CIRES, NOAA study confirms leaks from oil and gas operations

During two days of intensive airborne measurements, oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane, a greenhouse gas, as predicted based on inventory estimates, and seven times as much benzene, a regulated air toxic. Emissions of other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution were about twice as high as estimates, according to the new paper, accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

When a natural gas facility was built locally in the mid 80s, I was convinced it was a good idea as a “bridge” to the renewable technologies that I knew would eventually be taking over, in response to the growing consensus on global warming.

I did not anticipate that the disinformation campaign against science would be so strong and long lasting, nor that the media would be so compliant, and our politicians so craven.
Natural gas will obviously play a role for some decades to come, but further envisioning of gas as the solution to our climate problems has become insupportable.
A new study questions the utility of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” – and that’s when envisioning only a 1.5 percent leakage rate in the system, which seems increasingly naive.


study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that switching from coal to natural gas would not significantly lower the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

That’s chiefly because the shift would delay the deployment and cost-competitiveness ofrenewable electricity technologies for making electricity,” concluded the three researchers from the University of California Irvine, Stanford University and Seattle-based nonprofit Net Zero.

“Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the U.S. power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal,” said the study. “We model the effect of different gas supplies on the U.S. power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future.”

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Big piece from Reuters this week on the global utility panic as solar photovoltaic generation promises to eat away at their 100+ year old business model. Recent historical experience with technological revolutions like the internet and cell phones come to mind, suggest that those that fight, and refuse to adapt,  will inevitably be absorbed.


A year after Spain, the sunniest country in Europe, issued notice of a law forcing solar energy-equipped homes and offices to pay a punitive tax, architect Inaki Alonso re-installed a 250 watt solar panel on a beam over his Madrid roof terrace.

“The government wanted people to be afraid to generate their own energy, but they haven’t dared to actually pass the law,” Alonso said as he tightened screws on the panel on a sunny summer day this month. He had removed solar panels from the roof last year.

“We’re tired of being afraid,” he said.

Halfway across the globe, in the “sunshine state” of Queensland,Australia, electrical engineer David Smyth says the war waged by some governments and utilities against distributed energy, the term used for power generated by solar panels, is already lost.

“The utilities are in a death spiral,” he told Reuters by telephone while driving between a pub where he helped set up 120 solar panels to cut its A$60,000 ($53,000) annual power bill and a galvanizing plant which was also adding solar panels to reduce costs.

In Australia, he said, solar panels have shifted from being a heavily subsidized indulgence for environmentally-conscious households to a pragmatic option for businesses wanting certainty about what their running costs will be next year.

“Not many people are doing it because of emissions or the environment,” Smyth said. “It’s about the cost.”

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels constitute the fastest growing renewable energy technology in the world since 2000. Global capacity has exploded from 1.5 gigawatts at the turn of the century to 136 gigawatts currently, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has plummeted 80 percent since 2008 thanks to generous state subsidies aimed at promoting clean energy.

It’s still less than one percent of energy capacity worldwide, but the surge in installations of rooftop solar panels is beginning to hit utilities and their business model of charging customers on the basis of consumption.

IEEE Spectrum:

Although solar energy is still a midget among U.S. energy sources, its rapid growth from a small base is beginning to make some of the big players nervous. Regulated utilities in a number of states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho and Louisiana—have started to complain about the various benefits for photovoltaics (PV), says Mac Gunther, in a article appearing on Yale’s environment360 website. Gunther, a contributing editor at Fortune, describes the position of PV in the U.S. energy mix as “puny” or “a mere blip,” inasmuch as it accounted for barely one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S. electricity last year. (Coal delivered 37 percent and natural gas 30 percent.) Yet rooftop PV installations jumped nearly 50 percent last year, enough to make some incumbents seriously nervous.

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Climate science’s “I have a dream” moment?

The recent rush of big Brand name tech firms  to distance themselves from climate denial is evidence that last week’s huge climate march in New York was both a catalyzing event, and an indicator of a broader shift in public consciousness.  Climate Denial is on the way to transitioning from  an acceptable “alternative” position, to a poisonous, untouchable social disease like racism, apartheid, spousal abuse, or  kiddie pornography, and its practitioners will be remembered in those terms.

Jeff Nesbit in US News & World Report:

For years, tech giants like Facebook, Google and Yahoo with deep roots in both libertarianism and the laissez faire tech culture of Silicon Valley had managed to find common cause with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC takes a conservative, national political approach down to the state level through model bills that do the bidding of big, corporate interests which provide the funding. ALEC bills are generally promoted word for word at the state level by GOP legislators on issues ranging from information technology to renewable energy.

Despite criticism from consumer advocacy groups like Forecast the Facts that ALEC was distorting science in some of its model bills – specifically its efforts to distort climate science in model bills designed to thwart renewable energy innovation at the state level, or block state implementation of the White House’s clean power plan – the tech industry giants that rely on science and innovation stuck with ALEC.

No more.

Climate Denial’s “Bull Connor” moment?

In just one week, Google, Facebook and Yahoo all separately decided to drop their affiliation with ALEC – mostly because, as Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said on the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio, ALEC was twisting science in the pursuit of its political goals at the state level.

More importantly, last week’s climate march and UN meeting on climate issues became an important showcase for corporations to weigh and and acknowledge what the science has been telling us for decades.  Denial is no longer a respectable option. This is creating running room for politicians who want to find their own way out of the climate denial or climate agnostic ghetto.

Inside Climate News:

Governments and companies have long linked the use of coal, oil and natural gas with economic growth and prosperity, and many world leaders therefore view the push for emissions cuts as a call for deprivation.

Metzger of the World Resources Institute said that’s what made last week’s blitz from business so important.

“There were a lot of heads of state leading up to this [summit] that were very curious about what companies were going to say because they needed talking points for their speeches…so they could say, look, this isn’t going to kill jobs, this is something that a lot of companies are behind, and this is, in a lot of cases, good for the economy,” Metzger said.

He paraphrased comments from Ikea CEO Peter Agnefjall, who urged an audience of government leaders to act boldly on climate change, reassuring them, “You take that ambitious step, and we’ll be there to support you. We’ll be there behind you.”

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John Cleese on Stupidity

September 30, 2014

We’ve seen a number of demonstrations of this principle here on the blog.

Climate deniers are often textbook examples of the Dunning Kruger effect – in essence, being too stupid to know you’re stupid. It’s an affliction rampant in the US congress today – and well described here by John Cleese.

Below, more about the Dunning Kruger effect: Read the rest of this entry »

So it turns out those crazy socialists in Germany are doing a better job of beating bureaucratic red tape out of solar installations, while the US’s “free market” has an obstacle in that area.
Those states that address this issue and grease the skids for solar installers will gain a competitive advantage quickly, with no need for technological advances.

Renewables International:

In its report entitled REthinking Energy 2014 (PDF), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) produces a very useful set of overviews, essentially showing that renewable energy will continue to become less expensive up to 2020. For photovoltaics, the organization has produced a few especially interesting charts.

(top), we see that the price of turnkey PV is expected to drop by roughly another fifth from now until 2020 (though it would have been nice to have future years marked as estimates, such as “2015e”). The panels themselves will continue to become cheaper, as will “other,” which essentially signifies “soft costs.” As I explained two years ago, this cost item is a major factor when trying to explain the difference in PV prices from one country to another – but more on that later.

Another chart shows the difference that soft costs make. In a comparison of array prices in Germany and the US, it turns out that balance-of-system costs are easily twice as high in the US, while panel prices are nearly the same. This finding is in line with other previous reports.

Between 2008 and 2012, the price of sub-10-kilowatt (mainly residential) rooftop systems decreased 37 percent. However, over 80 percent of that cost decline is attributed to decreasing solar PV module costs. With module and other hardware prices expected to level off in the coming years (and in the near term, actually increase), further market growth will be highly dependent on additional reductions in the remaining “Balance of System” costs, otherwise known as “soft costs.”

Greg Laden’s Blog:

 The Arctic Sea is covered with ice during the winter, and some of it melts off every summer. Over recent years the amount of melt has been increasing. This is the time of year we may want to look at Arctic Sea ice because by late September it has reached its annual minimum and is starting to reform.

Looking at JUST surface area, which is one indicator of how warm the Arctic has become with Global Warming, we can see (above) that this years march of melting has been extreme, hugging the two standard deviation limit for all of the data from 1979 to 2010 (almost the present).

Here you can see that 2014 is distinctly different, with much more surface area loss, than the first ten years of this data set, from here.


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September 27, 2014

Heard this tune come across WCMU as I drove near Remus, MI, home of the newly-famous-to-outsiders Wheatland Music Festival.
Sometimes music is so good it touches your heart. Sometimes its so good all you can do is laugh.

Los Angeles Times:

Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system — even older than the sun itself.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

Scientific American:

The dense interstellar clouds of gas and dust where stars form contain abundant water, in the form of ice. When a star first lights up, it heats up the cloud around it and floods it with radiation, vaporizing the ice and breaking up some of the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Until now, researchers were unsure how much of the ‘old’ water would be spared in this process. If most of the original water molecules were broken up, water would have had to reform in the early Solar System. But the conditions that made this possible could be specific to the Solar System, in which case many stellar systems could be left dry, says Ilsedore Cleeves, an astrochemist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the new study.

But if some of the water could survive the star-forming process, and if the Solar System’s case is typical, it means that water “is available as a universal ingredient during planet formation”, she says.

To find out, Cleeves and her colleagues modelled the conditions soon after the Sun lit up. They calculated the amount of radiation that would have hit the Solar System, both from the young star and from outer space, and how far that radiation would have travelled through the cloud.

Those conditions determine how new water molecules form from hydrogen and oxygen, and in particular the odds that the molecules include deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen whose nucleus contains a neutron, in addition to the usual single proton. The model predicted an abundance of deuterium-containing water, also known as heavy water, that was lower than that in the Solar System’s water today.

But the interstellar clouds where Sun-like stars are currently forming — and thus, presumably, the material from which the Sun formed — have a higher proportion of heavy water compared to the current Solar System. This is because these clouds are subject to the continuous bombardment of cosmic rays, which tend to favour the inclusion of deuterium. Therefore, the authors concluded, the young Sun’s radiation was insufficient to account for the amount of heavy water seen in the Solar System today, and some must have existed before. They estimate that somewhere between 30% and 50% of the water in Earth’s oceans must be older than the Sun.

“If the disk can’t do it, that means we must have inherited some level of these very deuterium-enriched interstellar ices from the birth environment of the Sun,” says Cleeves. The study was published in Science on 25 September.