Harvard finds Boston is Leaking $90 Million of Natural Gas Annually

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 29, 2015 12:44:52 PM

Yellow caution tape reading, caution gas line buried below

A Harvard University study has concluded that 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas escapes the aging pipelines in Boston - an amount that means we're losing $90 MILLION dollars worth of natural gas through leakage annually. 

The problem with leakage, outside of the obvious environmental and health concerns, as well as the fact that consumers bear the cost of the leakage, is that this leakage is responsible for almost all of the methane emissions given off by the city. As we've discussed previously, methane has a 25 times larger impact on the environment than carbon, and for that reason it's been the focus of new proposed regulations from the Administration and the EPA.

The suggested regulations however, are aimed at fracking companies, which over the past year have shown large declines in the amount of methane leaks, and leaks in general in four out of six of the major shale plays. The reason for that is at the production site, leakage costs the producer money in lost product.

The second sector that the regulations aim at (although they are "voluntary" in this case) is agriculture, which is responsible for the bulk of methane emissions. 

When you break down the numbers however, most emissions come from so called "super users", namely power plants etc., versus fracking sites or even intense agricultural production sites. And as studies like this point out, there is a lot of environmental impact happening passively through leaking in outdated pipeline systems, like those in Boston.

What this study points out on leakage, is that there may be a more efficient way to curb urban emissions of gas, and therefore methane, than imposing sweeping regulations on fracking sites, who already are self-motivated by profit to control product loss. That motivation is less present in urban areas, because the cost of pipe replacement and remediation is high, and the work is complicated to perform without disruptions in densely populated areas. Additionally, remediation of leaks in urban pipelines is a direct cost to the utility as well as the consumer, versus the cost-savings measure it is for upstream producers.

To their credit, both Massachusetts and National Grid have already been working on an accelerated pipeline replacement project. This program categorizes how risky leaks are and addresses them in an urgent to non-urgent priority order. This allows them to address the most critical leaks first, and move forward on remediation without undue and immediate cost burdens on the utility or the consumer.

 Essentially, studies like this point out there are emission control options downstream in addition to the ones happening upstream that can complete the picture and move the entire process forward in a more timely and efficient manner.

If you want to read a little more on the background of methane regulations proposed, or the prior study on leaks in Boston, you can do so here: "Methane and Consumers giving Nat Gas Headaches"

If you want more background on fracking and environmental impact, you can do so here: "US Carbon Emissions Still on the Decline - Guess Why?" 

Read More

Topics: natural gas, EPA Mandate, Fracking, methane

US Carbon Emissions Still on the Decline - Guess Why?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 11, 2014 5:03:24 PM

fracking equipment

In June, the White House released a 15 page report on the status of its' Climate Change Initiative. In 2009, Obama stated the goal would be to drop US carbon emissions to 17% below 2005 levels - an ambitious figure that the country is not only on track to meet, but should easily surpass.. In fact, in 2012, US carbon emissions hit a 20 year low. Why?

Is it all the wind power? Solar? Emissions mandates? Not even close. Its thanks to fracking.Yes, fracking. 

In fact, according to information from a meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasburg in June - fracking in the US alone has reduced carbon emissions by significantly more than the entire world's wind and solar projects - COMBINED. (You can read the whole article on that here: Oil and Gas Online)

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report in April (as quoted in the daily caller) states that “A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic‐fracturing and horizontal‐drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas … this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States"

So basically what is happening is the abundance of natural gas we now have domestically, plus its very attractive price level, is causing massive levels of companies and consumers to switch to natural gas. This in turn is causing a natural phase out of coal and other more carbon intensive methods of power generation. Nat Gas emits 45% less carbon per unit than coal, so naturally, carbon emissions drop drastically with a large population shift to a cleaner burning fuel. 

 

 

Read More

Topics: Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion, Fracking, climate change, carbon emissions, emissons

How is Switching to Nat Gas Hurting the Environment? - It's NOT What You Think

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 17, 2014 9:30:00 AM

Oil drill in a field

A study published by researchers and scientists with MIT, Stanford, and the National Renewable Energy Library was recently published that is essentially the first in depth look at US Methane emissions. 

Why methane? The environmental issues with Natural Gas mainly come from the presence of methane - which is another green house gas, but 30 times more potent than the carbon dioxide we usually hear about. Approximately 1.5% of natural gas leaks during extraction, processing, transport, etc on its way to the consumer, so methane levels give us a bigger picture of the environmental impact of Nat Gas beyond carbon emissions. 

Surprisingly- Hydraulic Fracturing or "Fracking" is not the problem. You read that correctly - the often hotly debated "fracking" process is not what's causing methane emissions to rise. So what is?

The study found that so called "super users" were responsible for the vast majority of the leaks (some processing plants, factories, etc). The good news is that in theory these repairs arent cost prohibitive, and are generally profitable for the site - at least in the long term -  as they stand to lose less product in transmission. 

The question then becomes - is this an issue that should be legislated on or not? Industry folks say they are already voluntarily correcting issues, and since they have a financial incentive in at least certain cases to do so, they don't need regulatory pressure to move the process forward.  Environmental groups predictably say given the level of leaks still existant, volunteerism is not keeping pace with the level of repairs and upgrades required to address emission levels. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine's April issue on this topic, and the related discussion of whether its environmentally "friendly" to switch your fleet to Nat Gas in the long term. You can read that article here: Oil & Energy Online 

 

Read More

Topics: natural gas, Fracking, methane

Would CRUDE Exporting Increase Your Pain at the Pump? Not Necessarily

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 7, 2014 1:43:00 PM

As we’ve discussed, proponents of overturning the ban on US Crude Exports cite the economic gain to be had, including jobs to be created.

An objection to lifting the ban on US Crude exporting is that given that US consumers are paying record prices for at-the-pump gasoline, it’s tough to see exporting the raw material to produce that gasoline. 

Gasoline prices, however are determined by global markets not domestic supply per se, although there is an influence. 

What's important to remember concerning the Crude Export ban is really two key factors:

It is permissible under US Law to export refined oils - ie finished products. If the argument for maintaining the ban is that it will negatively impact domestic gas supply, thats not really true as one could, today, export finished gasoline. In fact, the US is one of the world's largest exporters of finished (refined) diesel & gasoline. 

Secondly, and more importantly perhaps - the US refinery infrastructure has understandably not been able to keep up with the boom in production of crude, in both refinery capacity and transportation ability. This is resulting in downward pressure on the prices producers can get from refineries for their Crude, making it less profitable. Continued downward pressure could remove the incentive to produce in the first place.

What does that mean for pump prices? It means the incentive to produce and sell domestic crude to be refined into gasoline is not really there. Which, in turn, means the banning of exporting crude is not some automatic way to increase the domestic supply of refined gasoline. Without a large increase in supply, you dont get a decrease in price. 

So what about pricing if the ban is lifted? 

Again, gas prices are largely globally influenced, however exporting to nations that have refinery capacity will drive up the total supply and potentially lower prices.

Outside of this, the economic benefits to the US are estimated to be in the billions - and with an improving economy, if gasoline prices remain stagnant they become a lower percentage of expense for individuals which essentially has the same impact as a price drop in a stagnant economy. 

 

Read More

Topics: Energy Independence, Fracking, CRUDE

Gov't Picking Winners & Losers on Energy? - Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 16, 2013 9:12:00 AM

Even in the wake of the collapse of several government "fast tracked" (ie subsidized) projected winners in the energy industry (think Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, et al) and the imminent declaration of bankruptcy by taxpayer supported Fisker Automotive on the horizon, several Northeastern States are proposing "fast tracks" to expand natual gas pipelines courtesy of the taxpayer.

Many of those in the heating oil and/or propane industries are upset by the proposals as they perceieve them to be benefiting one segment of the industry on the backs of another. Additionally, since heating oil has been progressively moving towards cleaner, lower sulfur fuels and even embracing BioHeat - the enviornmental impact of heating oil versus natural gas in terms of emissions is not the same equation it may have been 10-15 years ago. That's important because when you factor in the continual reduction of the environmental impact of heating oil, the high cost of these sponsored Nat Gas infrastructure projects, and the potential impact on employment facing heating oil dealers (mostly small to mid size businesses) - the economics on subsidized Natural Gas pipeline expansion make less and less sense.

 For example, Maine is "fast tracking" natural gas pipeline expansion into rural areas. The issue seen here is two fold - arguably, the reason the government is subsidizing the expansion into rural Maine is there isnt sufficient ROI incentive for the utility to do it itself. Rule number one of public funding - if there were sufficient business and profit to be gained, the private sector would have made the investment itself. Additionally, propane and heating oil dealers have been servicing these areas sans government funding without issue. These companies, many of whom are small businesses, employ thousands of Maine residents gainfully, on private capital and could now be forced to face laying off employees with the necessitated drop in revenue from a smaller customer base. It doesnt seem like a winner in terms of big picture economics/employment for the state.

Vermont has proposed a variety of "Heat Taxes" to encourage lower use of heating oil. The proposals suggest that customers pay either a Carbon Tax of .10/gal on Heating oil and.05/gal on propane, or a BTU based tax of .012/gal Heating Oil and .08/gal on Propane, or worst yet, a Heating Oil Sales Tax that would amount to about 20 cents per gallon. Given the state of the economy, and the price of heating your home these days, it's hard to imagine asking the average person in Vermont to pony up an extra 20 cents per gallon.

Connecticut is proposing converting hundreds of thousands of homes in the state to Natural Gas at the projected price tag of almost 7 billions dollars. With zero explanation of where said billions will come from, its fair to assume it will either come from the taxpayer, or be passed down to the consumer. Converting hundreds of thousands of homes to Natural Gas will impact Connecticut small to mid size petroluem businesses the same way the proposed expansion in Maine could affect businesses there - namely, negatively.

Natural Gas is definitely going to be a huge part of the picture in terms of where American Energy is headed in the future, especially given the obvious success of domestic fracking, and the huge positive impact fracking has had on city and state economies. I for one am all for the expansion of affordable energy - especially when its domestically produced and provides huge employment opportunities for Americans at all skill and education levels from laborers to engineers.

The issue at hand is not Natural Gas, but short sighted governmental policies that attempt to aid one sector of an industry at the cost of another. It seemed during the 2012 Presidential Debates, we are all pretty much in agreement that what America needs is an "all of the above" energy policy. The best way for that to happen in the most efficient and sustainable way, is for market demands to drive advancements in supply logistics and innovation. Case in point, fracking did not arise from governmental "fast tracking" and it's changing the way we look at energy production in the United States in a major way. Back to the thesis: if it makes sense, and it's profitable, it will progress on its own without government funding.     

Anyway, I wrote an article on fuel dealers and the proposed Energy topic for a recent issue of Oil & Energy Magazine, if you would like more info you can read the full article online here: Oil & Energy Magazine , or as a PDF Here

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, natural gas, Fracking, Heat Tax

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all