Scientists are trying to understand how much plastic humans are pumping into the ocean and how long it sticks around. A study published this week says it may be much more than earlier estimates.
Associated journal article: Pabortsava, K., Lampitt, R.S. “High concentrations of plastic hidden beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.” Nature Communications 11, 4073 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17932-9
The Trump administration has announced that it is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development – the latest twist in a decades-long battle over the fate of this remote area. Its timing is truly terrible.
Low oil prices, a pandemic-driven recession and looming elections add up to highly unfavorable conditions for launching expensive drilling operations. In the longer term, the climate crisis and an ongoing shift to a lower-carbon economy raise big questions about future oil demand.
I’ve researched the U.S. energy industry for more than 20 years. As I see it, conservative Republicans have backed oil and gas production in ANWR since the 1980s for two overriding reasons. First, to increase domestic oil production and reduce dependence on “foreign oil,” a euphemism for imports from OPEC countries. This argument now is largely dead, thanks to the fracking revolution, which has greatly expanded U.S. oil and gas production.
The other motive for drilling in ANWR, I believe, is to score a major, precedent-setting victory over government policies that prioritize conservation over energy production and environmental advocacy groups that have fought for years to protect ANWR as “one of the finest examples of wilderness left on Earth.” Capturing ANWR and transforming it into a locus of fossil fuel extraction would be a massive physical and symbolic triumph for politicians who believe that resource extraction is the highest use of public lands.
ANWR is inarguably an ecological treasure. With 45 species of mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, the refuge is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic.
This is especially true of the 1002 coastal plain portion, which has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska. It also supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares, migrating waterfowl and Porcupine caribou, which calve there. Most of ANWR is designated as wilderness, which puts it off-limits for development. But this does not include the 1002 Area, which was recognized as a promising area for energy development when the refuge was created in 1980 and left that way after a 1987 study confirmed its potential.
Energy companies’ interest in ANWR, meanwhile, has risen and fallen over time. The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, followed by two oil shocks in the 1970s, sparked support for exploration and production in the region. But this enthusiasm faded in the late 1980s and ‘90s in the face of fierce political and legal opposition and years of low oil prices.
Scientists performed two major assessments of oil reserves in the 1002 Area in 1987 and 1998. The latter study concluded that ANWR contained up to 11 billion barrels of oil that could be profitably recovered if prices were consistently high. But when prices rose between 2010 and late 2014, companies chose to focus instead on areas to the west of the refuge, where new discoveries had been made.
In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a Republican-controlled Congress directed the Trump administration to open the 1002 Area to leasing. The bill required one lease sale within four years, and at least two sales within a decade. But as the Interior Department tried to comply, it was hampered by political controversies and environmental assessment requirements.
The new Record of Decision, released on Aug. 17, 2020, determines where and how leasing will occur. It represents the Trump administration’s last chance to bring forward a well-designed leasing plan, and is certain to spark legal challenges from environmental and wildlife organizations.
Is ANWR oil worth it?
Toady the oil industry is facing its greatest set of challenges in modern history. They include:
A collapse in oil demand and prices due to the global pandemic, with a sluggish and uncertain recovery
Companies canceling and reducing activity worldwide, with bankruptcies in the U.S. shale industry and drilling rig counts falling back to 1940 levels
New uncertainty about future global oil demand as climate concerns push public interest and government policy toward electric vehicles, and automakers respond with new EV designs
The growing possibility of Democratic victories in the November 2020 elections, which would likely lead to policies reducing fossil fuel use
Increasing investor pressure on banks and investment firms to reduce or eliminate support for fossil fuel projects.
All of these factors compound the challenges of leasing and drilling in ANWR. Well costs there would be among the highest anywhere onshore in the U.S. Only one well has ever been drilled in the area, so new drilling would be purely exploratory and have a lower chance of success than in better-studied areas. Under these conditions, it would make more sense for companies that are active on Alaska’s North Slope to pursue sites they currently have under lease, which pose much lower risk.
What’s more, as I have argued previously, it’s not clear that there’s a need to drill in ANWR. Energy companies have made new discoveries elsewhere south and west of Prudhoe Bay – most recently, the Talitha Field, which could yield 500 million barrels or more.
Companies that pursue leases in ANWR also will have to weigh the prospects of litigation, investor anger and a tarnished brand – especially large firms with public name recognition. Shell’s experience in 2015, when it abandoned plans to drill offshore in the Arctic under heavy pressure, indicate what other companies can expect.
If Trump is voted out of office, I expect that a Biden administration would quickly move to reverse the directive for leasing in ANWR. In my view, this contested area will have far more meaning and value as a wildlife refuge in a warming world that is starting to seriously move away from hydrocarbon energy.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Dec. 20, 2017.
Have you heard of DNA? It stands for Do Not Abbreviate apparently. Jokes aside, it’s the most widely used acronym in scientific literature in the past 70 years, appearing more than 2.4 million times.
The short form of deoxyribonucleic acid is widely understood, but there are millions more acronyms (like WTF: water-soluble thiourea-formaldehyde) that are making science less useful and more complex for society, according to a new paper released by Australian researchers.
Associated journal article: Barnett, A and Doubleday, Z (2020). “Meta-Research: The growth of acronyms in the scientific literature.” eLife 9, e60080. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.60080
Natural Fiber Welding Inc., a Peoria company developing plant-based alternatives to leather and plastics, has raised $13 million in new investments, with Ralph Lauren Corp. leading the latest round of financing.
Pandey, U., Stormyr, J. A., Hassani, A., Jaiswal, R., Haugen, H. H., & Moldestad, B. M. E. (2020). Pyrolysis of plastic waste to environmentally friendly products. WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, 246, 61–74. https://doi.org/10.2495/EPM200071 [ope access]
Abstract: Pyrolysis of plastics is one of the efficient ways to recover plastic waste. Pyrolysis refers to a thermal degradation of long-chain organic molecules into smaller hydrocarbons. Many ongoing research studies are trying to gain a better understanding of the pyrolysis technology with the aim of establishing new industrial processes for plastic recycling. The pyrolysis process can thermally degrade plastics or a mixture of biomass and plastics (co-pyrolysis) in the absence of oxygen. Temperature has the most impact on pyrolysis. Other processes to use in the conversion of plastic wastes into valuable products, are steam cracking and gasification. The objective of this study is to find the best operation conditions for conversion of plastic wastes in a fluidized bed reactor. A comprehensive literature study, experimental tests and computational particle fluid dynamics (CPFD) simulations are performed. A fluidized bed reactor is one of the most promising reactors for conversion of plastics in a continuous process. Experimental tests were performed to investigate the optimal operational conditions for conversion of plastics in a bubbling fluidized bed reactor. Steam was used as the fluidizing agent and sand as the bed material. From literature, it was found that the best temperature to avoid liquefaction in the reactor is 600°C or higher. The minimum fluidization velocities for steam at 600°C was found to be 0.18 m/s. CPFD simulations were performed and the computational result agreed well with the experimental data regarding minimum fluidization velocity. The CFPD model was further used to study the conversion of biomass to a product gas. The product gas contained 22% CO, 7.5% H2 and 7% CH4. Based on the literature review, the experimental results and the simulations, this study recommends investigation of conversion of plastics and biomass in a bubbling fluidized bed reactor. The study concludes that thermal co-pyrolysis or co-gasification of biomass and plastics at temperatures above 600°C using sand as the bed material and steam as the fluidizing gas give reliable operating conditions for the future studies. A proper biomass to plastics ratio should be used to avoid melting of plastics in the feeding system and in the reactor. It is crucial to operate the reactor well above the minimum fluidization velocity, to avoid defluidization.
Since the mid-2000s, the sport sector has made fast and widespread improvements in environmentally sustainable practices. They include the adoption of LED lighting and energy-efficiency systems, installation of solar panels, implementation of zero-waste plans, installation of low-flow water system upgrades and local food sourcing, to name a few. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has temporarily halted live events and may stymie progress toward sustainability goals.
It is clear that the health risks of the coronavirus must be immediately addressed to avoid exposing fans to unnecessary or additional risks or compromising on safety standards. At the same time, facility managers have a rare opportunity to align pandemic response efforts with sustainability strategies to proactively address climate-related threats, recommitting to the triple bottom line.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a light-activated coating for filtration membranes — the kind used in water treatment facilities, at semiconductor manufacturing sites and within the food and beverage industry — to make them self-cleaning, eliminating the need to shut systems down in order to repair them.
Associated journal article: Zhang, H., Mane, A. U., Yang, X., Xia, Z., Barry, E. F., Luo, J., Wan, Y., Elam, J. W., Darling, S. B., “Visible‐Light‐Activated Photocatalytic Films toward Self‐Cleaning Membranes.” Advanced Functional Materials 2020, 30, 2002847. https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202002847
McDonald’s believes endangered birds and bees in Scandinavia deserve a break today.
Last year, the marketer and agency Nord DDB created a buzz in Sweden with fully functioning beehives shaped like Mickey D’s restaurants.
Now, they’re placing 1,400 hardwood Happy Meal-replica nest boxes around forests in Finland, where 33 percent of bird species are at risk. The units are designed to shelter our feathered friends from predators. (No cracks about McNuggets, people!)
The construction industry is currently facing two major challenges: the demand for sustainable infrastructure and the need to repair deteriorating buildings, bridges, and roads. While concrete is the material of choice for many construction projects, it has a large carbon footprint, resulting in high waste and energy expenditure. Today, researchers report progress toward a sustainable building material made from local soil, using a 3D printer to create a load-bearing structure.