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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse gas emissions

Study confirms B.C. oil and gas industry, government underreport fugitive methane emissions

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methane dsf

Photo credit: Flux Lab, St. Francis Xavier University

This is one of those announcements that did not surprise me at all. I have long suspected that BC was not counting all the methane that got released here. Now the work of the David Suzuki Foundation confirms my suspicions. The rest of this post is simply copied from their email today.


Allowing methane to go into the air is one of the worst things we can do if we want to stop climate change.

Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is responsible for 25 per cent of the already observed changes to Earth’s climate.

That’s why we’ve shed light on one of the biggest sources of methane emissions in B.C.: fugitive emissions from the province’s fracking industry.

Yesterday, we released Fugitives in our midst: Investigating fugitive emissions from abandoned, suspended and active oil and gas wells in the Montney Basin in northeastern British Columbia.

The report shows of 178 oil and gas sites investigated:

  • 35 per cent of inactive wells had measurable and, in some cases, significant methane leakage; and,
  • More than 85 per cent of active gas wells vent methane gas directly into the environment daily

The new research corroborates findings from a spring 2017 study by the Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University, which found that methane emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry are at least 2.5 times higher than industry and government report.

This work has already helped show Canadians that fugitive methane emissions in the oil and gas industry are much higher than anyone previously anticipated.

The report makes additional recommendations to reduce and eliminate fugitive emissions, including asking government to:

  • Mandate that all oil and gas companies immediately undertake leak detection and repair, starting with the sites we identified
  • Immediately develop and implement recommendations for leak detection, infrastructure replacement and repair, and transparent reporting
  • Make industry provide resources for on-the-ground monitoring and enforcement
  • Move forward with the government’s commitment in the Confidence and Supply Agreement to apply the carbon tax to the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution

The federal government’s draft methane regulations are currently out for public consultation. Final regulations are expected this year.

What you can do and how you can help:

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2018 at 12:03 pm

You can’t handle the truth

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There was a hard hitting article in the Globe and Mail, which I didn’t read because it is behind a paywall and the Grope and Wail is predictably right wing, especially where climate change is concerned. Then Pamela Zevit posted a link on facebook to an article on boereport which both provides a neat summary and some trenchant discussion.  I am not sure if the link provided in that article actually will get you to the original as it points to pressreader – which I don’t use either.

Anyway here is the summary

Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.

The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.

The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going.

And at this point my thoughts turned in quite a different direction. I do not think that individual action is going to change anything very much, because the amount of difference that makes is tiny. Now, if you want to make changes in the way that you do things in order to save the planet, you go right ahead. But in the meantime there is a group of people – actually a tiny minority of the world’s population – who could indeed make a quite extraordinary  difference. They are the decision makers, the far less than 1% who control most of what happens in modern western societies, and who continue to seek out short term profits rather than long term security. And some of those people include politicians in our society who seem to be doing things that are simply contrarian to any scientific reality about this question. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau come top of my mind right now, but there are plenty of others.

The decisions behind the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to export dilbit from Alberta are driven by what they see as necessary economically. Meanwhile in other places, the move away from fossil fuels is gathering strength and is already making a measurable difference. The use of solar panels and wind turbines has increased much faster than anyone anticipated, with the result that the costs of these technologies has fallen and is now competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that but the places that are getting on with changing how they produce electricity are increasing employment, and economic activity as well as producing worthwhile improvements to other issues such as air and water quality.

It isn’t actually necessary that the other 80% of the population is motivated by the health of the planet, because they are motivated by buying better, cheaper solutions to meet their needs. The taxi drivers who decided to buy a Prius instead of a second hand full sized IC car were motivated by a financial case. And the biggest savings came not so much from buying less fuel as needing fewer brake jobs. The people installing solar panels do so because their hydro bills go down – or they can stop using diesel generators. People like Elon Musk are selling electric cars because they are better than the IC equivalent.

There is a petition that I have seen recently aimed at a cruise ship line to try and get them to switch from using bunker C (the really gross residual oil from refining crude that is used in marine diesel engines). I am not going to sign it. Because it is unreasonable to expect one ship owner to switch fuels when no other shipping line is being pressured to stop doing the same thing. But one day someone will come up with a way of powering these engines with a renewable, cleaner fuel – for instance there is one promising process to use sewage to produce liquid fuel. Which will also help to lessen their local environmental impact.

When I was part of the team that wrote BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, we did not expect anyone to change anything in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we were able to identify plenty of things that could be done that would reduce energy use, and hence expenses, that would pay for themselves in two to three years at most. Energy efficiency is worth investing in for its own sake!  And I was really quite pleased when I saw that my daughter’s school installed ground source heat pumps when it built its new extension, something that would have been prohibited by the previous policy framework. BC Hydro’s Conservation effort cost $1.5bn but saved double what Site C will produce – and will cost over $9bn. (Source: BCUC Revenue Requirement hearings 2017 via facebook BC Hydro Ratepayers Association)

Actually energy efficiency is a much bigger productivity resource than is generally understood.

Energy_Efficiency_a_Bigger_Resource_May_2017

It really doesn’t matter if environmental pressure groups have little impact on popular opinion. Though something must be pushing people to vote Green in larger numbers. There are already many other groups that are organising things better and helping us become more sustainable, and reducing emissions at the same time. Making it possible for people to ride their bikes in reasonable comfort and safety is probably helping to reduce the number of car trips they take. Selling cold water detergent doesn’t hurt either. Capturing methane from landfills to replace fossil fuel gas – and also increase plant growth  with the CO2 is also a good idea. Closing landfills altogether might be better but is ways off. And somehow other countries seem to manage to raise awareness – a Swiss referendum (they have lots of them) chose to end use of nuclear power.

In the meantime the demand for the fossil fuels some in Canada want to export is declining – and the price for LNG, for instance, simply doesn’t warrant any of the huge investments we are being asked to subsidize. China and India are backing off from coal faster than expected – and making the sort of contribution to CO2 reduction that was thought impossible in the earlier climate change talks. Again, neither of these countries are driven by altruism: both are looking at the cost of the health impacts of fossil fuel burning on air quality.

And Bernie Sanders agrees with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

“Metro Vancouver air quality suffers as driving increases”

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The headline comes from a disturbing story in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun (paywalled)

I think many of us had been under the impression that driving was probably declining, since that was widely reported from US sources. It now seems that in this region we are not only driving more but in larger vehicles.

The proportion of small cars in Metro Vancouver has declined, to roughly 32 per cent of all vehicles in 2013 from 38 per cent in 2007. In contrast, the proportion of SUVs has risen to 22 per cent from 15 per cent over the same period and the share of large cars has increased to 20 per cent from 18 per cent.

At the same time, the study found the average number of kilometres driven by passenger vehicles fell by almost five per cent from 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, but that number has risen just over two per cent between 2012 and 2014.

Some of that might be attributable to the shifting around of transit service, which saw low ridership routes lose out to overcrowded routes – which also hit the outer, more car dependent suburbs harder than the region’s core.

The report can be found at autostat.ca which belongs to Pacific Analytics Inc.

The report is twenty three pages and is available as a pdf to download. There are some very notable omissions. No authors are credited. While there are plenty of graphs there are no tables, and no sources of data are cited other than Pacific Analytics model. For example, there is a very detailed analysis of vehicle types and some interesting, and quite remarkable data on vehicle kilometres travelled. But no source is cited for either. By implication the vehicle analysis would seem to come from ICBC, but I have no idea who has the data on vehicle kilometres travelled in the region by quarter, for every year.

So I called Jim Johnson, who is the sole proprietor of Pacific Analytics. He has given me permission to host the report here (link at bottom of article). The source of the vehicle data is a combination of data from AirCare (which of course will no longer be available) and the autorepair industry. A full description of the dataset is available at autostat.ca

Sinoski’s article tries to paint a relationship to the way Translink has been adjusting service. It does seem likely that in areas where transit was not a very good option (with the exception of the #555 bus along Highway #1 which enables people to avoid the Port Mann toll, and West Coast Express) and service has been cut, that driving would increase. The drop in gas prices would also have both reduced that disincentive to drive and the deterrent to buying a bigger vehicle. But while the auto manufacturing industry may have been turning its mind to more fuel efficient models, consumers seem to be buying the cars/trucks they want rather than the those that might burn less fossil fuel.

MetroVan GHG Emissions Report Feb 2015_0

Written by Stephen Rees

March 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

BC Transit offers Hydrogen Buses for sale

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BC Transit 1000

I saw this story on the CBC News last night so that’s where I am linking to. It gets picked up by the paywalled press too, of course, but what I think is interesting about this version is the commentary from Eric Denhoff President and CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association..

While these buses may have saved some greenhouse gas emissions, the admission that the hydrogen had to be trucked from Quebec offsets that a bit. Hydrogen is of course freely available everywhere: extracting it, packing and shipping it is, of course the expensive bit, and itself consumes lots of energy. And the trucks which drove back and forth across the continent were diesel powered. There is also a plant in North Van which vents hydrogen it produces as a byproduct which is not clean enough for the finicky fuel cells.

What annoys me about the web version of this story is that is misses the correct attribution of responsibility. The TV news had quite a bit about the decision by Gordon Campbell to buy these buses and have them run in Whistler during the Olympics. It also mentioned the complete failure of the “hydrogen highway” that he announced with Arnold Schwarzenegger that never materialized.

The Province always has money for these ribbon cutting, PR fluff type projects. Obviously just not enough money for Whistler’s transit system to keep running the things. There is never enough money to run transit in BC but every so often they go all loopy and buy a bunch of white elephants. Several different iterations of CNG buses wished on to Vancouver before they got one that actually worked reliably. Even though the emissions from diesel buses fitted with mandatory control equipment now equal the tailpipe performance of CNG. Not that there is much wrong with air quality in Vancouver.

It is also worth noting that the CBC web version mentions that there is a Plan B if BC Transit can’t find a buyer, which I would think is the most likely outcome.

NOTE This post has been corrected after correspondence from Eric Denhoff (April 28, 2015)

The Cost of Energy

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The recent IPCC report has been very clear about the need to get out of fossil fuels. They are also realistic in predicting that it is going to take a while to turn things around. What surprises me is the continued reluctance of the elite to absorb the message – but maybe there is an easier way to get across to them.

There has already been a significant change in energy markets, not just because the price of renewables (solar, wind and so on) has been dropping rapidly. The rush into fracking for oil and gas in North America has depressed oil prices.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.10.26 AMNow it may be argued that this is merely short term volatility and that OPEC could cut back its output to prop up prices. But equally, OPEC may be getting concerned about losing market share and needing to protect its revenue stream. Sales at lower prices being better than no sales at all.

I have already been arguing in other fora – such as twitter and facebook – that the dropping oil price ought to be a much bigger consideration for opponents of increasing fossil fuel dependence. The current crop of LNG projects in BC seem to me to be the most obvious candidates. British Gas has already pulled out of Prince Rupert: can Squamish be far behind? The provincial government has already dropped its revenue estimates, even though it was already willing to pretty much give away the resources through low royalties, it has recently cut the tax regime too. I do not understand why they continue to pursue projects which offer very little in terms of employment (relative to other energy opportunities) and now little revenue, especially in the near term. “British Columbia’s auditor general says doing business with the oil-and-gas industry has cost the province’s coffers about $1.25 billion in royalties even before most of the product has been pulled from the ground.” Vancouver Sun

But the pipeline projects that are essential to expanding the tar sands and getting diluted bitumen to oil refineries also  seem to be not only deservedly unpopular, but increasingly unnecessary. The tar sands are already heavily subsidized, but even so “ninety percent of future oil sands projects at risk from eroding oil price” according to a new report from Carbon Tracker.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.22.38 AM

I have long argued that the only thing to do with difficult to extract fossil fuels is to leave them in the ground. For one thing it is now clear that we have more than enough geothermal energy resources available to meet all our needs. While not strictly speaking “renewable” it is not likely that the earth’s core is going to cool down rapidly if we exploit these resources anymore than putting up solar panels to capture sunlight risks dimming the sun. The good thing about geothermal is its constant availability which makes it really useful to provide power when sunlight and winds are not available.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.51.40 AM

The problematic thing is that transportation, especially in North America, is still heavily dependant on energy dense liquid fuel. Even though batteries are getting better, and energy efficiency improvements such as hybrids are helping reduce demand for gasoline, much more attention is being directed – quite properly – to the fall in car use. I think that is much more to do with the falling buying power of consumers than secular change in transport demand. The grab of the 1% has gone much too far, and the economic impacts of the impoverishment of the rest of the population are now becoming more apparent. So far the knock on effects into social unrest have been relatively weak, but that cannot continue indefinitely, absent a change in policy direction from most national governments. Obviously austerity is not working and cannot work. The changes in mode to walking and cycling can be achieved in some urban areas, but in most suburbs significant shifts in land use are needed to put origins and destinations in better proximity.  That is going to take some time to achieve.

Politicians Discussing Global Warming

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

The Natural Gas System is Leaky and in Need of a Fix

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The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down

the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.

What struck me was much closer to the top of the story

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.

The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.

There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.

But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.

“Beefing Up Population Density Won’t Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions”

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I have put the headline in quotation marks as it does not reflect  my opinion – nor does it seem to be based on a very reliable way of forecasting policy outcomes. The headline comes from Atlantic Cities but the research itself is published in Environmental Science and Technology. The title there is “Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density” (citation shown at foot of this article). And of course you and I do not have the right credentials to actually read this on line unless you are willing to pay a very hefty fee. But at least Berkeley provides a longer item than Atlantic Cities does and this is where their quotes are lifted from

As you will note, other readers have already taken exception to the conclusions that are quoted by Atlantic Cities, so I am not alone at being troubled by the attention getting headline. Because it does not seem to be adequately supported. I also am troubled since I have been advocating and teaching the exact opposite for many years now. First as part of the Community Energy Planning activities of the BC Energy Aware Committee – now the Community Energy Association – and latterly as part of a program for  people wanting to become Sustainable Building Advisors under the the LEED program, sponsored by the Canada Green Building Council. The thrust of my message has been – and still is – the putting up the greenest building possible is not going to achieve emission reductions if you put it in the wrong place and everyone has to drive to get there. Sure the building itself may perform flawlessly but the trips the building’s activities generate will more than make up for the energy savings achieved over more conventional technologies.

Denser urban areas do indeed perform far better – in terms of energy consumption and hence reduce greenhouse gas emissions – than less dense ones, and that is exactly what the maps that accompany the article show.

carbon denver

This just happens to be Denver – and you can also see the smaller city of Colorado Springs off to the left (west) which shows the same doughnut ring pattern of carbon emissions. And they do observe “large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas.” But that may just be that in the US (and the data they use only comes from there) the larger metro areas have proportionately more suburbs.

People who live in denser urban areas do not need to make as many trips by single occupant motor vehicles as those who live in less dense areas. People who work in city locations are much less likely to have drive during their work hours than those in suburban office parks. If you can get what you need within a short walk then you are less likely to need to drive. In places like downtown Vancouver, the vehicle most likely to be used for most trips is the electric elevator. Moreover building technologies and simple physics favour denser areas notably when the designers are thinking holistically. Community energy systems are more efficient than individual systems. The village on False Creek, for instance, gets some of the heat for its buildings from the sewers. Many buildings in city centres need more cooling than heating, so careful siting and interconnectedness produces a better overall outcome than locating them at greater distances where this is not efficient in economic or energy terms.

But there are also all sorts of other benefits from greater densities. Indeed density in and of itself may not be the answer. Better density – the right kind of density – is almost always going to have better results no matter what metric you use. We happen to be concerned in this case with reducing greenhouse gas emissions but exactly the same responses work if you are looking to create a happier human environment, or one that preserves land for food production or recreation, or reducing traffic congestion, or cutting public expenditures. The arguments made by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns are almost entirely financial.

Actually I think what is really at play here is Atlantic Cities looking for a headline rather than better understanding. What the researchers are actually saying is that there is no one size fits all solution and that increasing density does not of itself produce the best outcomes. But it is also clear that continuing with business as usual, widening freeways and building new ones, refusing to invest in transit, sticking with strategies that favour “drive until you qualify” suburbs and so on is a recipe for disaster. And increasing density is often going to be a significant part of the solution.

citation

Christopher Jones *† and Daniel M. Kammen *†‡§
†Energy and Resources Group, ‡Goldman School of Public Policy, and §Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, United States
Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/es4034364
Publication Date (Web): December 13, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society
*Phone: (510) 643-5048. E-mail: cmjones@berkeley.edu., *Address: Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050. Phone: (510) 642-1640. Fax: (510) 642-1085. E-mail: kammen@berkeley.edu.