Noelle Swan

Posts Tagged ‘energy’

EEA takes Massachusetts pulse on climate policy

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

Over the past few years, Massachusetts has taken the national lead in developing a “clean energy economy” and tackling climate change. Governor Deval Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in August of 2008. This act represents a long-term commitment to slash GHG emission to just 80% of the level that has remained steady since 1990. A short-term goal has been established to reduce emissions by 10-25% by 2020. Secretary Ian Bowles of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is charged with setting a specific goal within this range by January 1, 2011.

The EEA’s Draft Climate Implementation Plan identifies existing and potential measures that could be taken by the transportation, building, and energy sectors. Existing and anticipated policies include adoption and implementation of various international, federal, and regional standards and regulations. Projection models indicate that these measures alone are likely to result in a 19% GHG emission reduction by 2020. While this is well within the range of 10-25% set by the Global Warming Solutions Act, the EEA has identified several other areas holding potential for emissions reduction.

The question is, how much of a commitment are the people of Massachusetts willing to make?

The EEA will take the pulse of Massachusetts’s residents on this very issue at a series of public hearings scheduled to take place throughout the state next month. Individuals, businesses, landlords, and large companies alike are all invited to weigh-in at one of these hearings or through written comments.

EEA Assistant Secretary for Policy, David Cash described these upcoming public hearings as “hugely important.” His office is casting a wide net amongst potential stakeholders, reaching out to environmental groups, business groups and local municipal groups. Still, he says it’s hard to gauge who will show up.

The EEA is specifically looking for public comment on 5 questions outlined in the Draft Climate Implementation Plan.

1. Where between 18 and 25 percent below 1990 levels should the emissions limit of 2020 be set and why?

2. What role can Massachusetts state government play in catalyzing the clean energy economy? What policies could inspire entrepreneurship and create markets for clean energy products and services?

3. Over what number of years should cost effectiveness of strategies be evaluated in pursuit of the goals of the Commonwealth for 2020 and 2050? How should future costs be compared to present costs?

4. How should the Commonwealth evaluate and prioritize strategies to achieve 2020 and 2050 goals?

5. How should green house gas reduction strategies be valued or prioritized?

Individual hearings will be held in Boston, Pittsfield, Worcester, Lowell, Lakeville, Springfield, and Woods Hole between June 1 and June 22. Additional comments can be submitted via email at climate.strategies@state.ma.us.

Is Fracking Just a Dirty Word?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

With cap and trade initiatives temporarily sidelined in Washington, the dialogue has changed from emissions reduction to energy independence and job creation. Without missing a beat, the Chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, of Exxon Mobil appeared before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on January 20, 2001, presenting hydraulic fracturing as the key to both.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process for extracting oil and natural gas from beneath shale by injecting fracking fluid, (water mixed with small amounts of chemicals), at very high pressures into the ground, forcing out fuel. The technology has been around for a century and has been used in Exxon Mobil oil wells for 60 years. Today, 90% of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells already employ this technology.

Why then, is Tillerson campaigning for an already thriving technology?

Tillerson is trying to paint an image of fracking as a technology that helps us achieve energy independence while creating jobs, ensuring fossil fuels keep the lead role in America’s evolving energy paradigm.

This image is more important today than it ever has been in it’s 100 year history.

For the past year, fracking has been under attack.

NPR reported last May that Texas, Ohio and Colorado residents claim that fracking has polluted their wells. These accusations have yet to be confirmed. It is difficult to analyze any link between contamination of well water and fracking fluid because the chemical compounds utilized are carefully guarded industry secrets.

In 2005, fracking was granted an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act taking regulation out of the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency. Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Colorado Representative Diana DeGette has introduced a bill in the House that would repeal this exemption. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has introduced a comparable bill in the Senate.

While the passage of DeGette and Casey’s bills would be a victory for the Obama administration’s expressed desire to reverse the policies of the Bush-era EPA, it may not be crucial to the fracking fluid disclosure cause. In the absence of federal regulation, individual states have begun to request disclosure of fracking fluid contents.

Gas executives from Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources have joined the call for disclosure. This stance is an interesting power play. In addition to continuing the heavy role of fossil fuels in America’s future energy paradigm, this also places reform out of the hands and budgets of energy suppliers.

Fracking is performed by independent contractors, including ther firm Americans love to hate, Halliburton. It is these contractors that hold the recipes to fracking fluid. Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy can publicly declare, “we need to disclose the chemicals that we are using and search for alternatives,” because it is not his company that will bear the cost of such endeavors.

Environmentalists, worry that any disclosure initiated by the industry might be insufficient and hold out hope that Congress will move to bring the process back under federal regulation.

Sources:

http://degette.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=852:gas-execs-call-for-disclosure-of-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracturing&catid=66:in-the-news&Itemid=195

http://www.newsweek.com/id/154394

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104565793

http://www.ordons.com/201001242478/exxon-mobils-tillerson-advocates-for-fracking.html

Taking the Guilt Out of Air Travel

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Americans work hard for their vacations. U.S. businesses are notoriously stingy with vacation time and their employees like to make the most of what time they can get.

While a trip to a foreign country for Europeans can be a quick drive over a border or two, Americans travel farther and rely more heavily on air travel. Those flights that carry us across oceans and language barriers leave behind a wake of carbon dioxide in the stratosphere.

I will not be boarding a plane for spring break this year, so rather than stew in jealousy, I thought I would take a peek at my friends itineraries to get an idea of the impact of various spring breaker destinations.

The UC Berkeley Environment and Sustainability Portal estimates that an escape from snowy Boston to sunny Jamaica deposits 1.23 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere over the course of the 5000 mile round trip. Berkeley further suggests that a modest donation of $13.39 each to the UC Berekeley Climate Action Fund will sufficiently offset the emissions of their trip. CO2 Balance suggests a $22.04 donation to send energy efficient stoves to the developing world.

A trip from Boston to Cancun, Mexico yields similar CO2 emissions as the Boston to Jamaica trip. A vacation to Hawaii, the most distant sun seeker destination, results in more than twice the CO2 emission at 3.2 tonnes per seat and surpasses even transatlantic flights.

Whether or not these calculators are accurate is debatable and much discussion board space has been devoted to their critique. Their principle, however, is highly intriguing. Environmentally conscious businesses have been purchasing offsets to their travel for several years now. These web based calculators and small scale offsets have brought an easy and affordable way for the individual travelers to compensate in a small way for the massive fossil fuel use included in their ticket price.

Sources:
“Air Travel Calculator.” UC Berkeley Environment and Sustainability Portal.
http://enviro.berkeley.edu/aircalculator. Last accessed January 21, 2010.

“Air Travel Carbon Dioxide Emission Calculator.” CO2balance.com.
http://www.co2balance.com/us/co2calculators/air-travel. Last accessed January 21, 2010.

Tobacco to the Rescue?

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Move over corn, tobacco is poised to take the lead in the biofuel race.

Just a few short years ago, it seemed that ethanol, a biodiesel fuel derived from corn, was going to be the key which freed us from the shackles of fossil fuels.

Yet, the promise of ethanol has since worn thin. Nitrogen-hungry corn requires heavy fertilizer when grown on a large-scale, placing the local water-table at risk. Social justice advocates have cautioned further against using a food source for fuel.

Could tobacco be the answer?

Initially, scientists considered the oil derived from tobacco seeds as a potential fuel source. Seed volume proved to be too low, shifting attention to the leaves. With a little bioengineering, the leaves have become promising oil producers. The researchers at the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have recently isolated two genes in the tobacco plant DNA that, when over-expressed, increase oil production. Surprisingly, as oil production increased, so did the concentration of fatty acids within the oil. The result is not only more, but more concentrated oil.

While tobacco clearly has promise, it too will have to stand the scrutiny which befell ethanol. Tobacco is considered an expensive plant, though a significant portion of the expense lies in the curing of leaves for smoking tobacco as this involves the burning of large volumes of wood. It is this practice which is often quoted as a major environmental beef with the tobacco companies.

While tobacco is not a food source, there is still a legitimate concern that the crop could end up competing for land with food crops. Tobacco is native to the Americas, yet much is already produced in the developing world. Were tobacco to become an energy commodity, cash poor nations might be tempted to relegate more of their farm land to the latest cash-crop.

While it is an intriguing idea that Big Bad Tobacco could shift its business to the energy sector, it is yet still fantasy.

Sources:

http://agronomyday.cropsci.illinois.edu/2001/tours/nitrogen-need/index.html

http://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/making-leaves-better-for-energy/

http://www.icis.com/Articles/2007/10/08/9067776/hollywood-celebrities-get-into-biofuels.html

http://www.sciencecodex.com/engineered_tobacco_plants_have_more_potential_as_a_biofuel

Plant Biotechnology Journal (2009) 8, pp. 1–11.