Category Archives: Oil and gas industry

Global Warming Study: We need early shutdowns (premature retirements) of fossil fuel plants

Early Fossil Plant Shutdowns Will Be Needed to Hit 1.5°C Average Warming Target

By Chris Mooney, The Energy Mix, July 14, 2019 [Full Story: Washington Post]
Photo: Koshy Koshy/Wikipedia

The world already has enough fossil fuel plants and high-emitting industrial facilities, buildings, and cars to drive average global warming above a 1.5°C threshold, according to an article earlier this month in the journal Nature.

“1.5°C carbon budgets allow for no new emitting infrastructure and require substantial changes to the lifetime or operation of already existing energy infrastructure,” write a team of researchers led by Dan Tong of the University of California Irvine.

The study concludes that existing fossil infrastructure “merely needs to continue operating over the course of its expected lifetime, and the world will emit over 650 billion tons of carbon dioxide, more than enough to dash chances of limiting the Earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5°C (or 2.7°F). That’s a level of warming that has become increasingly accepted as a scientific line-in-the-sand,” the Washington Post reports.

“And it gets worse: Proposals and plans are currently afoot for additional coal plants and other infrastructure that would add another nearly 200 billion tons of emissions to that total. Some of these are now actually under construction. In other words, human societies would need not only to cancel all such pending projects but also timeout existing projects early, in order to bring emissions down adequately.”

The Post points to the 41 gigatons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere each year, 36 of them from fossil fuel burning and cement production, and compares those totals to the 420- to 580-gigaton carbon budget remaining to produce a 50 to 66% chance of limiting average warming to 1.5°C.

“That amounts to between 10 and 14 years at current emissions, with one year, 2018, already used up and another, 2019, halfway gone,” writes climate specialist Chris Mooney. “What the new study is saying is that existing infrastructure translates into about 16 years of current emissions just on its own, with another roughly five years in the pipeline in the form of currently planned infrastructure.”

While other research on fossil infrastructure has presented a less dire verdict, Mooney adds, “the new study contends that it contains the latest, and most plausible, estimates. Its figures for existing fossil fuel infrastructure are for 2018.”

Study co-author Ken Caldeira of Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution for Science was involved in a similar study a decade ago, and found that existing infrastructure equated to only 1.2°C average warming.

“A decade ago, we found, there’s not enough infrastructure, and now, over the past decade, we have built enough stuff,” he told the Post. “And a lot of that stuff that was built, was built in Asia—the rise of China, and to a lesser extent India and the other southeast Asian countries, [is] the biggest change in direction regarding amount of infrastructure.”

Part of the problem is that those new plants are “younger”, the Post notes, meaning a longer expected operating life before they’re shut down. “And the picture is actually worse than the study suggests, because the research does not include emissions caused by human-led deforestation of tropical forests and other landscapes.”

Elmar Kriegler of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said the new article “shows the huge role that the buildup of coal-fired power plants and heavy industry in China has played over the past 15 years,” driving recent increases in global CO2 emissions and accounting for half of the future emissions associated with new infrastructure. “If this buildup of coal infrastructure is going to repeat itself in other rapidly growing economies, notably India and South East Asia, the world will stand no chance to hold warming to well below 2.0°C.”

At the same time, “whether it is already too late for limiting warming to 1.5°C, as the authors claim in their headline, is too early to say,” Kriegler continued. “As the article points out, this will depend on whether the world can prematurely retire some of the heavy polluting infrastructure that has been put in place.”

The Post notes that some of those early retirements are already taking place, as solar and wind undercut coal and other forms of fossil fuel generation on price. The article also holds out hope for carbon capture technology to remove CO2 from existing fossil infrastructure.

“To me, the optimistic take on it is that most of the emissions associated with the higher warming scenarios come from infrastructure that’s yet to be built,” Caldeira said. “So avoiding those outcomes is still within our control, and it’s largely a political and social decision.”

But he cautioned: “I’m just hoping that nobody will be writing a decade in the future, ‘Oh, we built enough infrastructure to go through 2.0°C, but we can still avoid 2.5.’

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    California’s top oil regulator sacked after doubling fracking permits

    California Gov. Gavin Newsom orders dismissal of state’s top oil regulator

    By Janet Wilson, Palm Springs Desert Sun, July 11, 2019, 11:09 p.m. ET
    California Gov. Gavin Newsom presents his revised 2019 budget proposal May 9, 2019, in Sacramento, California.
    California Gov. Gavin Newsom presents his revised 2019 budget proposal May 9, 2019, in Sacramento, California. (Photo: Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio)

    PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday directed his secretary of natural resources to fire Ken Harris, the state’s top oil regulator, after learning from The Desert Sun/USA TODAY and watchdog groups that fracking permits have doubled without his knowledge since he took office and that seven supervisors charged with regulating the industry own shares in major oil companies.

    Ann O’Leary, chief of staff to Newsom, sent a letter to Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for Natural Resources, asking him to immediately make several changes in the Department of Conservation, including firing Harris.

    Harris is the head of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, also known as DOGGR. He could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

    O’Leary also told Crowfoot to “continue at full pace the investigation you have already started related to the allegations that employees at DOGGR have holdings in energy companies, which could constitute actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and take the maximum disciplinary action appropriate under law.”

    Conflicts of interest: Watchdog groups urge California governor to fire oil regulators

    Ken Harris, Californiia Oil and Gas supervisor and head of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.
    Ken Harris, California Oil and Gas supervisor and head of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. (Photo: Calfiornia Dept. of Conservation)

    In the meantime, she directed him to ensure that all employees and contractors who own oil or gas stocks recuse themselves from all permitting decisions pending individual reviews based on new conflict rules that are being formulated.

    On Wednesday, The Desert Sun reported the pace at which fracking permits are issued has doubled since Newsom took office in January, and thousands of permits for new and re-used oil and gas wells also have been approved, angering environmental and public health groups who hoped for a phase-out of the state’s billion-dollar industry following the retirement of Gov. Jerry Brown.

    The Desert Sun also reported on the findings of two watchdog groups, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance, who uncovered records showing that top state regulators and engineers held investments in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Valero and other petrochemical giants.

    Almost half of the 2,300 well permits issued in 2019 have benefited oil companies invested in by agency officials, the consumer groups said.

    Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance uncovered the regulators’ personal investments and permit data through public records requests, and the two groups shared the documents with The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network.

    “This is a good start,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “This shows the governor wants to change the culture at the agency to make sure it’s free of conflicts and safety comes before the oil companies’ interests. The next move has to be to hold accountable Mr. Harris’ supervisors, who were well aware that this was an agency that was permitting wells with the oil companies’ interests first in its mind and the public last.”

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      Scientists’ Climate Accountability Scorecard – Insufficient Progress from Major Fossil Fuel Companies

      Repost from Union of Concerned Scientists
      [Editor: This detailed 24-page Union of Concerned Scientists report should be required reading for every oil executive, refinery employee and oil industry supporter.  It would have been VERY interesting to see Valero included in the industry sample.  Our neighbors in Richmond (Chevron) and Rodeo/Hercules (Phillips66) will be especially interested in this report.  – R.S.]

      The 2018 Climate Accountability Scorecard – Insufficient Progress from Major Fossil Fuel Companies

       

      An in-depth analysis of eight major fossil fuel companies finds they continue to spread climate disinformation and have failed to adequately plan their businesses for a low-carbon world.

       

      Fossil fuel companies are facing increasing shareholder, legal and political pressure to stop spreading climate disinformation and to fix their business plans to achieve dramatic reductions in global warming emissions. While some companies are responding to this pressure, overall their efforts remain insufficient to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

      In 2016, when we first analyzed the actions of 8 major oil, gas, and coal companies, we found that none had made a clean break with disinformation on climate science and policy or planned adequately for a world free from carbon pollution.

      In 2018, although some companies have publicly supported the Paris climate agreement to limit harmful warming, none of these companies has set company-wide emissions reduction targets consistent with this goal. Many continue to downplay or misrepresent climate science and the dangers of carbon emissions, and all continue to support trade groups that spread climate disinformation and work to stymie needed climate policies.

      We evaluated eight companies on 28 metrics, organized in four broad areas:

      • Disinformation: Have these companies stopped spreading disinformation about climate science and policies?
      • Business Planning:  Do these companies’ business plans align with a world free from carbon pollution?
      • Policies:  Do these companies support fair and effective climate policies?
      • Disclosure:  Are these companies fully disclosing the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations?

      Findings

      While every company improved its score on at least one metric and saw a score decline on one or more other metrics, there was no across-the-board improvement on any specific metric, and no single company improved in every area.

      Explore each company’s score per metric in the table below. Colors indicate scores. Arrows indicate changes in each company’s performance compared to the 2016 Climate Accountability Scorecard. 

      Methodology > 

      Highlights

      • Following engagement with Barnard College over its divestment evaluation and with UCS over our 2018 scorecard findings, BP removes from the company’s website a statement that misrepresented climate science and backslid from its 2016 position.
      • Arch Coal, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil include subtle “hedging” words on their websites and/or in SEC filings, falsely suggesting the (scientific) jury is still out on the connections between global warming gases and climate change and between the burning of fossil fuels and climate impacts such as sea level rise.
      • Facing growing pressure from major shareholders, ExxonMobil and Chevron release climate risk disclosure reports. However, the reports lack commitments to reduce global warming emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and striving to limit it to 1.5°C.
      • BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil fail to mention climate liability litigation explicitly in their financial filings. More than a dozen U.S. communities have filed lawsuits to hold these fossil fuel companies, and others, accountable for climate damages and preparedness. Company shareholders need to be informed about this risk to their investments.
      • In July 2018, ExxonMobil becomes the latest oil and gas company to leave the corporate lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after successfully pressuring the group to drop a resolution against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2009 finding that global warming gases are endangering the planet. ALEC has notoriously fought climate policies and drafted sample legislation that sought to hamper the development and use of low-carbon energy. Chevron and Peabody Energy maintain leadership positions in the group.
      • Shareholder pressure leads ConocoPhillips in 2018 to expand its disclosures of lobbying and other public policy advocacy. 

      Recommendations

      Major fossil fuel companies—including those studied in this 2018 scorecard—are substantial contributors to climate change, and therefore must take responsibility for their actions. Science now makes it possible to calculate that the eight companies in this study have contributed about 14 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions driving disruptive climate change.

      These eight leading fossil fuel companies have failed to fix their business models to reduce global warming emissions from their operations and the use of their products.  At the same time, many of them have deliberately sowed public confusion about climate science and the dangers of climate change, while lobbying against needed climate policies that would help us transition to a low-carbon energy system.

      These fossil fuel companies should:

      • Renounce disinformation on climate science and policy
      • Plan for a world free from carbon pollution, developing business models that are consistent with keeping global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed by world leaders
      • Support sensible climate policies to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases
      • Fully disclose climate-related risks to their business
      • Pay their fair share of the costs of climate-related damages and climate change adaptation

      As a first step toward meeting emerging societal expectations, each company in this study should:

      • If it is not yet doing so, consistently acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change and affirm the consequent need for swift and deep reductions in emissions from the burning of fossil fuels
      • Set company-wide, net-zero emissions targets consistent with the Paris climate agreement’s global temperature goal
      • Disavow positions and actions taken by affiliated third parties—including trade associations and lobby groups—that are inconsistent with companies’ stated positions on climate science and policy
      • Publicly and consistently advocate for specific policies and/or regulations to implement the Paris climate agreement
      • Fully disclose climate-related risks they face and how they are managing them—including physical risks to their operations and financial risks related to climate liability lawsuits

      UCS and our experts, partners, and supporters are watching. We will continue to keep a close eye on major fossil fuel companies to assess their actions and words, recognize progress where it occurs, and turn up the heat on companies lagging behind.

      Appendices:

      Appendix A: Methodology > 

      Appendix B: Renouncing Disinformation on Climate Science and Policy > 

      Appendix C: Planning for a World Free of Carbon Pollution > 

      Appendix D: Supporting Fair and Effective Climate Policies > 

      Appendix E: Fully Disclosing Climate Risks > 

       

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        Trump executive order clears way to ship liquified natural gas in bomb trains

        Repost from OilPrice.com
        [Editor: This article appears in OilPrice.com with a completely misleading title.  The report is highly informative about the Trump administration’s stripping of regulatory oversight of the energy industry.  This news is alarming and should be taken seriously by environmentalists.  SIGNIFICANT QUOTE: “…there is still a wide margin for risk if a tank of LNG were ruptured or caused in any other way to come into contact with air. When exposed to air, the liquefied natural gas will rapidly convert back into an ultra-flammable gas and begin to evaporate.”  See also: Google coverage of Trump’s executive order.  – R.S.]

        [MISLEADING TITLE…] Environmentalists’ “Bomb Train” Concerns Are Overblown
        By Haley Zaremba – Apr 13, 2019, 12:00 PM CDT

        Smoke

        This week president Donald Trump signed two executive orders aimed at speeding up the development and functionality of oil and gas projects in the United States. The orders will ease the process of building new oil and gas pipelines and put up extra hurdles for state agencies that want to intervene, a move immediately decried by many state officials and environmentalists.

        The executive orders are intended to curtail officials’ power to limit the oil and gas sector at the state level by changing federal agencies’ issued instructions, or “guidance”. One executive order further includes a directive to curb shareholder ballot initiatives concerning environmental and social policies, while the second order, focused on border-crossing energy projects, takes the power to approve or deny pipelines and other infrastructure crossing over the country’s borders away from the Secretary of State and gives the responsibility wholly to the president.

        Furthermore, President Trump’s executive action also specifically directs the Department of Transportation to change its rules concerning the transport of natural gas, requiring the agency to permit the shipment of liquefied natural gas by rail and by tanker truck. This detail of Wednesday’s executive orders has already proven to be extremely divisive. The directive would open up new markets with major demand for U.S. natural gas but moving the potentially explosive substance by rail could cause potentially catastrophic accidents if one of these train cars were to derail.

        Despite the risks, the move is counted as a major victory for railroads and the natural gas sector, which have been lobbying for years for just this sort of initiative. Proponents of the order argue that it’s necessary to deliver natural gas to the needy Northeast, where there are not sufficient pipelines to meet demand. They also argue that delivering more natural gas to the U.S. Northeast via road and rail would make it possible to use LNG to power ships and trains. One such advocate, head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas trade group Charlie Riedl, told Bloomberg that “there are all sorts of new opportunities where you can use rail much more efficiently.”

        The initiative has other potential benefits as well, such as offsetting the steep decline of coal shipments by rail, but for many, the drawbacks far outweigh all these silver linings. You don’t need to look too far to find plenty of cautionary tales from previous experiments in sending oil and gas by rail, from spills, explosions, and accidents to a runaway oil train in Quebec that killed nearly 50 people when it derailed in a small town in 2013.

        The natural gas that would be shipped in train cars and tanker trucks will be chilled to 260 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-167 Celsius) and is extremely space efficient, taking up just 1/600th of its volume in a gaseous state. This form of liquefied natural gas is already being shipped all around the world all the time, including within the U.S., where it is driven in trucks to storage facilities.

        In this liquefied, super-chilled state, natural gas is not flammable on its own and cannot be ignited and is actually considered much safer to ship than crude oil. While that sounds like any cause for alarm and cries of “bomb trains” is overblown, however, there is still a wide margin for risk if a tank of LNG were ruptured or caused in any other way to come into contact with air. When exposed to air, the liquefied natural gas will rapidly convert back into an ultra-flammable gas and begin to evaporate.

        One staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, Emily Jeffers, told Bloomberg that Trump’s plan to ship natural gas by rail is a “disaster waiting to happen,” going on to say that under the guidelines of the executive order “you’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.”

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