Monday, February 28, 2022

Fracking was ended on a ‘false pretext’ and should be resumed with ‘vigour’, MPs say

Fracking was ended in Britain on a "false pretext" and should be resumed with "the vigour of a national war effort", Conservative MPs said last night, as an official report cast doubt on evidence cited by ministers to justify the ban.

Days after Boris Johnson warned that Europe was "addicted" to Russian oil and gas, it has emerged that a report commissioned by a UK regulator described some of the tremors used to justify the moratorium on shale gas exploration in Britain as "almost imperceptible".

The larger tremors cited by ministers when they announced the ban in 2019 affected just tens of buildings with, at the most, "slight non-structural damage", according to a report commissioned by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and finalised after the moratorium was put in place.

The disclosure comes after the Prime Minister acknowledged that there was "merit" in the idea of the temporary "use of hydrocarbons in this country" after MPs pressed him to "look again at fracking". Sources insisted that he had not changed his mind on the issue, having pushed back against a suggestion by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, that the ban should be reversed.

The 2019 moratorium was announced by Andrea Leadsom, then business secretary, in November of that year "on the basis of the disturbance caused to residents living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire" and the "latest scientific analysis" for the OGA.

But several other reports, published months later without fanfare on the OGA's website, prompted calls last night for the decision to be reversed.

'Hang their heads in shame'

On Saturday night, Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, said: "There's a war on which appears to be possible only because Europe is, as the PM said, addicted to Russian gas. While Putin bears responsibility for the ultimate war crime of initiating a war of aggression, everyone who allowed our shale gas to remain in the ground on a false pretence should hang their heads in shame as the Ukrainian people fight and die for their country.

"Boris should immediately stop the concreting in of current shale wells and go for gas with all the vigour of a national war effort, which this very nearly is.

"Our civilisation may depend upon it."

The "disturbance" cited by ministers in Nov 2019 appeared to refer to a magnitude 2.9 tremor which led to the suspension of operations at the Preston New Road site in Aug 2019.

But one of the reports published by the OGA states that the effect equated to some 50 buildings experiencing "damage state one" (DS1) , the lowest of five damage states, which involves either "no structural damage" or "slight non-structural damage which is manifested through hairline cracks in walls and damage to plaster".

The report, a final version of which was submitted to the OGA in July 2020, adds that the British Geological Survey "assigned the event as intensity VI ["slightly damaging"] due, in part at least, to some reports of minor cosmetic damage (DS1)".

It adds: "This intensity is unusual for an event of this magnitude." An average "of 52 buildings at DS1 was calculated. This is consistent with reports made to the BGS.

"It is noted, however, that these 'did-you-feel-it?' reports are self-submitted online and therefore unverified."

The report also addresses earlier magnitude 1.1 and 1.5 tremors at the Preston New Road site, stating: "Generally, the motions can be considered as almost imperceptible and well below the level of vibration that people experience going about everyday activities."


Italy may reopen coal plants amid concerns about energy supply, PM says

After Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday, the EU announced an initial raft of sanctions against Russia with more expected to follow.

The instability and sanctions are expected to have a wide-ranging impact on gas supplies and prices in Europe, particularly in Germany and Italy, the two European countries most reliant on gas exports from Russia.

Addressing Italy’s parliament on Friday, Draghi laid out plans to offset price increases and turn to alternative sources of energy.

“The sanctions require us to carefully consider the impact on our economy,” he said. “The biggest concern is in the energy sector, which has already been hit by price rises in recent months: around 45 percent of the gas we import comes from Russia, up from 27 percent ten years ago.”

Draghi suggested Italy needs to increase its domestic production of gas, which has fallen in recent years, and source more power from existing coal plants.

“The reopening of coal-fired power stations could be used to make up any shortfall in the immediate future,” he said, adding that “the government is ready to intervene to further lower the price of energy, should this be necessary. It is necessary.”

Italy is already in the middle of an energy price crisis, with the authorities last week announcing another €6 billion in aid to offset price hikes following record bill rises last month.

These funds are on top of some €10 billion already budgeted since last summer to help customers and businesses.


Graveyard of the green giants: It's the hidden cost of our dash for windpower - thousands of decommissioned blades that are so difficult to recycle, they are just dumped as landfill

Right across the road from the town cemetery in Sweetwater, Texas, sits another graveyard where the dead are never buried. Some 4,000 worn-out giant wind turbine blades are piled as far as the eye can see, taking up most of a 25-acre field.

Windmill blades can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing — more than 300ft — and weigh up to eight tons, so these have been sawn into three pieces with a diamond-encrusted industrial saw. They’re still imposingly big, although now increasingly covered in weeds.

They’ve been here for five years and, given a recycling company’s failure so far to deal with them, are almost certain to remain for many more — an unsightly monument to ‘clean’ energy’s dirty little secret.

Hailed by the green lobby as one of the most under-used renewable energy sources, carbon-free wind power is on the rise.

The enormous white windmills are sprouting on land and off coastlines in ever-greater numbers, including in Britain, which is building the world’s biggest offshore wind farm in the North Sea.

But they come with a hidden environmental cost that is rarely mentioned: they don’t last for ever: only 20 to 25 years, in fact. And the blades, built from a ‘composite’ of fibreglass and resin that can withstand hurricane-force winds but be light enough to turn, cannot easily be crushed, let alone recycled.

Scientists are looking for ways to separate the resins from the fibres or grind chunks of blade into small pellets that can be used in other products, but they’re struggling to find any process that works on a large scale.

Amid the zeal to recycle, there’s no small irony in the fact the main sources of renewable energy cannot themselves be renewed when they reach the end of their life.

By 2050, it’s predicted that the world will need to dispose of two million tons of wind turbine blade waste every year. In the UK, the volume already exceeds 100,000 tons per year.

Currently, the world’s decommissioned blades are mostly buried in landfill sites, where they will take centuries to degrade.

While there’s growing pressure for this practice to end, in the absence of an effective way of recycling them, the alternative could be something like the hideous sight at Sweetwater.

‘It’s amazing what we waste,’ sighs Christina Speck, a local teacher and mother, as she drives past the blade dump, one of two on the outskirts of Sweetwater.

She mentions that the town’s main social event is coming up, an annual ‘rattlesnake round-up’ billed as the largest rattlesnake cull in the world. And she adds proudly that, unlike wind turbines, everything in the thousands of snakes that will be killed — from the meat to the venom to the skin — is recycled.

Of course, green energy exponents will point to the carbon savings turbines make in their 20 to 25-year lifetime by making electricity from wind rather than oil or coal. They also note that the steel towers which support the blades, as well as smaller parts such as wiring, can be recycled.

However, the problem of what to do with used turbine blades will only get more pressing. The number of those reaching the end of their life is set to rocket as those built in the wind energy boom of the 1990s and 2000s wear out. Meanwhile, the blades are getting ever longer to improve efficiency so there’s more and more waste.

Scientists at America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have warned that in the next few decades, the world faces a ‘tidal wave’ of redundant blades that will number ‘hundreds of thousands, if not more’.

Used wind turbine blades don’t leech toxins into the soil, as some have alleged, but they do take up vast areas of already overloaded landfill sites.

The U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency has described the sheer size of the windmills, along with the difficulty of disposing of them, as a ‘towering promise of future wreckage’.

And there is no sign of the problem coming to an end, as more and bigger turbines are erected across the globe.

The International Energy Agency has predicted that if we built offshore wind farms on every feasible site around the world, they could generate more electricity on their own than the world needs.

The huge Dogger Bank wind farm under construction in the North Sea will be the largest offshore farm on the planet, capable — says its developer — of powering six million UK homes.

Nolan County, of which Sweetwater is the capital, is home to the biggest concentration of wind turbines in the U.S., which, in turn, is the world’s second biggest wind energy generator after China. Of the 180,000 wind turbines churning away in the U.S., a quarter are in Texas, where the west of the state is generally flat and windy: perfect for windmills.

In the days of 1980s TV series Dallas, the booming oil industry in Texas was something to boast about, but global warming ended that. The remote town of Sweet-water, with its 9,500-strong population 220 miles west of Dallas, has hitched its cart to wind power, proclaiming itself the ‘wind capital of the U.S.’ and using a turbine blade as a welcome sign on the main road.

But now, its love affair with wind energy appears to have cooled, thanks to the ugly turbine graveyards. They are owned by Global Fibreglass Solutions, a U.S. recycling company that arrived here back in 2017. It bought an old aluminium plant to recycle the turbine blades and turn them into products ranging from wall panels and railway sleepers to concrete almost as strong as steel.

The company subsequently announced it had become the first in the world to develop a method of breaking down the blades and turning them into pellets and fibreboards. It established more offices, including one in the UK —in Corby, Northants.

But the work has yet even to start at the main plant in Sweetwater and the UK branch has closed. Locals suspect that GFS — which was paid by wind companies to take their used blades off their hands — has no intention of ever reprocessing them. It certainly wouldn’t be the first ‘green’ recycling company to fail to live up to its ambitious promises.

Don Lilly, GFS’s chief executive, told the Mail his firm has discovered a way of recycling the blades. The hold-up, he says, is largely due to the financial challenge of getting enough advance orders to pay for the equipment required for production.

However, he added, they have secured new investors and new funding, and ‘all will be apparent in the next 40 days’.

Officials in Sweetwater are not holding their breath. ‘It’s kind of fizzled out,’ says Karen Hunt, director of the local Chamber of Commerce, of the recycling project.

She sees little sign of that changing, adding mournfully of the blade dumps: ‘They’re part of our landscape. And not an attractive one.’

At least the residents of Sweet-water can console themselves that they accepted only a couple of years’ supply of decommissioned blades — although even that looks a huge amount. And, with endless acres of unused land around town and few people to complain about the eyesore, there are plenty of places to dump them.

In densely populated Britain, discarding thousands of old turbine blades so casually in plain sight would hardly be tolerated — the 100,000 tonnes of them each year are instead largely buried in landfill.

In the EU, which strictly limits what can be buried on such sites, some blades are burned in power plants or special ‘pyrolysis’ ovens to create products such as glue and paints. However, the process requires a lot of energy, and burning fibreglass emits pollutants — so it’s not exactly very ‘green’.

How long Britain and the rest of the world can keep burying turbine blades is open to question. Last month, a European Parliament report called for an EU-wide landfill ban on used turbine blades by 2025. Wind industry insiders expect the UK to follow suit.

In November, a £2 million Whitehall-funded, three-year project was announced to develop research by Strathclyde University into recycling wind turbine blades so that components can be used in the car and construction industries.

In Denmark and Ireland, blades have been turned into bridges and bicycle shelters; and in the Netherlands into children’s slides and ramps — but they’ll deal with only a small fraction of the decommissioned blades heading our way.

Solar panels — which contain photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight to electricity and typically boast a 25-year life span — are another green recycling nightmare waiting to happen.

The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that by 2050, up to 78 million tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life and the world will create another six million tons of photovoltaic waste every year. Where to put all of that is potentially an even bigger headache than the turbine blades. It’s very complicated to recover the more valuable materials, such as silver and silicon, used in solar panels.

Research suggests the cost of recovering the materials outweighs the cost of extracting what can be reused by a ratio of ten to one. In other words, if the cost of recycling is $10 you get only $1 back.

And unlike wind turbine blades, solar panels contain toxic materials such as lead that can contaminate the ground as they break down, so dumping them in landfill sites poses serious issues.

And what about the lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars? Here, too, there’s a money issue. Japanese researchers say the value of the materials that can be recycled from them is about a third of the cost of the recycling operation, while it’s five times cheaper to mine new lithium than extract the old lithium from batteries.

Did you know that when you virtuously shelled out £45,000 on a Tesla Model 3?

Apostles of green energy undoubtedly glossed over all this — if indeed they even knew about it — when they first brandished wind and solar power as the perfect alternatives to help wean us off planet-killing oil, coal and gas.

It’s more realistic, say experts, to accept that we will never have a source of energy that is 100 per cent green.

That may be true — but it’s small consolation to the people of Sweetwater as their town is choked by the bones of dead wind turbines


The state of the polar bear, 2021

Susan J. Crockford

Executive summary

* Recent survey results suggest the global polar bear population is at least 32,000, although the estimate has a wide range of potential error.

* Results from the 2017–2018 survey of the Davis Strait subpopulation indicated numbers stable at about 2,015 (range 1,603–2,588), but bears were fatter than in 2005–2007, with good cub survival.

* An aerial survey of the Chukchi Sea in 2016 generated a population estimate of 5,444 (range 3,636–8,152), about 2,500 greater than a previous survey, plausibly reflecting the excellent conditions for polar bears in this area.

* Reports that polar bears seem to be moving from Alaska to Russia in a ‘mass exodus’ may describe a real phenomenon that reflects the excellent feeding conditions for bears in the Chukchi Sea compared to Alaska, fueled by continued increases in primary productivity across the Arctic.

* Spring research in Svalbard, Norway in 2021 showed the body condition of male polar bears was stable, and that litter size of family groups was the same as it had been in 1994, but lower than 2019.

* A new paper reported that more polar bears in Svalbard seem to be killing and eating reindeer during the summer than they did during the 1970s, but the phenomenon was not exclusively tied to reduced sea ice.




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