Large gas buyers set environmental performance indicators for how gas is produced

By Mark Brownstein

Co-authored by Beth Trask

Utilities who deliver gas to homes and businesses, and/or generate electricity from gas, are important stakeholders along the natural gas supply chain. They are the face of natural gas to their customers; and, thus, they need to know that the gas they sell is being produced in the most responsible and transparent way possible—one in which the impacts to the air, water, and communities are minimized.

This week, some of the nation’s largest gas buyers joined forces in a new voluntary coalition, the Natural Gas Supply Collaborative (NGSC). Together, they released a set of 14 performance indicators—spanning air, water, chemicals and community/worker safety—that they’d like to see natural gas companies report on publically on an annual basis.

Developed in consultation with environmental NGOs, including EDF, and with input from a handful of gas company representatives, these indicators are positive step toward a more transparent gas supply chain in which buyers and sellers can have informed dialogue about how gas is being produced.

We encourage more large gas buyers to join the coalition and get involved in this conversation.

Customers are watching

There are nine participants in the NGSC, including Austin Energy, NRG Energy, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Combined, these nine companies deliver enough natural gas to meet the needs of more than 36 million households and business customers. They supply enough electricity from natural gas to power over 17 million U.S. homes annually.

Thus these large gas buyers and others like them have influence in the marketplace. And when they enter into contracts with oil and gas companies, they have an obligation to discuss how air and water pollution is being minimized and how the well-being of communities and workers is being protected.

As with all supply chain management work, these conversations begin with transparency—the foundation for the NGSC’s 14 indicators.

Better reporting on methane

About one-quarter of the warming we experience today is caused by methane from human activities, and the oil and gas industry is one of the largest human-caused methane sources on the planet.

Recent data from the International Energy Agency shows that at least 75% of global oil and gas methane emissions can be cut cost-effectively with existing technology.

The NGSC performance indicators prioritize the importance of methane emission reduction to a producer’s social license to operate. They suggest that companies disclose their methane emissions, in total and by intensity. Suggested remediation techniques include developing leak detection and repair (LDAR) practices and schedules; developing methane reduction goals; reducing flaring and venting practices; and participating in the field testing of new technologies designed to detect leaks.

Leading practices on wastewater management

The report also shines a spotlight on aspects of production relating to water, chemical use, community, and safety that would benefit from enhanced transparency and action. Of particular note are a number of performance measures related to water and wastewater management. Wastewater, or “produced water,” in particular can pose serious risks to water and land resources surrounding operations if spills and leaks occur, and even if wastewater is treated onsite and intentionally released to nearby waterways or fields without proper controls. This is due to not only the high salinity of wastewater, but also hundreds of potentially toxic pollutants that may be present.

NGSC calls for gas companies to report on the number and volume of wastewater spills each year and to disclose their strategies for managing and ultimately disposing of wastewater. Significantly, the report notes that the emerging practice of reusing wastewater in novel ways—for example selling wastewater to farmers to irrigate crops—is a concern. Before embarking on wastewater reuse, producers should participate in research to better understand the environmental and public health risks.

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Pruitt takes steps to remove science from decisions affecting the health of American families

By Sarah Vogel

Today EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced additions to the Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Taken in conjunction with the drastic policy shift also announced today, Pruitt is set to fundamentally undercut the role science in driving EPA decisions that directly affect the health and safety of American families and communities.

The new policy would exclude any scientist receiving an EPA grant from serving on any of the agency’s advisory panels. This creates a profound hypocrisy: under the policy scientists who take money from ExxonMobil or even Russia—since funding from other governments wouldn’t be disqualifying—Pruitt would regard as trusted to offer impartial advice. Meanwhile, those who have grants from the US environmental agency – whose research program was praised by the National Academy of Sciences in a report just this past summer – cannot.

In Pruitt’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, the EPA advisory panels intended to ensure the agency is making use of the best and latest science should be populated overwhelmingly by industry-affiliated scientists, at the expense of independent academic scientists.

Along with the policy, Pruitt’s new appointments to the SAB and CASAC (see below) include longtime fossil fuel and chemical industry advocates, who have consistently played down or outright dismissed concerns about the risks of pollution or toxic chemical exposures based on discredited and outrageous scientific claims. Although the SAB is supposed to “provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator,” these additions cannot be relied upon to faithfully uphold the Board’s mission.

Meanwhile, Pruitt also took the unprecedented step of not renewing any appointments for members whose terms expire this year. This allows Pruitt to reshape the panel in his own image more quickly.

All told, the goal is as clear as it is concerning: to create a rubber-stamp set of scientific advisers that can distort the science while still lending an aura of credibility to Pruitt’s destructive actions at the Agency.

The real losers are not the researchers, but rather American families who depend on having an agency that actually works to protect their health.

Meet some of Mr. Pruitt’s new science advisers

Texas official with a long record of downplaying health concerns about pollutants and toxic chemicals ranging from ozone to benzene. Honeycutt argued against stronger ozone standards by noting most people spend their days indoors. He also claimed that “some studies even suggest that PM [particulate matter] makes you live longer.”

  • Dr. Tony Cox (Named to chair the CASAC)

Denver-based consultant with long track record of conducting research that disputes the public health benefits of reducing air pollution. Cox has stated that there is “no evidence that reductions in air pollution levels have caused any reductions in mortality rates.”

Record of disputing the benefits of clean air and air pollution limits; said that “Modern air … is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Professor at NC State affiliated with the climate-denying Heartland Institute, who claims that the “evidence is overwhelming” that if temperatures do increase, it will be “better for humans.”

Former Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), who questions the well-established scientific consensus of climate change and, had a controversial tenure at the agency, notably over health advisories to well owners whose water might have been contaminated by coal ash.

Smith is a Managing Director of NERA Economic Consulting and co-head of its environmental practice. In work funded by the fossil fuel industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute, Smith argued that EPA data on lung response to ozone is imprecise, roundly debunked by policy experts and independent fact-checkers.

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How will forests be on the “menu” at UN Bonn climate talks?

By Chris Meyer

The 2017 UN climate talks will take place from November 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany | Photo: Pixabay

This year’s global climate conference (COP23) is upon us and will be an interesting mix of Fijian diplomacy and Kölsch beer. As I do every year, in this year’s pre-COP blog I lay out what will be happening during the COP related to REDD+ in the negotiations and what I hope to hear about in the hallways and many side events.

The COP23 conference is expected to be a working COP as parties make the necessary progress in rule writing to meet the 2018 deadline of a final rulebook. There will also be a lot of news about non-state actors – the private sector, states like California, and other non-federal entities – being discussed as a reaction to Trump’s reckless decision to leave the Paris Agreement.

For a good overview of how we are doing in with respect to the climate change and forest sector, I suggest reading this year’s New York Declaration on Forests report. It includes a good review on progress in the private sector (or lack thereof) and funding for forest conservation – and activities causing deforestation.

But, back to the UNFCCC …

REDD+ in the negotiation agenda

After a year’s hiatus from the COP agenda, REDD+ will make an expected brief appearance in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) agenda the first week during discussions about the “coordination of REDD+ finance”. This is a leftover item from the Warsaw REDD+ Framework decision, when parties agreed to not create a “REDD+ Committee” to coordinate REDD+ finance as some parties wished, but rather annual informal and voluntary meetings during the mid-year subsidiary body negotiations (SBs) for 4 years to share experiences about REDD+ financing. Many of the attendees from parties to observers would agree that these informal meetings were of little value.

In this COP, negotiators are scheduled to reevaluate whether to continue the SBs or create the REDD+ Committee. I doubt there will be interest in either of them. However, the agenda item could be used as an opening to push a party’s or coalition’s not completely related proposal for financing REDD+, such as a centralized registry for REDD+ transactions.

REDD+ related negotiation items: transparency, NDCs and market

Much of the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ addressed transparency. After following initial discussions in the broader transparency agenda item that is part of the APA, many parties and negotiators are worried that those negotiations might dilute what was achieved for REDD+. Transparency in REDD+ thus far includes the Lima REDD+ Information Hub where countries submit their National REDD+ Strategies, Reference Emission Level (REL) submissions, Safeguard Information System summaries, and results. The process established for reviewing the RELs, which includes a technical assessment and publication of that assessment, is very important. The fact that the new US negotiator for transparency is the former REDD+ negotiator for the US, however, could be very helpful to ensure no dilution occurs.

Many of the party submissions on producing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) mentioned the land use sector explicitly, and REDD+ implicitly. The more detail related to the inclusion of the land use sector in NDCs the better, but it might be hard for negotiators to come to agreement on the extent or nature of those details.

The market negotiations under the SBSTA will continue; those on Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement and Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) are particularly relevant. More explicit guidance on no double counting/claiming is needed to ensure environmental integrity for REDD+ and ITMOs that might come from any other sector or project. REDD+ in itself, however, does not need explicit language in Article 6.2.

Other noticeable REDD+ financing developments

The Green Climate Fund recently approved guidance and $500 million for REDD+ results based payments, which I expect to be discussed substantially during the COP. Although the amount is not sufficient, the methodologies the GCF agreed upon will be relevant to other REDD+ finance decisions in the future.

Private finance for advancing deforestation free commodities is another hot topic and I expect to learn more concrete details about the andgreen.fund that was announced earlier in the year. Specifically, I’d like more clarity on how they will be defining jurisdictions advancing in becoming deforestation free, which is a requirement of the fund to determine what private sector actors will be funded.

This year’s report on New York Declaration on Forests provides extensive insight on the current state of forest finance. The report reviews the billions of pledges, commitments, and amounts spent to advance REDD+. More interesting is the amount of “grey” funding available from public subsidies and private sector investment for the land sector. The amount of “grey” funding greatly exceeds direct REDD+ funding and needs to be changed or channeled to activities that support forest conservation.

Indigenous Peoples in the negotiations

Indigenous territories have rates of deforestation eight times less than external forests.

Indigenous Peoples are hoping for a decision on the Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge platform that will support the inclusion of them and their solutions to mitigating and adapting to climate change. A number of parties from Ecuador to Canada are prioritizing and supporting this platform. While interested in all agenda items, Indigenous Peoples will also probably focus on the NDC negotiation to ensure that the need to include them in the development and revision of the NDCs is explicitly mentioned. Many party submissions on the topic included the need for NDCs to discuss how they consulted Indigenous Peoples and other groups in their development.

Indigenous leaders from the Amazon basin will be promoting a new scientific analysis which found, that from a regional level, indigenous territories have rates of deforestation eight times less than external forests. Hopefully, parties will take note of this and include more overt references to the importance of supporting and including Indigenous Peoples in decisions.

Reporting on progress by countries implementing REDD+

While not formally on the negotiation agenda, I expect a number of countries at their pavilions or in other events to present the final versions of their National REDD+ Strategies. Parties have already submitted 25 Reference Emission Levels (REL) and I expect a few more to arrive during the COP or before the end of the year. Discussions around best practices in REL construction and lessons learned will be a popular topic – amongst the technical people at least.

The richest presentations and discussions related to REDD+ will likely happen on November 12th during a set of panels on forests as part of the Action Agenda, now called the Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action. During this event, I hope to hear more about how the private sector is implementing the 700+ deforestation-free related commitments they’ve taken, but largely have yet to implement.

A “working” COP

Many expect no big decisions on forests – like a Warsaw Framework for REDD+ – to be agreed upon at this COP. However, I would like to see a decision on the platform for Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, which would be helpful for REDD+.

The parties should make progress on advancing the markets, NDC, and transparency negotiations that are indirectly related, but no less important, to REDD+. Decisions on those topics at the COP next year, as mandated in the Paris Agreement, are essential for continuing the implementation of REDD+ and unlocking necessary finance.

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How climate policy can mitigate extreme weather’s economic toll

By Jonathan Camuzeaux

 

This post was co-authored with Maureen Lackner

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Americans are coming together to support communities as they recover from the physical, emotional and economic toll after lives, possessions and livelihoods were washed away. Reestablishing daily routines, including work, school and regular commerce will take time, and for many, life may not return to what was once considered normal. But as we begin rebuilding what can be replaced, it is necessary to first gauge the scale and cost of the damage. It is also time to face the possibility that devastating weather events like Harvey and Irma may become the new normal

Harvey and Irma are among the most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history

Harvey and Irma have brought front and center the high costs of extreme weather-related disasters. While the damage is still being assessed, Harvey’s could cost as much as $200 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, surpassing Hurricane Katrina ($194 billion in 2017 USD). Estimates of Hurricane Irma’s economic damage are less certain, but the storm will likely also be among the most expensive weather-related disasters in the United States. (And we can’t forget that before reaching Florida, Irma caused damage to many Caribbean islands, which in some cases exceeded their GDP.)

While hurricanes tend to be the most dramatic, other types of severe weather also cause billions of dollars in economic damages. During the first half of 2017 alone, nine weather events including hailstorms, flooding, and tornados racked up $16 billion in damages across several states.

Climate change elevates the risk of severe weather events, and that comes at a cost

Climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, but sea level rise and warmer temperatures make storms more destructive. Storm surges along the Texas coast where Hurricane Harvey hit are now about 7 inches higher than storm surges a few decades ago as a result of sea level rise, which can make a big difference in flooding. In addition, evaporation intensifies with warmer temperatures, which results in more moisture in the atmosphere and therefore higher rainfall amounts and flooding when storms make landfall. Warmer ocean temperatures also fuel hurricanes, making them more powerful. Hurricane Irma was a classic example of just how powerful a storm can get from increased ocean temperatures.

It is also possible that severe weather-related events overall are becoming more frequent. One recent EDF analysis shows that U.S. counties experienced, on average, a fourfold increase in the frequency of disaster level hurricanes, storms, and floods between 1997 and 2016 than in the 20 years prior. In the Southeast, this increase is even more pronounced; on average, its states experienced close to four-and-a-half times more disaster declarations over the same time period.

In the coming decades, risk of climate change-influenced severe weather will differ from region to region, but one thing is clear: if left unmitigated, the effects of climate change could come at serious economic costs, not just to those who lose homes and livelihoods, but to their insurance companies or to taxpayers. Other aspects of the economy could experience significant pain as well.

In the Southeast alone, higher sea levels resulting in higher storm surges could increase the average annualized cost of storms along the Eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast by $2-3.5 billion by 2030. In some areas, like Texas, where sea levels are rising faster than the global average, these increases even higher. Research published in Science suggests that even if storms themselves do not become more severe, direct annual economic damage could rise by 0.6 to 1.3% of state gross domestic product (GDP) for South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida under median estimates of mean sea level rise. This translates into billions of dollars in additional economic damage every year for each of these states.

Hurricanes and severe storms pose serious risks to U.S. energy infrastructure

During Hurricane Katrina, the extent of the damages suffered by Entergy New Orleans forced the utility into bankruptcy. Hurricane Irma caused power outages in Florida that left over six million people without power.

Beyond these local impacts, these events can cause damage nationwide. Texas is home to about 30% of domestic oil and gas refining capacity, half of which was disrupted by Hurricane Harvey. This shut down 16% of the nation’s total refining capacity, spiked the average national gasoline price approximately 37 cents per gallon, and forced crude exports to drop from 749,000 to 153,000 barrels per day in the week after Harvey. As of September 10, 2017, more than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, five Gulf Coast refineries remained closed, representing 11% of total Gulf Coast refining capacity and 5.8% of U.S. refining capacity.

The Trump administration should focus on adaptation and mitigation

In the short term, the Trump administration should maintain existing programs designed to enhance U.S. energy security and disaster response. For starters, the administration should stop dismantling EPA programs expressly designed to help communities respond to damage from storms.

In the long term, we need to build climate resilient communities and infrastructure, through efforts like wetland restoration and smart development. President Trump would also do well to listen to Miami’s Republican Mayor Tomás Regalado, and rethink his approach to climate policy. Instead of rolling back smart policies and regulations, or simply ignoring the impacts of climate change, we need to stop compounding the problem and mitigate the effects of a warmer climate through policy that sets aggressive emissions reduction targets. Such strategies will do much more than just protect our economy’s bottom line—it will help ensure the safety, security, and well-being of millions of Americans.

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Chile’s President reaffirms commitment to marine conservation

By Erica Cunningham

 

Julio Chamarro at the UN

Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to protecting the marine environment while speaking at a meeting on ocean conservation issues during the annual gathering last week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“Our commitment to the prosperity and well-being of our citizens cannot be disassociated with economic growth,” she said.  “But for the same reason, we must accept, once and for all, that long-term growth is not possible, nor is it true development, without an active policy of environmental protection.”

We couldn’t agree more with the President that long term growth is not possible without the protection of the environment. We also believe that working hand in hand with fishermen is critical to building sustainable fisheries, and that economic prosperity is achievable even alongside environmental protections.

That’s why we are excited and inspired to see that President Bachelet invited Julio Chamorro, a lobster fishermen from Juan Fernandez to attend the meeting  of the UN General Assembly and present on the importance of marine protected areas and sustainable fishing.  

In Chile, EDF is engaging with local partners and fishing communities to help ensure that Chile’s fishing legacy is protected for future generations.

Chile learning network

Julio is part of a Small Scale Fisheries Learning Network we established in Chile with the goal of analyzing problems related to near-shore artisanal fisheries, and finding solutions. These networks aim to boost collective action of communities by uniting them and encouraging collaboration between participants from different backgrounds who might not otherwise have the opportunity to work together.

The Learning Network has prioritized several projects, including the prevention of illegal fishing, low-cost data collection on fishery health, including participatory processes for data collection and monitoring, as well as effective co-management of resources and supply chain management and market-access.

EDF is committed to working with our partners, like Julio, to strengthen this network over the coming years, bringing together stakeholders (both virtually and in-person) to solve problems and overcome the challenges identified for Chile’s near-shore artisanal fisheries.

Sustainable fishing clearly continues to be a priority for Chile, as they work to ensure a thriving future for their communities and fish populations.  We’re proud to see such a true and humble leader like Julio sharing his perspective and experience on the global stage to represent the hard work that Chilean fishermen are doing to ensure a bright future. Working with fishermen like Julio brings us great joy and honor. We look forward to the next transformative steps we can take together in Chile, in partnership with both fishermen and the government.

 

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Leading methane commitment from Exxon’s U.S. driller: Why it matters

By Ben Ratner

The degree to which the oil and gas industry can be trusted to play a constructive role in a low carbon future depends in no small measure on whether and how it reduces climate pollution today. That’s why company insiders, investors, and policy makers should take careful note of the sensible and innovative commitments announced by XTO Energy, the ExxonMobil subsidiary that leads the United States in natural gas production.

The industry’s many outside stakeholders both in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly calling for emission reductions and greater commitment to cleaner production. Companies that heed those calls, and advance new technologies, will be much better positioned to answer society demands for responsibility.

Political Pendulum

Unfortunately, the current picture for much of the rest of the industry is less bright. Oil and gas trade associations—of which companies like Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and many others are members—have  egged on a Trump administration ideologically bent on eliminating national methane safeguards.

Even as company-level leadership like XTO’s will likely increase confidence in that company’s responsibility, industry support and acquiescence on Trump environmental rollbacks undermines confidence in the responsibility of the silent masses of thousands of operators who have not yet stepped up. Indeed, many in the industry are already concerned that overreach will carry a price when the political pendulum swings back the other direction.

So even as the Trump administration and lowest elements in industry pursue a deregulatory agenda that simply goes way too far, XTO has committed to reducing its methane emissions in the United States, through a set of tangible actions that move the company well beyond compliance.

Commitments to Implementation and Innovation

Elements of the XTO commitment include phasing out a known type of intentionally venting devices in existing facilities; enhancing construction standards to install zero emitting devices at new facilities with electricity access; and undertaking leak detection and repair in existing facilities not already subject to regulations.

XTO will also partner with methane mitigation companies to innovate new, lower-emitting technologies for remote sites that lack electrification. And, ExxonMobil will continue its work with the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative, including the company’s new commitment to serve as a technical advisor on the Stanford/EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge.

Most importantly for industry, regulators, and the courts, XTO’s actions reinforce the technical and financial feasibility of reducing oil and gas methane emissions, which cast a long shadow over claims that natural gas can play a credible role in the transition to a low carbon energy economy.

Looking Ahead

Of course, any company with the carbon footprint of XTO can and should always do more to address its emissions. We will look for robust XTO disclosure that enables stakeholders to closely follow and assess the progress and results of its U.S. methane program. And we hope that XTO’s announcement is a harbinger of things to come from parent Exxon Mobil, which can expand leadership in support of global methane emission reduction goals, and flaring reduction.

It is too soon to know whether others in the U.S. oil and gas industry will follow suit with strong operational commitments and a more balanced, pragmatic approach to federal and state methane policy.

But we do know that America’s largest driller is raising the bar for methane emission reductions in its onshore operations.

The question now is who will follow?

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