LNG BC ferries don’t deliver environmental promise

This fully electric ferry, the E-Ferry Ellen in Denmark, has a 22 nautical mile range. Photograph by Erik Christensen.

BC Ferries has made a big promise. To operate the environmentally cleanest possible ferries. In the words of BC Ferries’ President and CEO, Mark Collins, “It is our privilege to operate in one of the most pristine environments in the world and it is our objective to be a leader in environmental and social governance”.

That promise is in black and white in the BC Ferries’ Clean Futures Plan, Summer 2019. But the promise and the prescribed actions don’t add up.

The Clean Futures Plan objective is to reduce GHG emissions by “continually seeking among available energy sources the cleanest, lowest carbon-intensity option that can displace non-renewable diesel”. And by that they mean liquefied natural gas (LNG).

But LNG fueled ferries result in little or no net GHG reduction.

To make the claim that “we currently have five LNG-fueled vessels in our fleet that substantially outperform diesel fueled vessels for emissions and costs” the Plan relies on a common deception that natural gas (aka fracked gas, LNG or methane) is a “clean” fossil fuel because it releases less CO2 than other fossil fuels at point of burning.

While LNG does burn cleaner than fossil fuel there are other factors that have to be considered.

The most recent research shows that LNG ferries have no climate benefit over ferries using marine diesel fuel. In fact, they are slightly worse. Mark Collins, BC Ferries CEO, states in the BC Ferries Authority’s 2018-19 Annual Report, “We have expanded the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which emits significantly lower GHGs compared to ultra low-sulphur diesel.” It would be more accurate to say that LNG is cheaper than diesel, promoted by the Province of BC and has a reputation burnished by decades of industry disinformation.

The myth of methane as a clean fossil fuel rests on several untruths. First, it counts only CO2 at point of burning, not methane itself (CH4), an extremely potent GHG.

And then there is this: methane leaks at every stage of natural gas production, storage and use. Methane is known to leak from marine engines in particular, a thing called “methane slip”.

This infrared camera of Texas gas fields shows the potential intensity of invisible methane leaks. It’s hard to measure the escape of an invisible gas but, where careful monitoring has occurred, research established years ago that natural gas is a dead end for climate stability. Methane gas is 85 times more potent than CO2 in the short term.

LNG fueled ferries result in little or no net greenhouse gas reduction. But that hasn’t stopped BC Ferries from buying them.

And in the world of GHG emissions “short term” is defined as 20 years. That short term just happens to encompass the (now) eleven year timeframe in which we will prevent – or trigger – the runaway feedback loops that threaten the fate of Earth.

BC Ferries has acquired five LNG-fueled vessels. That’s thanks to hundreds of millions of BC taxpayer dollars and the $16 million dollars chipped in by FortisBC, a subsidiary of Canada’s largest private utility company, Fortis Inc. The Fortis deal locks BC Ferries into a ten-year contract for LNG fuel with the electric and natural gas distribution utility,

The BC Liberals in 2012 put their thumb on the LNG ferry scale by passing a Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Clean Energy) Regulation which allows a utility (such as FortisBC) to make grants of up to $6 million to other entities toward the purchase of a natural gas vehicle (such as a ferry). Grantors can favor a person whose machine uses natural gas from the utility’s pipelines. The NDP is completely bought in to the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Which helps explain how and why FortisBC funded BC Ferries to a total of $10 million for infrastructure for the new LNG ferries and locked it into a contract to buy 13 million gigajoules of LNG. Doug Stout, FortisBC’s vice president of market development and external relations, celebrated the deal with the unsupported claim: “This abundant, made-in-BC energy source can reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 15 to 25%….”


The fundamental problem of LNG as a fuel for ferries is “methane slip” – the escape of unburned methane escapes from ferry engines. According to a report from UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre, the engine model used by BC Ferries’ new LNG ferries doesn’t reliably reduce GHG emissions at all and, in fact, increases GHG emissions when production emissions are included. And that increase isn’t insignificant – from two to seven percent compared to a medium or high speed diesel engine. UBC’s result confirms earlier studies and findings by other scientists.

LNG has benefits. It can reduce oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and particulates (although running engines for reduction can result in more GHGs). It can cost less than marine diesel. It has political support. But it isn’t a climate solution. It’s not even a climate solution for ocean-going vessels on long runs because its climate benefits are so minimal and because running LNG engines for low emissions comes at a much higher operational cost.


LNG’s climate damage begins during production, “upstream” of the methane slip from marine engines. Methane, being lighter than air, can float away at every point between extraction and delivery in the form of fugitive emissions. It’s hard to measure the escape of an invisible gas. BC’s estimates are far out of line with those where data has been gathered from “the top down” (atmospheric concentrations in operational areas rather than estimates based on the industry’s inventories). Years ago, research established that natural gas is a dead end for climate stability in those locations where careful monitoring has occurred.

In a recent BC study, the discrepancy between industry reports and measured emissions was 30%. Based on field measurements, the David Suzuki Foundation found that 35% of inactive wells and 85% of active wells in one part of Northern BC are leaking methane. A leaked Oil and Gas Commission document showed that nearly 50 of fracked gas wells, the process of using high-pressure water drilling to release gas inside rock, were leaking methane and that up to 900 gas wells in BC could be leaking. (This estimate applies only to one portion of northeast BC where fracking companies operate.) Another escape route for methane is the venting required to maintain storage tank pressure.

Worldwide, the climate impact of this escaped methane is minimized because the International Panel on Climate Change and the Province of BC attribute a warming factor of 25 to methane for climate reporting. That number, the global warming potential (GWP) for methane, means that methane is 25 times more warming than CO2 when it is in the atmosphere. But methane’s GWP of 25 averages the warming effect of this gas over a century time frame even though methane has a much greater warming potential during the first twenty years after release – 85 times more warming than CO2. The UN warns that in the next eleven years in we will either sharply swerve away from the runaway emissions loops that will entirely change life on Earth – or trigger them. For this reason, a GWP of 85 for methane most precisely reflects the impact of methane on climate outcomes. But whether 25 or 85 is used to determine methane’s global warming potential, LNG developments are going to render impossible the goals of the CleanBC Climate Plan. Methane escape is the reason why, worldwide, natural gas is being rejected as a climate solution.


BC Ferries doesn’t quantify or even mention methane slip in its Clean Futures Plan, website or annual reports. In response to an email inquiry, it did not explain, admit or deny the problem. It referred me back to the Plan. It’s website uses LNG trucks for comparison purposes rather than marine engines. While LNG trucks have their own overstated claims, they do not have methane slip. The LNG engines purchased by BC Ferries, 34DF Wartsila engines, do have methane slip. BC Ferries’ claim of “important climate progress” appears to rely on ignoring methane slip. If so, LNG ferries are a huge investment in climate failing infrastructure

Governments and businesses track their changes from a baseline year in which they inventory their year’s emissions. Problematically, BC Ferries won’t publish its first baseline inventory until 2021 while BC and Canada climate targets use 2005 and 2007 respectively as climate baseline years. Using 2021 will make it difficult to compare BC Ferries’ claimed reductions with the Province’s goals. At a minimum, BC Ferries should publish past ship fuel usage for each year since the 2005/2007 climate baseline years to allow others to make the necessary calculations.


Who made these decisions? Organizational responsibility within BC Ferries’ labyrinthine administration makes this hard to pin down. In 2002, the Liberals took an indebted Crown Corporation and transformed it into a private company which could solicit private investments. BC Ferries Services Inc. is owned by the BC Ferry Authority, which holds the single voting share and appoints its Board of Directors. The BC government holds all the preferred shares of BC Ferries Services Inc. According to Clare Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, her Ministry has no authority to direct the decisions of BC Ferries Services.

The BC Ferry Commission, an independent regulator, is tasked with protecting the public interest. For the most part, this means keeping fares down. The Commission’s mandate has recently expanded to include reducing GHG emissions under a Section of the Coastal Ferry Act which states that ferry operators are to be “encouraged” to meet provincial greenhouse gas emission targets. The Commission has veto power over capital expenditures of over $50 million for vessels and $25 million for other infrastructure. But, according to Commissioner Eva Hage, this veto power does not mean the Commission can direct what a capital project can be. This is too bad, given that BC Ferries has invested close to $400 million in vessel technology in the last five years, much of it for climate-destabilizing LNG ferries.

So, who to ask about the problem of methane slip and why it doesn’t appear in any of the BC Ferries public reports and literature?

The Coastal Ferries Act authorizes the Commission to inspect a report which is incomplete or incorrect. When I reached out for answers, Commissioner Hage suggested that I direct questions to BC Ferries Service Inc. regarding methane slip, upstream LNG emissions and GHG accounting. BC Ferries Services referred me back to its Clean Futures Plan, an incomplete and incorrect report with regard to methane slip, upstream methane emissions and GHG emissions, matters within the purview of the Commission. So, no answers, no clear accountability.

In a CBC interview, Minister Trevena noted that BC Ferries Services is on track to replicate the vessel services of the last 50 years even thought the future needs of coastal communities are likely to be quite different. In visioning meetings through the winter, she will encourage stakeholders to re-imagine the whole system. What about passenger ferries? Electric ferries? Different routes? Ferries integrated into other forms of transportation? How do we get from A to B with the lowest emissions possible? What if there was seamless public transport between Campbell River and Hope?

According to a statement from Minister Trevena’s, the results of her stakeholer consultation will be advisory: “…to provide information to help guide all parties involved in transportation planning, including the BC Ferries Commissioner, and BC Ferries shareholder, the BC Ferry Authority.”


Meanwhile, BC Ferries has the capacity to service the majority of its runs with electric ferries. It’s infrastructure funding could be better used to convert short run ferries to electricity. CEO Mark Collins seems behind this curve with statements such as, “There is no standard way of connecting the ship to grid,” and “You’re talking a lot of electricity and you’re around saltwater which is conductive so you’ve got to be very careful.” By contrast, Max von Ruden, director of vessel engineering and maintenance for the Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division, has stated, “This is not new or high-risk technology.” Washington State plans to have plug in capability at every port by 2023.

The range for electric ferries is now 22 nautical miles, thanks to Denmark’s new E-Ferry EllenNorway is adding 60 electric ferries to its fleet over the next three years. Ironically, many of them will be powered by batteries manufactured by a company founded in BC. Electric ferries run in many countries, including CanadaChinaIcelandUS and Sweden.


By 2022, BC Ferries plans to operate 6 “electric ready” ferries with hybrid diesel engines but does not plan to use onshore charging until some time in the future. This is unreasonable delay. In Scandinavia, ferries are rapidly being switched over to electricity. According to industry analysts, even a weak grid can charge batteries overnight. For example, Denmark’s E-Ferry Ellen gets fully charged overnight and topped up through the day at its home harbor in the time it takes cars to load and unload.

And it’s cost effective. The E-Ferry Ellen cost approximately 40% more than traditional vessels but fuel costs are anticipated to be 40% less. According to Siemens, on average an electric vessel will pay for itself in five and a half years. After that, it increases profitability. Another recent study puts the payback period for an electric ferry at under 7 years with operational savings of 51.3% over the diesel-electric alternative. The Pacific Northwest’s reliance on cheap hydro power improves the case.


There’s still the problem of long runs which require molecular fuel – something you can put in the tank. So far, hydrogen is the most likely zero carbon solution for industries which require a supply of energy far from the electrical grid. To make hydrogen fuel, renewable energy which would other be spilled is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Zero carbon hydrogen fuel (not to be confused with hydrogen fuel made from LNG) can be used for long range marine transport. Biofuels also show potential, but finding adequate supplies from sustainable non-food sources would be a challenge.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, hydrogen is the inevitable solution for “hard-to-abate” industry sectors (responsible for 40 percent of GHGs) where clean molecular energy can work in coordination with batteries. In plans to decarbonize marine industries enough to meet the Paris Accord, the Energy Transitions Commission relies on fuel cells using hydrogen and ammonia as fuel. It warns against overinvestment in LNG infrastructure because LNG cannot deliver complete decarbonization of shipping. Shell and the International Energy Agency also rely on hydrogen for decarbonizing the hard-to-abate sectors.


BC Ferries needs a plan based on data, not on gas industry disinformation. Rather than spend more taxpayer dollars on climate-harming LNG, BC Ferries could keep pace with other jurisdictions which are electrifying their ferries. In the longer term, hydrogen promises to be a truly zero carbon molecular fuel. It won’t be a long wait: it will be implemented in Norway by 2021. Scotland is assessing its feasibility as well.

But it seems BC Ferries isn’t going to let scientific fact get in the way of LNG ferry expansion. Four more LNG ferries are under consideration.

To its credit, BC Ferries has implemented efficiencies such as low friction coatings to reduce hull resistance and modifications to hulls, rudders and propellers. In the MV Tanaka, braking charges batteries that power the thrusters. It has the world’s longest cable ferry. And it acknowledges the future for most of its ferries is electric.

The promotion of LNG as a climate solution by industry, and the embrace of LNG by governments, is a form of predatory delay: these institutions don’t deny the need for change but they claim it is more prudent to invest a “cleaner” fossil fuel. But the research is in: LNG is more destructive to the climate than current marine fuels. This predatory delay has trickled down to BC Ferries’ infrastructure decisions, causing it to prioritize LNG long-run ferries over electrification of short-run ferries. This is cheap in the short term but will require an expensive retool should BC Ferries get serious about climate mitigation. When tax money and ferry fares go to infrastructure which locks in climate damage, we all fund the remedy or suffer the consequences. The Province of BC needs to get real about carbon mitigation and stop promoting LNG, a known climate-failing fuel. If we sincerely want to beat climate change, the moment for on-shore charged electric ferries is now.  SOURCE

To Fight Climate Change, One City May Ban Heating Homes With Natural Gas

Seeking to do their part to avert climate change, dozens of cities are exploring ways to limit natural gas heating in new homes. One city may also require existing homeowners to make a switch.

After two decades of reducing emissions across the coastal city leaders are proposing to ban natural gas in residential buildings with the hope of curtailing the potent emissions that rise from that industry’s infrastructure.Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — As a progressive-minded city nestled where the Cascade mountains reach the sea, Bellingham, Wash., has long been looking to scale back its contribution to climate change. In recent years, city leaders have converted the streetlights to low-power LEDs, provided bikes for city employees and made plans to halt the burning of sewage solids.

But while the efforts so far have lowered the city’s emissions, none have come close to erasing its carbon footprint. Now, Bellingham is looking to do something that no other city has yet attempted: adopt a ban on all residential heating by natural gas.

The ambitious plan set for consideration by the City Council in the coming weeks had already prompted vigorous debate over how much one small city should try to do to avert climate catastrophe, at a time when the federal government was putting less emphasis on halting the trajectory of rising temperatures.

“What we’ve got here is a conversation that is taking place in living rooms, in board rooms, in City Councils around the country,” said Michael Lilliquist, a Bellingham council member. “What is the proportionate threat? What is the proportionate response?”

Natural gas has long been embraced as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired electricity. Years ago, power companies began phasing out coal, and natural gas emerged as the nation’s leading source of electricity. But natural gas offers its own troubling contribution of greenhouse gases — including methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure — and its production has begun to clash with environmental goals that now include not only cleaning up pollution, but also slowing the rise in global temperatures.

In places like the Northwest, which benefits from a robust network of hydro-powered electricity, the move to detach from natural gas may be within reach — but at a cost.

Bellingham has become a growing destination for those looking to escape Seattle’s growth and cost while still wanting a similar base of progressive politics and environmental activism. It is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts who backpack the wilderness of the northern Cascades and kayak along the barnacled shores of the San Juan Islands.

Yet the move to phase out natural gas is not without opponents, even here.

The business community has mobilized to fight the plan and to establish a $1 million campaign to tout natural gas, especially as Seattle, 85 miles south, also begins discussions about its reliance on the fossil fuel.

Michael Lilliquist, a City Council member in Bellingham, Wash.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Along with other cities around the world, Bellingham adopted its first climate action plan more than a decade ago. Since then, the city has reported a substantial drop in emissions — eliminating more than two-thirds of the government’s greenhouse gas contributions compared to the year 2000.

Mr. Lilliquist said the city’s plans had put it on a path to carbon neutrality — zero net emissions — by 2050. While those plans may have seemed ambitious at the time, the unfolding global climate crisis has prompted city leaders since then to try to move the timeline up to 2035 or even 2030.

Last year, Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the country to ban natural gas in newly constructed low-rise residential buildings. Dozens of other cities passed or proposed similar bans, including Seattle, where an increasing number of new homes have adopted electric heat. Proponents there argued that a ban on natural gas in new construction would lower the city’s emissions by an estimated 12 percent over the coming three decades. The City Council had not yet acted on the measure.

Bellingham is talking about going even further: banning natural gas heating not only in new construction but also in existing homes and businesses.

The city’s climate task force explored a number of ambitious targets, including requiring conversions to electric heating when people purchased existing homes, said Dr. Charles Barnhart, a task force member and an assistant professor of environmental sciences at Bellingham’s Western Washington University, which has one of the nation’s oldest environmental colleges. It also explored requiring transitions on all structures as soon as 2030.

In the end, the task force scaled back a bit. Natural gas cooking appliances would still be allowed, but owners of homes and commercial buildings would be required to convert to electric heat-pump technology — or something equivalent — by 2040, with the possibility that the city could accelerate that to 2035. The measure under consideration would require electric heat conversions earlier than that when replacing heating systems.

“This is about going to where we didn’t go before,” Mr. Lilliquist said. “We’ve grabbed the less controversial and low-hanging fruit. This fruit is higher on the tree.”

It is unclear whether the proposal has enough votes to clear the City Council. Mr. Lilliquist said he would first seek a series of meetings to get feedback from the public.
Opponents have questioned the value of focusing on home heating systems instead of other alternatives for reducing emissions.

Todd Myers, who focuses on environmental issues at the conservative Washington Policy Center, said the city could get much more climate improvement by investing in things like planting trees and capturing methane gas at landfills.

“They are saying we are going to bypass all the low-hanging fruit and climb to the very top of the tree,” Mr. Myers said.Ron Colson posing for a portrait outside of his home near Bellingham, Wash.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Mr. Colson said he had spent about $28,000 to install a forced-air heat pump system in 2018.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Bellingham’s task force found that the average cost of installing an electric heat pump system was about $6,200 to $13,100 more than a gas furnace.

Ronald Scott Colson, a financial adviser who lives outside of Bellingham, said he had been converting to electric heat to fulfill his commitment to migrating the planet away from fossil fuels.

Mr. Colson said he had spent about $28,000 to install a forced-air heat pump system in 2018. He is looking to spend about $8,000 to change the heating for his home’s hot water to heat pump technology. With human life on Earth at risk, Mr. Colson said, the globe needs catalysts for significant change.
“You’ve got to have a place where people step up and say, ‘Let’s show the world we can do it,’” Mr. Colson said.

But Mr. Colson also acknowledged that such a conversion might be a heavy burden for those who did not have as much income. Without federal tax credits or other ways to offset the cost for lower-income people, he wondered if a local mandate might have negative impacts.

Mary Kay Robinson, a real-estate agent who works with the local chamber of commerce, said that instead of a natural gas ban, she would like to see the city expand a program that helped people assess their properties for energy efficiency improvements and offered incentives to make needed changes. She said a mandate to convert home heating systems could create housing affordability challenges.

“What does that do other than we get bragging rights, but we’re burdening people who can’t afford this?” Ms. Robinson said.

The energy industry has also stepped up efforts. A Northwest coalition has been organizing a $1 million public-relations campaign to promote the benefits of natural gas, with a focus on its reliability. One graphic produced by businesses including Cascade Natural Gas, the provider in Bellingham, suggested that a full conversion from natural gas to electricity, including solar panels, could cost a typical homeowner as much as $82,750, something Mr. Lilliquist labeled propaganda intended to frighten people.

Still, Mr. Lilliquist said that as council members considered the conversion proposals in the coming weeks, they would have a discussion about incentives or other ways to mitigate costs, which he said would almost surely be less exorbitant than the industry’s claims.

“The real number may be one-tenth that cost, but that’s still a lot of money for most households,” he added.
A view of the city of Bellingham, Wash.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times



A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought

Image result for ny times: A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought

The Ohio disaster leaked as much methane as the entire oil and gas industries of some nations release in a year.CreditCredit…Ohio State Highway Patrol

The first satellite designed to continuously monitor the planet for methane leaks made a startling discovery last year: A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States.

The findings by a Dutch-American team of scientists, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

The scientists said the new findings reinforced the view that methane releases like these, which are difficult to predict, could be far more widespread than previously thought.

“We’re entering a new era. With a single observation, a single overpass, we’re able to see plumes of methane coming from large emission sources,” said Ilse Aben, an expert in satellite remote sensing and one of the authors of the new research. “That’s something totally new that we were previously not able to do from space.”

Scientists also said the new findings reinforced the view that methane emissions from oil installations are far more widespread than previously thought.

The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.

At the time, the Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked. But the European Space Agency had just launched a satellite with a new monitoring instrument called Tropomi, designed to collect more accurate measurements of methane.

“We said, ‘Can we see it? Let’s look,’” said Steven Hamburg, a New York-based scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, which had been collaborating on the satellite project with researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Natural gas production has come under increased scrutiny because of the prevalence of leaks of methane — the colorless, odorless main component of natural gas — from the fuel’s supply chain

The satellite’s measurements showed that, in Ohio in the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, about 120 metric tons of methane an hour were released. That amounted to twice the rate of the largest known methane leak in the United States, from an oil and gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, Calif., in 2015, though that event lasted longer and had higher emissions overall.

Demonstrators in Los Angeles called for the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, site of another huge leak, in February 2016.

Credit. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters 

The Ohio blowout released more methane than the reported emissions of the oil and gas industries of countries like Norway and France, the researchers estimated. Scientists said the measurements from the Ohio site could mean that other large leaks are going undetected.

“When I started working on methane, now about a decade ago, the standard line was: ‘We’ve got it under control. We’re managing it,’” Dr. Hamburg said. “But in fact, they didn’t have the data. They didn’t have it under control, because they didn’t understand what was actually happening. And you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

An Exxon spokesman, Casey Norton, said that the company’s own scientists had scrutinized images and taken pressure readings from the well to arrive at a smaller estimate of the emissions from the blowout. Exxon is in touch with the satellite researchers, Mr. Norton said, and has “agreed to sit down and talk further to understand the discrepancy and see if there’s anything that we can learn.”

“This was an anomaly,” he said. “This is not something that happens on any regular basis. And we do our very best to prevent this from ever happening.”

An internal investigation found that high pressure had caused the well’s casing, or internal lining, to fail, Mr. Norton said. After working with Ohio regulators on safety improvements, he said, the well is now in service.

Miranda Leppla, head of energy policy at the Ohio Environmental Council, said there had been complaints about health issues — throat irritation, dizziness, breathing problems — among residents closest to the well.

“Methane emissions, unfortunately, aren’t a rare occurrence, but a constant threat that exacerbates climate change and can damage the health of Ohioans,” she said.

Scientists said that a critical task was now to be more quickly able to sift through the tens of millions of data points the satellite collects each day to identify methane hot spots. Studies of oil fields in the United States have shown that a small number of sites with high emissions are responsible for the bulk of methane releases.

So far, detecting and measuring methane leaks has involved expensive field studies using aircraft and infrared cameras that make the invisible gas visible. In a visual investigation published last week, The New York Times used airborne measurement equipment and advanced infrared cameras to expose six so-called super emitters in a West Texas oil field.

In a separate paper published in October, researchers detailed the use of two satellites to detect and measure a longer-term leak of methane from a natural gas compressor station in Turkmenistan, in Central Asia. Researchers estimated emissions from the site to be roughly comparable to the overall release from the Aliso Canyon event.

The leak has now stopped, satellite readings show, after the researchers raised the alarm through diplomatic channels.

There are limitations to hunting for methane leaks with satellite technology. Satellites cannot see beneath clouds. Scientists must also do complex calculations to account for the background methane that already exists in the earth’s atmosphere.

Still, satellites will increasingly be able to both rapidly detect large releases and shed light on the rise in methane levels in the atmosphere, which has been particularly pronounced since 2007 for reasons that still aren’t fully understood. Fracking natural-gas production, which accelerated just as atmospheric methane levels jumped, has been studied as one possible cause.

“Right now, you have one-off reports, but we have no estimate globally of how frequently these things happen,” Dr. Hamburg of the Environmental Defense Fund said. “Is this a once a year kind of event? Once a week? Once a day? Knowing that will make a big difference in trying to fully understand what the aggregate emissions are from oil and gas.” SOURCE

Curbs on Methane, Potent Greenhouse Gas, to Be Relaxed in U.S

Leaks from natural gas drilling, shipping and storage are one of the main sources of methane emissions in the United States.
CreditCreditBrennan Linsley/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration laid out on Thursday a far-reaching plan to cut back on theregulation of methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule aims to eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. It would also reopen the question of whether the E.P.A. had the legal authority to regulate methane as a pollutant.

The rollback plan is particularly notable because major energy companies have, in fact, spoken out against it — joining automakerselectric utilities and other industrial giants that have opposed other administration initiatives to dismantle climate-change and environmental rules.

The weakening of the methane standard is the latest in the march of environmental-policy rollbacks by the Trump administration designed to loosen regulations on industry.

Environmental advocates described the proposal as a major setback in the effort to fight climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. MORE

84 environmental rules being rolled back by the Trump administration.


Stanford scientists creating ways to quickly, accurately and inexpensively find natural gas leaks

From production to consumption, natural gas leaks claim lives, damage the climate and waste money. Research teams at Stanford are working on better ways to find and fix gas leaks quickly and inexpensively from one end of the system to the other.

Stanford’s Robert Jackson used this specially equipped car to survey Manhattan and several other cities in search of natural gas leaks. (Image credit: Robert Jackson)

As it flows through pipelines from wells to stovetops, natural gas is prone to leaking, threatening not only human safety and health but also the health of the planet.

Over the past 10 years, natural gas leaks and explosions in U.S. residential and commercial neighborhoods have killed 73 people, injured 412 others and caused more than $500 million in property damage. Gas leaks and other emissions throughout the industry emit a third of all human-made methane, a greenhouse gas 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Researchers at Stanford and elsewhere are looking for fast and affordable ways of detecting leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain in an effort to reduce damage and save lives.

“While a large portion of methane in the atmosphere comes from agriculture and livestock, natural gas leaks are found throughout the gas distribution system,” said Stanford professor of geophysics Mark Zoback, director of the Natural Gas Initiative, which funds much of the work at Stanford tracking down and mitigating leaks.

When burned to produce electricity, natural gas releases about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour that coal does, as well as less sulfur and nitrogen oxides, making it a tempting alternative to coal.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the oil and gas industry emitted approximately 8 million metric tons of methane in 2016 – the equivalent of emissions from 43 million cars in a year. A 2014 study by Adam Brandt, an associate professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford, found that such leaks can negate some but not all of the climate benefit of switching from coal to natural gas, as some experts, including Zoback, have advocated.

Working with postdoctoral scholar Arvind Ravikumar, Brandt recently led the Mobile Monitoring Challenge – a contest to find the most affordable and accurate ways of detecting natural gas leaks – along with colleagues from Stanford, Colorado State University and the Environmental Defense Fund.

A drone-based methane detector competes in the Mobile Monitoring Challenge at a natural gas facility in Colorado. (Image credit: Sean Boggs/Environmental Defense Fund)

In the course of the contest last year, drones whizzed overhead, trucks rumbled by and helicopters zoomed through the sky at controlled testing facilities in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Sacramento, California. MORE

Sloughing off the costs of environmental damage

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Parliament Hill, April 15, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

In Alberta and other jurisdictions where fossil fuels are produced, there is a whole lot of externalizing going on.

Oil and gas companies really don’t want to take on the costs of climate change created by the people who buy their product. The externalizing of such costs is a longstanding, basic operating principle. But now governments are seriously starting to regulate carbon at the user level and other entities understand they are affected by climate change. There are lawsuits like one against Exxon Mobil for not disclosing the financial risk to shareholders of carbon taxes and other regulatory measures to fight climate change. U.S. fisherman are suing Encana for damage to their business from greenhouse gas emissions. Some of those externalized costs may be coming back to some corporations.

Environmental liabilities in the energy sector are so overwhelming that no government, regulator or politician can admit to them because it’s unacceptable to the public, writes @RossBelot #climate #energy #CanPoli #Alberta

Externalized costs also include emissions that are not measured because the regulator does not require a measurement. Oil and gas methane leaks are an example.

Recent studies in Alberta show this is a serious issue; leaks are much larger than reported. While there are commitments to reduce fugitive methane in Alberta, it is from the baseline of data that has been reported, not from the actual emission level, because no one is required to measure that. The scope of those unreported leaks is similar in the United States. For the corporations and governments involved, it is like those leaks never happened, externalized to the world at large and currently not included in greenhouse gas emissions reported to the United Nations. MORE