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PostPosted: October 22nd, 2012, 8:26 am 
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The skeptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, who opposed expensive Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction measures, claims that the money was spent more effectively in America, by switching away from coal to natural gas. In other reports, he's changed his position on climate warming, saying that the effects will be worse than he thought earlier on.

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A Fracking Good Story

Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are at their lowest level in 20 years. It’s not because of wind or solar power.

By Bjørn Lomborg
Posted Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at 6:30 AM ET

Weather conditions around the world this summer have provided ample fodder for the global warming debate. Droughts and heat waves are a harbinger of our future, carbon cuts are needed now more than ever, and yet meaningful policies have not been enacted.

But, beyond this well-trodden battlefield, something amazing has happened: Carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in 20 years. Estimating on the basis of data from the US Energy Information Agency from the first five months of 2012, this year’s expected CO2 emissions have declined by more than 800 million tons, or 14 percent from their peak in 2007.


The cause is an unprecedented switch to natural gas, which emits 45 percent less carbon per energy unit. The U.S. used to generate about half its electricity from coal, and roughly 20 percent from gas. Over the past five years, those numbers have changed, first slowly and now dramatically: In April of this year, coal’s share in power generation plummeted to just 32 percent, on par with gas.

America’s rapid switch to natural gas is the result of three decades of technological innovation, particularly the development of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which has opened up large new resources of previously inaccessible shale gas. Despite some legitimate concerns about safety, it is hard to overstate the overwhelming benefits.

For starters, fracking has caused gas prices to drop dramatically. Adjusted for inflation, natural gas has not been this cheap for the past 35 years, with the price this year three to five times lower than it was in the mid-2000s. And, while a flagging economy may explain a small portion of the drop in U.S. carbon emissions, the EIA emphasizes that the major explanation is natural gas.


The reduction is even more impressive when one considers that 57 million additional energy consumers were added to the U.S. population over the past two decades. Indeed, U.S. carbon emissions have dropped about 20 percent per capita, and are now at their lowest level since Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1961.

David Victor, an energy expert at UC-San Diego, estimates that the shift from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. emissions by 400 to 500 megatons CO2 per year. To put that number in perspective, it is about twice the total effect of the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions in the rest of the world, including the European Union.


It is tempting to believe that renewable energy sources are responsible for emissions reductions, but the numbers clearly say otherwise. Accounting for a reduction of 50 Mt of CO2 per year, America’s 30,000 wind turbines reduce emissions by just one-10th the amount that natural gas does. Biofuels reduce emissions by only 10 megatons, and solar panels by a paltry three megatons.

This flies in the face of conventional thinking, which continues to claim that mandating carbon reductions—through cap-and-trade or a carbon tax—is the only way to combat climate change.


But, based on Europe’s experience, such policies are precisely the wrong way to address global warming. Since 1990, the EU has heavily subsidized solar and wind energy at a cost of more than $20 billion annually. Yet its per capita CO2 emissions have fallen by less than half of the reduction achieved in the U.S.—even in percentage terms, the U.S. is now doing better.

Because of broad European skepticism about fracking, there is no gas miracle in the EU, while the abundance of heavily subsidized renewables has caused overachievement of the CO2 target. Along with the closure of German nuclear power stations, this has led, ironically, to a resurgence of coal.


Well-meaning U.S. politicians have likewise shown how not to tackle global warming with subsidies and tax breaks. The relatively small reduction in emissions achieved through wind power costs more than $3.3 billion annually, and far smaller reductions from ethanol (biofuels) and solar panels cost at least $8.5 and $3 billion annually.

Estimates suggest that using carbon taxes to achieve a further 330-megaton CO2 reduction in the EU would cost $250 billion per year. Meanwhile, the fracking bonanza in the U.S. not only delivers a much greater reduction for free, but also creates long-term social benefits through lower energy costs.


The amazing truth is that fracking has succeeded where Kyoto and carbon taxes have failed. As shown in a study by the Breakthrough Institute, fracking was built on substantial government investment in technological innovation for three decades.

Climate economists repeatedly have pointed out that such energy innovation is the most effective climate solution, because it is the surest way to drive the price of future green energy sources below that of fossil fuels. By contrast, subsidizing current, ineffective solar power or ethanol mostly wastes money while benefiting special interests.


Fracking is not a panacea, but it really is by far this decade’s best green-energy option.


http://www.slate.com/articles/health_an ... ears_.html

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PostPosted: October 22nd, 2012, 11:32 am 
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The lack of fracking in the EU may be due more to ready supplies of conventional gas rather than political opposition. They have just opened a new offshore field in the UK and the Norwegians have also had more production come on line. The increased population density also makes it more difficult to get these underway. The early attempts at fracking in Northern England resulted in local earth tremours. If you neighbours are a long way away you can get away with things like that. When they are just over the hill it is the kind of thing that gets an operation shut down!

Whilst I welcome the drop in GHG emissions there are plenty in the Republican party who want to resurrect the US coal industry.

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PostPosted: October 22nd, 2012, 1:36 pm 
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I am glad that the discussion is shifting away from the fanatical "there aint no GW" to how are we dealing with it.

An observation: when looking at energy data for Europe, one should include Russia as it is Europe's (major?) supplier for carbon-based energy. Whatever it takes to get the gas and oil out of Russia, it has a global impact and should enter the equations. It's like supplying tarsands-oil to the US and then celebrating how clean the US energy policy has become.

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PostPosted: October 22nd, 2012, 3:18 pm 
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I don't follow his reasoning at all. Carbon taxes are not selective of the technology used to achieve carbon emission reductions. If reductions could be achieved most efficiently by switching to natural gas, the tax regime would favour that. I have never understood why those who favour free markets tend to be against carbon taxes and for regulation. Carbon taxes are by far the more "free market" approach in that they leave the market to come up with a solution to the problem.

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PostPosted: October 23rd, 2012, 4:45 pm 
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:evil: Until you're ready to deal with the effects of CO2 from carbonated soda drinks, don't expect us to take you seriously about anything else!


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PostPosted: October 24th, 2012, 9:25 am 
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ezwater wrote:
:evil: Until you're ready to deal with the effects of CO2 from carbonated soda drinks, don't expect us to take you seriously about anything else!


I don't really understand your comment...perhaps it is an attempt at humour? In any event it illustrates my point because a carbon tax could easily be applied to soda drinks, raising their price according to the amount of carbon they emit. So I guess you can take me seriously now.

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PostPosted: October 24th, 2012, 10:38 am 
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Kinguq, I think EZ was adding some humor to your comment...

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I have never understood why those who favour free markets tend to be against carbon taxes and for regulation. Carbon taxes are by far the more "free market" approach in that they leave the market to come up with a solution to the problem.


Free markets allow supply and demand to work freely, without government regulation (at least from my limited understanding of economics)... adding a carbon tax to the market seems to be the opposite of "free".

All kinds of problems in applying the carbon tax, in determining who gets taxed and who doesn't... somewhat insane examples below besides carbonated soda, still, where do you draw the line so that all carbon taxes are applied equally to all CO2 producers:

- a farmer plowing fields should be taxed for releasing CO2 to the atmosphere since the plowing exposes more soil to the air and organic material comes into contact with oxygen, producing CO2 gas.

- buying lumber at Home Depot should be given a carbon credit since that wood won't decompose in the forest naturally, and there's less CO2 released to the atmosphere.

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PostPosted: October 24th, 2012, 12:57 pm 
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Whether it was intended to be humorous or not, there is a serious message underlying EZ's comment - If you aren't ready to ban or otherwise eliminate frivolous CO2 emissions, don't expect folks to care about how much CO2 is released to heat their house, transport them to work, etc.

I completely agree with FT that a carbon tax is the opposite of a a free market mechanism. For a real life example of how easily carbon taxes are abused look at the EU policy of applying carbon taxes to the full route of international flights landing in EU countries. If other countries have carbon taxes too, then a single flight could be paying the same tax to several different countries for a single trip on top of some demands for that same fuel to be taxed when it gets pulled out of the ground.

And I'll keeping beating on the fact that taxing CO2 emmissions does NOT eliminate them. Leaning on Erhard's point that discussions should focus on dealing with the problem, a CO2 tax doesn't deal with the problem.

Getting back to the original article - this is a really good example of how badly economics models costs. While the dangers of fracking weren't ignored, the cost of those dangers was marginalized because of a blind focus on CO2 over other more significant environmental pollutants and damage. I have no doubts that over a 50 - 100 year timeline the net benefit of renewable energy investments in wind and solar will exceed the surface level benefits of switching from coal to natural gas by several orders of magnituded even before accounting for the additional negative impacts of fracking.

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PostPosted: October 24th, 2012, 2:56 pm 
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frozentripper wrote:
Free markets allow supply and demand to work freely, without government regulation (at least from my limited understanding of economics)... adding a carbon tax to the market seems to be the opposite of "free".


Clearly true, but what other approach is more "free"? If we simply regulate emissions, that also warps the freedom of the market. A carbon tax system offers a flexible approach whereby the cost of energy and other inputs can be priced according to their carbon emissions. Businesses will then compete to offer their goods and services at lower prices by lowering there input costs, and one way to do that will be to lower their carbon costs.

Of course there are complications with the approach, as with any approach. Probably the tax would be applied on energy inputs, such as fuel and electricity. That won't capture everything but it would be a good start since burning fossil fuels is the biggest part of the problem. So in your example the farmer would pay for the fuel she uses, and the cost of the lumber would depend on the energy used in its production. Other things could be factored in but as you illustrate it is practically impossible to capture every situation with a single measure.

Splake wrote:
Whether it was intended to be humorous or not, there is a serious message underlying EZ's comment - If you aren't ready to ban or otherwise eliminate frivolous CO2 emissions, don't expect folks to care about how much CO2 is released to heat their house, transport them to work, etc.


I am not talking about banning anything. Who decides what is frivolous? I am talking about a price signal that causes businesses and people to change their behaviour to emit less carbon. If they want to be frivolous, they will pay for it.

Splake wrote:
And I'll keeping beating on the fact that taxing CO2 emmissions does NOT eliminate them. Leaning on Erhard's point that discussions should focus on dealing with the problem, a CO2 tax doesn't deal with the problem.


Of course it won't eliminate them. We have no hope of eliminating carbon emissions for decades, we are too addicted to fossil fuels. If carbon is taxed people will reduce their emissions. The tax can be ratcheted up to give businesses time and incentive to develop and deliver new technologies that lead to reduced carbon emissions. This avoids the problem mentioned in the article, that Europe has relied on FIT programs to promote the use of solar and wind. That is the main reason why solar and wind have become so popular in countries like Germany: it is heavily subsidized. This is government "picking a winner" and to me is less of a market approach than a simple tax.

And as to the increase in gas production using fracking, does anyone really think that companies are doing this because of any intention of reducing carbon emissions? This was not a planned thing: new technologies came onstream that allowed these resources to be accessed at a reasonable cost. Gas became cheap. So any reduction in carbon emissions due to this is largely accidental.

I have not looked into it myself, but are we convinced by Lomberg's argument? This purported reduction in emissions: could it not have been due to the severe slowdown in economic activity in the USA, rather than just the replacement of coal by gas? Probably a combination, but the former must have had an influence.

I would also point out that per capita carbon emissions were already much lower in Europe than in North America, so achieving further reductions in Europe is much more difficult than it is here. There is lots of "low hanging fruit" here...

Kinguq.


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PostPosted: October 24th, 2012, 7:56 pm 
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Fracking isn't new techology. It was available in the 70's but we were smarter then.

Investing in solar and wind is replacing fossil fuel. Moving to a "better" fossil fuel isn't changing anything. Geothermal would be another true replacement.

And yes I think that recreational uses of carbon, whether for beverages or water skiing or ??? are frivolous compared to things like heating homes or getting people back and forth to work.

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PostPosted: October 25th, 2012, 9:13 am 
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I think we will adapt to lower energy prices by consuming more energy. Many people would respond to cheaper fuel not by saying "Great, my fuel cost will be lower!", but rather "Great, I can get a bigger SUV and afford to drive it more!" As such, increasing supply and lowering costs will only have a short-term benefit in emission reduction.

I think dirty energy like coal ought to be taxed to subsidize clean energy like hydro/wind/solar development. Energy should cost what it costs, including all the externalities. If that was the case, the free market might favour clean alternatives.


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PostPosted: October 25th, 2012, 10:18 am 
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kinguq wrote:
Investing in solar and wind is replacing fossil fuel. Moving to a "better" fossil fuel isn't changing anything. Geothermal would be another true replacement.


Moving to natural gas as opposed to coal and even oil reduces carbon emissions, so it is clearly changing something... The objective here is not to replace fossil fuels, but rather to reduce carbon emissions. Thus carbon capture and storage, i.e. burning fossil fuels, capturing and storing the emissions, would be another alternative if it ever proves to be safe and cost effective.

kinguq wrote:
And yes I think that recreational uses of carbon, whether for beverages or water skiing or ??? are frivolous compared to things like heating homes or getting people back and forth to work.


Then I think you would have to add driving or flying hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to go on a canoe trip to your list of frivolous activities. If fuel is more expensive, people will reduce their use and "frivolous" activities will be the first to be abandoned. It would also promote conservation so people would insulate their homes and use smaller cars or other means of transport. I cannot conceive of a system that would somehow discriminate against what you consider to be "frivolous" uses, except very heavy-handed legislation.

Unfortunately I don't think there is any miraculous pain-free way to come off our fossil fuel addiction and reduce emissions. If there is, I would certainly love to hear about it.

Splake wrote:
I think dirty energy like coal ought to be taxed to subsidize clean energy like hydro/wind/solar development. Energy should cost what it costs, including all the externalities. If that was the case, the free market might favour clean alternatives.


I am pleased that we agree, although I am not so sure about the subsidy part.

Kinguq


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PostPosted: October 25th, 2012, 10:42 am 
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Mr. Canoehead

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I think we will adapt to lower energy prices by consuming more energy. Many people would respond to cheaper fuel not by saying "Great, my fuel cost will be lower!", but rather "Great, I can get a bigger SUV and afford to drive it more!" As such, increasing supply and lowering costs will only have a short-term benefit in emission reduction.


The situation developing in the states for cars and trucks seems to be higher oil and gasoline prices allowing more expensive technology (fracking) to exploit oil fields which were too expensive to drill earlier on... NG on the other hand has become so cheap, it can replace coal for power plants. Cheap NG and expensive oil work together to create the American oil boom described below.

The Obama administration came in four years ago with a promise to create a shift to renewables and look what actually happened... an oil boom to rival Saudi production and a big drop in NG prices for power plants. The amazing thing is that CO2 emissions are lower in the middle of all this fossil fuel use... as Lomborg states, due to NG replacing coal. He does say that NG is "this decade's" greenest energy, implying things could change again further down the road.



Quote:
US may soon become world's top oil producer

By JONATHAN FAHEY | Associated Press – Tue, Oct 23, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

The boom has surprised even the experts.

...

The major factor driving domestic production higher is a newfound ability to squeeze oil out of rock once thought too difficult and expensive to tap...

To free the oil and gas from the rock, drillers crack it open by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, a process is known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

...

A long period of high oil prices has given drillers the cash and the motivation to spend the large sums required to develop new techniques and search new places for oil. Over the past decade, oil has averaged $69 a barrel. During the previous decade, it averaged $21.

...

A natural gas glut forced drillers to dramatically slow natural gas exploration beginning about a year ago. Drillers suddenly had plenty of equipment and workers to shift to oil.

...

By the end of this year, U.S. crude output will be at its highest level since 1998 and oil imports will be lower than at any time since 1992, at 41 percent of consumption.

"It's a stunning turnaround," Burkhard says.



http://news.yahoo.com/us-may-soon-becom ... nance.html

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PostPosted: October 25th, 2012, 10:57 am 
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I think before you rejoice in fracking you ought to look at the "collateral damage" caused in the communities that the activity takes place in.

Incredible traffic on roads that were never designed for such traffic, well damage to rural water supplies(individual wells) etc. and possible effects on personal health. The Marcellus Shale is one of the largest NG areas to be exploited.

http://rt.com/usa/news/fracking-gas-health-report-917/

And I fail to see any joy in the tar sands oil due to arrive in town in a few years as an old pipeline reverses flow. Most of our town is underwater and defined by lakes. The pipeline snakes through a narrow point. I read how tar sands oil is potentially a CO2 blowout. But I may know more next week after a town meeting.


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PostPosted: October 25th, 2012, 8:04 pm 
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frozentripper wrote:
The skeptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, who opposed expensive Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction measures, claims that the money was spent more effectively in America, by switching away from coal to natural gas. In other reports, he's changed his position on climate warming, saying that the effects will be worse than he thought earlier on.

Lomborg doesn't seem to understand the relationship between weather (warmer winters), shorter heating season, and declining carbon emissions in the US. He says "despite the weather," but much of this decline was the result of the weather. EIA tracks these issues monthly.

http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7350

http://www.eia.gov/pressroom/presentati ... 012012.pdf

They cite several reasons for the decline, and not just one.

- mild winters reducing household heating demand.
- decline in coal fired electricity (substitution by natural gas).
- reduced gasoline demand.
- growth in renewables.
- lower economic growth.

In fact, there is one common thread to each of these issues, and that's declining fossil fuel consumption. And this has multiple factors behind it: recession, weather, increases in vehicle efficiency, retrofitting homes, and substitution of coal power by other energy resources (with much lower carbon emissions).

Lomborg suggests he'd like to learn from historical circumstances and empirical results. But free markets don't appear to be the main driver here. Instead, what stands out are changing patterns of energy use, innovation and development of alternatives to coal (or fossil fuels in general), and doing more with less (the important role played by efficiency and conservation). How we get there takes many approaches, not just one.


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