Publications

The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking

Robert B. Jackson, et al. (2014). “The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39 (online ahead of print). DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-144051

Abstract: Unconventional oil and natural gas extraction enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is driving an economic boom, with consequences described from “revolutionary” to “disastrous.” Reality lies somewhere in between. Unconventional energy generates income and, done well, can reduce air pollution and even water use compared with other fossil fuels. Alternatively, it could slow the adoption of renewables and, done poorly, release toxic chemicals into water and air. Primary threats to water resources include surface spills, wastewater disposal, and drinking-water contamination through poor well integrity. An increase in volatile organic compounds and air toxics locally are potential health threats, but the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation will reduce sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and particulate air pollution. Data gaps are particularly evident for human health studies, for the question of whether natural gas will displace coal compared with renewables, and for decadal-scale legacy issues of well leakage and plugging and abandonment practices. Critical topics for future research include data for (a) estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of unconventional hydrocarbons, (b) the potential for further reductions of water requirements and chemical toxicity, (c) whether unconventional resource development alters the frequency of well integrity failures, (d) potential contamination of surface and ground waters from drilling and spills, (e) factors that could cause wastewater injection to generate large earthquakes, and (f) the consequences of greenhouse gases and air pollution on ecosystems and human health.

At least 150 companies prep for carbon prices

Read the full story in USA Today.

At least 150 major companies worldwide — including ExxonMobil, Google, Microsoft and 26 others in the United States — are already making business plans that assume they will be taxed on their carbon pollution, a report out today says.

EPA Regulations and Electricity: Update on Agencies’ Monitoring Efforts and Coal-Fueled Generating Unit Retirements

Download the document.

What GAO Found

The Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken initial steps to implement a recommendation GAO made in 2012 that these agencies develop and document a joint process to monitor industry’s progress in responding to four proposed or finalized EPA regulations affecting coal-fueled generating units. GAO concluded that such a process was needed until at least 2017 to monitor the complexity of implementation and extent of potential effects on price and reliability. Since that time, DOE, EPA, and FERC have taken initial steps to monitor industry progress responding to EPA regulations including jointly conducting regular meetings with key industry stakeholders. Currently, these monitoring efforts are primarily focused on industry’s implementation of one of four EPA regulations—the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards—and the regions with a large amount of capacity that must comply with that regulation. Agency officials told GAO that in light of EPA’s recent and pending actions on regulations including those to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing generating units, these coordination efforts may need to be revisited.

According to GAO’s analysis of public data, power companies now plan to retire a greater percentage of coal-fueled generating capacity and retrofit less capacity with environmental controls than the estimates GAO reported in July 2012. About 13 percent of coal-fueled generating capacity—42,192 megawatts (MW)—has either been retired since 2012 or is planned for retirement by 2025, which exceeds the estimates of 2 to 12 percent of capacity that GAO reported in 2012 (see fig.). The units that power companies have retired or plan to retire are generally older, smaller, more polluting and not used extensively, with some exceptions. For example, some larger generating units are also planned for retirement. In addition, the capacity is geographically concentrated in four states: Ohio (14 percent), Pennsylvania (11 percent), Kentucky (7 percent), and West Virginia (6 percent). GAO’s analysis identified about 70,000 MW of generating capacity that has either completed some type of retrofit to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, or particulate matter since 2012 or plan to complete one by 2025, which is less than the estimate of 102,000 MW GAO reported in 2012.

Why GAO Did This Study

EPA recently proposed or finalized four regulations affecting coal-fueled electricity generating units, which provide about 37 percent of the nation’s electricity supply. These regulations are the: (1) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule; (2) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; (3) Cooling Water Intake Structures regulation; and (4) Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals regulation. In 2012, GAO reported that, in response to these regulations and other factors such as low natural gas prices, companies might retire or retrofit some units. GAO reported that these actions may increase electricity prices and, according to some stakeholders, may affect reliability–the ability to meet consumers’ demand—in some regions. In 2012, GAO recommended that DOE, EPA, and FERC develop and document a formal, joint process to monitor industry’s progress responding to these regulations. In June 2014, EPA proposed new regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that will also affect these units.

GAO was asked to update its 2012 report. This report examines (1) agencies’ efforts to respond to GAO’s recommendation and (2) what is known about planned retirements and retrofits. GAO reviewed documents, analyzed data, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making new recommendations but believes it is important that these agencies jointly monitor industry progress and fully document these steps as GAO recommended in 2012. The agencies concurred with GAO’s findings.

6 Ways The World Can Cope With Water Shortages

Read the full story from Fast Company.

As if California’s current drought wasn’t bad enough, it could be just a foretaste of what’s to come. Many of the U.S.’s major watersheds are “stressed” , and, across the world, several important regions are set to run low on water.

With growing populations and deepening climate change, we’re going to need to find new ways to conserve and make better use of supplies. The days of using water casually, as if there’s always more to come, will be over for a good proportion of the planet, including much of the southwest and western United States.

How can we overcome our shortages? A new paper from researchers at McGill and Utrecht Universities identifies six strategies–or “wedges”–that could make a significant difference. Each could provide a reduction in water-stressed population of at least 2% by 2050.

How to Clean Up the Global Economy to Combat Climate Change

Read the full story in Scientific American.

The global economy will pump $90 trillion into infrastructure development over the next 15 years, sparking a series of investment decisions that will make or break the Earth’s climate, a sweeping new study out today finds.

Effectiveness of State Pollution Prevention Programs and Policies

Harrington, Donna Ramirez (2013). “Effectiveness of State Pollution Prevention Programs and Policies.” Contemporary Economic Policy 31(2), 255–278. DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-7287.2011.00312.x

Abstract: States are using regulatory-, information-, and management-based policies to encourage the adoption of pollution prevention (P2) and reduce pollution. Using a sample of facilities of S&P 500 firms which report to the Toxic Releases Inventory from 1991 to 2001, this study employs dynamic panel data models to examine the effectiveness of state legislations and policies in increasing P2 and reducing toxic releases. I find that toxic waste legislations are effective in reducing toxic releases and in promoting P2, but the effect of policy instruments differ. Facilities in states with reporting requirement and mandatory planning adopt more P2 even in states that do not emphasize toxic waste reduction. The effectiveness of reporting is stronger among facilities with good environmental performance, while the potency of mandatory planning is greater among facilities with past P2 experience. In contrast, numerical goals reduce toxic pollution levels only among those which have been subjected to high levels of enforcement action. These suggest that reporting requirement and mandatory planning may be promoting the P2 practices which can improve public image and which benefit from enhanced technical know-how, but they are not causing meaningful pollution reductions, implying that the existing policies must be complemented by other approaches to achieve higher reductions in toxic pollution levels.

The 2014 Dow Jones Sustainability Index: Abbott to Woolworths

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

After an annual review, 46 companies were deleted from the 15-year-old Dow Jones Sustainability World index — the three biggest (by free-float market capitalization) to be booted were Bank of America, General Electric and Schlumberger.

The good news is that 32 were added, including Amgen, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and GlaxoSmithKline.

Even better news, 16 companies have been recognized every single year: Baxter, Bayer, BMW, BT, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, Intel, J Sainsbury, Novo Nordisk, RWE, SAP, Siemens, Storebrand, Unilever and UnitedHealth.