Posts tagged “carbon emissions”
A Long-Awaited Decision
Earlier this month, after a debate that spanned nearly the entire duration of his presidency, President Obama finally rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. He had been heavily criticized on this issue from many angles, including by me, for his long-running failure to make a decision on this issue. For the record, my position on the pipeline wasn’t that it should be built. Nor that it shouldn’t. But rather that it was a distraction that garnered far more attention than it deserved, while more important issues desperately warranted attention.
Today, in the last Keystone XL article that I plan to write, I want to review the controversy, explain why I feel it took on a symbolic meaning far beyond what it deserved, and describe some of the other things that were taking place while an environmental movement mobilized to stop the pipeline. In a nutshell, I am going to strip the symbolism and wishful thinking and address things we actually know to be true. CONTINUE»
I will preface this article with my standard disclaimer on the Keystone XL Pipeline project: I have no vested interest in the pipeline either way. My interest is in fostering honest debate and discussion on energy policy, and because there has been so much distortion and outright lies related to the pipeline project, I have addressed the topic from time to time.
To reiterate, I don’t think it ultimately makes much difference one way or the other whether the pipeline is built. Not to the environment and not to energy security. I think the likelihood that this oil will simply be transported to market via other means (rail, other pipelines, and/or tanker) is vastly underestimated by Keystone XL opponents. I think the U.S. and the world will use about the same amount of oil with or without it. Refineries on the Gulf Coast will continue to run heavy Venezuelan crude if it isn’t built, which is what would be backed out in favor of heavy Canadian crude if it is built. That Venezuelan crude will continue to be transported via ship, and those have been known to spill oil. I think the risks of the pipeline have been vastly overstated by people who are generally unaware of the extent of the North American oil and gas pipeline system — and consequently how low the incident frequency actually is.
That summarizes what I believe are some of the misconceptions and misleading arguments from those who are arguing against the pipeline. But don’t mistake that as me lobbying for the pipeline. I don’t think I have ever said “We need this pipeline.” I will never be at a pro-pipeline rally. For most people who care one way or another, Keystone XL is just symbolic. The impact of building it — or not — is overstated by both sides. For those who are more interested in substance and who are concerned about the growing carbon dioxide inventory in the atmosphere — it’s going to come down to whether actions around Keystone XL can be leveraged into something much, much greater.
I do understand the core of the opponents’ arguments. Behind all of the misleading and false claims, it really boils down to one thing. CONTINUE»
This is the 4th installment in a series that examines data from the recently released Statistical Review of World Energy 2014. The previous posts covered the world’s growing fossil fuel consumption:
- World Sets New Oil Production and Consumption Records
- The US and Russia are Gas Giants
- King Coal Deposed in West, but Reigns in East
Today I examine the implications of that growing fossil fuel consumption by looking at carbon dioxide emission trends. The key points in the report include: CONTINUE»
Bloomberg and others have reported that in August the Canadian Prime Minister sent a letter to President Obama, proposing to work with the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a way to facilitate US approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL.) The only surprising aspect of this story, if accurate, is that it has taken so long for so obvious a solution to be floated. If, as I believe, opposition to the pipeline has little to do with potential spills and local rights of way, and everything to do with the emissions profile of Canadian oil sands crude — accurately or not — then environmentalists should welcome this overture.
All CO2 Is Equivalent
You would never know it from protest slogans conflating all types of air pollution as if they were identical, but the characteristics and effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs) like CO2 are very different from the smog-forming emissions from automobile tailpipes or the sulfate pollution from coal power plants. For that matter, air containing 400 ppm of CO2 (0.04%) is no more harmful to breathe than pre-industrial air with 280 ppm of CO2. More relevant to the current topic, it is also a fact that the climate consequences of each ton of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere are the same as for every other ton, regardless of where they are emitted or from what source. While scientists can distinguish CO2 from fossil fuel combustion from the CO2 you just exhaled, based on differences in the ratio of carbon isotopes they carry, the effect of these on global warming is essentially identical.
This is the 6th and final installment in a series that examines data from the 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
The previous posts were:
- Renewable Energy Status Update 2013
- Hydropower and Geothermal Status Update 2013
- The State of Oil According to BP
- The US is the Gassiest Country
- King Coal Gets Fatter, While The US Goes on a Diet
Today’s post looks at carbon dioxide emissions, and if you are concerned about climate change the results aren’t good.
The “highlights” are:
- Global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.9% to reach a new record high in 2012
- China led all countries in the categories of most carbon dioxide emitted and the greatest increase in emissions
- The US had the greatest decline of any country, with carbon dioxide emissions falling by 217 million metric tons from 2011 levels
- However the US is responsible for 25% of the carbon emitted to the atmosphere over the past 50 years
- Of the countries tracked, 25 saw decreased carbon dioxide emissions from 2011 levels and 39 countries experienced increased emissions
Emissions Keep Climbing
Global carbon dioxide emissions increased to 34.4 billion metric tons (BMT) in 2012. This was a new global record, 1.9% above the previous record set a year earlier. Over the past decade carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 32%. And since 2004 the increase in global emissions has been 5.9 BMT, which is an increase greater than total US emissions.
Later this week I intend to start a series covering the recently released BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013. However, first I want to follow up on last week’s post The Increasing Irrelevance of the Keystone XL Debate. With few exceptions, the post was well-received by people on both sides of the debate. There was some reasonable debate on the post on my Twitter feed, and much less rancor. I think only one person accused me of being an “enemy combatant” while most recognized that I am sincerely trying to shine a light on a problem that I see as orders of magnitude worse than Keystone XL.
The primary objection to my argument over the irrelevancy of Keystone XL is the same one that has been voiced in the past. It is that the Keystone XL project itself may be relatively insignificant, but add up many Keystone XL projects and you get a big effect. The only problem is that this really isn’t even true.
In last week’s article I referenced a 2012 paper by Neil C. Swart and Andrew J. Weaver from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria published in Nature Climate Change. That paper contained a graphic that I shared on Twitter, and it got quite a bit of commentary. The graphic shows the relative potential warming contributions of various fossil fuel resources:
Keystone XL’s Insignificant Contribution to Climate
Last week President Obama unveiled a new plan to combat climate change in a speech at Georgetown University. While there is generally broad consensus that his comments further threaten the already battered US coal industry, his comments on TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP, NYSE: TRP) Keystone XL pipeline project had pundits guessing at his meaning. Here is what the President said in his speech about Keystone XL:
Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.
The reason that there have been widely differing views on the President’s intentions boils down to his use of the phrase “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department’s Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL Pipeline project already concluded that approval of the project would have little impact on global carbon dioxide emissions or on the development of the oil sands because of their view that the oil will get to market one way or another. More on that below. CONTINUE»
An article I wrote was published yesterday, Why a Global Shale Gas Boom is Key to Combating Climate Change. Because I had actually written the article a week ago, I didn’t know that it would come out at the same time as the release of the President’s big speech on climate change. As I demonstrated in the post, the U.S. has been the most successful country over the last decade in reducing its emissions; most of that is due to fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Natural gas generates more than 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, not even including the many harmful particulate pollutants coal emits. To achieve similar benefits around the world, we need to replicate America’s shale gas revolution around the world.
While most of the news about the speech will be about how Obama is planning to accelerate renewable energy, I believe the biggest area of near-term action on reducing emissions will come from some underreported sections that will encourage the replacement of coal with natural gas for energy generation, both in the U.S. and globally.
Reduction in Energy-Related CO2 Emissions
The United States has seen a remarkable run in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years, reducing energy-related CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2012 by 12%, from six billion tons to 5.29 billion tons. While part of this reduction in emissions is attributable to a reduction in energy demand due to the economic downturn, another reason for this huge reduction is an increase in the use of natural gas for electricity.
In a story that is now familiar to most readers, the shale gas revolution in the United States has dramatically reduced the cost of natural gas. From a peak of $10.54 per million btu (mbtu) in July 2008, the spot price of gas at the well-head had fallen to less than $2/mbtu by April 2012.
Because utilities respond to price incentives, this caused fuel-switching of baseload electricity production from coal to natural gas, leading to a time in April 2012 when natural gas equaled coal as an energy source for the first time. This switch has partially been undone, with coal now producing 40% of electricity and natural gas 26% as gas prices have bounced back to $3.85/mbtu. Because burning natural gas for electricity produces half as much carbon emissions as coal, fuel switching is one of the main causes in the U.S. reduction in emissions.
U.S. Power Producers Offer Insight for Investors and Policymakers Worldwide
As the number two carbon emitter on the globe, behind only China, U.S. power generation’s impact on carbon emissions can shed light on our progress. U.S. data can also inform other countries as they make choices regarding their energy portfolio mixes, particularly in power generation fuel source decisions. It would seem easier to start cleaner than to become cleaner.
Carbon emissions, a chief culprit in the warming of the planet, crossed a new threshold with uncertain consequences in May to 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time concentrations were this high was 3 to 5 million years ago — featuring an earth with higher sea levels and forests extending to the Arctic Ocean, according to an atmospheric scientist. It was a reminder to those concerned about the effects of climate change and others supportive of a lower carbon economy that considerable heavylifting lies ahead. A goal of 450 ppm is considered a threshold to ward off temperature rises higher than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit.