Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does PG&E's Climate Smart program help you make it "Earth Day" for 365 days a year?

My electricity provider is PG&E and last week they sent me an email suggesting that I can make it Earth Day for 365 days a year just by joining their Climate Smart program. A quick look over their website and what I see is a modern form of the medieval indulgences where one can pay a fee to the priest to offset the evil of ones sins. In this case their Climate Smart program is all about donating money (tax write-off, cool!) that PG&E will funnel into programs that supposedly mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels.

As they say: "The energy used to power our homes can also emit greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere," and participation in the program "helps to balance out your home’s GHG emissions through environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects right here in California."

Maybe if there's a real effect from "environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects" then funneling money to them is a good idea. To me the sort of projects they're funding are the equivalent of bolting the barn door after the horses have already escaped.

That is, "environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects" supposedly removes harmful chemicals emitted by burning natural gas. But, wouldn't it be better to not burn natural gas in the first place?

In California we used to be able to select our electricity provider rather than be forced to buy power from the monopoly utility. But somewhere in the middle of the brownout energy crisis nearly 10 years ago (the one which forced Gray Davis out of the Governorship) we lost that ability to choose our electricity provider. As a result we can no longer choose companies like Green Mountain whose business was to operate solar or wind power plants.

What counts here is the actual projects they're funding. (See ClimateSmart Projects) They're a bevy of planting-trees-in-forests that are meant to provide carbon capture and services. Two more programs are methane capture at landfills and dairy operations. The last is diversion of refrigerators (and other appliances) from landfills to recycling operations.

Each of them have good environmental utility that I support. I do not want to diss the projects themselves.

Instead what I see is that there is no attempt at real fundamental change. These programs paper over the core issue, that PG&E's core business emits greenhouse gases. That to properly change the situation requires changing that fact.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Facts on Fracking - a video series by Friends of the Jordan

Friends of the Jordan is hosting a series of educational videos on the subject of fracking. This process, used to extract natural gas from shale, is being promoted in Northern Michigan. The series of videos below are from a 2 hour presentation by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University. He is a long time scientist in the fossil fuel industry who appears to have had a change of heart and is giving an in-depth warning about the process and what can go wrong.

For more information on Fracking, see: Hydraulic Fracturing

Facts on Fracking - How is it Different

This segment explains how it is different from conventional natural gas wells. The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.

Facts on Fracking - Drilling the Well

This segment explains how the wells are drilled and the fracking . The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.

Facts on Fracking - How Safe is it?

This segment explains safety issues that have been part of the fracking process since its inception . The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.

Facts on Fracking - How Much Ground Does it Cover?

This segment deals with the number of wells needed to make extraction of natural gas profitable. The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.

Facts on Fracking - What Can Go Wrong?

This segment explains the many things that in go wrong in the multi-stage process. The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.

Facts on Fracking - What is the Science?

This segment explains the scientific study that has been done, some by Dr. Ingraffea, of fracture mechanics and how the industry applies it out in the field. The speaker is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University.


Videos on the Bradford County fracking accident

Earlier this week a major hydraulic fracturing accident occurred in Pennsylvania (see: The fracking accident on the anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill). The youtube site has several informative videos.

Bradford County PA, 90 miles west of the Delaware River Basin, shows us the face of shale gas drilling's industrialization in ruined air and drinking water. Photographed by Jane Prettyman (with apologies for soviet camera), host of 'Public Comment' ( Music: "Wheels" by Jason Shaw (Creative Commons) and "Sacrifice" by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke.

This video is "Bradford County Commissioner McLinko at the Marcellus Shale Advosory Commission" speaking about conditions in his county. This was recorded Mar 25, 2011 (before the fracking explosion). His view is jobs, jobs, jobs, damn the consequences.

Inhofe Claims Fracking Has 'Never Poisoned Anyone' Nor Ever Contaminated Groundwater: He refers explicitly to the accident in Bradford County saying it was "above ground" (hence not groundwater) and a bunch of other quibblish things.

The Commonwealth Foundation spoke to many people impacted by the Marcellus Shale drilling activity in and around Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Residents from Bradford County speak out about the proposed natural gas severance tax.


The fracking accident on the anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill

Earlier this week a natural gas well blew up while undergoing hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) causing a spill of fracking fluids. Supposedly it's been cleaned up and there's nothing to be seen. Really?

That it happened on the anniversary of last years oil spill is causing some to point at the irony, but it's obviously one of those coincidences that sometimes happen. Rather than point at coincidences what this makes me think of is my blog post from a few weeks ago following the beginning of the still-ongoing nuclear meltdown - This world doesn't have to become an uninhabitable nuclear radiation poisoned wasteland - This world also doesn't have to be fracked over by the natural gas companies, and that: Change starts "here" with "you" and "me"

Like several previous examples (nuclear meltdown, oil spill, etc) this is an example of the environmental cost coming from the fossil fuels we use to power this wondrous life we have. The following should serve as a reminder to that cost, but you can see below most of the discussion going on is the environmental effect of the spill and who has the responsibility for the accident.

See also: Videos on the Bradford County fracking accident

Pennsylvania natgas well has blowout during fracking (April 20, 2011):

A natural gas well spilled thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracking drilling fluid water in Pennsylvania..after a blowout..began spewing fluid at 11.45 p.m...during the controversial "fracking" drilling process which involves blasting shale rock with water, sand and chemicals to release trapped natural gas.."An equipment failure occurred during well-completion activities, allowing the release of completion fluids," Chesapeake said in a statement. ... fluid initially spilled into a nearby waterway ... Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has tested the water and found no adverse affects on aquatic life as yet ...

The same article refers to an earlier accident 2 months ago when another Chesapeake owned well had a spill of fracking fluids.

Fracking fluid leak stops at Pa. gas well (April 22, 2011):

A gas well in Pennsylvania is no longer leaking after two days of efforts to stop hydraulic fracturing fluid and natural gas from escaping.. While the cause of the Tuesday blowout of the well in Bradford Country is unclear, well operator Chesapeake Energy said it has suspended all post-drilling activity on its wells in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio while they investigate why the well malfunctioned

Chesapeake seeks permanent plug for natgas well (April 22, 2011):

Chesapeake Energy is looking for options to plug permanently a Pennsylvania natural gas well following a blowout this week that sent drilling fluid into local waterways.... [they] used a mix of plastic, ground-up tires and heavy mud on Thursday as a temporary plug for the well, which had spewed thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, fluid into the surrounding area.... company, which had 87 active wells in Pennsylvania in the second half of 2010, has halted all fracking activities in the state following the blowout. ...

An April 20 blog post on the NRDC website points out Bradford County, where this blowout occurred, there are "reports that up to 100 households have had their drinking water wells contaminated by natural gas production operations" and calls it "one of the communities across the nation currently serving as guinea pigs in the new rush to exploit natural gas reserves without adequate regulation or oversight." Another week in natural gas drilling, another fracking blow-out

That blog post referred back to one from April 12, 2011 Pennsylvania continues to lead the pack with news of inadequate oil and gas regulation

Pennsylvania remains the poster child for things that can go wrong when producing oil or gas....contamination of drinking water wells in northwestern Pennsylvania...reports that up to 100 households in Bradford County have had their drinking water wells contaminated by gas production operations...Two houses exploded in Bradford Township... [which may be due to] some type of thermogenic gas migration caused by extensive drilling ... U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials pushed Pennsylvania regulators to consider re-evaluating all permits for wastewater treatment plants that are accepting drilling or fracking waste and adding stricter standards for testing of radionuclides and other contaminants... Pennsylvania oil and gas inspectors trying to enforce state rules on drilling in the Marcellus Shale have been prohibited from issuing violations unless they have gotten the approval of a senior state official... Carmichaels Municipal Authority recently issued an advisory for residents to boil their water because it had to lower chlorine treatment in order to reduce the levels of trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer .. [which]is being caused by high levels of bromide in the Monongahela River, resulting from natural gas wastewater

Pennsylvania Natural Gas Blowout Spills Thousands of Gallons of Toxic Wastewater into Local Community (April 20, 2011)

Chesapeake Energy Corporation lost control of its Marcellus Shale well near Canton, Pennsylvania. The company reports that a piece of equipment failed during the hyrdraulic fracturing process. As a result, thousands of gallons of chemical-laden water have spilled out from the well into nearby fields and farms.... From their entire land holding, Chesapeake has designated 2.5 million acres for shale gas development. The company estimates it holds 15,800 drilling locations capable of producing 7.7 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves and 64 trillion cubic feet of risked unproven reserves. Furthermore, over the next two years, the company plans to make significant investments in building its capacity to hydraulically fracture its wells...Unconventional extraction of natural gas is conducted using the controversial drilling technique hydraulic fracturing or fracking. There are significant environmental concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, primarily regarding the disposal of the toxic drilling water which is injected to break up the rock formations and release the gas.

Pennsylvania Gas-Well Blowout Forces Evacuation (April 20, 2011)

According to both Chesapeake and local officials, the well had already been drilled when the accident occurred and was in the process of being hydraulically fractured, a process in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are injected into the ground to crack open gas-bearing rocks....Francis Roupp, deputy director of the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency, said "many thousands of gallons" spilled from the well, but he said much of the fluid was successfully contained on the site. He said recent rains also meant Towanda Creek was full, diluting any contamination....Mr. Roupp said he didn't know what chemicals were in the water....A report released by Congressional Democrats last week said fracturing fluid often contains carcinogens and other harmful chemicals....Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been especially controversial. Environmental groups fear the process can contaminate drinking-water supplies....This isn't the first fracturing-related accident in Pennsylvania. In a similar incident last June, workers lost control of a well in western Pennsylvania owned by EOG Resources Inc. That incident blew water and chemicals 75 feet into the air but caused only moderate environmental damage, according to state officials at the time...."How many of these can you have?" said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, which has called for a ban on hydraulic fracturing until drillers demonstrate better safety practices. "You've played Russian Roulette. You've spun the revolver too many times. People's lives are on the line."

That article (from the Wall Street Journal) reads like a downplaying of the problems, echoing the industry's emphasis on small concentrations and minimal effect. The fact is the chemicals are carcinogenic and are being spilled into drinking water supplies.

The WJS article referred to an earlier spill: Marcellus blowout sprays gas in Clearfield County (June 5, 2010)

A 16-hour natural gas leak at a Clearfield County well started with the first reported blowout during statewide exploration of the Marcellus shale, but it won't halt drilling in the gas-rich layers underground, state officials said Friday.

Natural gas and wastewater shot 75 feet into the air Thursday night after drillers encountered unexpectedly high gas pressure in the well about 10 miles north of Interstate 80, just outside Moshannon State Forest. Crews from a contractor hired by well operator EOG Resources capped it at noon yesterday. No no one was hurt.

There are no homes within a mile of the site, and crews dug a trench to stop chemicals in the water from entering groundwater, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

... "I can't guarantee that it won't happen again," Hanger said. "But I can guarantee we are doing everything possible to make sure it won't happen again."

... In the past two years, Pennsylvania has granted about 3,400 Marcellus shale drilling permits, with more than 1,500 wells drilled, some in populated areas. Government officials have promoted gas drilling as a way to raise revenue from taxes and land-leasing royalties. Environmentalists have decried shale drilling, saying chemicals in the wastewater used to fracture underground rock and free natural gas can contaminate the land.

Pennsylvania Fracking Accident: What Went Wrong (April 21, 2011)

The leak happened at the Atgas 2H well in rural Leroy Township... the failure occurred late Tuesday night when Chesapeake was in the middle of a "frack job." The controversial practice, essential to the extraction of gas from shale, involves pumping up to a million gallons of water treated with biocides, lubricants, surfactants and stabilizers a mile or more into the ground at pressures exceeding 9000 psi. ... believe they have pinpointed the initial cause of the accident: A steel coupling located beneath the well's blowout protector, but above ground, appears to have failed ...

(The blowout protector is the same technology as device that failed in the case of the BP oil spill. It didn't fail here, but if it had, both natural gas and water would have spewed forth from the well. However above-ground wells are much easier to shut down than those deep underwater.)

Marcellus wells typically regurgitate between 30 and 50 percent of the water pumped into them. In normal circumstances, it comes back in a manageable flow, and the well operators collect it in pits or tanks.... in Pennsylvania, the geology is not suited for deep-well injection, and so the water is kept in pits and tanks where it is treated to remove chemicals that are added by the drillers. It also must be stripped of contaminants it picks up while underground: bromides, chlorides and some heavy metals.

... when the coupling failed at Atgas 2H, the water simply came gushing too fast for Chesapeake's operators to bring it under control and collect it. Making matters worse, days of steady rain had partially filled the containment pits and they quickly overflowed ...

Chesapeake gets DEP notice of violation after well incident (April 23, 2011)

The state Department of Environmental Protection wants answers from Chesapeake Energy Corp. about Tuesday night's blowout incident at the company's natural gas well site in LeRoy Twp.

The state agency sent a notice of violation, dated Friday, to Chesapeake Energy requesting further information, including a complete list of materials in the fracking fluids used at the site. The agency asked Chesapeake to submit a written response to the notice within five business days.

One of the instructions in the notice informs Chesapeake to "include an explanation of why it took Chesapeake nearly 12 hours to address the uncontrolled release of fluids off the well pad."

Another calls for "a description of immediate actions taken by Chesapeake to regain control of the well and secure the wellhead, as well as any measures taken to ensure public safety."