The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy?

by Emil Morhardt

Barack Obama has been busy during his last days in office writing well-documented policy articles for major publications. Barely a week before turning over the Presidential reigns to Donald Trump he has commented in some detail in Science about how, in his view, the clean energy horse has left the barn and is unlikely to be stopped even by it’s most fervent detractors (Obama, 2017). He cites four reasons for believing this. The first is that as the US economy has grown, emissions have fallen; since 2008, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of GDP has fallen by 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy has fallen by 8%, and the CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP has fallen by 18%. Furthermore, worldwide the amount of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2016 were essentially the same as 2014, despite economic growth. He also points out that carbon pollution is increasingly expensive. Given the rhetoric of the incoming administration, though, this reasoning alone doesn’t appear to assure continuing in the same direction. Continue reading

Atmospheric Methane Levels are Increasing, but Why?


by Emil Morhardt

Methane (CH4) is a much stronger—30 times as strong—greenhouse gas than CO2 in the short term, but has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime, being oxidized to CO2 by another atmospheric chemical entity, the hydroxyl radical (OH-). But either the production of CH4 has been increasing, or that of OH- decreasing, because since 2007 atmospheric levels of CH4 have increased by 3% after years of being flat. Why?

Is it the large amounts of CH4 now known to have been released by fracking? This has seemed a likely candidate, but Paul Voosen (2016) writing about a session in the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco in December, indicates that the data are not compelling. Continue reading

Department of Interior Proposal to Reduce Methane Emissions

by Judy Li

On January 22, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell announced proposals for a new rule to reduce natural gas emissions and waste from oil and gas drilling on public and Native American lands. Companies have to adopt currently available methods to limit the venting, flaring and leaking of natural gas during production. According to the Interior Department, the natural gas lost from public lands between 2009 and 2014 could power more than 500 million homes for a year. In calling for changes, Secretary Jewell emphasized the need to reduce waste of natural gas supplies, reduce harmful methane emissions and provide taxpayers a fair return from public resources (via royalties). Current regulations are 30 years old; meanwhile, the oil and gas industries have grown, and technology advances have allowed for more efficient production. Furthermore, the Obama Administration is set on fighting climate change and has a goal of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas by 40 – 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. Continue reading

Will Increased Natural Gas Usage Decrease the Effects of Climate Change?


by Alex Frumkin

The improvement of hydraulic fracturing technologies in the last decade has allowed access to previously uneconomic shale gas resources across North America. Natural gas production is often touted as a way to cut carbon emissions to slow down climate change because gas-fired power plans emit roughly half as much CO2 per unit of energy produced as coal-fired plants. There are some assessments that have been completed, though, that argue that natural gas lifecycle emissions are actually higher than those of coal because of emissions from shale gas production. In line with this latter idea, Mcjeon et al. (2014), show that market-driven increases in unconventional natural gas production does not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or climate forcing. Continue reading

Is there a relationship between proximity to natural gas wells and health?

by Alex Frumkin

There has been little research about the public health impacts of living near unconventional natural gas extraction activities. Rabinowitz et al. a (2015) aimed to assess a possible relationship by generating a health symptom survey of 492 people in households with ground-fed wells in an area of active natural gas drilling. The survey looked at the household’s proximity to gas wells and then the prevalence and frequency of reported dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms. The study found that individuals who lived within 1 km of a gas well were twice as likely to experience upper respiratory systems than individuals in households more than 1 km away. No relationship found between well proximity and any of the other possible health conditions that this survey covered. Continue reading