Building the World

June 17, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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ENERGY: Old wells, new problems, emerging solutions

Could biogas drive the future? Image: wikimedia.

Could the next vehicle you drive be powered not by gas from a drilled well but by a cleaner form of energy known as biogas or biomethane? Climate improvement may be encouraged by a solving a problem.

Oil well pump, Midland, Texas. Image: wikimedia.

Oil wells – part of the 20th century landscape – are not only becoming a relic of the past, they are now a menace to the future. Old wells, once dry of oil, continue to emit pollution. More recently, other kinds of wells have been opened for hydraulic fracturing, sometimes called fracking, uses water to power invasive drilling to release oil and gas locked in rock formations. Drillers use underground water, promising to seal off the well. But what happens when the fracking site is no longer productive? Millions of older fracking wells are now starting to leak pollutants. And now, with the renewable energy becoming competitive in price and superior in environmental quality, wells are becoming antiquated. Moreover, the fossil fuel energy industry is stressed by dropping oil prices due to the 2020 viral pandemic: people are driving less; planes are parked in airports. Energy company bankruptcies are growing. Sometimes companies sell the wells to a new owner who then resells, and finally when it is no longer productive, the well is abandoned. No one is responsible for clean-up, since the original builder of the well has long since moved on.

Methane, a dangerous and long-lived pollutant in the atmosphere, is one of the greenhouse gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol. Image: wikimedia.

According to the Groundwater Protection Council, “orphaned wells” are beginning to leak methane. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) flagged methane from abandoned oil and gas wells as an emerging global risk, in an April 2020 report. Worldwide, there may be 29 million abandoned gas and oil wells. Canada, where oil sands mining prevails, reported 313,000 abandoned wells emitting 10 kilotons of methane. The United States has 2 million abandoned wells: most were never properly sealed. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (the three other large oil and gas producers, along with Canada and USA) have not revealed their methane leakage from wells. Even small amounts of methane pose dangers. The United States reports methane as the cause of 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, but methane is 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in the first two decades of release, and 28 times over a century’s timeframe. Methane is one of the seven greenhouse gases regulated under the Kyoto Protocol: the list includes carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (JFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphurhexaflouride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NFc). These gases are dangerous because they are stable, meaning they stay in the atmosphere once released. Methane has been identified as responsible for 25% of global warming.

Capturing methane in a biogas sytem. Image: wikimedia

Yet methane is a valuable energy source, when harnessed. One possible solution: biogas (biomethane). Biomethane is formed by decomposing organic substances like agricultural or animal waste, even sewage. With upgrades, biogas can achieve an energy productivity equal to natural gas. Biogas can be recovered from waste treatment plants and refined to renewable natural gas (RNG) to generate electricity or even power car. Another method: fuel cell technology using waste; there is no combustion, so no exhaust and related pollution. A sample project using biogas to power fuel cells can be found in Fountain Valley, California; Apple uses fuel cell energy from Bloom Energy.

As the world emerges from the coronona virus pandemic, countries are funding re-entry for businesses, cities, and states. Is 2020 the time to seize the opportunity to capture methane from old wells as the energy sector rebuilds?

Dlouhy Jennifer A “EPA Seeks to Abandon Regulation of Methane Leaks From Oil Wells.” 29 August 2019. Bloomberg News. TransportTopics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/epa-seeks-abandon-regulation-methane-leaks-oil-wells.

Groom, Nichola. “Millions of abandoned oil wells are leaking methane, a climate menace.” 16 June 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport/special-report-millions-of-abandoned-oil-wells-are-leaking-methane-a-climate-menace-idUSKBN23N1NL

Kyoto Pr

The World Energy Foundation. “Methane Capture and Use as a Clean Energy Source.” 16 June 2015. https://theworldenergyfoundation.org/methane-capture-and-use-as-clean-energy-source/.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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October 13, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Eyes on the Prize

Nobel Prize in Economics 2018 goes to carbon tax advocates: William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. Image: wikimedia.

The Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded to William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer, followed a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning of urgent and dire effects if the world does not limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Nordhaus advocated carbon pricing and taxation, stating: When I talk to people about how to design a carbon price, I think the model is British Columbia. You raise electricity prizes by $100 a year, but then the government gives back a dividend that lowers internet prices by $100 a year. You’re raising the price of carbon goods but lowering the prices of non-carbon-intensive goods.

Co-laureate Paul Romer stated at a press conference following the announcement: It’s entirely possible for humans to produce less carbon. There will be some tradeoffs, but once we begin to produce fewer carbon emissions we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as it was anticipated. Romer advocated supporting and encouraging innovation, while at the same time starting with a very low tax on emissions that will rise over time, if required. Outcome? “Innovators will start investing now in ways for people to get what they want without paying the tax. They will stop investing in ways to extract more fossil fuels that will be subject to the tax. Recent pessimistic environmental warnings might be true, but bad news is not always motivating, and can even cause avoidance and apathy. Romer continued: Optimism is part of what helps motivate people attack a hard problem, hoping that the Nobel award “will help everyone see that humans are capable of amazing accomplishments when we set about trying to do something.”

Davenport, Coral. “After Nobel in Economics, William Nordhaus Talks About Who’s Getting Pollution-Tax Ideas Right: A few governments – notably parts of Canada and South Korea – have adapted the the ideas in ways that frame them as a financial windfall for taxpayers.” 13 October 2018. The New York Times.

http://www.nber.org/chapters/c7620.pdf

Nordhaus, William. https://economics.yale.edu/people/william-d-nordhaus

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “Few countries are pricing carbon high enough to meet climate targets.” 18 September 2018. http://www.oecd.org/tax/few-countries-are-pricing-carbon-high-enough-to-meet-climate-targets.htm.

Rathi, Akshat. “Why the newest Nobel laureate is optimistic about beating climate change.” 8 October 2018. Quartz Media. https://qz.com/1417222/why-new-nobel-laureate-paul-romer-is-optimistic-about-beating-climate-change/.

Romer, Paul. https://paulromer.net/about-paul-romer/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

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December 12, 2016
by buildingtheworld
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Antarctica Drops Sea Ice the Size of India

India’s size is 1,269 million square miles. That’s how much sea ice Antartica lost. Image: www.lib.utexas.edu.

Antarctica lost 1.48 million square miles (3.84 million square kilometers): about the size of India, or two Alaskas.  Earth’s polar regions are different: the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, but the Antarctic is land surrounded by water. That’s why Antarctica’s glaciers could disappear more quickly. Satellite observations, reported in a new long-term study, confirm Antarctic glaciers are losing 7m per year.  What actions should the Antarctic Treaty take to respond?

Comparing North and South Polar areas, http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/CLIMATECHANGE-ICE/010030W31X1/CLIMATECHANGE-ICE.jpg

Amos, Jonathan. “Ice loss spreads up Antarctic glaciers,” BBC Science & Environment, 12 December 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38256932

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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January 20, 2015
by buildingtheworld
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Frozen Treasure

Arctic sea ice: 22% of earth’s undiscovered energy resources may be hidden beneath. Image: wikimedia commons.

Lomonosov Ridge is 1,120 miles (1,800 km) long, but, unlike the Appalachian Trail, no one has hiked it. That’s because Lomonosov lies underwater, and is considered to bifurcate the Arctic. The North Pole was formerly the focus of “claim,” but little treasure lies beneath Frederick Cook and Robert Peary’s achievement. Canada and the United States have expressed interest in the frozen north, cooperating to build the Alaska Highway and Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Now, scientists predict 22% of earth’s undiscovered energy resources may be located at Lomonosov Ridge, named by Russia, spanning the New Siberian Islands to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Recently, the Lomonosov Ridge has been claimed to be an extension of Greenland’s shelf, drawing interest from Denmark. The United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, in accord with the Convention on the Law of the Sea (article 76, paragraph 8), will make a determination on Lomonosov Ridge in 2015. How should this treasure be safeguarded? Findings may influence the world’s energy future.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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September 9, 2013
by buildingtheworld
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Pipelines: Trans-Alaska and Beyond

 

What do you think of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline? Image courtesy of senate.gov

When the Trans-Alaska Pipeline opened in 1977, 20,000 people had contributed to the project. Results were mixed: revenue benefit brought $900 million to Alaska’s economy but exploitation of the large petroleum deposits discovered in 1968 at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope were scene to the largest oil spill in United States history at that time: the Exxon Valdez released a flood of pollution with long-lasting effects. But Yoshihiro Kyotani, Japanese engineer and innovator, proposed that pipelines need not be filled with just oil. Why not float transoceanic pipelines as transport tubes for container shipping or vactrains? Along with the Channel Tunnel‘s Frank P. Davidson, Yoshihiro Kyotani designed tubetrains that may be the original version of Elon Musk’s 2013 Hyperloop. For more on Kyotani, please see: http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Oral-History:Yoshihiro_Kyotani. But today all eyes are on a pipeline in the news: Keystone XL. It’s a complex issue; for more, visit http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/09/16/130916fa_fact_lizza?mbid=social_retweet. Then please return to our blog and let your voice be heard regarding pipelines transporting energy, or perhaps floating as a vactrain from Boston to Cadiz.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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June 25, 2013
by buildingtheworld
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Alaska Highway – Environment

Alaska — Image from Wikimedia Commons

A cooperative endeavor undertaken by Canada and the United States, the Alaska Highway was dreamt of from the days of the Yukon gold rush, sketched a half century later, and finally built during a military emergency. It was one of the earliest attempts at homeland security. The arduous road, likened in difficulty to building the Panama Canal, challenged 16,000 workers for 1400 miles through frost, mud, and bogs in the 1940s. For the fascinating story of how the road was actually built, see (www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/alaska/). Today, together with the Alaska Pipeline, the northern territory faces another emergency, climate change. The polar bear has become a symbol of the environment of Alaska and the northern treasures of our world. How should we protect and preserve Alaska in the midst of environmental change?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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October 3, 2012
by zoequinn001
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Drilling in the Arctic Questioned

Drilling in the Arctic, from The Guardian/Associated Press, at guardian.co.uk.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline has made the transport of oil from the Alaskan interior to the shipping ports of the coast immeasurably more simple. Unfortunately for oil companies, spills like that of the Exxon Valdez, or more recently the BP Gulf of Mexico spill, have raised concern regarding extracting oil from and transporting oil across the Arctic. While more oil companies are looking to the Arctic as a resource, governments and committees are questioning safety, as it is very difficult to reach those places where drilling would occur should there be an accident. Britain is one of those questioning the situation as part of the Arctic Council where they have observer status and are being asked to use their influence to increase drilling safeguards.

For more on the battle for the Arctic, please see:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19652326

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Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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