Texas oil and gas agency investigating 5.4 magnitude earthquake in West Texas, the largest in three decades

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

The quake was the third largest in Texas history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. An increase in seismic activity in Texas has been linked to injecting fracking wastewater underground.

EPA to regulate methane leaks from oil and gas industry

Yesterday at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is strengthening its proposed standards to cut methane and other harmful air pollution. If finalized, these critical, commonsense standards will protect workers and communities, maintain and create high-quality, union-friendly jobs, and promote U.S. innovation and manufacturing of critical new technologies, all while delivering significant economic benefits through increased recovery of wasted gas.

The updates, which supplement proposed standards EPA released in November 2021, reflect input and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and nearly half a million public comments. The updates would provide more comprehensive requirements to reduce climate and health-harming air pollution, including from hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas sources nationwide. It would promote the use of innovative methane detection technologies and other cutting-edge solutions, many of which are being developed and deployed by small businesses providing good-paying jobs across the United States.

The new proposal also includes a ground-breaking “Super-Emitter Response Program” that would require operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks. The agency estimates that in 2030, the proposal would reduce methane from covered sources by 87 percent below 2005 levels.

“The United States is once again a global leader in confronting the climate crisis, and we must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change. We’re listening to public feedback and strengthening our proposed oil and gas industry standards, which will enable innovative new technology to flourish while protecting people and the planet. Our stronger standards will work hand in hand with the historic level of resources from the Inflation Reduction Act to protect our most vulnerable communities and to put us on a path to achieve President Biden’s ambitious climate goals.”

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

Oil and natural gas operations are the nation’s largest industrial source of methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, on average, over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere and is responsible for approximately one third of the warming from greenhouse gases occurring today. Sharp cuts in methane emissions are among the most critical actions the U.S. can take in the short term to slow the rate of climate change. Oil and natural gas operations are also significant sources of other health-harming air pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic air pollutants such as benzene.

The Clean Air Act standards in the supplemental proposal will complement President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides resources for financial and technical assistance and a waste emissions charge for applicable oil and gas facilities that exceed statutorily specified waste emissions thresholds. The Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes early implementation of innovative methane reduction technologies and supports methane mitigation and monitoring activities, allowing the United States to achieve greater methane emissions reductions more quickly.

Taking into account both the supplemental proposal and other measures in the November 2021 proposal, EPA projects that the proposed standards would reduce an estimated 36 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 810 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly the same as all greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. in 2020. EPA’s estimates also show the updated proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 9.7 million tons from 2023 to 2035, and air toxics emissions, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, by 390,000 tons. These projections reflect new analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposed standards, which incorporates an improved modeling approach as well as updated estimates of the number of facilities covered by the supplemental proposal and the amount of methane and VOCs they emit.

The supplemental proposal reflects public input on the November proposal and new information and analyses, which helped the EPA determine comprehensive and cost-effective approaches to reduce pollution from oil and natural gas facilities. Key features of the supplemental proposal would:

  • Ensure that all well sites are routinely monitored for leaks at less cost, and until they are closed properly;
  • Provide industry flexibility to use innovative and cost-effective methane detection technologies, and a streamlined process for approving new detection methods as they become available;
  • Leverage data from remote sensing technology to quickly identify and fix large methane leaks;
  • Require that flares are properly operated to reduce emissions, and revise requirements for associated gas flaring;
  • Establish emission standards for dry seal compressors, which are currently unregulated;
  • Set a zero-emissions standard for pneumatic controllers and pneumatic pumps at affected facilities in all segments of the industry.
  • Increase recovery of natural gas that otherwise would go to waste – enough gas from 2023 to 2035 to heat an estimated 3.5 million homes for the winter.

Proposal includes super-emitter response program

The supplemental proposal would also establish a super-emitter response program that would leverage data from regulatory agencies or approved third parties with expertise in remote methane detection technology to quickly identify these large-scale emissions for prompt control. Studies show that large leaks from a small number of sources are responsible for as much as half of the methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, along with significant amounts of smog-forming VOCs. While many requirements of EPA’s combined proposals would reduce common sources of super emitters, EPA is proposing the response program to address super emitters’ significant pollution and impact on communities where they are located. To ensure that the super-emitter response program operates transparently, notices sent to oil and natural gas owners and operators, along with their response and any corrective actions, would be available on a website for easy access.

In addition to making EPA’s proposal more comprehensive, the supplemental proposal includes requirements for states to develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide. EPA is proposing to require states to submit those plans within 18 months after the final rule is issued, and to establish compliance deadlines for existing sources that are no later than three years after the submission deadline. The supplemental proposal includes requirements for considering the communities most affected by and vulnerable to oil and gas emissions, along with a demonstration of meaningful community engagement as states develop their plans.

EPA estimates that the supplemental proposal will yield total net climate benefits valued at $34 to 36 billion from 2023 to 2035 (the equivalent of about $3.1 to $3.2 billion per year), after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas. The climate benefits are estimated using the social cost of greenhouse gases, a metric that represents the monetary value of avoided climate damages associated with a decrease in emissions of a greenhouse gas. While EPA’s estimates are based on the interim social cost of greenhouse gases recommended by an interagency working group in February 2021, EPA also is including a separate analysis that is based on updated social cost of greenhouse gases estimates that address recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The additional analysis and accompanying EPA draft technical report will be available in the rulemaking docket for public comment. EPA is also seeking peer review of the report.

EPA will take comment on the supplemental proposal until February 13, 2023. The agency will host virtual trainings to provide communities, Tribes and small businesses information about the supplemental proposal and about participating in the public comment process. Those trainings will be November 17 and 30, 2022 and registration information is available on EPA’s website. EPA will hold a virtual public hearing January 10 and 11, 2023. Registration for the public hearing will open after the supplemental proposal is published in the Federal Register. EPA intends to issue a final rule in 2023.

See more information on the proposed rule.

Deutsche Bank publishes targets for carbon footprint reduction

Read the news release.

Deutsche Bank today announced net zero aligned targets for 2030 and 2050 in four carbon-intensive sectors. The bank’s goal is to reduce the amount of financed emissions (Scope 3) significantly by 2030. The targets represent a core element of Deutsche Bank’s sustainability strategy and reflect the bank’s commitments as a founding member of the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA).

Deutsche Bank’s methodology, which is designed to be in line with emerging best practice, aims to support a progressive and orderly phase-out of fossil fuel usage while incentivizing the financing of lower carbon-intensity technologies and clients with credible transition plans.

Deutsche Bank’s targets cover sectors accounting for a significant proportion of financed emissions of its € 250 billion corporate loan book1 as well as key sources of global Scope 3 emissions of clients. Targets for each sector are as follows:

  • Oil & Gas (Upstream): 23% reduction in Scope 3 upstream financed emissions by 2030, and 90% reduction by 2050, in millions of tonnes of CO2
  • Power generation: 69% reduction in Scope 1 physical emission intensity by 2030 and 100% reduction by 2050, in kilogrammes of CO2 equivalent per megawatt hour
  • Automotive (light duty vehicles): 59% reduction in tailpipe emission intensity by 2030 and 100% reduction by 2050, in grammes of CO2 per vehicle kilometre
  • Steel: 33% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 physical emission intensity by 2030 and 90% reduction by 2050, in kilogrammes of CO2 equivalent per tonne

Pipeline Incidents and Property Values: A Nationwide Hedonic Analysis

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Economic impacts of energy infrastructure incidents have been a focus of attention, especially since the rapid pipeline expansion due to the domestic shale oil and gas boom. While previous studies focus on individual pipeline incidents, we provide the first nationwide assessment of pipeline incidents’ impacts on housing prices using data from 864 gas distribution pipeline incidents and 17 million property transactions from 2010 to 2020. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that a pipeline incident decreases housing prices by 4% — 6% on average. We explore the heterogeneous impacts of incidents with different characteristics. These heterogeneous impacts can potentially explain conflicting results from previous studies.

Environmental groups want to shift oversight of Ohio injection wells

Read the full story from the Vindicator.

Environmental groups urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over regulation of oil and gas injection wells in Ohio have filed a petition seeking the change with the federal regulatory agency.

On Thursday, they tried to raise awareness of their effort that would revoke the state department’s primacy over Class II injection wells.

Toxic Fog: Known Unknowns

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Planet Tracker’s Toxic Footprints report revealed the investors behind petrochemical toxicity in the US Gulf states of Louisiana and Texas. When assessing the petrochemicals and plastics industry, toxic emissions are often either ignored or forgotten by the financial markets. This follow-up research paper reveals the known unknowns of toxic releases, those issues hidden from the public’s and investors’ view and which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not permitted to reveal. We also highlight how the data could be made more user-friendly. Financial institutions should demand transparency for toxic emissions so that they can conduct a thorough risk assessment of their investments.

Congo peat swamps store three years of global carbon emissions – imminent oil drilling could release it

Professor Corneille Ewango of the University of Kisangani in a peat swamp. along the Ikelemba River, Democratic Republic of Congo. Bart Crezee/University of Leeds, Author provided

by Bart Crezee, University of Leeds and Simon Lewis, UCL

Democratic Republic of the Congo’s government is preparing to auction off a series of licenses to drill for oil in the Congo basin. This threatens to damage around 11 million hectares of the world’s second largest rainforest.

But it is not just trees that might be lost in the search for oil. Our new study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows at least three of 16 proposed oil licences planned for sale on July 28 2022 overlap with sensitive peat swamp forests, which store even more carbon below ground in their soils than is held by the trees above.

Regularly flooded peat swamp forests contain so much carbon because waterlogging slows the decay of dead plants. This partially decomposed material builds up over thousands of years to form peat. We have provided the first detailed map of the depth of this peat, and where exactly in the Congo basin all the carbon it contains can be found.

A line map of Africa with the location of the peatland complex indicated in green.
The central Congo peatlands highlighted in green. Crezee et al. (2022), Author provided

Our results confirm the central Congo peatlands to be the world’s largest tropical peatland complex. We estimate that the peatlands cover 16.7 million hectares, an area equivalent to the size of England and Wales combined, which is about 15% bigger than the 14.6 million hectares estimated when this ecosystem was first mapped in 2017.

When we overlayed our new map of the peatland on a map of oil concessions, we discovered that the upcoming sale of rights to explore for fossil fuels includes close to 1 million hectares of peat swamp forest. If destroyed by the construction of roads, pipelines and other infrastructure needed to extract the oil, we estimate that up to 6 billion tonnes of CO₂ could be released, equivalent to 14 years’ worth of current UK greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists are just starting to understand these ecosystems, including their role as immense carbon reservoirs that provide a bulwark against rising global temperatures. But if oil companies get the go-ahead on July 28, our maps and other records may be all that’s left to prove intact peat swamp forests once existed in the Congo basin.

Trekking into the swamps

Until now, evidence of these peatlands in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had not been published in a scientific journal. Although their existence was long suspected, it wasn’t until 2017 that scientists mapped the country’s peatlands for the first time by using field data from the neighbouring Republic of the Congo (RoC). They predicted that two-thirds of the world’s largest tropical peatland resided in the DRC, which had not been verified with field observations. Over three years, we trekked through these swamps as part of an international team of Congolese and UK scientists, often staying for months at a time.

We set off by dugout canoe to explore what we expected to be peatlands in forested floodplains along the Congo and its eastern tributaries. As we travelled upriver, we passed many small villages and fishing camps. Most are constructed on stilts because the river regularly floods its banks during the wet season which keeps the peat from breaking down and releasing its carbon back to the atmosphere.

A long wooden canoe next to a woody river bank.
The research team traversing the Ruki river by canoe. Bart Crezee/University of Leeds, Author provided

These peatlands might be new to scientific literature, but they are familiar to the communities who have lived on their periphery for generations, relying on them for fishing, hunting and to collect building material. People here helped us explore the peatlands and allowed us to camp on their lands, where they shared their knowledge of the swamps and the many plant and animal species that live there. Together, we would set off on foot from the riverbank, trudging through a thick layer of mud into which we would sometimes sink up to our waists.

Stilted houses on the far bank of a flooded river.
A fishing camp along the Ikelemba river at the end of the wet season. Bart Crezee/University of Leeds, Author provided

Every 250 metres we would stick metal poles in the ground to measure the thickness of the peat layer. To our astonishment, we often found peat of up to six metres deep just a few kilometres away from the river. This was totally unexpected, as the 2017 study conducted in the RoC only found peat of similar depth after trekking 20km into the swamp forest, far from any rivers. Knowing these regional differences is crucial – combined with satellite data, it allows us to map how thick the peat is likely to be in areas where we haven’t travelled. As the thickness of the peat layer largely determines how much carbon is stored in it, this is a major step forward in understanding the size of this natural carbon reservoir.

A core of peat next to a tape measure.
The top 50cm of a peat core. Bart Crezee/University of Leeds, Author provided

Reversing massive natural defences

We also brought back peat samples to the laboratory to calculate the amount of carbon more precisely. Combining these different measurements, we conclude that the Congolese peat swamp forests are one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems on earth, storing an average of 1,712 tonnes of carbon per hectare. Together, the peatlands contain between 26 and 32 billion tonnes of carbon below ground – roughly equivalent to three years’ worth of global emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Two maps of the Congo basin colour-coded to display peat depth and carbon density.
Thick and carbon-rich peat was found near the Congo river’s major tributaries. Crezee et al. (2022), Author provided

Our research is part of an ongoing, long-term effort to understand the world’s largest tropical peatland complex. The CongoPeat project aims to understand how and when the peatlands formed, and whether there are any new species to be found there. We also want to learn more about how stable this peat carbon is in a warming climate, and what effects logging, drainage for farming or oil exploration would have.

The DRC oil auction on July 28 could be the beginning of the end for these peatlands. Opening them to oil exploration before the Congolese people and the rest of the world can even know what the true cost would be is irresponsible. The country risks a mistake of epic proportions. What we do know is that by locking up carbon, the peatlands have helped cool the climate for thousands of years. To reverse this valuable natural defence against climate change in the space of a few years, simply to find more of a fuel which the world already has more of than it can safely burn, is not something life on Earth can afford.

Bart Crezee, PhD Candidate in Tropical Peatland Ecology, University of Leeds and Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University of Leeds and, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Influential oil company scenarios for combating climate change don’t actually meet the Paris Agreement goals, our new analysis shows

BP, Shell and Equinor all produce widely used scenarios of energy’s future. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

by Robert Brecha, University of Dayton and Gaurav Ganti, Humboldt University of Berlin

Several major oil companies, including BP and Shell, periodically publish scenarios forecasting the future of the energy sector. In recent years, they have added visions for how climate change might be addressed, including scenarios that they claim are consistent with the international Paris climate agreement.

These scenarios are hugely influential. They are used by companies making investment decisions and, importantly, by policymakers as a basis for their decisions.

But are they really compatible with the Paris Agreement?

Many of the future scenarios show continued reliance on fossil fuels. But data gaps and a lack of transparency can make it difficult to compare them with independent scientific assessments, such as the global reviews by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a study published Aug. 16, 2022, in Nature Communications, our international team analyzed four of these scenarios and two others by the International Energy Agency using a new method we developed for comparing such energy scenarios head-to-head. We determined that five of them – including frequently cited scenarios from BP, Shell and Equinor – were not consistent with the Paris goals.

What the Paris Agreement expects

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly all countries, sets out a few criteria to meet its objectives.

One is to ensure the global average temperature increase stays well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial era levels, and to pursue efforts to keep warming under 1.5°C (2.7 F). The agreement also states that global emissions should peak as soon as possible and reach at least net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. Pathways that meet these objectives show that carbon dioxide emissions should fall even faster, reaching net zero by about 2050.

Scientific evidence shows that overshooting 1.5°C of warming, even temporarily, would have harmful consequences for the global climate. Those consequences are not necessarily reversible, and it’s unclear how well people, ecosystems and economies would be able to adapt.

How the scenarios perform

We have been working with the nonprofit science and policy research institute Climate Analytics to better understand the implications of the Paris Agreement for global and national decarbonization pathways – the paths countries can take to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, we have explored the roles that coal and natural gas can play as the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

When we analyzed the energy companies’ decarbonization scenarios, we found that BP’s, Shell’s and Equinor’s scenarios overshoot the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement by a significant margin, with only BP’s having a greater than 50% chance of subsequently drawing temperatures down to 1.5°C by 2100.

These scenarios also showed higher near-term use of coal and long-term use of gas for electricity production than Paris-compatible scenarios, such as those assessed by the IPCC. Overall, the energy company scenarios also feature higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions than Paris-compatible scenarios.

Of the six scenarios, we determined that only the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario sketches out an energy future that is compatible with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal.

We found this scenario has a greater than 33% chance of keeping warming from ever exceeding 1.5°C, a 50% chance of having temperatures 1.5°C warmer or less in 2100, and a nearly 90% chance of keeping warming always below 2°C. This is in line with the criteria we use to assess Paris Agreement consistency, and also in line with the approach taken in the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, which highlights pathways with no or limited overshoot to be 1.5°C compatible.

Getting the right picture of decarbonization

When any group publishes future energy scenarios, it’s useful to have a transparent way to make an apples-to-apples comparison and evaluate the temperature implications. Most of the corporate scenarios, with the exception of Shell’s Sky 1.5 scenario, don’t extend beyond midcentury and focus on carbon dioxide without assessing other greenhouse gases.

Our method uses a transparent procedure to extend each pathway to 2100 and estimate emissions of other gases, which allows us to calculate the temperature outcomes of these scenarios using simple climate models.

Without a consistent basis for comparison, there is a risk that policymakers and businesses will have an inaccurate picture about the pathways available for decarbonizing economies.

Meeting the 1.5°C goal will be challenging. The planet has already warmed about 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, and people are suffering through deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms linked to climate change. There is little room for false starts and dead-ends as countries transform their energy, agricultural and industrial systems on the way to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton and Gaurav Ganti, Ph.D. Student in Geography, Humboldt University of Berlin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Seeing CH4 Clearly: Science-Based Approaches to Methane Monitoring in the Oil and Gas Sector

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In early 2021, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology initiated an investigation into methane leaks and strategies for detecting them in the oil and gas sector. The purpose of the investigation was to inform the role of the Federal research and development enterprise in reducing and quantifying methane emissions.

Committee staff conclude that oil and gas companies are failing to design, equip, and inform their Methane Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) activities as necessary to achieve rapid and large-scale reductions in methane emissions from their operations. The sector’s approach does not reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks. Oil and gas companies must change course quickly if the United States is to reach its methane reduction targets by the end of this decade.

Oil and gas brine control dust ‘no better’ than rainwater, researchers find

Read the full story from Penn State University.

Spreading wastewater, or brine, from conventional oil and gas wells on unpaved roads is a longstanding practice for suppressing dust, which can become a breathing and visibility hazard during warmer months. Common in several other states, the practice was halted in Pennsylvania in 2018 and is under evaluation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP commissioned a study by Penn State researchers, who found that the brine is about as effective as rainwater at controlling dust but worse for the environment.  

The DEP finalized the report today (May 26).