Tag Archives: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?

Repost from the CalMatters.org
[Editor:  This article also appeared in the 8/9/15 San Francisco Chronicle.  – RS]

Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?  Probably not

By Kate Galbraith, August 5, 2015
Mary Serrano gets instructions on the Chevy Spark PHOTOGRAPH BY Carl Costas for CALmatters

One sunny Saturday in Stockton, Mary Serrano climbed into the driver’s seat of a bright-red, all-electric Chevrolet Spark. A retiree who normally drives a 20-year-old Toyota Camry, she was curious about the new technology on display at the local fairground.

“I feel like I’m going to outer space,” she said giddily, as a company representative prepared to explain the controls.

But after the excitement of the test drive, reality set in. The Camry, which had to be fixed after failing a smog test, will keep its place at her Stockton home. An electric car seems out of reach, despite the availability of rebates.

“For the moment, I don’t have the money to buy it,” she said by phone, a few months after the fairground event. “Maybe later in life.”

Her situation suggests that for all the allure of emissions-free vehicles, getting Californians to adopt them will take time. That in turn creates challenges for slashing gasoline and diesel use, a goal state leaders are championing as part of their battle against climate change. A bill that has passed the state Senate and awaits a vote in the Assembly seeks to halve the amount of petroleum used in motor vehicles by 2030. It will be difficult to accomplish in such a short period.

“If we’re talking about transportation petroleum use, then the goal probably isn’t possible,” said John German, a Michigan-based senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation. A key problem, he said, is that people hold onto cars and trucks for a long time, an average of more than 11 years for American cars.

The bill has the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown, who earlier this year called for the state to cut petroleum use in cars and trucks by “up to 50 percent.” Senate Bill 350 contains an unequivocal 50 percent target.

“I wouldn’t set forth on this pathway if I believed that the targets were unrealistic,” said Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, the bill’s powerful co-author, in a recent interview.

Other parts of the legislation call for electric utilities to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for buildings to become twice as energy efficient.

“We should be careful when we set round numbers like 50-50-50. Why 50?” said Eloy Garcia, who lobbies for the Western States Petroleum Association, in testimony before an Assembly committee in July. “I know they’re nice round numbers, but we should be careful about why we’ve picked those numbers.”

The bill would take gasoline use in the state back to the 1960s, a time when California’s population was close to half of what it is today. It would not only help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a priority for the state, but also reduce the fine particles and smog-forming gases that contribute to unhealthy air above some California cities, including Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Fresno.

“The primary driver of this target was air quality,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the state agency overseeing air quality and climate change policy, wrote in an e-mail.

The ARB would oversee the programs, creating a point of controversy because industry groups perceive it as high-handed, even as environmentalists cheer it on. Petroleum lobbyists and other opponents want elected legislators to plan how the goals will be met and not the appointed air board officials.

Currently, trends are moving in the wrong direction. Gasoline and diesel sales are ticking up, the sign of a surging economy. The number of miles traveled by vehicles on California highways — a crucial metric for determining whether Californians are getting out of their cars and onto bikes, sidewalks or public transportation– is also rising.

But the technology exists to halve petroleum use, as German and others point out. If everyone suddenly began driving emissions-free electric cars, such as the one Serrano tried out, California would easily meet its target. Driven by government fuel-economy and emissions standards, even cars that run on petroleum will be made of lighter, more fuel-efficient materials in the future.

These coming changes will be dramatic, even if they do not end up being enough to halve petroleum use in 15 years. German’s organization, the International Council on Clean Transportation, estimates that recent federal fuel-economy standards could cause greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles nationwide to fall 28 percent by 2030 compared to 2015.

Jeffrey Greenblatt, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimates that by 2030, a number of transportation policies already in existence will enable the state to cut petroleum use by cars and trucks to about 70 percent of their 2014 level. Besides federal fuel-economy standards, these include support for public transit and a state goal of having 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles by 2025.

Another way the state is trying to cut petroleum is by encouraging the use of biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel, provided they are formulated to be as environmentally friendly as possible. (Renewable diesel is made from fats or vegetable oil and specially refined.) At a pump in Redwood City operated by Propel Fuels, several customers opted for 85 percent ethanol rather than the ordinary gasoline available nearby, although helping the environment was not their primary motive.

“It’s cheaper,” said Donald Rainer of Menlo Park, whose flex-fuel GMC Yukon takes both gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. His main complaint was about refueling stations: “They don’t have enough of them around.”

For potential buyers of electric cars, too, costs are key. Many plug-in vehicles remain expensive, though prices have been falling and the state subsidizes them in various ways. The cars are limited in how far they can go without recharging, but that problem is diminishing as battery technology improves. Some in the auto industry wonder whether key incentives, such as allowing zero-emissions vehicles into the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on major roads, will remain in place if electric cars flood the roadways.

As improved fuel-efficiency allows Californians to use less gasoline, then prices at the pump may fall, according to Darwin Hall, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, Long Beach, depending on whether refiners adjust their capacity.

However, in the near-term, some climate policies are causing the price of gasoline to rise. The state’s cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that fuel distributors, refineries and other large polluters can emit, has increased gasoline prices by roughly a dime a gallon this year, economists estimate.

Republican lawmakers fear that SB 350 will cause job losses and economic damage. “What are my constituents going to do if we cut petroleum by 50 percent but they are still using cars that require petroleum? Will they all be required to buy new cars?” asked Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, during a floor debate over the bill. Her colleague, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, described it as “coastal elitism at the worst.”

The bill is expected to have a more difficult time in the Assembly than in the Senate, where it passed the Senate with the support of all but two Democrats: Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside. The Assembly contains more moderate Democrats who have historically been friendly to the oil industry, which has launched a television ad dubbing the bill the “gas restriction act of 2015.”

The ads target a select group of lawmakers and are running on web sites in their respective districts, said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the industry group called California Drivers Alliance.

“It is a method of communicating to legislators about an issue we think is of concern to their constituents,” Miller said.

Sen. de León emphasized that fossil fuels were not going away. Nor, he said, would everyone need to immediately buy an electric car or hybrid. (In his official capacity, de León is chauffeured in a Chevrolet Suburban. For personal use, he leases a Chevrolet Impala and said he aspires to a hybrid.) Establishing targets, he said, is vital to encouraging California down the path toward clean energy, but the policy would not result in banning or rationing gasoline.

“If we don’t meet this goal,” de León said, “no one’s going to jail.”

Laurel Rosenhall contributed reporting.

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    CCST Report: Fracking pollution poses major risks

    [Editor:  Contrasting reports on a recent California Council on Science and Technology report.  – RS]

    Repost from The Center for Biological Diversity

    New Study: Fracking Pollution Poses Major Threat to California’s Air, Water

    Scientists’ Warnings Come Too Late to Shape State’s Weak Fracking Regulations

    July 15, 2015

    SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A study released today by the California Council on Science and Technology warns that fracking and other oil extraction techniques emit dangerous air pollution and threaten to contaminate California’s drinking water supplies. Millions of Californians live near active oil and gas wells, which exposes them to the air pollutants indentified in the report.

    The troubling findings come a week after Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil officials finalized new fracking regulations that do little to address such public health and water pollution risks.

    “This disturbing study exposes fatal flaws in Gov. Brown’s weak fracking rules,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies are fouling the air we breathe and using toxic chemicals that endanger our dwindling drinking water. The millions of people near these polluting wells need an immediate halt to fracking and other dangerous oil company practices.”

    Last week the state’s Department of Conservation began implementing new fracking regulations and finalized an assessment of fracking’s health and environmental risks, even though the science council had not finished evaluating fracking’s dangers. The science council is an independent, nonprofit organization that advises California officials on policy issues.

    Today’s report concludes that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high chemical concentrations. That poses a serious threat to aquifers during the worst drought in California history.

    Air pollution is also a major concern. In the Los Angeles area, the report identifies 1.7 million people — and hundreds of daycare facilities, schools and retirement homes — within one mile of an active oil or gas well. Atmospheric concentrations of pollutants near these oil production sites “can present risks to human health,” the study says.

    But Gov. Brown’s new fracking regulations do not address deadly air pollutants like particulate matter and air toxic chemicals. A recent Center analysis found that oil companies engaged in extreme oil production methods have used millions of pounds of air toxics in the Los Angeles Basin.

    Among the science council’s other disturbing findings:

    • California places no limits on how close oil and gas wells can be to homes, schools or daycare facilities, which can expose people to dangerous air pollution from fracking and other oil extraction procedures.
    • Serious concerns are raised over the oil industry’s disposal of fracking waste fluid and produced water into open pits and the use of oil waste fluid to irrigate crops.
    • The health and water pollution impacts of fracking chemicals that could be present in oil waste that’s dumped into open pits “would be extremely difficult to predict, because there are so many possible chemicals, and the environmental profiles of many of them are unmeasured.”
    • Wildlife habitat can be fragmented or lost because of fracking and other oil development – and fracking-related oil development in California “coincides with ecologically sensitive areas” in Kern and Ventura Counties.
    • Confirmation that many oil industry wastewater injection wells are close to active faults — a practice has triggered earthquakes in other states. The science council identified more than 1,000 active injection wells within 1.5 miles of a mapped active fault — and more than 150 are within 656 feet.

    “These troubling findings send a clear message to Gov. Brown that it’s time to ban fracking and rein in our state’s out-of-control oil industry,” Kretzmann said. “California should follow the example set by New York, which wisely banned fracking after health experts there concluded this toxic technique was just too dangerous.”

    Contact: Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121, clakewood@biologicaldiversity.org
    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    Repost from Public News Service

    Report: Fracking Risk to CA is Aquifer Contamination, Not Quakes

    By Suzanne Potter, July 10, 2015
    PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.
    PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.

    SACRAMENTO, Calif – A new report says hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater when the excess water is not properly disposed of, but is not linked to earthquakes in California.

    In January, a study by the Seismological Society of America linked a series of earthquakes in Ohio to fracking, and there have been similar claims in other states as well.

    The new study released Thursday comes from the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jane Long, the lead scientific researcher, says hydraulic fracturing poses some safety concerns but they’re manageable.

    “A lot of things people were concerned about are things that are not as big a problem as they think they are,” says Long. “And some of the practices are things that need to change and need more attention.”

    The report says the oil companies should phase out percolation ponds used to dispose of excess water because toxic fracking chemicals can get into the aquifer. And it recommends companies put aside about a third of the chemicals currently in use because there’s not enough data about them.

    The Center for Biological Diversity points to the finding that oil operations can pollute the air in their immediate vicinity. Long is optimistic that the report will spur further reforms.

    “Some of them are going to be recommendations that will be very easy to act on right away and I think they will be acted on and some of them are going to require some process,” she says.

    The report was required by the 2013 passage of State Senate Bill 4, which established new safety measures for fracking, rules that went into effect on July 1.

     

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      Columbia University study: the U.S. can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050

      Repost from The Earth Institute, Columbia University

      New Report Shows How U.S. Can Slash Greenhouse Emissions

      Researchers Map Low-Carbon Investments and Policy Changes
      2014-11-20

      A new report shows how the United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies. The 80 percent reduction by 2050 (“80 by 50”) is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with the global commitment to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.  The new report, issued by the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), comes on the heels of the historic climate agreement last week between the United States and China, in which the U.S. government reiterated the 80 by 50 goal.

      “This US Deep Decarbonization Pathways Report shows that an 80 percent reduction of emissions by 2050 is fully feasible, and indeed can be achieved with many alternative approaches. This reports shows how to do it,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.  “I believe that the report provides a solid basis for negotiating a strong climate treaty in Paris in December 2015.“

      Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and San Francisco-based consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (E3) authored the report as part of the DDPP.  The DDPP is led by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.

      “This report shows it is feasible to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 2050 without requiring early retirement of infrastructure,” said Jim Williams, chief scientist at E3 and lead author on the report. “Moreover, the economic assumptions in this analysis were intentionally conservative, and the results demonstrate that even then deep decarbonization is not prohibitively expensive.”

      The study analyzed four different low-carbon scenarios covering different energy saving measures, fuel switching, and 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% below 2005 levels, and 80% below 1990 levels.

      “All four scenarios we tested assumed economic growth,” said Margaret Torn, senior scientist and co-head of the Climate and Carbon Sciences Program at Berkeley Lab, faculty in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, and coauthor of the DDPP report. “All of our scenarios deliver the energy services that strong economic growth demands.”

      The report finds that the net costs would be on the order of 1% of gross domestic product per year. But the report said that included a wide uncertainty range, from -0.2% to +1.8% of a forecast GDP of $40 trillion, due to uncertainty about consumption levels, technology costs and fossil fuel prices nearly 40 years into the future. The researchers assumed lifestyles similar to those today, and extrapolated technology costs based on present expectations.

      “If you bet on America’s ability to develop and commercialize new technologies, then the net cost of transforming the energy system could be very low, even negative, when you take fuel savings into account,” said Williams. “And that is not counting the potential economic benefits of a low-carbon energy system for climate change and public health.”

      The report suggests that a multifaceted technology approach is needed to meet the greenhouse gas reduction target. Buildings, transportation and industry need to increase energy efficiency. This includes building structures with smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and fueling vehicles with electricity generated from sources including wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal.

      “One important conclusion is that investment opportunities in clean technologies will arise during the natural rollover and replacement of infrastructure,” said Williams. “The plan calls for non-disruptive, sustained infrastructure transitions that can deeply decarbonize the U.S. by 2050, and enhance its competitive position in the process.”

      The U.S. DDPP Report is one of 15 DDPP country studies that are part of the global project. It aims to show practical pathways to deep decarbonization consistent with the globally agreed 2-degree Celsius upper limit on warming to reduce the likelihood of dangerous climate change.

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