Stakes High as Negotiators Begin Climate Talks in Germany

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation the next two weeks, returning again June 7. 

Negotiators picked up discussions toward a new global climate treaty in Bonn, Germany this week. The meeting was the first since the 2011 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban where leaders initially agreed to put together a plan that would limit Earth-warming emissions. The stakes for the 10-day meeting are high—negotiators have set goals of building support for funding developing nations to the tune of $100 billion a year by 2020 and of constructing a global, legally binding climate agreement that extends the Kyoto Protocol. While countries agreed in Durban to sign the deal by 2015, U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres insisted milestones should be set in 2012.

So far, the European Union and groups of developing countries are divided over details of how the Kyoto Protocol should be extended. The talks may have inspired Qatar—one of the largest emitters of carbon—to cut its emissions and pay into the Green Climate Fund. Qatar will host the next round of annual climate negotiations in November—the first member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to do so.

One university in Australia is looking at the effects of climate change by creating an atmosphere where CO2 is 40 percent higher than current levels and studying its impact on the environment, humans and other living things. The Aussie researchers predict an average increase of about 3 degrees centigrade, but the first results of the study won’t be available until next year. A new journal article says, depending on the area, as many as 40 percent of mammals migrate too slowly and won’t be able to keep pace with climate shifts expected in the next hundred years.

Japan Faces Summer Test

While Iran and the U.N. nuclear agency discussed Iran’s nuclear program and suspicions Tehran may have tested nuclear arms technology, Japan decided to restart nuclear reactors in one town as others there contemplated how to handle things nuclear-free before the summer’s heat sets in. At least one utility in the country is considering a rate hike to compensate for the impending hot weather, while the Japanese operator of the Fukushima plant posted a $10 billion loss stemming from the meltdown. The town is the first to restart a nuclear reactor since all the nation’s nuclear reactors were shut off following the Fukushima disaster roughly one year ago. According to one newspaper poll, residents there are split on nuclear power.

In the U.S., California also faces threats of summer power shortages due to complications with the San Onofre nuclear plant. And the nuclear reactor being built in Augusta, Ga., will not only be completed behind schedule, but come in at a much higher price—approximately $900 million.

Could cheap natural gas be choking aging nuclear plants? E&E Publishing reported the nuclear industry is questioning whether lower natural gas prices will put pressure on plants, just as cheap gas has done to coal.

EPA Declares ‘Gasland’ Town’s Water Safe

Vermont made history this week by becoming the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the hotly debated natural gas drilling technique that injects a mixture of water and chemicals underground at high pressures to release hard-to-reach oil and natural gas. The ban is not predicted have an immediate effect, however, because the state has no fracking projects under way and no evidence of natural gas reserves.

The news comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested more money to probe the technique. It was just days after the EPA announced water in the town made famous by hydraulic fracturing and the movie “Gasland” was given a clean bill of health. Though water at one home did show elevated levels of methane, the well water was declared safe. The EPA released data for 59 of the 61 wells tested, claiming “the set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give the EPA reason to do further testing.” The finding has residents of the northeastern Pennsylvania town disputing the claim. The lawsuits and tests revolving around the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas have made it difficult for insurers to price risk.

While drilling continues in Pennsylvania—generating about $3.5 billion in 2011—the U.S. Department of Interior recently found roughly two-thirds of land leased by the oil industry goes unused. This equates to roughly 46 million acres both on- and offshore.

Recent cyber attacks aimed at computer networks belonging to U.S. natural gas pipeline companies may have ties to China, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The U.S. and China have agreed to cooperate on cyber security despite China’s implication in the pipeline attacks. As a whole, the energy sector is becoming more vulnerable to these types of attacks, which also struck Iran last month.

Some, however, are looking to other methods for energy generation. One group of researchers in California is trying to harness viruses for energy needs. As Norway opened the world’s largest carbon capture and storage test facility, La Ventosa Mexico—the windy place—inched its way toward earning a title for “the largest growth of wind power projects anywhere in the world.” The Atlantic Wind Connection project, a network of offshore wind farms off the East Coast that could power close to two million homes in the next 10 years, received permission to move forward. The “first-of-its-kind project” would be served by a 380-mile underwater power line running from Virginia to New Jersey.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

 

Keystone Pipeline Debate Reopens with Submission of New Application

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Department of State has received a new application from TransCanada—the company behind the controversial Keystone XL project—to ship crude oil via a proposed pipeline running from the Canadian border to existing infrastructure in Nebraska. TransCanada had its initial application rejected by the Obama administration in January. The reapplication to the U.S. State Department on Friday calls to reroute the pipeline around the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills Region of Nebraska—adding miles onto the project. Despite the new route, some in Nebraska still oppose the plan. The pipeline is causing other problems as lawmakers debate a multi-year surface transportation plan—the first one since 2005.

If approved, construction on the pipeline could happen in early 2013, with oil flowing as soon as 2014, according to The Canadian Press.

That same day, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule requiring companies drilling for natural gas on federal and tribal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. While the rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal, disclosure of the chemicals used in the “fracking” process would not have to be reported until after work is complete. The regulations, which could go into effect by the end of the year, spurred debate among environmentalists, industry and lawmakers—with some saying the rules didn’t go far enough. Others highlighted the “toughest” provisions, which require tests of wells’ physical integrity and expand the scope of water protected from drilling—but pointed out the rules “only apply to a sliver of the nation’s natural gas supply.”

Gas prices have continued a steady decline the last five weeks, causing the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to revise forecasts for the summer—predicting motorists will spend $10.7 billion less than previously estimated.

Heartland Institute Pulls Controversial Billboards

The Heartland Institute made headlines again recently for suggesting—in billboard ads—that only terrorists believe in manmade global warming. The failed campaign attacking the existence of climate change prompted a firestorm of criticism and recalled another kerfuffle involving the Institute earlier this year. Reactions to the campaign caused the Institute to announce removal of the billboards after being up just 24 hours. Even after they were removed, some donors pulled funding for the Heartland Institute, but others weren’t so quick to cut their ties with the organization.

A new study focuses blame for warming on another species entirely. It links methane emissions from dinosaurs, the sauropod specifically, to climate change and a warmer Mesozoic era. Like the dinosaurs before them, modern-day methane emitters such as cows and sheep are being studied to determine how the methane they emit could be contributing to warming. Regardless, according to the study, emissions from dinosaurs were far larger than those of our modern-day plant-eating animals, and in fact may have equaled all modern methane emissions—both natural and manmade.

New data sheds li­ght on the speed of melting glaciers, and how their changes affect sea levels. Greenland’s ocean-bound glaciers accelerated by an average of 30 percent from 2000 to 2011—not quite as quickly had been estimated in previous worst-case scenarios, but still a cause for concern.

The Rise and Fall of Renewables

While a solar-powered boat was circumnavigating the world, on land the U.S. activated the first solar power project on federal land near Las Vegas. Meanwhile, residential solar leasing is taking off, Motley Fool reported. And in the next five years, the world’s solar power generating capacity is predicted to grow more than 200 percent, although public support for green energy initiatives has dropped recently.

Japan may be taking steps toward renewable energy after taking its last nuclear reactor off line last week. The move left the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. But MSNBC insisted renewables wouldn’t bring immediate relief, as only 10 percent of Japan’s power generation currently comes from renewables. Saudi Arabia is exploring whether it can generate a third of its electricity by way of solar power.

In the U.S., the renewable winner may not be necessarily who you think, according to the Washington Post. The EIA now has a map showing a large uptick in renewables between 2001 and 2011. This surge in renewables can largely be attributed to state renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, federal production tax credits and stimulus grants. The stimulus grants have expired; the tax credit for wind will expire at the end of 2012. The Guardian reports there is an effort underway by conservative think tanks in the U.S. to eliminate all government programs aimed at promoting the use of renewables.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.