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Up To 1,000 Times More Methane Released At Gas Wells Than EPA Estimates, Study Finds

An analysis of a number of hydraulic fracturing sites in southwestern Pennsylvania has found that methane was being released into the atmosphere at 100 to 1,000 times the rate that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that drilling operations at seven well pads emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average, much higher than the EPA-estimated 0.04 grams to 0.30 grams of methane per second.
The researchers, who were attempting to understand whether airborne measurements of methane aligned with estimates taken at ground level — the method commonly used by the EPA and state regulators — flew a plane over the region of the Marcellus Shale for two days in June 2012.
“The researchers determined that the wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a period that has not been known for high emissions,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Experts had thought that methane was more likely to be released during subsequent phases of production, including hydraulic fracturing, well completion or transport through pipelines.”
Methane (CH4), the chief component of natural gas, makes up about nine percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is a super-potent greenhouse gas — especially during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere when it traps around 86 times as much heat as CO2. So even small leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system can have a large climate impact — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas.
Paul Shepson, an atmospheric chemist at Purdue University who worked on the study, told the Los Angeles Times that while more research is needed to determine whether the extremely high measurements are typical, the vast disparity between the readings illustrates the limitations of the current methods. “The EPA’s approach puts regulators at the mercy of energy companies, which control access to the wells, pipelines, processing plants and compressor stations where methane measurements should be made, ” he continued.
This study adds to the growing literature on the critical role methane emissions play in contributing to climate change, and the need for better data and improved means of reducing emissions. A recent comprehensive Stanford study reviewed over 200 earlier studies to find that “U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates,” and that “leaks from the nation’s natural gas system are an important part of the problem.”
Less than two weeks ago as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan — which involves addressing climate change without the help of legislation from Congress — the White House released a preliminary strategy to reduce methane emissions from a variety of sources including landfills, agriculture, and the fossil fuel industry. The plan calls for the EPA to study what sort of regulations may be needed to comply with the Clean Air Act. If the agency decides to issue new rules they must be in place by the end of 2016 when Obama leaves office.


Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014

-- a _kt75 | note

Download: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014.

The most recent issue of the Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management (Q01/2014) is freely available.

This release of the Notes comes along with a substantial diversification in terms of content. As with this issue the section 'Energy' is inserted immediately after the section 'Technology'. By this, it is intended to emphasise and consider the importance of water as an important energy carrier.

Thematically, this issue concentrates on two highly sensitive issues affecting sustainable water management: the extraction of natural gas and crude oil by measn of hydraulic fracking on the one hand and the accounting of virtual water (especially with regarding to trading and agriculture) on the other hand. Both topics pose severe challenges. Whereas the former is often criticised to affect the natural water balance, in particular the mechanisms of the ground water regime, the latter is seen to impose rather political, thus economic issues. 
Fracking has received increased awareness due to the environmental situation in North America (in particular Canada), also regarding the transport from Canada to the US-coasts, but also with regard to the national interests in the arctic regions
The accounting of the virtual water impact appears to be not solved yet and, therefore, needs to be considered causing implications along with the growing globalisation of, especially agricultural and related production systems.

Download the full issue of the Notes free of charge: http://goo.gl/C5mGbK 


China and India 'water grab' dams put ecology
of Himalayas in danger

-- a _kt75 | reprint
More than 400 hydroelectric schemes are planned in the mountain region, which could be a disaster for the environment.

The future of the world's most famous mountain range could be endangered by a vast dam-building project, as a risky regional race for water resources takes place in Asia.
New academic research shows that India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are engaged in a huge "water grab" in the Himalayas, as they seek new sources of electricity to power their economies. Taken together, the countries have plans for more than 400 hydro dams which, if built, could together provide more than 160,000MW of electricity – three times more than the UK uses.
In addition, China has plans for around 100 dams to generate a similar amount of power from major rivers rising in Tibet. A further 60 or more dams are being planned for the Mekong river which also rises in Tibet and flows south through south-east Asia.

Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014.

Hydraulic Fracturing
Virtual Water
Water Management in Jordan...

Get the previous issue of the Notes and stay tuned as _kt75 | first reader.

Most of the Himalayan rivers have been relatively untouched by dams near their sources. Now the two great Asian powers, India and China, are rushing to harness them as they cut through some of the world's deepest valleys. Many of the proposed dams would be among the tallest in the world, able to generate more than 4,000MW, as much as the Hoover dam on the Colorado river in the US.
The result, over the next 20 years, "could be that the Himalayas become the most dammed region in the world", said Ed Grumbine, visiting international scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming. "India aims to construct 292 dams … doubling current hydropower capacity and contributing 6% to projected national energy needs. If all dams are constructed as proposed, in 28 of 32 major river valleys, the Indian Himalayas would have one of the highest average dam densities in the world, with one dam for every 32km of river channel. Every neighbour of India with undeveloped hydropower sites is building or planning to build multiple dams, totalling at minimum 129 projects," said Grumbine, author of a paper in Science. Read on...


Brazil's hydroelectric dam boom is bringing tensions
as well as energy

-- a _kt75 | reprint

People are having to leave their homes, villages are being submerged, and worries are being expressed about damage to the biodiverse Amazon forest.

When it is completed in 2015, the Jirau hydroelectric dam will span 8km across the Madeira river and feature more giant turbines than any other dam in the world. Then there are the power lines, draped along 2,250km of forests and fields to carry electricity to Brazil's urban nerve centre, São Paulo.
Still, it won't be enough. The dam and the Santo Antonio complex that is being built a few kilometres downstream will provide just 5% of what government energy planners say the country will need in the next 10 years. So Brazil is building many more dams, courting controversy by locating the vast majority in the world's largest and most biodiverse forest.
"The investment to build these plants is very high, and they are to be put in a region which is an icon for environmental preservation, the Amazon," said Paulo Domingues, energy planning director for the ministry of mines and energy. "So that has worldwide repercussions."
Between now and 2021, the energy ministry's building schedule will be feverish: Brazilian companies and foreign conglomerates will put up 34 sizeable dams in an effort to increase the country's capacity to produce energy by more than 50%.The Brazil projects have received less attention than China's dam-building spree, which has plugged up canyons and bankrolled hydroelectric projects far from Asia.
But Brazil is undertaking one of the world's largest public works projects, one that will cost more than $150bn, and harness the force of this continent's great rivers. The objective is to help the country of 199 million achieve what Brazilian leaders call its destiny: becoming a modern, efficient world-class economy with an ample supply of energy for office towers, assembly lines, refineries and iron works. "Brazil is a country that's growing, developing, and it needs energy," said Eduardo de Melo Pinto, president of Santo Antonio Energia. "And the potential in energy production in Brazil is located, for the most part, in Amazonia. And that's why this is important for this project to be developed."
Jirau, Santo Antonio and other projects, however, have generated more tension than electricity, raising questions that range from their environmental impact to whether future generations will be saddled with gigantic debt. Read on ...

Coming soon: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014. Topics: Hydraulic Fracturing, Virtual Water, Water Management in Jordan... Get the previous issue of the Notes and stay tuned as _kt75 | first reader.


Smog elimination:
China working on uranium-free nuclear plants

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Beijing brings forward deadline for world's first thorium-fuelled facility in attempt to break reliance on fossil fuels.

China is developing a new design of nuclear power plant in an attempt to reduce its reliance on coal and to cut air pollution. In an effort to reduce the number of coal-fired plants, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium.
A team of researchers in Shanghai has now been told it has 10 instead of 25 years to develop the world's first such plant. "In the past, the government was interested in nuclear power because of the energy shortage. Now, they are more interested because of smog," Professor Li Zhong, a scientist working on the project, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
An advanced research centre was set up in January by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the aim of developing an industrial reactor using thorium molten salt technology, the newspaper reported.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), China has 20 nuclear plants in operation and another 28 under construction, all uranium-fuelled reactors. China has been importing large quantities of uranium as it attempts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. However, according to the WNA, thorium is much more abundant.
The researchers on the project said they had come under considerable pressure from the government for it to be successful. Li said nuclear power was the "only solution" to replace coal, and thorium "carries much hope". Read on...

Coming soon: Quarterly Notes on Sustainable Water Management - Q01/2014. Topics: Hydraulic Fracturing, Virtual Water, Water Management in Jordan... Get the previous issue of the Notes and stay tuned as _kt75 | first reader.


Big is beautiful 2
Do massive dams ever make sense?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

A new report from researchers at Oxford University argues that large dams are a risky investment - soaring past projected budgets, drowning emerging economies in debt and failing to deliver promised benefits. Do they ever really make sense?

A peek over the edge of the Hoover Dam's 60-storey wall is enough to send shivers down anyone's spine. Constructed from enough concrete to pave a motorway from New York to San Francisco - this colossal barrier is touted as a symbol of man's mastery over nature and a marvel of 20th Century engineering.

The dam was credited with helping jump-start America's economy after the Great Depression, reining in the flood-prone Colorado River and generating cheap hydroelectric power for arid south-western states. Even more miraculously, the Hoover Dam was completed two years ahead of schedule and roughly $15m (£9m) under budget.

But for megadam critics, the Hoover Dam is an anomaly. The Oxford researchers reviewed 245 large dams - those with a wall height over 15m (49ft) - built between 1934 and 2007. They found that the dams ran 96% over their approved budgets on average - Brazil's Itaipu dam suffered a 240% overrun - and took an average of 8.2 years to build. In the vast majority of cases, they say, megadams are not economically viable. But after a two-decade lull, large dams are once again being trumpeted as a ticket to prosperity. Countries from China to Brazil, via Pakistan and Ethiopia, are rushing to erect them. With world electricity consumption expected to grow by more than 56% between 2010 and 2040, according to the 2013 International Energy Outlook report, hydropower is a tempting option. More than 90% of the world's renewable electricity comes from dams, according to the International Commission on Large Dams.

Andy Hughes of the British Dam Society points to Laos and Vietnam as shining examples of dam-building countries that have harnessed hydropower. "They're building dams, they're generating hydropower, and then they export that power to other countries, so it's a big cash crop for them," he says.But Bent Flyvbjerg, principal investigator for the Oxford University dam study, says dams "are not carbon neutral, and they're not greenhouse neutral". The vast quantities of concrete required to construct leave an enormous carbon footprint, he says. Furthermore flooded vegetation under the reservoirs produces methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, he says. His argument is not with all dams though, but with megadams. "We don't accept that it's a discussion of hydropower from large dams versus fossil fuels. We would like the discussion to be about hydropower from large dams versus hydropower from smaller hydropower projects," he says. Read on...

Read also: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]


Energy Price Concerns Resonate in EU Talks on 2030 Climate Goals

-- a _kt75 | reprint

The European Union should ensure that future climate and energy policies do not undermine the competitiveness of its industry, already weakened by a price gap with the U.S., the bloc’s member states said.
Energy ministers from the EU’s 28 nations had their first debate about 2030 carbon-reduction andrenewable energy strategy at their quarterly meeting in Brussels today. It followed yesterday’s gathering of environment ministers, where countries differed over how ambitious Europe’s emissions-cut target should be and how fast new policies should be adopted. The framework for the next decade will next be discussed by EU leaders at their March 20-21 summit.
“We need to make sure we combine our objectives for setting ambitious goals with increasing competitveness of the industry and safeguarding energy supply,” Greek Energy Minister Yannis Maniatis told reporters after the gathering. His country holds the EU rotating presidency through June. The challenge for the EU is to reconcile its ambition to lead the global fight against climate change with efforts to help the economy regain steam. The bloc should tighten its greenhouse-gas reduction target to 40 percent in 2030 compared with 20 percent in 2020, according to a strategy outlined in January by the European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm.
Member states, industry, non-governmental organizations and lobbies are divided over the commission’s proposal. Groups including the Climate Action Network and Greenpeace call for stricter targets, while energy-intensive companies including ThyssenKrupp and Tata urge policy makers to avoid carbon costs for manufacturers prone to relocation of production abroad.

Long-Term Debate

“I think we will have to have a very thorough long-term debate about how we can use our state budgets to reduce part of the burden that now lies on the industry,” Germany Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the meeting today. Germany supports the 40 percent greenhouse-gas target that would be binding on each member state and an EU-wide goal to boost the share of renewable energyto 27 percent.
Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania said in a joint statement that the 2030 carbon goal should be set at a “realistic level” and take into account United Nations talks about a global deal to be agreed in 2015. They also said the EU emissions-trading system should remain the core tool for Europe to meets its emission-reduction goal. “In order to reach this target cost effectively, intra-EU flexibility mechanisms — including innovative financing schemes — should be introduced, especially in the non-ETS sector, as an integral part of the climate and energy policy framework,” the six countries said.

Energy Prices

The agenda of the meeting today also included a discussion on energy prices in Europe after a report by the commission showed that electricity costs in some regions of the bloc are double those in the U.S., the EU’s main trading partner. Regulatory costs, such as taxes, levies and network costs, are the main reason for the increase in European prices, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said today. Read on...


Controversial 3
Solar sector faces uncertain future in China

-- a _kt75 | reprint

China's solar energy sector is a tale of two industries, in which ailing, overcapacity-plagued panel, parts and materials manufacturers are shunned by banks, while downstream solar farm developers boast mind-blowing expansion plans and credit lines.

But behind the multibillion-yuan construction plans and loan agreements with banks lie concerns that the solar farm building binge will see a repeat of the growing pains and low returns suffered by wind farm developers in 2011 and 2012 due to the inability of power grids to absorb much of their output. "Risks abound, some of these developers have been telling investors that their projects have no problems connecting with the grids, but they have yet to give convincing evidence to support their assertion," said CIMB Securities utilities and renewable energy analyst Keith Li.

Shunfeng Photovoltaic International, a solar farm developer controlled by Cheng Kin-ming, an investor known for buying distressed assets, said last month it planned to spend eight billion (HK$10.2 billion) to nine billion yuan to install three gigawatts (GW) of solar farms a year in the next three years. The 3GW target equals 21.4 per cent of this year's national target of 14GW of additional solar power capacity. It came shortly after Cheng funded the bulk of Shunfeng's three billion yuan takeover of bankrupt Wuxi Suntech, once the world's largest solar panel maker. Shunfeng executives said financing the solar farms plan was feasible because Beijing supported clean energy development to contain air pollution, and it had secured more than 2.3 billion yuan in lines of credit from mainland and offshore banks, including 1.2 billion yuan from China Development Bank (CDB), a mainland policy bank. They also dismissed concerns that projects in remote northwestern regions would face difficulties delivering their output, saying construction of the projects would only start once consent from monopoly power distributor State Grid Corporation of China was secured, and they were mostly located close to new transmission lines that send power to eastern regions. Wind farm developers endured two years of low plant utilisation after projects were installed much more rapidly than grid operators could cope with, until last year, when infrastructure partially caught up.

That was because power demand was modest in the sparsely populated northern and western regions, which have an abundance of riches in wind and solar resources, while transmission to distant markets required years of costly infrastructure building. Wind speed tends to be highly variable. Solar power is more predictable, but its output varies according to the time of day and is absent at night. Both could bring instability to a power grid if they were dispatched in large amounts and not balanced by more stable energy such as coal-fired, gas-fired or hydroelectric power. Power storage could be a solution in the future, but current technology is not commercially viable. Wind farm developers' returns have also been hurt by the slow payout of power tariff subsidies, financed by a surcharge on consumers' power bills. Delays of a year or longer in the payment of subsidies are common, with a shortfall of funding - 10 billion yuan nationwide at the end of 2011 - caused by the rapid ramp-up of wind power output and exacerbated by past instances of fraud that have prompted Beijing to carefully verify the output being claimed. The delays meant lower returns in the initial years of wind farm operation, higher interest costs and longer payback times. Solar farm developers are undeterred due to policy support. To cut the mainland's reliance on polluting coal-fired power, Beijing set a target in July last year for its solar power generating capacity to reach 35GW by 2015, up from a target of 21GW set just six months earlier. Two months later, it raised the surcharge that funds subsidies for renewable energy to 1.5 fen per kilowatt-hour from 0.8 fen, to plug a funding gap that Beijing forecast would reach 33 billion yuan in 2015 without an increase. Read on...

Controversial 2
Fossil Fuels to Keep Dominating Energy Consumption Mix

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Despite more than 25 years of efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and boost renewable energy use, fossil fuels will keep dominating the global energy consumption mix, said International Energy Agency (IEA) Chief Economist Fatih Birol.

In 1987, a number of countries kicked off a major effort to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and increase use of renewable energy resources. This global effort came after Norway’s then Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, issued a report on sustainable development at the request of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report. At that time, fossil fuels comprised 82 percent of the mix if energy resources used. Despite 25 years of subsidies and government policies, however, the percentage of fossil fuels in the global energy consumption mix remains at 82 percent. “This tells us that economic effects are stubborn, and may be more powerful than policy drivers,” Birol noted.

However, the amount of fossil fuels consumed might have even been higher with efforts to curb fossil fuel consumption. Birol believes that fossil fuels will continue to heavily dominate global energy consumption. Natural gas consumption will grow to a level greater than oil and coal put together. Renewables also are forecast to grow significantly, primarily due to government policies. However, renewables will shrink without government subsidies to promote their use.

IEA sees continued growth in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, meaning the world remains perfectly on track for a temperature increase above a level accepted by scientists. World leaders will try again to address climate change in Paris this year after their failure in Copenhagen in 2009, Birol noted, adding that he believes carbon capture storage should be part of the equation for addressing climate change. Read on ...


To be or not to be ...
Sustainability a question of supply and demand?

-- a _kt75 | reprint

Global demand for energy is inexhaustible. In developed countries, populations continue to rise putting pressure on water, sanitation and other requirements. A growing taste for comfort and convenience demands air conditioning and heating systems, transport solutions, entertainment activities and a range of other related energy-hungry luxuries. The less developed world is also becoming more sophisticated and more populous and demand is growing from the BRIC nations, South Africa and other areas to place even more pressure on natural resources.
Renewables such as solar, wind and tidal options present an alternative to traditional fossil energies, but these are expensive and still largely in their infancy. This means the world must continue to look to oil and gas for the immediate solution. Existing oil fields in the more accessible regions are now mature, so the options are to improve techniques to squeeze the remaining reserves from these fields or to explore more remote parts of the world.
Going farther afield into deeper and less accessible offshore oil fields presents a range of challenges. Not least is the remoteness itself. Drilling in the Brazilian Basin involves using difficult deepwater techniques, but these fields have an established network of support facilities to hand. Exploring in the polar regions, the Falkland Islands or East Africa may offer no such support. Establishing an offshore operation requires support vessels, port facilities, warehousing, workshops, a supply chain and, of course, facilities for the workers themselves. And when the product is extracted, a shore-side production and transport infrastructure will also be needed. This support infrastructure comes at an enormous cost which is, itself, increased if the region in question lacks basic services such as a road network or any domestic facilities. With an offshore operation costing anywhere up to US$ 15 billion, the added cost of building the initial shore-side infrastructure is often enough to make some fields uneconomical to exploit.

Questions of investment

This raises the question of who pays. In general, the asset holder – the entity developing the field – pays for the offshore infrastructure required to extract the energy. But is it fair that they also pay to create the shore facilities required to support the offshore work, particularly if local services are non-existent? The answer is complex and involves many issues including the local government’s ability, or willingness, to invest. But without such investment, an offshore operation can either be stifled or hampered by costly delays, particularly if the supply base is some days sailing away.
With billions spent on developing and installing an offshore facility – and, perhaps, shore-side infrastructure as well – the asset holder must be assured that they will be allowed to continue their work without interference or significant increases in tariffs and taxes. Less stable regimes are sometimes a cause for concern.
Political implications present their own particular challenges. Oil majors have less clout than in years gone by and national oil companies and local governments are exerting more influence. Governments issue contracts, set tariffs, impose taxes and can even force mergers, partnerships or nationalisation. Political tensions between countries can cause difficulties and delays with nations competing with their neighbours to provide optimum operating environments in return for a slice of the action. But less experienced governments might insist on a price that makes extraction just too costly. Read on...
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