Tar Sands Pipeline Gets Green Light in Environmental Review
01 Sep 2011
Hundreds of protesters—including famed climate researcher James Hansen—have been arrested in protests in front of the White House over the past two weeks, in an attempt to stop the construction of a pipeline from Canada to Texas to carry diluted tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries, mainly over concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and risks of tainting a nearby water aquifer.
The U.S. State Department has been weighing whether to approve the pipeline, and under what conditions. In a major step last week, the State Department published its final environmental review, which said the pipeline would have “no significant impact to most resources” along its path, assuming “normal operation.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said energy security concerns could help the pipeline win approval on the grounds that importing oil from Canada is preferable to imports from the Middle East—an argument echoed in a Washington Post editorial by veteran business reporter Robert Samuelson.
Shale Gas Shakedown
The Marcellus shale deposits—so far, the biggest site for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking— may contain far less gas than recently projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), according to a new assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Although the new estimate is higher than the U.S. Geological Survey’s own 2002 estimate, it is much lower than an estimate EIA published earlier this year. In response, the EIA said it will downgrade their next estimate—perhaps by as much as 80 percent. But the Washington Post reports there may be more to these numbers.
In light of allegations that petroleum companies have overstated how much gas they could get out of shale deposits, the New York State Attorney’s Office is investigating whether companies “overbooked” reserves. Earlier this summer, federal lawmakers called on the Securities and Exchange Commission, the EIA and the Government Accountability Office to investigate industry estimates.
Rise and Fall of Solar, Wind
China achieved a meteoric rise in wind power over the past five years, and last year pulled ahead of the U.S. to become the country with the largest installed capacity of wind turbines.
At the same time, the growth of China’s wind industry is slowing down due to over capacity and withdrawal of subsidies, among other causes. And some of China’s largest wind turbine manufacturers reported falling profits due to fierce competition, as has been seen in the solar panel industry.
Solar manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe have been struggling to compete with panels from Asia, China especially. Two weeks ago, Evergreen declared bankruptcy, followed by Solyndra this week. Both companies had been touted by the Obama administration and local officials as models for the green economy. New York-based SpectraWatt, a solar spin-out from computer chip manufacturer Intel,also filed for bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, China is pushing ahead with plans to greatly expand their installations of solar power, doubling their targeted installations over the next decade. By 2015, they aim to have 3 gigawatts installed—10 times as much as they had last year—and by 2020, 50 gigawatts.
Despite such difficulties in the market, the United States’ net exports of solar power products more than doubled in 2010 compared with the year before, reaching $1.8 billion. Total U.S. exports of solar products rose 83 percent, to $5.6 billion, in part because Asia is importing equipment for manufacturing solar panels.
Burying the Problem
The first industrial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in the U.S. broke ground in Illinois, with the aim of capturing emissions from a large corn ethanol plant. Work on the plant began just after a U.S. utility canceled its plan for CCS on a West Virginia coal plant.
In Canada, a CCS plant for capturing emissions from tar sands processing may move ahead after Canada’s government recently agreed to underwrite two-thirds of the $1.35-billion project’s cost.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. Written by Mason Inman, it is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.