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Fire in the hole: After fracking comes coal

Fred Pearce, The New Scientist
IF YOU thought shale gas was a nightmare, you ain’t seen nothing yet. A subterranean world of previously ignored reserves is about to be opened up. These are the vast coal deposits that have proved unreachable by conventional mining, along with gas deposits around them. To the horror of anyone concerned about climate change, modern miners want to set fire to these deep coal seams and capture the gases this creates for industry and power generation. Some say this will provide energy security for generations to come. Others warn that it is a whole new way to fry the planet.

A primitive version of the technology behind this Dantean inferno of underground coal gasification (UCG) has already been running for 50 years in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Some 300 metres beneath the plains east of Tashkent, Stalin’s engineers and their successors have been burning a seam of brown coal that can’t be mined conventionally. There are two well heads on the surface: one pumps air down to fan the flames while the other retrieves a million cubic metres of combustion gases a day. Scrubbed of coal dust, cooled and compressed on site, the gases are then sent down a pipeline that snakes across the countryside to a sprawling power station on the outskirts of the industrial town of Angren, where they are burned to generate electricity.

A deadbeat town in a forgotten rust-belt backwater of the former Soviet Union is an unlikely test bed for a cutting-edge technology. But if it can be scaled up successfully, the Australian engineers who bought the operation seven years ago think it could transform the world’s energy markets, open up trillions of tonnes of unmineable coal and provide a new carbon-based energy source that could last a thousand years.

With trials of UCG under way globally from China to Queensland, and South Africa to Canada, the stakes are high. Not least for the atmosphere. Without a way to capture all the carbon and store it out of harm’s way, it could raise the world’s temperature by 10 degrees or more. Is this burning desire for fossil fuel pushing us towards disaster?…
(13 February 2014)

Triple Divide Interview: Mark Ruffalo Fracking Documentary

Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog

Triple Divide: Interview with Mark Ruffalo on Fracking Documentary (via Desmogblog)

Tue, 2014-02-25 17:00Julie Dermansky "Triple Divide" is a timely cautionary documentary about the fracking industry in Pennsylvania. Clean water is the star of this film. The toxic impact of the fracking industry is the villain. The film is a PublicHerald…

(25 February 2014)

Colorado First State to Clamp Down on Fracking Methane Pollution

Jennifer Oldham, Bloomberg
Colorado regulators approved groundbreaking controls on emissions from oil and natural gas operations after an unusual coalition of energy companies and environmentalists agreed on measures to counter worsening smog.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) and Encana Corp. (ECA), among the state’s largest oil and gas producers, worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to craft regulations approved yesterday by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission that would fix persistent leaks from tanks and pipes…
(24 February 2014)

Are we underestimating natural gas emissions?

Robin Webster, Carbon Brief
A new study threatens the conventional wisdom that natural gas emits half the greenhouse gases that coal does. The research, published in Science today, may have implications for plans to use shale gas as a major energy source in the future…

Natural gas releases about half the carbon emissions that coal does when burnt, so it’s generally viewed as a much less carbon-intensive fuel.

But when leakage is taken into account, the picture could change. Natural gas is mainly methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When it escapes into the atmosphere, it adds to the warming effect of climate change.

Today’s paper reviews more than 200 studies, assessing leakage over the whole lifecycle of extracting, producing, processing and transporting natural gas from a variety of different facilities across the USA…

All this has implications for an academic debate about what burning shale gas means for the climate. In 2011, a study from Cornell University highlighted the effect of methane releases during the extraction and transportation of shale gas.

The Cornell paper concluded that the effect was so extreme that shale gas’s greenhouse gas footprint could be "even worse than coal’s".

Interestingly, today’s study, authored by researchers from Stanford university, produces very similar numbers to the Cornell paper – but comes to the opposite conclusion.
(13 February 2014)

China’s Plan to Clean Up Air in Cities Will Doom the Climate, Scientists Say

William J. Kelly, InsideClimate News
China is erecting huge industrial complexes in remote areas to convert coal to synthetic fuel that could make the air in its megacities cleaner. But the complexes use so much energy that the carbon footprint of the fuel is almost double that of conventional coal and oil, spelling disaster for earth’s climate, a growing chorus of scientists is warning.

Efforts by China to develop so-called "coal bases" in its far-flung regions have received scant attention beyond the trade press, but scientists watching the effort say it could cause climate damage that eclipses worldwide climate protection efforts….

(13 February 2014)

The CEO of Exxon loves fracking, as long as it doesn’t spoil his view

Tim Fernholz, Quartz
Call it the ultimate NIMBY move: Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has joined a lawsuit to prevent a fifteen-story water tower from being built near his 83-acre Texas horse ranch, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The tower is being built by a state utility to meet the growing demand for water in the area. A key cause of that demand? Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique used by oil companies to extract hard-to-get reserves by breaking up underground shale formations with high pressure blasts of water, sand and chemicals. Exxon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, is also one of the biggest users of the technique…
(21 February 2014)

This artist creates fracking scenes with vintage figurines and postcards

Staff, Grist
New York state-based photographer Brandi Merolla was trying to figure out her next project when she looked around her house. Victorian prints, tiny charms, paintings, vintage postcards, and figurines she collected throughout the years suddenly stood out in ways they hadn’t before. So she used her collection to illustrate something else close to home: fracking. In “Scenes from the Attic,” Merolla tackles a big controversy with tiny art.

View postcards
(22 February 2014)