February 21, 2017 It was a week of unwise and contradictory moves as the Trump administration sought – and largely gained – Senate approval for cabinet nominees who were avowed enemies of the agencies they were to head. But the faux pas weren’t confined to politics. President Trump continued his stream of edicts wiping out environmental gains during the Obama administration. And industry found itself arguing against its own interests, London suffered from unintended consequences of clean air regulations. But first the news

Winter Squabee Returns!

Click to download full pdf poster

[Please note all three dates. An editorial error led to listing only Saturday in last week’s edition] Fri., March 3 (4pm-11pm) Sat., March 4 (11am-11pm) Sun., March 5 (11am-5pm)

Stonecat Cafe 5315 State Rte 414 (Seneca Wine Trail) Hector, NY 14841

Break cabin fever at the Winter Squabee, an annual 3-day music fest featuring 30 local bands. Once again, Stonecat Cafe, which has a gorgeous view of Seneca Lake, will be hosting and serving meals for purchase.  

RSVP and share the Winter Squabee FB event page

Suggested donation at the door: $10/person. Thanks to the generosity of festival organizers Nora Jones and Jess Youngquest, event proceeds will go to We Are Seneca Lake & the No Frack Almanac. 

We need volunteers to cover We Are Seneca Lake’s table. If you can volunteer for a 90-minute shift, please sign up using our Doodle schedule here,  and email your phone number to Jan Quarles <janq99@gmail.com>.  Hope to see you there!


Northern Access Project: Exporting Marcellus Gas Northward

In March 2015, the National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline Company filed a joint application with the Federal Energy Resource Commission (FERC) to construct a new natural gas pipeline and related infrastructure, known collectively as the Northern Access Project (NAP). The price tag on the project is $455 million, and is funded through international, as well as local, financial institutions.

The proposed Northern Access Project consists of a 97-mile-long, 24” pipe that would carry Marcellus Shale gas from Sergeant Township (McKean County), PA, to the Porterville Compressor Station in the Town of Elma (Erie County), NY. Nearly 69% of the proposed main pipeline will be co-located in existing pipeline and power line rights-of-way, according to FERC. The agency says this will streamline the project and reduce the need to rely on eminent domain to most efficiently route the project.

A $42 million, 15,400 horsepower Hinsdale Compressor Station along the proposed pipeline route was completed in 2015. In addition to the pipeline itself, the proposed project includes:

  • Additional 5,350 HP compression at the existing Porterville Compressor Station, doubling the capacity of that station
  • A new 22,214 HP compressor station in Pendleton (Niagara County), NY
  • Two miles of pipeline in Pendleton (Niagara County), NY
  • A new natural gas dehydration facility in Wheatfield (Niagara County), NY
  • An interconnection with the Tennessee Gas Pipeline in Wales (Erie County), NY, as well as tie-ins in McKean, Allegheny, and Cattaraugus counties
  • A metering, regulation and delivery station in Erie County
  • Mainline block valves in McKean, Allegheny, Cattaraugus and Erie counties; and
  • Access roads and contractor/staging yards in McKean, Allegheny, Cattaraugus and Erie counties

Click for full view of interactive map. And here for How FracTracker maps work

The above map shows the proposed pipeline (green) and related infrastructure (bright pink). The pale yellow and pink lines on the map are the existing pipelines that the Northern Access Project would tie into. Click here to explore the map fullscreen.

Project Purpose

National Fuel maintains that the goal of the proposed project would be to supply multiple markets in Western New York State and the Midwest. The project would also supply gas for export to Canada via the Empire Pipeline system, and New York and New England through the Tennessee Gas Pipeline 200 Line. The company anticipates that the project would be completed by late 2017 or early 2018. Proponents are hoping that NAP will keep fuel prices low, raise tax revenues, and create jobs.

Push-back against this project has been widespread from citizens and environmental groups, including Sierra Club and RiverKeeper. This is despite an environmental assessment ruling in July 2016 that FERC saw no negative environmental impacts of the project. FERC granted a stamp of approval for the project on February 4, 2017.

Concerns about the Proposed Pipeline

The Bufffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper, asserts that the project presents multiple threats to environmental health of the Upper Lake Erie and Niagara River Watersheds. In their letter to FERC, they disagreed with the Commission’s negative declaration that the project would result in “no significant impact to the environment.” The pipeline construction will require crossings of 77 intermittent and 60 perennial streams, 19 of which are classified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) as protected trout streams. Twenty-eight of the intermittent streams impacted also flow into these protected streams. Resulting water quality deterioration associated with bank destabilization, increased turbidity, erosion, thermal destabilization of streams, and habitat loss is likely to impact sensitive native brook trout and salamanders. Riverkeeper found that National Fuel’s plan on how to minimize impacts to hundreds of wetlands surround the project area was insufficient. FERC’s Environmental Assessment of the project indicated that approximately 1,800 acres of vegetation would affected by the project.

Several groups have also taken issue with the proposed project’s plan to use the “dry crossing” method of traversing waterways. Only three crossings will be accomplished using horizontal directional drilling under the stream bed — a method that would largely protect the pipes from dynamic movement of the stream during floods. The rest will be “trenched” less than 5 feet below the stream bed. Opponents of the project point out that NYSDEC, federal guidelines, and even industry itself discourage pipe trenching, because during times of high stream flow, stream scour may expose the pipes to rocks, trees, and other objects. This may lead to the pipes leaking, or even rupturing, impacting both the natural environment, and, potentially, the drinking water supply.

A December 2016 editorial to The Buffalo News addressed the impacts that the proposed Northern Access Project could have to the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for 20,000 residents in surrounding Cattaraugus, Erie, and Wyoming counties in New York. In particular, because the aquifer is shallow, and even at the surface in some locations, it is particularly vulnerable to contamination. The editorial took issue with the absence of measures in the Environmental Assessment that could have explored how to protect the aquifer.

Other concerns include light and noise pollution, in addition to well-documented impacts on climate change, created by fugitive methane leakage from pipelines and compressors.

NYSDEC has held three public hearings about the project already: February 7th at Saint Bonaventure University (Allegheny, NY), February 8th at Iroquois High School (Elma, NY), February 9th at Niagara County Community College (Sanborn, NY). The hearing at Saint Bonaventure was attended by nearly 250 people.

While FERC approved the project on February 4, 2017, the project still requires approvals from NYSDEC – including a Section 401 Water Quality Certification. These decisions have recently been pushed back from March 1 to April 7.

Proponents for the project – particularly the pipefitting industry – have emphasized that it would create up to 1,700 jobs during the construction period, and suggested that because of the experience level of the construction workforce, there would be no negative impacts on the streams. Other speakers emphasized National Fuel’s commitment to safety and environmental compliance.

Seneca Nation President Todd Gates expressed his concerns about the gas pipeline’s impacts on Cattaraugus Creek, which flows through Seneca Nation land (Cattaraugus Indian Reservation), and is downstream from several tributaries traversed by the proposed pipeline. In addition, closer to the southern border of New York State, the proposed pipeline cuts across tributaries to the Allegheny River, which flows through the Allegheny Indian Reservation. One of New York State’s primary aquifers lies beneath the reservation. The closest that the proposed pipeline itself would pass about 12 miles from Seneca Nation Territory, so National Fuel was not required contact the residents there.

Concerns about Wheatfield dehydration facility & Pendleton compressor station

According to The Buffalo News, National Fuel has purchased 20 acres of land from the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club. The company is building two compressors on this property, totaling 22,000 HP, to move gas through two miles of pipeline that are also part of the proposed project, but 23 miles north of the primary stretch of newly constructed pipeline. Less than six miles east of the Pendleton compressor stations, a dehydration facility is also proposed. The purpose of this facility is to remove water vapor from the natural gas, in accordance with Canadian low-moisture standards. According to some reports from a National Fuel representative, the dehydration facility would run only a few days a year, but this claim, has not been officially confirmed.

Residents of both Pendleton and Wheatfield have rallied to express their concerns about both components of the project, citing potential impacts on public health, safety, and the environment relating to air and water quality.

Northern Access Project Next Steps

The deadline for public comment submission is 5 pm on February 24, 2017 — less than two weeks away. To file a comment, you can either

  • email NYS DEC directly To Michael Higgins at NFGNA2016Project@dec.ny.gov
  • or send comments by mail to NYS DEC, Attn. Michael Higgins, Project Manager 625 Broadway, 4th Floor Albany, NY 12233

—Karen Edelstein, “Northern Access Project: Exporting Marcellus Gas Northward,” FracTracker, 2/16/17


The Electricity Future Comes To Lansing, Dryden and Ithaca

The email said, “Introducing Smart Savings Rewards; Get $85 by enrolling your thermostat; Honeywell and NYSEG have teamed up to save you energy and turn it into real dollars. You can earn $85 when you enroll in Smart Savings Rewards. Plus, for each event that you fully participate in, you can earn $5 in bill credits. Enroll your thermostat to begin saving.”

Huh?  Following the link I found, “Enrollment will allow us to make brief, limited adjustments to your Wi-Fi thermostat during times of peak summer electric demand (May 1 through September 30).”  My first thought was that the idea of a big utility company connecting to the Internet-connected thermostat in my home to control the temperature smacked of dystopian future scifi.  Then I thought the future is now.  Here is a way to save energy fairly automatically, without thinking about it, and saving money at the same time.

“There are people who want to do it all — they want to change their thermostat and they want to feel in control — they don’t want to hand that over to someone else,” says NYSEG Spokeswoman Susan Mann.  “There are other people who say: don’t make me think about this — I don’t care about it- this is not what I’m worried about.  I have other, bigger things I need to worry about.  Maybe it’s meeting my rent, or whatever it is.”

Starting in March parts of Lansing, Dryden, and Ithaca will become a test area for a new program, Energy Smart Community,  that will turn the electric grid into a king of Internet of electricity capable of two-way communication, providing hour by hour data to customers and NYSEG alike, and offering products to consumers that can save both money and energy.  Mann says the program will give customers the information and tools they need to decide how they use electricity, whatever their motivation, be it convenience, saving the planet, or just want to save a buck. 

“That is an example of demand/response,” she says.  “At critical times of peak demand, in order to avoid bringing on additional power plants, if we can just reduce load (demand) literally by a small amount, we can avoid bringing a whole plant online.  And we will pay a customer for that ability.  I come home and I literally just want to flick on a light switch and not think about it.  But I do care about my carbon footprint and I want easy ways to be part of the solution.  If you give me an easy way that’s going to cost me very little money or not cost me any money at all, and cannot inconvenience me or make me feel uncomfortable in my own home, but can make me feel like I’m doing my part, then yeah, I might be interested.”— Dan Veaner, “The Electricity Future Comes To Lansing, Dryden and Ithaca,” The Lansing Star Online, 2/17/17


Faux Pas

A Push for Diesel Leaves London Gasping Amid Record Pollution

LONDON — Every winter, as if on cue, the coughing begins.

As soon as the weather turns cold, Tara Carey, an international aid worker living in London, ritually places cough syrup on her bedside table because she knows her sleep will be punctuated by hacking coughs. She also coughs at work. And she coughs while cycling to her office, on a road so toxic that for a brief period last month the air pollution there was greater than in infamously smoggy Beijing.

With her cough persisting winter after winter, Ms. Carey, 43, became worried she might have contracted tuberculosis during a work trip to Africa and sought medical help. She was shocked by the doctor’s eventual diagnosis: asthma.

In Ms. Carey’s view, she said the only reasonable explanation for her illness was the pollution to which she was exposed over the last six years cycling through thick traffic on Brixton Road, one of London’s busiest and most noxious routes.

“You get a massive mouthful of fumes,” she said, noting that asthma does not run in her family. “But we don’t really realize how much toxic air we breathe in because we’re acclimatized to it. It’s pernicious.”

London is choking from record levels of pollution, much of it caused by diesel cars and trucks, as well as wood-burning fires in private homes, a growing trend. It has been bad enough to evoke comparisons to the Great Smog of December 1952, when fumes from factories and house chimneys are thought to have killed as many as 12,000 Londoners.

That crisis led to the landmark Clean Air Act in 1956.

London’s air pollution today is different from seven decades ago, and more insidious. No longer thick as “pea soup,” as it was traditionally described, the city’s air is now laced with nitrogen dioxide — a toxic gas mostly produced by vehicles with diesel engines.

The pollution is linked to 23,500 deaths in Britain each year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Britain has the highest number of annual deaths from nitrogen dioxide in the European Union after Italy, European Union statistics show.

On Wednesday, the European Union ordered five members, including Britain, to reduce car pollution levels or risk being sent to the European Court of Justice where they could face huge financial penalties.

The current problem is, in part, an unintended consequence of previous efforts to aid the environment.…—Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura, “A Push for Diesel Leaves London Gasping Amid Record Pollution,” The New York Times, 2/17/17


Last stand: ‘water protectors’ return to Standing Rock as drilling set to begin

The Standing Rock camp, where temperatures are sub-zero. Activists say they will not give up their battle despite aggressive efforts to complete construction. Photograph: Terray Sylvester/Reuters

Clarence Rowland returned to Standing Rock in the dark of night.

The 26-year-old Oglala Sioux tribe member arrived to his solar-powered hut at 1.30am on Wednesday, knowing that within several hours, Dakota Access pipeline workers could start drilling.

Clarence Rowland returned to Standing Rock in the dark of night.

The 26-year-old Oglala Sioux tribe member arrived to his solar-powered hut at 1.30am on Wednesday, knowing that within several hours, Dakota Access pipeline workers could start drilling.

“This is the most important time to be here,” said Laura Hinman, a 24-year-old member of the Kumeyaay tribe, who has been at Standing Rock for months.

Federal authorities have worked quickly to follow through with the executive memorandum Donald Trump signed during his first week in office, which called for expedited approvals of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.

Further reading: Dakota Access Pipeline protesters meet with authorities over emergency evacuation order

The memo reversed Barack Obama’s decision in December to deny a key permit for Energy Transfer Partners to complete the build-out of Dakota Access across the Missouri river. The rejection, a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, directed the government to complete a full environmental impact study on the pipeline, which could have delayed the project for years.

But Trump, who has invested in Energy Transfer Partners and received donations from the corporation’s CEO, ordered the army corps to cancel the lengthy environmental review and fast-track the permit. This week’s announcement means the corporation may immediately start drilling, though the tribe has argued that the decision is illegal and is fighting in court to halt construction.

Native American activists from across the country first flocked to Cannon Ball in the spring of 2016, arguing that the pipeline threatened the regional water supply, sacred sites and indigenous treaty rights. Though Obama’s decision led many to leave the camps, a core group remained through the frigid winter, preparing for the expected battle with Trump.

While tribal council leaders have urged activists to leave the camps and let the fight play out in the courts, many on the ground have put out pleas for people to return in large numbers.

Frank Archambault, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe from Little Eagle, South Dakota, sat on a small cot inside a packed tent on Wednesday afternoon where a group was cooking pancakes. The 45-year-old father of five noted that the construction site is heavily guarded and that he was fearful it would be impossible to thwart without a massive crowd.

“They are so well fortified up there,” said Archambault, who wore large goggles and binoculars around his neck. “It would take thousands.”

He vowed to stay in place, but admitted it was hard not to be pessimistic. “I feel very disturbed. I feel cheated. I feel lied to. I feel betrayed. I feel alone.” If the pipeline is completed, he added, environmental harm is certain: “If you look around the nation at statistics of oil spills, it’s inevitable.”

Although there’s a greater sense of urgency, Rowland said he was hoping people would remain peaceful and focused on prayer. “It’s nothing new to us. We’ve been fighting the US government for years.”

His aunt, Jolene Rowland, sitting by a warm stove, said she felt it was important to return – even if the future is uncertain. “I had to come back. I hope that other people come back.”…—Sam Levin, “Last stand: ‘water protectors’ return to Standing Rock as drilling set to begin,” The Guardian, 2/8/17


You’re Going to Get Wet

Americans are building beachfront homes even as the oceans rise.

BEFORE Hurricane Sandy tore through New York and New Jersey, it stopped in Florida. Huge waves covered beaches, swept over Fort Lauderdale’s concrete sea wall and spilled onto A1A, Florida’s coastal highway. A month later another series of violent storms hit south Florida, severely eroding Fort Lauderdale’s beaches and a chunk of A1A. Workers are building a new sea wall, mending the highway and adding a couple of pedestrian bridges. Beach erosion forced Fort Lauderdale to buy sand from an inland mine in central Florida; the mine’s soft, white sand stands out against the darker, grittier native variety.

Hurricanes and storms are nothing new for Florida. But as the oceans warm, hurricanes are growing more intense. To make matters worse, this is happening against a backdrop of sharply rising sea levels, turning what has been a seasonal annoyance into an existential threat.

For around 2,000 years sea levels remained relatively constant. Between 1880 and 2011, however, they rose by an average of 0.07 inches (1.8mm) a year, and between 1993 and 2011 the average was between 0.11 and 0.13 inches a year. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that seas could rise by as much as 23 inches by 2100, though since then many scientists have called that forecast conservative. Seas are also expected to warm up, which may make hurricanes and tropical storms more intense.

For around 2,000 years sea levels remained relatively constant. Between 1880 and 2011, however, they rose by an average of 0.07 inches (1.8mm) a year, and between 1993 and 2011 the average was between 0.11 and 0.13 inches a year. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that seas could rise by as much as 23 inches by 2100, though since then many scientists have called that forecast conservative. Seas are also expected to warm up, which may make hurricanes and tropical storms more intense.

Even as seas have risen over the past century, Americans have rushed to build homes near the beach. Storms that lash the modern American coastline cause more economic damage than their predecessors because there is more to destroy. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Category 4 storm, caused $1 billion-worth of damage in current dollars. Were it to strike today the insured losses would be $125 billion, reckons AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe-modelling firm. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, caused $23 billion in damage; today it would be twice that.…—”You’re Going to Get Wet,” The Economist, 6/15/16


The United States of oil and gas

Note: Well data for Illinois and Indiana are from USGS, 2007. All other well locations are from DrillingInfo.com and show active wells. Click for full size view

Since 2010, the United States has been in an oil-and-gas boom. In 2015, domestic production was at near-record levels, and we now produce more petroleum products than any other country in the world. President Trump said he plans to double down on the oil and gas industry, lifting regulations and drilling on federal land. Here is the state of the petroleum extraction industry that the new administration will inherit.

There are more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States, and more than 130,000 have been drilled since 2010, according to Drillinginfo, a company that provides data and analysis to the drilling industry.

We’re familiar with oil-rich regions of Texas, but technological advances and new pipeline infrastructure have brought the ability to extract these resources to new parts of the country, injecting billions of dollars into local economies and spurring a modern-day gold rush.…—Tim Meko, Laris Karklis, “The United States of oil and gas,” Washington Post, 2/14/17


Oil Companies, Corrupt Governments, to Benefit as Congress Guts Transparency Rule

On February 3, the Republican-led Senate used an obscure procedural tool to end a bipartisan provision meant to fight corruption and overseas oil bribery, a rule opposed by Rex Tillerson as head of ExxonMobil.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) transparency rule, part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, was created to reduce corruption by requiring drilling and mining companies to disclose royalties and other payments made to governments in exchange for oil, gas, and mining extractions. Critics say overturning the rule could threaten national security.

Written by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the transparency rule mandated that extractive companies listed on the U.S. Stock Exchange — including Exxon, Chevron, and several Chinese oil conglomerates — publish details of the hundreds of billions of dollars paid for the rights to a nation’s natural resources. 

The transparency rule was implemented in 2016 with broad support from community leaders throughout the world. It took years to finalize due to lawsuits by the petroleum industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The industry argued that disclosures would hurt publicly traded companies competing with foreign or state-run companies and that reporting would be burdensome. 

The American Petroleum Institute (API) strongly supported overturning the SEC transparency rule via the Congressional Review Act, issuing a fact sheet on it to Congress. 

Voting strictly along party lines, the Senate decision to repeal the transparency rule followed a similar vote in the House and was accomplished with a little-used parliamentary provision called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA, until this month used only once in two decades, allows the majority party to push fast repeal of regulations without writing a new bill.… —Larry Buhl, “Oil Companies, Corrupt Governments to Benefit as Congress Guts Transparency Rule,” DeSmogBlog, 2/7/17


Enbridge: An Emerging Wind Energy Giant

Click for full size chart

Enbridge is joining EnBW — one of the largest energy suppliers in Europe — as a late stage co-developer. As a result, and under the German government’s offshore wind incentive program, the project has been largely “de-risked” for Enbridge because:

  • 100% of the power generated effectively receive long-term fixed pricing by 20-year power-purchase-agreements, or PPAs.
  • The project has achieved all key regulatory approvals.
  • Fixed-price engineering, procurement, construction and installation contracts have been secured with key suppliers representing ~90% of all the project’s capital costs.

On the Q4 conference call, management said it would not be excited about the project if the returns were “in the high single digits.” That statement implies low- to mid-teens returns. In other words, HoHe See is a low-risk project that will deliver very attractive returns for two decades. Construction is scheduled to start in August and the project is expected to reach full service by the second half of 2019.

Enbridge expects to spend $600 million on the project this year, while the total investment is expected to be $1.7 billion. The project has been pre-funded, in part, by a $750 million preferred share offering last November. Enbridge has an option to participate in a future 112-MW planned expansion project. That would increase the Hohe See Wind Project’s total capacity by 22.5% and is an attractive organic growth opportunity for ENB going forward.

Wind Power

Enbridge already has several projects under development in the European offshore wind market, which management says offer compelling returns. These include:

  • A 24.9% stake in the 400-MW Rampion wind project off the coast of England (expected to be fully operational in 2018).
  • A 50% interest in French offshore wind development company Éolien Maritime France SAS, which is pursuing three large-scale offshore wind that would produce a combined 1,428-MW and are subject to final investment decision.

In aggregate, these projects equate to more than 1.1+ GW of wind power assets for Enbridge in Europe. Late last year, Enbridge invested in two large wind energy projects in the United States:

  • 100% of the 249-MW Chapman Ranch wind project in Texas for capital costs of $400 million.
  • 100% of the 103-MW New Creek wind project in West Virginia for capital costs of $200 million.

Enbridge now has 13 wind energy arrays in North America…—Michael Fitzsimmons, “Enbridge: An Emerging Wind Energy Giant – Enbridge Inc. (NYSE:ENB),” Seeking Alpha, 2/17/17


Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?

When President Donald Trump signed executive orders pushing for the approval and expedited review of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, an oil industry-funded think tank put out an interesting comment supporting the move in a press release:

I believe that Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States,” said Christopher Essex at the University of Western Ontario, on behalf of the climate change–denying Heartland Institute. “It gets there in part via huge dirty dangerously flammable trains of oil-bearing tank cars.”  

But why was Heartland, which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil, championing oil pipelines while highlighting the risks of oil trains? 

A Change of Heart?

Exxon is owner of the largest oil-by-rail terminal in Canada. Is the oil industry — or at least its paid supporters — finally admitting that moving oil by rail might be too dangerous? Or is this just the latest talking point to push for more pipelines while fighting safety regulations for oil-by-rail?

“It’s remarkable to once again see the oil industry downplaying the risks of pipelines while emphasizing the all-too-real risks of oil trains,” Matt Krogh, director of the Extreme Oil campaign for advocacy group Stand, told DeSmog. “This is their MO: after every pipeline explosion, they demand more trains; after every oil train disaster, they demand more pipelines.”…—Justin Mikulka, “Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains ‘Dangerously Flammable?’DeSmogBlog, 2/15/17


Paul Beckwith review of 2017 paper on Arctic methane

Paul Beckwith review of 2017 paper on Arctic methane. Credit Karl Rosengrant

[Last week we published a recent interpretive review of scientific literature performed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Rochester regarding interactions of gas hydrates and climate. This week we publish an explication of that review by Paul Beckwith, of University of Ottawa.

NB: Mr. Beckwith is featured in a few ‘walk-about’ videos elsewhere on youtube commenting on a ‘public hysteria about sudden human extinction,’ a concern this editor is unfamiliar with. His curriculum vitae of 2011 states he is working on a Ph.D in climatology at the University of Ottawa.  Though he describes himself as a paleoclimatologist, he is actually a student of the subject, having yet to complete his doctorate. Of further concern is a 2016 interview in which he introduces himself with an enthusiasm for his accomplishments uncharacteristic of scientists of professional standing. Several of his claims are odd: for instance, below he sites a Master of Sc. in physics and a research area, but with no indication of specific contributions to research that would substantiate peerage with professional research physicists:

Hi Paul. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background, how long you’ve been involved in climate science, and what areas of climatology you specialize in?

Hello Sam. Thank you.

It is my pleasure to have this interview with you. I am an Engineer with a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Engineering Physics (often called Engineering Science) from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I finished at the top of my class and received many scholarships and awards during my studies. My CV can be found on my website http://paulbeckwith.net under the About Me section [where you will also find a PayPal button for donations to unspecified purposes.—Editor].

I am a Physicist with a Master of Science Degree in Laser Physics. My research area was blowing molecules apart with high-powered CO2 lasers and measuring all the chunks flying off with low-power tunable diode lasers. This involved the science of molecular spectroscopy in the infrared region.

I worked in industry for many years, as a Product Line Manager for optical switching devices in high speed fiber optic communication systems, on high powered Excimer laser research and tunable laser research, and also on software quality assurance for various tech companies.…—Sam Carana, “Interview with Paul Beckwith,” Arctic News, 3/12/16

He seems to know what he is talking about in this video. However, caution and discernment are in order.—Editor]


Scott Pruitt, Trump’s Pick for EPA, Is Confirmed Amid Fierce Opposition

Scott Pruitt at his confirmation hearing to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry who has filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging Environmental Protection Agency rules and authority, was confirmed on Friday to lead that agency.  

Senators voted nearly along party lines, 52-46, brushing off attempts by Democrats to delay confirmation until thousands of his emails are released .

Pruitt’s confirmation followed a bitter fight in which Democrats raised concerns over Pruitt’s ties to an industry he would be regulating and his dismissal of mainstream climate change science.

Further reading:  A key member of Donald Trump’s transition team, David Schnare returns to the agency where he worked for 33 years, while also striving to hamstring some of its work

The Democrats held the Senate floor all night Thursday, hammering a message that if confirmed, Pruitt could gut the agency’s staff and set back progress on environmental protection. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who managed the debate for the Democrats, moved repeatedly for a delay in the vote until next week, when more than 2,000 of Pruitt’s email correspondence with the fossil fuel industry are to be released by the order of an Oklahoma judge. Each time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected.…—Marianne Lavelle, “Scott Pruitt, Trump’s Pick for EPA, Is Confirmed Amid Fierce Opposition ,” InsideClimate News , 2/17/17


Oklahoma just hit temperatures of 100 Fahrenheit in the depths of winter

Okay, this is weird.

The Northern Hemisphere is in the depths of winter at the moment, with February usually the coldest month for the United States.

But over the weekend, the city of Mangum, Oklahoma, hit temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) – way above the average February high of 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) for the region.

“Mangum, Oklahoma broke a daily record when the thermometer hit 99 degrees on Saturday,” Nicholas Kusnetz reports for Insider Climate News.

“Last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an emergency burn ban in response to the extreme weather, but a grass fire broke out anyway in Oklahoma City, prompting authorities to ask some residents to leave their homes.”

The temperature has since dropped to a more seasonally appropriate range, but the unusual occurrence that people are taking as evidence of climate change in action.

But is it really that simple?

The reality is that scientists can’t say for sure what causes these weather anomalies – one-off events are hard to pin down.

But what they do know is that climate change is definitely happening at an unprecedented rate. And that these types of extreme weather events – both hot and cold – are becoming far more common around the world.

Last week, Australia suffered through an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures west of Sydney topping 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) on Saturday.

And, even more worrying, the Arctic had its temperatures soar above average for the third time in the past few months. At the end of last year, temperatures around the North Pole were more than 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) above average, according to data from the Danish Meteorological Institute.…—Fiona MacDonald, “Oklahoma just hit temperatures of 100 Fahrenheit in the depths of winter,” ScienceAlert, 2/17/17


What Do the Latest Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66

The day after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) the final permit it needed to build its line across Lake Oahe, which connects to the Missouri River, a natural gas liquids pipeline owned by one of the DAPL co-owners exploded and erupted in flames in Paradis, Louisiana.  Paradis is located 22 miles away from New Orleans.

That line, the VP Pipeline/EP Pipeline, was purchased from Chevron in August 2016 by DAPL co-owner Phillips 66. One employee of Phillips 66 is presumed dead as a result of the explosion and two were injured.

In a press release published by Phillips 66 announcing its purchase of VP/EP, the company stated that “approximately 200 miles of regulated pipelines that carry raw NGLs from a third-party natural gas processing plant.” A DeSmog investigation shows that the “third-party natural gas processing plant” is owned by the company Targa Resources, and that plant is fed in part by a gas pipeline owned by Enbridge, another co-owner of Dakota Access.

… Aging Pipelines

The New Orleans Advocate reported that VP Pipeline/EP Pipeline opened for business originally as a pipeline in 1958. Like the line that connects to Dakota Access, the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCOP), it is decades old.

Built in 1947, ETCOP will carry the oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) via North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. ETCOP was formerly known as the Trunkline Pipeline, which carried gas from south to north.

Aging pipelines are seen as a major issue that could create catastrophes like those seen in Paradis, where the fire lasted for days until officials finally got it under control. The 2013 ExxonMobil-owned Pegasus Pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, which saw 3,190 barrels (134,000 gallons) spew out of the line, ensued on an aging pipeline constructed between 1947-1948

“About 55% of the 135,000 miles of oil and gasoline pipelines in the U.S. was installed in 1969 or earlier, according to government data,” reported CNN in September. “That’s before current safety regulations were in effect, Many are still cast iron pipes.”

The BlueGreen Alliance, a collaborative of U.S. labor unions and environmental organizations, has pushed for aging pipelines to be repaired as part of a broad employment program. They called the effort the Repairing Our Cities’ Aging Pipelines initiative, or RECAP.—Steve Horn, “What Do Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66,” DeSmogBlog, 2/15/17


Governors Urge Trump to Support Wind and Solar Power

A group of governors from both ends of the political spectrum are urging President Donald Trump to support renewable energy, saying the wind and solar industries are crucial economic engines for impoverished rural regions.

The Governor’s Wind & Solar Energy Coalition is seeking increased federal funding to modernize local power grids and boost clean energy research, according to a letter submitted to the White House Monday. The group is also calling for legislation to promote offshore wind farms and efforts to streamline the permitting process for wind and solar projects.

The message is the latest indication that Trump’s criticism of renewable energy puts him at odds with much of corporate America and members of his own party. Since he was elected, Republican governors in Illinois and Michigan signed legislation backing wind and solar. Last month, more than 600 U.S. companies issued a statement urging Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, saying it will generate trillions of dollars in investments.…—Joe Ryan, “Governors Urge Trump to Support Wind and Solar Power,” Bloomberg, 2/13/17


Trump’s Repeal of Stream Rule Helps Coal at the Expense of Climate and Species

An Obama administration regulation aimed to reduce the environmental and climate impact of mountaintop removal coal mining and Donald Trump’s reversal could threaten some rare species. Credit: Getty Images

When he signed an unusual act of Congress rolling back a regulation to protect streams from mining pollution on Thursday, President Donald Trump made good on his promise to ease up on coal mining.

The repeal will mean more greenhouse gas pollution from burning coal. It’s also bad news for scores of little-known imperiled species, such as nearly 50 types of freshwater mussels that live in waters affected by mining.

So far, several of the dozen or so rules being targeted for repeal via the Congressional Review Act, a form of legislative veto of regulations, involve fossil fuel development.

As with so many regulations, the rules being overturned are costly to industry but have far-reaching environmental benefits.

Last year, the Obama administration’s regulatory impact analysis concluded the stream protection rule would have cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning by up to 2.6 million tons a year because of reduced mining, avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars of future damages.

Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association said the rule ignored input from mining states, would have threatened jobs, and that it was “a prime example of a regulation that serves no purpose.”

Tell that to the Ouachita rock pocketbook, the inflated heelsplitter, and the Appalachian monkeyface, all threatened or endangered mussels. Already, mountaintop removal mining—in which coal companies blast off the tops of mountains and dump the detritus below—has damaged some 2,000 miles of streams, according to Appalachian Voices, an environmental group. Federal regulators said the rule would have protected  about 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over two decades.

“This repeal is ignoring a lot of the recent science that clearly documents a lot of these downstream impacts,” said Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke University who has studied the ecological effects of coal mining.…—Nicholas Kusnetz, “Trump’s Repeal of Stream Rule Helps Coal at the Expense of Climate and Species,” InsideClimate News, 2/16/17


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