GSS Blog 2014–2019‎ > ‎Energy Use‎ > ‎

03. Fossil Fuels


Non-chronological links:

How can the CO2 released weigh almost 3x more than the gasoline I burned? (from Blog: Climate Change 101)

Price of oil--Watch it go up:

Clean Coal Technology Program -

Prospecting from Orbit -- With help from the ASTER instrument aboard the NASA's Terra satellite, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have embarked on an ambitious effort to create a worldwide map of well-exposed metal ore deposits.

Articles from 2015–present

See also articles from
2008–2014 |~| 2001–2007

2021-07-01. [] - Capping methane-spewing oil wells, one hole at a time. Source: By Nick Ehli, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Across the United States, abandoned wells are belching the powerful greenhouse gas. This group aims to plug them to fight global warming...

2021-06-01. [] - THE SURPRISING ROOT OF THE MASSACHUSETTS FIGHT AGAINST NATURAL GAS. ...go to pages 26–33. Source: By Jessica Duncombe, Eos. Excerpt: Today Massachusetts has form the the most progressive laws in the country regulating gas leaks. They're largely thanks to a powerful coalition of organizations and researchers called Gas Leaks Allies taking the state’s energy system to task. The movement to plug leaks has gained steam over the past 2 decades and evolved into a campaign to quit natural gas altogether. Although the campaign has broad ambitions, the movement started with protecting community trees. The fight in Boston over the future of natural gas is also playing out across the country. Municipalities like San Francisco have banned gas in new buildings, and President Joe Biden singled out gas leaks in an executive order on combating climate change.The United States and other countries have just decades to drastically slash emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, according to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The United States is the second-largest producer of methane emissions in the world, behind Russia. These emissions primarily come from leaking oil and from gas production and distribution. To get off gas, whole cities must be redone from the inside out....  

2021-06-08. [] - 'Cool' roofs, cooler designs as the building industry embraces energy sustainability. Source: By Ben Ikenson, The Washington Post Excerpt: ...American Institute of Architects in its top-10 list of sustainable projects, reflect the expansive reach of “low-energy” design strategies and the building industry’s embrace of sustainability as a de facto imperative. They’re part of a remarkable evolution, one that could prove crucial since the building sector globally accounts for at least 40 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide — far more than transportation sources. Some advocates think the U.S. sector can achieve net-zero emissions within 20 years, a decade ahead of President Biden’s net-zero goal for the country. The administration’s initiative includes new codes and efficiency standards for homes, appliances and commercial buildings — and a clean electric grid. Dozens of cities and states are moving forward with their own measures.... 

2021-03-26. Drillers Burned Off Gas at a Staggering Rate as Winter Storm Hit Texas. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: As Texas was crippled last month by frigid temperatures that killed more than 100 people and triggered widespread blackouts, drilling companies in the state’s largest oil field were forced to burn off an extraordinary amount of natural gas — on the worst day, an amount that could have powered tens of thousands of homes for at least a year. The need to intentionally burn off, or flare, an estimated 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas in a single day — a fivefold increase from rates seen before the crisis, according to satellite analysis — came as the state’s power plants went offline and pipelines froze, so the wells simply had no place to send the natural gas still streaming out of the ground. As a result, the gas had to be set ablaze, fueling towering flames, the highest of which can reach hundreds of feet into the air. ... in recent years, researchers and environmental groups have raised growing concerns over the climate-change consequences of turning to natural gas. Flaring is one reason. Burning off unused gas instead of capturing it not only wastes a valuable energy source, it emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is the main contributor to climate change. ...But flaring is also damaging because the burning is sometimes incomplete, so it can also release uncombusted gases into the atmosphere, chiefly methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the shorter term.... []

2020-11-11. How One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market. All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people. On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.... []. 

2020-10-30. These Zombies Threaten the Whole Planet. By Alec Jacobson, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...Canada has committed to reducing its planet-warming carbon emissions and has singled out the oil and gas industry as the source of almost half of the country’s annual emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that can have 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Alberta, the heart of Canadian hydrocarbon extraction, has set a goal of a 45 percent drop in the industry’s methane footprint from active infrastructure by 2025. But the inactive wells — the ones no longer producing oil or natural gas but many still lingering in suspension like zombies — may be as big a threat to the planet. After decades of booms and busts, an enormous backlog of these inactive wells has built up, and it grows about 6 percent each year. There are now 97,920 wells... that are licensed as temporarily suspended, compared to the province’s 160,000 active wells. The inactive wells are unlikely to be switched on ever again but have not yet been decommissioned. No one knows how many are leaking methane and other pollutants.... [

2020-10-14. The number of global methane hot spots has soared this year despite the economic slowdown. By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post. Excerpt: The worldwide number of methane hot spots has soared 32 percent so far this year despite the economic slowdown, according to satellite imagery analyzed by a private data firm. ...Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.... []  

2020-10-07. Venezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era. By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, The New York Times. Excerpt: CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns. Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen. Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse. The decline has diminished beyond recognition a country that just a decade ago rivaled the United States for regional influence. It is also unraveling a national culture defined by oil, a source of cash that once seemed endless; it financed monumental public works and pervasive graft, generous scholarships and flashy shopping trips to Miami.... [

2020-07-16. Southern Iraq’s Toxic Twilight. By Alissa J. Rubin and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times. Excerpt: Iraq is the rare country that imports gas but also burns natural gas from oil wells into the air. The wasted gas is enough to power three million homes. Burning it is making people sick. ...The chemicals in the air — in Nahran Omar and other oil towns across southern Iraq — come from the smoky orange flames atop the oil wells, burning away the natural gas that bubbles up with the oil. Many countries have reduced the practice, known as flaring, in part because it wastes a precious resource. ...flaring also produces chemicals that can pollute the air, land and water. It has been shown to worsen asthma and hypertension, contribute to the incidence of some cancers and speed climate change. Iraq, however, still flares more than half the natural gas produced by its oil fields, more than any other country except Russia. ...After years of delays, Iraq opened a large recapture plant in Basra in 2018 at a cost of an estimated $1.5 billion, according to oil industry experts. But the plant is only a first step: it recovers a little more than half of the gas from three large oil fields. There are 15 oil fields in Basra Province alone. The Oil Ministry announced plans last month  to develop plants that would recover most of the gas that is now flared in southern Iraq. Mr. Ghadban said the projects would be operational in two to three years.... [

2020-07-14. Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday. And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects. The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals [], underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning. ...Methane, a colorless, odorless gas a powerful greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat, warming the earth 86 times as much as the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.... [

2020-07-12. Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: The day the debt-ridden Texas oil producer MDC Energy filed for bankruptcy eight months ago, a tank at one of its wells was furiously leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. As of last week, dangerous, invisible gases were still spewing into the air. By one estimate, the company would need more than $40 million to clean up its wells if they were permanently closed. But the debts of MDC’s parent company now exceed the value of its assets by more than $180 million. In the months before its bankruptcy filing, though, the company managed to pay its chief executive $8.5 million in consulting fees, .... Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up. Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.... [

2020-05-01. The Business of Burps: Scientists Smell Profit in Cow Emissions. By Adam Satariano, The New York Times. Excerpt: Cattle produce more methane than many large countries. A solution could be an ecological and financial breakthrough — and a Swiss biotech company may be on the cusp. the last five years, a collection of companies and scientists has been getting closer to what would be an ecological and financial breakthrough: an edible product that would change cows’ digestive chemistry and reduce their emission of methane. Several companies are pursuing a seaweed-based compound, and a Dutch firm, DSM, is testing a chemical supplement with promising results. Mootral is one of the furthest along. By mixing compounds from garlic, citrus and other additives into a pellet that’s mixed with a cow’s regular diet, the start-up has surprised scientists by significantly and consistently cutting the toxic output of animals.... [] 

2020-02-20. Humans are a bigger source of climate-altering methane, new studies suggest. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: When it comes to forecasting global warming, methane is an unpredictable, menacing figure. The greenhouse gas is 28 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. And as the planet warms, scientists fear vast stores of the gas will be released from Arctic permafrost and the deep ocean, warming the planet even further. Evidence from two new studies offers hope: First, a swift release of massive quantities of ancient methane is unlikely. Second, humans seem to be a bigger source of modern methane emissions than previously thought—meaning people have more control over how much winds up in the atmosphere. “It’s generally encouraging news,” says Michael Dyonisius, a geochemist and graduate student at the University of Rochester (U of R) who led the study of ancient methane. ...The methane molecules in older fossil fuel sources contain almost no carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon created by cosmic ray bombardment. reveal that levels of carbon-14–depleted methane were much lower in the 1870s. That means modern geologic sources of methane are much smaller than previously estimated, and that the big jump came from humans, they report this week in Nature [].... [] See also: New York Times article - Oil and Gas May Be a Far Bigger Climate Threat Than We Knew [ GSS Energy Use chapter 3.

2020-02-12. Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel. 
By Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times. Excerpt: Some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta, home to one of the world’s most extensive, and also dirtiest, oil reserves. In December, the insurance giant The Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding Alberta’s bonds. And on Wednesday BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands. They are among the latest banks, pension funds and global investment houses  to start pulling away from fossil-fuel investments amid growing pressure to show they are doing something to fight climate change.... [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Climate Change chapter 10.

2020-01-27. Wooden Buildings Could House the Carbon of the 21st Century.
By Jonathan Wosen, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: To keep carbon out of the atmosphere, researchers argue that we need to return to one of the world’s oldest building materials: wood. ...Steel and concrete remain go-to materials for constructing new homes and commercial buildings. But although these materials are sturdy and durable, their manufacture and transport spew carbon into the atmosphere. ....microbes mastered carbon capture—photosynthesis—more than 3 billion years ago, with the first woody plants developing more than 300 million years ago. Churkina worked with a team of architects and scientists to calculate the benefits of using wood to build urban mid-rise buildings from 2020 to 2050. The team forecast four different scenarios. In the first, dubbed “business as usual,” 99.5% of new buildings would be built with steel and concrete. In the other three scenarios, 10%, 50%, or 90% of new buildings would be made from wood. The researchers estimate that the 90% scenario would keep up to 20 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere over the next 30 years.... [

2019-11-08. Keystone Pipeline Spills 9,120 Barrels of Oil in Dakota Wetlands. By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU.

2019-08-16. Sinking Wastewater Triggers Deeper, Stronger Earthquakes. By Mary Caperton Morton, Eos/AGU. 

2019-07-19. Major U.S. cities are leaking methane at twice the rate previously believed. By Sid Perkins, Science Magazine.

2019-05-16. The Global Helium Shortage Is Real, but Don’t Blame Party Balloons. By Heather Murphy, The New York Times.

2019-05-14. In Pennsylvania, Methane Emissions Higher Than EPA Estimates. By Aaron Sidder, Eos/AGU.

2019-03-26. They Grew Up Around Fossil Fuels. Now, Their Jobs Are in Renewables. By John Schwartz (photos by Brandon Thibodeaux, The New York Times.

2019-03-22. Judge Blocks Oil and Gas Leases on Public Land, Citing Climate Change. By Jenessa Duncombe, Eos/AGU. 

2019-01-29. China’s Coal Plants Haven’t Cut Methane Emissions as Required, Study Finds. By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times.

2018-12-12. Power from peat—more polluting than coal—is on its way out in Ireland.By Emily Toner, Science Magazine.

2018-06-21. Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine.

2017-11-16. Keystone Pipeline Leaks 210,000 Gallons of Oil in South Dakota. By Mitch Smith and Julie Bosman, The New York Times.

2017-10-29. How a 672,000-Gallon Oil Spill Was Nearly Invisible. By Christina Caron, The New York Times.

2017-06-08. Digging the Graveyard of Oil’s Past. By Stanley Reed, The New York Times.

2017-05-10. Where and How Can We Find New Sources of Oil and Gas? By Said Gaci and Olga Hachayon, Earth & Space Science News (EoS; AGU).

2016-11-21. Largest Ever U.S. Shale Oil Deposit Identified in Texas. By Aaron Sidder, Earth & Space News (EoS), AGU.

2016-11-18. Fracking can prime faults for subsequent quakes. By Ian Randall, Science.

2016-09-03. Seismic Hazard in the Midwest. Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

2016-03-31. The Invisible Catastrophe. By Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times.

2016-02-25. California gas leak doubled methane emissions in L.A. basin. By Robert Service, Science.

2015-08-06. King Coal, Long Besieged, Is Deposed by the Market. By James B. Stewart, New York Times.

2015-04-23. Oil and gas operations could trigger large earthquakes., By Eric Hand, Science (AAAS).

2015-01-08. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. By Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, Nature.