A U.S. oil-producing region is leaking twice as much methane as once thought

A U.S. oil-producing region is leaking twice as much methane as once thought

SOURCE: Science News DATE: April 22, 2020 SNIP: Satellite data show that more than twice as much methane is leaking from a vast U.S. oil- and natural gas-producing region than previously estimated. From May 2018 to March 2019, a European Space Agency satellite measured an average of 2.7 teragrams of methane emitted each year from the Permian Basin, which spans more than 160,000 square kilometers in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Previously, ground-based estimates of the methane leaked from the region’s oil and gas activities were about 1.2 teragrams per year. The new estimate represents 3.7 percent of the total volume of natural gas being extracted from the Permian Basin, say Yuzhong Zhang, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, and colleagues. Such a leakage rate is 60 percent higher than the national average, and is also the highest rate ever measured from a U.S. oil- and gas-producing region, the team reports April 22 in Science Advances. Production in the Permian Basin has skyrocketed in the last decade; the region now accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. oil production, and about 10 percent of its natural gas. This growth may be exceeding the ability of the existing infrastructure in the region to contain and transport the gas, leading to extensive venting and flaring. That could be to blame for the high leakage rate, the researchers say. This study demonstrates the ability of a new satellite sensor, the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument, or TROPOMI, to map atmospheric methane emissions from a region; in the future, satellites could help quantify methane leaked from many source regions around the globe, the researchers...
Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

SOURCE: NPR DATE: March 31, 2020 SNIP: For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. In a joint investigation, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite. Starting in the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling through ads, recycling projects and public relations, telling people plastic could be and should be recycled. But their own internal records dating back to the 1970s show that industry officials long knew that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable. A report sent to top industry executives in April 1973 called recycling plastic “costly” and “difficult.” It called sorting it “infeasible,” saying “there is no recovery from obsolete products.” Another document a year later was candid: There is “serious doubt” widespread plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis.” Despite this, three former top officials, who have never spoken publicly before, said the industry promoted recycling as a way to beat back a growing tide of antipathy toward plastic in the 1980s and ’90s. The industry was facing initiatives to ban or curb the use of plastic. Recycling, the former officials told NPR and Frontline, became a way to preempt the bans and...
Plan to drain Congo peat bog for oil could release vast amount of carbon

Plan to drain Congo peat bog for oil could release vast amount of carbon

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 28, 2020 SNIP: The world’s largest tropical peatlands could be destroyed if plans go ahead to drill for oil under the Congo basin, according to an investigation that suggests draining the area would release the same amount of carbon dioxide as Japan emits annually. Preserving the Congo’s Cuvette Centrale peatlands, which are the size of England and store 30bn tonnes of carbon, is “absolutely essential” if there is any hope of meeting Paris climate agreement goals, scientists warn. However, this jungle is now the latest frontier for oil exploration, according to an investigation by Global Witness and the European Investigative Collaborations network that questions claims by developers that the oil deposit could contain 359m barrels of oil. The Cuvette Centrale forms part of the Congo basin, which is the world’s second largest tropical forest and one of the most remote areas in the world. This untouched region is waterlogged for most of the year and is an important habitat for endangered forest elephants and lowland gorillas. In 2017 it made headlines after scientists announced the discovery of 145,500 sq km (56,200 sq miles) of peatlands. They estimated it stored the equivalent of three years of global fossil fuel emissions, making it one of the greatest carbon sinks on the planet, according to a paper published in the journal Nature. But in August 2019, a Congolese company called Petroleum Exploration and Production Africa (Pepa) announced there were hundreds of millions of barrels of oil under the Cuvette Centrale. Exploiting this resource would quadruple the country’s oil production and sort out its debt-ridden finances, the company...
America’s Radioactive Secret

America’s Radioactive Secret

SOURCE: Rolling Stone DATE: January 21, 2020 SNIP: Oil fields across the country — from the Bakken in North Dakota to the Permian in Texas — have been found to produce brine that is highly radioactive. “All oil-field workers,” says Ian Fairlie, a British radiation biologist, “are radiation workers.” But they don’t necessarily know it. The Earth’s crust is in fact peppered with radioactive elements that concentrate deep underground in oil-and-gas-bearing layers. This radioactivity is often pulled to the surface when oil and gas is extracted — carried largely in the brine. Radium, typically the most abundant radionuclide in brine, is often measured in picocuries per liter of substance and is so dangerous it’s subject to tight restrictions even at hazardous-waste sites. The most common isotopes are radium-226 and radium-228, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires industrial discharges to remain below 60 for each. “It’s ridiculous that these drivers are not being told what’s in their trucks,” says John Stolz, Duquesne’s environmental-center director. “And this stuff is on every corner — it is in neighborhoods. Truckers don’t know they’re being exposed to radioactive waste, nor are they being provided with protective clothing. “Breathing in this stuff and ingesting it are the worst types of exposure,” Stolz continues. “You are irradiating your tissues from the inside out.” The radioactive particles fired off by radium can be blocked by the skin, but radium readily attaches to dust, making it easy to accidentally inhale or ingest. Once inside the body, its insidious effects accumulate with each exposure. It is known as a “bone seeker” because it can be incorporated into the skeleton...
Oil and gas emissions are reversing progress from coal’s decline

Oil and gas emissions are reversing progress from coal’s decline

SOURCE: Grist DATE: January 8, 2020 SNIP: Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station, a gargantuan coal plant responsible for more than 16 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, shut down in November. Its closing capped a decade in which coal generation in the United States was cut in half — a development recently credited with reducing nationwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent last year. But thanks in large part to the booming oil and gas industry, that slight decline in emissions is likely just a blip on the radar. Emissions from a single proposed petrochemical complex in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, for example, would replace the lion’s share of the greenhouse gas pollution prevented through closing the Navajo Generating Station. Once built, the $9.4 billion Formosa plastics plant is expected to release more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. The St. James facility is just one of dozens of new polluting plants expected to contribute to ballooning emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry in the coming years. According to a new report published Wednesday by the Environmental Integrity Project, or EIP, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., the industry is slated to pump an additional 227 million tons of planet-warming gases into the atmosphere in 2025 — a 30 percent increase over 2018 emissions — bringing its total emissions close to one billion tons per year. That’s equivalent to the full-time greenhouse gas pollution of well over 200 major coal-fired power plants. About 60 percent of that rise is from expanding fossil fuel drilling, new liquified natural gas plants, and other additional oil and...