Tag Archives: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NEW STUDY: The U.S. oil and gas boom is having global atmospheric consequences

Repost from the Washington Post

The U.S. oil and gas boom is having global atmospheric consequences, scientists suggest

By Chelsea Harvey, April 28, 2016
Advances in hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling have unlocked huge amounts of petroleum in the Badlands of Montana. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Scientists say they have made a startling discovery about the link between domestic oil and gas development and the world’s levels of atmospheric ethane — a carbon compound that can both damage air quality and contribute to climate change. A new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has revealed that the Bakken Shale formation, a region of intensely increasing recent oil production centered in North Dakota and Montana, accounts for about 2 percent of the entire world’s ethane output — and, in fact, may be partly responsible for reversing a decades-long decline in global ethane emissions.

The findings are important for several reasons. First, ethane output can play a big role in local air quality — when it is released into the atmosphere, it interacts with hydrogen and carbon and can cause ozone to form close to the Earth, where it is considered a pollutant that can irritate or damage the lungs.

Ethane is also technically a greenhouse gas, although its lifetime is so short that it is not considered a primary threat to the climate. That said, its presence can help extend the lifespan of methane — a more potent greenhouse gas — in the atmosphere. This, coupled with ethane’s role in the formation of ozone, makes it a significant environmental concern.

From 1987 until about 2009, scientists observed a decreasing trend in global ethane emissions, from 14.3 million metric tons per year to 11.3 million metric tons. But starting in 2009 or 2010, ethane emissions starting rising again — and scientists began to suspect that an increase in shale oil and gas production in the United States was at least partly to blame. The new study’s findings suggest that this may be the case.

The study took place during May 2014. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aircraft flew over the Bakken Shale and collected data on airborne ethane and methane, as well as ozone, carbon dioxide and other gases.

“We were interested in understanding the atmospheric impacts of some of these oil and gas fields in the U.S. — particularly oil and gas fields that had a lot of expansion of activities in the last decade,” said Eric Kort, the study’s lead author and an atmospheric science professor at the University of Michigan.

The findings were jarring.

“We found that in order to produce the signals we saw on the plane, it would require emissions in the Bakken to be very large for ethane … equivalent to 2 percent of global emissions, which is a very big number for one small region in the U.S.,” Kort said.

Notably, he said, the team’s observations in the Bakken Shale helped shed some light on the mysterious uptick in global ethane emissions observed over the past few years.

“The Bakken on its own cannot explain the complete turn, but it plays a really large role in the change in the global growth rate,” Kort said.

On a regional level, the researchers pointed out that a deeper investigation into the Bakken emissions impact on ozone formation may be warranted — not only for the purpose of analyzing local air quality but also because current models of the atmosphere have not included the jump in ethane output.

Because the researchers were also measuring other gases during the flyovers — including ozone, carbon dioxide and methane — they were able to make another major discovery. They found that the ratio of ethane to methane produced by the Bakken was much higher than what has been observed in many other shale oil and gas fields in the United States — an observation that could have big implications for future methane assessments, which are important for climate scientists.

In many oil and gas fields, methane is often the primary natural gas present — sometimes accounting for up to 90 percent or more of the gas that is released during extraction. Ethane often tends to be present in smaller proportions. In the Bakken, however, the researchers found that ethane accounted for nearly 50 percent of all the natural gas composition, while methane was closer to 20 percent.

This is important because researchers sometimes use trends in global ethane emissions to make assumptions about the amount of methane that’s being released by fossil fuel-related activities. While it’s possible to measure the total methane concentration in the atmosphere, it’s difficult to say exactly where that methane came from, because there are so many possibilities: thawing permafrost in the Arctic, emissions from landfills and agriculture are just a few examples. But because ethane is primarily emitted as a byproduct of fossil fuel development — and because methane and ethane tend to be emitted together in those cases — researchers sometimes use trends in global ethane emissions to make assumptions about how much of the Earth’s methane output can be attributed to oil and gas development.

When global ethane emissions were declining, for instance, many researchers assumed that overall losses of natural gas during fossil fuel extraction were declining, Kort noted. And when ethane emissions began rising again, it was logical to assume that methane emissions — from oil and gas development, specifically — were also likely on the rise. But as the Bakken study points out, this is not necessarily the case. The new study suggests that the Bakken formation has accounted for much of the global increase in ethane emissions while emitting comparatively low levels of methane simultaneously. And the researchers believe that there are other locations in the United States — the Eagle Ford shale in Texas, for example — where conditions are similar.

“They’ve basically shown here that a single shale can account for most of the ethane increase that you’ve seen in the past year,” said Christian Frankenberg, an environmental science and engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Frankenberg was not involved with this study, although he has collaborated with Kort in the past.)

“This is not to say that there’s no enhanced methane in these areas,” he added. But he pointed out that making an incorrect assumption about the ratio of methane escaping compared to ethane “might easily overestimate the methane increases in these areas.”

And making incorrect assumptions about the methane that’s entering the atmosphere alongside ethane can skew climate scientists’ understanding of where the Earth’s methane emissions are coming from and which sources are the biggest priorities when it comes to managing greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus, while the new study contains striking findings about ethane emissions, it perhaps only deepens the already large and contentious mystery over just how much the U.S. oil and gas boom is contributing to emissions of methane, which is widely regarded to be the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

More broadly, the paper also highlights the immense impact that fossil fuel development in the United States can have on the atmosphere — and how important it is from both an air quality and a climate perspective to closely monitor these activities. As the paper points out, domestic production is already being felt on a global level.

“Ethane globally had been declining from the 80s until about 2009, 2010 … and nobody was really sure why it was increasing in the atmosphere again,” Kort said. “Our measurements showed this one region could explain much of the change in global ethane levels and kind of illustrate the roles these shale plains could play.”

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    As planet’s temperatures rise, world’s economies fall

    Repost from the Associated Press

    Study finds the warmer it gets, the more world economy hurts

    By SETH BORENSTEIN,  Oct. 21, 2015 3:55 PM EDT
    Warming Economy
    FILE – In this June 3, 2013 file photo, Pakistani laborers bathe at a leaked water hydrant at the end of a day on the outskirts of Islamabad. With each degree, unrestrained global warming will singe the overall economies of three quarters of the nations in the world and widen the north-south gap between rich and poor countries, a new economic and science study found. Compared to what it would be without more global warming, the average income globally will shrivel 23 percent at the end of the century if heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution continues to grow at current trajectories, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) — With each upward degree, global warming will singe the economies of three-quarters of the world’s nations and widen the north-south gap between rich and poor countries, according to a new economic and science study.

    Compared to what it would be without more global warming, the average global income will shrivel 23 percent at the end of the century if heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution continues to grow at its current trajectory, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

    Some countries, like Russia, Mongolia and Canada, would see large economic benefits from global warming, the study projects. Most of Europe would do slightly better, the United States and China slightly worse. Essentially all of Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East would be hurt dramatically, the economists found.

    “What climate change is doing is basically devaluing all the real estate south of the United States and making the whole planet less productive,” said study co-author Solomon Hsiang, an economist and public policy professor at the University of California Berkeley. “Climate change is essentially a massive transfer of value from the hot parts of the world to the cooler parts of the world.”

    “This is like taking from the poor and giving to the rich,” Hsiang said.

    Lead author Marshall Burke of Stanford and Hsiang examined 50 years of economic data in 160 countries and even county-by-county data in the United States and found what Burke called “the goldilocks zone in global temperature at which humans are good at producing stuff” — an annual temperature of around 13 degrees Celsius or 55.4 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a degree.

    For countries colder than that economic sweet spot, every degree of warming heats up the economy and benefits. For the United States and other countries already at or above that temperature, every degree slows productivity, Burke and Hsiang said.

    The 20th-century global average annual temperature is 57 degrees, or 13.9 degrees Celsius, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year — the hottest on record — was 58.24 degrees and this year is almost certain to break that record, according to NOAA. Burke and Hsiang use different population-weighted temperature figures than NOAA calculates.

    But the U.S. economy is humming despite the heat. When asked how that can be so, Burke said there were many factors important for growth beyond just temperature. He said one year’s temperature and economic growth in one nation isn’t telling. Instead, he and Hsiang looked at more than 6,000 “country-years” to get a bigger picture.

    Burke compared the effect of global warming on economies to a head wind on a cross-country airplane flight. The effects at any given moment are small and seemingly unnoticeable but they add up and slow you down.

    While it is fairly obvious that unusual high temperatures hurt agriculture, past studies show hot days even reduce car production at U.S. factories, Burke said.

    “The U.S. is really close to the global optimum,” Burke said, adding that as it warms, the U.S. will fall off that peak. The authors calculate a warmer U.S. in 2100 will have a gross domestic product per person that’s 36 percent lower than it would be if warming stopped about now.

    But because the U.S. is now at that ultimate peak, there’s greater uncertainty in the study’s calculations than in places like India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Venezuela where it’s already hot and there’s more certainty about dramatic economic harm, Hsiang said.

    The authors’ main figures are based on the premise that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise at the current trajectory. But countries across the world are pledging to control if not cut carbon pollution as international leaders prepare for a summit on climate change in Paris later this year. If the current pledges are kept, the warming cost in 2100 will drop from 23 percent to 15 percent, Burke said.

    Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, praised the study as significant and thorough, saying Burke and Hsiang “use the most modern socio-economic scenarios.” But Richard Tol, an economist at the University of Sussex in England, dismissed the study as unworthy to be published in an economics journal, saying “the hypothesized relationship is without foundation.”

    Other experts found good and bad points, with MIT’s John Reilly saying it will spark quite a debate among economists.

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      2015 on pace to be hottest year on record

      Repost from SFGate

      Federal scientists say 2015 on pace to be globe’s warmest

      By Kurtis Alexander, June 18, 2015 4:23 pm
      Global temperatures in May hit a record high, helping put 2015 on pace to be the hottest in history. Photo: National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration
      Global temperatures in May hit a record high, helping put 2015 on pace to be the hottest in history. Photo: National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration

      This year is on track to be the world’s hottest on record, federal scientists said Thursday, continuing a warming trend that even Pope Francis called worrisome in a remarkable 184-page papal letter.

      Three of the world’s foremost weather agencies have reported the warmest start to any year since they began keeping records, and this week’s climate report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found yet another chart-topping month for the globe.

      May was a whopping 1.6 degrees above the 20th century average, the agency reported. California experienced average temperatures in May, but other places in the U.S., including Alaska and parts of the Northeast, made history for heat.

      Still, California headed into June with a record temperature for the first five months of the year, 5.1 degrees above the 20th century average and 0.1 degrees warmer than the previous high, last year.

      “We don’t do predictions here, but I would not be surprised if 2015 ends up the hottest year on record,” said Deke Arndt, a climate monitoring branch chief at the NOAA. “We’re almost halfway through the year and have a sizable lead on the pack.”

      Last year currently stands as the planet’s warmest.

      Climate scientists attribute the long-term trend of rising temperatures largely to human-caused bumps in greenhouse gases. The El Niño pattern that emerged earlier this year, though, is helping push the mercury to the extreme, they said. El Niños typically move heat from the ocean surface of the tropical Pacific into the atmosphere.

      The upside of the El Niño is that it could bring rain to the West Coast, at least if it’s a strong system. Federal scientists are not only giving the El Niño a more than 80 percent chance of hanging on through winter — the rainy season in California — but saying that the event may be moderate or strong.

      “This is starting to look like a typical El Niño footprint, something we didn’t see last year at this time,” said Steve Baxter, a forecaster for the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

      The past four years in California have seen below-average precipitation, and rain is desperately needed. The warm temperatures that have come with 2015, however, could mean less snow, which is critical in filling reservoirs.

      Pope Francis, in an unorthodox move for the Catholic Church, weighed in on global warming this week. He tied fossil fuels to the problem and prompted a cool response from many Republican presidential candidates.

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        Obama’s two faces on climate change

        By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

        ObamaTwoSidesDear President Obama: I read two articles about you in this morning’s news.  What’s wrong here?  You are all worried about climate change as it relates to national security, but not as it relates to climate change itself??!  See below …

        OBAMA: It’s real!


        Climate change a threat to national security, Obama warns

        Associated Press, SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle), 5/20/15

        NEW LONDON, Conn. — President Obama has argued for action on climate change as a matter of health, environmental protection and international obligation. On Wednesday, he added national security.

        Those who deny global warming are putting at risk the United States and the military sworn to defend it, he told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Failure to act would be “dereliction of duty,” their commander in chief said.

        He said climate change and rising sea levels jeopardize the readiness of U.S. forces and threaten to aggravate social tensions and political instability around the globe.

        The president’s message to climate change skeptics was unequivocal: “Denying it or refusing to deal with it undermines our national security”

        “Make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” Obama said on a crisp, sunny morning at Cadet Memorial Field. “We need to act and we need to act now.”

        Seated before him were 218 white-uniformed graduates, pondering where military service will take them in life.

        Obama drew a line from climate change to national security that had multiple strands:

        • Increased risk of natural disasters resulting in humanitarian crises, with the potential to increase refugee flows and worsen conflicts over food and water.
        • Aggravating conditions such as poverty, political instability and social tensions that can lead to terrorist activity and other violence.
        • New threats to the U.S. economy from rising oceans that threaten thousands of miles of highways, roads, railways and energy facilities.
        • New challenges for military bases and training areas from seas, drought and other conditions.

        Preparing for and adapting to climate change won’t be enough, he said. “The only way the world is going to prevent the worst effects of climate change is to slow down the warming of the planet.”

        He laid out his administration’s steps to reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions, including strict limits on emissions from vehicles and power plants. The government expects those emission reductions to provide the U.S. contribution to a global climate treaty that world leaders are expected to finalize in December. Obama said it doesn’t take a scientist to know that climate change is happening.

        The evidence is “indisputable,” he said.

        OBAMA: Eh, well …


        Eugene Robinson: Obama drills a hole in his climate policy

        By Eugene Robinson, The Contra Costa Times, 05/19/2015

        Here are two facts that cannot be reconciled: The planet has experienced the warmest January-March on record, and the Obama administration has authorized massive new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

        “Climate change can no longer be denied … and action can no longer be delayed,” President Barack Obama said in an Earth Day address in the Everglades. Indeed, Obama has been increasingly forceful in raising the alarm about heat-trapping carbon emissions. “If we don’t act,” he said in Florida, “there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”

        Why, then, would the Obama administration give Royal Dutch Shell permission to move ahead with plans for Arctic offshore drilling? Put simply, if the problem is that we’re burning too much oil, why give the green light to a process that could produce another million barrels of the stuff per day, just ready to be set alight?

        Please hold the pedantic lectures about how the global oil market works: Demand will be met, if not by oil pumped from beneath the Arctic Ocean then by oil pumped from somewhere else. By this logic, the administration’s decision is about energy policy — promoting U.S. self-sufficiency and creating jobs — rather than climate policy. The way to reduce carbon emissions, according to this view, is by cutting demand, not by restricting supply.

        But we are told by scientists and world leaders, including Obama, that climate change is an urgent crisis. And on the global scale — the only measure that really matters — the demand-only approach isn’t working well enough.

        The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is an astounding 40 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when large-scale burning of fossil fuels began. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred this century, with 2014 measured as the warmest of all. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month that January through March 2015 were the warmest first three months of the year ever recorded.

        It’s not that demand-side efforts are entirely ineffectual against climate change; without them, emissions and temperatures would be rising even faster. But it is hard to argue that the current approach is doing enough.

        If we are going to avert the kind of temperature rise that climate scientists say would be catastrophic, some of the oil, coal and natural gas buried in the ground will have to stay there.

        “Drill, baby, drill” was a slogan Republicans used during the 2008 campaign, but it became a reality under Obama. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, domestic oil production zoomed from 5.4 million barrels a day in 2009 to 8.7 million barrels a day last year, a level not seen since the waning days of the Reagan administration.

        Obama has opened vast new lands and offshore tracts to oil drilling. To be fair, he has also put some sensitive areas off-limits, including in the Arctic. But overall, under Obama, the United States has come to threaten the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia for supremacy in fossil-fuel production.

        This is part of what Obama calls his “all of the above” energy strategy, in which he fosters growth and innovation in renewable energy sectors, such as solar and wind, while also promoting U.S. self-sufficiency.

        Anticipated rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting emissions at coal-fired power plants may go a long way toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. But given the urgency, why shouldn’t Obama also take such an approach to climate change? Why not attack the supply side of the equation by firmly deciding to keep drilling rigs out of the Arctic Ocean?

        The environmental risk alone would justify saying no to Shell’s plans; a big spill would be a disaster. But even if Arctic oil can be exploited without mishap, we’re talking about billions of gallons of oil being added to a market that is currently glutted. It doesn’t matter whether that oil is eventually burned in New York or New Delhi, in Los Angeles or Lagos.

        If we don’t take a stand in the Arctic, then where? And if not now, when?

        Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist.
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