Shale Gas a Bridge to More Global Warming

Shale Gas Worse Than Coal Study Finds

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 24, 2012 (IPS)

Hundreds of thousands of shale gas wells are being “fracked” in the United States and Canada, allowing large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere, new studies have shown.

Shale gas production results in 40 to 60 percent more global warming emissions than conventional gas, said Robert Howarth of Cornell University in New York State.

“Shale gas also has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than oil or coal over the short term,” said Howarth, co-author of a study called “Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development” to be published in the journal Climatic Change.

(Audio of news conference)http://of%20news%20conference

This latest study follows up on Howarth and colleagues’ controversial April 2011 paper that provided the first comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing. That study found that when gas wells are “fracked”, they leak large amounts of methane and pose a significant threat to the global climate.

“We stand by the conclusion of our 2011 research,” said Howarth.

That research undercuts the logic of energy sector claims that shale gas is a “bridge” to a low-carbon energy future. Those claims are based on the fact that natural gas (which is mainly methane) has half the carbon content of coal, and when burned for electricity it is more energy efficient than coal.

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However, those climate gains are more than negated by methane leaks both at the well during the fracking process (called flow-back), and through the gas delivery and distribution system. Howarth and colleagues estimate that between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of all shale gas produced leaks – called “fugitive emissions” – into the atmosphere, making it worse than burning coal or oil. Continue reading

No Time Left to Adapt to Melting Glaciers — Peak Water Has Already Come and Gone

Melt water from the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca forms lagoons that in turn feed rivers and streams. Credit:Courtesy of Michel Baraer

Without sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels, the impacts of climate change could come faster and beyond what humanity can adapt to — Lonnie Thompson, glaciologist

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 27, 2011 (Tierramérica)

The water supplied by the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca, vital to a huge region of northwest Peru, is decreasing 20 years sooner than expected, according to a new study.

Water flows from the region’s melting glaciers have already peaked and are in decline, Michel Baraer, a glaciologist at Canada’s McGill University, told Tierramérica. This is happening 20 to 30 years earlier than forecasted.

“Our study reveals that the glaciers feeding the Río Santa watershed are now too small to maintain past water flows. There will be less water, as much as 30 percent less during the dry season,” said Baraer, lead author of the study “Glacier Recession and Water Resources in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca”, published Dec. 22 in the Journal of Glaciology.

When glaciers begin to shrink in size, they generate “a transitory increase in runoff as they lose mass,” the study notes.

However, Baraer explained, the water flowing from a glacier eventually hits a plateau and from this point onwards there is a decrease in the discharge of melt water. “The decline is permanent. There is no going back.” Continue reading

Oceans Becoming Hot, Sour and Breathless

Oceans home to 80% of all life — plankton provide 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe

By Stephen Leahy

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 3 (IPS)

The world’s oceans are becoming hot, sour and breathless – threatening a vital source of food for a billion people mainly in the developing world experts warned today at a special Oceans Day event at the UN climate negotiation.

Oceans are home 80 percent of all life on the planet and emissions from fossil fuels are turning them increasingly acidic, raising water temperatures and reducing the amount of oxygen in some regions said oceanographer Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK.

“We don’t know what all the consequences will be. We suspect the combination of all three will be far worse than one alone,” Turley told IPS in an interview on the sidelines of climate treaty negotiations known as COP 17.

It was only a few years ago that researchers realised that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) was making the surface waters of oceans more acidic. The oceans naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and have now absorbed about a third of all human emissions. That has kept the climate from warming faster but the additional carbon is altering the oceans’ chemistry making them 30 percent more acidic.

One documented impact is that shell-forming creatures like plankton produce thinner shells in more acidic ocean waters. These species are often very important parts of the marine food chain. As emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere increase the more the ocean sours.

[See a powerful 11 min film on Ocean acidification]

In less than ten years at least 10 per cent of the Arctic Ocean surface waters will be too acid for shell-forming species like plankton. By 2040 most of the Arctic Ocean will be too acidic as will significant areas of the Antarctic Ocean said Turley.

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthr...The cold waters of the polar regions allow more CO2 to be absorbed faster. The oceans haven’t seen a rapid change like this in 60 million years, she explained.

“But there will also be strange impacts. New research is showing changes in growth, behaviour and reproduction in a variety of non-shell forming species.”

Estuaries and ocean upwelling zones that are often important fishing grounds are also regions where acidification is fastest. Those areas are also subject to low oxygen levels and increasing temperatures creating new conditions in the oceans that no marine species has ever had to cope with.

Oceans are also absorbing most of the extra heat trapped by the additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Again, without this land temperatures would far higher and extreme weather events far worse.

“There is some evidence that some crab species cannot tolerate higher temperatures when ocean is more acidic,” she said.

Continue reading

“Fracking” for Shale Gas: The Bridge to Global Warming Disaster

Switching from coal to gas can increase global warming – NCAR

[UPDATE JAN 20 2012: New study published in journal Climatic Change shows large volumes of methane released during fracking]

By Stephen Leahy 

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 5, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is being used to tap the last remaining natural gas deposits across large areas of the United States and western Canada, fueling continued dependence on hydrocarbons instead of a shift to genuinely clean energy sources to cool the planet.

Called shale gas, these deposits represent a new and enormous source of fossil fuel.

“Fracking is driving exploration and drilling all over the United States,” said Gwen Lachelt of the non-governmental organisation Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

“The oil and gas industry is marching across America from Texas to North Dakota and from the east coast to California,” Lachelt told Tierramérica.

There may be as much as 23,427 billion cubic metres (bcm) in recoverable gas from U.S. shale formations, according to the Annual Energy Outlook 2011, released in April by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The United States will consume 650 bcm of natural gas this year, the EIA projected. Globally, it estimates reserves of “unconventional gas” – the oil and gas industry term for shale gas and coal bed methane – at 915,000 bcm, with 100,000 bcm in Latin America.

However, that estimate is already out of date due to developments in fracking technology and exploration. The EIA estimate of shale gas in the United States in 2009 was less than half the 2011 estimate.

Fracking uses horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing with high pressure water and chemicals to fracture gas-bearing shale rock.

Holes are drilled vertically as little as 100 metres and as much as 3,000 metres into the shale, and then horizontally 1,000 metres along the shale formation. Chemicals and large amounts of water are pumped underground at high enough pressure to fracture the shale, releasing the gas into the pipeline.

The “dash for gas” as the industry pundits like to say is being driven by potential exports to Asia and the mistaken belief that natural gas is the “transition fuel” from coal to a low-carbon economy.

It is true that natural gas is “cleaner” in that it releases about 40 to 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal does to produce the same amount of energy.
However, gas from fracking has a higher carbon footprint because more energy is needed to get the gas and because methane leaks out.

Methane has 25 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Switching from coal to gas as an energy source could result in increased global warming, not less, according to the study “Coal to Gas: The Influence of Methane Leakage”, released in September by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

This is mainly due to the methane leakage problem, which is common but unregulated.

[UPDATE JAN 20 2012: New study published in journal Climatic Change shows large volumes of methane released during fracking]

Toxic Pollution Shortens Lives By More Than a Decade

Haina, Dominican Republic - Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning

Toxins and pollutants are major cause of illness

100 Million affected by 2000 toxic sites

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 14, 2011 (IPS)

Toxic pollution affects the health of more than 100 million people, shortening their productive life spans by an astonishing 12.7 years on average.

It is a common misperception that disease is responsible for most illness, when in fact toxins and pollutants in the environment are a major source of illness and reduced life spans globally.

Unlike diseases, toxins and pollutants like lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides were created by humans and are often improperly disposed of in a classic example of fouling our own nests.

“To be honest, we were astonished the number was so large,” said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute, a small international NGO that released its annual report “World’s Worst Pollution Problems Report 2011” last week.

At least 100 million people are affected based on assessments of 2,000 toxic sites in 47 countries. Most of these sites are right inside villages and towns – all are close to people.

“There are thousands more sites out there,” Ericson told IPS. Continue reading

In Unprecedented Move, Harper Government Pulls Canada out Kyoto Protocol

Stephen Harper called Kyoto a “socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations

Wealth-producing Nations Condemn Canada’s Withdrawal

By STEPHEN LEAHY

CAPE TOWN, Dec 14, 2011 (IPS)

Barely 24 hours after it signed a new global climate change agreement in Durban, South Africa, Canada became on Monday the first country to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty to reduce emissions causing climate change.

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) concluded last Sunday with an agreement called the Durban Platform, which includes a consensus agreement for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol after the first expires at the end of 2012.

Canada’s government under Stephen Harper essentially agreed to a continuation of Kyoto only to announce formal withdrawal after Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent arrived back safely in Canada on Monday.

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,” Kent said in Durban on Dec. 7. Still, he insisted in a statement on Monday, “Canada went to Durban in a spirit of good will.”

Despite the so-called good will, Canada is well known as a pariah on climate and environmental issues, having being judged as the most uncooperative country for the last five climate treaty COPs.

Kent brought a “reckless arrogance with him to Durban, where he’s maintained a hard line… and fought hard to put polluters before people”, according to Climate Action Network, an international coalition of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attending COP17.

Canada’s withdrawal comes as no surprise. Mirroring the views of the fossil fuel industry, the Harper government has expressed disdain for the Kyoto Protocol. In a fundraising letter prior to coming to power in 2006, Harper called it a “socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations”.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to reduce its carbon emissions by six percent by 2012 in comparison to its 1990 emissions.
In Durban Canada wins Fossil of Year for 5th Year
While Canadians individually cut emissions at the urging of previous governments, the enormous expansion of emission-laden tar sands operations inflated Canada’s emissions by 24 percent above 1990 emissions.

On Monday, Kent said that for Canada to meet emissions targets would entail taking every vehicle off the road and cutting the heat in every building in the country. He did not mention reducing emissions from the tar sands.

“I regret that Canada has announced it will withdraw and am surprised over its timing,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which climate negotiations like COP17 are held. Continue reading

EcoMobility Gaining Ground As Cars/Roads Become Too Expensive

Car Ownership Declines in Europe as Cities’ Focus on Walking, Bikes & Public Transit

Cost of Personal Car Ownership Tops $10,000 a year

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Nov 1, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Berlin is a big capital city of a country famed for making excellent automobiles, but it can no longer afford roads and is now moving people by transit, bike and especially through walking.

Berlin is not alone. Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Bogotá, New York City and other major cities simply cannot afford the cost, the pollution, the noise and the congestion of more cars. They are embracing a new concept called EcoMobility – mobility without private cars.

“EcoMobility is not only walking, cycling and public transportation. It is about these three systems clicking together: connectivity is the key,” Gil Peñalosa, former director of parks and recreation in Bogotá, Colombia, told those attending the EcoMobility Changwon 2011 congress.

The congress on Mobility for the Future of Sustainable Cities was organised by the South Korean city of Changwon and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an association of local government members from more than 1,220 cities in 70 countries.

“The famous Times Square in New York City is now a permanent pedestrian mall. Who would have believed that could happen just three years ago?” Peñalosa commented to Tierramérica.

“Five years ago who would have thought Paris would have over 22,000 bikes as part of a tremendously successful bike sharing system?” added Peñalosa, who is now the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an NGO based in Toronto that promotes walking, cycling, parks and urban trails to improve the public life of cities.

“We need to build cities around people and not around cars,” he stressed. Continue reading