Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Positively Against Negative Campaigning

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 Jo 4 comments

    How to organise a political campaign around Climate Change : ask a group of well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading, philanthropic do-gooders into the room to adopt the lowest common denominator action plan. Now, as a well-fed, well-meaning, Guardian-reading (well, sometimes), philanthropic do-gooder myself, I can expect to be invited to attend such meetings on a regular basis. And always, I find myself frustrated by the outcomes : the same insipid (but with well-designed artwork) calls to our publics and networks to support something with an email registration, a signed postcard, a fistful of dollars, a visit to a public meeting of no consequence, or a letter to our democratic representative. No output except maybe some numbers. Numbers to support a government decision, perhaps, or numbers to indicate what kind of messaging people need in future.

    I mean, with the Fair Trade campaign, at least there was some kind of real outcome. Trade Justice advocates manned stall tables at churches, local venues, public events, and got money flowing to the international co-operatives, building up the trade, making the projects happen, providing schooling and health and aspirations in the target countries. But compare that to the Make Poverty History campaign which was largely run to support a vain top-level political attempt to garner international funding promises for social, health and economic development. Too big to succeed. No direct line between supporting the campaign and actually supporting the targets. Passing round the hat to developed, industrialised countries for a fund to support change in developing, over-exploited countries just isn’t going to work. Lord Nicholas Stern tried to ask for $100 billion a year by 2020 for Climate Change adaptation. This has skidded to a halt, as far as I know. The economic upheavals, don’t you know ?

    And here we are again. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change, oh, so, long, ago, through the person of its most charismatic and approachable Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is calling for support for a global Climate Change treaty in 2015. Elements of this treaty, being drafted this year, will, no doubt, use the policy memes of the past – passing round the titfer begging for a couple of billion squid for poor, hungry people suffering from floods and droughts; proposing some kind of carbon pricing/taxing/trading scheme to conjure accounting bean solutions; trying to implement an agreement around parts per million by volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide; trying to divide the carbon cake between the rich and the poor.

    Somehow, we believe, that being united around this proposed treaty, few of which have any control over the contents of, will bring us progress.

    What can any of us do to really have input into the building of a viable future ? Christiana – for she is now known frequently only by her first name – has called for numbers – a measure of support for the United Nations process. She has also let it be known that if there is a substantial number of people who, with their organisations, take their investments out of fossil fuels, then this could contribute to the mood of the moment. Those who are advocating divestment are yet small in number, and I fear that they will continue to be marginal, partly because of the language that is being used.

    First of all, there are the Carbon Disclosers. Their approach is to conjure a spectre of the “Carbon Bubble” – making a case that investments in carbon dioxide-rich enterprises could well end up being stranded by their assets, either because of wrong assumptions about viable remaining resources of fossil fuels, or because of wrong assumptions about the inability of governments to institute carbon pricing. Well, obviously, governments will find it hard to implement effective carbon pricing, because governments are in bed with the energy industry. Politically, governments need to keep big industry sweet. No surprise there. And it’s in everybody’s interests if Emperor Oil and Prince Regent Natural Gas are still wearing clothes. In the minds of the energy industry, we still have a good four decades of healthy fossil fuel assets. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO can therefore confidently say at a public AGM that There Is No Carbon Bubble. The Carbon Discloser language is not working, it seems, as any kind of convincer, except to a small core of the concerned.

    And then there are the Carbon Voices. These are the people reached by email campaigns who have no real idea how to do anything practical to affect change on carbon dioxide emissions, but they have been touched by the message of the risks of climate change and they want to be seen to be supporting action, although it’s not clear what action will, or indeed can, be taken. Well-designed brochures printed on stiff recycled paper with non-toxic inks will pour through their doors and Inboxes. Tick it. Send it back. Sign it. Send it on. Maybe even send some cash to support the campaign. This language is not achieving anything except guilt.

    And then there are the Carbon Divestors. These are extremely small marginal voices who are taking a firm stand on where their organisations invest their capital. The language is utterly dated. The fossil fuel industry are evil, apparently, and investing in fossil fuels is immoral. It is negative campaigning, and I don’t think it stands a chance of making real change. It will not achieve its goal of being prophetic in nature – bearing witness to the future – because of the non-inclusive language. Carbon Voices reached by Carbon Divestor messages will in the main refuse to respond, I feel.

    Political action on Climate Change, and by that I mean real action based on solid decisions, often taken by individuals or small groups, has so far been under-the-radar, under-the-counter, much like the Fair Trade campaign was until it burst forth into the glorious day of social acceptability and supermarket supply chains. You have the cyclists, the Transition Towners, the solar power enthusiasts. Yet to get real, significant, economic-scale transition, you need Energy Change – that is, a total transformation of the energy supply and use systems. It’s all very well for a small group of Methodist churches to pull their pension funds from investments in BP and Shell, but it’s another thing entirely to engage BP and Shell in an action plan to diversify out of petroleum oil and Natural Gas.

    Here below are my email words in my feeble attempt to challenge the brain of Britain’s charitable campaigns on what exactly is intended for the rallying cry leading up to Paris 2015. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like it – but you have to remember – I’m not breaking ranks, I’m trying to get beyond the Climate Change campaigning and lobbying that is currently in play, which I regard as ineffective. I don’t expect a miraculous breakthrough in communication, the least I can do is sow the seed of an alternative. I expect I could be dis-invited from the NGO party, but it doesn’t appear to be a really open forum, merely a token consultation to build up energy for a plan already decided. If so, there are probably more important things I could be doing with my time than wasting hours and hours and so much effort on somebody else’s insipid and vapid agenda.

    I expect people might find that attitude upsetting. If so, you know, I still love you all, but you need to do better.


    [...]

    A lot of campaigning over the last 30 years has been very negative and divisive, and frequently ends in psychological stalemate. Those who are cast as the Bad Guys cannot respond to the campaigning because they cannot admit to their supporters/employees/shareholders that the campaigners are “right”. Joe Average cannot support a negative campaign as there is no apparent way to make change happen by being so oppositional, and because the ask is too difficult, impractical, insupportable. [Or there is simply too much confusion or cognitive dissonance.]

    One of the things that was brought back from the [...] working group breakout on [...] to the plenary feedback session was that there should be some positive things about this campaign on future-appropriate investment. I think [...] mentioned the obvious one of saying effectively “we are backing out of these investments in order to invest in things that are more in line with our values” – with the implicit encouragement for fossil fuel companies to demonstrate that they can be in line with our values and that they are moving towards that. There was some discussion that there are no bulk Good Guy investment funds, that people couldn’t move investments in bulk, although some said there are. [...] mentioned Ethex.

    Clearly fossil fuel production companies are going to find it hard to switch from oil and gas to renewable electricity, so that’s not a doable we can ask them for. Several large fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have tried doing wind and solar power, but they have either shuttered those business units, or not let them replace their fossil fuel activities.

    [...] asked if the [divestment] campaign included a call for CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – and [...] referred to [...] which showed where CCS is listed in a box on indicators of a “good” fossil fuel energy company.

    I questioned whether the fossil fuel companies really want to do CCS – and that they have simply been waiting for government subsidies or demonstration funds to do it. (And anyway, you can’t do CCS on a car.)

    I think I said in the meeting that fossil fuel producer companies can save themselves and save the planet by adopting Renewable Gas – so methods for Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) or “carbon recycling”. Plus, they could be making low carbon gas by using biomass inputs. Most of the kit they need is already widely installed at petrorefineries. So – they get to keep producing gas and oil, but it’s renewably and sustainably sourced with low net carbon dioxide emissions. That could be turned into a positive, collaborative ask, I reckon, because we could all invest in that, the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

    Anyway, I hope you did record something urging a call to positive action and positive engagement, because we need the co-operation of the fossil fuel companies to make appropriate levels of change to the energy system. Either that, or they go out of business and we face social turmoil.

    If you don’t understand why this is relevant, that’s OK. If you don’t understand why a straight negative campaign is a turn-off to many people (including those in the fossil fuel industry), well, I could role play that with you. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I talk about Renewable Gas, come and talk to me about it again in 5 years, when it should be common knowledge. If you don’t understand why I am encouraging positive collaboration, when negative campaigning is so popular and marketable to your core segments, then I will resort to the definition of insanity – which is to keep doing the same things, expecting a different result.

    I’m sick and tired of negative campaigning. Isn’t there a more productive thing to be doing ?

    There are no enemies. There are no enemies. There are no enemies.

    ——-

    As far as I understand the situation, both the [...] and [...] campaigns are negative. They don’t appear to offer any positive routes out of the problem that could engage the fossil fuel companies in taking up the baton of Energy Change. If that is indeed the main focus of [...] and [...] efforts, then I fear they will fail. Their work will simply be a repeat of the negative campaigning of the last 30 years – a small niche group will take up now-digital placards and deploy righteous, holy social media anger, and that will be all.

    Since you understand this problem, then I would suggest you could spend more time and trouble helping them to see a new way. You are, after all, a communications expert. And so you know that even Adolf Hitler used positive, convening, gathering techniques of propaganda to create power – and reserved the negative campaigning for easily-marginalised vulnerable groups to pile the bile and blame on.

    Have a nicer day,

    —–

    The important thing as far as I understand it is that the “campaigning” organisations need to offer well-researched alternatives, instead of just complaining about the way things are. And these well-researched alternatives should not just be the token sops flung at the NGOs and UN by the fossil fuel companies. What do I mean ?

    Well, let’s take Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The injection of carbon dioxide into old oil and gas caverns was originally proposed for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – that is – getting more oil and gas out the ground by pumping gas down there – a bit like fracking, but with gas instead of liquid. The idea was that the expense of CCS would be compensated for by the new production of oil and gas – however, the CCS EOR effect has shown to be only temporary. So now the major oil and gas companies say they support carbon pricing (either by taxation or trading), to make CCS move forward. States and federations have given them money to do it. I think the evidence shows that carbon pricing cannot be implemented at a sufficiently high level to incentivise CCS, therefore CCS is a non-answer. Why has [...] not investigated this ? CCS is a meme, but not necessarily part of the carbon dioxide solution. Not even the UNFCCC IPCC reports reckon that much CCS can be done before 2040. So, why does CCS appear in the [...] criteria for a “good” fossil fuel company ? Because it’s sufficiently weak as a proposal, and sufficiently far enough ahead that the fossil fuel companies can claim they are “capture ready”, and in the Good Book, but in reality are doing nothing.

    Non-starters don’t just appear from fossil fuel companies. From my point of view, another example of running at and latching on to things that cannot help was the support of the GDR – Greenhouse Development Rights, of which there has been severe critique in policy circles, but the NGOs just wrote it into their policy proposals without thinking about it. There is no way that the emissions budgets set out in the GDR policy could ever get put into practice. For a start, there is no real economic reason to divide the world into developing and developed nations (Kyoto [Protocol]‘s Annex I and Annex II).

    If you give me some links, I’m going to look over your [...] and think about it.

    I think that if a campaign really wants to get anywhere with fossil fuel companies, instead of being shunted into a siding, it needs to know properly what the zero carbon transition pathways really are. Unequal partners do not make for a productive engagement, I reckon.

    —–

    I’m sorry to say that this still appears to be negative campaigning – fossil fuel companies are “bad”; and we need to pull our money out of fossil fuel companies and put it in other “good” companies. Where’s the collective, co-operative effort undertaken with the fossil fuel companies ? What’s your proposal for helping to support them in evolving ? Do you know how they can technologically transition from using fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels ? And how are you communicating that with them ?

    ——

    They call me the “Paradigm Buster”. I’m not sure if “the group” is open to even just peeking into that kind of approach, let alone “exploring” it. The action points on the corporate agenda could so easily slip back into the methods and styles of the past. Identify a suffering group. Build a theory of justice. Demand reparation. Make Poverty History clearly had its victims and its saviours. Climate change, in my view, requires a far different treatment. Polar bears cannot substitute for starving African children. And not even when climate change makes African children starve, can they inspire the kind of action that climate change demands. A boycott campaign without a genuine alternative will only touch a small demographic. Whatever “the group” agrees to do, I want it to succeed, but by rehashing the campaigning strategies and psychology of the past, I fear it will fail. Even by adopting the most recent thinking on change, such as Common Cause, [it] is not going to surmount the difficulties of trying to base calls to action on the basis of us-and-them thinking – polar thinking – the good guys versus the bad guys – the body politic David versus the fossil fuel company Goliath. By challenging this, I risk alienation, but I am bound to adhere to what I see as the truth. Climate change is not like any other disaster, aid or emergency campaign. You can’t just put your money in the [collecting tin] and pray the problem will go away with the help of the right agencies. Complaining about the “Carbon Bubble” and pulling your savings from fossil fuels is not going to re-orient the oil and gas companies. The routes to effective change require a much more comprehensive structure of actions. And far more engagement that agreeing to be a flag waver for whichever Government policy is on the table. I suppose it’s too much to ask to see some representation from the energy industry in “the group”, or at least [...] leaders who still believe in the fossil fuel narratives, to take into account their agenda and their perspective, and a readiness to try positive collaborative change with all the relevant stakeholders ?


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  • All Kinds of Gas

    Posted on May 2nd, 2014 Jo No comments

    Amongst the chink-clink of wine glasses at yesterday evening’s Open Cities Green Sky Thinking Max Fordham event, I find myself supping a high ball orange juice with an engineer who does energy retrofits – more precisely – heat retrofits. “Yeah. Drilling holes in Grade I Listed walls for the District Heating pipework is quite nervewracking, as you can imagine. When they said they wanted to put an energy centre deep underneath the building, I asked them, “Where are you going to put the flue ?””

    Our attention turns to heat metering. We discuss cases we know of where people have installed metering underground on new developments and fitted them with Internet gateways and then found that as the rest of the buildings get completed, the meter can no longer speak to the world. The problems of radio-meets-thick-concrete and radio-in-a-steel-cage. We agree that anybody installing a remote wifi type communications system on metering should be obliged in the contract to re-commission it every year.

    And then we move on to shale gas. “The United States of America could become fuel-independent within ten years”, says my correspondent. I fake yawn. It really is tragic how some people believe lies that big. “There’s no way that’s going to happen !”, I assert.

    “Look,” I say, (jumping over the thorny question of Albertan syncrude, which is technically Canadian, not American), “The only reason there’s been strong growth in shale gas production is because there was a huge burst in shale gas drilling, and now it’s been shown to be uneconomic, the boom has busted. Even the Energy Information Administration is not predicting strong growth in shale gas. They’re looking at growth in coalbed methane, after some years. And the Arctic.” “The Arctic ?”, chimes in Party Number 3. “Yes,” I clarify, “Brought to you in association with Canada. Shale gas is a non-starter in Europe. I always think back to the USGS. They estimate that the total resource in the whole of Europe is a whole order of magnitude, that is, ten times smaller than it is in Northern America.” “And I should have thought you couldn’t have the same kind of drilling in Europe because of the population density ?”, chips in Party Number 3. “They’re going to be drilling a lot of empty holes,” I add, “the “sweet spot” problem means they’re only likely to have good production in a few areas. And I’m not a geologist, but there’s the stratigraphy and the kind of shale we have here – it’s just not the same as in the USA.” Parties Number 2 and 3 look vaguely amenable to this line of argument. “And the problems that we think we know about are not the real problems,” I out-on-a-limbed. “The shale gas drillers will probably give up on hydraulic fracturing of low density shale formations, which will appease the environmentalists, but then they will go for drilling coal lenses and seams inside and alongside the shales, where there’s potential for high volumes of free gas just waiting to pop out. And that could cause serious problems if the pressures are high – subsidence, and so on. Even then, I cannot see how production could be very high, and it’s going to take some time for it to come on-stream…” “…about 10 years,” says Party Number 2.

    “Just think about who is going for shale gas in the UK,” I ventured, “Not the big boys. They’ve stood back and let the little guys come in to drill for shale gas. I mean, BP did a bunch of onshore seismic surveys in the 1950s, after which they went drilling offshore in the North Sea, so I think that says it all, really. They know there’s not much gas on land.” There were some raised eyebrows, as if to say, well, perhaps seismic surveys are better these days, but there was agreement that shale gas will come on slowly.

    “I don’t think shale gas can contribute to energy security for at least a decade,” I claimed, “even if there’s anything really there. Shale gas is not going to answer the problems of the loss of nuclear generation, or the problems of gas-fired generation becoming uneconomic because of the strong growth in renewables.” There was a nodding of heads.

    “I think,” I said, “We should forget subsidies. UK plc ought to purchase a couple of CCGTS [Combined Cycle Gas Turbine electricity generation units]. That will guarantee they stay running to load balance the power grid when we need them to. Although the UK’s Capacity Mechanism plan is in line with the European Union’s plans for supporting gas-fired generation, it’s not achieving anything yet.” I added that we needed to continue building as much wind power as possible, as it’s quick to put in place. I quite liked my radical little proposal for energy security, and the people I was talking with did not object.

    There was some discussion about Green Party policy on the ownership of energy utilities, and how energy and transport networks are basically in the hands of the State, but then Party Number 2 said, “What we really need is consistency of policy. We need an Energy Bill that doesn’t get gutted by a change of administration. I might need to vote Conservative, because Labour would mess around with policy.” “I don’t know,” I said, “it’s going to get messed with whoever is in power. All those people at DECC working on the Electricity Market Reform – they all disappeared. Says something, doesn’t it ?”

    I spoke to Parties Number 2 and 3 about my research into the potential for low carbon gas. “Basically, making gas as a kind of energy storage ?”, queried Party Number 2. I agreed, but omitted to tell him about Germany’s Power-to-Gas Strategy. We agreed that it would be at least a decade before much could come of these technologies, so it wouldn’t contribute immediately to energy security. “But then,” I said, “We have to look at the other end of this transition, and how the big gas producers are going to move towards Renewable Gas. They could be making decisions now that make more of the gas they get out of the ground. They have all the know-how to build kit to make use of the carbon dioxide that is often present in sour conventional reserves, and turn it into fuel, by reacting it with Renewable Hydrogen. If they did that, they could be building sustainability into their business models, as they could transition to making Renewable Gas as the Natural Gas runs down.”

    I asked Parties Number 2 and 3 who they thought would be the first movers on Renewable Gas. We agreed that companies such as GE, Siemens, Alstom, the big engineering groups, who are building gas turbines that are tolerant to a mix of gases, are in prime position to develop closed-loop Renewable Gas systems for power generation – recycling the carbon dioxide. But it will probably take the influence of the shareholders of companies like BP, who will be arguing for evidence that BP are not going to go out of business owing to fossil fuel depletion, to roll out Renewable Gas widely. “We’ve all got our pensions invested in them”, admitted Party Number 2, arguing for BP to gain the ability to sustain itself as well as the planet.

  • Fiefdom of Information

    Posted on April 27th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    Sigh. I think I’m going to need to start sending out Freedom of Information requests… Several cups of tea later…


    To: Information Rights Unit, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 5th Floor, Victoria 3, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H OET

    28th April 2014

    Request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

    Re: Policy and Strategy for North Sea Natural Gas Fields Depletion

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    I researching the history of the development of the gas industry in the United Kingdom, and some of the parallel evolution of the industry in the United States of America and mainland Europe.

    In looking at the period of the mid- to late- 1960s, and the British decision to transition from manufactured gas to Natural Gas supplies, I have been able to answer some of my questions, but not all of them, so far.

    From a variety of sources, I have been able to determine that there were contingency plans to provide substitutes for Natural Gas, either to solve technical problems in the grid conversion away from town gas, or to compensate should North Sea Natural Gas production growth be sluggish, or demand growth higher than anticipated.

    Technologies included the enriching of “lean” hydrogen-rich synthesis gas (reformed from a range of light hydrocarbons, by-products of the petroleum refining industry); Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) and methane-”rich” gas making processes; and simple mixtures of light hydrocarbons with air.

    In the National Archives Cmd/Cmnd/Command document 3438 “Fuel Policy. Presented to Parliament by the Minister of Power Nov 1967″, I found discussion on how North Sea gas fields could best be exploited, and about expected depletion rates, and that this could promote further exploration and discovery.

    In a range of books and papers of the time, I have found some discussion about options to increase imports of Natural Gas, either by the shipping of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) or by pipeline from The Netherlands.

    Current British policy in respect of Natural Gas supplies appears to rest on “pipeline diplomacy”, ensuring imports through continued co-operation with partner supplier countries and international organisations.

    I remain unclear about what official technological or structural strategy may exist to bridge the gap between depleting North Sea Natural Gas supplies and continued strong demand, in the event of failure of this policy.

    It is clear from my research into early gas field development that depletion is inevitable, and that although some production can be restored with various techniques, that eventually wells become uneconomic, no matter what the size of the original gas field.

    To my mind, it seems unthinkable that the depletion of the North Sea gas fields was unanticipated, and yet I have yet to find comprehensive policy statements that cover this eventuality and answer its needs.

    Under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), I am requesting information to answer the following questions :-

    1.   At the time of European exploration for Natural Gas in the period 1948 to 1965, and the British conversion from manufactured gas to Natural Gas, in the period 1966 to 1977, what was HM Government’s policy to compensate for the eventual depletion of the North Sea gas fields ?

    2.   What negotiations and agreements were made between HM Government and the nationalised gas industry between 1948 and 1986; and between HM Government and the privatised gas industry between 1986 and today regarding the projections of decline in gas production from the UK Continental Shelf, and any compensating strategy, such as the development of unconventional gas resources, such as shale gas ?

    3.   Is there any policy or strategy to restore the SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) production capacity of the UK in the event of a longstanding crisis emerging, for example from a sharp rise in imported Natural Gas costs or geopolitical upheaval ?

    4.   Has HM Government any plan to acquire the Intellectual Property rights to SNG production technology, whether from British Gas/Centrica or any other private enterprise, especially for the slagging version of the Lurgi gasifier technology ?

    5.   Has HM Government any stated policy intention to launch new research and development into, or pilot demonstrations of, SNG ?

    6.   Does HM Government have any clearly-defined policy on the production and use of manufactured gas of any type ? If so, please can I know references for the documents ?

    7.   Does HM Government anticipate that manufactured gas production could need to increase in order to support the production of synthetic liquid vehicle fuels; and if so, which technologies are to be considered ?

    Thank you for your attention to my request for information.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • Peak Oil : Kitchen Burlesque

    Posted on March 17th, 2014 Jo No comments

    An engineering buddy and I find ourselves in my kitchen, reading out loud from Jeremy Leggett’s 2013 book “The Energy of Nations : Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance”. The main topic of the work, I feel, is the failure of the energy sector and the political elites to develop a realistic plan for the future, and their blinkered adherence to clever arguments taken from failing and cracked narratives – such as the belief that unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, can make up for declining conventional oil and gas production. It’s also about compromise of the highest order in the most influential ranks. The vignettes recalling conversations with the high and mighty are pure comedy.

    “It’s very dramatic…”

    “You can imagine it being taken to the West End theatres…”

    “We should ask Ben Elton to take a look – adapt it for the stage…”

    “It should really have costumes. Period costumes…Racy costumes…”

    “Vaudeville ?”

    “No…burlesque ! Imagine the ex-CEO of BP, John Browne, in a frou-frou tutu, slipping a lacy silk strap from his shoulder…What a Lord !”

    “Do you think Jeremy Leggett would look good in a bodice ?”

  • Gain in Transmission #2

    Posted on February 24th, 2014 Jo No comments

    Here is further email exchange with Professor Richard Sears, following on from a previous web log post.


    From: Richard A. Sears
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Jo Abbess
    Subject: Question from your TED talk

    Jo,

    I was looking back over older emails and saw that I had never responded to your note. It arrived as I was headed to MIT to teach for a week and then it got lost. Sorry about that.

    Some interesting questions. I don’t know anybody working specifically on wind power to gas options. At one time Shell had a project in Iceland using geothermal to make hydrogen. Don’t know what its status is but if you search on hydrogen and Iceland on the Shell website I’m sure there’s something. If the Germans have power to gas as a real policy option I’d poke around the web for information on who their research partners are for this.

    Here are a couple of high level thoughts. Not to discourage you because real progress comes from asking new questions, but there are some physical fundamentals that are important.

    Direct air capture of anything using current technology is prohibitively expensive to do at scale for energy. More energy will be expended in capture and synthesis than the fuels would yield.

    Gaseous fuels are problematic on their own. Gas doesn’t travel well and is difficult to contain at high energy densities as that means compressing or liquefying it. That doesn’t make anything impossible, but it raises many questions about infrastructure and energy balance. If we take the energy content of a barrel of oil as 1.0, then a barrel of liquefied natural gas is about 0.6, compressed natural gas which is typically at about 3600psi is around 0.3, and a barrel (as a measure of volume equal to 42 US gallons) of natural gas at room temperature and pressure is about 0.0015 (+/-). Also there’s a real challenge in storing and transporting gasses as fuel at scale, particularly motor fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.

    While there is some spare wind power potential that doesn’t get utilized because of how the grid must be managed, I expect it is a modest amount of energy compared to what we use today in liquid fuels. I think what that means is that while possible, it’s more likely to happen in niche local markets and applications rather than at national or global scales.

    If you haven’t seen it, a nice reference on the potential of various forms of sustainable energy is available free and online here. http://www.withouthotair.com/

    Hope some of this helps.

    Rich

    Richard A. Sears
    Consulting Professor
    Department of Energy Resources Engineering
    Stanford University


    From: Jo Abbess
    Date: 24 February 2014
    To: Richard A. Sears

    Dear Richard,

    Many thanks for getting back to me. Responses are nice – even if they
    are months late. As they say – better late than never, although with
    climate change, late action will definitely be unwise, according to an
    increasing number of people.

    I have indeed seen the website, and bought and spilled coffee on the
    book of Professor David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot
    Air” project. It is legendary. However, I have checked and he has only
    covered alternative gas in a couple of paragraphs – in notes. By
    contrast, he spent a long chapter discussing how to filter uranium out
    of seawater and other nuclear pursuits.

    Yet as a colleague of mine, who knows David better than I do, said to
    me this morning, his fascination with nuclear power is rather naive,
    and his belief in the success of Generation III and Generation IV
    lacks evidence. Plus, if we get several large carbon dioxide
    sequestration projects working in the UK – Carbon Capture and Storage
    (CCS) – such as the Drax pipeline (which other companies will also
    join) and the Shell Peterhead demonstration, announced today, then we
    won’t need new nuclear power to meet our 4th Carbon Budget – and maybe
    not even the 5th, either (to be negotiated in 2016, I hear) :-

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/peterhead-confirmed-for-carbon-capture-sitebut-its-not-a-bribe-says-ed-dave.1393232825

    We don’t need to bury this carbon, however; we just need to recycle
    it. And the number of ways to make Renewable Hydrogen, and
    energy-efficiently methanate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with
    hydrogen, is increasing. People are already making calculations on how
    much “curtailed” or spare wind power is likely to be available for
    making gas in 10 years’ time, and if solar power in the UK is
    cranked/ramped up, then there will be lots of juicy cost-free power
    ours for the taking – especially during summer nights.

    Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide is a nonsensical proposition.
    Besides being wrong in terms of the arrow of entropy, it also has the
    knock-on effect of causing carbon dioxide to come back out of the
    ocean to re-equilibrate. I recently read a paper by climate scientists
    that estimated that whatever carbon dioxide you take out of the air,
    you will need to do almost all of it again.

    Instead of uranium, we should be harvesting carbon dioxide from the
    oceans, and using it to make gaseous and liquid fuels.

    Gaseous fuels and electricity complement each other very well -
    particularly in storage and grid balancing terms – there are many
    provisions for the twins of gas and power in standards, laws, policies
    and elsewhere. Regardless of the limitations of gas, there is a huge
    infrastructure already in place that can store, pipe and use it, plus
    it is multi-functional – you can make power, heat, other fuels and
    chemicals from gas. In addition, you can make gas from a range of
    resources and feedstocks and processing streams – the key quartet of
    chemical gas species keep turning up : hydrogen, methane, carbon
    monoxide and carbon dioxide – whether you are looking at the exhaust
    from combustion, Natural Gas, industrial furnace producer gas,
    biological decomposition, just about everywhere – the same four gases.

    Energy transition must include large amounts of renewable electricity
    - because wind and solar power are quick to build yet long nuclear
    power lead times might get extended in poor economic conditions. The
    sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow (and the
    tide is not always in high flux). Since demand profiles will never be
    able to match supply profiles exactly, there will always be spare
    power capacity that grids cannot use. So Power to Gas becomes the
    optimal solution. At least until there are ways to produce Renewable
    Hydrogen at plants that use process heat from other parts of the
    Renewable Gas toolkit. So the aims are to recycle carbon dioxide from
    gas combustion to make more gas, and recycle gas production process
    heat to make hydrogen to use in the gas production process, and make
    the whole lot as thermally balanced as possible. Yes. We can do that.
    Lower the inputs of fresh carbon of any form, and lower the energy
    requirements to make manufactured gas.

    I met somebody working with Jacobs who was involved in the Carbon
    Recycling project in Iceland. Intriguing, but an order of magnitude
    smaller than I think is possible.

    ITM Power in the UK are doing a Hydrogen-to-gas-grid and methanation
    project in Germany with one of the regions. They have done several
    projects with Kiwa and Shell on gas options in Europe. I know of the
    existence of feasibility reports on the production of synthetic
    methane, but I have not had the opportunity to read them yet…

    I feel quite encouraged that Renewable Gas is already happening. It’s
    a bit patchy, but it’s inevitable, because the narrative of
    unconventional fossil fuels has many flaws. I have been looking at
    issues with reserves growth and unconventionals are not really
    commensurate with conventional resources. There may be a lot of shale
    gas in the ground, but getting it out could be a long process, so
    production volumes might never be very good. In the USA you’ve had
    lots of shale gas – but that’s only been supported by massive drilling
    programmes – is this sustainable ?

    BP have just finished building lots of dollars of kit at Whiting to
    process sour Natural Gas. If they had installed Renewable Gas kit
    instead of the usual acid gas and sulfur processing, they could have
    been preparing for the future. As I understand it, it is possible to
    methanate carbon dioxide without first removing it from the rest of
    the gas it comes in – so methanating sour gas to uprate it is a viable
    option as far as I can see. The hydrogen sulfide would still need to
    be washed out, but the carbon dioxide needn’t be wasted – it can be
    made part of the fuel. And when the sour gas eventually thins out,
    those now methanating sour gas can instead start manufacturing gas
    from low carbon emissions feedstocks and recycled carbon.

    I’m thinking very big.

    Regards,

    jo.

  • In Confab : Paul Elsner

    Posted on January 23rd, 2014 Jo No comments

    Dr Paul Elsner of Birkbeck College at the University of London gave up some of his valuable time for me today at his little bijou garret-style office in Bloomsbury in Central London, with an excellent, redeeming view of the British Telecom Tower. Leader of the Energy and Climate Change module on Birkbeck’s Climate Change Management programme, he offered me tea and topical information on Renewable Energy, and some advice on discipline in authorship.

    He unpacked the recent whirlwind of optimism surrounding the exploitation of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, and how Climate Change policy is perhaps taking a step back. He said that we have to accept that this is the way the world is at the moment.

    I indicated that I don’t have much confidence in the “Shale Bubble”. I consider it mostly as a public relations exercise – and that there are special conditions in the United States of America where all this propaganda comes from. I said that there are several factors that mean the progress with low carbon fuels continues to be essential, and that Renewable Gas is likely to be key.

    1. First of all, the major energy companies, the oil and gas companies, are not in a healthy financial state to make huge investment. For example, BP has just had the legal ruling that there will be no limit to the amount of compensation claims they will have to face over the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Royal Dutch Shell meanwhile has just had a serious quarterly profit warning – and if that is mostly due to constrained sales (“Peak Oil Demand”) because of economic collapse, that doesn’t help them with the kind of aggressive “discovery” they need to continue with to keep up their Reserves to Production ratio (the amount of proven resources they have on their books). These are not the only problems being faced in the industry. This problem with future anticipated capitalisation means that Big Oil and Gas cannot possibly look at major transitions into Renewable Electricity, so it would be pointless to ask, or try to construct a Carbon Market to force it to happen.

    2. Secondly, despite claims of large reserves of Shale Gas and Shale Oil, ripe for the exploitation of, even major bodies are not anticipating that Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas will be delayed by many years by the “Shale Gale”. The reservoir characteristics of unconventional fossil fuel fields do not mature in the same way as conventional ones. This means that depletion scenarios for fossil fuels are still as relevant to consider as the decades prior to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

    3. Thirdly, the reservoir characteristics of conventional fossil fuel fields yet to exploit, especially in terms of chemical composition, are drifting towards increasingly “sour” conditions – with sigificant levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide in them. The sulphur must be removed for a variety of reasons, but the carbon dioxide remains an issue. The answer until recently from policy people would have been Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Carbon dioxide should be washed from acid Natural Gas and sequestered under the ocean in salt caverns that previously held fossil hydrocarbons. It was hoped that Carbon Markets and other forms of carbon pricing would have assisted with the payment for CCS. However, recently there has been reduced confidence that this will be significant.

    Renewable Gas is an answer to all three of these issues. It can easily be pursued by the big players in the current energy provision system, with far less investment than wholesale change would demand. It can address concerns of gas resource depletion at a global scale, the onset of which could occur within 20 to 25 years. And it can be deployed to bring poor conventional fossil fuels into consideration for exploitation in the current time – answering regional gas resource depletion.

    Outside, daffodils were blooming in Tavistock Square. In January, yes. The “freaky” weather continues…

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.

    Nuclear Flower Power

    This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

    Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.

    There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?

    If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.

    The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.

    The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.

    As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

    The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms [...] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste [...]

    Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.

    Politics Is Living In The Past

    What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.

    I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.

    Together in Electric Dreams

    Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?

    1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
    2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
    3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
    4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.

    What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

    A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire [...]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?

    My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.

    Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights

    With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.

    With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.

    It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount [...]

    Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.

    District Heat Fields

    The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

    But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use [...] )

    The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.

    The Age of Your Carbon

    It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.

    [...] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.

    Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.

    Young Carbon from Seawater

    If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.

    Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.

    It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?

    But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem [...]

    Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

    If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.

    You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.

    In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

    Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?

    The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.

    But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.

    Choices, choices, choices

    There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.

    Capacity Payments

    But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.

    Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.

    If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

    Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?

  • Bursting Shale Gas Bubbles

    Posted on October 23rd, 2013 Jo No comments

    I am not confident that the American Shale Gas “boom” is as solid as energy analysts describe, so I set out to find some numbers, to try to check my suspicion.

    You know how it is with government websites : lots of webpages with little intelligence to help you navigate them to find out exactly the answers to your questions.

    I was trying to ascertain current American shale gas production data, and I kept finding myself at this webpage on the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, and this one, too, which only have shale gas production data up until 2011 (just checked it again – still true).

    The only other thing I could see immediately was a computer model of USA Natural Gas production until 2040, Figure 91 on Page 79 of the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) for 2013, and also on the website, at this webpage, where I could download the data from the model run. On Page 118 of the downloadable AEO, it indicated that the most recent real data was from the year 2011 :-

    “Figure 91. Natural gas production by source, 1990-2040: History: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Annual 2011, DOE/EIA-0131(2011) (Washington, DC, January 2013). Projections: AEO2013 National Energy Modeling System, run REF2013.D102312A.”

    I was unable to find any more recent data, although I knew it had to be captured, so I emailed the EIA to ask for help, and they said that more recent data on Shale Gas production was to be found here, at the bottom of the page with the chart “Monthly dry shale gas production”.

    The first thing of note is that only three shale gas regions or “plays” are still showing rising production – the Marcellus, Eagle Ford and a smidgen in the Bakken.

    The second thing of note is that the actual production of shale gas is higher than the projection from the Annual Energy Outlook for 2013 (based on 2011 data) :-

    Actual (average for the period 1st July 2012 to 30th June 2013) : 28.01 Bcf/d
    AEO 2013 Figure 91 model (average for 2012 and 2013) : 22.92 Bcf/d

    The third thing to note is the slowdown in the growth of shale gas production as a whole, tending to zero in maybe a few years time, whilst the AEO 2013 Figure 91 model projects continuing low figure percentages for growth in shale gas production. This model probably has an underlying assumption that new drilling for shale gas will take place.

    The fourth thing to note is where the AEO 2013 Figure 91 model expects significant growth to occur in Natural Gas production – Tight Gas – starting around 2016, Alaska starting in around 2024, offshore around 2030 and 2040, and Coalbed Methane starting in 2035.




    Conclusion : the EIA does not anticipate major growth trends in shale gas production in their projections – step change is expected from elsewhere.

  • Shale Gas Snake Oil

    Posted on August 9th, 2013 Jo 2 comments



    Annoyances. The New Scientist magazine for 10th August 2013 carries what at first glance appears to be a propaganda puff piece for the wonders of planet-saving, economy-boosting shale gas, and sadly, it appears that UK Prime Minister David Cameron MP has swallowed the shale gas snake oil

    “Britain must not miss out on fracking: Cameron says drilling for shale gas should take place at more sites : PM said it would be ‘big mistake if Government did not encourage fracking : Wants to dispel ‘myths’ that drilling for gas leads to earthquakes : By Tim Shipman and Nazia Parveen : PUBLISHED: 00:45, 9 August 2013 : David Cameron warned last night that Britain was ‘missing out big time’ on the benefits of fracking by not drilling at enough sites in the search for shale gas. In his most outspoken comments about the technology, the Prime Minister said it would be a ‘big mistake’ if the Government did not encourage fracking across Britain. Mr Cameron said the Government would dispel ‘myths’ from green groups that drilling for gas would lead to earthquakes, and he dismissed fears that it could lead to water taps catching fire. But campaigners last night accused him of lying about the dangers, as he suggested the UK should copy the US, where thousands of wells have been bored [...]”

    What are these purported benefits of shale gas, then ? Apparently, drilling for shale gas may bring gas prices down, by comparison with the American experience :-

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10186007/Gas-prices-could-fall-by-a-quarter-with-shale-drilling-Government-advisers-say.html

    “Gas prices could fall by a quarter with shale drilling, Government advisers say : Gas prices could fall by a quarter and help bring down household energy bills if Britain exploits its shale gas reserves, a report commissioned by Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, suggests. : By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent : 5:08PM BST 17 Jul 2013 : The study by Navigant Consulting backs up David Cameron’s claim that shale gas drilling could help cut the cost of living for families struggling with average bills of more than £1,300 per year. However, it contrasts with the claims of Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, that shale gas is “unlikely” to bring down household bills. He has said higher gas prices are probable regardless of the discovery of Britain’s shale reserves and used this argument to justify spending billions on wind farms and nuclear power stations. [...]”

    OK, let’s do a propaganda scan and a fact check.

    Meme #1 : American Natural Gas prices have dropped because of shale gas drilling.

    Fact #1 : American Natural Gas prices have risen during 2013.
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=12191

    Fact #2 : American Natural Gas prices have been tied to oil prices. Take away the oil-price related spikes of the last 20 years, and Natural Gas prices have stayed fairly constant :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/rngwhhdm.htm

    Fact #3 : The cost of drilling natural gas wells has risen sharply :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertwg_xwwn_nus_mdwa.htm

    Fact #4 : A boom in Natural Gas well drilling has come to an end :-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertwg_xwwn_nus_mdwa.htm
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/e_ertrrg_xr0_nus_cm.htm

    Conclusion : It appears that the rise in shale gas production and the lowering of American Natural Gas prices are strongly correlated to the well-drilling boom that ended around about 2008.

    Meme #2 : Natural Gas is displacing coal

    Fact #1 : It did while the drilling boom was in full swing. Not now :-
    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=11391

    Meme #3 : Shale Gas production is going to contribute significantly more to overall Natural Gas production in the next decades.

    Question #1 : Not necessarily :-
    http://www.indianagasification.com/benefits/energy-benefits/shift-in-drilling-activity/
    http://www.roperld.com/science/minerals/shalegas.htm
    http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/09.12/shalegas.html




    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23968-frack-on-or-frack-off-can-shale-gas-save-the-planet.html

    The Future of Fracking

    Frack on or frack off: Can shale gas save the planet?

    08 August 2013 by Michael Brooks
    Magazine issue 2929.

    Optimists see the new resource as a cheap, clean “bridging fuel” to a low-carbon future.

    The true picture might not be so simple

    IT’S all right. Everything’s going to be OK. If there’s a problem, we’ll fix it.

    Such reassuring words are the hallmark of a certain way of thinking, sometimes known as rational optimism. Things will always turn out fine because we humans are almost infinitely creative and adaptable. Confronted with a problem, our technological ingenuity will provide a solution.

    In few places is this idea more powerful than among those planning our future energy supply. Yes, demand is rising. Yes, there are issues with greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, renewable technologies aren’t quite ready for prime time. But a technological miracle will fill the gap until solar, wind and tidal power come fully on stream. It’s called shale gas.

    At first glance, it is a strange claim. Shale gas is methane trapped in tiny pockets in shale rock formations, sometimes in vast quantities. Forcibly extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, it is still a fossil fuel; burning methane produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

    But to see the optimists’ point, look to what has happened in the US, traditionally the global climate bogeyman. Between 1981 and 2005, US carbon emissions increased by 33 per cent, from 4.5 billion to 6 billion tonnes a year. Since 2005, they have fallen by 9 per cent (see graph). There are many factors, not least economic recession, but according to figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) just under half of that reduction is down to one thing: shale gas. Replicate that success globally, and we might begin to solve the emissions problem without rushing into an ill-thought-out renewables revolution, say the enthusiasts. Shale gas is technology’s answer to the climate problem, a “bridging fuel” to a cleaner, greener future. The burning question is: are the optimists right?

    There is no doubt that we need to clean up our ways of generating energy, and fast. In the West, we think of coal as a fuel in terminal decline. Globally, we have never burned more. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal provides 40 per cent of the world’s electricity, and could surpass oil as the world’s primary source of energy by 2017. As we exploit the cheapest sources we can find, coal is also getting dirtier. It now produces more than twice the carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas – and a lot more soot, radioactive ash, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants besides. Not least because of our appetite for coal, global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise relentlessly.

    Shale gas represents a new source of natural methane gas perfectly placed to displace coal in power stations. Shale rocks are found throughout the world, formed when mud is slowly crushed so that particles of clay, quartz, calcite and other minerals end up loosely held together. The Canadian Rockies have the Burgess shale, laid down in the Cambrian era some 500 million years ago and famed for the insights into evolution given by the fossils preserved there. The UK has the 315-million-year-old Bowland shale in the north of England, and other formations dotted around. The US is riddled with different formations, among them the Barnett shale in Texas, which dates back some 350 million years, and the 400-million-year-old Marcellus shales of the Appalachians (see map).

    All of these shales have one thing in common: the tiny gaps between their particles provide pockets where both oil and methane gas can happily sit undisturbed for millions of years. Fracking involves drilling into these pockets and pumping a liquid down at high pressure to break up the shale and release the stored hydrocarbons. Oil and gas escape via a central pipe to the surface where they are collected and shipped off, the methane to be burned just like conventional natural gas in homes and power stations.

    Fracking has been used to extract “tight” gas trapped in highly impermeable rock formations in the US for a couple of decades now. Shale-gas extraction has been slower to get going. “The US shale gas sector took 25 to 30 years to get to where it is now,” says Joseph Dutton, who researches energy policy at the University of Leicester, UK. The first big field to be exploited was the Texan Barnett shale starting in the late 1990s. More followed, including the vast Marcellus shale that stretches from New York state through Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Ohio.

    But it is only in the past five years, with innovations such as horizontal drilling, that fracking has really taken off. Here the initial vertical shaft into the shale becomes a hub for radiating spokes, sometimes kilometres long, running parallel to the surface. This allows vast volumes of shale to be exploited while causing minimal disruption at the surface. “You can have an area the size of a small parking lot, and drill 16 wells all splaying out from the same location,” says Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute in the UK. Thanks to such techniques, the US now has the most productive shale gas fields in the world, contributing over a third of its natural gas supply (see diagram).

    As a result, shale gas is now cheaper than coal in the US, and is rapidly displacing it for electricity generation. With its vast supplies of shale gas and oil, the US could become self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to the EIA. With labour costs in China set to rise over the same time, for many ambitious US politicians this cheap energy is nothing less than a chance for the US to regain its status as the world’s manufacturing and economic powerhouse – while getting greener too.

    Small wonder other countries around the world would like to pull off a similar trick. China is one. The world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, in 2010 it covered 70 per cent of its energy needs with well over 3 billion tonnes of the stuff – almost as much as the rest of the world combined. It is now the world’s top CO2 emitter. By happy coincidence, it is also thought to be sitting on the world’s largest reserves of shale gas – over 30 trillion cubic metres. That’s 50 per cent more than the US and 12 times greater than China’s conventional gas resources. Using even a fraction of that to displace coal would make a huge difference to global emissions.

    So keen is China that it is even breaking with precedent and calling on Western expertise to help kick-start production, says Julio Friedmann, an energy expert at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. An agreement between Shell and the state-controlled PetroChina, for example, will see Shell spending $1 billion a year to help recover shale gas from 3500 square kilometres in the Sichuan basin in central China.

    In the UK, a couple of exploratory fracking sites are up and running, and the government recently announced generous subsidies for would-be frackers. In its World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicts that more than a million shale gas wells could be drilled worldwide by 2035.

    Not everyone is happy. Opponents across the world point out that fracking destabilises the ground (see “Earth movers”), and that the chemicals pumped into the ground during fracking can leak out, perhaps contaminating groundwater (see “Water worries”).

    Supporters argue that such concerns are overblown. And in global terms, given the urgency of the climate situation, the size of shale gas reserves and the slow pace of development on renewables, it is understandable why so many people are keen to override objections. Even some green groups say shale gas makes sense as a “coal killer” – a cheaper, greener electricity generating solution. Perhaps it obviates the need to develop alternative energies entirely. “For some people, gas is not only the bridge to the future – it is the future,” says Jim Watson of the UK Energy Research Centre in London. But are things that simple?

    A complex space

    Let’s start with the economics. Shale gas is very cheap right now, so heady predictions are being made when its price and cost are in “disequilibrium”, says energy economist Francis O’Sullivan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Shale gas was developed in the US when conventional sources of oil and gas were drying up, so shale gas could command a decent price. As fracking technology matured, productivity rose and the price fell. In fact, it has fallen so low that many companies are only continuing with production to keep a stake in the market. The productivity of the wells also falls over time: the more gas you get out of a well, the more pressure you have to apply to keep the flow coming, and there are limits to the pressure you can generate. All this means that higher prices will make a comeback once the first wave of exploitation is over, says O’Sullivan. The EIA projects that the price of natural gas, including shale gas, will double over the next 20 years. “People need to look beyond what the price has been for the last six months. This is a very complex space,” says O’Sullivan.

    And even if the US shale-gas revolution is more than a flash in the pan, there is no guarantee that its success can be replicated elsewhere. There are the poorly understood vagaries of geology, for a start. Every shale in the world is different. The Barnett shale is a flat, solid expanse, whereas shales in the UK and China tend to be more fragmented, existing as a peppering between other types of rock. Hitting such a shale with a fracking drill is not straightforward. And different shales have different origins: marine-deposited rock, which is the predominant form in the Texan Barnett shale, contains almost twice as much organic material as deposits that come from land-based plants and organisms, so should be richer in gas.

    In the case of the UK, it is not yet clear whether or not the shales are likely to yield much worth burning. The government-sponsored British Geological Survey (BGS) and others are currently working to assess the size of the national reserves. Last month they released a report estimating that the Bowland shale contains something between 23 and 65 trillion cubic metres of “gas in place”, doubling previous estimates. Most of that gas will never see the light of day: not all shales are brittle enough to fracture under pressure, and not all gas can be extracted using feasible pressures. Usually less than 10 per cent of gas in place is a recoverable reserve of the sort that the EIA and others base their figures on. Different layers of shale will contain different amounts of recoverable gas. “The key question is which layers in our thick shales will yield good gas,” says Michael Stephenson of the BGS. In particular it would be good to know which, if any, contain evidence of bacterial or algal matter likely to make them a good source of hydrocarbons. “We need a way of predicting where these sweet spots will be, but at the moment we don’t have that nailed down,” says Stephenson. Until that happens, any shale-gas revolution in the UK remains a pipe dream.

    In Poland, things have proved particularly frustrating. The country has perhaps the largest shale gas reserves in Europe, but for reasons no one quite understands, fracking there has released negligible amounts of methane, leaving even Texan experts scratching their heads. “Some companies have left already,” Stephenson says. “But it wasn’t easy in Texas either, at the beginning.”

    Not so rosy

    So no one should bank on shale gas coming at all, and certainly not on it coming cheap. “It’s dangerous when people try to build policy based on low pricing that is not going to be sustainable,” says O’Sullivan. The head of the IEA, Maria van der Hoeven, has recently warned that geology and economics mean that other countries are unlikely to replicate the US’s shale-gas boom.

    Leaving local environmental concerns aside, the global environmental picture of shale gas may well not be so rosy, either. One hotly debated issue is the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that escapes into the atmosphere during fracking. Such escapes are generally not included in point-of-use emissions comparisons with coal (see “Gas alert”).

    More insidious, though, are the knock-on effects of shale gas on world energy markets. The US shale-gas revolution has not stopped coal being burned, but merely shifted where it is burned. Cheap gas has led to a surfeit of US coal that is now being greedily consumed elsewhere. In 2012, US coal exports reached a record 104 million tonnes, 70 per cent to Europe. Contrary to perceptions of a “dash for gas”, the UK’s consumption of coal increased by over 30 per cent in 2012, according to government figures, with gas generation falling by a comparable amount (see graph). Despite near-zero economic growth, the UK’s total carbon emissions rose by 3.5 per cent in 2012, “primarily from lower use of gas and greater use of coal for electricity generation at power stations”, a government report made plain.

    Having decided to abandon nuclear power, Germany needs to generate more electricity in the short term from fossil-fuel sources, and has similarly been liberally helping itself to US coal. Where coal is cheaper than gas, energy companies will always choose the dirty option. With the jury out on whether any European country has any economically or technologically viable shale gas reserves, this impact on emissions is likely to continue in the short to medium term. If and when shale gas does come on stream, its depressing effect on the price of coal will probably lead to more coal being burned elsewhere.

    But it is in China that the global emissions trajectory will be decided over the coming decades. Here, it seems unlikely that shale gas will have much impact, either. “Coal will still be much cheaper than the estimates of how much [Chinese] shale gas is going to cost,” says Sergey Paltsev, an energy economist at MIT. A significant factor is that China’s shale-gas reserves are in precisely the wrong place: in mountainous, earthquake-prone Sichuan and the water-starved desert of Xinjiang in the north-west of the country, far away from big population centres. “Transport costs and infrastructure requirements are likely to add at least another 50 per cent to the cost of gas to consumers in major urban areas,” says Paltsev.

    “There isn’t going to be a wholesale swap of coal for gas,” says Friedmann. China still plans to build another 400,000 megawatts of coal-powered electricity generation over the next decade or so. Given coal’s cheapness, Friedmann doubts that China will use shale gas for power generation at all, predicting that it will instead be used to provide “high value” products such as fertiliser, district heating and transport fuel. The impact on the country’s environmental balance is likely to be limited. “I believe it’s possible to reduce Chinese emissions by 100 to 150 million tonnes a year by 2020 or 2025,” says Friedmann. “In a country that’s emitting 8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, that’s not quite what we’d like.”

    So, frack on or frack off, in both local and global terms, environmentally and economically, shale gas is unlikely to be a magic bullet. Used wisely, it could be part of the climate solution. But in the real world, economics and energy policies being what they are, its emissions will come in addition to coal’s, not instead of them. In the crucial coming decades when we need to begin reducing emissions fast, that is no help at all. “All these issues mean the urgency around climate change persists,” says Friedmann.

    For Paltsev, the worry is that, seduced by a false promise of cheap, plentiful energy from shale gas, we will cut back on investment in truly green, renewable alternatives. If so, as the costs and emissions associated with shale gas rise in the future, as they inevitably will, we will end up on a costly bridge to nowhere. To see shale gas as a solution is certainly optimistic; whether it is entirely rational is quite another question.

    Earth movers

    To opponents of fracking, nothing symbolises its dangers and uncertainties more than its seismic potential. The issue hit the headlines in the UK in 2011 following tremors of magnitude 1.5 and 2.3 that were felt around an exploratory fracking site near Blackpool in the north-west of the country.

    There is little doubt fracking caused the quakes, as reports commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, the company involved, and the UK government concluded. Anything else would be a surprise, says Joseph Dutton of the University of Leicester, UK. “You’re taking something out of the ground so something’s going to shift – that’s basic geology.”

    Should we be worried? Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute in the UK and his colleagues have analysed 198 instances of seismic activity of over magnitude 1.0 induced by human activity since 1929. Causes are varied: mining, oil-field depletion, filling reservoirs with water, injecting water into the ground for geothermal power, waste disposal, atomic bomb tests.

    Fracking is directly implicated in two instances, one of them being the Blackpool events, and another three resulted from fracking wastewater disposal. The largest of these, in the Horn river basin in Canada in 2011, was of magnitude 3.8, but it was barely detectable by people on the surface.

    By comparison, the impoundment of water in reservoirs has caused 39 earthquakes of magnitude up to 7.8. Even if fracking is a relatively new technology, the evidence suggests that seismicity is not a prime concern. “Earthquake is a wonderful word: it induces visions of a disaster movie,” says Dutton. “But the debate about seismic activity has got out of control.”
    Water worries

    The water used in fracking contains sand to prop open cracks, lubricants to get the sand into those cracks, biocide to make sure bugs do not clog up the pipes, and hydrochloric acid to dissolve excess cement in the pipe bore and parts of the fracked rock. About 20 per cent of this chemical cocktail does not remain in the ground, but flows back to the surface carrying heavy metals and radioactive elements flushed out of the rock. In most US states this water can be treated in standard wastewater plants, but the safety of this practice has been questioned. The state government of Pennsylvania, which sits on the large Marcellus shale formation, has banned it.

    But could toxic chemicals from fracking leach into groundwater and reach reservoirs and drinking water supplies underground? So far, the indications from studies by Robert Jackson and colleagues at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, are that the risks are low. “We have not found evidence of the fracking chemicals that people are most concerned about, such as benzene, and we have not found evidence for metal salts from deep underground,” he says.

    Their studies have, however, found an issue with methane contamination in water drawn from within a kilometre or two of some wells. “It may be that the high volumes and high pressures used in fracking make leaky wells more likely,” says Jackson. He suggests a variety of regulatory measures to avoid this problem, such as stricter building codes for wells and increased minimum distances between wells and groundwater sources. The US Environmental Protection Agency is carrying out an investigation of the effect of fracking on drinking water, due out next year. The arguments will continue at least until then.

    Gas alert

    One problem with shale gas is very much up in the air: leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane. “It’s much more powerful than carbon dioxide – 25 to 30 times more, molecule for molecule,” says Robert Jackson of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

    While he and his colleagues have found evidence of direct methane leaks from a small proportion of hundreds of wells they investigated, Jackson sees them as symptoms of poor construction and ineffective regulation, and therefore potentially curable.

    Not everyone is so bullish. Robert Howarth of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, points out that methane is also released from the “flowback” water that returns to the surface during the fracking process. Working with figures from the US Environmental Protection Agency and General Accountability Office, Howarth and his colleagues have calculated that between 4 and 8 per cent of a well’s total production of methane goes straight into the atmosphere. Such a methane release creates an increased greenhouse gas burden of between 20 and 100 per cent over coal for the first 20 years of a field’s exploitation. “Shale gas is not a suitable bridge fuel for the 21st century,” they conclude.

    That analysis is highly controversial. Lawrence Cathles, also at Cornell, points out that the 20-year timescale biases things against shale gas because methane has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than CO2. Emissions from coal will have longer effect. Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev of MIT have calculated that the practice of “flaring” – burning off methane for a few weeks while a well is established – brings the greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas back down in line with that of natural gas, and much better than coal’s.

    Jackson’s analysis suggests that, rather than worrying about emissions from fracking itself, we should concentrate on leakages downstream in the supply chain. “In Boston alone we found 3000 methane leaks from pipelines,” he says. Fixing those problems is more easy than fixing the emission problems of coal.

    Michael Brooks is a New Scientist consultant. His latest book is The Secret Anarchy of Science (Profile/Overlook)

    This article appeared in print under the headline “Frack to the future”

    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 36-41.




    EDITORIAL

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929291.700-the-fracking-debate-needs-more-light-less-heat.html

    The fracking debate needs more light, less heat

    07 August 2013
    Magazine issue 2929.

    DEBATES over fracking tend to generate more heat than light.

    Nowhere is that more true than in the UK, where the past week has seen a former government energy adviser suggest that the practice should be confined to the “desolate” north-east, even as vociferous protests erupted near a normally tranquil village in the prosperous Home Counties.

    Safety concerns over fracking are overblown – but so are the boosterish claims made for its environmental and economic benefits (see “Fracking could accelerate global warming” and “Frack on or frack off: Can shale gas really save the planet?”). The British Geological Survey has so far assessed only the Bowland shale in the north of England, concluding that there is perhaps twice as much “gas in place” as previously thought. But it remains to be seen if this gas is recoverable or good for burning.

    So drill and find out, say advocates. Not in my backyard, say protesters. Enough. Neither nimbyism nor bravado is appropriate given what we know about the risks and rewards of fracking. Better to bring that vigour to bear on a wider debate aimed at shedding light on the nature of a truly sustainable energy policy for the UK – and, for that matter, the world.

    This article appeared in print under the headline “More light, less heat”
    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 5.




    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929292.000-fracking-could-accelerate-global-warming.html

    Fracking could accelerate global warming

    07 August 2013
    Magazine issue 2929. Subscribe and save

    Editorial: “The fracking debate needs more light, less heat”

    THE row over fracking for natural gas has hit the UK, with protests over plans in the village of Balcombe. Could they have a point? Studies are suggesting fracking could accelerate climate change, rather than slow it.

    The case for fracking rests on its reputed ability to stem global warming. Burning gas emits half as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as an equivalent amount of coal. That is why, after embracing fracking, CO2 emissions have fallen in the US.

    But leading climate scientists are warning that this benefit is illusory. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, concluded in a recent study that substituting gas for coal increases rather than decreases the rate of warming for many decades (Climatic Change, doi.org/dv4kbp).

    Firstly, burning coal releases a lot of sulphur dioxide and black carbon. These cool the climate, offsetting up to 40 per cent of the warming effect of burning coal, Wigley told a recent conference of the Breakthrough Institute think tank in Sausalito, California.

    Fracking technology, which involves pumping water at high pressure into shale beds to release trapped gas, also leaks methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and Wigley says that switching from coal to gas could only bring benefits this century if leakage rates get below 2 per cent. If rates are at 10 per cent – the top end of current US estimates – the gas would deliver extra warming until the mid-22nd century.

    A recent review by the UN Environment Programme agreed that emissions from fracking and other unconventional sources of natural gas could boost warming initially, and would only be comparable to coal over a 100-year timescale.

    This article appeared in print under the headline “Frack for warming”
    Issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine

    From issue 2929 of New Scientist magazine, page 6.

  • Good Gas, Bad Gas

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/07/07/1058051/must-see-gasland-part-ii-on-hbo-monday-natural-gas-once-a-bridge-now-a-gangplank/

    That’s the bad gas. Now for the good gas – Renewable Gas :-

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/573418/renewable-energy-kesc-aman-foundation-to-set-up-bio-gas-plant/

    http://www.woodheadpublishing.com/en/book.aspx?bookID=2862

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl4016655

    Joanna Kargul’s team :-
    http://solar.biol.uw.edu.pl/index.php/lab-team
    http://www.eera-set.eu/lw_resource/datapool/_items/item_795/ampea_2013_kargul.pdf

    Slightly questionable gas (from a biosecurity point of view) :-

    http://sb6.biobricks.org/poster/biohydrogen-production-in-e-coli-a-synthetic-biology-approach/

  • They Think It’s Not All Over

    Posted on June 11th, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : Lakeview Gusher : TotallyTopTen.com ]

    So, the EIA say that the world has 10 years of shale oil resources which are technically recoverable. Woo hoo. We’ll pass over the question of why the American Department of Energy are guiding global energy policy, and why this glowing pronouncement looks just like the mass propaganda exercise for shale gas assessments that kicked off a few years ago, and move swiftly on to the numbers.

    No, actually, not straight on to the numbers. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out the public relations strategy for promoting increasingly dirtier fossil fuels. First, they got us accustomed to the idea of shale gas, and claimed without much evidence, that it was as “clean” as Natural Gas, and far, far cleaner than coal. Data that challenges this myth continues to be collected. Meanwhile, now we are habituated to accepting without reason the risks of subsurface and ground water reservoir destruction by hydraulic fracturing, we should be pliable enough to accept the next step up – oil shale oil fracking. And then the sales team can move on to warm us up to cruddier unconventionals, like bitumen exhumed from tar sands, and mining unstable sub-sea clathrates.

    Why do the oil and gas companies of the world and their trusted allies in the government energy departments so desperately want us to believe in the saving power of shale oil and gas ? Why is it necessary for them to pursue such an environmentally threatening course of product development ? Can it be that the leaders of the developed world and their industry experts recognise, but don’t want to admit to, Peak Oil, and its twin wraith, Peak Natural Gas, that will shadow it by about 10 to 15 years ?

    A little local context – UK oil production is falling like a stoneover the whole North Sea area. Various efforts have been made to stimulate new investment in exploration and discovery. The overall plan for the UK Continental Shelf has included opening up prospects via licence to smaller players in the hope of getting them to bet the farm, and if they come up trumps, permitted the larger oil and gas companies to snaffle up the small fry.

    But really, the flow of Brent crude oil is getting more expensive to guarantee. And it’s not just the North Sea – the inverse pyramid of the global oil futures market is teeteringly wobbly, even though Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) are now included in petroleum oil production figures. Cue panic stations at the Coalition (Oilition) Government offices – frantic rustling of review papers ahoy.

    To help them believe it’s not all over, riding into view from the stables of Propaganda Central, come the Six Horsemen of Unconventional Fossil Fuels : Tar Sands, Shale Gas, Shale Oil (Oil Shale Oil), Underground Coal Gasification, Coalbed Methane and Methane Hydrates.

    Shiny, happy projections of technically recoverable unconventional (night)mares are always lumped together, like we are able to suddenly open up the ground and it starts pouring out hydrocarbon goodies at industrial scale volumes. But no. All fossil fuel development is gradual – especially at the start of going after a particular resource. In the past, sometimes things started gushing or venting, but those days are gone. And any kind of natural pump out of the lithosphere is entirely absent for unconventional fossil fuels – it all takes energy and equipment to extract.

    And so we can expect trickles, not floods. So, will this prevent field depletion in any region ? No. It’s not going to put off Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas – it literally cannot be mined fast enough. Even if there are 10 years of current oil production volumes that can be exploited via mining oil shale, it will come in dribs and drabs, maybe over the course of 50 to 100 years. It might prolong the Peak Oil plateau by a year or so – that’s barely a ripple. Unconventional gas might be more useful, but even this cannot delay the inevitable. For example, despite the USA shale gas “miracle”, as the country continues to pour resources and effort into industrialising public lands, American Peak Natural Gas is still likely to be only 5 years, or possibly scraping 10 years, behind Global Peak Natural Gas which will bite at approximately 2030 or 2035-ish. I suspect this is why EIA charts of future gas production never go out beyond 2045 or so :-

    Ask a mathematician to model growth in unconventional fossil fuels compared to the anticipated and actual decline in “traditional” fossil fuels, and ask if unconventionals will compensate. They will not.

    The practice for oil and gas companies is to try to maintain shareholder confidence by making sure they have a minimum of 10 years of what is known as Reserves-to-Production ratio or R/P. By showing they have at least a decade of discovered resources, they can sell their business as a viable investment. Announcing that the world has 10 years of shale oil it can exploit sounds like a healthy R/P, but in actual fact, there is no way this can be recovered in that time window. The very way that this story has been packaged suggests that we are being encouraged to believe that the fossil fuel industry are a healthy economic sector. Yet it is so facile to debunk that perspective.

    People, it’s time to divest your portfolios of oil and gas concerns. If they have to start selling us the wonders of bitumen and kerogen, the closing curtain cannot be far away from dropping.

    They think it’s not all over, but it so clearly must be.

  • Carbon Bubble : Unburnable Assets

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 Jo No comments



    [ Image Credit : anonymous ]


    Yet again, the fossil fuel companies think they can get away with uncommented public relations in my London neighbourhood. Previously, it was BP, touting its green credentials in selling biofuels, at the train station, ahead of the Olympic Games. For some reason, after I made some scathing remarks about it, the advertisement disappeared, and there was a white blank board there for weeks.

    This time, it’s Esso, and they probably think they have more spine, as they’ve taken multiple billboard spots. In fact, the place is saturated with this advertisement. And my answer is – yes, fuel economy is important to me – that’s why I don’t have a car.

    And if this district is anything to go by, Esso must be pouring money into this advertising campaign, and so my question is : why ? Why aren’t they pouring this money into biofuels research ? Answer : because that’s not working. So, why aren’t they putting this public relations money into renewable gas fuels instead, sustainable above-surface gas fuels that can be used in compressed gas cars or fuel cell vehicles ?

    Are Esso retreating into their “core business” like BP, and Shell, concentrating on petroleum oil and Natural Gas, and thereby exposing all their shareholders to the risk of an implosion of the Carbon Bubble ? Or another Deepwater Horizon, Macondo-style blowout ?

    Meanwhile, the movement for portfolio investors to divest from fossil fuel assets continues apace…

  • Renewable Gas : Research Parameters

    Posted on May 25th, 2013 Jo No comments

    “So what do you do ?” is a question I quite frequently have to answer, as I meet a lot of new people, in a lot of new audiences and settings, on a regular basis, as an integral part of my personal process of discovery.

    My internal autocue answer has modified, evolved, over the years, but currently sounds a lot like this, “I have a couple of part-time jobs, office administration, really. I do a spot of weblogging in my spare time. But I’m also doing some research into the potential for Renewable Gas.” I then pause for roughly two seconds. “Renewable Gas ?” comes back the question.

    “Yes,” I affirm in the positive, “Industrial-scale chemistry to produce gas fuels not dug up out of the ground. It is useful to plug the gaps in Renewable Electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

    It’s not exactly an elevator pitch – I’m not really selling anything except a slight shift in the paradigm here. Renewable Energy. Renewable Electricity. Renewable Gas. Power and gas. Gas and power. It’s logical to want both to be as renewable and sustainable and as low carbon as possible.

    Wait another two seconds. “…What, you mean, like Biogas ?” comes the question. “Well, yes, and also high volumes of non-biological gas that’s produced above the ground instead of from fossil fuels.”

    The introductory chat normally fades after this exchange, as my respondent usually doesn’t have the necessary knowledge architecture to be able to make any sense of what my words represent. I think it’s fair to say I don’t win many chummy friends paradigm-bumping in this way, and some probably think I’m off the deep end psychologically, but hey, evolutionaries don’t ever have it easy.

    And I also find that it’s not easy to find a place in the hierarchy of established learning for my particular “research problem”. Which school could I possibly join ? Which research council would adopt me ?

    The first barrier to academic inclusion is that my research interest is clearly motivated by my concern about the risks of Climate Change – the degradation in the Earth’s life support systems from pumping unnaturally high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air – and Peak Fossil Fuels – the risks to humanity from a failure to grow subsurface energy production.

    My research is therefore “applied” research, according to the OECD definition (OECD, 2002). It’s not motivated simply by the desire to know new things – it is not “pure” research – it has an end game in mind. My research is being done in order to answer a practical problem – how to decarbonise gaseous, gas phase, energy fuel production.

    The second barrier to the ivory tower world that I have is that I do not have a technological contribution to make with this research. I am not inventing a chemical process that can “revolutionise” low carbon energy production. (I don’t believe in “revolutions” anyway. Nothing good ever happens by violent overthrow.) My research is not at the workbench end of engineering, so I am not going to work amongst a team of industrial technicians, so I am not going to produce a patent for clean energy that could save the world (or the economy).

    My research is more about observing and reporting the advances of others, and how these pieces add up to a journey of significant change in the energy sector. I want to join the dots from studies at the leading edge of research, showing how this demonstrates widespread aspiration for clean energy, and document instances of new energy technology, systems and infrastructure. I want to witness to the internal motivation of thousands of people working with the goal of clean energy across a very wide range of disciplines.

    This is positively positive; positivity, but it’s not positivism – it’s not pure, basic research. This piece of research could well influence people and events – it’s certainly already influencing me. It’s not hands-off neutral science. It interacts with its subjects. It intentionally intervenes.

    Since I don’t have an actual physical contribution or product to offer, and since I fully expect it to “interfere” with current dogma and political realities, what I am doing will be hard to acknowledge.

    This is not a PhD. But it is still a piece of philosophy, the love of wisdom that comes from the acquisition of knowledge.

    I have been clear for some time about what I should be studying. Call it “internal drive” if you like. The aim is to support the development of universal renewable energy as a response to the risks of climate change and peak fossil fuel energy production. That makes me automatically biased. I view my research subject through the prism of hope. But I would contend that this is a perfectly valid belief, as I already know some of what is possible. I’m not starting from a foundational blank slate – many Renewable Gas processes are already in use throughout industry and the energy sector. The fascinating part is watching these functions coalesce into a coherent alternative to the mining of fossil fuels. For the internal industry energy production conversation is changing its track, its tune.

    For a while now, “alternative” energy has been a minor vibration, a harmonic, accentuating the fossil fuel melody. As soon as the mid-noughties economic difficulties began to bite, greenwash activities were ditched, as oil and gas companies resorted to their core business. But the “green shoots” of green energy are still there, and every now and then, it is possible to see them poking up above the oilspill-desecrated soil. My role is to count blades and project bushes. Therefore my research is interpretivist or constructivist, although it is documenting positivist engineering progress. That’s quite hard for me to agree with, even though I reasoned it myself. I can still resist being labelled “post-positivist”, though, because I’m still interpreting reality not relativisms.

    So now, on from research paradigm to research methodologies. I was trained to be an experimentalist scientist, so this is a departure for me. In this case, I am not going to seek to make a physical contribution to the field by being actively involved as an engineer in a research programme, partly because from what I’ve read so far, most of the potential is already documented and scoped.

    I am going to use sociological methods, combining observation and rapportage, to and from various organisations through various media. Since I am involved in the narrative through my interactions with others, and I influence the outcomes of my research, this is partly auto-narrative, autoethnographic, ethnographic. An apt form for the research documentation is a weblog, as it is a longitudinal study, so discrete reports at time intervals are appropriate. Social media will be useful for joining the research to a potential audience, and Twitter has the kind of immediacy I prefer.

    My observation will therefore be akin to journalism – engineering journalism, where the term “engineering” covers both technological and sociological aspects of change. A kind of energy futures “travelogue”, an observer of an emerging reality.

    My research methods will include reading the science and interacting with engineers. I hope to do a study trip (or two) as a way of embedding myself into the new energy sector, with the explicit intention of ensuring I am not purely a commentator-observer. My research documentation will include a slow collation of my sources and references – a literature review that evolves over time.

    My personal contribution will be slight, but hopefully set archaic and inefficient proposals for energy development based on “traditional” answers (such as nuclear power, “unconventional” fossil fuel production and Carbon Capture and Storage for coal) in high relief.

    My research choices as they currently stand :-

    1. I do not think I want to join an academic group.

    2. I do not think I want to work for an energy engineering company.

    3. I do not want to claim a discovery in an experimental sense. Indeed, I do not need to, as I am documenting discoveries and experiments.

    4. I want to be clear about my bias towards promoting 100% renewable energy, as a desirable ambition, in response to the risks posed by climate change and peak fossil fuel production.

    5. I need to admit that my research may influence outcomes, and so is applied rather than basic (Roll-Hansen, 2009).

    References

    OECD, 2002. “Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development”, Frascati Manual :-
    http://browse.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/pdfs/free/9202081e.pdf

    Roll-Hansen, 2009. “Why the distinction between basic (theoretical) and applied (practical) research is important in the politics of science”, Nils Roll-Hansen, Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science, Technical Report 04/09 :-
    http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPRoll-HansenOnline0409.pdf

  • A Question of Resilience

    Posted on January 28th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Again, the evil and greedy oil, gas and mining companies have proved their wickedness by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk.

    The questions posed so unrelentingly by the climate change deniers have sewn a patchwork tapestry of disinformation, which continues to poison genuine dialogue and is undermining political progress. We cannot take these people with us into constructive engagement, and ask them to help us forge a broad consensus. It is as if they exist in a parallel universe. Some of us will continue to attempt to conduct dialogue, but will end up wasting our time. The documentation by the media is faulty, and perpetuates the success of the denier strategy of divide and rule.

    But hold on a minute. There are problems with the stance of climate change denial, but what about the positioning of climate change activists ? Let’s try that first paragraph one more time :-

    [ Again, the "evil" and "greedy" oil, gas and mining companies have proved their "wickedness" by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk. ]

    By casting the fossil fuel and mining corporations as wrongly motivated, by using negative emotive labels, the dominant narrative of political activists has failed, once again, to move us all forward. These kinds of revelations about underhand corporate public relations activities are by now unsurprising. The news cannot shock, although it may disgust. Yet, since nothing is offered to counter-balance or correct the inappropriate behaviour of the “fossil fuellers”, they win the game they invented, the game they wrote the rules for. Protesting at a petrol station achieves nothing of any note, not even when there’s a camera-friendly polar bear. We hear the message of pain, but there is no ointment. There is a disconnect between the gruesome discovery and any way out of this mess. The revelation of intent of the carbon dinosaurs, the recounting of the anti-democratic activities, does not result in change.

    Environmental pollution is a “victimless” crime – no matter how much we sympathise or empathise with the plight of poisoned floating fish, dying bees, asthmatic kids, or cancer-laden people. Fines and taxes cannot rectify the scourge of environmental pollution, because there is no ultimate accountability. Regulation cannot be enforced. The misbehaviour just carries on, because there is systemic momentum. There is no legal redress (“due process” in Americanese) for those who are suffering the worsening effects of climate change, and there is no treaty that can be made to curb greenhouse gas emissions that anybody can be bound to by international sanctions.

    And so when we hear the same old story – that the energy industry is propagandising – we cannot respond. We don’t know what we can do. We are paralysed. This narrative is so tired, it snores.

    Truth may have been a victim, but the energy industry are also vulnerable – they are acting in self-defence mode. Let’s take the big vista in : there is stress in the global production of fossil fuel energy, and all routes to an easy fix, even if it’s only a short-term fix, are choked.

    So let’s ask the question – why do the energy companies deceive ? Do they think they are being deceptive ? Why do fossil fuel miners seek to massage public opinion ? This is a question of resilience, of Darwinian survival – seeking advantage by altering policy by tampering with public assent. They believe in their product, they construct their mission – they are protecting their future profits, they’re making a living. They’re humans in human organisations. They’re not “evil”, “greedy” or “lying” – as a rule. There are no demons here, nor can we convincingly summon them.

    Look at the activist game plan – we announce the deliberate actions of the fossil fuel companies to influence the political mandate. But these scandals are only ever voiced, never acted upon. They cannot be acted upon because those who care have no power, no agency, to correct or prevent the outcomes. And those who should care, do not care, because they themselves have rationalised the misdemeanours of the fossil fuellers. They too have drunk from the goblet of doubt. Amongst English-speaking politicians, I detect a good number who consider climate change to be a matter for wait-and-see rather than urgent measures. Besides those who continue to downplay the seriousness of climate change.

    Look also at the difference between the covert nature of the support for climate change deniers, and the open public relations activities of the fossil fuel and mining companies. They speak in the right way for their audiences. That’s smart.

    In time, the end of the fossil fuel age will become apparent, certain vague shapes on the horizon will come out of the blur and into sharp focus. But in the meantime, the carbon dinosaurs are taking action to secure market share, maintain the value of their stock, prop up the value of their shareholders’ assets. The action plan for survival of the oil, gas, coal and mining operations now includes the promotion of extreme energy – so-called unconventional fossil fuels, the once-dismissed lower quality resources such as tight gas, shale gas, shale oil and coalbed methane (coal seam methane). Why are the energy industry trying to gild the rotten lily ? Is the support for unconventional fossil fuels a move for certain countries, such as the United States of America, to develop more indigenous sources of energy – more homegrown energy to make them independent of foreign influence ? This could be the main factor – most of the public relations for shale gas, for example, seems to come from USA.

    The answer could come by responding to another question. Could it be that the production of petroleum oil has in fact peaked – that decline has set in for good ? Could it be that the Saudis are not “turning off the taps” to force market prices, because in actual fact the taps are being turned off for them, by natural well depletion ? The Arab Spring is a marvellous distraction – the economic sanctions and military and democratic upheaval are excellent explanations for the plateau in global oil production.

    It seems possible from what I have looked at that Peak Oil is a reality, that decline in the volumes of produced petroleum is inevitable. The fossil fuel producers, the international corporations who have their shareholders and stock prices to maintain, have been pushing the narrative that the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels can replace lost conventional production. They have been painting a picture of the horn of plenty – a cornucopia of unconventional fossil fuels far exceeding conventional resources. To please their investors, the fossil fuel companies are lying about the future.

    Sure, brute force and some new technology are opening up “unconventionals” but this will not herald the “golden age” of shale gas or oils from shale. Shale gas fields deplete rapidly, and tar sands production is hugely polluting and likely to be unsustainable in several ways because of that. There might be huge reserves – but who knows how quickly heavy oils can be produced ? And how much energy input is required to create output energy from other low grade fossil strata ? It is simply not possible to be certain that the volumes of unconventional fossil fuel production can match the decline in conventionals.

    The facts of the matter need admitting – there is no expansion of sweet crude oil production possible. There’s no more crude – there’s only crud. And slow crud, at that.

    Peak Oil is a geological fact, not a market artefact. The production levels of crude and condensate may not recover, even if military-backed diplomacy wins the day for the energy industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Peak Oil has implications for resilience of the whole global economy – the conversion of social and trade systems to use new forms of energy will take some considerable time – and their integrity is at risk if Peak Oil cannot be navigated smoothly. Peak Oil is dangerous – it seems useful to deny it as long as possible.

    It’s pretty clear that we’ve been handed lots of unreliable sops over the years. The energy industry promised us that biofuels could replace gasoline and diesel – but the realisation of this dream has been blocked at every turn by inconvenient failings. The energy industry has, to my mind, been deploying duds in order to build in a delay while they attempt to research and develop genuine alternatives to conventional fossil fuels – but they are failing. The dominant narrative of success is at risk – will all of this continue to hold together ? Can people continue to believe in the security of energy systems – the stability of trade and economic wealth creation ? Oh yes, people raise concerns – for example about disruption in the Middle East and North Africa, and then propose “solutions” – regime change, military support for opposition forces, non-invasive invasions. But overall, despite these all too evident skirmishes, the impression of resilience is left intact. The problem is being framed as one of “edge issues” – not systemic. It’s not clear how long they can keep up with this game.

    The facade is cracking. The mask is slipping. BP and Centrica in a bout of hyper-realism have said that the development of shale gas in the UK will not be a “game changer”. It may be that their core reasoning is to drag down the market value of Cuadrilla, maybe in order to purchase it. But anyway, they have defied the American energy industry public relations – hurrah ! Shale gas is not the milk of a honey-worded mother goddess after all – but what’s their alternative story ? That previously under-developed gas in Iran and Iraq will be secured ? And what about petroleum ? Will the public relations bubble about that be punctured too ? Telling people about Peak Oil – how useful is that ? They won’t do it because it has to be kept unbelievable and unbelieved in order to save face and keep global order. Academics talk about Peak Oil, but it is not just a dry, technical question confined to ivory towers. Attention is diverted, but the issue remains. Looking at it doesn’t solve it, so we are encouraged not to look at it.

    So, why do the energy industry purposely set out to manipulate public opinion ? Well, the reason for their open advertising strategy is clear – to convince investors, governments, customers, that all is well in oil and gas – that there is a “gas glut” – that the world is still awash in petroleum and Natural Gas – that the future will be even more providential than the past – that the only way is up. All the projections of the oil and gas industry and the national, regional and international agencies are that energy demand will continue to rise – the underlying impression you are intended to be left with is that, therefore, global energy supply will also continue to rise. Business has never been better, and it can only get more profitable. We will need to turn to unconventional resources, but hey, there’s so much of the stuff, we’ll be swimming in it.

    But what is the purpose of the covert “public relations” of the energy industry ? Why do they seek to put out deception via secretly-funded groups ? When the truth emerges, as it always does in the end, the anger and indignation of the climate change activists is guaranteed. And angry and indignant activists can easily be ignored. So, the purpose in funding climate change deniers is to emotionally manipulate climate change activists – rattle their cages, shake their prison bars. Let them rail – it keeps the greens busy, too occupied with their emotional disturbance. By looking at these infractions in depth are we being distracted from the bigger picture ? Can we make any change in global governance by bringing energy industry deception to light ?

    Even as commentators peddle conspiracy theories about the science and politics of a warming planet, the “leader of the free world” is inaugurated into a second term and announces action on climate change. Although progressives around the world applaud this, I’m not sure what concrete action the President and his elite colleague team of rich, mostly white, middle-aged men can take. I am listening to the heartbeat of the conversation, and my take away is this : by announcing action on climate change, Barack Obama is declaring war on the sovereignty of the oil and gas producing nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

    You see, the Middle East and North Africa are awash in Natural Gas. Untapped Natural Gas. The seismic surveys are complete. The secret services have de-stabilised democracy in a number of countries now, and this “soft power” will assist in constructing a new narrative – that unruliness in the Middle East and North Africa is preventing progress – that the unstable countries are withholding Natural Gas from the world – the fossil fuel that can replace petroleum oil in vehicles when chemically processed, the fossil fuel that has half the carbon emissions of coal when generating electricity. Resources of Natural Gas need “protecting”, securing, “liberating”, to save the world’s economy from collapse.

    Obama stands up and declares “war” on climate change. And all I hear is a klaxon alarm for military assault on Iran.

    But even then, if the world turns to previously untapped Natural Gas, I believe this is only a short-term answer to Peak Oil. Because waiting in the wings, about ten years behind, is Peak Natural Gas. And there is no answer to Peak Natural Gas, unless it includes a genuine revolution in energy production away from what lies beneath. And that threatens the sustenance of the oil and gas industry.

    No wonder, then, that those who fund climate change denial – who stand to profit from access to untapped fossil fuels, secured by military aggresssion in the Middle East and North Africa – also fund opposition to renewable energy. The full details of this are still emerging. Will we continue to express horror and distaste when the strategy becomes more transparent ? Will that achieve anything ? Or will we focus on ways to bring about the only possible future – a fossil-fuel-free energy economy ? This will always take more action than words, but messaging will remain key. The central message is one that will sound strange to most people, but it needs to be said : fossil fuels will not continue to sustain the global economy : all will change.

    Funnily enough, that is exactly the summary of the statements from the World Economic Forum in Davos – only the world’s administration are still not admitting to Peak Fossil Fuels. Instead, they are using climate change as the rationale for purposeful decarbonisation.

    Well, whichever way it comes, let’s welcome it – as long as it comes soon. It’s not just the survival of individual oil and gas companies that is at stake – the whole global economy is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels – and climate change. I use the word “economy”, because that is the word used by MBAs. What I mean is, the whole of human civilisation and life on Earth is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change. Unconventional fossil fuels are the most polluting answer to any question, and expansion of their use will undoubtedly set off “climate bombs“.

    Don’t get me wrong – Natural Gas is a good bridge to the future, but it is only a transition fuel, not a destination. Please, can we not have war against Iran. Please let’s have some peaceful trade instead. And some public admissions of the seriousness of both Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change by all the key players in governance and energy.

  • Fossil Fuel Company Obligation

    Posted on November 6th, 2012 Jo No comments

    I knew I knew her from somewhere, Ms Henrietta Lynch PhD, from the UCL Energy Institute. I had the feeling we’d sheltered together from the rain/police helicopters at a Climate Camp somewhere, but she was fairly convinced we’d crossed paths at the Frontline Club, where, if she was recalling correctly, I probably tried to pick an “difference of opinion” with somebody, which she would have remembered as more than a little awkward.

    Why ? Because when I’m surrounded by smart people displaying self-confidence, I sometimes feel pushed to try to irritate them out of any complacency they may be harbouring. Niceness can give me itchy feet, or rather emotional hives, and I don’t see why others should feel settled when I feel all scratchy.

    So here we were at a Parliamentary event, and I was on my best behaviour, neither challenging nor remonstrative, but all the same, I felt the urge to engage Henrietta in disagreement. It was nothing personal, really. It was all about cognition, perception – worldviews, even. After my usual gauche preamble, I snuck in with a barbed gambit, “The United Nations climate change process has completely failed.” A shadow of anxiety crossed her brow. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that”, said Henrietta Lynch. She went on to recount for me the validity of the UN climate talks, and how much further we are because of the Kyoto Protocol. “Ruined by Article 12″, I said, “…the flexible mechanisms”. She said I shouldn’t underestimate the effort that had gone into getting everybody into the room to talk about a response to climate change. I said, it would be useful if the delegates to the climate talks had power of some kind – executive decision-making status. Henrietta insisted that delegates to the climate talks do indeed have authority.

    I said that the really significant players, the oil and gas production companies, were not at the climate talks, and that there would be no progress until they were. I said that the last time the UN really consulted the oil and gas companies was in the 1990s, and the outcome of that was proposals for carbon trading and Carbon Capture and Storage. Each year, I said, the adminstration of the climate talks did the diplomatic equivalent of passing round a busker’s hat to the national delegations, begging for commitments to carbon emissions reductions. Besides leading to squabbling and game-playing, the country representatives do not even have the practical means of achieving these changes. Instead, I said, the energy production companies should be summoned to the climate talks and given obligations – to decarbonise the energy resources they sell, and to increase their production of renewable and sustainable energy. I said that without that, there will be no progress.

    Oil and gas companies always point to energy demand as their get-out-of-jail-free card – they insist that while the world demands fossil fuel energy, they, the energy resource companies, are being responsible in producing it. Their economists say that consumer behaviour can be modified by pricing carbon dioxide emissions, and yet the vast majority of the energy they supply is full of embedded carbon – there is no greener choice. They know that it is impossible to set an economically significant carbon price in any form, that there are too many forces against it, and that any behavioural “signal” from carbon pricing is likely to be swallowed up by volatility in the prices of fossil fuels, and tax revenue demands. Most crucially, the oil and gas companies know that fossil fuels will remain essential for transport vehicles for some time, as it will be a long, hard struggle to replace all the drive engines in the world, and high volumes of transport are essential because of the globalised nature of trade.

    Oil and gas companies have made token handwaving gestures towards sustainability. BP has spent roughly 5% of its annual budget on renewable energy, although it’s dropped its solar power division, and has now dropped its cellulosic ethanol facility. BP says that it will “instead will focus on research and development“. Research and development into what, precisely ? Improved oil and gas drilling for harsh environmental conditions like the Arctic Ocean or sub-sea high depth, high pressure fields ? How many renewable energy pipedreams are exhausted ? BP are willing to take competitors to court over biobutanol, but even advanced techniques to produce this biofuel are not yet commercialised.

    So, the oil and gas majors do not appear to be serious about renewable energy, but are they also in denial about fossil fuels ? All business school graduates, anybody who has studied for an MBA or attended an economics course, they all come out with the mantra that technology will deliver, that innovation in technology will race ahead of the problems. Yet, as the rolling disasters of the multiple Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor accident and the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the blowout of the Horizon Deepwater drilling rig show, technological advancement ain’t what it used to be. Put not your faith in technology, for engineering may fail.

    For the oil and gas companies to be going after the development of unconventional fossil fuel resources is an unspoken, tacit admission of failure – not only of holding a bold vision of change, but also a demonstration of the failure of being able to increase production from discoveries of more conventional petroleum and Natural Gas. It is true that oil and gas exploration has improved, and that technology to drill for oil and gas has improved, but it could be said that the halting pace of technological advancement means that the growth in fossil fuel exploitation is not strong enough to meet projected demand. Technology does not always make things more efficient – the basic fossil fuel resources are getting much poorer, and perhaps scarcer.

    There is some evidence that global petroleum crude oil production rates have peaked, despite BP adding significant South American heavy oil fields to their annual Statistical Review of World Energy within the last few years. Some of the jitteriness in total production is down to geopolitical factors, like the chokehold that the United States has imposed on Iran via economic sanctions, and some of it is related to consumption patterns, but there is an element of resource failure, as indicated in this IMF report from last month :-

    “Over the past decade the world economy has experienced a persistent increase in oil prices. While part of this may have been due to continued rapid demand growth in emerging markets, stagnant supply also played a major role. Figure 1 shows the sequence of downward shifts in the trend growth rate of world oil production since the late 1960s. The latest trend break occurred in late 2005, when the average growth rate of 1.8 percent per annum of the 1981-2005 period could no longer be sustained, and production entered a fluctuating plateau that it has maintained ever since.”

    There is an increasing amount of evidence and projection of Peak Oil from diverse sources, so perhaps our attention should be drawn to it. If this type of analysis is to be trusted, regardless of whether the oil and gas companies pursue unconventional oil, change is inevitable. Bringing the oil and gas companies onto the world stage at the United Nations climate talks and demanding a reduction in fossil fuel production would be an straightford thing to make commitments to – as it is happening already. A huge facesaver in many respects – except that it does not answer the energy security question – how the world is going to be able to adapt to falling fossil fuel supplies. You see, besides Peak Oil, there are other peaks to contend with – it will not simply be a matter of exchanging one energy resource with another.

    Can the oil and gas companies hold on by selling us Natural Gas to replace failing oil ? Only if Natural Gas itself is not peaking. As the oil and gas companies drill deeper, more Natural Gas is likely to be found than petroleum oil, but because they are so often associated, Peak Oil is likely to be followed quite sharply by Peak Natural Gas. But does anybody in the oil and gas companies really know ? And if they did, would they be able to let their shareholders and world’s media know about it without their businesses crumbling ?

    What I want to know is : with all the skills of dialogue, collaboration, and facilitation that the human race has developed, why can Civil Society not engage the oil and gas companies in productive communication on these problems ?

  • Cross-Motivation

    Posted on October 7th, 2012 Jo No comments

    A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.

    We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.

    We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.

    But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.

    In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.

    Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.

    I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.

    It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.

    In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.

    Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.

    My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.

    There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.

    You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.

    You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.

    Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.

    This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.

    How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.

    As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change.


    http://houstonfeldenkrais.com/tag/cross-motivation/ “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”

  • Bosworth: “We are not going soft on coal”

    Posted on July 21st, 2012 Jo No comments

    At the annual Stop Climate Chaos coalition chin-wag on Friday 20th July 2012, I joined a table discussion led by Tony Bosworth of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

    He was laying out plans for a campaign focus on the risks and limitations of developing shale gas production in the United Kingdom.

    During open questions, I put it to him that a focus on shale gas was liable to lay Friends of the Earth open to accusations of taking the pressure off high carbon fuels such as coal. He said that he had already encountered that accusation, but emphasised that the shale gas licencing rounds are frontier – policy is actively being decided and is still open to resolution on issues of contention. Placing emphasis on critiquing this fossil fuel resource and its exploitation is therefore timely and highly appropriate. But he wanted to be clear that “we are not going soft on coal”.

    I suggested that some experts are downplaying the risks of shale gas development because of the limitations of the resource – because shale gas could only contribute a few percent of national fuel provision, some think is is unwise to concentrate so much campaign effort on resisting its development. Bosworth countered this by saying that in the near future, the British Geological Survey are expected to revise their estimates of shale gas resource upwards by a very significant amount.

    He quoted one source as claiming that the UK could have around 55 years of shale gas resource within its borders. I showed some scepticism about this, posing the question “But can it be mined at any significant rate ?” It is a very common public relations trick to mention the total estimated size of a fossil fuel resource without also giving an estimate of how fast it can be extracted – leading to entirely mistaken conclusions about how useful a field, well or strata can be.

    Tony Bosworth said that shale gas reserve estimates keep changing all the time. The estimate for shale gas reserves in Poland have just been revised downwards, and the Marcellus Shale in the United States of America has also been re-assessed negatively.

    Bosworth said that although campaigners who are fighting shale gas development had found it useful to communicate the local environmental damage caused by shale gas extraction – such as ozone pollution, traffic noise, water pollution and extraction, landscape clearance – the best argument against shale gas production was the climate change emissions one. He said academics are still being recruited to fight on both sides of the question of whether the lifecycle emissions of shale gas are higher than for coal, but that it was becoming clear that so-called “fugitive emissions” – where gas unintentionally escapes from well works and pipeline networks – is the key global warming risk from shale gas.

    Opinion around the table was that the local environmental factors associated with shale gas extraction may be the way to draw the most attention from people – as these would be experienced personally. The problem with centring on this argument is that the main route of communication about these problems, the film Gasland, has been counter-spun by an industry-backed film “Truthland”.

    The Royal Society recently pronounced shale gas extraction acceptable as long as appropriate consideration was paid to following regulatory control, but even cautious development of unconventional fossil fuels does not answer the climate change implications.

    There is also the extreme irony that those who oppose wind farm development on the basis of “industrialisation of the landscape” can also be the same group of people who are in favour of the development of shale gas extraction – arguably doing more, and more permanently, to destroy the scenery by deforestation, water resource sequestration and toxification of soils, air and water.

    Tony Bosworth told the group about the Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage Local Authorities to declare themselves “Frack-Free Zones” (in a similar way to the “Fair Trade Towns” campaign that was previously so successful). He said that FoE would be asking supporters to demand that their local governments had a “No Fracking” policy in their Local Plans. It was suggested in the discussion group that with the current economic slowdown and austerity measures, that Local Authorities may not have the capacity to do this. Tony Bosworth suggested that in this case, it might be worth addressing the issue to church parish councils, who can be very powerful in local matters. It was pointed out that frequently, parish councils have been busy declaring themselves “Wind Free Zones”.

    It was considered that it would be ineffective to attempt to fight shale gas production on a site-by-site direct action basis as the amount of land in the UK that has already and will soon be licenced for shale gas exploration made this impossible. Besides which, people often had very low awareness of the potential problems of shale gas extraction and the disruption and pollution it could bring to their areas – so local support for direct action could be poor.

    One interesting suggestion was to create a map of the United Kingdom showing the watersheds where people get their tap supplies from superimposed on where the proposed shale gas exploration areas are likely to be – to allow people to understand that even if they live far away from shale gas production, their drinking water supplies could be impacted.

    In summary, there are several key public relations fronts on which the nascent shale gas “industry” are fighting. They have been trying to seed doubt on low estimates of actual shale gas production potential – they have been hyping the potentially massive “gamechanging” resource assessments, without clear evidence of how accessible these resources are. They have also been pouring scorn on the evidence of how much damage shale gas could do to local environments. And they have also been promoting academic research that could be seen to make their case that shale gas is less climate-damaging than other energy resources.

    Shale gas, and the issue of the risks of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuels, is likely to remain a hot ecological topic. Putting effort into resisting its expansion is highly appropriate in the British context, where the industry is fledgeling, and those who are accusing Friends of the Earth and others of acting as “useful idiots” for the ambitions of the coal industry just haven’t taken a look at the wider implications. If shale gas is permitted dirty development rights, then that would open the gateway for even more polluting unconventional fossil fuel extraction, such as oil shale and underground coal gasification, and that really would be a major win for the coal industry.

    Friends of the Earth Briefing : Shale gas : energy solution or fracking hell ?

  • Tillerson Talks It Down

    Posted on July 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, was recently invited to talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States of America, as part of their series on CEOs.

    His “on the record” briefing was uploaded to YouTube almost immediately as he made a number of very interesting comments.

    Reactions were mixed.

    The thing most commented upon was his handwaving away the significance of climate change – a little change here, a little change over there and you could almost see the traditional magician’s fez here – shazam – nothing to worry about.

    In amongst all the online furore about this, was discussion of his continued Membership of the Church of Oil Cornucopia – he must have mentioned the word “technology” about seventy-five times in fifteen minutes. He clearly believes, as do his shareholders and management board, that his oil company can continue to get progressively more of the black stuff out of tar sands, oil shales or oil-bearing shale sediments and ever-tighter locked-in not naturally outgassing “natural” gas out of gas shales. At least in Northern America.

    As numerous commentators with a background in Economics have claimed, well, the price of oil is rising, and that creates a market for dirtier, harder-to-reach oil. Obviously. But missing from their Law of Supply and Demand is an analysis of how oil prices are actually determined in the real world. It’s certainly not a free market – there are numerous factors that control the price of the end-product, gasoline, not least state sponsorship of industries, either through direct subsidies, or through the support of dependent industries such as car manufacture. At least in North America.

    In the background, there is ongoing shuttle diplomacy between the major western economies and the assortment of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who still have the world’s largest pool of cleaner-ish petroleum under their feet. That, naturally, has an impact on supply and pricing : even though the strength of this bonding is not as tight-fast as it historically was, there appears to have been more of it since around 2005. Or at least, that’s when I first started monitoring it consciously.

    In addition to that, there are only a limited number of players in the oil industry. It is almost impossible to break into the sector without an obscene amount of capital, and exceedingly good buddy-type relationships with everybody else in the field – including sheikhs you formerly knew from when you attended specialty schools. So, no, the market in oil is not free in any sense. It is rigged – if you’ll excuse the pun.

    And then there’s foundational reasons why oil prices are artificial – and may not cause a boom in the “unconventional” production that Rex Tillerson is so excited about (in a rancher-down-the-farm kind of way). Oil is still fundamental to the global economy. In fact, the price of oil underpins most business, as oil is still dominant in the transportation of goods and commodities. Despite all the techno-wizardry, it is fundamentally more costly to drill for fossil fuels in shale, than from pressure wells where oil just gloops out of the ground if you stick a pipe in.

    It’s not the drilling that’s the major factor – so the technology is not the main driver of the cost. It’s the put-up, take-down costs – the costs of erecting the infrastructure for a well, or putting underground shale heating or fracturing equipment in place, and the cleaning up afterwards. Some of the technologies used to mine shales for oil use an incredible amount of water, and this all needs to be processed, unless you don’t mind desecrating large swathes of sub-tropical scenery. Or Canada.

    The price of oil production has a knock-on effect, including on the very markets that underpin oil production – so increasing oil prices have a cyclic forcing effect – upwards. It also has an impact on the prices of other essential things, such as food. One can see a parallel rise in the price of oil and the price of staple crops in the last few years – and the spiralling cost of grain wheat, rice and corn maize is not all down to climate change.

    Oil companies are in a quandary – they need to have higher oil prices to justify their unconventional oil operations – and they also need good relationships with governments, who know they cannot get re-elected if too many people blame them for rising costs of living. Plus, there’s the global security factor – several dozen countries already have economies close to bust because of the cost of oil imports. There are many reasons to keep oil prices depressed.

    Let’s ask that subtle, delicate question : why did Rex Tillerson espouse the attitudes he did when asked to go on the record ? Why belittle the effects of climate change ? The answer is partly to soothe the minds of American investors, (and MENA investors in America). If such a powerful player in the energy sector believes “we can adapt to that” about climate change, clearly behind-the-scenes he will be lobbying against excessive carbon pricing or taxation with the American federal administration.

    And why be so confident that technology can keep the oil flowing, and make up for the cracks appearing in conventional supply chains by a frenzy of shale works ? Well, logically, he’s got to encourage shareholder confidence, and also government confidence, that his industry can continue to deliver. But, let’s just surmise that before he was shunted onto the stage in June, he’d had a little pre-briefing with some government officials. They would be advising him to show high levels of satisfaction with unconventional oil production growth (in America) – after all, this would act against the rollercoaster of panic buying and panic selling in futures contracts that has hit the oil markets in recent months.

    So Rex Tillerson is pushed awkwardly to centre stage. Global production of oil ? No problem ! It’s at record highs (if we massage the data), and likely to get even better. At least in America. For a while. But hey, there’s no chance of oil production declining – it’s important to stress that. If everyone can be convinced to believe that there’s a veritable river of oil, for the forseeable future, then oil prices will stay reasonable, and we can all carry on as we are. Nothing will crash or burn. Except the climate.

    Rex Tillerson’s interview on global (American) oil production may have been used to achieve several propaganda aims – but the key one, it seems to me, was to talk down the price of oil. Of course, this will have a knock-on effect on how much unconventional oil is affordable and accessible, and maybe precipitate a real peak in oil production – just the thing he’s denying. But keeping the price of oil within a reasonable operating range is more important than Rex Tillerson’s impact on the American Presidential elections, or even Rex Tillerson’s legacy.

  • BP Biofuels : Murders & Acquisitions ?

    Posted on July 2nd, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    [ The empty billboard at Highams Park train station, that had previously boasted an advertisement for BP's Olympic public relations mission, after I complained about it. ]

    I can see it now – a shimmering summer London afternoon – the heat radiating from the newly constructed sports track, and all television eyes on the shiny BP Biofuels filling station.

    Oh, you’ll have choice. Which “green” fuel shall we choose for the Olympic village van ? Bioethanol, biodiesel or biobutanol ? The bright white and metal filling station will be glowing like an saving angel in a storm, with the friendly, homely green and yellow BP star flower tattooed across it.

    But while you’re drinking in the public relations, “Oh look ! BP goes green !”, you will be living a distraction, like a child hypnotised by glinting gemstones. You will not be looking further than the pump station podium, to the full context, where lies a narrative rich in troubling complexity, harrowing tales that somehow never quite make it to the bread-and-circus mainstream media.

    1. BP Biofuels is growing by acquisition, not in-house development

    It is clear from the outset that BP Biofuels is a greenwash mirage – the “world class” fossil fuel oil and gas company are not tending to dirty their engineers’ hands with actually making biofuels themselves. What BP Biofuels has been doing is leveraging their ecological reputation by making purchases of already-existing companies – for example, Tropical Bioenergia in Brazil.

    Where they have entered into a more joint venture, things are a bit rocky, for example, at Vivergo Fuels in Hull, England, which was due to open in early 2012, no, I mean “late spring”, no actually “later in the year”.

    And where they have been unable to acquire or merger, they’ve been taking to the law courts to suppress the competition, as with Gevo in Minnesota in the United States of America.

    2. Land grabbing in the Brazilian Cerrado and the socioeconomic fallout

    Although BP Biofuels are claiming that they are developing advanced biofuels with due care for sustainability, there are continuing problems with land use change in the Brazilian Cerrado, which is documented as displacing indigenous people, and perhaps even partly behind the murder of social activists in the region.

    BP Biofuels is making use of the highly unequal Brazilian economy by using low-skilled or unskilled landless people in the area. As usual, the BP company reports focus on the safety of their employees – they claim that mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting is improving the wellbeing of their workers – but they are not addressing the economic disadvantage that forces people to work for extremely low wages in this business.

    3. Ecosystem destruction by agrifuel/agrofuel farming

    Sugarcane plantations have been highlighted as causing detrimental effects to soils, even causing stress on local water supplies.

    4. The GM crop menace

    At least one company specialising in the sale of agrochemicals, I mean genetically modified crops adapted for use with patented agrochemicals, is active alongside the BP Biofuels concerns. It is possible that there will be extensive crossover between the energy and GM crops companies – not only in the ownership of the genome of energy crops such as GM sugarcane, but also GM trees – to be used to build carbon credits for the large international companies growing plantations in Brazil.

    5. Buggy biofuels will remain a niche in the vehicle fuel market

    Biofuels made by any process that involves microorganisms suffer from one unique problem – speed – or rather, lack of it. There does not appear to be much evidence that any bio-activated production of biofuels – whether it be fermentation for ethanol, or algae grown for oil – can be sped up. This indicates that biofuels grown from bugs are likely to remain relatively small-scale in the global fuels markets – adding weight to the arguments from companies such as BP for drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean and offshore in Africa, South America and Asia.

    [ NOTE WELL : Before you mentino it, yes, this post does not have much in the way of links, in fact, none at all. That's because I'm still compiling sources on this subject and hope to write it up properly later on. If you're keen to find out more, Google knows everything, just about. ]

  • Gas in the UK (3)

    Posted on June 14th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    Bursting the Nuclear Bubble

    The UK Government appear to have seen the light about their, frankly, rubbish plan to covertly invest in (by hidden subsidies) a spanking new fleet of nuclear power reactors.

    Dogged by Electricite de France (EdF) as they have been, with Vincent de Rivaz continuing to proffer his begging bowl with outstretched pleading arms, it just might be that before the Energy Bill is finally announced –

    when the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) dust has settled – that this new thinking will have become core solidity.

    After all, there are plenty of reasons not to support new nuclear power – apart from the immense costs, the unclear costs, the lack of immediate power generation until at least a decade of concrete has been poured, and so on (and so forth).

    Gas is Laughing

    It appears that reality has bitten – and that the UK Government are pursuing gas. And they have decided not to hatch their eggs all in one basket. First of all, there’s a love-in with Statoil of Norway :-

    http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_072/pn12_072.aspx
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9316935/French-president-Francois-Hollande-cuts-retirement-age.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18344831
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-praises-uknorway-energy-linkup-7826436.html
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/jun/07/energy-uk-norway-oil-gas-renewables

    Then, there’s the new “South Stream” commitment – the new Azerbaijan-European Union agreement, spelled out in a meeting of the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) on 12th June at King’s College, London :-

    http://www.eucers.eu/2012/06/07/5-eucers-energy-talk-the-southern-gas-corridor-at-the-home-stretch/
    http://abc.az/eng/news/65475.html
    http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/Azerbaijan-Turkey-Deepen-their-Energy-Ties.html
    http://euobserver.com/19/116394
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/NC23Ag02.html

    Meanwhile, the “North Stream” gas pipeline is going to feed new Russian gas to Europe, too (since the old Siberian gas fields have become exhausted) :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15637244
    http://www.nord-stream.com/pipeline/
    http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/mega-yamal/
    http://www.gpilondon.com/index.php?id=325

    And then there’s the amazing new truth – Natural Gas is a “green” energy, according to the European Union :-

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/29/gas-rebranded-green-energy-eu

    The UK will still be importing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from our good old friends in Qatar. Never mind the political interference in the nearby region and the human rights abuses, although NATO could be asked to put a stop to that if Europe needed to bust the regime in order for their energy companies to take ownership of the lovely, lovely gas. I mean, that’s what happened in Iraq and Libya, didn’t it ?

    A Fossilised Future

    So, despite all the green noises from the UK Government, the underlying strategy for the future (having batted away the nuclear buzzing insects around the corpse of British energy policy), is as Steve Browning, formerly of National Grid says – “gas and air” – with Big Wind power being the commercialisable renewable technology of choice. But not too much wind power – after all, the grid could become unstable, couldn’t it, with too much wind ?

    There are several problems with this. First, the commitment to fossil fuels – even Natural Gas with its half the emissions profile of coal – is a risky strategy, despite making sure that supplies are secure in the near term. The reasons for this are geological as well as geopolitical. Natural Gas will peak, and even the UK Government accepts that unconventional gas will not keep fossil gas going forever – even with the “18 years” ultimate recoverable from under Lancashire of shale gas (that’s “18 years” of current gas annual demand – but not all drilled at once – perhaps amounting to about 1.5% of current UK gas supply needs per year, stretched out over 40 years) , and the billion tonnes of coal that can be gasified from under the sea off the east coast of England. As long as Carbon Capture and Storage can work.

    Not only will Natural Gas peak and start to decline in the UK, it will also peak and decline in the various other foreign resources the UK is promising to buy. By simple logic – if the North Sea gas began depletion after only 30 years – and this was a top quality concentrated resource – how soon will poorer quality gas fields start depleting ?

    Whilst I recognise the sense in making Natural Gas the core strategy of UK energy provision over the next few decades, it can never be a final policy. First off, we need rather more in terms of realistic support for the deployment of renewable electricity. People complained about onshore wind turbines, so the UK Government got into offshore wind turbines, and now they’re complaining at how expensive they are. Then they botched solar photovoltaics policy. What a palaver !

    Besides a much stronger direction for increasing renewable electricity, we need to recognise that renewable resources of gas need to be developed, starting now. We need to be ready to displace fossil gas as the fossil gas fields show signs of depletion and yet global demand and growth still show strength. We need to recognise that renewable gas development initiatives need consistent central government financial and enabling policy support. We need to recognise that even with the development of renewable gas, supplies of gas as a whole may yet peak – and so we need to acknowledge that we can never fully decarbonise the energy networks unless we find ways to apply energy conservation and energy efficiency into all energy use – and that this currently conflicts with the business model for most energy companies – to sell as much energy as possible. We need mandates for insulation, efficient fossil fuel use – such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and efficient grids, appliances and energy distribution. Since energy is mostly privately owned and privately administered, energy conservation is the hardest task of all, and this will take heroic efforts at all levels of society to implement.

  • Gas in the UK (2)

    Posted on June 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    …Continued from http://www.joabbess.com/2012/06/12/gas-in-the-uk/

    Questions from the floor

    [Tony Glover]

    …increasing electricification of heat and transport. I was interested in what Doug said about heat. [If energy conservation measures are significant and there is] a significant reduction in gas use for heat…interested in the Minister’s response.

    [Terry ? (Member of PRASEG)]

    I’m interested in gas that would need CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] [in future] …[since there would be no restriction there would be an] incentive to build new gas in next few years away from CCS-usable infrastructure. Maybe encouraging gas stations over next few years to be built in view of CCS.

    [ ? ]

    [There have been mentions of the] Gas [generation] Strategy and gas storage. Is it your intention to have both in the Energy Bill ? [Need to improve investor confidence.]

    [Charles Hendry MP] I’m more confident than Doug on CHP…[in respect of energy conservation we will begin to increase our use of] CHP [Combined Heat and Power], geothermal energy, don’t need District Heating. I think we’ll see more people switch to electric heating. The likely pricing on gas will mean people have to look at other sources – such as localised heat storage, intelligent ways to produce hot water and heat in their homes [...for example, a technology to store heat for several days...] The first [new gas power] plants will be where they are already consented – where originally coal plants – need to have identified in advance – no new plant is consented unless…We’ve asked Ofgem to ask re securing gas supplies. If we can stretch out the tail of North Sea gas – can stretch it out 30 – 40 years [...] technology [...] Centrica / Norway [...] develop contracts [...] Is there a role for strategic storage [Centrica asking] [...] Buying and selling at the wrong price (like the gold) [widespread chuckling in the room]. Some of it may not need legislation. Gas Strategy will be published before the Energy Bill.

    [David Cox] Get very nervous about gas storage. Don’t think there’s a need to put financial incentives in place to increase gas storage. We think the hybrid gas market is successful – a market and regulatory framework – [gas storage incentives] could damage.

    [Doug Parr] I’m not downbeat because I want to be downbeat on heat. [Of all the solutions proposed none of them show] scaleability, deliverability. I’d love that to come true – but will it ? [...] Heat pumps ? Biogas is great but is it really going to replace all that gas ? If we’re going to be using gas we need to make the best use of it [...] Issues around new plant / replacement – all about reducing risks no exposing ourselves to [it] – security of supply, climate risks, issues about placement [siting of new plant]. If CCS can really be made to work – it’s a no-brainer – do we want all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or … ? Our entire policy becomes dependent on a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated. Other technologies that people thought were great – years later they still haven’t arrived [for example, rooftop wind turbines]. If we say CCS is the only way it’s going to work – what’s Plan B ? We are going to use [fossil fuels] – should not become wholly dependent on technology not yet demonstrated.

    [Alan Whitehead] Perhaps people should be asked – which would you prefer – a CHP / DH [Combined Heat and Power / District Heating] plant in the valley here, or a couple of wind turbines on that hill ? That would [shake things up].

    Questions from the floor

    [ X ? ] See [...] as the ultimate destination. Most important – gas can be made zero carbon – not pie in the sky. 1. Start contributions of carbon-neutral gas and 2. will need far less if [we act] like Japan – force installation of microCHP. Their aim is to do same as for washing machines [bring prices down - make widely available for the home]. MicroCHP [with] heat pumps – reduction as good as decarbonising gas or electricity. But can also decarbonise gas.

    [ X ? ] The Minister mentioned the importance of CHP but recently dropped [...] mandate. If CHP so important what measures is the Government taking to ensure its installation ?

    [ X ? ] Electricity is a rubbish fuel for heating buildings – very peaky load – need something cheap to store, cheap to [...]. Fits very well with forcing down demand. Where we’re getting our gas from. At the moment our waste is being incinerated. For a cheap additional cost, where currently incinerating we can do anaerobic digestion [AD], producing a fungible asset – the gas – can gradually decarbonise our grid.

    [ Thomas Grier ? ] …a decision [?] of London – CHP in London over the next few years. If we want to use electricity for heat, we need to reinforce the electricity grid [by 60% to 90% ?] In rural situations – use electrical heating. In urban, use decarbonised energy. [This model projection] shows the gas grid disappearing – it will collapse at some point if all we have on the gas grid is cooking.

    [ X ? ] …[encouraged CHP then a few days later] stood up then said all support [removed ?] for CHP next year. A Heat Strategy that said there is enormous [scope / potential] for CHP. We want to see gas, we want to see efficiency. Are we moving towards [...] without it they won’t build it.

    [David Cox] Microgeneration – couldn’t get it down economically. Reliability [issues]. Full supporter of biogas – AD got a contribution to make – but never more than 5% – no matter how much [we crack it]. Electricity is not very good for heating – but how to we decarbonise the heat sector ? Always been an advocate of CHP. Government need to do more incentivising of that.

    [Charles Hendry MP] Innovation and invention [...] Government can’t support all emerging technologies. Best brains around the world [are working on] how we move fundamentally in a low carbon direction. On the waste hierarchy – burning of waste should be the final stage – finding a better use for it. [I visited] the biggest AD plant in Europe in Manchester – biogas and electricity generation. We are seeing Local Authorities taking a more constructive long-term view on how to manage waste. CHP – we all want to see more of it – to what extent does it need support ? That depends on whether new build – building a community around it. [By comparison, urban retrofitting is probably too expensive] Iceland [took the decision and] retrofitted almost every home – I’m now more convinced than before. What is the right level of subsidy and what makes good economic case ?

    [Doug] We do keep missing opportunities. [For example in Wales, Milford Haven, the new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine at the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) refinery to process the gas] should have been CHP. I am enthusiastic about lots of heat technologies [but the same questions/issues apply] scaleability and deliverability. District heating [DH] – an infrastructure asset ! [Can change priorities about what gets built - for example in Denmark (?)] they’re building large-scale solar farms to top up the DH. In the Treasury’s infrastructure plan [see DH could be...] Heat is the poor relation in energy debate. Other networks have been identified in the National Policy Statements (NPS) – but not heat.

    [ Leonie Green, Renewable Energy Association ] [I must] defend heat pumps. In Sweden 90% of new builds [hav e heat pumps ?] – heat pump efficiency is a function of the energy-efficiency of the building [...] Just on AD – National Grid report said it could provide 50% [of the nation's supply. Our members think] that’s a bit too high – we think 25%. My question is really about the benefits. We are hearing anxiety about costs, but it’s piecemeal on benefits. We’ve been strong on jobs, balance of trade, exports [all benefits of renewable energy investment and deployment]. Pleased to see DECC put out [report from] Oxford Economics [on the] wider economic benefits. How can we get more and more balance in reports. [An example] Deutsche Bank renewable generation opportunities.

    [ ? ] We would also support more than 5% from renewable gas – also about hydrogen – we used to do it when it was town gas – why not again ? As regards injecting biomethane/biogas from AD into the National Grid [last year ? to this year ?] 130 enquiries to connect AD to our network – none have progressed. Please sort these [registrations] out.

    [ ? ] Minister, we’re not expecting you to fund all technologies – we need some logic – especially with transport. The Government doesn’t recognise the difference between Renewable Natural Gas if used in transport and fossil fuels. Would be simple – a tax on gas if used in a vehicle. What’s the problem over [...] ?

    [Colin Snape, University of Nottingham] We are looking at reducing the costs of carbon capture – we have a section of PhDs… One other gas source not mentioned – gas from underground gasification of coal [UCG]. In UK [...] 2 billion tonners of coal – slightly offshore – on the energy coast of the UK – where all the action is on CCS – obviously UCG needs to be coupled with CCS to be carbon neutral. Would [be operational] in a very short time period [...incentives...]. Significant proportion of UK needs.

    [ ? ] What is the purpose of the Gas Strategy ? Shale gas isn’t a miracle. The “Golden Age of Gas” [report by the International Energy Agency (IEA)] doesn’t mean cheap gas, because [it will be put to] lots of uses. Renewable electricity and nuclear are not going to come until the 2020s. How do we avoid building loads of gas generation that is not necessary after that time ? What’s the role of mothballing (relatively cheap to bring CCGT out of mothballs comparing to build new). No sign of reduction in electricity demand reduction – therefore there will be high gas use.

    [ Doug Parr ] On UCG, the IEA had two scenarios in the “Golden Age of Gas” – both took us over 3.5 degrees Celsius [in additional global warming]. Even if there is unconventional gas sources, still a huge danger of going down the road of unrestrained gas use. What is the alternative ? We should not end up becoming dependent on gas. Should not build gas to fill a short-term hole – they will lobby for their own interests – to keep open.

    [ David Cox ] CCGTs won’t be built without guarantees greater than 20 years. Also renewable energy might not provide in the way that we hope. The CCC report – what caused the rise in energy prices ? The wholesale gas price – not renewable energy, green policies. However, that was slightly dishonest – the counter-factual was [...] renewable energy significantly still more expensive than fossil fuel there. Until we can get costs of renewable energy down to the prices of fossil fuels… [The industry] don’t give the impression [they will build] on the basis of short-term need. Gas isn’t clean, I admit that [...] CCS – that will work.

    [Charles Hendry MP] A lot comes back to a need for a balanced approach – carbon targets and security of supply. If you haven’t sorted out security of supply, the electorate will not give permission to go low carbon. Gas is a hedging fuel currently but don’t know where costs going over time. As a politician, I like pipelines – know where it’s going (not like LNG, where there was limited use of new LNG import plant). If we want Scandinavian gas, we need security of demand to build the new pipeline. How we deal with issues of biomethane – in 2 years – need to make more progress. Some of these [techologies] will be gamechangers – some, look back in a couple of years… [Need a] permissive framework to allow a lot of ideas and technologies. There is no source of energy that hasn’t required subsidy in early days. Fanciful to suggest new forms of energy can come through without support. The letters we get [from the public, from constituents] are on vehicle fuel costs, not how much their gas bill went up last winter…

    Official end of meeting

    A gaggle of people gathered in the hallway to discuss some items further.

    The Electricity Market Reform (EMR) was generally criticised – as it contains measures likely to specifically benefit nuclear power. Electricite de France was identified as very involved. The Government had said “no nuclear subsidy”, but the EMR measures are equivalent to hidden subsidies.

    The Levy Cap was criticised as it would disturb investor confidence – if several nuclear reactors came on-stream in 10 years time, in the same year, they would eat up the whole subsidy budget for that year – and other technologies would lose out. If was felt that a number of the EMR proposals were “blunt instruments”, not overcoming shortcomings of former levies and subsidies.

    Although the EMR was designed to addressed economic fears, it wasn’t assisting with financing risks – if anything it was adding to them. Rates of return have to be guaranteed for loans to be made – chopping and changing subsidies doesn’t allow for that.

    Leonie Green said that the REA members don’t like the Premium Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). She also said later that they were not pleased about the cuts in support for AD.

    Since my personal interest is in using Renewable Gas of various sources (including Biomethane / Biogas) to displace Natural Gas from the gas grid, I spoke with various people about this informally (including a woman I met on the train on my way home – who really got the argument about decarbonising gas by developing Renewable Gas, and using that to store excess renewable electricity, and use it as backup for renewable electricity. Although she did say “it won’t be done if it won’t confer benefits”.). One of the key elements for developing Renewable Gas is to create a stream of Renewable Hydrogen, produced in a range of ways. Somebody asked me what the driver would be for progress in Renewable Hydrogen production ? I said the “pull” was supposed to be the fabled “Hydrogen Economy” for transport, but that this isn’t really happening. I said the need for increased sources of renewably-sourced gas will become progressively clear – perhaps within a decade.

    One of the persons present talked about how they think the Government is now coming out of the nuclear dream world – how only a few of the proposed new reactors will get built in the next decade – and how the Government now need to come up with a more realistic scenario.

    It was mentioned that is appears that the Biogas technologies are going to have the same treatment as solar photovoltaics – some sort of subsidies at the start – which get cut away far too early – before it can stand on its own two feet. This was said to be the result of an underlying theory that only a fixed amount of money should be used on launching each new technology – with no thought to continuity problems – especially as regards investment and loan structures.

  • The Really Inconvenient Truth For The GWPF – Debunking GWPF Briefing Paper No1

    Posted on May 14th, 2012 Jo 3 comments

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.

    This is the sixth post in a series examining the UK-registered educational charity and climate denial 'think-tank' Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have identified very serious shortcomings and it is now make-or-break time for the GWPF's reputation.

    GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – The Really Inconvenient Truth' will be a good test for this because “the GWPF is proud to publish this dispassionate but devastating critique of UK climate change policies, and of the alleged basis on which those policies rest.”

    So says the foreword written by Lord Lawson of Blaby, the founder of the GWPF. Such a statement pretty much overrules the disclaimer that appears on the cover of these Briefing Papers (that views expressed are those of the author not the GWPF).

    So will GWPF pride come before a fall?

    REALLY INCONVENIENT AND REALLY TRUE?

    The author of Briefing Paper No1 is Lord Andrew Turnbull, a retired senior civil servant and a GWPF Trustee. Turnbull has a “unique authority” for the task according to Lord Lawson. But a “unique authority” may not be adequate because the subject of Briefing Paper No1 encompasses not just UK climate change policy, but also the entirety of the work of the UN IPCC. Now that is a whole lot of subject-matter!

    The Really Inconvenient Truth which Turnbull attempts to convey is that the basis for UK climate policy is shaky because it rests solely on the IPCC's findings. “The propositions of the IPCC do not bear the weight of certainty with which they are expressed,” he says.

    However Turnbull is at pains to describe what he is attempting in Briefing Paper No1. He wishes only to point out the doubts and flawed procedures that exist. He does not seek to “replace“ the IPCC “propositions” with alternative propositions.

    That is what he says. But what does he then do?

    The gargantuan task Turnbull tackles in Briefing Paper No1 requires a seriously focused analysis but there is none of that here. Briefing Paper No1 is a sweeping account of the subject that strongly advances alternative “propositions.

    In essence, Turnbull's message is that “the IPCC view is a narrowly-based and over-simplified one … downplaying the role of natural forces.” The alternative view he advances sees a less dramatic climate change that would allow the world to adapt without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Turnbull concludes (quoting the GWPF's inaugural lecture) that the IPCC view “is impossible to accept.”
    Logic dictates this is a call for its “replacement.

    As already mentioned, Briefing Paper No1 analyses IPCC work in its entirety. It thus covers the science, the climatic impacts and the policy responses.

    These will be examined here in reverse order – kind of upside-down.

    1 POLICY RESPONSES

    Turnbull argues at some length for what he calls “no regret” mitigation policies to reduce CO2 emissions, policies which would not impact greatly on the UK economy. Yet Turnbull is entirely disinterested in the CO2 reductions that such minimal policies would achieve. It really does beg the question why he argues for any mitigation policies at all.

    Indeed he talks briefly of preferring “adaptation” policies, pointing to the Institute of Civil Engineers who allegedly think that too little attention is paid to “adaptation.” Confusingly, Turnbull gives no source for this allegation. So is he referring to the UK's Institute of Civil Engineers? It is strange if he is. Their policy statements on climate change are unequivocal and wholly opposite to Turnbull's allegation. This is true even in their 2008 statement Adapting the UK to Climate Change (whose title may have given rise to Turnbull's confusion, perhaps a new take on 'judging a book by its cover.').

    2 CLIMATIC IMPACTS

    Turnbull deals quickly with the IPCC work on climatic impacts. He calls it shabby and quotes twice the Inter Academy Council (IAC) Report 2010 on the IPCC. This time Turnbull's source is referenced so there is no mistaking Turnbull's misinterpretations.

    Turnbull makes here two accusations.

    Firstly he says the IAC strongly criticise the IPCC WG2 for using non-peer-reviewed material. On this Turnbull is wrong. The IAC say using such “gray” literature is “relevant and appropriate” and is only criticising particulars of how it is used!

    Turnbull's second quote (from the IAC Executive Summary) is about the IPCC's use of unsupported or unclear probability assessments within the WG2 Summary for Policy Makers. Any reader of this WG2 Summary will see it is only a summary. It's probability statements are shoddy work but not the shabby underhand work of deception that Turnbull describes.

    This second IAC quote is used to back up Turnbull's otherwise unsupported accusations of “a consistent pattern of cherry-picking, exaggeration, highlighting extremes and failure to acknowledge beneficial effects.” Here Turnbull is entirely at odds with the IAC report which never makes any such comment or anything remotely in this vein.

    Indeed the IAC begins its conclusions “The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well” showing Turbull's intemperate tirade against the IPCC WG2 is entirely preposterous!

    3 THE SCIENCE

    On the science, Turnbull concludes that the IPCC “sees calamity just around the corner, producing calls for dramatic and early CO2 reduction.” This is a blunt but fair assessment.

    Yet Turnbull goes on to make many strong but largely unsupported accusations against the IPCC science. He says it ignores 'huge controversy', relies on 'unproven assumptions' since it ' ignored' certain possibilities. He says its findings have been 'strongly challenged' and cites “some scientists … many scientists” who hold alternative views. And for good measure Turnbull also rounds on the Hockey Stick curve, as did GWPF Briefing Paper No3.

    None of this has any substance to it. The “many scientists” (in fact one misguided scientist working outside his specialism) was debunked  in Part 5 of this series.

    As for the “some scientists,” again only one of these is named – climate 'skeptic' Professor Richard Lindzen (who is a member of the GWPF's Academic Advisory Council). It is difficult to support the idea that Lindzen's work has been ignored by the IPCC. Lindzen's work contributed to the 2007 IPCC report within two different chapters and he was even a Lead Author in the 2001 IPCC report on the very chapter relevant to Turnbull's comments.

    While Turnbull makes no reference to any particular piece of work by Lindzen (and there continues to be a lot of that), it is safe to say that the available work relevant to Turnbull's discussion had been already shown as entirely flawed scientifically well before Briefing paper No1 was published.
     

    THE REALY INCONVENIENT TRUTH FOR TURNBULL & THE G.W.P.F.

    Be it in the science, the climate impacts or the policy responses, there is but one good word that can be said about GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – it is consistent.

    It is consistent in being always wrong!

    The same appears to be the case generally with GWPF Briefing Papers which have all now been reviewed by this series – consistently wrong and entirely flawed.

    The 'debunking' process could be continued to other GWPF publications, searching for the merest hint of some improvement in its reporting, some publications that might show at least some merit. But enough is enough.

    GWPF is a UK-registered charity. If a UK charity uses controversial materialsuch material must be factually accurate and have a well-founded evidence base” (emphasis added). Yet all GWPF Briefing Papers have been shown to be riven with controversial material that is in no way factual or well-founded in evidence.

    This is made worse because the charitable “purpose” of the GWPF is to “advance the public understanding of global warming and of its possible consequences, and also of the measures taken or proposed to be taken in response to such warming” (emphasis added).

    For an educational charity to be spreading so much untruth and error is surely unacceptable, even scandalous. It is evidently a significant non-compliance that impacts on the public trust in UK charities generally. On this basis, a formal complaint will now be made and pursued with the UK Charity Commission.

    There does also remain one as-yet unasked question.

    Why would a bunch of respected and otherwise sensible people make such fools of themselves in this manner?

  • Camp Frack : Who’s afraid of hydraulic fracturing ?

    Posted on September 17th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.

    It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).

    The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.

    [ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]

  • Energy Poll #7 : Unconventional Fossil Fuels

    Posted on July 12th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Results from Question 1 : How often do you find articles in the press about “unconventional” energy, which includes shale gas, Arctic oil and tar sands ?


    For the Energy Matrix survey “Are We Ready for Energy Change ?” click here.

    Question 1    How often do you find articles in the press about “unconventional” energy, which includes shale gas, Arctic oil and tar sands ?







    Question 2    Do you think the world will need to exploit all sources of fossil fuels, regardless of their quality ?







    Question 3    Are you keen to see more vehicle fuel being produced from non-fossil sources ?







    Question 4    Would you be prepared to buy a replacement vehicle with lower fuel consumption ?







    Question 5    Do you think that price rises for complex resources of oil and gas can be kept to a minimum ?






    Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

    What region are you living in ?
    How old are you ?
    What gender are you ?
    How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

    Is Climate Change really happening ?
    Is Peak Oil really happening ?
    Do you know a lot about energy  ?
    Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results










  • Energy Poll #6 : Natural Gas

    Posted on July 12th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Results from Question 2 : Are you concerned that Natural Gas may be getting harder to find ?


    For the Energy Matrix survey “Are We Ready for Energy Change ?” click here.

    Question 1    Have you seen any news stories about discoveries
    of Natural Gas deep under the sea ?








    Question 2    Are you concerned that Natural Gas may be getting harder to find ?







    Question 3    Would you support laws to halt the practice of venting and flaring Natural Gas from oil wells ?







    Question 4    Would you be prepared to use electricity for heating instead of Natural Gas ?







    Question 5    Do you think that new technology will make it easier and cleaner to produce more Natural Gas ?






    Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

    What region are you living in ?
    How old are you ?
    What gender are you ?
    How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

    Is Climate Change really happening ?
    Is Peak Oil really happening ?
    Do you know a lot about energy  ?
    Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results