Friday, April 13, 2018

Hypocritical pipeline horror in Massachusetts

To build the new $27 billion gas export plant on the Arctic Ocean that now keeps the lights on in Massachusetts, Russian firms bored wells into fragile permafrost; blasted a new international airport into a pristine landscape of reindeer, polar bears, and walrus; dredged the spawning grounds of the endangered Siberian sturgeon in the Gulf of Ob to accommodate large ships; and commissioned a fleet of 1,000-foot icebreaking tankers likely to kill seals and disrupt whale habitat as they shuttle cargoes of super-cooled gas bound for Asia, Europe, and Everett.

On the plus side, though, they didn’t offend Pittsfield or Winthrop, Danvers or Groton, with even an inch of pipeline.

This winter’s unprecedented imports of Russian liquefied natural gas have already come under fire from Greater Boston’s Ukrainian-American community, because the majority shareholder of the firm that extracted the fuel has been sanctioned by the US government for its links to the war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Last week, in response to the outcry, a group of Massachusetts lawmakers, led by Senator Ed Markey, blasted the shipments and called on the federal government to stop them.

But apart from its geopolitical impact, Massachusetts’ reliance on imported gas from one of the world’s most threatened places is also a severe indictment of the state’s inward-looking environmental and climate policies. Public officials, including Attorney General Maura Healey and leading state senators, have leaned heavily on righteous-sounding stands against local fossil fuel projects, with scant consideration of the global impacts of their actions and a tacit expectation that some other country will build the infrastructure that we’re too good for.

As a result, to a greater extent than anywhere else in the United States, the Commonwealth now expects people in places like Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Yemen to shoulder the environmental burdens of providing natural gas that state policy makers have showily rejected here. The old environmentalist slogan — think globally and act locally — has been turned inside out in Massachusetts.

But more than just traditional NIMBYism is at work in the state’s resistance to natural gas infrastructure. There’s also the $1 million the parent company of the Everett terminal spent lobbying Beacon Hill from 2013 to 2017, amid a push to keep out the domestic competition that’s ended LNG imports in most of the rest of the United States.

And there’s a trendy, but scientifically unfounded, national fixation on pipelines that state policy makers have chosen to accommodate. Climate advocates, understandably frustrated by slow progress at the federal level, have put short-term tactical victories against fossil fuel infrastructure ahead of strategic progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and so has Beacon Hill. They’ve obsessed over stopping domestic pipelines, no matter where those pipes go, what they carry, what fuels they displace, and how the ripple effects of those decisions may raise overall global greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental movement needs a reset, and so does Massachusetts policy. The real-world result of pipeline absolutism in Massachusetts this winter has been to steer energy customers to dirtier fuels like coal and oil, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. And the state is now in the indefensible position of blocking infrastructure here, while its public policies create demand for overseas fossil fuel infrastructure like the Yamal LNG plant — a project likely to inflict far greater near and long-term harm to the planet.

Though more powerful vessels and melting ice have enabled more human activity in the Arctic, the area around Yamal, an indigenous name meaning “edge of the world,” remains a refuge. An estimated 2,700 to 3,500 polar bears live in the Kara Sea region, along with the ring seals that form a crucial part of their diet.

Opening a gas export facility in such a harsh environment required overcoming both political obstacles — the US sanctions delayed financing — and staggering triumphs of industrial engineering by a workforce that reportedly reached 15,000 people. Dredgers scooped away 1.4 billion cubic feet of seabed to make room for the ships and built a giant LNG facility on supports driven into the permafrost, all in temperatures that can plunge to less than minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The oil and gas industry poses serious threats, especially in an area like the Arctic that recovers slowly from damage, and in 2016 the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund issued a report warning of Yamal LNG’s potential dangers. White toothed whales, a near-threatened species, breed in the vicinity of the facility, and the noise from shipping and the presence of more giant vessels “may force toothed whales to leave this habitat, which is crucial for their living, feeding, and reproduction.”

The giant “Yamalmax” icebreaking tankers, longer than three football fields and designed to mow through ice up to six feet deep, are also “extremely bad news for any ice-associated mammals that should be in the vicinity of their path,” said Sue Wilson, who leads an international research group based at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. The group has recently published a paper in the journal Biological Conservation on the impact of icebreakers on seal mothers and pups in the Caspian Sea and is currently studying shipping impacts in the Arctic.

“The captain is unlikely to notice — or even be able to see — seals in the vessel’s path ahead,” she said. “Even if the captain does notice, the fact that the ship is designed to proceed at a steady pace means that it is unlikely to attempt to stop for seals or maneuver around them, even if the ship can be slowed or stopped in time.”

Advocates also worry that increased Arctic production and shipping will hurt indigenous people; sever reindeer migration routes ; import invasive species to an environment ill-equipped to deal with them; and introduce the very remote, but potentially cataclysmic, danger of an LNG explosion.

Finally, the gas pumped there will contribute to global climate change. In some parts of the world, especially China, LNG may provide climate benefits by displacing dirtier coal. If LNG displaces gas carried by pipeline, however, the math works out differently: Liquefied natural gas generally creates more emissions, since the process of cooling it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit and then shipping and regasifying it requires more energy than pumping natural gas through all but the longest and leakiest pipelines.

“The bottom line is that because of the nature of the liquefaction process, LNG is fairly carbon intensive,” said Gavin Law, the head of gas, LNG, and carbon consulting for the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. The exact difference depends on factors like how much pipelines leak, carbon impurities in the gas, age of equipment, and distance shipped, but generally LNG produces 5 to 10 percent more emissions over its whole life cycle from start to finish, he said.

From a planetary perspective, it doesn’t matter where those emissions occur: Whether from the plant in Yamal, or the power plant in Everett, they have the same impact. The science should make the state’s decisions straightforward.

“Natural gas has shown itself to be an important bridge to a clean energy future,” said Ernest J. Moniz, the former secretary of energy in the Obama administration. “For New England, expanding the pipeline capacity from the Marcellus” — the area of shale gas production in Pennsylvania — “makes the most sense.”

“Life cycle emissions for LNG imports to Boston certainly are higher than they would be for more Marcellus gas,” he said.

But the upstream emissions typically don’t show up on the books of states like Massachusetts, which judge the success of their climate efforts based only on how much greenhouse gas they emit within their own borders.

That’s an accounting fiction. But it’s a convenient one for lawmakers who’ve bowed to pressure to legislate based on what’s visible inside the Commonwealth’s own borders.

FROM MASHPEE TO SPRINGFIELD, Taunton to Sudbury, the message was clear: To fight climate change, the state shouldn’t allow more fossil fuel pipelines or other infrastructure in Massachusetts.

That’s what state senators Marc Pacheco and Jamie Eldridge, the heads of the state Senate’s Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, heard when they conducted a listening tour of the state — whose results they released on the same day the Russian gas was unloading in Everett — to help prepare a new energy bill.

The resulting legislation was introduced this Monday. It contained many fine ideas, including boosting the state’s renewable energy requirements. But it also would raise obstacles to pipelines that would lock in the state’s reliance on foreign gas, with its higher carbon footprint.

In an interview, Pacheco said “Obviously any fossil fuel investments are problematic,” no matter where they occur, but that “we have no control over what happens in Russia or anywhere else in the world.” Eldridge said, “I think this bill takes a big step to preventing pipelines,” and also expressed concern about the LNG the state imports instead. “I think activists need to think about where a large amount of this gas is coming from, and that could be something the Legislature could take a look at” in the future, he said.

Theirs isn’t the first analysis to miss the larger picture.

In 2015, the Conservation Law Foundation, a prominent environmental advocacy group in Boston, released a report dismissing the need for new pipeline capacity in New England, and called on the region to rely on a “winter-only LNG ‘pipeline,’ ” including imported gas, to meet its winter energy needs instead.

After the first shipload of Russian gas arrived, David Ismay, a lawyer with the group, stood by the recommendation and shrugged off the purchase of Russian gas from the Arctic as simply the nature of buying on the worldwide market. “I think it’s important to understand that LNG is a globally traded commodity,” he said in an interview with the Globe.

The foundation, he said, hadn’t compared the overall greenhouse gas emissions from LNG to pipeline gas from the Marcellus to determine which was worse for the climate, nor had it factored the impact on the Arctic of gas production into its policy recommendations.

But a state policy that doesn’t ask any questions about its fuel until the day the tanker floats into the Harbor abdicates the state’s responsibility to own up to all consequences of its energy use — and mitigate the ones that it can.


German research on health effects of windmills

The wind energy euphoria is still continuing in politics and industry, but local residents find this energy generation highly controversial.

Landscaping is one aspect, but also the harmfulness of inaudible infrasound. And here there is more and more support from research. For example, a working group of the Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery of Unimedicine caused a stir at the congress of the professional society with their research on the impairment of the heart muscle by infrasound. We spoke with the initiator of the work, HTG Director Professor Christian-Friedrich Vahl.

Professor Vahl, how did you come up to this topic?

A friend of mine, the artist Cyrus Overbeck, had a house in Ostfriesland near a large wind farm. And he increasingly complained of difficulty concentrating and sleeping – symptoms that are described all over the world in the vicinity of wind turbines.

And the connection between sound and heart disease?

The impact of audible sound is indeed being researched by the working group around Professor Münzel in an exemplary way. I myself examined the effects of high-frequency vibrations on the development of muscle strength in physiology Hamburg. The assumption that even inaudible sound, ie infrasound, has an effect on vessels is not new either.

What kind are these effects?

When the aortic valve, which regulates the flow of blood from the heart to the body, is calcified and constricted, the bloodstream and thus the flow noise changes. For example, it is being discussed whether this altered sound is involved in the formation of dangerous sagging after constrictions.

What is infrasound and how does it work?

The audible sound ranges from 20 to 20,000 Hertz, below 20 Hz it is no longer audible, but it is physically perceptible at high sound pressure – possibly with corresponding consequences. Wind turbines convert 40 percent into energy and 60 percent into infrasound.

But there is noise protection …

Infrasound has a long range and is not dampened by windows or masonry. It would take 30 meters high and eight meters thick walls to protect against the usual infrasonic frequencies. And with ever-increasing wind turbines of up to 200 meters and rising power, naturally, the infrasound load will be higher.

What question did you ask yourself about infrasound?

We simply wanted to know qualitatively whether the direct application of infrasound to the heart muscle tissue has an effect on the development of strength.

And how was that measured?

To test whether infrasound has a direct effect on force development, we’ve connected a speaker to a heart muscle piece. The loudspeaker is a special industrial vibrator that transmits the smallest monophosphere vibrations in the infrasound range to the specimen. But also the preparation itself was prepared.

In what way?

We have used an established but complicated technique to eliminate all membrane-bound processes and measure them only on the isolated contractile apparatus. This ensures the contraction of the heart muscle.

How big can you imagine the preparation?

It is about three millimeters long, 0.2 millimeters wide and is fixed between speaker and force gauge. The preparation was activated, then the loudspeaker was switched on.

And what effect did the infrasound have?

At the given time it is safe to say that infrasound under the conditions of measurement reduces the force developed by isolated heart muscle, under certain conditions up to 20 percent is lost. The fundamental question of whether the infrasound can affect the heart muscle is answered.

What’s next?

The next step, of course, are measurements on the living specimen.

What conclusion do you draw from the previous results?

We are at the very beginning, but we can imagine that long-term impact of infrasound causes health problems. The silent noise of infrasound acts like a jammer for the heart.


Green Brexit unlikely despite British government claims, report concludes

Environmental standards are at risk across the board, from wildlife and habitats to water and air quality, a risk assessment shows

Government promises of a green Brexit have been cast into doubt by a new study that warns of declining protections for water, birds and habitats once Britain leaves the European Union.

The risk assessment – commissioned by Friends of the Earth – found standards are likely to weaken in every sector of environment policy, from chemicals and food safety to air pollution and climate, though the extent of deterioration will depend on the departure deal.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove – a fervent Brexiter – insists the UK will be a global “champion” of green policies after the split on 29 March 2019, but many fear a bonfire of regulations that would result in lower government spending on air and water quality, allowing businesses to cut corners. To avoid a race to the bottom, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has insisted on a “non-regression” clause in any future trade deal, tying the UK to the bloc’s high standards after Brexit.

The new study underscores the need for caution. Academics from Sheffield University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of East Anglia assessed the post-Brexit risk of governance gaps, coordination problems between Westminster and devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and North Ireland) and the differing levels of protection between strong EU regulations and weaker international commitments by the UK.

The researchers considered 15 environment policies under five different scenarios, ranging from a Norwegian-style arrangement that would keep the UK close to the EU, to a chaotic no-deal scenario that would mark a total separation.

In every case, they predicted a “very high risk” to birds and habitats. Current EU rules – notably Natura 2000 and the habitats directive – oblige member states to set aside conservation areas for wild species. Before these directives, protected sites in the UK were being lost at a rate of 15% a year, but this declined to just 1% a year afterwards, according to the RSPB. Current farming minister George Eustice, however, has . The authors of the risk assessment also cite comments by Gove and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, calling for the directives to be reformed, rescinded or weakened.

Water standards are also threatened. In compliance with EU rules, many UK rivers have recovered, serious pollution spills have gone down and natural bathing areas are cleaner. But in all but the Norwegian scenario, the study considers there to be a “high risk” to the water framework and regulations on urban wastewater and groundwater after Brexit. Even if these and other EU rules are kept on the UK statute book, the researchers say they would be “zombified” unless a mechanism is put in place to keep them in force.

Similar worries about policy gaps are evident in every other area including waste disposal, nitrates, fisheries and agriculture. The report says it is not enough to fall back on international environment commitments, which are mostly far laxer than EU standards.

The government claims its recently announced 25-year plan for the environment gives Britain some of the most progressive policies in the world, but the study’s authors say it replaces concrete regulations with vague aspirations.

“The 25-year plan was depressing and concerning,” said Prof Charlotte Burns at Sheffield University. “If the government is not tied down to strict standards, we will see waning investment in the environment and less capacity for NGOs to challenge what they do in the courts.”

She said there was still time for Brexit to produce some positive changes – particularly on fisheries and agricultural policy – but that current policies and ministerial statements gave far more cause for concern than optimism.

Friends of the Earth and other conservation groups have called on the UK government to establish a new environment watchdog, though this has yet to materialise. Campaigners also support calls for a non-regression clause.

“We were promised that Brexit wouldn’t harm our environment – but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken,” said Kierra Box of Friends of the Earth. “We hope this report will spur parliament to make much needed changes to the withdrawal bill currently in the process of going through parliament, to lock in guarantees for our environment that the report authors have found lacking so far.”


Alarmists Resurrect ‘Day After Tomorrow’ Scenario For Global Warming

Scientists relied on climate models, not direct measurements, to claim in a new study man-made global warming caused a slowdown in the Gulf Stream ocean current.

It’s the very same scenario posed in disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” where a slowdown in the Gulf Stream turned North America into a frozen wasteland. A catastrophic scenario could be decades away, some scientists are saying.

“We know somewhere out there is a tipping point where this current system is likely to break down,” Potsdam Institute climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, a co-author of one of the studies, said in a statement.

“We still don’t know how far away or close to this tipping point we might be,” Rahmstorf warned. “This is uncharted territory.”

Rahmstorf’s study was one of two that garnered alarming media headlines, but experts are skeptical because of the scant observational evidence. Indeed, scientists have only been taking direct measurements of the Gulf Stream for a little over a decade.

“Climate model reconstructions are not the same as observed data or evidence,” libertarian Cato Institute’s Dr. and Atmospheric Scientist Ryan Maue told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“We should be very wary of grandiose claims of ‘A Day After Tomorrow’ based upon very limited direct measurements,” Maue said.

The Gulf Stream, or Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic, and in turn, cold northern water is brought southward.

Polar ice melt and enhanced rainfall put an increasing amount of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic, reducing salinity, some scientists say. Less saline has a harder time sinking, throwing off the AMOC.

Climate models generally show a weaker AMOC as a result of warming, but observational evidence has been scant. Anomalous cooling south of Greenland is evidence of a weakened AMOC, some scientists say.

The weak AMOC is explicitly tied to “increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations” and “temperature trends observed since the late nineteenth century,” according to the study, Rahmstorf co-authored.

However, the “Labrador Sea deep convection and the AMOC have been anomalously weak over the past 150 years or so … compared with the preceding 1,500 years,” a second study published in the same journal found.

In other words, the AMOC began weakening before human activities could play a role.

“The specific trend pattern we found in measurements looks exactly like what is predicted by computer simulations as a result of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream System, and I see no other plausible explanation for it,” Rahmstorf, whose study relied on proxy-data from ocean sediment and calcareous shells, said.

But again, there’s limited observational evidence. Several scientists besides Maue were skeptical of Rahmstorf’s study.

Rahmstorf’s “assertions of weakening are conceivable but unsupported by any data,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Carl Wunsch told The Associated Press.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Kevin Trenberth “said his recent work faults regular cycles in the atmosphere more than the ocean” and the “study doesn’t explain year to year variability, while atmospheric cycles do,” the AP reported.

“Essentially, what view you take of the results depends on how good you believe the models used are and likewise how well the chosen proxies represent the AMOC over the time scales of interest,” National Oceanography Center oceanographer Meric Srokosz told The Washington Post.


New use for Australia's abundant brown coal

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has unveiled a $50 million pilot project to convert Victoria's brown coal into hydrogen for export to Japan.

Australian Associated PressAPRIL 12, 201812:14PM
Victoria's brown coal will be converted into hydrogen and exported to Japan, under a major project unveiled by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Commonwealth will pledge $50 million towards the hydrogen energy supply chain pilot in Victoria's La Trobe Valley, Mr Turnbull said during a visit to the region on Thursday.

The multi-billion dollar project will produce liquefied hydrogen from brown coal in the Latrobe Valley for export to Japan.

Construction is expected to start from 2019, with the Victorian government also pledging $50 million.

"It is amazing to think that brown coal here in Victoria will be keeping the lights on in Japan," Mr Turnbull told reporters.

"Our strategic support for this fuel of the future, hydrogen, opens up new possibilities for innovation and energy.

"It will see brown coal from here in the Latrobe Valley converted to hydrogen, liquefied, and then exported to Japan."

The project will create 400 local jobs for Latrobe Valley workers.

Mr Turnbull said it is in line with government efforts to invest in energy sources of the future and meet emission reduction commitments.

"We are focused on creating the investment environment to drive projects like this one to create new industries and more jobs," he said.

"It is the technological brilliance, the investment confidence, the optimism of Australians and Japanese working together that will ensure there is a very ancient resource brown coal produces one of the critically important fuels of the future."




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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