Archives for category: Fossil Fuels

Watch this video from the Post Carbon Institute, an organization leading the transition into a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.

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Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, environmental, and equity crises that define the 21st century. We envision a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.

Post Carbon Institute has four primary goals:

  • Build awareness and understanding. Our aim is to help people face reality, understand the true nature of the crises at hand, and take thoughtful, confident action.
  • Foster collaboration. To successfully navigate the transition at hand will take unprecedented cooperation. Too often, efforts take place in isolated silos. Our goal is support true collaboration that sees both the causes and solutions to these crises as interconnected.
  • Integrate knowledge. Individual approaches and responses in one area can sometimes exacerbate other problems or escalate an overall crisis. Post Carbon Institute takes a whole systems approach to ensure that solutions amplify, rather than cancel out, one another.
  • Inspire action. The sheer enormity of the challenge at hand and the uncertainty of times ahead can lead to fear, hopelessness, or paralysis. We offer people and communities concrete, practical, and replicable actions to build resilience and manage the transition.

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Earth Day is the perfect time to celebrate the positive steps that some states are taking to preserve the environment. This year, the theme for Earth Day is “A Billion Acts of Green.” The idea highlights the fact that many small acts can make a significant difference to the environment.

Last year, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the environmental issues facing the each state. In observance of Earth Day, the rankings have been updated to reflect the most recent data.

24/7 Wall St. examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies. The most recent information, issued in 2009 and 2010, was used for all states. Thousands of data points were collected to determine the most and least “green” states.

Below are the ten greenest states in the 24/7 Wall St. ranking, based on environmental problems and how effectively these problems are addressed.

10. Colorado

Population: 5,024,748 (22nd)
GDP: $252.6 Billion (19th)
Toxic Waste: 41,532 Tons (19th)
Carbon Footprint: 98.1 Million Metric Tons (27th)
Alternative Energy: 10.0% (14th)

Colorado benefits in ranking from above-average pollution scores, scoring sixth best for birth-defect inducing toxins and carcinogenic chemicals released into waterways. Colorado also ranks 12th in particle pollution. The “Centennial State” has very good policy scores, ranking seventh for energy saving targets, according to ACEEE’s assesment. More than 6% of Colorado’s total energy output is from alternative resources, the eighth best rating in the country.

9. Oregon

Population: 3,825,657 (27th)
GDP: $165.6 Billion (26th)
Toxic Waste: 61,876 Tons (23rd)
Carbon Footprint: 43.5 Million Metric Tons (10th)
Alternative Energy: 63.4% (3rd)

Oregon ranks in the middle third for all of our pollution metrics, including 29th in EPA toxic waste violations and 33rd in toxic exposure, according to the RSEI index. On the other hand, Oregon does exceptionally well both in policy and alternative energy. In the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s list of state energy-saving programs, Oregon has the second-most, behind only California. The state also produces the second-most hydroelectric energy, and the eighth most non-hydroelectric alternative energy, mostly from state wind farms.

8. Idaho

Population: 1,545,801 (39th)
GDP: $54 Billion (42nd)
Toxic Waste: 4,808 Tons (9th)
Carbon Footprint: 16.2 Million Metric Tons (4th)
Alternative Energy: 84.5% (1st)

Idaho generates the greatest relative amount of renewable energy in the country, with 84.5% of all energy coming from alternative sources. “The Gem State” also ranks fifth for producing geothermal energy thanks to its unique terrain, and sixth for conventional hydroelectric power, thanks to the Snake River Plain and the state’s smaller rivers. Furthermore, the state has the fourth lowest rate of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. This is largely the result of the state’s extensive use of renewable energy.

7. Montana

Population: 974,989 (44th)
GDP: $35 Billion (48th)
Toxic Waste: 37,758 Tons (17th)
Carbon Footprint: 37.7 Million Metric Tons (9th)
Alternative Energy: 36.5% (6th)

Montana is unofficially nicknamed “Big Sky Country.” It is understandable that residents would be proud of their air, as it is tied for the lowest rate of ozone particulates in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. The state also ranks well in many other categories. It ranks seventh for total energy used, however this is largely the result of the state’s relatively low population density, the third lowest in the country.

6. South Dakota

Population: 812,383 (46th)
GDP: $38.3 Billion (46th)
Toxic Waste: 1,214 Tons (2nd)
Carbon Footprint: 13.7 Million Metric Tons (3rd)
Alternative Energy: 44.3% (5th)

South Dakota has the fifth-lowest population in the country and, along with that, its pollution is relatively low. The home of Mount Rushmore has only had 14 EPA violations since 2000, far and away the fewest in the nation. It also generated roughly 1,200 tons of hazardous waste last year, which is the second-lowest amount in the country, behind only Hawaii. South Dakota only produced 13.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the third-lowest in the country. South Dakota is above average – but not stellar – in terms of public policy, but it does rank fourth in the state utility alternative energy savings with a target of 10% by 2015.

5. Hawaii

Population: 1,295,178 (42nd)
GDP: $66.4 Billion (38th)
Toxic Waste: 987 Tons (1st)
Carbon Footprint: 24.1 Million Metric Tons (8th)
Alternative Energy: 7.6% (19th)

Since nearly 25% of Hawaii’s gross state product comes from tourism, the state is quite concerned about the environment. Hawaii produces the least amount of toxic waste and received the highest score for two air quality measurements: the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators toxic exposure rank and the American Lung Association’s ozone pollution index. The state also ranks sixth in energy saving programs and policies.

4. Nevada

Population: 2,643,085 (35th)
GDP: $126.5 Billion (31st)
Toxic Waste: 11,143 Tons (10th)
Carbon Footprint: 41.6 Million Metric Tons (12th)
Alternative Energy: 9.4% (16th)

Nevada has the lowest level of water pollution in the country because the generally arid state has very little fresh water to dump toxins into. The “Silver State” scores well in alternative energy production, with the second-highest production of solar photovoltaic and geothermal energy. Despite its low pollution levels and alternative energy scores, the state is only above average in policy initiatives.

3. New Hampshire

Population: 1,324,575 (40th)
GDP: $59.4 Billion (41st)
Toxic Waste: 4,538 Tons (8th)
Carbon Footprint: 19 Million Metric Tons (6th)
Alternative Energy: 12.3% (11th)

New Hampshire has extremely low pollution. The state has the fourth lowest level of harmful particle pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and ranks fifth best with regards to toxic exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model. New Hampshire has the fourth lowest level of developmental toxins released into its waterways, the fifth lowest level of releases of reproductive toxins and the fifth lowest level of cancer-causing chemicals released.

2. Maine

Population: 1,318,301 (41st)
GDP: $51.2 Billion (43rd)
Toxic Waste: 3,687 Tons (6th)
Carbon Footprint: 19.9 Million Metric Tons (7th)
Alternative Energy: 49.8% (4th)

Almost half of the electricity generated by Maine comes from renewable sources. The state has the largest percentage of its total energy produced coming from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, a total of 23.7%. Since the state has the highest percentage of timberland in the country, it is not surprising that a large portion of its energy comes from wood and wood waste.

1. Vermont

Population: 621,760 (49th)
GDP: $25.4 Billion (50th)
Toxic Waste: 1,536 Tons (3rd)
Carbon Footprint: 6.4 Million Metric Tons (1st)
Alternative Energy: 28.1% (7th)

Vermont has the second smallest population and the lowest GDP in the country. As a result, it produces less pollution than most states. The state releases the fewest carcinogenic toxins and has the smallest carbon footprint in the country. Vermont’s success as a green state isn’t limited to pollution, however: the “Green Mountain State” ranks in the top 15 in 20 out of 28 ranked categories. Vermont has a number of policies to promote efficiency, alternative energy, and reduce pollution, and so far it has succeeded better than any other state.

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While Earth Day was an important time to highlight issues surrounding our environment, pollution impacts our world on every single day of the year.

Last year, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the environmental issues facing each state. In observance of Earth Day, the rankings were updated to reflect the most recent data.

24/7 Wall St. examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies. The most recent information, issued in 2009 and 2010, was used for all states. Thousands of data points were collected to determine the most and least “green” states.

Below are the ten least green states in the 24/7 Wall St. ranking, based on environmental problems and how effectively these problems are addressed.

10. Illinois

Population: 12,910,409 (5th)
GDP: $630.3 Billion (5th)
Toxic Waste: 1.04 Million Tons (43rd)
Carbon Footprint: 242 Million Metric Tons (45th)
Alternative Energy: 1.6% (47th)

Illinois uses the third greatest amount of energy out of all the states. Unfortunately, only 1.6% of this energy comes from renewable sources. This is the fourth worst percentage in the country. The state, with its heavy manufacturing industry, also received the fourth worst toxic exposure score by the EPA. The state does have the seventh highest score for solar energy policy, however.

9. Missouri

Population: 5,987,580 (18th)
GDP: $239.7 Billion (22nd)
Toxic Waste: 238 Thousand Tons (33rd)
Carbon Footprint: 140 Million Metric Tons (36th)
Alternative Energy: 2.5% (38th)

The nature of 24/7’s ranking is such that a state might redeem itself for a shortcoming in one category by exceeding in another. If the state doesn’t produce substantial alternative energy, it may be because its size doesn’t allow for much production, and this would be balanced to a certain extent by low pollution levels. Missouri is a perfect example of a state which falls flat in every statistical category. Out of 28 ranked metrics, the “Show Me State” breaks the upper 25 only five times, with 16th in air particle score being its highest ranking. The state ranks 37th in policy initiatives and 48th in non-hydroelectric alternative energy.

8. Kentucky

Population: 4,314,113 (26th)
GDP: $156.5 Billion (28th)
Toxic Waste: 132 Thousand Tons (29th)
Carbon Footprint: 156 Million Metric Tons (39th)
Alternative Energy: 2.4% (Tied for 39th)

Kentucky performs poorly in most categories on this list. It ranks 43rd for releasing cancer-causing chemicals, 44th for releasing developmental toxins, and 41st for releasing reproductive toxins. The state also ranks 39th for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

7. Texas

Population: 24,782,302 (2nd)
GDP: $1.14 Trillion (2nd)
Toxic Waste: 13.4 Million Tons (50th)
Carbon Footprint: 184 Million Metric Tons (50th)
Alternative Energy: 4.6% (28th)

While Texas does well in some areas, such as producing the greatest amount of wind energy in the country, it performs poorly in several pollution categories. Much of this is due to the high rates of industry in the state. Texas ranks absolute last for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, having produced over 670 million metric tons of CO2 in a single year. The second highest amount is produced by California, however that state produced just under 400 million metric tons, a significantly smaller amount. Among Texas’ other poor rankings are 50th for the EPA’s toxic exposure score, 47th for total toxic chemicals released into waterways, 46th for cancer-causing chemicals released, 45th for developmental toxins released, and 49th for reproductive toxins released. The state also produces the greatest amount of hazardous waste, generating 13,461,911 tons in one year. This is over three times the amount produced by the second worst-offending state, Georgia, which generates 4,024,468 tons.

6. Pennsylvania

Population: 12,604,767 (6th)
GDP: $554.3 Billion (6th)
Toxic Waste: 290 Thousand Tons (36th)
Carbon Footprint: 274 Million Metric Tons (48th)
Alternative Energy: 2.4% (Tied for 39th)

Unlike many of its northeastern neighbors, Pennsylvania ranks very poorly on our list. This, of course, is due in large part to the state’s expansive and polluting industry. The “Keystone State” ranks 48th in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 49th for particulates in the air, and 49th for toxic exposure. The state’s pollution habits are, unfortunately, not very surprising, since it is well-known for its coal, steel, and natural gas industries.

5. New Jersey

Population: 8,707,739 (11th)
GDP: $482.9 Billion (7th)
Toxic Waste: 555 Thousand Tons (39th)
Carbon Footprint: 134 Million Metric Tons (34th)
Alternative Energy: 1.5% (48th)

The only reason most would be surprised about seeing New Jersey here in our ranking is that it isn’t dead last. The Garden State is not known for being green, a reputation that is based in truth. The state ranks 45th in air particle pollution and 46th in ozone pollution. New Jersey actually scores quite well in energy conservation and alternative energy policy, however these policies haven’t translated into results. As a percent of energy generated that is alternative, the state ranks third-to-last.

4. Louisiana

Population: 4,492,076 (25th)
GDP: $208.3 Billion (24th)
Toxic Waste: 3.8 Million Tons (48th)
Carbon Footprint: 194 Million Metric Tons (43rd)
Alternative Energy: 4.1% (30th)

Louisiana is another poor performer. It is 46th in energy-saving policies and programs and has the sixth-smallest alternative energy budget. The state rates horribly in water pollution, falling into the bottom five for releasing carcinogenic toxins, total water pollution, and chemicals which can cause birth defects. Louisiana also produces the third-most toxic waste each year – roughly 3.8 million tons.

3. West Virginia

Population: 1,819,777 (37th)
GDP: $63.3 Billion (39th)
Toxic Waste: 92 Thousand Tons (26th)
Carbon Footprint: 116 Million Metric Tons (32nd)
Alternative Energy: 1.8% (46th)

West Virginia stands out at the bottom of our list as having a surprisingly low level of energy consumption. Thirty-eight states use more energy each year than the “Mountain State,” including Iowa, which is in the top ten on our list. This fact makes West Virginia’s horrible performance much more impressive. Only twice does the state break the top 25 in any category, and it ranks in the bottom ten percent in many categories, including alternative energy, policy, air pollution, water pollution, and carbon footprint. The best thing state residents can lay claim to is generating three-quarters of a million megawatt hours of wind energy annually, the 19th best amount for this category.

2. Indiana

Population: 6,423,113 (16th)
GDP: $262.6 Billion (16th)
Toxic Waste: 778 Thousand Tons (41st)
Carbon Footprint: 230 Million Metric Tons (44th)
Alternative Energy: 0.7% (Tied For Last)

Indiana’s main source of power production is coal. In fact, Indiana is home to the country’s largest coal power plant, the Gibson Generating Station. As a result, the state is tied with Ohio for having the lowest percent usage of renewable energy sources in the United States, with a mere 0.7%. Additionally, the state has some issues with pollution. It releases the greatest amount of toxic chemicals into waterways, releasing over 27 million pounds in one year. The second greatest amount, from Virgina, was significantly less at just over 18 million pounds.

1. Ohio

Population: 11,542,645 (7th)
GDP: $471.2 Billion (8th)
Toxic Waste: 1.3 Million Tons (45th)
Carbon Footprint: 267 Million Metric Tons (47th)
Alternative Energy: 0.7% (Tied for Last)

Ohio ranks fifth in energy consumption, and very little of this demand is met by alternative energy. Only 0.7% of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources, the worst rate in the country. The majority of the state’s energy comes from coal. Along with this tendency comes a long and poor record of pollution. The state ranks 47th for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 46th for toxic exposure, 47th for developmental toxins released, and 47th for reproductive toxins released. Additionally, the state ranks second worst, just behind Florida, for hazardous waste violations since 2000, as reported by the nonprofit group OMB Watch. Ohio may not rank dead last in an extreme number of subcategories, however its overall extremely poor showing causes it to be ranked as the least environmentally friendly state on our list.

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Offshore drilling typically refers to the discovery and development of oil and gas resources which lie underwater. Most commonly, the term is used to describe oil extraction off the coasts of continents, though the term can also apply to drilling in lakes and inland seas. Offshore drilling presents environmental challenges, especially in the Arctic or close to the shore. Controversies include the ongoing US offshore drilling debate. The off shore moratorium in the US (as a result of the BP spill) ended in October 2010. The Obama administration has decided to allow 13 companies to resume deepwater drilling without additional environmental scrutiny. The decision comes after the administration said it would require strict reviews for new drilling in the Gulf. Others, such as the arctic Shell project, are still blocked by related concerns. The Department of the Interior apparently gave those companies the go-ahead because they were in the middle of previously approved projects when the Gulf spill occurred.

Around 1891, the first submerged oil wells were drilled from platforms built on piles in the fresh waters of the Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio. Around 1896, the first submerged oil wells in salt water were drilled in the portion of the Summerland field extending under the Santa Barbara Channel in California. The wells were drilled from piers extending from land out into the channel.

There are risks in off shore drilling. No one can deny that. However, the drilling supplies numerous local jobs and adds to the available natural gas and oil supplies. Until there is no future need due to renewable sources being developed the world will need these products.

Assessing only the impact of halting deep water drilling, an internal July 2010 memo from Michael Bromwich, director of the bureau of Ocean Energy, to Salazar estimated that the six month moratorium impact would result in over 23,000 jobs lost.

The 13 companies allowed to resume drilling are: ATP Oil & Gas; BHP Billiton Petroleum; Chevron USA; Cobalt International Energy; ENI U.S. Operating Co. Inc.; Hess Corp.; Kerr-McGee Oil & Gas Corp.; Marathon Oil Co.; Murphy Exploration & Production-USA; Noble Energy Inc.; Shell Offshore; Statoil USA; and Walter Oil & Gas Corp.

Not all drilling has been resumed. Sometimes there is vehement local opposition even if the drilling permit has been approved. Alaska Native and conservation groups have succeeded in challenging clean air permits granted to Shell Oil to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Numerous groups alleged that Shell’s permits granted by the Environmental Protection Agency would allow the company to emit tons of pollutants into the Arctic environment from a drill ship and support vessels.

The federal Environmental Appeals Board reviewed the permits and last week found that the EPA’s analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions from the ships on Alaska Native communities was too limited and would have to be redone.

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“We have the energy,” declares a road sign that welcomes visitors to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. It is no idle boast: This city of 70,000 lies in the heart of Canada’s oil sands, geologic formations that collectively contain 13 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. During the early 2000s, a massive oil-extraction industry boomed here, rapidly transforming vast stretches of boreal forest into strip mines. But when oil prices tumbled with the global recession, Alberta’s energy industry took a big hit. In mid-2008 the Norwegian company StatoilHydro withdrew its application to build a $4 billion upgrading plant; Royal Dutch Shell decided to shelve a mining construction project that fall. An estimated $90 billion in development contracts were canceled or put on hold, bringing the oil sands industry to a crossroads.

To many environmentalists—and, less predictably, to many energy developers as well—the slowdown in oil sands extraction may prove to be an unexpected blessing. The United States has become deeply reliant on extreme extraction from Canada’s tar sands, which this year are expected to become this country’s top source of imported crude, surpassing our purchases from the vast oil fields of Saudi Arabia. The recession “has given the oil sands industry a chance to step back and breathe,” says David McColl, head of oil sands studies at the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a nonprofit whose membership includes government departments, the University of Calgary, and energy companies. With the slowdown, developers must improve efficiency to stay profitable, making changes that will both help the bottom line and begin to address some of the tough environmental problems associated with tar sands oil.

Worldwide, mostly in Canada and Venezuela, oil sand reserves total a stunning 2 trillion barrels of oil. That is equivalent to 280 years of America’s current consumption, although only around a tenth of that total appears to be recoverable with current technology. Unfortunately, the process of extracting, upgrading, and refining the fuel is dirty and resource-intensive. In Canada, relatively shallow oil sand deposits lie beneath a 1,500-square-mile region just north of Fort McMurray. Developers access the sands by literally scraping away the earth’s surface, along with anything that happens to be living there. The raw material extracted—a thick, black goo calledbitumen—makes up 10 percent of the harvested material by weight. The rest is sand and small amounts of water. Two tons of sand must be processed to yield a single barrel of oil, producing twice as much greenhouse-gas emissions as the processing of conventional crude. (Deeper reserves must be forced to the surface by an injection of pressurized steam, with even greater emissions; about 40 percent of Canadian oil from the sands is produced this way.) Each barrel of bitumen also generates more than 500 gallons of tailings, a liquid by-product laced with traces of bitumen and other pollutants. Operators hold the tailings in giant ponds, many located adjacent to the Athabasca River, which runs through eastern Alberta. Those ponds already cover an estimated 50 square miles, and an analysis of the industry’s seepage records by the Canadian environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense suggests that every day around 3 million gallons of contaminated fluid leaks into the surrounding area.

Even more unnerving are the findings of a recent study by ecologist David Schindler at the University of Alberta. He and his colleagues found that over the course of four months, 11,400 tons of particulate matter—including bitumen and cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic compounds—were deposited within 30 miles of oil sands upgrading facilities belonging to two of Canada’s major oil sands development companies, Suncor and Syncrude. Sampling of the Athabasca River revealed that pollutants appeared in greater concentrations downstream from the facilities and were not detected in comparable sites farther away, the researchers say. “The concentrations there are in the range where deformities and mortalities would be expected in fish,” Schindler says, “and the compounds that we found are known carcinogens in humans.”

Environmental concerns that were brushed aside when oil prices spiked a few years back have gained traction since the economy cooled. In February the Whole Foods grocery chain threw its weight behind a campaign to boycott companies that use fuel generated from the oil sands. And in June Syncrude was found guilty of violating provincial and federal law when 1,600 waterbirds died in one of its tailings ponds near Fort McMurray (the company may appeal the decision). Regulators have also started to assert themselves more forcefully. Last year Canada’s Energy Resources Conservation Board issued new rules requiring at least 20 percent of the fine particles from new tailings to be captured starting in 2011, and 50 percent by 2013. Suncor has since begun developing a new technology that would mix some refining by-products with a polymer, creating a dry solid that can be more easily contained and reducing the amount of liquid that ends up in the toxic ponds.

Such changes will become increasingly important as the world economy recovers. Oil sands development has begun to pick up, with a projected $13 billion in new investment in 2010, a $2 billion increase from 2009. A recent industry report estimates that oil sands production, which currently stands at around 1.5 million barrels a day, could jump 46 percent by 2015. The United States now imports 22 percent of its oil from our northern neighbor, and China has also shown interest in Canada’s sands, taking a $1.7 billion, 60-percent stake in two new projects in northern Alberta. In short, the tar sands—like deep oil—will probably remain an important part of the energy picture for the foreseeable future.

“Oil sands and offshore drilling are both symptoms of the same problem: We’re running out of easy oil,” says Simon Dyer, oil sands director at the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit sustainable energy research organization. But with ingenuity, smart regulation, and better enforcement, government and industry may be able to find a path that meets our needs until clean—or at least cleaner—energy sources can step up to the task.

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When will production of oil and coal peak?  After the peak, production will decline because supplies are being depleted and no new sources are to be found.  Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.  Optimistic estimations of peak production forecast the global decline will begin by 2020 or later, and assume major investments in alternatives will occur before a crisis, without requiring major changes in the lifestyle of heavily oil-consuming nations. These models show the price of oil at first escalating and then retreating as other types of fuel and energy sources are used. Pessimistic predictions of future oil production operate on the thesis that either the peak has already occurred, that oil production is on the cusp of the peak, or that it will occur shortly.  The most recent edition of the respected science journal Nature contemplates the end of cheap coal with an analysis of the decline of global coal supplies by Post Carbon Institute Fellows David Fridley and Richard Heinberg.  The estimates for global peak coal production vary wildly. Many coal associations suggest the peak could occur in 200 years or more, while scholarly estimates predict the peak to occur as early as 2010. Research in 2009 by the University of Newcastle in Australia concluded that global coal production could peak sometime between 2010 and 2048.

Nature is far from alone in sounding the alarm on the potential impact of the coal crisis. The WallStreet Journal also reports that Beijing is considering capping domestic coal output in the 2011-2015 period, partly because officials worry miners are running down reserves too quickly to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy. National Geographic has suggested that the world could face peak coal as soon as 2011.

As of 2005, the top coal-producing countries were China (44% of world production), United States (20%), India (8%), and Australia (7%). Each of these four largest coal-producing countries are experiencing significant increases in coal production. Each nation willhave a different peak production date.

Canada, for example seems to have peaked in 1997. The United Kingdom peaked in 1913!

In 1956, Hubbert estimated that US coal production would peak in about the year 2150. In 2004, Gregson Vaux used the Hubbert model to predict peak US coal production in 2032.

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s largest coal extractor and has the third largest reserves after Russia and the United States. The Energy Watch Group predicts that the Chinese reserves will peak around 2015. The EWG also predicts that the recent steep rise in production will be followed by a steep decline after 2020. The US Energy Information Administration projects that China coal production will continue to rise through 2030.

Unconventional sources, such as heavy crude oil, oil sands, and oil shale are not counted as part of the formal oil reserves. However, with rule changes by the SEC, oil companies can now book them as proven reserves after opening a strip mine or thermal facility for extraction. These unconventional sources are more labor and resource intensive to produce, however, requiring extra energy to refine, resulting in higher production costs and up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel (or barrel equivalent) on a “well to tank” basis or 10 to 45% more on a “well to wheels” basis, which includes the carbon emitted from combustion of the final product.

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London, UK – Each year the International Energy Agency (IEA) releases its World Energy Outlook (WEO), a 700+ page report on the global state of the energy industry. This year’s report indicates that stronger policy support will be necessary to meet global CO2 reduction targets.

In conducting research for the report, the IEA sets out three scenarios under which to explore the possible future of energy in the world.  The first scenario in WEO 2010 looks at what will happen should there be no new policies and essentially the world conducted its energy business as usual.  This is called the Current Policies Scenario and assumes no change in current energy policy as of mid-2010.

The report also examines what would happen should all G20 countries enact policies to support commitments and plans that they have announced publicly, including the national pledges to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions and plans to phase out fossil-energy subsidies even where the measures to implement these commitments have yet to be identified or announced.  This is the New Policies Scenario and is the central scenario of this year’s Outlook. “We have taken governments at their word, in assuming that they will actually implement the policies and measures, albeit in a cautious manner, to ensure that the goals they have set are met” said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka.

Finally, the report authors also set out a scenario they call the 450 Scenario, which sets out an energy pathway consistent with the 2°C goal through limitation of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent (ppm CO2-eq).

New Policies Scenario

If governments around the world actually do what they say they will do, world primary energy demand increases by 36% between 2008 and 2035, or 1.2% per year on average.  This means that the policies they will implement actually make a tangible difference to energy trends: demand grew by 2% per year over the previous 27-year period.

In the New Policies Scenario, non-OECD countries account for 93% of the projected increase in world primary energy demand. China – which IEA preliminary data suggests overtook the United States in 2009 to become the world’s largest energy user despite its low per capita energy use – contributes 36% to the projected growth in global energy use. “It is hard to overstate the growing importance of China in global energy. How the country responds to the threats to global energy security and climate posed by rising fossil-fuel use will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world,” said Tanaka.

In the New Policies Scenario, government intervention in support of renewables increases from $57 billion in 2009 to $205 billion (in 2009 dollars) by 2035. The share of modern renewable energy sources, including sustainable hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, modern biomass and marine energy, in global primary energy use triples between 2008 and 2035 and their combined share in total energy demand increases from 7% to 14%.

The energy trends set out in the New Policies Scenario imply that national commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, while expected to have some impact, are collectively inadequate to meet the Copenhagen Accord’s overall goal of holding the global temperature increase to below 2°C. Rising demand for fossil fuels, mostly from non-OECD nations would continue to drive up energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions through to 2035, making it all but impossible to achieve the 2°C goal, as the required reductions in emissions after 2020 would be too steep, according to the IEA.

The New Policy Scenario trends are in line with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases at over 650 parts per million (ppm) of CO2-equivalent (eq), resulting in a likely temperature rise of more than 3.5°C in the long term.

450 Scenario

In order to have a reasonable chance of achieving the Copenhagen goal, the concentration of greenhouse gases would probably need to be stabilized at a level no higher than 450 ppm CO2-eq. The 450 Scenario describes how the energy sector could evolve were this objective to be achieved.

To get to a level of 450 ppm CO2 there will need to be a more rapid implementation of the removal of fossil-fuel subsidies agreed by the G-20 than assumed in the New Policies Scenario. This action would bring about a much faster transformation of the global energy system and a correspondingly faster slowdown in global CO2 emissions, according to the IEA.

For example, in this aggressive scenario oil demand would peak just before 2020 at 88 million barrels per day (mb/d), only 4 mb/d above current levels, and declines to 81 mb/d in 2035. Coal demand would peak before 2020. Demand for gas would also reache a peak before the end of the 2020s. Renewables and nuclear would double their current combined share to 38% in 2035.

However the IEA recognizes that this ambitious goal will most likely never be met. “A lack of ambition in the Copenhagen Accord pledges has increased our estimated cost of reaching the 2°C goal by $1 trillion and undoubtedly made it less likely that the goal will actually be achieved,” said the report authors.

“The message here is clear. We must act now to ensure that climate commitments are interpreted in the strongest way possible and that much stronger commitments are adopted and taken up after 2020, if not before. Otherwise, the 2°C goal could be out of reach for good,” said Tanaka.

In analysis that builds on the IEA’s ongoing work for the G-20, WEO-2010 reveals that fossil-fuel subsidies amounted to $312 billion in 2009 and that money would be better spent on climate change mitigation strategies said IEA. “Getting the prices right, by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, is the single most effective measure to cut energy demand in countries where they persist, while bringing other immediate economic benefits,” said Tanaka.

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Despite disturbing claims about the impact of uranium, ten-thousand proposals for exploration in the Grand Canyon area have been submitted. A key fuel for nuclear power, the US must now decide between full scale uranium mining, partial mining or a twenty year moratorium. Leana Hosia investigates.

Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon it’s easy to see why it’s is called the crown jewels of the United States and a wonder of the world. Millions visit each year, generating some $600 million in tourism revenue. But a new wealth has been discovered here: America’s largest concentrations of high grade uranium – the fuel for nuclear power. In his energy policy President Barak Obama said ‘it is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option.’

Last year ten-thousand claims for exploration in the Grand Canyon area were submitted and the government decides next year between full scale mining, partial mining or a twenty year moratorium.

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Uranium in the Grand Canyon: USGS Report Examines Impacts of Mining

The dramatic potential for a meltdown and the dilemma posed by spent fuel tend to dominate discussions of nuclear power’s drawbacks, making it easy to forget the front end of that equation: uranium mining.

The United States imports the bulk of its nuclear fuel, but there are large deposits of uranium, mostly in the western part of the country, that could be mined. A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey looks at one such parcel of land in the Grand Canyon watershed area. It suggests that previous mining activity in the region has not resulted in serious contamination of soil or groundwater, but environmental groups and others are still trying to halt what they fear could become a huge upsurge in uranium mining activity.

The study focused on an area covering about 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon — including land within a few miles of the Colorado River — where the Department of the Interior enacted a land segregation order in July 2009. That order started a two-year period during which the DOI will assess the impacts of extracting the resource and will eventually decide whether or not to “withdraw” the land from consideration for mining under the Mining Law of 1872; that withdrawal would last 20 years.

Roger Clark, the air and energy program director at the environmental group Grand Canyon Trust, said that commercial interest in uranium mining swung in the last decade when the price of the fuel shot from around $5 per pound to over $100 until settling recently to just below $50.

“With that upsurge in price of milled uranium, the demand has gone up, and the number of claims around the Grand Canyon has surged,” he said. “More than 10,000 new claims were filed in the last five years.”

Uranium mining in the geologic formations known as breccia pipes that abound in the area around the Grand Canyon did occur during the 1980s but diminished as the prices dropped. Now, in spite of the thousands of new claims, only one mine in the area is currently operating. Clark said Grand Canyon Trust has filed a lawsuit attempting to block it because of a lack of a thorough environmental impact assessment, but for the moment, the mining is ongoing.

Huge Uranium Deposits

The USGS report found that within the almost 1 million acres of segregated land there is an estimated 163,000 tons of uranium oxide, from which yellowcake or enriched uranium can be extracted. This represents about 12 percent of the total amount in the northern Arizona area.

It’s difficult to estimate how much of the total uranium in the country that would be, “because for the last 30 years, there has been no federal assessment of minable uranium,” said James Otton, one of the study’s authors and the project chief with the USGS for the Uranium Resources and the Environment project.

The Energy Information Administration, part of the Department of Energy, estimated in 2003 that the total uranium oxide reserves that could be mined — outside of restricted areas — at a price of $50 per pound is 445,000 tons (or 890 million pounds), but Otton said they will most likely update that quantity in the near future. The Obama administration and members of Congress have started pushing for a nuclear power revival after years of little new nuclear activity.

The 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States use between 25,000 and 27,500 tons of uranium oxide per year, Otton said. Previous federal protections have already cut off about 460,000 tons of uranium oxide from mining in the Grand Canyon region.

Even if the DOI does extend the moratorium out to 20 years on the 1 million acres up for discussion, some mining might still occur within that area. Claims that have already been filed and that are determined by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to have “valid and existing rights” to mine the uranium will be allowed to move forward.

Otton said he expects the one currently operating mine, the Arizona No. 1 mine run by Denison Mines, to receive such an exemption, but it is unclear how many of those 10,000 or more relatively recent claims would eventually result in mining.

“We don’t know what percentage of the resource may eventually prove to be minable simply because of valid existing rights,” Otton said.

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Vernon Asper clicks a button in a darkened room. Up comes a slide showing three transparent cylinders, each containing soil from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. We are sitting around a polished conference table — six state legislators, a local BP official, and myself — at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Kiln, Mississippi, just over the state line from Louisiana. Asper, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi, is unveiling some of the latest research into the question: What happened to the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster?

To hear some tell it, the pollution is gone. Two weeks ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune quoted federal officials saying there was little recoverable oil left in the Gulf of Mexico, either on the surface, in the water column, or in the sediment at the bottom. Asper, who works out of the NASA facility, agrees that bacteria are doing their job and consuming much of the crude released by the spill.

“Oil, in proper doses, is actually a nutrient in the Gulf of Mexico,” he tells us. “It feeds the ecosystem.”

The sea floor is a different story.

Asper specializes in particle dynamics in the ocean. Observations of the Gulf after the spill showed that some oil was sinking, so he and his colleagues wanted to find out whether it was reaching the sea floor. They used BP funds to buy a “multicorer,” which Asper called “the ultimate device” for obtaining underwater soil samples. “You get the best samples you can imagine,” Asper says.

The samples we’re viewing were taken by Asper’s colleague Samantha “Mandy” Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia. In the first cylinder, taken 140 nautical miles from the Macondo well (the site of the blowout), the soil looks uniform in color. “What you see is mud,” Asper says. The second sample, removed from an intermediate location near Gulfport, Mississippi, has a thin dark layer that tested positive for oil. But it’s the third, taken just 16 nautical miles from the site, that looks most dramatically striped. At the bottom is old mud. In the middle is “presumably” a layer of oil. And on top sits a two-inch-thick layer of what Asper calls “slime snot” made up (again, presumably) of oil and the bacteria feeding on it.

“Anywhere you go within about 50 miles of the well, you find this,” Asper tells us. “We’re getting this analyzed to see exactly what kind of products are in there. Until we know that, we can’t absolutely say that it’s oil. But it sure looks like oil, it smells like oil, and it is not found great distances from the well site.”

It also appears to be unique. Asper shows another slide, this one from a natural seep in the Gulf of Mexico’s Green Canyon. The “flocculent, gooey, whatever-it-is” so visible in the Macondo sample is not present in the Green Canyon one. This two-inch layer, he says, “is something we have not seen before.

“The question is: Where did the oil go? At least some of it went down here. Was it a lot? We don’t know yet.” The analyses of Joye’s samples should be back “any minute,” he says, and the University of Southern Mississippi has collected additional underwater soil of its own. But the tests cost $1,000 per sample, and there are issues with funding and laboratory backlogs.

What do these preliminary findings mean for underwater life? “Let’s suppose you’re a worm down here, and you make a living sticking your head up through the mud and feeding,” Asper says. “Now you’ve got two inches of goo on top of you. You’re going to have a real hard time surviving. And not only that: the worms help to oxygenate this sediment. With this stuff, whatever it is, on top, it’s going to be really hard to get oxygen into the sediments. So this could be potentially a large area of very serious impact.”

That worm’s fate could have ripple effects up the food chain, too, starving “the deep-diving things that feed on deep organisms. Sperm whales dive really, really deep, and they’re eating squid and whatnot. All kinds of fish dive way down there and graze. Any time you affect part of the ecosystem, it’s definitely going to have an effect throughout the ecosystem.”

It will still take time, though, to find out exactly what that effect might be. Asper’s willing to devote the next part of his professional life to studying “slime snot” — he just needs the funding. “In my opinion,” Asper says, “this is what we desperately need to be studying: finding out how that got there, what’s going to become of it, and what impact there is.”

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Continuing strikes at France’s oil refineries have affected fuel supplies at the start of half-term holidays after the French Senate approved a controversial bill to reform the country’s pension system.

REUTERS The French government struggled to restore fuel supplies on Saturday, but unions dug in their heels at strike-hit oil refineries after the Senate approved the pension reform bill at the heart of the dispute.

Despite weeks of protests and strikes that have hit railways and refineries hardest, the flagship reform of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s term is expected to be finally adopted by Wednesday.

On the first day of a 12-day mid-term school holiday, Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau assured motorists highway service stations were well stocked but acknowledged shortages elsewhere and urged motorists not to overdo tank refills.

“More and more stations will be getting supplies,” he said on Europe 1 radio.

The state railway company SNCF, where rolling strikes have reduced services by as much as 50 percent, announced improved frequency on high-speed links – eight in 10 trains running – for the holiday rush but said many other services would be between 50 and 60 percent of normal levels.

Sarkozy and his centre-right government have refused to back down on a bill seeking to plug a hole in pension funding by raising the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and raising the age at which people qualify for a full pension to 67 from 65.

The bill was rushed past a first hurdle in the National Assembly last month and cleared a second on Friday when the government used a special procedure to speed the vote in the Senate.

Final adoption is due next week, when the bill will be put to a panel representing both houses of parliament before a final vote the government expects by Wednesday.

The law has been one of the most fiercely contested reforms among austerity measures being taken by European governments as the continent emerges deeply indebted from the worst recession since World War Two.

More protests

Unions have signalled their determination to keep fighting the bill despite the fact it now looks certain to make it on to the statute book. All France’s main unions have called for two more days of protests on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6.

Strikes continued at France’s 12 oil refineries, a spokesman for the CGT trade union said, and also at the Fos-Lavera oil terminal near the Mediterranean port of Marseille, leaving some 50 tankers unable to dock.

At the refineries, the unions scored a legal victory late on Friday when a court struck down a back-to-work order at the Grandpuits refinery east of Paris issued by the prefect, on the grounds that it did not respect the right to strike.

Police charged picket lines on Friday to end a blockade at Grandpuits.

North of Paris, the Picardie region’s soccer league cancelled its weekend matches.

“Because of fuel supply and distribution problems, the Picardie football league has decided to postpone all official regional matches scheduled this weekend,” the Picardie league said in a statement on its website.

Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Friday about one in five petrol stations was short of or out of fuel, down from nearer 30 percent earlier in the week, but transport minister Bussereau conceded on Saturday that the number of empty fuel stations was 35 percent in parts of eastern and western France.

Unions said street marches this week, the sixth day of protests and strikes since June, attracted about 3.5 million people, while the government put the number at just over one million.

Political analysts say the government may be hoping that the school holiday will reduce student participation in the upcoming protests and, with that, reduce the risk of a repetition of the sporadic violence this week in the city of Lyon and Nanterre, west of Paris.

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