17 Dec 2014:
Obama Protects Alaska's
Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development
President Obama yesterday announced protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska
A grizzly bear catches a sockeye salmon in the bay.
of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation, from future oil and gas development. The president's action is expected to benefit commercial fishermen and Native Alaskans and boost conservation efforts in the region, which is roughly the size of Florida. Noting that Bristol Bay is the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and the source of 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood — a catch worth $2 billion annually — Obama vowed to ensure long-term safeguards for the bay. The region has been under protection intermittently since 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spill prompted a federal moratorium on offshore drilling. "It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said in a video message
. The federal government is still considering whether to allow development of what would be North America's largest open-pit mine
in the bay's watershed.
16 Dec 2014:
Falling Gasoline Prices Have
Little Effect on Car Travel, Analysis Shows
Although the average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. has fallen 28 percent from its peak in June 2014,
Gas prices vs. miles driven
the decline may not have much effect on automobile travel and gasoline consumption, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
(E.I.A.). Typically, an increase in the price of a product leads to lower demand, and vice versa — a concept known as price elasticity. Air travel, for example, tends to be highly elastic: A 10-percent increase in the price of air fares leads to an even greater decrease in air travel. Automobile travel tends to be much less elastic, however. According to E.I.A. data, it takes a 25- to 50-percent decrease in the price of gasoline to increase automobile travel by just 1 percent. One reason for this is that the distance people drive to work and for daily errands is relatively fixed, analysts say. Increased vehicle fuel economy also balances out increases in miles traveled, leading to more stability in gasoline consumption.
Beyond Lima: Major Investors
Must Fund Global Green Initiatives
Much of the discussion at the just-concluded U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, was about the financing that
Climate talks in Lima stretched into Sunday.
will be needed to decarbonize the world’s energy supply, improve efficiency, and redesign cities and transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As journalist Isabel Hilton reports for e360
from Lima, moving the broader financial markets toward green investments is critically important in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The key, Hilton writes, is to get major institutions to invest in sustainable growth, particularly renewable energy, and to get major companies and the industrial sector to understand that they must revise their strategies to address the risks of climate change.
Read her analysis.
05 Dec 2014:
U.S. Natural Gas Fracking Boom
May Be Shorter Than Predicted, Study Says
Estimates of the amount of natural gas that can be extracted from U.S. reserves is much too high and the boom may last just half as long as predicted, says a new report
in the journal Nature
. Official government estimates by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggest that peak natural gas production, driven by the rapid growth of hydraulic fracturing, will likely last until 2040 before tapering off. The new analysis suggests that that estimate is too high. Instead, researchers say, the peak will likely come in 2020, and after that production will fall off dramatically. The findings are based on higher-resolution, finer-scale estimates of oil and gas reserves — in units of a single square mile — compared to the EIA's method, which lumps together all land within a single county. The EIA's method also fails to account for the realities of economics, the reseachers say: Fracking companies tend to look for "sweet spots," which they quickly abandon as soon as the reserves become depleted and extraction costs rise.
26 Nov 2014:
Aerodynamic Upgrades to
Large Trucks Would Cut Fuel Use Steeply
The fuel consumption of the 2 million tractor-trailer trucks hauling cargo across the U.S. — which currently
Airflow patterns around a tractor-trailer truck
burn 36 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year — could be cut by billions of gallons through the use of drag-reducing devices, according to
researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In wind tunnel tests, researchers fitted a scale-model truck with two types of devices designed to reduce drag and improve aerodynamics: a trailer skirt, which consists of panels affixed along the lower side edges of a trailer, and a boat tail fairing, which is affixed to the back of the trailer to reduce the size of its wake. The researchers found that using the devices in combination — technology currently installed on only 3 to 4 percent of the nation’s large trucks — reduced the aerodynamic drag by as much as 25 percent, which translates to a 13-percent decrease in fuel consumption. If the U.S. tractor-trailer fleet were to improve its fuel economy by 19 percent, which the researchers say is achievable, 6.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel would be saved each year, avoiding 66 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
21 Nov 2014:
U.S. Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050, Study Says
The United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies, according to researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project
. The study analyzed scenarios with four types of decarbonized electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case. The scenarios achieved reductions of 83 percent below 2005 levels and 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to the study, which was released ahead of next month’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, and negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and industry would need to increase through the use of smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and vehicles will need to be fueled with electricity generated from wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal, the researchers said. They project the net costs would be on the order of 1 percent of gross domestic product per year. The 80-percent reduction by 2050 is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with global commitments to limit warming to less than 2 degrees C.
03 Nov 2014:
Climate Impacts To Be Severe and Irreversible Without Emission Cuts, UN Says
Climate change will have “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on society and the environment
The U.N. climate panel's synthesis report was released on November 2.
unless nations swiftly and drastically cut carbon emissions — a goal that, while difficult, still remains within reach, according to a comprehensive new United Nations climate report released this week. Failure to curb emissions by the end of the century will likely lead to food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major coastal cities and entire island nations, and dangerous yet routine heat waves, among other impacts, the analysis concluded. But the panel also said for the first time that combating climate change is economically feasible. The new U.N. report synthesizes the findings from a series of analyses released over the past year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the panel's first major update since 2007.
30 Oct 2014:
China Is Top Developing Nation for Clean Energy Investment, Analysis Finds
China is the most attractive among developing nations for low-carbon investment and deployment, according to an analysis by the Climatescope project
, a partnership among various international development agencies and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China received top marks because it is the largest manufacturer of wind and solar equipment in the world, has the largest demand market for wind and solar energy, and has taken major strides to improve its domestic policy framework score, the analysis said
. Brazil ranked second, largely due to the country's aggressive approach to clean energy development and the availability of low-cost capital through its national bank, the report said. South Africa ranked third, and the analysis noted the nation had attracted $10 billion in clean energy investments in 2012 through 2013. The project ranked 55 developing countries on their past, present, and future ability to attract investment for clean energy companies and projects.
28 Oct 2014:
Scientists Find Seafloor Fallout Plume of Oil from Deepwater Horizon Spill
Researchers say they have found a large fallout plume of oil on the seafloor from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon oil at the surface of the ocean
disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, a portion of the 2 million barrels of oil thought to be trapped in the deep sea after the spill appears to have settled across a 1,250-square-mile patch of the seafloor centered around the Macondo Well, which discharged an estimated 5 million barrels of oil in the nearly three months between its blowout in April and eventual capping in July. The oil is concentrated in the top half-inch of the seafloor, and mostly distributed in patchy deposits to the southwest of the well, the study found. These deposits account for between 4 and 31 percent of the Macondo oil sequestered in the deep ocean, researchers estimate. The rest has likely been deposited outside this area, they say, but has evaded detection so far because of its patchiness.
24 Oct 2014:
New Mapping Tool Shows U.S. Geothermal Plants and Heat Potential
A new mapping tool from the U.S. Department of Energy
lets users see how geothermal power plants
Geothermal power plants and heat flow potential
across the country are taking advantage of the heat stored within the earth’s crust. Most of the nation’s 154 operational and planned geothermal plants are clustered in western states, where geothermal heat potential is especially high (red areas). Notably, the map identifies two areas that appear ripe for new geothermal development: one in the Great Plains and another at the border of Virginia and West Virginia. The bulk of the facilities are conventional geothermal plants, which generate power using fluid found naturally deep below earth's surface. Steam captured at the surface spins a turbine, which then powers an electric generator. A newer type of technology, called enhanced geothermal, forces cold water from the surface down into the hot crust. Both types are generally considered clean sources of energy.
20 Oct 2014:
Electricity Access Has Small
Effect on Emissions in India, Study Says
Expanding electricity to the homes of 650 million people in India over the past 30 years had minimal
A third of all households in India lack electricity.
direct impact on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change
. Although many humanitarian and development organizations have stressed the importance of improving electricity access in low-income countries, it has been unclear how this would impact overall emissions levels. An analysis of trends in India between 1981 and 2011 shows that expanding household electricity access by roughly 45 percent contributed only 3 to 4 percent to the nation's overall growth in carbon dioxide emissions. When the indirect effects of greater electricity access, such as increased wealth and consumerism, are taken into account, household electricity use raised India’s emissions by 11 to 25 percent over that period, the study found.
10 Oct 2014:
Natural Gas Production Causing
Large Methane Hotspot Over U.S. Southwest
A single methane “hotspot” in the U.S. Southwest accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s total estimated
Coalbed natural gas field in northwest New Mexico
methane emissions, according to an analysis
by researchers at the University of Michigan and Caltech. The area is centered in New Mexico's San Juan Basin near the shared borders of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona — the site of the largest and most active coalbed natural gas production operation in the U.S. Natural gas from the basin is more than 95 percent methane, a significantly more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. Satellite measurements collected over seven years showed natural gas production operations in the area released roughly 650,000 tons of methane to the atmosphere each year. The methane emissions are not associated with hydraulic fracturing operations in the region, which began after the measurements were collected.
09 Oct 2014:
Investment in Energy Efficiency
Outpaces the Renewable Energy Sector
Global investments in energy-efficiency measures have reached $310 billion annually — nearly $100 billion more
than investments in renewable energy last year, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency
. Efficiency measures saved the equivalent of 2 billion tons of oil between 2001 and 2011 in the 18 countries evaluated in the report, which is more than the annual energy demand of the U.S. and Germany combined. The residential sector saw the largest improvement in efficiency, with energy demand falling 5 percent from 2001 levels, according to the report. Homes and businesses are commonly turning to efficiency measures
such as low-energy lighting, smart thermostats, and improved insulation to lower energy costs. To limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, the largest share of emissions reductions — 40 percent — will need to come from improvements in energy efficiency, the agency said.
Interview: Still Bullish on Hybrids,
But Skeptical about Electric Cars
As one of the principal designers of the gasoline-electric hybrid Prius, Bill Reinert has never been shy about sharing his views on what
he considers the poor prospects for fully electric vehicles — and on just about anything related to alternative fuels and the future of transportation. For Reinert, who recently retired from the Toyota Motor Corporation, the physical and performance limitations of battery technology are the key stumbling blocks for electrics. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, he talks about the potential he sees in other low-emissions vehicle technologies now in development, particularly fuel cells, and the state of the global effort to find efficient and affordable alternatives to gasoline-powered cars. Read the interview.
29 Sep 2014:
Inexpensive Solar Cell
Makes Hydrogen Fuel from Sunlight
Researchers have developed a device that can store solar energy by inexpensively converting it to hydrogen —
Electrodes split water to hydrogen and oxygen.
an important step
toward making solar power available around the clock. The technology, which which was recently described in the journal Science
, is a type of "water splitter," a device that can efficiently divide water into its constituent parts: hydrogen and oxygen. The concept is important for solar energy storage because hydrogen gas can be used directly as fuel and is relatively easy to store, the researchers say. The device can convert 12.3 percent of the energy in sunlight to hydrogen, according to the report; conventional solar cells, in comparison, convert roughly 16 percent of energy from sunlight to electricity, but a significant portion of that energy is lost when converting it to a form that is easily stored. The design of this water splitter is an improvement over previous iterations, the researchers say, but the device's longevity and reliability will need to improve before it becomes a practical, large-scale solar energy storage option.
25 Sep 2014:
World's Largest Coal Company
Plans Billion-Dollar Solar Project in India
Continuing its push to increase investment in renewable energy, India’s energy ministry is working with the
Gevra mine, operated by Coal India Limited
state-controlled coal mining company Coal India Limited — the largest coal mining operation in the world — to install solar power projects worth $1.2 billion. The company is in the process of selecting sites for solar plants, which are expected to have a combined total energy-generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts, the Times of India reports
. India currently has roughly 2,200 megawatts of grid-connected solar power capacity, so Coal India Limited's contribution would be a substantial increase
. When prime minister Narendra Modi took office earlier this year, he pledged to bring electricity to the homes of the nation's entire population of 1.2 billion — 400 million of whom lack any access to electricity — within the next five years, largely through solar projects.
The Overview: Alberta Tar Sands
These satellite images, taken from July 1984 through May 2011, reveal the development of the Athabasca oil sands, commonly called "tar sands," which lie at the heart of Alberta’s oil deposits. Tar sands mining, which has become a significant issue for environmentalists, has been rapid and extensive, growing to cover nearly 260 square miles of the Canadian province by 2011. Nearly 2 million barrels of oil are produced every day, according to the Alberta government, with production expected to grow to nearly 4 million barrels per day over the next decade.
View the images.
17 Sep 2014:
Shift to Mass Transit Could
Have Major Economic and Climate Benefits
Expanding public transportation and infrastructure that promotes walking and biking throughout the world's
cities could save $100 trillion and cut transportation-related carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2050, according to
an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Urban transportation-related emissions could double by 2050 as growth continues in major cities in China, India, and other developing countries. But if China alone were to develop extensive bus rapid transit and commuter transit networks, its predicted transportation-related emissions in 2050 could be cut by 40 percent, the analysis found. The U.S. — currently the world's largest contributor to urban transportation-related emissions — is seeing declines in that sector as population growth slows, vehicle fuel efficiency improves, and people drive less. But those emissions cuts could accelerate sharply if urban mass transit were improved, the report said.
16 Sep 2014:
Tackling Climate Change Could
Pay Off in as Little as 15 Years, Report Finds
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions globally over the next 15 years is both economically feasible and likely to save money, according to a new report
from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Between 2015 and 2030, nations are expected to invest roughly $90 trillion in urban land-use and energy infrastructure, the analysis estimated. Steering those investments toward renewable energy, efficiency improvements, and other low-emission technologies would make that global investment more costly, the panel of government and business leaders conceded. But these costs could eventually be offset by the lowered operating costs associated with renewable power, the report suggested. Although they are difficult to quantify, health care savings associated with improved air quality would also offset costs. According to the report, the biggest challenges for governments will be enacting stronger rules and policies that favor low-carbon development, such as cutting the $600 billion currently spent on fossil fuel subsidies.
12 Sep 2014:
New High-Resolution Maps Show
Greenhouse Gas Emissions at City-Level
Researchers have developed a new method for mapping global carbon emissions for individual cities on an
hourly basis — a major improvement over previous techniques, which quantified greenhouse emissions less accurately and at coarser scales, according to researchers at Arizona State University
. The maps are derived from worldwide databases of population, power plants, and national fuel use statistics, and they encompass 15 years of data. Among other findings, the analysis revealed increased emissions in China, India, Europe, and the northern U.S. in 2010, after the peak of the global financial crisis. The researchers say this reflects faster recoveries from the crisis in those regions compared to, for example, the southeastern U.S., where emissions lagged in 2010. The results of the analysis match ground-level measurements, confirming the accuracy of the maps, the researchers say.
10 Sep 2014:
U.S. Renewable Energy Growth
In 2014 Dwarfs Fossil Fuel Plant Additions
The U.S. this year has significantly scaled back coal and natural gas power plant additions compared to 2013,
and solar and wind power capacity is far outpacing the 2013 installation rate, according to
the U.S. Energy Information Administration. No utility-scale coal plants were added in the first six months of 2014, whereas more than 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired power capacity had been added during the same period last year. Natural gas additions were cut roughly in half compared to the first half of 2013, while wind additions more than doubled and solar power increased by 70 percent. The only coal plants scheduled to come online in 2014 are the Kemper plant in Mississippi, which will capture its own carbon emissions
, and a small conventional steam coal plant in North Dakota, reflecting the challenging market for coal due to impending federal environmental regulations
and competition from natural gas.
04 Sep 2014:
Buying Video Games on Disc Is
More Energy Efficient than Downloading
Downloading video games from the Internet creates a larger carbon footprint than driving to the store to purchase the same game on a Blu-ray disc, according to findings published in the
Journal of Industrial Ecology
PlayStation game console and Blu-ray disc
. For an 8.8-gigabyte PlayStation video game file — the average size of video games in 2010 — the resources required to produce, distribute, and dispose of Blu-ray discs are far less than the energy required to power servers, routers, and networks involved in downloading the game file, researchers say. The advantages of discs decrease as file sizes shrink, the analysis found, and for game files less than 1.3 gigabytes, downloading has a smaller carbon footprint than purchasing the game on Blu-ray. Between 2010 and 2013, however, game file sizes actually doubled for PlayStation4 and increased by 25 percent for PlayStation3. The analysis illustrates why it is not always true that digital distribution of media will have lower carbon emissions than distribution by physical means, the researchers say.
Interview: Calling for Moratorium
On Development of Tar Sands Oil
In a recent commentary in Nature
, aquatic ecologist Wendy Palen and seven colleagues were sharply critical of the way that Canada and the United States have gone
about developing Alberta’s vast tar sands deposits and the infrastructure needed to transport those fossil fuels to market. Rather than looking at the cumulative impact of this massive energy development on the climate and the environment, Palen and her co-authors wrote, major decisions have been made in piecemeal fashion. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Palen talks about why a moratorium on new tar sands developments is needed, how the decision-making process is biased in favor of short-term economic benefits, why the fate of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is critical, and what can be done to begin factoring in the real costs of exploiting the tar sands.
Read the interview.
29 Aug 2014:
New Database Tracks Ecological
Health Impacts of Dams on World's Rivers
A newly launched online database
illustrates the impacts of nearly 6,000 dams on the world's 50 major
river basins, ranking their ecological health according to indicators of river fragmentation, water quality, and biodiversity. The "State of the World's Rivers" project was developed by the advocacy organization International Rivers
and created using Google Earth. Users can compare the health of individual river basins, see the locations of existing and planned dams, and explore 10 of the most significant river basins in more depth. The 6,000 dams represented in the database are a small percentage of the more than 50,000 large dams that impact the world's rivers, the organization notes.
28 Aug 2014:
Rail Transport of U.S. Oil Up
By 9 Percent, Creating Rail Car Shortage
The amount of U.S. oil shipped by rail rose 9 percent during the first seven months of the year compared to 2013, reaching 16,000 carloads per week in July,
according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
(EIA). U.S. crude oil production reached an estimated 8.5 million barrels per day in June for the first time in 18 years and is driving the increase in rail transport
, the EIA said. Only 3 percent of petroleum shipped by rail in 2009 was crude oil; now crude accounts for more than half. Over the past three years, much of the oil has come from the Bakken Shale, primarily in North Dakota. Between 60 and 70 percent of the more than 1 million barrels per day of oil produced in North Dakota has been transported by rail so far in 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. The demand for rail cars has created a backlog that's been particularly worrisome for farmers, who say their grain is rotting before shipping space is available
to take it to market.
27 Aug 2014:
Obama Seeks Climate
Accord Without Congressional Approval
The Obama administration is aiming to forge a legally binding, international agreement that would cut fossil
fuel emissions and direct funds to poor nations dealing with climate change, without ratification from Congress, The New York Times
reports. The agreement would combine legally binding updates to an existing 1992 climate change treaty — allowing Obama to sidestep the constitutional requirement that treaties be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate — with voluntary pledges for specific emissions targets and aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. Nations would then be legally required to report progress toward their emissions targets at international meetings that would "name and shame" countries making slow or no progress, the Times
reports. Lawmakers from both political parties say that no climate agreement requiring congressional approval could be reached in the near future. Republican leaders are expected to oppose the agreement being worked on by the administration and say it would be an abuse of executive authority.
20 Aug 2014:
Exporting Coal to Korea Could
Slash Emissions by 21 Percent, Analysis Says
Exporting U.S. coal to South Korean power plants could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared to burning it at less efficient U.S. plants, according to
researchers at Duke University
. The strategy could also generate more than $25 billion in economic activity in the U.S. and cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter, the researchers say. For those benefits to occur, however, U.S. plants would need to replace the exported coal with natural gas, and South Korea must use the imported coal to replace dirtier sources of coal. South Korea's coal-fired power plants are newer and significantly more efficient than those in the U.S. — efficient enough to offset emissions associated with shipping the coal across the globe, the researchers say. However, they also caution that further studies are needed to assess the scenario's full environmental impacts, including water use, land use, and the degradation of vital habitats.
19 Aug 2014:
Wind Energy Prices at
All-Time Low, According to U.S. Report
The cost of wind power in the U.S. is at an all-time low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report
from the U.S. Department of Energy, and utility companies are in some cases electing to use wind as an energy source over fossil fuels because of its low cost. Although wind power grew modestly in 2013 — installations were only 8 percent of those seen in the record year of 2012 — it now meets 4.5 percent of U.S. energy needs, producing enough electricity to power 16 million homes. The country ranks second only to China in installed wind capacity, the report says, and wind power accounts for 33 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. That progress has been heavily dependent on federal, state, and local incentives, however, and wind power's growth could slow if those incentives expire. Its viability could also fall if natural gas becomes more affordable than wind, the report cautions.
14 Aug 2014:
Some Chemicals in Fracking
Fluids Raise Red Flags, Researchers Say
Of the more than 200 compounds used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, eight are toxic to mammals and the
A Marcellus Shale fracking operation
health risks of roughly one-third are unknown, according to
researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a drilling technique that releases natural gas and oil by injecting fluids with chemical additives deep into rock formations. The research team tracked down substances commonly used as fracking additives and found they include gelling agents to thicken the fluids, biocides to inhibit microbial growth, and compounds to prevent pipe corrosion. The industry claims the additives are non-toxic and food-grade, and while that is true in some cases, the researchers note, most fracking compounds require treatment before they can be safely released into the environment. Moreover, a number of chemicals that could pose health risks, such as corrosion inhibitors and biocides, are used in reasonably high concentrations in fracking fluids, the researchers note.
11 Aug 2014:
Climate Effects of Keystone XL
Significantly Underestimated, Study Finds
The U.S. State Department's final environmental review of the Keystone XL Pipeline may have underestimated carbon dioxide emissions associated with the pipeline by as much as four times, according to
a new study published in Nature Climate Change
. The addition of Keystone XL crude oil to the market will drive global oil prices down, the authors say, which in turn will increase demand for oil worldwide — by as much as 0.6 barrels for every barrel of Keystone XL oil added to the market. The extra oil consumption could add up to 110 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, an amount four times larger than the State Department's estimate of up to 27 million tons annually, according to the study. President Obama has said he will let the pipeline proceed only if it will not "significantly exacerbate" greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department's final review determined that the pipeline's effect on climate change would be negligible, but that analysis did not take into account the increase in crude oil demand that could be sparked by Keystone XL, the authors of the new study say.