional gas producers since its vast shale gas deposits were discovered in recent years. The rush to drill created a wave of public concern, after reports of fracking disasters, including water contamination, well blow-outs and explosions, have become commonplace across America. The government has called for a delay in granting drilling permits until a full-scale study is completed to address mounting concerns.

Looking to sway public opinion, Shell published numerous full-page public relations adverts in local newspapers, claiming that hydraulic fracturing is used in 90% of gas wells and has never caused water contamination.

Sat, 2011-07-16 10:44Carol Linnitt
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Post Carbon Institute Analysis Suggests Shale Gas (Still) Worse Than Coal For Climate

Shale gas cannot provide a low carbon “interim” fuel for the transition to a clean energy future, according to David Hughes, fellow at the Post Carbon Institute (PCI). Gas advocates have long advertized unconventional gas as a clean alternative to coal and other polluting fossil fuels. But the cleanliness of unconventional gas is challenged by others who claim that lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shale gas are in fact higher than coal. 

One such claim, maintained by a group of scientists from Cornell University led by Dr. Robert Howarth, puts shale gas GHG emissions 20 to 100 percent higher than coal on a 20-year timeframe. Their study, published in the peer-reviewed Climactic Change Letters, has received enormous criticism from the gas industry and its supporters. Several reviews have challenged the integrity of the Cornell study, including a presentation given by scientist Timothy Skone from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). According to Skone, GHG emissions from gas are 48 percent lower on a 20-year timeframe.

In an analysis entitled “Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Shale Gas Compared to Coal,” Hughes compares the two conflicting conclusions to get to the source of the disparity. With a little number crunching, he discovers that there may be less of a disagreement than meets the eye.

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