Tag Archives: natural gas

Natural Gas is No More than a Bridge

Making more than is necessary from a “bridge fuel”?

by Brian Leubitz

You may recall from this post a few months back that the Obama Administration is currently considering oil-company backed proposals to allow unlimited exports of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). So far the US Department of Energy has approved two proposed projects to export LNG, and more than a dozen are pending approval.

Yet questions continue to be raised about the impacts that allowing for unlimited LNG exports would have on our economy and environment. And all this is putting aside the very real dangers of fracking to get at the natural gas: earthquakes, tainted water, etc.

First of all, consider that the impacts of climate change are already arrived. In 2011-12, 25 climate-related extreme weather events caused a minimum of $1 billion in damages each. Luckily, U.S. carbon pollution is at its lowest point since 1994 but the U.S. EIA predicts that U.S. carbon pollution will began to rise by the end of the decade. Part of this drop has come from the modern fuel economy standards reducing emissions. Another factor has been the boom in LNG, allowing electricity generation to move away from coal and other fossil fuels.

The LNG boom has a large role to play in reducing carbon emissions because it burns much cleaner than other fossil fuels. In the short term it can be used to replace coal in electricity production. Natural-gas vehicles are increasingly being used in both public and private fleets as a cleaner, and less expensive, alternative to traditional vehicles. LNG is a veritable bridge to a clean energy future and can replace coal while we develop, transition to, and implement zero-carbon electricity systems.

But LNG can only be a bridge to the future, not the future itself. A recent report by the Center for American Progress(PDF) found that the use of natural gas must peak no later than 2030 if the U.S. is to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Beyond the near term, however, there needs to be a swift transition from natural gas to zero-carbon energy, particularly in the generation of electricity. … Heavy investment in natural-gas generation capacity could crowd out investments in long-term solutions such as wind, solar, wave, and other renewable electricity sources. A rapid shift from natural gas to zero-carbon energy is therefore critical. Our analysis finds that the use of natural gas must peak no later than 17 years from now, in 2030-which is sooner than many policymakers currently realize is necessary-if the United States is to meet its climate goals and avoid the worst impacts of global warming.(Center for American Progress (PDF))

The transition from LNG to zero carbon energy must be rapid. While LNG combustion emits less carbon than coal, it still produces carbon emissions. Extended reliance on natural gas would make it difficult, if not impossible, to meet climate stabilization targets. Failure to do so risks increased frequency and severity of extreme weather, further hurting middle- and lower-income Americans. If the damages of the previous 25 extreme weather events were any indicator, the cost of disaster relief would outweigh short-term economic benefits.

Natural gas must remain only a bridge, and any expansion in LNG production to meet increased demands must be followed by, and not replace, increased investment in zero-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, and wave energy. Expansion also needs to be done such that it is sustainable from an environmental standpoint; we cannot overproduce and overstretch our natural gas infrastructure. The U.S. currently produces as much natural gas as it consumes. Any expansion of LNG projects should follow this and only produce as much natural gas as is necessary to meet the increased demand that will come from moving away from coal and other fossil fuels towards a zero-carbon energy future.

UPDATE: It turns out that as I was writing this, I missed the Obama administration approving a new LNG terminal in Louisiana.  If we are to avoid a glut of terminals here, we have to make our stand at the state level.

What does a LNG pipeline mean for California?

Pipeline would encourage natural gas fracking in the state

by Brian Leubitz

The Obama Administration will likely decide on an oil-company backed proposal that would allow unlimited exports of liquid natural gas (LNG) within a few weeks. Big Oil and others whose bottom lines stand to grow from the policy are seeking to muddy the issue. But it really is simple: the results of expanding exports of liquid natural gas (LNG) could have some dramatic impacts on our economy and environment. And with the California GOP possibly looking to use their pro-fracking stance as an electoral issue, these are very relevant questions.

Natural gas prices in the United States have dropped by two-thirds since 2008. It has helped the expansion of U.S. manufacturing and our economic recovery by lowering energy costs for businesses, households and governments. A CNN editorial last year called the drop in prices “one of the most important developments for the U.S. economy in the last 60 years.” Cheaper natural gas gets us one step closer to energy independence, but at a very real cost.

But studies have shown that exporting LNG could increase the price of gas domestically by as much as 300 percent, savagely curtailing our ability to climb out of the recession and to build a competitive 21st century economy. Why is the DOE considering a policy, which would harm American citizens and American industry for the sake of increasing the overseas profits for a few giant oil and gas companies?

While a positive tool for the U.S. economy, workers, and consumers, there are negative environmental and health consequences associated with the methods used to drill for natural gas: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking has been shown to contaminate air and groundwater, lead to local water shortages, and impact human health, ecosystems, and the global climate.  

Acting on the behalf of oil and gas drilling lobbyists, Congress has excluded fracking from coverage under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, or the Clean Water Act, three of America’s vital health and environmental protections. With federal regulation failing to provide adequate public protection, we should do everything in our power to prevent additional market demand for fracking – and expanded unlimited exports would create precisely that demand.

Expanding LNG exportation would translate to Big Oil and gas companies raking in profits overseas (while simultaneously fueling our economic competitors), and Americans here at home suffering increased rates of cancer, child asthma, and respiratory conditions as a result.

Natural gas is currently a cleaner and more socially and economically beneficial energy source than oil or coal.  But, given the environmental and health ramifications, it is best if thought of as a short-term resource for the United States. The best way to take advantage of this resource while still protecting our citizens’ health and our environmental heritage is by limiting natural gas demand to the current U.S. consumption, without expanding sales overseas. In the longer term, natural gas is going to be a less and less attractive option, for environmental, health, and economic reasons. We should not expand our reliance on it.

Oil and gas companies are currently pressing to expand U.S. exports of LNG to other countries, where the price is much higher and therefore, so are the associated profits. While this would increase the profits of these energy companies, it would increase prices for Americans in the short term and encourage more fracking and an economy further based on fossil fuels in the long term.

The Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Clean Water Action, and a host of other major environmental groups have sent a letter to President Obama urging him to oppose expanding liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports until the government conducts additional environmental and economic studies. “Exporting even a fraction of the gas proposed could seriously harm American communities and the environment,” the groups wrote.

Allowing increased natural gas exports would be the worst of both worlds for the United States: we would throw away our current economic advantages and hurt American families in the short term, and damage our communities, health, and planet in the long term.

By sending our gas overseas we’ll be poisoning our land, water, and communities, all for the profit of big oil and gas companies. Not only will we harm communities and families here and now, but we’ll be crippling ourselves for the future. We need to ensure that the DOE understands the consequences of granting any further export permits.

Why should you take a moment to support CMED?

by Kevin Singer, Communications Coordinator, Californians for Responsible Economic Development

In 2011 alone, California produced a grand total of approximately 200 million barrels of oil and 230 billion cubic feet of natural gas, making our state the fourth largest producer of oil and the tenth largest producer of natural gas in the country. Yet, despite this, California does not get a dime for the resources that are extracted from our state and sold on the global market. This is because, unlike every other major oil and natural gas producing state in the nation, California has not enacted an extraction fee on the energy that is taken right from under our feet.

Let’s think about this for a moment. California, the ninth largest economy in the world, is ranked 43rd in the country in terms of K-12 spending per pupil. The University of California, the flagship public university system of the nation, has seen a 14% decrease in funding since 2010. And at a time when a quality college education has never been more important, tuition is skyrocketing, making a diploma unaffordable for an increasing number of young Californians. Meanwhile, at 9.8% unemployment, even those who have graduated from college find themselves without work or working at jobs they are tremendously over-qualified for. The appalling disrepair of our municipal infrastructure only discourages employers from bringing more jobs to our state. But our state government has its hands tied behind its back. The $250 billion dollar state debt all but assures that there will be no additional funding for education and infrastructure in the near future.

And we are giving away our oil and natural gas. We have the wealth to fund the investments that California needs and deserves and we are giving it away. This is to say nothing of that fact that by not charging an extraction fee on oil and natural gas, our state, which prides itself as a leader of reducing CO2 emissions, is not putting a price on the CO2 that eventually makes its way into the atmosphere. To say this is ridiculous would be an understatement. It is an outrage.

The California Modernization and Economic Development Act (or CMED) would put an end to it. By implementing a modest 9.5% extraction fee on oil and natural gas (Alaska, hardly an enemy of big oil, has implemented a fee of 24% on oil and natural gas that’s extracted from the state), CMED would raise between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars in revenue for California. A little more than half, 1.2 billion dollars, would be allocated in four equal parts for K-12, California Community Colleges, Cal State Universities, and the University of California for the purposes of increasing quality and restoring tuition to 2010 levels. 400 million dollars will be used to support small businesses by aiding their transition to cheaper, carbon-free and carbon-reduced forms of energy, which would in turn empower them to expand, hire additional workers, and reinvest. An additional 300 million dollars would be apportioned to the general funds of California County Governments for the purpose of upgrading and better maintaining municipal infrastructure, funding the conservation of regional park land and providing a multitude of other public services.

These are more than investments, they constitute a complete vision for responsible economic development in California. Making that vision a reality is as easy as ending the giveaway of our oil and natural gas, but it’ll take a popular movement if we truly want to realign the policies in Sacramento with the wishes and desires of Californians. Simply by taking a few moments, right now, and visiting www.cmedact.org, liking our Facebook, following us on Twitter, telling your friends or donating anything you can, even $5, you can provide the crucial grassroots support we need. It’s that easy. You could be the difference between failing to qualify and qualifying CMED on the 2014 ballot, so that Californians can have a chance to pass it democratically.

We can do this California, but not without your support. If you think it’s ridiculous that we are giving away our oil and natural gas at a time when California is more cash-strapped than ever, join our cause. It won’t be easy, but together we will qualify and pass the California Modernization and Economic Development Act and put our state back on the right track.

Doing the math: California poised to delay climate action for 80 years

California is home to AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 authored by State Senator Fran Pavley that caps and trades carbon pollution, mandates lower carbon fuel, higher mileage from automobiles, energy efficiency, and puts the state at the forefront of the clean energy economy.

bendy straw milkshakeCalifornia is also home to 15 billion barrels of oil that now can be easily recovered using modern fracking technology. The state has always had some oil, as anyone who’s ever seen There Will Be Blood or cleaned up a Santa Barbara spill can attest. But the wells got old, and most of the good milkshakes got drank, until fracking – the art of using a very long bendy straw – came along. And now Venoco, Occidental Petroleum, and others are salivating at the thought of fracking up California. The New York Times’ story on vast oil reserves now within reach has gotten national attention. Rightwing papers are asking: could the Monterey Shale save California? (never mind that California saved itself by depriving Republicans of their hostage-taking abilities). From the Times:

Comprising two-thirds of the United States’s total estimated shale oil reserves and covering 1,750 square miles from Southern to Central California, the Monterey Shale could turn California into the nation’s top oil-producing state and yield the kind of riches that far smaller shale oil deposits have showered on North Dakota and Texas.

California’s 15 billion barrels of easily fracked oil are roughly four times the size of the Bakken formation. It’s enough to bedazzle Democratic lawmakers. Once known for their environmentalism, they’re rushing to gut, oops, I mean amend, the California Environmental Quality Act, just in time for the embarrassment of fracked-up blood money.

Alas, neither the New York Times nor any of the pieces predicting untold riches for the state bother to calculate what burning all this shale oil will do to the climate.

What will 15 billion barrels of oil do to the state’s efforts to fight global warming?

I did the math.

20121007monterey_thumbAn Environmental Protection Agency calculator explains that burning one barrel of oil releases 0.43 metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Burning 15 billion barrels thus releases 6.45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Think of it as a very, very large, fat-and-sugar-loaded, milkshake sitting on a table waiting to be drank.

Generally, AB32 set a goal of rolling back emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The state set a baseline of 507 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and a goal of reducing that to 427 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This PDF explains how the 507 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year was calculated along with estimated savings from various programs within AB32, e.g., the Pavley (high miles per gallon) standards will save 27.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. It’s a smart, well balanced diet for the state’s carbon footprint.

In other words, releasing 6.45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is the equivalent of delaying a planned reduction of 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – for 80 years.

And that’s just fracked up.

I hope that Fran Pavley, California’s fiercest climate hawk, will declare that high-fat milkshakes have no place in a balanced diet, and champion the fight for a moratorium on fracking up the Golden State.

Fracking up California: the new Gold Rush starts today

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

20121007monterey_thumbThe fossil fuel industry is eyeing a new Gold Rush in the Golden State: the Monterey Shale, a natural gas play stretching from Monterey County south to Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, and the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County. It’s said to hold more barrels than North Dakota’s Bakken Formation. “several oil companies, including Venoco and Occidental, have reported they are experimenting in California’s shale formations.”

Last week a convention was held on unlocking the Golden State’s shale resources, billed as “Be Part of the Biggest Thing to Hit California Since the Gold Rush!”

Today in Sacramento, the federal Bureau of Land Management is holding its first auction of 18,000 acres in Fresno, San Benito, and Monterey counties. A protest is being organized, complete with hazmat suits – you can RSVP here. If you can’t make it to Sacramento, here’s an online petition to tell the BLM – Don’t frack California.

The jury is out on whether natural gas, which is mostly methane, is actually as clean burning as it’s made out to be. California state regulators have lost track of whether California is being fracked; when they do re-regulate, they probably won’t track methane emissions at all. California agricultural interests are concerned about fracking our food supply. An earthquake inducing, water intensive process doesn’t seem like a good idea in an earthquake-prone, water-scarce state. The original Gold Rush pioneers didn’t worry about environmental degradation as they chased shiny yellow riches. The frackers will likewise heedlessly harm our air and water. Unless we speak up.

I’m organizing folk concerned about fracking in California – if interested, respond in comments with your email address, or tweet me @RL_Miller.

California, all fracked up?

Fracking for natural gas is perceived as an issue east of the Rocky Mountains – Texas, North Dakota, and the Marcellus Shale. California runs on natural gas and hydropower. Fracking is happening in California, but it’s a secret.

How much of a secret? The state literally doesn’t know:

Its actual words were: “The Division is unable to identify where and how often hydraulic fracturing occurs within the state.” It also said that “the Division has not yet developed regulations to address this activity.”

A February 2012 report (PDF) by the Environmental Working Group found that the state has long turned a blind eye to fracking. Its regulators have simply asked the frackers, nicely, to make voluntary disclosures. In Ventura County, the voluntary disclosures show that one well has been fracked, but the state estimates that virtually all of the 240 wells in a local field have been fracked.

The state is planning a new set of regulations. For now, it’s wiped its website clean of fracking information. It’s holding workshops up and down the state, ostensibly to listen to the concerns of Californians before crafting new regulations.

I attended the one of the first workshops, held on May 30 in Ventura. A reporter estimated 175 people in attendance; I counted about 25 speakers in opposition to some degree (mostly calling for a ban), and 3 people (all involved in the industry) favoring fracking. By an interesting coincidence, every person who specified a desired regulation was asked to submit comments in writing, but every person who opposed fracking entirely was simply thanked with a pained smile and glazed eyes.

A Culver City workshop on June 12 had an even stronger response: the standing room only crowd of several hundred wanted a total ban. In Salinas on June 29, the strawberry growers’ industry – not normally perceived as environmentally friendly – joined with greens to query fracking safety.  A Santa Maria workshop will take place tonight, with the final workshop July 25 in Sacramento.

There’s a lot of reasons why fracking anywhere is a bad idea. There’s a lot more specific reasons why a water-intensive process that may cause earthquakes is a bad idea in California. California has showcased alternatives, from distributed generation (rooftop) solar to massive desert solar. People who show up at workshops are speaking. Are the regulators listening?  

Prop 10: Building a Coalition of Everyone: Californians Against the Pickens Raid

Well it’s about time that some of California’s big groups got around to mentioning that Prop 10 is an enormous giveaway to T. Boone Pickens and the natural gas companies.  A bit later this morning (10AM to be precise), a big group of folks will be gathering on the West Steps of the Capitol to let T. Boone and the gang that he can’t raid our coffers so easily. They’re dubbing it the “Coalition of everyone.” And really, it is quite a diverse coalition, including the CA Labor Federation, CA Nurses Association, the CA Federation of Teachers, the League of Women Voters and the CA Chamber of Commerce.  

The group describes Prop 10 as “Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens’ money grab at the taxpayers’ expense.” And, bingo, bango, bongo, that’s exactly what it is.  T. Boone, the leading funder of the Swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004.  Basically, Pickens wants the state to get thousands of natural gas cars on the road and help from the state to build a bunch of natural gas fueling stations.  How is it in our best interest to spend billions on a technology, while admittedly cleaner than gasoline, is an unrenewable fossil fuel? It’s searching for answers in the past.  We need to look forward to build a sensible renewable policy, not give away money to natural gas barons.

No on Prop 10!

Prop 87 Proponent Says NO PROP 10!

Another No on Prop 10 Website, this time from the Prop 87 Proponent, Anthony Rubenstein.  In 2006, Prop 87, a royalty tax on the oil companies, was really the most contentious item on the ballot because Arnold had pretty much pulled away from the pack.  With the support of big-time enviros like Al Gore and a ton of money, it was kind of close for a while. But then Chevron threw down and that was that.  This time, Rubenstein says of Prop 10 in an email:

Prop10 is being funded by Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens and Oklahoma natural gas tycoon Aubrey McClendon who have been spending millions on TV ads pushing their national so-called “Pickens Plan” for U.S. Energy Independence. The reason these out-of-state guys operating in California’s initiative process is, in my opinion, because they can use their wealth to a fund a ballot initiative campaign in order to avoid going through the California Legislature where this measures would never have stood a chance.

For example, in contrast to presently on-going California alternative fuel subsidy programs, Prop 10 requires no accountability in terms of measuring tailpipe emissions reductions, petroleum usage reductions, and doesn’t even require that taxpayer subsidized natural gas powered trucks and cars even stay in California.  Meanwhile Prop 10’s commercials tout support for hybrid vehicles, while the only hybrid on the road that actually qualifies for funding from Prop 10 is the Toyota Prius, which arguably doesn’t need any subsidy because it’s on back-order.

All of prop 10’s dubious programming will be funded by making the State borrow $5 billion which when paid pack with interest will cost California taxpayers around $10 billion paid over 30 years at a cost of $330-plus million per year. This at a time when our state is in the midst of a budget crisis caused by a $15 billion deficit. Think about Prop 10 this way: would you ever buy yourself a car on a 30 year mortgage?  Not with your own money, you wouldn’t.  And neither would Prop 10’s backers, Pickens & McClendon – that’s why they’re trying to spend yours.

The Consumer Federation of California has a No on 10 website here.  While the Calitics Editorial Board is currently making decisions on the propositions, I can say for myself that I sincerely hope that Prop 10 is defeated.  Soundly.  It is an effort to wrap a gift to T Boone in a green pashmina.